Personal and Family Life

William Branthwaite was born about 1563 in Norwich, Norfolk. He was one of four sons of John and Elizabeth (Turner) Branthwaite. One of William's brothers, Richard, became a member of Lincoln's Inn, London and a Sergeant at Law, an ancient order of barristers that did much of the work in the common law courts.

William left home for Cambridge when he was sixteen years old to pursue his university studies. He likely did not suspect he would spend the balance of his life there as student, scholar, fellow, college administrator, and university leader.

His life was filled with challenges. In 1585 as a newly graduated B.A., he was chosen as one of the first twelve fellows of Emmanuel College. As one of the founding fellows, he had a major role in shaping the newly established college. He also had significant teaching and management responsibilities during his tenure at Emmanuel.

He ultimately became the master of Gonville and Caius College and a vice-chancellor of the university. His steady ascension within the university community demonstrates his competence and how well he was viewed by his colleagues.

It does not appear William Branthwaite ever married. His life was consumed in his academic calling. At some point he contracted tuberculosis and spent his last days in Badlingham near Newmarket. He died there in January 1619. He was fifty-nine. He was buried in the chapel of Gonville and Caius College, the institution to which he had devoted himself for the last decade of his life. His tomb lies between those of John Caius, founder of the college, and college master, Thomas Legge.

He was very generous to Emmanuel College, and Gonville and Caius in his will, leaving lasting legacies of books and scholarships.


William Branthwaite enrolled in Clare College, Cambridge in 1579. He remained at Clare until his graduated B.A. in 1583. He became a student at Emmanuel College in 1584. He proceeded M.A. in 1586, B.D. in 1593 and D.D. in 1598. He remained at Emmanuel until 1607.


William Branthwaite began his academic career at age twenty-two in 1585 when he was appointed one of the initial twelve fellows of Emmanuel College soon after it was established by Sir Walter Mildmay. He held this fellowship from 1585 until 1607. Additionally, in 1598 he served as the university's Lady Margaret Preacher. This professorship was founded by Lady Margaret, mother of Henry VII. It carried with it the responsibility for a series of preachments at different locales throughout the year. The office is one that continues today.

When the mastership of Gonville and Caius College became vacant in 1607 some controversy surrounded the election of Dr. John Gostlin to fill the position. Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury and chancellor of the university intervened and placed William Branthwaite in as master. Coming into office in this manner was not of his making, and was viewed negatively by some in the college. His twelve year term, lasting until his death, was not without controversy. Nonetheless, William Branthwaite filled the position of master with distinction.

During his mastership he, along with fellow Translators John Duport, Jeremiah Radcliffe, John Richardson and Laurence Chaderton were called upon to act as a tribunal deciding issues of guilt and meting out punishments in the riots involving members of Trinity and St. John's Colleges which occurred in February of 1610.

To cap his career at Cambridge, in 1618 William Branthwaite was appointed vice-chancellor of the university, a position of being its de facto chief executive. He was to hold this office for less than a year, dying in late January 1619.

William Branthwaite and the Translation

William Branthwaite was a member of the Second Cambridge Company led by his colleague John Duport. Members of the company included John Bois, Jeremiah Radcliffe, Andrew Downes, Samuel Ward, and Robert Ward. They translated the Apocrypha, a series of pre-Christian books sometimes included in the Bible.

William Branthwaite, with other members of his company, reviewed the work of all the Translators, and provided valuable input to the whole translation.

William Branthwaite was renowned as a scholar with special expertise in Greek. The extent of his scholarly interests is reflected in the composition of his library of fourteen hundred volumes, which is still intact at the Gonville and Caius College library and, to a much lesser extent, at Emmanuel College.

The King James Bible scholar, David Norton has inventoried the library and found it to contain a broad range of religious works, both Protestant and Catholic, Bibles and Bible commentaries, writings of the early Christian Fathers, and works by some of his fellow Translators. There are also classics such as the Iliad, Aesop's Fables, and the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and the political masterpiece of Machiavelli, The Prince. These reflect the depth and breadth of learning of just one of the Translators, though typical of many.

Bio Bits

Frank Stubbing in his book Forty-Nine Lives, an Anthology of Portraits of Emmanuel Men relates this story of William Branthwaite's legacy:

Branthwaite died in 1619, during his tenure of the Vice-chancellorship. By his will he founded scholarships at Gonville and Caius, to which college he left most of this library – about a thousand volumes. To Emmanuel he left an endowment for two scholars, a silver-gilt cup, and some twenty books, most of which are still identifiable in the College library. Anxious that his wishes should be properly carried out, he provided for an annual check. Every year the Provost of King's and the Master of Emmanuel were to make sure that both books and scholars at Gonville and Caius were all present and correct; and the Master of Caius with the Provost of King's was to do the same at Emmanuel. To sweeten their task, he provided also for an annual feast; and to facilitate it, MS catalogs of both sets of books were provided to both colleges. If any of the books were found missing, and not restored after due admonition, the remainder were to go to the other college. This annual audit was still being carried out when Richard Farmer was Master of Emmanuel in the late eighteenth century.