Personal and Family Life

John Spenser was born on 15 October 1559 in Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk to John Spenser who is described as "a gentleman". Stoke-by-Nayland is an ancient village whose parish church of St. Mary's has a history that extends back well before John Spenser's time. It is only seven miles from Hadleigh where his contemporaries, John Bois and John Overall went to school. Perhaps the reason John Spenser didn't join them at Hadleigh Grammar School was due to his family's affluence which allowed them to send him to one of London's premier preparatory schools, Merchant Taylors'. From there he entered Oxford University. After leaving Oxford he served as a parish priest in several locations. He married Dorothy Cranmer, the sister of George Cranmer, noted administrator and scholar. They were the parents of several children. He ultimately returned to Oxford where he lived until his death on 3 April 1614, age fifty-four. He was buried in his college chapel at Corpus Christi.


John Spenser attended the Merchant Taylors' School from August of 1571. He then entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford where he graduated B.A. on 29 October 1577. He proceeded M.A. in 1581, B.D. in 1590, and finally D.D. in 1602.


In 1578 John Spenser was elected as a fellow at his college, Corpus Christi and as a Greek reader. During this period he served as secretary to the college president, William Cole, his sister's husband. Secretary to the president was viewed as a desirable office, and Spenser's appointment generated complaints of nepotism and inexperience. Calls to Bishop Horne of Winchester for his ousting proved unsuccessful, and he continued in the position.

By 1588 he resigned his Greek readership and took on pastoral duties as vicar of Alvely, Essex from 1589 until 1592 when he was made vicar of Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. In 1599 he moved to London where he became vicar of St. Sepulchre's Church, Newgate. Not long after, he was also appointed chaplain to England's new King James I, and a Translator on the king's new Bible project. As he was midway into that project, he was elected to succeed his mentor and fellow Translator, John Rainolds as president of Corpus Christi College, the position he occupied until his death on 3 April 1614. In 1610 he was asked to be one of the founding fellows of Chelsea College, London. Spenser was also an editor for the theologian, Richard Hooker who exerted such a profound influence on Anglican thought.

John Spenser and the Translation

John Spenser was a member of the Second Westminster Company assigned the Epistles of the New Testament, Romans through Jude. He shared this responsibility with the company director William Barlow, Roger Fenton, Michael Rabbett, Thomas Sanderson, Nicholas Felton, Ralph Hutchinson, Arthur Lake, George Ryves, Nicholas Love, and William Dakins. Included in their portion of the Bible are the letters of St. Paul which provide a basis for so much Christian doctrine. A translation becomes crucial where so much can turn on the meaning and placement of a word. As Martin Luther observed of scripture, "Every word weighs a ton." John Spenser and his colleagues proved themselves equal to the task. For centuries Christians of broadly diverse doctrinal views found in the King James Bible a text they could consult and rely on with confidence.

Reading the discourse on love in First Corinthians 13:4-7:

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

we hear the message of Paul, expressed in beautiful English prose chosen by John Spenser and his colleagues.

Bio Bits

When the instigator of the King James Bible translation, John Rainolds died in 1607, he was buried in the chapel of Corpus Christi College, the institution to which he had devoted so much of his life. His successor as college president and colleague in the Bible translation, John Spenser, raised a monument to Rainolds on the wall above the choir seats in the chapel. Rainolds is portrayed in sculptural relief looking straight forward, a closed book in his hands. When John Spenser died several years later, he likewise was buried in the chapel. In his honor a monument was erected. It is nearly identical to Rainolds', and is positioned above the choir seats on the wall directly opposite Rainolds' monument. Both men are thus in sculpture staring across the choir seats and aisle at one another. The only obvious difference aside from the representation of the men themselves is whereas the book Rainolds is holding is closed, the book Spenser is holding is open. Whether any meaning is to be ascribed to this is an open question that has occasioned much speculation.