Henry Ainsworth

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Henry Ainsworth (1571–1622) was an English Nonconformist clergyman and scholar.


A page from Ainsworth's Annotations
using the divine name Iehovah.

He was born of a farming family of Swanton Morley, Norfolk. He was educated at St John's College, Cambridge, later moving to Caius College,[1] and, after associating with the Puritan party in the Church, eventually joined the Brownists.[2]

Driven abroad to Holland in about 1593 due to the government of Queen Elizabeth's dissatisfaction with his non-conformist views,[2] he found a home in "a blind lane at Amsterdam", acting as "porter" to a bookseller, who, on discovering his knowledge of Hebrew, introduced him to other scholars. When part of the London church, of which Francis Johnson (then in prison) was pastor, reassembled in Amsterdam, Ainsworth was chosen as their doctor or teacher. In 1596 he drew up a confession of their faith, reissued in Latin in 1598 and dedicated to the various universities of Europe (including St Andrews, Scotland). Johnson joined his flock in 1597, and in 1604 he and Ainsworth composed An Apology or Defence of such true Christians as are commonly but unjustly called Brownists.[3]

Organizing the church was not easy and dissension was rife. Though often involved in controversy, Ainsworth was not arrogant, but was a steadfast and cultured champion of the principles represented by the early Congregationalists. Amid all the controversy, he steadily pursued his studies. The combination was so unique that some have mistaken him for two different individuals. Confusion has also been occasioned through his friendly controversy with one John Ainsworth, who left the Anglican for the Roman Catholic church.[3]

In 1610 Ainsworth was forced reluctantly to withdraw, with a large part of their church, from Johnson and those who adhered to him. A difference of principle as to the church's right to revise its officers' decisions had been growing between them; Ainsworth taking the more Congregational view. In spirit he remained a man of peace.[3]

He died in 1622 in Amsterdam.


In 1608 Ainsworth answered Richard Bernard's The Separatist Schisme, but his greatest minor work in this field was his reply to John Smyth (commonly called "the Se-Baptist"), entitled Defence of Holy Scripture, Worship and Ministry used in the Christian Churches separated from Antichrist, against the Challenges, Cavils and Contradictions of Mr Smyth (1609).[3]

His scholarly works include his Annotations—on Genesis (1616); Exodus (1617); Leviticus (1618); Numbers (1619); Deuteronomy (1619); Psalms (including a metrical version, 1612); and the Song of Solomon (1623). These were collected in folio in 1627. From the outset the Annotations took a commanding place, especially among continental scholars, establishing a scholarly tradition for English nonconformity.[3]

His publication of Psalms, The Book of Psalmes: Englished both in Prose and Metre with Annotations (Amsterdam, 1612), which includes thirty-nine separate monophonic psalm tunes, constituted the Ainsworth Psalter, the only book of music brought to New England in 1620 by the Pilgrim settlers. Although its content was later reworked into the Bay Psalm Book, it had an important influence on the early development of American psalmody.

Ainsworth died in 1622, or early in 1623, for in that year was published his Seasonable Discourse, or a Censure upon a Dialogue of the Anabaptists, in which the editor speaks of him as a departed worthy.[3]


  1. ^ "Ainsworth, Henry (ANST587H)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ a b Society of gentlemen (1780). The Biographical Dictionary, Or, Complete Historical Library: Containing the Lives of the Most Celebrated Personages of Great Britain and Ireland, Whether Admirals, Generals, Poets, Statesmen, Philosophers, Or Divines : a Work Replete with Instruction and Entertainment. F. Newbery. p. 25.
  3. ^ a b c d e f  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ainsworth, Henry". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 440–441.

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