Personal and Family Life

John Rainolds was born in the Devonshire village of Pinhoe on 29 September 1549. Pinhoe is located two miles north east of Exeter. John's parents were stalwart Roman Catholics. His father, Richard, was a prosperous farmer. John came from a large family. He had five brothers and one sister.

John and all of his brothers studied at Oxford University. Five of them became fellows at their colleges. John himself may have first come to Oxford when he was only eight years old to be under the tutelage of his uncle, Thomas Rainolds, who was warden of Merton College and vice-chancellor of the university. Thomas Rainolds being Catholic, prospered under the reign of Queen Mary I, but upon the ascension of Queen Elizabeth I, his fortunes changed dramatically. He was imprisoned in the Marshalsea, and died there in 1559. When his uncle fell from favor, John likely went back to Pinhoe.

He later returned to Oxford where he spent much of the rest of his life devoted to scholarship, teaching, and college administration.

As a student John was exceptional, and as a result was given many opportunities. When Queen Elizabeth visited the university in the late summer of 1560 John was recruited to create and recite poetry in her honor. As part of the same celebration he acted the part of a woman in a theatrical production staged at Christ Church. John's foray into drama left a profoundly negative impression on him which manifested itself in his opposition to the theatre in years to come.

As a result of his non-conformist view he was frequently in conflict with the church establishment and monarchy. Yet, so great was the respect accorded him for his learning and piety, he remained a figure of great influence. He died on 21 May 1607. He had been in poor health for years, suffering from gout and consumption (tuberculosis) which finally ended his life at only fifty-seven years of age. In a eulogy spoken at his funeral bemoaning the passing of some of Protestantism's shining lights, Joseph Hall said the following in tribute to Rainolds:

Doctor Rainolds is the last; not in worth, but in the time of his loss. He alone was a well-furnished library, full of all faculties, full of all studies, of all learning; the memory, the reading of that man, were near to a miracle. (The Works of the Right Reverend Joseph Hall. Ed. P. Wynter, 10 vols., 1863, 6.149-50.)

He was revered as a pillar of Puritanism not only in England but throughout the Protestant world. He was buried beneath the choir in the Corpus Christi College chapel, with a monument portraying him in his academic robes on the wall above. He was a life long bachelor.


John Rainolds enrolled as an eight year old in Oriel College, Oxford in 1557 so his uncle, Thomas Rainolds, could oversee his early education. As noted previously, this plan was interrupted by Thomas' ejection from the university and imprisonment shortly thereafter. John returned to Oxford in 1562, and became a student at Merton College. Within a few months he removed to Corpus Christi College on scholarship, likely due to the influence of two of his older brothers, Jerome and Edmund who were fellows there. He was admitted a second time to Corpus Christi College in 1564, having left school for a time to travel and study on the Continent.

He graduated B.A. in 1568, proceeded M.A. in 1572, and D.D. in 1580.


John Rainolds'career largely centered in his college, Corpus Christi. It began in 1566 when he was elected a fellow of Corpus. Shortly after graduating M.A. in 1572, he was elected Greek Reader there. As such he delivered lectures which proved to be very popular with the university community. His lectures contained elements of secular literature and philosophy and were published several times after his death.

As the decade of the 1570s was drawing to a close Rainolds first ventured into college politics. He became a candidate for the presidency of Corpus Christi. The president, William Cole, however, decided to remain in office. Rainolds' run for college office combined with the exposure given him through his lectures placed him in the forefront of Puritans at Oxford.

In 1581 Rainolds was recruited by Sir Francis Walsingham to be an advocate for English Protestantism. Defenders of the Roman Church, such as Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, were leading a counter-reformation. Rainolds moved from Corpus Christi to Queens College in 1588 where his thrice weekly lectures drew consistently large crowds. These lectures were specific rebuttals to Bellarmine and were published post-humously in two large volumes.

Rainolds' supporters pushed his promotion within the university but met with resistance from Queen Elizabeth who viewed Reynolds as an extremist in his views embracing Puritanism. She was very well aware of Rainolds since, as a young scholar, he had presented her with his translation of a work by Plutarch. When she visited Oxford in 1592 she scolded Rainolds telling him "to follow her laws and not run before them".

As a concession to the religious establishment Rainolds accepted the deanery of Lincoln Cathedral in 1593, though he continued to reside in Oxford. In 1598 he was finally elected president of Corpus Christi College, a position he held until his death in 1607. His presidency of the college was marked by his resolving long standing disputes and financial problems of the college. He brought fairness to the distribution of revenue to the college's fellows, and found financial resources to renovate the library, hall and chapel. He was able to increase the student body, and bring greater academic rigor to the institution. Of course, the high point of his presidency proved to be his role as Puritan spokesman at the Hampton Court Conference convened by King James I, in January of 1604. At the conference Rainolds was joined by other prominent Puritan leaders such as Laurence Chaderton and Thomas Sparke, but it fell to Rainolds to argue their demands. While few concessions were allowed by the king, the conference proved historic for the initiation of the new Bible translation which was suggested by Rainolds. John Rainolds already ill, died three years later.

John Rainolds and the Translation

John Rainolds can appropriately be called the father of the King James Bible, for he it was who forcefully suggested the new translation to the king at Hampton Court on January 16, 1604. His proposal was a bold one, given the cold reception given to his other requests by the king and the bishops. Rainolds, who was in the late stages of consumption, and weakened thereby, carried the burden of advocacy with the other members of his delegation standing "mute as any fish" according to one observer.

When he "moved His Majesty that there be a new translation of the Bible because those which were allowed in the reign of Henry VIII and Edward VI were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original", as improbable as it must have seemed, the king embraced Rainolds' idea, and the rest is history. The new Bible altered the course of the English language and culture, it influenced millions if not billions of lives, and thereby the course of human events.

John Rainolds not only suggested the translation, he became an active participant in it. Though not the titled director of the First Oxford Company, he was perhaps its most respected member. Until his death the company met three days a week in his apartment over the arched entry to Corpus Christi College to study and discuss the translation of the words of the prophets, Isaiah through Malachi. This they did, nearly to the day of his death. Emaciated, weakened physically by disease, Rainolds continued to contribute to the effort he had spawned until he could give no more.

Bio Bits

The story is told that when John Rainolds came to Oxford he was an ardent Catholic and his elder brother William an equally committed Protestant. Each brother concerned for the spiritual welfare of the other endeavored over time to proselytize the other to his position. Ironically, each succeeded, with John becoming a stalwart Protestant and William a staunch Catholic. As a result of his faith William was forced to flee to France. There he was one of five Oxford scholars to undertake a Catholic translation of the Bible at Rheims. Their translation was a fine one, and was looked to, along with others, by the King James Translators.

At the Hampton Court Conference John Rainolds raised the Puritan objection to the language of the wedding ceremony where the groom was asked to repeat the words of the vow in which he tells his bride "with my body I thee worship". Feeling that the word "worship" should be reserved for deity, Rainolds asked King James to strike the word, substituting something more appropriate. To this the king retorted, to the bachelor, John Rainolds, "Many a man speaks of Robin Hood who never shot a bow; if you had a good wife yourself, you would think all the honor and worship you could do to her would be well bestowed." While the king's clever barb directed at Rainolds must have generated some laugher at Rainolds' expense, the Translator had the last laugh. On Friday, April 29th 2011, when the royal couple, William and Kate knelt before the Archbishop of Canterbury to exchange their wedding vows, the Archbishop asked William to vow to Kate "with my body I thee honor". Gone from the current vow is the word "worship". Somewhere John Rainolds must have been smiling.