William Whittingham (c. 1524-1579) was an English Biblical scholar, Bible translator, exile from Marian policies of persecution, well-connected friend of English reformers, publisher of the Geneva Bible, an English Dean, preacher before Queen Elizabeth, and a Protestant, Reformed and Anglican reformer. Educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, he became a Protestant and Reformed Churchman; as such, it was necessary to flee to France when Mary I ascended the throne of England and initiated her policies of hostility and persecutions against Reformed Churchmen.
By 1554, Whittingham made his way to Frankfurt, Germany, where he joined a group of Protestant exiles from Mary's reign. There, he met John Knox and became a supporter of Reformed Theology, a force that would inform and shape later Elizabethan divines. (This would later be pushed back by Laudian forces of anti-Calvinism in the 17th century.) He also married the sister of John Calvin. He took over Knox's role as established, ordained and recognized minister to the English congregation of exiles in Geneva. In Geneva, he started the work for which he is best remembered, a Bible translation that came to be known as the Geneva Bible.
In 1560, Whittingham returned to England, and was made dean of Durham in 1563, an office he held at his death in 1579--a Protestant, Reformed, Genevan, Prayer Book and Anglican divine.
Born at Chester about 1524, he was son of William Whittingham, by his wife, a daughter of Haughton of Hoghton Tower, Lancashire. In 1540, at the age of sixteen, he entered Brasenose College, Oxford, graduating B.A. and being elected fellow of All Souls' College in 1545. In 1547 he became senior student of Christ Church, Oxford earning the M.A. on 5 Feb. 1547–8. On 17 May 1550, he was granted leave to travel for three years to study languages and civil law. He went to France, where he spent his time chiefly at the University of Orleans, but he also visited Lyon and studied at Paris, where his services as interpreter were used by the English ambassador, Sir John Mason or Sir William Pickering.
Towards the end of 1552 Whittingham visited universities in Germany and Geneva. He briefly returned to England in May 1553. Whittingham had adopted reasonable Protestant and Reformed views as the results of his scholarship. But, the accession of Queen Mary, the return of Anglo-Italian ecclesiastical policies of De Haeretico Comburendo in the form of Cardinal Pole's repatriation to England, and the vulnerabilities and liabilities associated with burnings-to-come (e.g. William Tyndale, 1536), anticipated persecutions, interfered with hopes of usefulness in ministerial labors. Late in August, however, he made intercession, which was ultimately successful, for the release of Peter Martyr; but after a few weeks he himself left England with difficulty by way of Dover to France.
In the spring of 1554 Frankfort was the ecclesiastical centre for the English Marian exiles on the continent, and Whittingham was one of the first who reached the city on 27 June 1554; he sent out invitations to exiles in other cities to join them. Difficulties soon arose, however, between those who wished to use Edward VI's second prayer-book without much modification, and those led by Whittingham and John Knox, who desired prayer-book revision. Whittingham was one of those appointed to draw up a service-book. He procured a letter from John Calvin, dated 18 January 1555, which prevailed; but the compromise adopted was disturbed by the arrival and public disruptions of Richard Cox, an uncompromising champion of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, itself a product of the Reformed Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. In the ensuing struggle between Knox and Cox, two Reformed Churchmen, Whittingham was Knox's chief supporter. However, he failed to prevent Knox's expulsion from Frankfort on 26 March; he gave his support to the form of church government established at Frankfort under Cox's influence. He was dissatisfied with the outcome, however. About 22 September 1555, he followed Knox to Geneva, a veritable beehive of growing scholarship and, in time, international influence.
Whittingham was probably the author of a detailed account of the struggle. It is the only full narrative of the conflict between two Reformed visions of Churchmanship.
On 16 December 1555, and again in December 1556, Whittingham was elected an elder of the English-speaking church at Geneva; on 16 December 1558, he was appointed a deacon, and in 1559 he succeeded Knox as minister at Calvin's insistence. As such, he was an ordained minister of the church. Upon Queen Mary's death, most of the exiles at Geneva returned to England, but Whittingham remained to complete the translation of the Geneva Bible. He had labored with other scholars in the review of earlier English editions--Tyndale's, Coverdale's, the Thomas Matthew's Bible and other versions. He had already produced a version of the New Testament, which was issued at Geneva by Conrad Badius on 10 June 1557. He also took part in the minor revisions of the Old Testament. The critical and explanatory notes were largely textual and explanatory. It was printed at Geneva by Rowland Hall in 1560; after 1611, its popularity was not lost. Ten editions appeared between that date and 1640. It was an influential version for at least one hundred years. By the 17th century, as Laudian influences would gain ascendancy, all-things-Genevan grew to be condemned, a movement that would be re-energized in the 19th-20th centuries by Tractarians.
Besides the translation of the Bible, Whittingham issued metrical versions some of [Psalms]]. Seven of these were included among the fifty-one psalms published at Geneva in 1556; others were revised versions of Thomas Sternhold's psalms. A metrical rendering of the Ten Commandments by Whittingham was appended. Another edition of 1558, now lost, is believed to have contained nine fresh psalms of Whittingham; these were reprinted in the edition of 1561, to which Whittingham also contributed a version of the ‘Song of Simeon’ and two of the Lord's Prayer. Besides these, Whittingham translated four psalms in the Scottish psalter. These do not appear in any English edition. Whittingham also wrote a preface to Nicholas Ridley's ‘Brief Declaration of the Lord's Supper’ (Geneva? 1555), a Reformed view of the sacrament. He revised for press Knox's work on predestination, published at Geneva in 1560. He contributed a dedicatory epistle to Christopher Goodman's ‘How Superior Powers ought to be obeyed’ (Geneva, 1558).
Return to England
Whittingham took formal leave of the council at Geneva on 30 May 1560. In January 1561, he was appointed to attend Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford during his embassy to the French court. In the following year he became a chaplain to Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick, a minister at Le Havre, then occupied by the English under Warwick. He won general praise; but William Cecil complained of his neglect of conformity to the English Book of Common Prayer. He was collated on 19 July 1563 to the deanery of Durham, a promotion which owed to the support of Warwick and Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, another Protestant and Reformed Churchman. On his way to Durham, he preached before Queen Elizabeth 1 at Windsor, 2 September 1563.
In keeping with his past, Whittingham took his religious and scholarly duties seriously, holding two services a day, devoting time to his grammar school and song school, and church music. Before the outbreak of the Rising of the North in 1569 he unsuccessfully urged James Pilkington, the bishop of Durham, to put the city in a state of defense, but he was more successful at Newcastle, which resisted the rebels. In 1572, when Lord Burghley became lord treasurer, Whittingham was suggested, probably by Leicester, as his successor in the office of secretary. In 1577, Leicester also promised Whittingham aid in securing the see of York or Durham, both being vacant; but Whittingham did not press for preferment.
As a Protestant, Reformed, Genevan, and Anglican Dean of Durham
In 1564, Whittingham wrote a long letter to Leicester protesting against the ‘old popish apparel’ and the historic associations with Massing-vestments and theology. There were proceedings in 1566 against his insights and scruples in refusing to wear the surplice and cope; in this respect, he followed the venerated Miles Coverdale, his fellow academic and ecclesiastical associate, fellow Marian exile and fellow Reformer. Whittingham eventually yielded, taking Calvin's moderating advice not to leave the ministry for external and minor matters of order. In 1577, however, he incurred the enmity of Edwin Sandys, the new archbishop of York, by resisting his claim to visit Durham Cathedral. According to William Hutchinson a commission had been issued in 1576 or 1577 to examine complaints against him. But this proved ineffectual because the Earl of Huntingdon and Matthew Hutton sided with the dean against the third commissioner, Sandys. A fresh commission was issued on 14 May 1578. This included the three former commissioners and about a dozen others. The articles against Whittingham are printed from the domestic state papers in the ‘Camden Miscellany’; the charge that ‘he is defamed of adulterie’ is entered as ‘partly proved’ and that of drunkenness as ‘proved;’ but the real allegation against Whittingham was the alleged inadequacy and invalidity of his ordination and service in Geneva, matters that had been unproblematic previously but conveniently became important. He admitted to not having been ordained according to the rites of the church of England. But Parliament had already passed an act (13 Eliz. c. 12) acknowledging the validity of ordinations whether according to Roman or Reformed standards on the Continent. But Sandys, to score points, maintained that Whittingham had not even been validly ordained even according to Genevan standards, but had been elected preacher without the imposition of hands--never mind Calvin's support, that did not matter to Sandys. Huntingdon, however, wrote that ‘it could not but be ill-taken of all the godly learned both at home and in all the reformed churches abroad, that we should allow of the popish massing priests in our ministry, and disallow of the ministers made in a reformed church’. In an instance of sobriety and common sense, he suggested the stay of the proceedings. Huntington won, Sandys lost, and Whittingham retained the Deanery of the Cathedral as a Protestant, Reformed, Genevan, and Anglican Churchman (this cudgel of control and supremacy against Reformed ordinations would be reinstituted nearly a century later after the Restoration; it still exists.)
Whittingham's death came on 10 June 1579. He was buried in Durham Cathedral, where his tomb was destroyed by the Scots in 1640. His will, dated 18 April 1579, is printed in ‘Durham Wills and Inventories’ (Surtees Soc. ii. 14–19).
Whittingham's wife Catherine, daughter of Louis Jaqueman, was probably born not before 1535 and married to Whittingham on 15 November 1556. Her eldest son, Zachary, was baptised on 17 August 1557, and her eldest daughter, Susanna, on 11 December 1558; both died young. Whittingham was survived by two sons, Sir Timothy and Daniel, and four daughters.
- ‘A Brieff Discours off the Troubles begonne at Franckford in Germany, anno Domini 1554. Abowte the Booke off Common Prayer and Ceremonies, and continued by the Englishe men theyre to thende off Q. Maries Raigne,’ 1575. It bears no place or printer's name, but was printed probably at Geneva, and in the same type as Thomas Cartwright's tracts; one copy of the original edition is dated mdlxxiv. It was reprinted at London in 1642, in vol. ii. of ‘The Phenix,’ 1708; again in 1846 (ed. M'Crie), and in vol. iv. of ‘Knox's Works’ (Bannatyne Club).