Richard Bancroft (1544-1610), archbishop of Canterbury, was born at Farnworth in Lancashire in 1544. He was educated at Cambridge, first at Christ's College and afterwards at Jesus College. He took his degree of B.A. in 1567 and that of M.A. in 1570. Ordained about that time, he was named chaplain to Richard Cox, then bishop of Ely, and in 1575 was presented to the rectory of Teversham in Cambridgeshire. The next year he was one of the preachers to the university, and in 1584 was presented to the rectory of St Andrew's, Holborn. His abilities, and his zeal as a champion of the church, secured him rapid promotion. He graduated B.D. in 1580 and D.D. five years later. In 1585 he was appointed treasurer of St Paul's cathedral, London, and in 1586 was made a member of the ecclesiastical commission. On the 9th of February 1589 he preached at Paul's Cross a sermon on 1 John iv. 1, the substance of which was a passionate attack on the Puritans. He described their speeches and proceedings, caricatured their motives, denounced the exercise of the right of private judgment, and set forth the divine right of bishops in such strong language that one of the queen's councillors held it to amount to a threat against the supremacy of the crown.
In the following year Bancroft was made a prebendary of St Paul's; he had been canon of Westminster since 1587. He was chaplain successively to Lord Chancellor Hatton and Archbishop Whitgift. In June 1597 he was consecrated bishop of London; and from this time, in consequence of the age and incapacity for business of Archbishop Whitgift, he was virtually invested with the power of primate, and had the sole management of ecclesiastical affairs. Among the more noteworthy cases which fell under his direction were the proceedings against "Martin Mar-Prelate," Thomas Cartwright and his friends, and John Penry, whose "seditious writings" he caused to be intercepted and given up to the lord keeper. In 1600 he was sent on an embassy, with others, to Embden, for the purpose of settling certain matters in dispute between the English and the Danes. This mission, however, failed. Bancroft was present at the death of Queen Elizabeth. He took a prominent and truculent part in the famous conference of prelates and Presbyterian divines held at Hampton Court in 1604. By the king's desire he undertook the vindication of the practices of confirmation, absolution, private baptism and lay excommunication; he urged, but in vain, the reinforcement of an ancient canon, "that schismatics are not to be heard against bishops"; and in opposition to the Puritans' demand for certain alterations in doctrine and discipline, he besought the king that care might be taken for a praying clergy; and that, till men of learning and sufficiency could be found, godly homilies might be read and their number increased.
In March 1604 Bancroft, on Whitgift's death, was appointed by royal writ president of convocation then assembled; and he there presented a book of canons collected by himself. It was adopted and received the royal approval, but was strongly opposed and set aside by parliament two months afterwards. In the following November he was elected successor to Whitgift in the see of Canterbury. He continued to show the same zeal and severity as before, and with so much success that Lord Clarendon, writing in his praise, expressed the opinion that "if Bancroft had lived, he would quickly have extinguished all that fire in England which had been kindled at Geneva." He was as lenient with the offences of the orthodox as he was rigid in suppressing heresy and schism. In 1605 he was sworn a member of the privy council. The same year he engaged in a contest with the judges, and exhibited articles of complaint against them before the lords of the council; but these complaints were overruled. His aim was really to make the ecclesiastical courts independent of the law by speciously magnifying the royal authority over them. He enforced discipline and exact conformity within the church with an iron hand; and over 200 clergymen were deprived of their livings for disobedience to the ex animo form of subscription.
In 1608 he was chosen chancellor of the university of Oxford. One of his latest public acts was a proposal laid before parliament for improving the revenues of the church, and a project for a college of controversial divinity at Chelsea. In the last few months of his life he took part in the discussion about the consecration of certain Scottish bishops, and it was in pursuance of his advice that they were consecrated by several bishops of the English church. By this act were laid the foundations of the Scottish Episcopal church. Bancroft was "the chief overseer" of the authorized version of the Bible. He died at Lambeth Palace on the 2nd of November 1610. His literary remains are not extensive, but show him to have been an able writer.