In the Translators’ Preface, which used to be printed with all the earlier editions of the Bible, there is an allusion to one who was the “chief overseer and task-master under his Majesty, to whom were not only we, but also our whole Church, much bound.” This was Dr. Bancroft, then Bishop of London, on whom devolved the duty of seeing the King’s intentions in regard to the new version carried into effect. Though he had but little do to in the studies by which it was prepared, yet his general oversight of all the business part of the arrangements makes it proper to notice him on these pages.
He was born near Manchester, and educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. He was chaplain to Queen Elizabeth, under whom he became Bishop of London in 1597. On the death of Whitgift, in 1604, he succeeded to the archbishopric of Canterbury. In one year thereafter, such was his fury in pressing conformity, that not less than three hundred ministers were suspended, deprived, excommunicated, imprisoned, or forced to leave the country. He was indeed a terrible churchman, of a harsh and stern temper. Bishop Kennett, in his history of England, styles him “a sturdy piece;” and says “he proceeded with rigor, severity, and wrath, against the Puritans.” He was the ruling spirit in that infamous tribunal, the High Commission Court, a sort of British Inquisition. Nicholas Fuller, an eminent and wealthy lawyer of Gray’s Inn, ventured to sue out a writ of Habeas Corpus in behalf of two of Bancroft’s victims in that Court, and argued so boldly for the liberation of his clients, that Bancroft threw him also into prison, where he lingered till his death. Fuller gives the following picture of this prelate: --”A great statesman he was, an a grand champion of church-discipline, having well hardened the hands of his soul, which was no more than needed for him who was to meddle with nettles and briars, and met with much opposition. No wonder if those who were silenced by him in the church were loud against him in other places. David speaketh of ‘poison under men’s lips.’ This bishop tasted plentifully thereof from the mouths of his enemies, till at last, (as Mithradates,) he was so habituated unto poisons, they became food unto him. Once a gentleman, coming to visit him, presented him a libel, which he found pasted on his door; who nothing moved thereat, ‘Cast it,’ said he, ‘to an hundred more which lie here on heap in my chamber.’” Peremptory as his proceedings were with all sorts of Dissenters, whether popish or puritan, he seems sometimes to have had a relenting fit. It is but fair to relate the following incident. Fuller tells of an honest and able minister, from whom he derived the statement, who protested to the Primate, that it went against his conscience to conform to the Church in all particulars. Being about to be deprived of his living in consequence, the Archbishop asked him, --”Which way will you live, if put out of your benefice?” The minister replied, that he had no way except to beg, and throw himself upon Divine Providence. “Not that,” said the Archbishop, “you shall not need to do; but come to me, and I will take order for your maintenance.” Such instances of generosity, however, were “few and far between.”
Imperious as Bancroft was to his inferiors, he set them an example of servility to himself, by his own cringing to his master, the King. In a despicably flattering oration, in the Conference at Hampton Court, he equals King James to Solomon for wisdom, to Hezekiah for piety, and to Paul for learning! Scotland owes his memory a grudge for his unwearied endeavors to force Episcopacy upon that people. He was equally strenuous for the divine rights of kings and of diocesan bishops. He vigorously prevented the alienation of church-property; and succeeded in preventing that most greedy and villainous old courtier, Lord Lauderdale, from swallowing the whole bishopric of Durham!
Dr. Bancroft died in 1610, at the age of sixty-six years, and was buried at Lambeth Church. He cancelled his first will, in which he had made large bequests to the church, and so gave occasion to the following epigram:--
Repented once that he had a good will.”
In his second testament, he left the large library at Lambeth to the University of Cambridge. Although in his time, the political sky was clear, he is said to have had the sagacity to foresee that coming tempest, which Lord Clarendon calls “the great rebellion,” and which burst upon England in the next generation.
In his general supervision of the translation-work, he does not appear to have tampered with the version, except in a very few passages where he insisted upon giving it a turn somewhat favorable to his sectarian notions. But, considering the control exercised by this towering prelate, and the fact that the great majority of the Translators were of his way of thinking, it is quite surprising that the work is not deeply tinged with their sentiments. On the whole, it is certainly very far from being a sectarian version, like nearly all which have since been attempted in English. It is said that Bancroft altered fourteen places, so as to make them speak in phrase to suit him. Dr. Miles Smith, who had so much to do with the work in all its stages, is reported to have complained of the Archbishop’s alterations. “But he is so potent,” says the Doctor, “there is no contradicting him!” Two of those alleged alterations are quite preposterous. To have the glorious word “bishopric” occur at least once in the volume, the office is conferred, in the first chapter of Acts, on Judas Iscariot! “His bishopric let another take.” 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. * 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! “Robbers of churches” are strictly, according to the word in the original, temple-robbers; and particularly, in this case, such as might have plundered the great temple of Diana at Ephesus. Let us be thankful that the dictatorial prelate tried his hand no farther at emending the sacred text.
* 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, ECC. HIST., 496.