King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Richard Clerke was born about 1564 in London, the son of George Clerke. Nothing is known of his mother. George Clerke lived until 1607 when he died in Canterbury, apparently living with Richard and his family.
Richard Clerke entered Christ's College Cambridge in 1579. He stayed in Cambridge for nearly twenty years pursuing his studies, teaching, and involved in his college's administration. By 1602 he accepted a position in Canterbury, married, and began having a family. Between 1603 and 1619 Mrs. Clerke (her first name is unknown) had at least ten children. Several died in infancy, one was still born. She had two daughters, Mary, who died young, and Katherine, her last born. Mrs. Clerke died in October 1620, less that a year after giving birth to Katherine.
Her death left Richard in Canterbury with a household of children to raise by himself. He may not have received much help from his oldest boys as in his will he called them his "unkind sonnes" and left them very little. At least two of his sons, James and Martin, like their father, attended and graduated from Christ's College, Cambridge.
Richard lived fourteen years after his wife's death, dying in September of 1634. Religiously he was conformist rather than Puritan.
Richard Clerke entered Christ's College, Cambridge in December 1579. He graduated B.A. in early 1583, proceeded M.A. in 1585, B.D. in 1593 and D.D. in 1598.
Richard Clerke's academic career began with his election to a fellowship at Christ's College in 1583. He held this teaching and administrative position for fifteen years. While Christ's College was Puritan leaning, Richard was a leader of the conformists. The tension between these factions brought complaints of bias from Richard Clerke to Lord Burghley, the university chancellor. At some point fights broke out, and Richard was accused of striking the Puritan fellow, and future bishop, George Downame. Edmund Barwell, the college master concluded the accusation was true. Before any punishment could be meted out to Clerke, he appealed the matter to the vice-chancellor and nothing more is noted in the historical record. By November of 1590, Barwell and the quarreling fellows had reconciled. Richard Clerke, George Downame and others signed their names to the following:
We whose names are subscribed doe forgeve and forget all injuries past whatsoever, and doe promise to deale Christianly and friendly hereafter, one with another, in wordes and actions.
In 1596 Clerke was selected as the Lady Margaret Preacher at the university, a significant honor. The next year he became vicar of Minster, in the Island of Thanet. Later he became rector of Snargate, Kent (1609) and vicar of Monkton with Birchington, Kent. He held these positions concurrently for the rest of his life.
In 1602 he received the office of Six-Preacher in Canterbury Cathedral which was to bring him to the attention of the king and his fellow clerics.
Many of his sermons were published in a book called Sermons Preached by that Reverend and Learned Divine Richard Clerke.
Richard Clerke and the Translation
Richard Clerke was a member of the First Westminster Company directed by Lancelot Andrewes. First Westminster had responsibility for translating the Old Testament from Genesis through 2 Kings.
Each member of the company was a skilled scholar with special learning in ancient languages especially Hebrew. By 1604 Richard Clerke had spent many years as a teacher and scholar. He has been described as a "learned Hebraist". Another reason for his assignment to this company may have been its proximity to his residence at Canterbury. Hadrian Saravia, the other Canterbury based Translator, was also a member of this company.
As was mentioned above, the Clerke family was growing during the period of translation with many young children afoot. The meetings of the company in London would have necessitated Richard taking long and frequent absences from home, thus throwing an enormous burden upon his wife. Though her given name is not even known, Mrs. Clerke deserves credit for the part she played as critical support for her husband in his important role in the translation. Of course, many of the Translators were family men whose wives and family sacrificed for the translation project, perhaps as much or more than their husbands.
The position of Six Preacher to which Richard Clerke was appointed, and in which he served for thirty-two years, was unique to Canterbury Cathedral. Its creation can be traced back to Archbishop Thomas Cromwell in 1541. In that year Cromwell brought into existence a small college of six priests known as the Six Preachers. These men were to be well educated and articulate. They were to preach Reformation sermons but their members were to include equal numbers of conformists and those in sympathy with Puritan views. They were not only to preach at the cathedral, but also among the people in their parishes. Residences were provided them at Canterbury and they were accorded a heightened social status, being invited to live with the dean and canons, and have their own stalls in the cathedral. When Richard took his place among the six, the office of Six Preacher was just sixty years old. His service added luster to the office which continues today, four hundred and twenty years later.
When Richard Clerke died in 1634 his youngest child, daughter Katherine, then only fifteen, was left in the care of her mother's maternal aunt "the elder Lady Oxinden". Since his will makes provision for his widow, he must have remarried after the death of his first wife. His will also made charitable bequests to schools, hospitals and even to the farmers of Minster to help them improve their livestock.