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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Thomas Bilson - Jacobean courtier bishop

Family and academic background

Thomas Bilson was born in 1546/7, was one of five children of German descent. The family were settled in Winchester for two generations, and had fairly close family links with the brewery trade, the local Council, Winchester College and Merton College, Oxford. Bilson was educated at the twin foundations of William de Wykeham, Winchester College (1559) and New College, Oxford, graduating BA (1566), and MA in 1570. He became a teacher in, and later Headmaster of Winchester College, 1572.

Winchester College Chapel

Theological achievements

In 1579 Bilson resigned the headship of Winchester to concentrate on theological study, rapidly acquiring a BTh that same year, and a DTh two years later. He was elected warden of the college, as well as canon and prebend at the cathedral. In 1596 he became bishop of Worcester, and three years later bishop of Winchester. Bilson broadened his academic interests during these years and

now became ‘infinitely studious and industrious in Poetry, in Philosophy, in Physick, and lastly (which his genius chiefly call'd him to) in Divinity’ (Harington, 72–3).(1)
Says McClure :
Anthony Wood proclaims him so “complete in divinity, so well skilled in languages, so read in the Fathers and Schoolmen, so judicious is making use of his readings, that at length he was found to be no longer a soldier, but a commander in chief in the spiritual warfare, especially when he became a bishop!"
The bishop also enjoyed and wrote a little distinguished poetry, which may explain why he was chosen to bring the final touches to the Bible translation work toward the end.

Bilson’s writings

During these years he wrote well over half a million words in two books - The True Difference betweene Christian Subjection and Unchristian Rebellion(1585) and The Perpetual Governement of Christes Church (1593).

[These] established Bilson, alongside Richard Hooker, as the most scholarly and learned of a group of contemporary writers who used the joint challenge of papal supremacy and presbyterian democracy both to carve out a defence of the Church of England.(1)
Bilson rejected both the right of the pope to depose a monarch or elect church ministers, and supported the political resistance of protestants on the continent. He believed the superiority of hereditary government depended for its validity on the original permission of the people, and that tyranny should be resisted in the face of arbitrary and unwise rule.

The harrowing of hell

Did Jesus descend into hell on our behalf, and endure our punishment, after He died? The phrase in the Apostles Creed might suggest He did. In a controversy which lasted from 1597 to 1604, Bilson interpreted the phrase literally, and this reflected the prevailing view of the time - whilst Puritans tended to prefer a metaphorical interpretation. Bilson maintained that Christ went to hell, not to suffer, but to wrest the keys of hell out of the Devil’s hands. Hugh Broughton, a noted Hebraist, aggressively opposed this, and his personal animosity towards some he disagreed with excluded him from the company of translators of the King James Bible.

Queen Elizabeth, in her ire, commanded Bilson, "neither to desert the doctrine, nor let the calling which he bore in the Church of God, be trampled under foot, by such unquiet refusers of truth and authority." [McClure]
In response, Bilson wrote a treatise of half a million words, entitled The Survey of Christ’s Sufferings.

Hampton Court Conference

Thomas Bilson preached at James I's coronation, July 1603. His Episcopal seniority made him one of the main combatants at the Hampton Court conference, January 1604. James had called the conference to give the Puritans an opportunity to speak their mind on then current and contentious ecclesiastical issues. But, Bilson didn’t want the conference to take place, as he felt the level and dignity of any discussion would be demeaned by their presence.

. . . according to Stephen Egerton [Bilson] had suggested to James that: “the Bishops (being esteemed the father and pillars of the Church, for gravitie, learninge & government, &c both at home and in forraine parts) might not be so disparaged as to conferre with men of so meane place and quality. (Shriver, 56)(1)
During the conference Bancroft was highly combative whereas Bilson because of ill health, ‘stoode mute: and said little or nothing’ (Usher, 340).(1)
Bilson was now suffering from sciatica, arthritis, vertigo, ‘a continual singing in my head … many obstructions and extreme windiness’ (Salisbury MSS, 17.6).(1)

Coronation chair - Westminster Abbey

Involvement in the KJB translation

Thomas Bilson was chosen, along with Richard Bancroft, as two of the most senior clergy, to review the entire draft translation of the Bible, and help put the final finishing touches to the all-important work. Once each company had completed its draft manuscript, and reviewed the drafts of each of the other five companies, Rule 10 of James 1 (as drawn up by Bancroft) required the entire work to be reviewed “by the chiefe persons of each company.” Rule 13 required that deans of both Westminster and Chester, and the Regius professors (RP) of both Universities be acknowledged as key participants, in the making of final textual choices. (2)

If any Company, upon ye review of ye books so sent, really doubt, or differ uppon any place, to send them word thereof, note the place, and withal send their reasons; to which if they consent not, the difference to be compounded at ye general meetinge, which is to be of the chiefe persons of each company, at ye ende of ye worke.
If James’ absolutist claims were to be honoured, this rule would have been adjudged flouted, had it not been followed carefully. Hence, it is very strange if John Bois’ biographer is accurate when he says the committee was not composed of those who had been previously overseers or supervisors of the six companies, but that they started afresh. [Rule 10]

The General Committee of revision

The final committee must have contained up to twelve members. Directors present (and their associated ‘heavyweights’) would have included four or five Regius professors of Hebrew and Greek [John Harding (RP 1604), Andrew Byng (RP 1608), Andrew Downes (RP 1585), John Peryn (RP 1597), and John Harmer). Others were Lancelot Andrewes (Dean of Westminster), John Duport, John Bois, Thomas Ravis, and William Barlow (Dean of Chester).] We know from a surviving document of the notes that John Bois took during the proceedings, that this review committee for certain included John Bois, Andrew Downes, and John Harmar.(3) The other committee members are inferred from the need to strictly apply Rules 10 and 13 of the Royal commission.

Committee of review

The General Committee of Review met at Stationers' Hall, London in 1609. They received a list of readings of texts, words or phrases which were still in some doubt, even after the six companies had discussed them and failed to reach agreement as to the best rendering. Some of their final decisions would have been tentative. The Committee would have made known to Bilson and Smith the textual issues at stake, which needed their input. However, it is hard to believe that the final-final review restricted itself to a list of stated ambiguities. The two men could well have worked through sections of the entire Bible individually, looking for opportunities to improve both style and substance, if such were possible. Every word was theoretically open to challenge, especially with an ear to producing a pleasing, sonorous, lucid style:

So Bois put down word meanings as a dictionary would, or alternates as a thesaurus would; later still would come a choice among possible constructions for sound and rhythm and euphony of the whole. The Bois notes show how careful the translators were, first of all, to determine exact meanings or establish a permissable range of meaning. Final constructions thus appear, almost always, to simplify the Bois suggestions.(3)

Stationer's Hall

The final-final review and revision

Miles Smith and Thomas Bilson undertook the final editing - already reviewed and revised - of the entire draft of the Bible. Bois’ notes show that the General committee not infrequently resolved a textual issue by recommending Andrew Downes’ preferences. The Bible itself shows that the two men probably had a definite say in some of the final choices. Just a few examples where the reviewers did not follow Andrew Downes’ choices (as perhaps initially recommended) are:

(1) 1 Cor 10:20 Downes: “And I would not have you partakers with the devil.” KJB: “and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils.”
(2) 1 Cor. 15:33 Downes. “Be not deceived; evil communications corrupt good natures/dispositions/manners/” The KJB final choice has “good manners.“
(3) 1 Thess. 5:23 Downes “. . . that your spirit may be kept perfect.” KJB: “your whole spirit . . . be preserved blameless.”
(4) 2 Tim. 2:5 Downes “and though a man labour for the best gain, try masteries . . . unless he strive and labour lustily.” KJB: “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”

In the final editing the last learned men, Smith and Bilson, used the Bois words “perfecting holiness” in II Corinthians 7:1. In the next phrase they refused the Bois phrasing, “we have made a gain of no man,” in favour of “we have wronged no man.” For 8:4 they took the whole Downes reading, “that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” (4)

However, the evidence suggests the procedure was a little more complex than making simple choices. The review committee probably left hanging some of the textual decisions needed, and offered possible alternatives. Then the manuscripts reached Bilson and Smith. It is highly probable the review committee suggested to Smith and Bilson their tentative resolutions of some knotty choices, in the hope of gaining the benefit of their viewpoint. However, Smith and Bilson would have found the tyranny of distance and competing duties hindered a proper resolution, in some or many cases. If so, in some cases they had simply to make their own choices, ignoring any referral to the General Committee. In other cases, they would have gone back and forth to the General Committee (either in session, or to various individual members within it) hoping to bring finality, whilst aiming to preserve harmonious relationships. It is not surprising if they were not entirely successful in this. Assuming there were some muted criticisms of supposed arbitrariness by one or two of the two reviewers, this would have emboldened Richard Bancroft, the overall manager of the project, and jealous of his perceived right to contribute to the final result, to make his own final changes!

Adding the finishing touches

Bilson was not required to add a prefatory address to King James, as this was Miles Smith’s privilege, and a brilliant essay he gave us. However, it is possible that Bilson helped Smith add the chapter headings. Bilson also wrote the dedication to the King placed in the front of the Bible, where “the glories of the Jacobean state are emblazoned here in unequivocal pomp and glory.” (3).

Final days

Thomas Bilson died in 1616, at a good old age, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He was said to have been the exemplar prelate. His tomb celebrates the coming bodily resurrection - the ultimate hope of every true Christian, whatever his ecclesiastico-political views. The text on the tomb reads:

Here lies Thomas Bilson formerly bishop of Winchester and counsellor in sacred matters of his serene highness King James of Great Britain who when he had served God and the church for nineteen years in the bishopric laid aside mortality in certain hope of resurrection 18th June 1616 aged 69.

Other names associated with the Translation

There are five other names connected with the translation of the Bible, which have not been considered in these blogs celebrating the quadricentennial year of the publication of the King James Bible. They are George Ryves, Thomas Sparke, William Eyre, Arthur Lake, and Nicholas Love. These all may have had a hand in the discussions of the translators, whether formally or informally. John Bois mentions Arthur Lake in his notes, as one involved in the final review discussions in general committee. However, the source for Sparke and Eyre’s involvement is said to be undependable (4). George Ryves is referred to in a letter from Thomas Bilson to Sir Thomas Lake, which describes Ryves as “warden of New College in Oxford, and one of the overseers of that part of the New Testament that is being translated out of Greek.” Bilson also asked the King if Nicholas Love, schoolmaster of Winchester could exchange some livings with Ryves, so they could cooperate better in helping the work forward. Perhaps this work consisted in providing a path of smooth communication between the companies, thus spurring members on to see the work expedited.(4)

And so, four hundred years on, God has mightily blessed the amazing achievement of these fifty-two or more men. He continues to bless those who read and study it seriously; and He will go on doing so, as long as English is spoken and understood.

(1) Richardson, William (2004) Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
(2) McGrath, Alister (2002) In the beginning: the story of the King James Bible and how it changed a nation, a language and a culture. New York: Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, Inc. pp 174-175
(3) Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. p. 208, 217.
(4) Paine, Gustavus, (1959/1977) The men behind the King James version, MI: Bakerpp. 115-116, 116-118, p. 76, 72.

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Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Richard Bancroft - a potent prelate

Academic background

Richard Bancroft was born in 1544 at Farnworth, a village in south Lancashire. His parents had clerical connections, for his great Uncle was Archbishop of Dublin and Bishop of Oxford. (1) Bancroft went to the local grammar school and thence to Cambridge, maybe aged 20. He first studied at Christ's College, and then Jesus College, being awarded a BA in 1567 and later an MA in 1570, at which time (1572) he was ordained a clergyman. His reputation was said to be higher on the sportsfield - in boxing, wrestling, and quarterstaff than as a scholar. Notwithstanding, he was chosen to greet Queen Elizabeth during her first visit to Cambridge in 1564. In 1575 he became rector of Teversham in Cambridgeshire, and the next year was appointed one of the preachers to the university. The further divinity studies of these years meant he graduated BD in 1580 and DD five years later.

Ecclesiastical appointments

Richard Bancroft held various livings, chaplaincies and was also a prebendary of St Paul’s. He had been canon of Westminster since 1587. He became Bishop of London in 1597. By this time, Archbishop Whitgift was virtually incapacitated by reason of age and infirmity, and this meant Bancroft exercised the power of primate, with sole management of ecclesiastical affairs. When Whitgift died in 1604, Bancroft formally accepted the position of Archbishop. He had but six years remaining to show the same zeal and severity towards the extreme puritan. Someone expressed the opinion that "if Bancroft had lived, he would quickly have extinguished all that fire in England which had been kindled at Geneva," such was his antipathy to the Puritan viewpoint.

Theological conflict

Bancroft knew the moderate Puritan Laurence Chaderton from College days, and the two remained lifelong friends in spite of their doctrinal differences. In his mature years Bancroft regarded men like John Rainolds, William Whitaker, and Chaderton as respectable moderates. By the time he reached his late 30’s Richard Bancroft had become a prominent opponent of the more extreme Puritans who believed the Church should be entirely separate from the State. In 1583 Bancroft reported a libel to the Magistrates, which had been pinned up in one of the city churches. This compared the Queen - England's ostensible ‘Deborah’ - to ‘that woman Jezebel’ of Revelation 2:20. Elizabeth had long pursued the middle way - later encapsulated in the writings of Richard Hooker - whereby Anglicanism was to be neither Puritan nor Roman. Ceremonial matters, such as the wearing of vestments were not a vital issue, though not to be despised. Bancroft’s report on the libel led to the arrest and subsequent death of two followers of Robert Browne, whose writings later accounted for the founding of Congregationalist churches. The axe fell on John Copping and Elias Thacker, for distributing Browne’s writings, especially A Treatise of Reformation without Tarrying for Anie.

Bancroft was increasingly involved in developing an anti-puritan rhetoric, and by the time that he was admitted DTh at Cambridge in April 1585 he had produced a series of investigative accounts of puritanism in which he wrote warmly in the defence of episcopacy and denounced the practices of gathered congregations. He condemned the heresies in Robert Browne's books . . . and sought to exploit the inner weaknesses and rivalries. . . (1)

Deadly politics

Bancroft preached a famous or notorious - depending on your point of view - at St Paul’s Cross, after becoming a member of the ecclesiastical commission.

On 9 February 1589 [Bancroft] preached at Paul's Cross a sermon, the substance of which was a passionate attack on the Puritans. He described their speeches and proceedings, caricatured their motives, denounced the exercise of the right of private judgment, and set forth the divine right of bishops in such strong language that one of the queen’s councillors held it to amount to a threat against the supremacy of the crown.
Bancroft set about to root out the separatist congregations in London. The fate of such men as Henry Barrow, John Greenwood and John Penry was sealed, (died 1593). John Penry may have been an author of the anonymous Marprelate Tracts (1588), which lampooned the Bishops. . . .[T]he more extreme separatists, who considered each congregation a self sufficient church of Christ, became the target of a campaign led by Richard Bancroft. They were to be found in private houses all around London, holding private conventicles in which their inspirational preachers were ‘esteemed as godds.’ . . . The state church could not tolerate the freedom or the priestlessness of such behaviour. Many Separatists . . . fled to the Netherlands but others were arrested. . . . . Their leaders, honest, fierce men, the spiritual forebears of the Massachusetts colonists, were to be interrogated. . . . Andrewes was at their head. . . . Andrewes argued with [Henry Barrow in vain] . . [Barrow] was finally executed. . . (2)

Defending episcopacy

In 1592 Bancroft became a household chaplain of the archbishop, at Lambeth. There he wrote two books defending the union of Church and State. Having already publicly defended episcopacy in response to the Marprelate Tracts, he now showed the origins of the Puritan reform movement as being located in Geneva, under John Calvin, and coming via Theodore Beza, to England. Over against this, he espoused episcopacy as established by God, using the influential writings of Hadrian Saravia, another KJV translator (1590). Bancroft rejected the pattern of reformation demanded by the ‘separatists,’ in the belief that episcopacy was validated by both Scripture and History.

The Hampton Court Conference

Richard Bancroft was not initially well disposed to John Rainolds’ proposal for a new definitive translation of the Bible. However, once the King confirmed his desire, and Bancroft was appointed Archbishop the same year (1604), he pursued the King’s cause thoroughly and energetically. He drew up fifteen rules for the translators to follow, as approved by King James. These rules had a seriously limiting effect on the translators’ method. It is these rules which justify viewing Bancroft as one of the translators, even though - in his role as overseer of the project - he belonged to none of the six companies of translators. Examples of his control over method are the following instructions: (1) Follow the Bishops’ Bible as far as the truth of the original will permit - but also use Tyndale, Matthews, Coverdale, and Geneva, where necessary. This rule naturally limited the style of the translator in choosing his words. (2) Keep traditional ecclesiastical words in the Text e.g. don’t change “church” to “congregation” (3) Treat the writings of the Church fathers as a precedent, and follow their translation choices, as a way of resolving ambiguity in word-meaning. (4) Rule 10: In matters of disagreement, refer the problem to the directors of each company for final discussion and decision, when deciding on word (or phrase) choices. (5) In knotty cases involving rare words, use the skills of other scholars outside the companies to settle the meaning if at all possible.

What did Bancroft translate?

On the strength of his controlling influence, Bancroft received the final draft of the KJB from Miles Smith and Thomas Bilson, and proceeded to make fourteen changes without any consultation with the directors of the teams.

Miles Smith, as final editor, protested that after he and Bilson had finished, Bishop Bancroft made fourteen more changes. “He is so potent that there is no contradicting him,” said Smith, and cited as an example of Bancroft’s bias His insistence on using “the glorious word Bishopric” even for Judas, in Acts 1:20. . . (3)
Acts 1:20 says:
For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
The KJB margin here has “bishoprick: or, office, or, charge.” Smith saw Bancroft had introduced an anachronism by inserting episcopacy into Acts 1, as the twelve apostles referred to in Acts 1 :17 were never called overseers (the literal meaning of episcopos) in the New Testament. They were by their preaching the founders of congregations. They were not the administrators of them; this was left to local and non itinerant leaders.

A second example of Bancroft’s anachronistic insertions is Acts 19:37.

For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.
The speaker here is the town clerk of Ephesus, almost certainly neither a Christian, nor aware of what a Christian church is. Yet, here he apparently defends the apostles against an imaginary charge of being “robbers of churches.” Whereas Luke wrote of “temple robbers” (hierosulos), the same word the Apostle Paul uses in Romans 2:22, to similar effect:
thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
Temples housed idols and were pagan places of worship, like the great Temple to the goddess Diana nearby. McClure explains:
Many of the Puritans were stiffly opposed to bestowing the name “church,” which they regarded as appropriate only to the company of spiritual worshippers, on any mass of masonry and carpentry. [It is not till about A.D. 229, that we find any record of the assembling of Christians in what would now be called a church Barton, Ecclesiastical history, p. 496.] But Bancroft, that he might for once stick the name to a material building, would have it applied, in the nineteenth chapter of Acts, to the idols’ temples! . . . . Let us be thankful that the dictatorial prelate tried his hand no farther at emending the sacred text.
Other changes were made, which, according to Alister McGrath are difficult to pinpoint:
Richard Bancroft reviewed what had been hitherto regarded as the final version of the text. It would be one of his final acts; Bancroft died on November 2, 1610, and never lived to see the translation over which he had held so much sway. Smith complained loudly to anyone who would listen that Bancroft had introduced fourteen changes in the final text without any consultation. Yet we remain unclear as to what those alleged changes might have been.
Bancroft died at Lambeth Palace, and in simple ceremony his body was interred two days later in the chancel of the parish church of Lambeth.

(1) Cranfield. Nicholas W.S. (2004) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
(2) Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. pp 86-87, 92.
(3) Paine, Gustavus. (1959/1977)The men behind the King James version, MI: Baker p. 128,
(4) McGrath. Alister (2001) In the Beginning: The story of the King James Bible p. 188

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Saturday, 17 December 2011

Ralph Ravens - a mysterious defection.

Career background

Ralph Ravens was born in or around 1553. He was educated at one of the best schools for instilling scholarly accuracy - Merchant Taylors’, from 1571 to 1575. Thence he went up to Oxford, to St. John's College aged 18, and became a fellow that same year, in 1575. He graduated B.A. at the age of 26 (approx.) - in 1579 - and received his M.A. four years later. Ravens then took ‘holy orders’ in 1587 and focused on studies in divinity, which led to a B.D. in 1589. He thereafter became vicar of Kirtlington, Oxfordshire, 1591. After five years in this ‘post’, and with continuing study, Ravens was awarded a doctorate (DD) in 1596, perhaps by now aged 43. He served also in the church at Dunmow, Essex in the year following. After several further years of service he became rector of Great Easton (also as Eyston Magna), Essex, commencing 1605.

Great Easton, Essex

Involvement in Bible translation

Ralph Ravens was a member of the second Oxford company, commissioned to translate the Gospels, Acts and the book of Revelation. This is generally acknowledged by both the presence of his name on preserved lists, and in the lists of contemporary writers. (1) After the initial appointments, two members of the second Oxford company were thereafter substituted. First Richard Eedes, dean of Worcester, died in 1604 before the work got started. (2) He was replaced by John Aglionby. Also, Ralph Ravens was replaced by Leonard Hutton at some point between 1604 and 1610. We do not know the reason for Ravens’ defection, nor exactly when the replacement occurred. It may have been due to personal conflict between members of the group. The Director, Thomas Ravis is described as “haughty and harsh.“ (2)
If this is true, it could easily have caused friction, leading to conflict within the group. The very similarity in their names may have tended to animosity. Or, was it that Ravens’ found himself unable to attend meetings regularly - whether through sickness or some other handicap?


All the evidence suggests Ravens contributed to translation work, perhaps for several years, leading up to the year when the King James version was presented for publication, in 1610. If he ‘fell foul’ of the Director of the company for some unknown reason, he may thereby have become persona non grata.

Ralph Ravens died in 1616.

(1) Ravens is listed as a member by: Alister McGrath, Alexander McClure, Adam Nicolson, Gustavus Paine, and on Wikipedia. Some admit ambivalence.
(2) Paine, p. 74. p. 50

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Thursday, 8 December 2011

James Montagu - Royal devotee

James Montagu (also Mountagu, Montague) was born in 1568 at Boughton, Northamptonshire to Sir Edward Montagu. James’ mother Elizabeth came from the influential Sidney family. His mother’s aunt Frances Sidney, provided in her will for the foundation of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Her executors chose James Montagu as the first master of the college, with the cautious approval of other heads, being concerned whether someone in his twenties was a suitable appointment. Montagu laid the foundation stone of the college, of which he was Master from 1596 to 1608. Understandably, this family connection determined Montagu's career in the university, in the Royal court, and in the Church.

Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex

Academic career

Montagu became a fellow-commoner at Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1585. He was created DD ‘by special grace’ in 1598. He never held a parochial living.

Ecclesiastical appointments

St. James' Palace,
one of the Chapels Royal.

The year 1603 was an important year for Montagu. He was appointed to the royal chaplaincy, and then to the deanery of the Chapel Royal. He also became dean of Lichfield, and dean of Worcester cathedral, 1604. Four years later Montagu was consecrated Bishop of Bath and Wells and proved an energetic administrator. In 1616 he was made Bishop of Winchester. Whilst at Bath and Wells, he was a supporter of the legend of the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury.

Supporter of Puritanism

Richard Bancroft revived the royal chapel deanery to counteract Scottish presbyterian influence upon James. Montagu’s appointment was recognition he was an appropriate mediator between ecclesiological extremes, for, on the one hand he followed Calvinist teaching - sympathetic to those of ‘godly conscience‘; on the other hand, he saw no reason to question episcopacy and the royal prerogative in matters of church discipline. He had even spoken in favour of ceremonies at the Hampton Court conference. Yet, it is not surprising that while Master, Montagu’s influence earned the college a reputation as supporting puritanism.

Close to the King

King James 1

James Montagu was a royal favourite, and this link was both immediate (1603) and lifelong. He was closer to the king than George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, and was seen as influencing James I against the Arminians. Montagu introduced the Puritan Arthur Hildersham, to court circles, and Francis Bacon judged him one of the three most influential servants in the king's household - despite now and then getting into practical difficulties with the King, over puritan issues.

Montagu as writer and translator

James Montagu edited the collected works of the King. James’ eight books were written between 1584 and 1609. Montagu gave a long panegyrical preface to the collection, and this seems to have been his one original composition. Montagu’s introduction so excelled in formal public eulogy that the King would have had little difficulty in seeing himself in absolutist terms. James’ insistence on the full allegiance of his subjects versus Roman Catholicism was formalized in An Apologie for the Oath of Allegiance in 1607. Montagu helped produce this work - he was more the adminstrator than an assiduous scholar.

Translator of the King James Version?

Such a close connection to the King during the time the Bible was being revised and translated would have allowed Montagu some connection with the work. It seems fashionable for Montagu’s name to be included on the formal list, describing the second Oxford company of translators.(1) (2) Others exclude his name for lack of evidence (3) (4). The group worked on the Gospels, the Acts and Revelation. However, is there any real evidence that Montagu was an official member of the company? He was a busy adminstrator in the west country during the years the translation was being made. He had received an ‘honorary’ D.D. but we do not know if he was consulted, even informally - though it would not have been inappropriate to do so:

Proof one way or the other, is most difficult. The surmise that many must have aided in the translation unofficially, seems justified. Many must have offered advice on verses, helped solve hard problems, and queried readings on which the chosen learned men agreed. (5)

Last days

Montagu died at Greenwich in 1618, In his will he remembered the king's favour as ‘the greatest comforte of my life’, and left him a gold cup of £100 value.(5) Montagu estimated in his will that he had already bestowed over £5000 on his episcopal properties; further bequests included rents and ‘all my bookes’ to Sidney Sussex College. His body was taken to Bath for burial in the abbey church whilst his bowels were buried in the chancel at Greenwich. His commissioned tomb shows a canopied recumbent effigy of the bishop in the nave of Bath Abbey.

1. Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. p. 258.
2. McGrath, Alister (2001) In the beginning Lon: Hodder. p.181.
3. McClure, Alexander. (1858) The translators revived: A Biographical Memoir of the Authors of the English Version of the Holy Bible. Mobile, Alabama: R. E. Publications (republished by the Marantha Bible Society, 1984 ASIN B0006YJPI8)
4. McCullough, P. E. (2004) Oxford dictionary of national biography Authorized Version of the Bible, translators of the.
5. Payne, Gustavus, (1959/1977)The men behind the King James version, MI: Baker p. 76.

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Friday, 2 December 2011

William Thorne - a strange contention

Academic background

William Thorne was born in 1568 in Semley, Wiltshire. His background, according to University records, made him a ‘plebe’ (plebeius: neither a gentleman nor a clergyman)! However, there was a pre-existing link between Thorne's family and the aristocratic family of Pembrokes.(1) Thorne entered Winchester College in his teens (1582) and from there went up to New College, Oxford, graduating BA in 1589. An MA followed in 1592. Five years later he was ‘licensed to preach.’ He was Regius professor of Hebrew in Oxford from 1598 for six years, until 1604. In the meantime, he formalized his divinity studies, receiving a BD in 1600, with a doctorate two years later.

His linguistic abilities

Thorne was both a classical and Hebrew scholar. His ability to read Hebrew is evidenced in some extant letters and poems, which were written to him in Hebrew. He himself is known to have written at least one poem in Hebrew.

Thorne frequently corresponded with the well-known Dutch Hebraist Johann Drusius (Johannes van-den-Driesche). In 1609 the latter dedicated one of his writings to Thorne, expressing gratitude that he had generously taken in Drusius's son, John, for two years in Oxford. John was a prodigy, said to have mastered Hebrew at the age of nine! In this writing, in 1609, Drusius quotes some Syriac too, adding a remark in such a way as to imply Thorne also knew some Syriac. There is some indication that Thorne may have also been able to read Arabic. The Elizabethan poet and clergyman Charles Fitzgeffrey devoted a Latin epigram to him in his Affaniae (1601), in admiration of Thorne’s oriental scholarship.

Ecclesiastical offices

William Thorne became dean of Chichester in 1601. The same year he became rector of Tollard Royal, Wiltshire, and two years later prebend of Bussall. Another three years passed, and he took the vicarage of Amport, Hampshire, in 1606. Then, a year later in 1607 he became canon of Chichester and rector of Birdham, Sussex. Then in 1613 the prebend of Hova Villa, and with the passing pf another three years he became rector of North Marden, Sussex. Finally in 1619 he took the rectory at Warblington, Hampshire.

Translator of the KJV

There is no good reason to doubt that William Thorne was a member of the first Oxford company, translating the Major and Minor Old Testament prophets. Thorne’s involvement in the project is made certain by a paper, written in 1606, housed in the Public Records Office, London. This is worth quoting in detail, as follows:

At the request of Dr. Thorne, his majesty’s chaplain, we whose names are hereunto subscribed have thought it equal and just to make known unto all, whom it appertained, that he hath for many years read the public Hebrew lecture with very good recommendation in the University of Oxford, that he is now likewise very necessarily employed in the translation of that part of the Old Testament which is remitted to that university, that he doth govern in the church of Chichester where he is dean with judgment and discretion, and that in the one and the other place he hath ever been and now is of very good and honest reputation. (2)[emphasis added]
This was a petition written in 1606, signed by fourteen bishops, including Thomas Bilson of Winchester and Thomas Ravis of Gloucester - both involved, respectively, as editor and translator of the KJV.

Earliest is best?

What more evidence, then, does the enquirer seek before Thorne‘s name is confidently added to the first Oxford company of translators? Why is doubt still expressed by some, as to Thorne’s membership of the Oxford translation committee? The answer relates to the thorny question of the ostensibly scientific principle, when applied to manuscripts. This says, “earliest is best,“ and Thorne’s name is not mentioned in the earliest lists of translators. This is analogous to the disputed question whether the KJV Text itself represents an inferior unscientific scholarship (compared to more contemporary translations), because the King’s translators did not seek out and prefer the textual readings of the earliest extant Greek manuscripts, nor did they assume that, because they (such few as existed) were earlier, they were therefore better.

The evidence in support of Thorne’s involvement, is substantial, as quoted, even if his name is not among the 48 scholars listed in the British museum. For example, would Thomas Bilson and Thomas Ravis have signed the document as worded, if Thorne had not been involved in the translation? Moreover, Thorne’s credentials as former Regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford for six years, as well as being the King's chaplain, would have been more than enough to make him eminently suitable for inclusion in the translation project. Thorne was also a member of John Case's circle. This was a group of Oxford students who regularly met in Case’s own house in Oxford, to discuss philosophical topics, up to 1600. In 1592 John Case wrote a dedicatory verse to one of Thorne’s works - a commonplace book reorganizing Cicero's ideas on rhetoric, with extensive reference to Aristotle. (1) Thorne clearly was in the wider environment of Oxford scholarship, and this group included several of the Oxford translators. One of them, Ralph Ravens, was also wrongly omitted from some of the early lists. Failure to invite Thorne to join a translation company ran the risk of being received as an insult.

Final days

William Thorne died in 1630 and was buried in Chichester Cathedral. There is no record to suggest he ever married.

(1) DeCoursey Mathew, (2004) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Authorized Version of the Bible, translators of the.
(2) Payne, Gustavus, (1959/1977)The men behind the King James version. MI: Baker pp. Pp. 46, 75-76

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Thursday, 1 December 2011

Richard Kilby - reputable Hebraist

Richard Kilby was born in 1560/61 at in Ratcliffe-on-the-Wreake, Leicestershire. Leicestershire. No details are know as to the identities of his parents. He entered Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1577, aged sixteen, and was elected to a fellowship there in the following year. A BA and MA followed in 1578 Focusing on divinity for another four years, he received a B.D. and finally a D.D. in 1596. He took ‘holy orders’ in the usual way, and became a preacher of note in the University. In 1590 he was elected rector of Lincoln College, and in 1601 he became a prebend of Lincoln Cathedral.

His academic attainments

Kilby’s acquaintance Isaac Casaubon described him as ‘a man of some reading beyond the common’ (Feingold, 455)(1).

Richard Kilby was appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew in Oxford University. He held this professorship from 1610 until his death in 1620. His one publication was the sermon he gave at the funeral service in 1612 for Thomas Holland, who had been the university's Regius professor of divinity.

Kilby had hoped to publish a continuation of Jean Mercier's commentary on the book of Genesis. However, the Library of Lincoln College contains a surviving manuscript commentary on Exodus. This document shows the extent of his Hebrew learning, as he gives substantial quotes from up to one hundred Hebrew sources, many of them scarcely known writings of Rabbinical interpreters.

Translation of the KJV

Kilby became a member of the first Oxford company, appointed by King James 1 to translate the Major and Minor prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi. The Director of the company was John Harding, president of Magdalen College.

The writer of short biographies, Izaac Walton, in his life of the once-celebrated Bishop Sanderson, describes an incident involving a young inexperienced preacher whom Richard Kilby heard whilst traveling with Bishop Robert Sanderson . The young clergyman was in effect criticizing from the pulpit the inferior scholarship of the new King James translation. Isaac Walton, author of The Complete Angler, tells it in his own words.

I must here stop my reader, and tell him that this Dr. Kilby . . . was to ride a journey into Derbyshire, and took Mr. Sanderson to bear him company; and they, resting on a Sunday with the Doctor’s friend, and going together to that parish church where they then were, found the young preacher to have no more discretion, than to waste a great part of the hour allotted for his sermon in exceptions against the late translation of several words . . . . [He] shewed three reasons why a particular word should have been otherwise translated. When evening prayer was ended . . . the Doctor told him, he might have preached more useful doctrine, and [as for] that word for which he offered . . . three reasons why it ought to have been translated as he said, he and others had considered all of them, . . . . And the preacher was so ingenuous [as] to say, ‘He would not justify himself.' McClure
In fact, Kilby told the young man that, not only that they had considered his proposed reading, but thirteen others as well; only then had they decided on the rendering they gave in their translation!

Kilby left a large and valuable collection of books to Lincoln College. These comprised Hebrew volumes, commentaries on the Pentateuch, as well as dictionaries and Bibles. He died in 1620 and was buried in the chancel of All Saints' Church, Oxford.

(1) Wilson, David. (2004) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Authorized Version of the Bible, translators of the.

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