Laurence Chaderton was born in Lancashire, England, 1536, son of Thomas Chaderton, a Roman Catholic. His family were wealthy and devoted papists. Under the tuition of Laurence Vaux, a catholic priest, he became an able scholar. His father pushed him into law, and he was trained in the London Inns of Court, where he studied and practised for some years.
In 1564 Laurence entered Christ's College, Cambridge, where the Puritans were strong. After a short time, he became convinced of reformed doctrines. He wrote to his father for some financial support but the reply he got was an offer of thirty pounds a year if his son would quit Cambridge: (1)
Son, Laurence, if you will renounce the new sect which you have joined, you may expect all the happiness which the care of an indulgent father can assure you: otherwise, I enclose a shilling to buy a wallet. Go and beg.”Thus was Chaderton disinherited of a large estate. However, he quietly summoned up courage, and went on as a Puritan. His strong Christian character and academic dedication gained him a scholarship, which replaced the need for a begging bag. He must have felt like the apostle Paul who sustained his mind by laying hold on the promises of God his Saviour - having "suffered the loss of all things ,” that he may win Christ (Phil 3:8). Chaderton eked out his means with some teaching, and his father may have helped him a little, in spite of the threat.
Student years at CambridgeChaderton attained a thorough knowledge of the three ancient languages: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. He also learned French, Italian and Spanish, and made time for some botany too (1). He liked to join in the playful famous Town-n-Gown fights with fellow students, though in his case this was tempered by a genuine piety and seriousness. Archbishop Richard Bancroft owed his life to Chaderton, and the latter had risked his right hand to save him from a mob of enraged citizens. (1) In 1567 he was elected a fellow of his college, when taking his first degree; then followed by an M.A in 1561, and Bachelor of Divinity in 1578/1584. He was made doctor in Divinity in 1613.
His interest in the Old Testament was deep. McClure explains:
Moreover he had diligently investigated the numerous writings of the Rabbis, so far as they seemed to promise any aid to the understanding of the Scriptures. This is evident from the annotations in his handwriting appended to the Biblia Bombergi, [1518 Hebrew edition] which are still preserved in the library of Emanuel College. His studies were such as eminently to qualify him to bear an important part in the translating of the Bible. (2)
A famed preacherChaderton was successful in his teaching, but his fame lay in his preaching.
In early seventeenth century England, endlessly and repetitively, the word of God was preached in the 8,000 or so pulpits across England. It was the ocean in which everyone swam. Attendance at sermons was compulsory. Many people would hear two or three on a Sunday in which every last echo of meaning would be squeezed from the words of the Bible. And week after week, preachers would occupy their pulpits, analysing texts, pursuing moral and theological arguments, exercising the difficult and demanding skills that hold a congregation’s attention. They were clearly good at it. (3)Says McClure:
It is stated on high authority, that while our aged saint was visiting some friends in his native country of Lancashire, he was invited to preach. Having addressed his audience for two full hours by the glass, he paused and said,--"I will no longer trespass on your patience.” And now comes the marvel; for the whole congregation cried out with one consent,--"For God's sake, go on, go on!" He, accordingly, proceeded much longer, to their great satisfaction and delight.Coleridge said the best moral criterion of the character of an age is found in its sermons - their tone, their themes, their substance and how they identify with the emotional issues of the age. See the crowded congregations of those times, and note the intense interest sustained through one-hour-and-two-hour-long sermons. Here is sure evidence of moral and intellectual progress on the part of many. Not that today’s audience is any less uninterested, for our contemporaries too like to hear preaching which really is preaching. But, said Coleridge, ‘where shall we find men for the work like those who gave us our version of the Bible?’ (quoted in McClure)
A disciple of John CalvinChaderton started a series of afternoon lectures or sermons in 1567 at St. Clement's Church, Cambridge that continued for fifty years, attended by admiring audiences. Through the influence of his preaching many young men began to study the Bible and practise godliness. (3) They liked his plain and cogent way of explaining the way of salvation. He taught God’s predestination of the believer was unconditional, while our moral responsibility for choosing Christ remained intact. The juxtaposition of these statements may not sound reasonable, yet it is what the Bible teaches - therefore to be believed. He counted among his friends men of more extreme views like Thomas Cartwright and William Perkins. When “Chaderton decided, at eighty-two, to cease preaching he received letters from forty clergy begging him not to and testifying that they owed their conversion to his preaching.”(5)
Dr Peter Baron, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity publicly debated with him in 1576 over the Calvinist-Arminian divide. Dr. Chaderton held to his view with good grace, showing his learning and ability to notable advantage.
[This issue] was dividing the whole Protestant world..... [I]t was not a new problem. Scholars had for centuries applied themselves to what was a central paradox of the faith: how can God be all-powerful and all-loving? If he desires all men to be saved why does he not arrange it so that they are? If some of his creatures resist his grace, then his power must be limited. Calvin had taken the sovereignty of God as his starting point. The divine will cannot be thwarted. Therefore the distinction between the saved and the damned can only be explained by election. – God preordains those who are ordained for heaven and hell (6 ) .Two years later (1578) he was appointed preacher of the Middle Temple. This gave him opportunity to preach the gospel to a flock of lawyers, as one who had been himself trained to know the temptations of their calling.
Strong Christian character
In 1576 he married Cecilia Culverwell, daughter of the Queen’s wine merchant. This entailed giving up his fellowship. He was married for fifty-three years, and they had one daughter. During all that time he showed consistent spiritual concern for his domestic servants. He saw they needed to be in church, and so he never allowed food preparation or other household duties to take priority over their presence at public worship. Rather, he said, --"I desire as much to have my servants to know the Lord, as myself." He had high ethical standards for them, and dismissed a servant regardless of his hard work, once convinced he was a habitual liar, or was morally delinquent in some other respect. Although Chaderton had come from a wealthy family, he showed “a living affection for the poor” in their material need.(1)
Founding of Emmanuel College, CambridgeChaderton’s reputation was well established after eighteen years of University teaching and preaching. This led Sir Walter Mildmay (Chancellor of the Exchequer) to choose him as the first master of Emmanuel College in 1584, which he reluctantly accepted after Mildmay convinced him he was the best qualified man for the task. The purpose of this foundation was to train “godly ministers.” Sir Walter was not thought to be a high Churchman, and when the Queen suggested he had “erected a Puritan foundation," of dubious legal standing, Chaderton replied,
No, madam, far be it from me to countenance anything contrary to your established laws, but I have set an acorn, which, when it becomes an oak, God alone knows what will be the fruit thereof." And truly, it pleased God, that it should yield plenteous crops of Puritan "hearts of oak;" and afford an abundant supply of that sound, substantial, and yet spiritual piety, which stands in strong contrast with all superstition and formality.(1)
Chaderton was subtle and never allowed his advocacy of deep reform . . . to emerge in public. There was clearly something canny about him and the entire strategy of the Emmanuel project was not open revolution but a silent seeding of the Church of England to bring it, as by stealth, to a more reformed condition.(3)Nicolson gives an extraordinary exposition of the “astonishly loving atmosphere at the college.” A surviving manuscript in the Bodleian library records a correspondence between two Emmanuel students, which, when read in today’s context would suggest (wrongly) a homosexual relationship existed between them. One of the two men was William Sancroft, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury!
There is no suggestion of sex but the passion between these boys is unmistakable. . . . They lived together, read together and slept together. . . . This extraordinary and passionate atmosphere is one of the governing qualities of the time. The age was at ease with unbridled but apparently quite unsexual love between men. . . . We can no longer imagine that erotic passion and religious intelligence can be bound together into one living fabric.Chaderton’s team produced the KJV translation of the Song of Solomon, and Nicolson shows that Chaderton’s annotated notes of the erotic aspects of the poem breathe an air of frank innocence. The notes show a mind free from any perverted sentiments. A dysfunctional approach would be detectable in the way they dealt with the poem, had these men ever believed that homosexuality was a valid moral choice for the Christian. (3). In consequence, the correspondence recorded between Sancroft and his ‘lover’ should make someone very reluctant to accuse King James himself of closet homosexuality.(3)
During the radical Puritan movement of the 1580’s the college became a centre of its teachings, and thus Chaderton’s influence on the movement was great.
Presbyterianism in 1580’s Cambridge played the role of communism in the same 1930’s colleges. All young men with any brilliance or vitality were apart of the movement. Chaderton certainly was, as were his co-Emmanuel men and co-Translators, Frances Dillingham and Thomas Harrison. These young apostles were burning with the idea of a renewed, reformed and holy world.” (3)Chaderton as Master of Emmanuel worked for thirty-eight years with zeal and industry, building a high reputation for the college. During his rule he made provision for twelve fellows and above forty scholars in Emmanuel College. In 1622, now eighty-five years old, he resigned prematurely (so he felt) hoping thus to avoid an appointment of a successor who held Arminian doctrines. He successfully saw appointed Dr. John Preston, a champion among the Puritans - yet Chaderton outlived him!
Likewise Chaderton survived the next succeeding Master, William Sancroft. When he finally died in 1640 yet another Master of the College had succeeded to the post. This was Richard Holdsworth, who preached at his funeral. At the great age of 103, the old patriarch continued to read without spectacles, and was still consulted about the affairs of the College!
Launching the King James Version
At the Hampton Court Conference, in 1603, Dr. Chaderton was one of the four divines appointed by the King as being "the most grave, learned, and modest of the aggrieved sort," to represent the Puritan interest. Dr. Chaderton was a great friend of Bancroft’s from student days, and remained so in spite of their differences. They used to wrestle together when they met, both men being from Lancashire where wrestling is a traditional sport. Problem was Bancroft as Bishop of London was an arch-opponent of the Puritan doctrine and “all but wrecked [the Conference] by his belligerence and intransigence.” (3) Here, however, Chaderton took no part in the verbal sparring, and was accused of being ‘mute as any fyshe.’ He felt the Conference was somewhat farcical, given that King James would never surrender his claims to absolute power, which claim undemined a proper bsis for discussion and compromise. The Puritan sympathies towards eldership rather than episcopacy meant the four of them were at a disadvantage, though their erstwhile advocacy of Presbyterian government had become muted by the Elizabethan settlement. Yet, Chaderton was of a moderate temperament and did not object to the customary ceremonies, which his more extreme Puritan friends opposed: the ceremony of confirmation, the use of the cross in baptism, wearing a ring in the wedding service, kneeling to receive communion, and wearing a surplice.
Two of the other Puritans John Knewstubbs and the charming mild-mannered Laurence Chaderton had been at Cambridge with Lancelot Andrewes,[the influential Dean of Westminster] and used to have ‘constant meetings’ with him there. Their lives had certainly diverged . . . but even so there was a great deal uniting them. They had all studied the ancient languages together, read the Bible together and teased out the details of ‘Grammatical Interpretation’ together, ‘till at last they went out like Apollos, eloquent men, and mighty in the Scriptures. (3)
Chaderton was now approaching seventy years, and Master of Emmanuel College, “one of the most loved of all men in that University.” (3) Edward Lively was the director of the first Cambridge Company of translators. However, he died within months of taking the position, so Chaderton provided the direction. They translated the Old Testament books from 2 Chronicles to the Song of Songs. We owe the beauty of the Psalms to their work, as they took Coverdale’s translation and made it more immediate and fluent. Take for example Coverdale’s version of Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd: therefore can I lack nothingNow recall the Psalm 23 you learned by heart as a child! Which is the better?
He shall feed me in a green pasture: and lead me
forth beside waters of comfort.
He shall convert my soul: and bring me forth
In the paths of righteousness, for His Name’s sake.
McClure says of Dr. Chaderton:
He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one. Having reached his three score years and ten, his knowledge was fully digested, and his experience matured, while "his natural force was not abated," and his faculties burned with unabated fire. Even to the close of his long life, "his eye was not dim," and his sight required no artificial aid.
On November 13th 1640 Laurence Chaderton “died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.” (Gen 25:8)
1. Paine, Gustavus S. (1977/1959) The men behind the King James Version, MI: Baker, pp. 26 – 27; 140 – 141; 165 – 166This is 11/52 Previous Next Index
2. Vita Laurentii Chadertoni, a W. Dillingham, S. T. P. Cantab. 1700. Pp. 15, 24
3. Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. pp. 45 – 47, 130 – 134, 181 – 182.
4. Douglas, J.D. (1974) Dictionary of the Christian Church Exeter: Paternoster.
5. Packer, J D (1990) A Quest for godliness ILL: Crossway. p. 57.
6. Wilson, Derek (2010) The People’s Bible: The remarkable history of the King James Version, Oxon: Lion pp. 83, 93, 96-98.