Richard Bancroft 1544-1610

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Richard BANCROFT 1544-1610

Initials RB as used on small format books of Richard Bancroft (Lambeth Palace Library)
Initials RB as used on larger format books of Richard Bancroft (Lambeth Palace Library)

Biographical Note

Born at Prescot, Lancashire, son of John Bancroft, gentleman; his mother was the niece of Hugh Curwen, Bishop of Oxford. BA Christ’s College, Cambridge 1567; moved to Jesus College as a tutor, MA there 1572; BD 1580, DD 1585. Chaplain to Richard Cox, Bishop of Ely; prebendary of Ely 1575, Rector of Teversham, Cambridgeshire 1576, chaplain to the Lord Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton, 1581. Treasurer of St Paul’s, London 1586, and Rector of Cottingham, Northamptonshire; canon of Westminster 1587. Household chaplain to Archbishop Whitgift, 1591.

Bancroft owed his advancement not only to his connections but also to a developing reputation as a trustworthy defender of the state’s position on ecclesiastical conformity, through preaching and publications. He was made Bishop of London in 1597 (Archbishop Whitgift having earlier sought to obtain this post for him), where he set about establishing a well disciplined diocese. He was a member of the Hampton Court conference, summoned by James I in 1604 to debate church policy, and succeeded Whitgift as Archbishop of Canterbury later that year. He continued to strive for conformity and high standards in the ministry, during a period when his authority was challenged through recusancy, the courts and the interventions of James I.


Bancroft assembled one of the largest libraries of his generation, which he bequeathed “to my successor, and unto the archbishops of Canterbury successively forever”. It included ca.2000 volumes from the equally large library of John Whitgift, and became the foundation collection of Lambeth Palace Library. With just over 6000 volumes, it was most obviously strong in all aspects of theology, but also had significant holdings in history, law and classics. It included ca.350 manuscripts, including ones from the collection of William Camden and John Rainolds. A small number of Bancroft’s books can be found outside Lambeth, e.g. in Canterbury Cathedral Library and the Harsnett Library. Examples (outside Lambeth Palace): Harsnett Library H.a.55, H.d.5; Canterbury Cathedral Library W/B-1-39, W/K-3-60.

Characteristic Markings

Bancroft’s books at Lambeth can be identified primarily by their bindings; many have his gilt-tooled armorial on the boards (some of these may have been bound thus after his death, when the collection was being arranged). The library also includes many books in late 16th/early 17th century calf bindings gilt-stamped with the initials RB, or with these letters on either side of a centrepiece (there are several lozenge-shaped centrepieces which appear repeatedly). He did not normally inscribe or annotate his books. A few Bancroft books at Lambeth have elaborately decorated fore-edges, painted with his arms as Archbishop or with pictorial patterns.


  • British Armorial Bindings.
  • Canterbury Cathedral Library provenance research.
  • Carley, J. The libraries of Archbishops Whitgift and Bancroft, The Book Collector 62 (2013), 209-228.
  • Cox-Johnson, A. Lambeth Palace Library, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 2 (1955), 105-126.
  • Cranfield, Nicholas W. S. "Bancroft, Richard (bap. 1544, d. 1610), archbishop of Canterbury." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Hoare, P. (gen.ed.), The Cambridge history of libraries in Britain and Ireland. 3 vols. Cambridge, 2006, I 390-1.
  • James, M. R. The history of Lambeth Palace Library, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 3 (1959), 1-31.
  • Pearson, D. Provenance research in book history. New edn. Oxford and New Castle, 2019, fig. 4.30.
  • Pearson, D. The libraries of English bishops 1600-40, The Library 6th ser 14 (1992), 221-257.