The Hampton Court Conference

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Although
the year 1611 is commonly associated with the Authorized Version,
since that is when it was first published, the beginnings of what
many consider to be the “noblest monument of English prose”
or the “word of God in English” – the King James Authorized
Version – can be traced back to 1604; and specifically, the Hampton
Court Conference held in January of 1604. This means that January
of 2004 is the 400th anniversary of the Hampton Court
Conference in which the Authorized Version was born.

The
date of the conference is sometimes given as 1603/1604. The reason
that early English dates are sometimes given in this manner is because
of the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. At
the time of the Hampton Court Conference, England was still under
the Julian calendar, and recognized March 25 as the beginning of
the new year. The Gregorian calendar, promulgated in 1582 by Pope
Gregory XIII, subtracted thirteen days from the month of October
to correct for errors in the Julian calendar, and mandated that
the new year begin on January 1. It was not until 1752 that Great
Britain and its colonies shifted to the Gregorian calendar.

Hampton
Court Palace was (and still is) located about 15 miles southwest
of London on a curve of the River Thames. The owners of the land
upon which the Palace now stands can be traced back to before the
Norman Conquest of 1066. For hundreds of years the large tract of
land contained a manor house and fields for grazing and farming.
King Henry VII (1457–1509) and his wife spent time at Hampton
Court during his quarter-century reign (1485–1509) before it
became a king’s palace.

Cardinal
Wolsey (1475–1530), the powerful Lord Chancellor to the new
king, Henry VIII (1491–1547), rented the manor in 1514. The
ancient buildings were demolished and work was begun on an elaborate
palace that was to eventually contain a thousand rooms. After a
two-year building project, the palace received its first guests
– King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536).
All of Henry’s six wives spent time at Hampton Court, as did his
three children, Edward (1537–1553), Mary (1516–1558),
and Elizabeth (1533–1603).

When
Cardinal Wolsey was deposed after failing to secure a divorce for
the king, Henry VIII took possession of Hampton Court and made it
his palace. This time, however, he was with Anne Boleyn (1507–1536),
whom he would marry three years later – after her pregnancy
and before his divorce from Catherine. A succession of four more
wives followed, as well as considerable structural alterations so
as to make it clear that Hampton Court was now the King’s Palace.
After the death of King Henry VIII, Hampton Court was used by his
children during their reigns, first Edward I (1547–1553), then
Mary I (1553–1558), and finally, Elizabeth I (1558–1603).
Only minor modifications to the palace were made during the reigns
of the last three Tudors. Elizabeth visited Hampton Court for the
last time in 1599.

It
was only a few weeks after acceding to the English throne that James
I (1566–1625) came to stay at Hampton Court. His wife, Queen
Anne (1574–1619), was to die there. The king himself last visited
Hampton Court in 1623. Both his son Charles I (1600–1649) and
grandson Charles II (1630–1685) spent their honeymoons there.
In 1647 Charles I was brought to Hampton Court as a prisoner. After
his execution, the palace was decreed by Parliament to be sold.
This was later withdrawn so Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) could
live there. After the property was almost sold several more times,
most of the land was finally auctioned off in 1653, only to be repurchased
when Cromwell became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.

It
was on the grounds of Hampton Court that Cromwell met with the Quaker,
George Fox (1624–1691), regarding the persecution of his sect.
When the monarchy was restored, King Charles II, along with his
brothers, James (1633–1701) and Henry (d. 1660), returned often
to Hampton Court. Henry was to die there, leaving James to succeed
their brother. Although Charles had redecorated parts of the palace
and rebuilt Henry VIII’s tennis court, it was under William (1650–1702)
and Mary (1662–1694) that Hampton Court was greatly expanded
under the direction of the famed English architect, Christopher
Wren (1632–1723).

George
II (1683–1760) was the last English monarch to live at Hampton
Court. The palace – one half in the original Tudor style, and
the other half in Wren’s classical style – has been a major
tourist attraction ever since. It is currently advertised as “the
greatest palace in Britain,” and is accessible by car, train,
bus, or boat.

The
conference at Hampton Court at which the Authorized Version was
born was held within a year of James VI of Scotland becoming James
I of England. And although a new version of the Bible was not on
the agenda, God had his own agenda, and used the king and the conference
participants alike to bring about his purposes.

Soon
after he acceded to the English throne, the new king was presented
with the Millenary Petition, so called because “we, to the
number of more than a thousand, of your Majesty’s subjects and ministers,
all groaning as under a common burden of human rites and ceremonies,
do with one joint consent humble ourselves at your Majesty’s feet
to be eased and relieved in this behalf.” This was the first,
and most influential, of several petitions presented to the king
by clergyman with Puritan leanings. The Puritans desired a more
complete reformation in the Church of England. Extreme Puritans
rejected Prelacy (church government by bishops) outright, as well
as the Book of Common Prayer; moderate Puritans merely objected
to certain ceremonies, such as wearing the surplice (a white ministerial
vestment), and making the sign of the cross (traced on an infant’s
forehead during baptism). Although the Act of Supremacy in 1534
had established King Henry VIII as “the only supreme head in
earth of the Church of England,” the Reformation in England
progressed slower, lasted longer, and underwent more changes than
any Continental reform movement. The reign of Elizabeth ended the
external conflict with the Church of Rome, but this was followed
by the internal conflict between Prelacy and Puritanism. It is to
be remembered that there was no separation of church and state during
this period in history – neither in Catholic nor Protestant countries.

The
Millenary Petition begins with a preface reading: “The humble
Petition of the Ministers of the Church of England desiring reformation
of certain ceremonies and abuses of the Church.” The moderate
demands of the Puritans were subsumed under four heads: (1) In the
Church Service, (2) Concerning Church ministers, (3) For Church
livings and maintenance, (4) For Church Discipline. This was followed
by the mention of a conference: “These, with such other abuses
yet remaining, and practised in the Church of England, we are able
to show not to be agreeable to the Scriptures, if it shall please
your Highness farther to hear us, or more at large by writing to
be informed, or by conference among the learned to be resolved.”
The petitioners sought “a due and godly reformation,”
and closed by addressing the king as did Mordecai to Esther: “Who
knoweth whether you are come to the kingdom for such a time?”

Ever
wanting to be tolerant and a reconciler of religious differences,
King James set a date of November 1 for a conference in which the
Puritans could state their case. This was scheduled months before
he would even meet his first Parliament. There were English precedents,
parallels, and sequences to the Hampton Court Conference, but none
where the presiding moderator was a king, and not just any king,
but a king who was keenly interested in theological and ecclesiastical
matters, and quite at home in disputes of this nature. Regarding
the Puritans, in a revised preface to the 1603 edition of his Basilikon
Doron (The King’s Gift), printed in England within days of his
accession to the throne, the king stated his unflinching opposition
to the more radical Puritans. Thus, the Hampton Court Conference
can be seen as primarily an attempt to settle the issue of Puritanism
in the Church of England.

The
Hampton Court Conference was soon postponed until after Christmas.
In a royal proclamation dated October 24, 1603, the king mentioned
“a meeting to be had before our Selfe and our Counsell, of
divers of the Bishops and other learned men, the first day of the
next month, by whose information and advice we might governe our
proceeding therein, if we found cause of amendment.” This was
followed by three reasons for postponing the conference, chief of
which was “by reason of the sicknesse reigning in many places
of our Kingdome.” Thus, because of an outbreak of the plague
(which was killing thousands in London), the conference was postponed
until January of the next year.

Beginning
on a Saturday, the Hampton Court Conference was held on three days
in January (14, 16, & 18) of 1604. It was held in a withdrawing
room within the Privy Chamber. Here, a delegation of moderate Puritan
divines met with the king and his bishops, deans (a church office
below that of a bishop), and Privy Council (the king’s advisors).
Several of the men who attended the Hampton Court Conference were
later chosen to be translators of the proposed new Bible. The participants
on the first day were limited to the king, the bishops, five deans,
and the Privy Council. Day two saw the Puritan representatives,
two bishops, and the deans meet with the king and his Council. The
third day was a plenary session.

There
survives several accounts of the Hampton Court Conference. The official
account, which is also by far the longest, was commissioned by Bishop
Bancroft of London a few weeks after the conference closed. It was
written by William Barlow, who attended the conference in his capacity
as the Dean of Chester, and was published in August of 1604 as The
Summe and Substance of the Conference, which, it pleased his Excellent
Maiestie to have with the Lords, Bishops, and other of his Clergie,
(at which the most of the Lordes of the Councell were present) in
his Maiesties Privy-Chamber, at Hampton Court. January 14, 1603.
The other accounts of the conference include letters about the
conference written soon after its close by four participants, including
the king himself, an anonymous account supposedly favoring the bishops,
and four anonymous accounts supposedly favoring the Puritans.

Representing
the Puritans at the Hampton Court Conference were Dr. John Rainolds
(1549–1607), Laurence Chaderton (1537–1640), Dr. Thomas
Sparke (1548–1616), and John Knewstubs (1544–1624). Rainolds
was president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. It was he who put
forth the suggestion at the conference that a new translation of
the Bible be undertaken. He was also one of the translators, serving
on the company that translated the Prophets. Rainolds, of whom it
was said: “He alone was a well-furnished library, full of all
faculties, of all studies, of all learning; the memory, the reading
of that man were near to a miracle,” acted as the “foreman”
for the Puritan group. Chaderton was the master of Emmanuel College,
Cambridge, and a prebendary (a receiver of cathedral revenues [a
"prebend"]) of Lincoln Cathedral. He was a noted Latin,
Greek, and Hebrew scholar, and also served as one of the translators
of the future Bible. Chaderton preached to large crowds at Cambridge
for nearly fifty years. Sparke was educated at Magdalen College,
Oxford, where he earned four degrees. He had earlier represented
the Puritans in a conference held at Lambeth Palace in December
1584. Knewstubs was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge. He
was an ardent controversialist. At the Hampton Court Conference,
he took special exception to the use of the sign of the cross in
baptism and the wearing of the surplice, equating it with garments
worn by the priests of Isis, for which he was rebuked by the king.

There
were nine bishops in attendance at the Hampton Court Conference:
John Whitgift (1530–1604), Richard Bancroft (1544–1610),
Thomas Bilson (1547–1616), Thomas Dove (1555–1630), Anthony
Watson (d. 1605), Gervase Babington (1550–1610), Henry Robinson
(1553–1616), Anthony Rudd (1549–1615), and Tobie Matthew
(1546–1628).

Whitgift
was the aging Archbishop of Canterbury. He had drawn up the Calvinistic
Lambeth Articles in 1595, which articles were to be mentioned at
the Hampton Court Conference. Bancroft was the bishop of London
and successor of Whitgift as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bilson
was the bishop of Winchester, Dove of Peterborough, Watson of Chichester,
Babington of Worcester, Robinson of Carlisle, Rudd of St. David’s,
and Matthew of Durham. Bancroft and Bilson each had a role in the
production of the King James Bible – Bancroft as a translator, and
Bilson, with Miles Smith (d. 1624), as a final editor. It is Bilson
who is thought to have written the dedication to King James that
appeared at the front of the new version that came to be called
after his name. This “Epistle Dedicatory” is sometimes
still printed at the front of some editions of the Authorized Version.

The
bishops of the Church of England were joined by nine deans. William
Barlow (d. 1613), Lancelot Andrewes (1555–1626), John Overall
(1560–1619), James Montague (1568–1618), George Abbot
(1562–1633), Thomas Ravis (1560–1609), Thomas Edes (1555–1604),
Giles Thomson (1553–1612), and John Gordon (1544–1619).

Barlow,
who wrote the “official” account of the Hampton Court
Conference, was the dean of Chester. Andrewes was the dean of Westminster,
Overall of St. Paul’s, Montague of the Chapel Royal, Abbot of Winchester,
Ravis of Christ Church, Edes of Worcester, Thomson of Windsor, and
Gordon of Salisbury (or Sarum). John Bridges (d. 1618) is listed
in some accounts as representing Salisbury at the conference, but
none of them primary sources. This can be explained by the fact
that although Bridges was the actual dean of Salisbury when the
conference took place, Gordon was nominated to replace him the previous
October but not officially confirmed to the deanery until February
24 – after the conference. Bridges was consecrated Bishop of Oxford
on February 12. So, either both Bridges and Gordon attended (highly
unlikely) or Bridges was named in some accounts instead of Gordon
because of his connection with Salisbury.

Barlow,
Andrews, Overall, Montague, Abbot, Ravis, Edes, and Thomson were
all chosen to serve as translators of the King James Bible, but
Edes died before he could take part.

There
are some other participants in the Hampton Court Conference whose
role is unsure. Dr. Richard Field (1561–1616), the Oxford-educated
chaplain to the king, was in attendance, as was an archdeacon (another
church office below that of a bishop), Dr. John King (1559–1621),
of Nottingham. Patrick Galloway (1551–1626), the king’s Scottish
chaplain, was also there.

On
the first day of the conference the king and his Privy Council met
with his bishops and five deans – those from the Chapel Royal, Westminster,
St. Paul’s, Chester, and Salisbury. In his opening remarks, the
king contrasted England and Scotland: “For blessed be God’s
gracious goodness, who hath brought me into the promised Land, where
religion is purely professed, where I sit amongst grave, learned
and reverend men, not as before, elsewhere, a king without state,
without honour, without order, where beardless boys would brave
us to the face.”

After
relating that he did not call the conference “for any innovation,
for we acknowledge the government ecclesiastical, as now its is,
to have been approved by manifold blessings from God himself,”
the king explained that the points upon which he desired to be satisfied
could be reduced to three heads: (1) Concerning the Book of Common
Prayer, and divine service used in the Church, (2) Excommunication
in the ecclesiastical courts, (3) The providing of fit and able
ministers for Ireland. In the Prayer Book, the king had questions
about confirmation, absolution, and baptism. Regarding excommunication,
the king was concerned about the manner in which it was done and
the persons who did it. As for ministers for Ireland, the king deferred
the matter to the last day of the conference. There was to be no
question of a change in the government of the church, as James was
later to state: “I approve the calling and use of bishops in
the Church, and it is my aphorism, u2018No Bishop, no King.’”

On
the second day of the conference, the Puritan delegation, two bishops
(Bancroft of London & Bilson of Winchester), and the deans met
with the king and his Council. Patrick Galloway and the two doctors
of divinity, John King and Richard Field, were also in attendance.
Prince Henry (who would die in a few years, leaving Charles as the
king’s only heir), then nine years old, sat on a stool beside his
father the king.

The
Puritan delegates had been instructed to propose some moderate reforms:
the improvement of the clergy, the revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles,
the abolition of offensive ceremonies, the correction of the liturgy,
better regulation of the Sabbath, and the authorization of a new
short catechism. There was no mention of any new translation of
the Bible.

Dr.
Rainolds began the day’s session with four requests: 1. That the
doctrine of the church might be preserved in purity according to
God’s word. 2. That good pastors might be planted in all churches
to preach the same. 3. That the church government might be sincerely
ministered according to God’s word. 4. That the Book of Common Prayer
might be fitted to more increase of piety.

He
went on specifically to request that a new catechism be made, that
errors be corrected in the Prayer Book, that the sign of the cross
not be used in baptism, that changes be made in the words of the
marriage ceremony (for which he was chided by the smiling king for
speaking of marriage when he was but a single man), that articles
sixteen, twenty-three, twenty-five, and thirty-seven in the Thirty-Nine
Articles be amended, that “unlawful and seditious books
be suppressed,” that the Apocryphal books not be read in church,
and, almost incidentally, that a new translation of the Bible be
made. Twice he requested that the “nine orthodoxal assertions”
of the Lambeth Articles be added to the Thirty-Nine Articles.

In
discussing the manner in which theological disputes should be settled
among the clergy, Rainolds mentioned the desirability of an episcopal
synod where the bishop with his presbytery could make a determination
of “such points before not decided.” A presbytery was
the wrong thing to mention, for James was from Scotland, and, shrewdly
using the opportunity presented him by Rainolds to reinforce his
idea of episcopacy being a safeguard to the monarchy, he quickly
retorted: “If you aim at a Scottish presbytery, it agreeth
as well with monarchy as God and the devil. Then Jack, and Tom,
and Will, and Dick, shall meet and censure me and my council, and
all our proceedings.” The king then quoted for the second time
his maxim, “No Bishop, no King,” and concluded his words
to Dr. Rainolds with: “If this be all your party hath to say,
I will make them conform themselves, or else I will harrie them
out of the land, or else do worse.”

The
third day of the conference was quite different than the first two.
In addition to the Privy Council and the clergy, there were also
present some knights, civilians, and ecclesiastical lawyers. The
Puritans were called in at the close to hear the king’s decisions.
The king made a speech in which he touched on changes to be made – changes
in the Book of Common Prayer, in the operation of the ecclesiastical
courts, concerning ministers, including the planting of preachers
in Ireland, and in controls on the importation of popish books.
A list survives containing fifteen things “as shall be reformed
in the Church,” one of which concerns a new translation of
the Bible. After the bishops and the Privy Council were directed
to form themselves into committees to implement the decisions made
at the conference, the Puritan delegation was admitted and informed
of them.

King
James was interested in conformity. He insisted at the end of the
conference that he “would have the bishops to govern and the
ministers to obey.” Although most of the reforms decided on
at the Hampton Court Conference had been mentioned in the Millenary
Petition, the principal objections of the Puritans were ignored.
The alterations made in the Prayer Book were in many respects considered
to be matters of indifference to the Puritans. There was to be no
great revision like that of the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI
in 1552. The Jacobean Prayer Book of 1604 (the fourth) was therefore
basically the same as the Elizabethan Prayer Book of 1559 (the third).
A royal proclamation enjoining the use of the revised Book of Common
Prayer was issued on March 5, 1604.

The
king would use subscription to regulate nonconformity. The Convocation
(the clerical Parliament) of the Anglican Church passed a series
of 141 canons later in 1604. Canon 36 incorporated Whitgift’s Three
Articles of 1583 that required every minister to subscribe to the
royal supremacy, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Thirty-Nine
Articles of Religion. This was followed by another royal proclamation
on July 16, 1604, in which ministers were given until November 30
of that year to conform to the rites and ordinances of the Church
of England.

The
only thing accomplished after the Hampton Court Conference that
was of any lasting significance was the translation of the new Bible.
It was on the second day of the conference that Dr. Rainolds proposed
that a new translation of the Bible be undertaken. According to
Barlow: “After that he [Rainolds] moved his majesty that there
might be a new translation of the Bible, because those which were
allowed in the reign of king Henry the Eight and Edward the Sixt
were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original.”

Three
examples were then given by Rainolds: “First, Galatians iv.
25. The Greek word susoichei is not well translated as now
it is, bordereth neither expressing the force of the word,
nor the apostles sense, nor the situation of the place. Secondly,
psalm cv. 28, u2018They were not obedient;’ the original being, u2018They
were not disobedient.’ Thirdly, psalm cvi. 30, u2018Then stood up Phinees
and prayed,’ the Hebrew hath, u2018executed judgment.’”

The
king replied that “he could never yet see a Bible well translated
in English; but I think, that of all, that of Geneva is the worst.”
But it was not the text of the Geneva Bible that bothered the king – it
was the notes. After the Bishop of London added a caveat that no
marginal notes should be added to Rainold’s new Bible, the king
mentioned two passages in the Geneva Bible (Exo. 1:19 & 2 Chr.
15:16) where he found the notes to be offensive. The king then concluded:
“Let errors, in matters of faith, be amended, and indifferent
things be interpreted, and a gloss added unto them.”

And
so the King James Authorized Version was born. The greatest achievement
of the Hampton Court Conference may seem rather incidental in man’s
eyes, but it is “in the sight of God of great price” (1
Pet. 3:4), as history has borne witness. The conference and the
king’s sponsoring of the new translation were both alluded to in
the dedication to the new Bible. And in the preface to the same,
there is specific mention of both events: “For the very historical
truth is, that upon the importunate petitions of the Puritans at
his Majesty’s coming to this crown, the conference at Hampton Court
having been appointed for hearing their complaints, when by force
of reason they were put from all other grounds, they had recourse
at the last to this shift, that they could not with good conscience
subscribe to the Communion book, since it maintained the Bible as
it was there translated, which was, as they said, a most corrupted
translation. And although this was judged to be but a very poor
and empty shift, yet even hereupon did his Majesty begin to bethink
himself of the good that might ensure by a new translation, and
presently after gave order for this translation which is now presented
unto thee.”

At
the king’s funeral sermon, the Hampton Court Conference and James’s
sponsoring of the new translation of the Bible were both mentioned;
and rightly so, for without these two events – the former giving
birth to the latter – we would not be commemorating the Bible
that bears the king’s name. The Hampton Court Conference is still
studied by historians, both secular and sacred, and is certain to
continue to be so because of the renewed interest in this historic
event generated by its 400th anniversary.

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