Richard Bancroft

1544-1610. Archbishop of Canterbury from 1604. Born at Farnworth in Lancashire, he was educated at Cambridge and after ordination became chaplain to Bishop Richard Cox* of Ely and rector of Teversham. He was successively rector of St. Andrew's, Holborn, treasurer of St. Paul's Cathedral, and canon of Westminster. At St. Paul's Cross in 1589 he launched a stern attack on Presbyterian Puritanism, strongly reasserting episcopacy to such an extent that one of the queen's councillors feared he was threatening the royal supremacy. In 1590 he was made a prebendary of St. Paul's, then chaplain to Archbishop Whitgift. Seven years later he became bishop of London, exercising great influence due to Whitgift's age and infirmity. He had to deal with the Marprelate Tracts.* In 1604 he succeeded Whitgift as primate. He attended the Hampton Court Conference* with the Presbyterians and all but wrecked it by his belligerence and intransigence. He was largely responsible for the 1604 Canons which received the royal assent, but which Parliament was soon to set aside. He sought unsuccessfully to make the ecclesiastical courts independent of the law. In his closing months he was involved in the scheme to reestablish episcopacy in Scotland. He was also responsible for overseeing the Authorized Version of the Bible, though he died before its completion.

Bancroft's iron discipline, authoritarianism, and intransigence must be seen in their historical context. They have sometimes been erroneously used to bolster Tractarian innovations on episcopacy as if they were part of earlier Anglicanism, but in historical reality he was dealing with the truculent wing of extreme Puritans epitomized in the Marprelate Tracts. This extreme wing should not be confused with mainstream Puritanism which in England remained for the most part during Bancroft's life loyal to the national church, although pressing for reform and improvement.

See S.B. Babbage, Puritanism and Richard Bancroft (1962); A. Peel (ed.), Tracts ascribed to Richard Bancroft (1953).