Today marks the death in 1626 of the formidable church scholar Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) who reached the highest echelons of the Church of England during the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I. He is possibly the most learned, brilliant and influential theologian in the history of the church. A lad from Essex, both he and his brother Roger became prodigious theologians at a time when the struggle for religious hegemony in England and Scotland was still playing itself out at home and abroad.
Andrewes’ biggest contribution to church history was his role in the creation of the Authorised Version which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year. The book was commissioned by James I and compiled by three teams of scholars in Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge. Andrewes was the lead editor of the Westminster team and considered to be the overall guiding spirit behind the whole project.
Lancelot Andrewes was educated at the Merchant Taylors’ School and Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. In the 1580s, having taken orders, he served in London parishes in Cripplegate and St Paul’s. His reputation as a scholarly and inspiring preacher grew rapidly and he soon came to the favourable attention of Francis Walsingham who became instrumental in promoting the brilliant theologian’s career further, ultimately becoming chaplain to the Queen herself. Andrewes went on to become bishop of Chichester, Ely and finally Winchester.
He wrote and delivered many influential sermons, largely addressing doctrinal topics such as forms of worship and prayer, interpreting scriptures and generally giving clarity to the differences between the churches of Rome and England. Criticised for the didactic nature of his delivery, his works have nonetheless remained hugely influential down the centuries.
The great theologian was also deeply interested in history and as an amateur antiquarian was well-known in the circles of William Camden, John Stow and their ilk.
Lancelot Andrewes died in 1626 and was interred in the church of St Mary Overy in Southwark which became Southwark Cathedral in the early 20th Century. He has a tomb on the right of aisle at the altar end of the cathedral.