Tag Archives: Adam Nicolson

The darker side of the chief King James Bible translator, Lancelot Andrewes

Portrait of Bishop Andrewes by Hollar

One of the most amazing feats of history was the creation of the King James Version of the Bible in the years leading up to 1611. A committee of bickering scholars pulled together one of the two greatest works of English literature–great, at least, in their formative influence on the language and culture of English-speaking nations–with the other being the plays of Shakespeare.

The “lead mule” on this herculean project was perhaps the most brilliant man of his age, and one of the most pious, Lancelot Andrewes. A fascinating figure in his own right, Andrewes was not only a scholar and a spiritual man, but also a master of ecclesiastical politics. Like all people, he was not without flaws, and Adam Nicolson, author of God’s Secretaries, looked unstintingly into those flaws as well as the greatness of the man. Here is some of what Nicolson discovered:

[You should know that a prebendary is a post connected to an Anglican or Catholic cathedral or collegiate church and is a type of canon. Prebendaries have a role in the administration of the cathedral. A prebend is a type of benefice, which was usually drawn from specific sources in the income from the cathedral estates.]

26           “By midsummer [1603], London under plague now looked, sounded, and smelled like a city at war. It was by far the worst outbreak England had known. Here now, grippingly, and shockingly, the first and greatest of the Bible Translators appears on the scene. It is not a dignified sight. Lancelot Andrewes was a man deeply embedded in the Jacobean establishment. He was forty-nine or fifty, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was also Dean of Westminster Abbey, a prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral, drawing the income from one of the cathedral’s manors, and of Southwell Minster, one of the chaplains at the Chapel Royal in Whitehall, who under Elizabeth had twice turned down a bishopric not because he felt unworthy of the honour but because he did not consider the income of the sees he was offered satisfactory. Continue reading

Both clear and rich: The language of the King James Bible (The making of the King James Bible, part II: Glimpses from Adam Nicolson)

Cover of "God's Secretaries: The Making o...

Nicolson's penetrating book on the King James Bible

Throughout his book God’s Secretaries, Adam Nicolson probes the culture of Jacobean England (that is, England under James I) for clues to the nature of the King James Bible—in particular the political, spiritual, and aesthetic commitments of those who translated it, and how those emerged in the way it was written, the rhetorical and poetic qualities of the language. Here are a few of those clues, which amount to a penetrating portrait of the language of the King James Bible–its sources and nuances:

“[James I’s] troubled upbringing had shaped a man with a divided nature. Later history, wanting to see him as a precursor for his son’s catastrophe, has chosen only the ridiculous aspects of James: his extravagance, his vanity, his physical ugliness, his weakness for beautiful boys, his self-inflation, his self-congratulatory argumentativeness. Some of that had been in evidence at Hampton Court. But there was another side to James which breathed dignity and richness: a desire for wholeness and consensus, for inclusion and breadth, for a kind of majestic grace, lit by the clarity of a probing intelligence, rich with the love of dependable substance, for a reality that went beyond show, that was not duplicitous, that stood outside all the corruption and rot that glimmered around him. These were the elements in James and in Jacobean court culture that came to shape the Bible which bears his name.” (60-61)

“[T]he method, staffing and manner of the King James Bible stemmed from James himself. Continue reading

In anticipation of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version: A brief review of God’s Secretaries

Frontispiece to the King James Bible, 1611, sh...

Frontispiece to the King James Bible, 1611, shows the Twelve Apostles at the top.

Sorry for the brief hiatus in blog posting—I’ve been off in Atlanta at the Society for Biblical Literature there—to be precise, at a symposium at that conference dedicated to the history of the King James Version of the Bible. Next year is the 400th anniversary of the first publication of the KJV, and scholarly and popular forces are massing to commemorate it.

A friend had written a paper on the history of the KJV (to be precise, a history of opposition to the KJV) but found himself unable to deliver it at Atlanta, and so asked me to go in his place. Among the high points of that visit was meeting Dr. David Norton, author of the forthcoming The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today and other books on the KJV. Said a conferee: “In the field of KJV studies, Norton is #1, and there is no #2!” Norton is a gracious Brit now living in Wellington, NZ (of which he showed us a slide—LOTR country sure is beautiful).

For reasons I am not yet, as they say, “at liberty to divulge,” the King James Version of the Bible is my intensive study these days. One part of that has been to read the splendidly readable and informative book by Adam Nicolson: God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (2003). Continue reading