From the Thorley Archives

Thorley's Role in the Publication of the King James Bible in May 1611

A Rector of Thorley played a major role in the translation of the Bible published by King James I exactly 400 years ago. Francis Burley (also spelt Burleigh on various documents describing the translation of the Bible) was appointed to St James' on 5 July 1594, at a time when he was Vicar of St Michael's, Bishop’s Stortford. He resigned as Vicar of St Michael’s in 1604 and remained at Thorley until his death in 1619. For a short time he was also Rector of St Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf, London, 1604 – 1612. (St Benet's was destroyed in the Great Fire of London 1666 but rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren 1677-1683.) Responsibility for the appointment of the Rector of Thorley lay with the Bishop of London who was patron of the living. As the Diocese of London was without a Bishop at the time, this responsibility passed to the monarch, who in 1594 was Queen Elizabeth I. As can be seen on our board of incumbents in the church tower the same situation arose more recently in October 1980, when Queen Elizabeth II appointed Alan Cole to St James', possibly a unique double.

The first printed version of the Bible that was translated into English from the original Hebrew and Greek was published by William Tyndale in 1525. This was followed by other versions, the Great Bible in 1539 and the Geneva Bible in 1557. These were thought unsuitable by the newly crowned King James. So in January 1604 he convened the Hampton Court Conference to consider a new English version in view of translation problems with earlier versions.

It was whilst he was at Thorley in the autumn of 1604 that Francis Burley received an invitation from the King to be one of 47 translators commissioned to produce the new Bible. They were divided into six Companies, two meeting in Westminster, two in Cambridge and two in Oxford. Francis Burley was appointed to the First Westminster Company which was assigned the first twelve books of the Old Testament (Genesis to II Kings). He was well qualified to be a member of the group as he was a Greek scholar at Pembroke Hall (now Pembroke College), Cambridge. He qualified for his B.A. in 1583 and his M.A. in 1587. He was created DD (Doctor of Divinity) in 1607, whilst working as one of the First Westminster Company of Translators.

The King James Bible is also known as The Authorised Bible as it was issued under the authority of the Monarch who was and still is head of the Church of England. The King James Bible was first published 2nd May 1611.

Compiled by Philip Hargrave and Bill Hardy, May 2011.

Return to From the Archives