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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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