Thomas Ken, (1637-1711), Bishop of Bath and Wells.
Educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, Ken was chaplain to Morley, bishop of Winchester (1665), and to Princess Mary (later Mary II) at The Hague (1679-80). He became bishop of Bath and Wells (1684) and attended Monmouth on the scaffold (1685). As one of the seven bishops petitioning James II to withdraw the Declaration of Indulgence he was imprisoned in the Tower (1688), but acquitted. Nevertheless, a man of conscience, he refused to recognize James’s abdication or William’s accession, was deprived of his see April 1691), and lived at Longleat until his death.
Ken, Thomas, 1637-1711, English prelate and hymn writer, prominent among the nonjuring bishops. He became chaplain to Charles II in 1680 and was nominated by that monarch to the bishopric of Bath and Wells in 1684. Under James II, Ken refused to publish the Declaration of Indulgence in accordance with the king’s order; for this he was sent to the Tower with six other bishops in 1688. On the accession of William of Orange (William III) Bishop Ken would not take the oath of allegiance to him after having given it to the Stuarts, and in 1691 his see was taken from him as a nonjuror. Most noted of his hymns is the doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
Thomas Ken (July 1637 – 19 March 1711) was an English cleric who was considered the most eminent of the English bishops, and one of the fathers of modern English hymnology.
Ken was born in 1637 at Little Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire. His father was Thomas Ken of Furnival’s Inn, of the Ken family of Ken Place, in Somerset; his mother was the daughter of little known English poet, John Chalkhill. In 1646 Ken’s stepsister, Anne, married Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler, a connection which brought Ken under the influence of this gentle and devout man.
In 1652 Ken entered Winchester College, and in 1656 became a student of Hart Hall, Oxford. He gained a fellowship at New College in 1657, and proceeded B.A. in 1661 and M.A. in 1664. He was for some time tutor of his college; but the most characteristic reminiscence of his university life is the mention made by Anthony Wood that in the musical gatherings of the time Thomas Ken of New College, a junior, would be sometimes among them, and sing his part. Ordained in 1662, he successively held the livings of Little Easton in Essex, St. Mary’s Church, Brighstone (sometimes called Brixton) in the Isle of Wight, and East Woodhay in Hampshire; in 1672 he resigned the last of these, and returned to Winchester, being by this time a prebendary of the cathedral, and chaplain to the bishop, as well as a fellow of Winchester College.
He remained there for several years, acting as curate in one of the lowest districts, preparing his Manual of Prayers for the use of the Scholars of Winchester College (first published in 1674), and composing hymns. It was at this time that he wrote, primarily for the same body as his prayers, his morning, evening and midnight hymns, the first two of which, beginning “Awake, my soul, and with the sun” and “Glory to Thee, my God, this night,” are well known. The latter is often made to begin with the line “All praise to Thee, my God, this night,” but in the earlier editions over which Ken had control, the line is as first given. Both of these hymns end with a doxology beginning “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,” which is widely sung today by itself, often to the tune Old 100th.
Ken and Charles II
In 1679 Ken was appointed by Charles II chaplain to the Princess Mary, wife of William of Orange. While with the court at the Hague, he incurred the displeasure of William by insisting that a promise of marriage, made to an English lady of high birth by a relative of the prince, should be kept; and he therefore gladly returned to England in 1680, when he was immediately appointed one of the king’s chaplains.
He was once more residing at Winchester in 1683 when Charles came to the city with his slightly disreputable court. His residence was chosen as the home of Nell Gwynne, the King’s official mistress—hardly an appropriate arrangement! But Ken stoutly objected and succeeded in making the favourite find quarters elsewhere. In August of this same year he accompanied Lord Dartmouth to Tangier as chaplain to the fleet, and Pepys, who was one of the company, has left on record some quaint and kindly reminiscences of him and of his services on board.
The fleet returned in April 1684, and a few months after, upon a vacancy occurring in the see of Bath and Wells, Ken (now Dr Ken) was appointed bishop. It is said that, upon the, occurrence of the vacancy, the King, mindful of the spirit he had shown at Winchester, exclaimed, “Where is the good little man that refused his lodging to poor Nell?” and determined that no other should be bishop. The consecration took place at Lambeth on 25 January 1685; and one of Ken’s first duties was to attend the death-bed of Charles, where his wise and faithful ministrations won the admiration of everybody except Bishop Burnet.
In this year he published his Exposition on the Church Catechism, perhaps better known by its sub-title, The Practice of Divine Love.
Ken and James II
Group portrait of the Seven Bishops.
In 1688, when James reissued his Declaration of Indulgence, Ken was one of the seven bishops who refused to publish it. He was probably influenced by two considerations: first, by his profound aversion from Roman Catholicism, to which he felt he would be giving some episcopal recognition by compliance; but, second and more especially, by the feeling that James was compromising the spiritual freedom of the church. Along with his six brethren, Ken was committed to the Tower on 8 June 1688, on a charge of high misdemeanour; the trial, which took place on 29 June and 30 June, and which resulted in a verdict of acquittal, is a matter of history.
The nonjuring schism
With the Glorious Revolution which speedily followed this impolitic trial, new troubles encountered Ken; for, having sworn allegiance to James, he thought himself thereby precluded from taking the oath to William of Orange. Accordingly, he took his place among the non-jurors, and, as he stood firm to his refusal, he was, in August 1691, superseded in his bishopric by Dr Richard Kidder, dean of Peterborough. From this time he lived mostly in retirement, finding a congenial home with Lord Weymouth, his friend from college days, at Longleat in Wiltshire; and though pressed to resume his diocese in 1703, upon the death of Bishop Kidder, he declined, partly on the ground of growing weakness, but partly no doubt from his love for the quiet life of devotion which he was able to lead at Longleat. His death took place there on 19 March 1711. and at dawn the following day, whilst his faithful friends sang “Awake, my soul, and with the sun” Bishop Ken’s remains were laid to rest beneath the East Window of the Church of St. John in Frome – the nearest parish in his old Diocese of Bath and Wells. “I am dying,” Ken had written, “In the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West; and, more particularly, in the Communion of the Church of England, as it stands distinguished from both Papal and Protestant innovation, and adheres to the Doctrine of the Cross.” There is no finer statement of the Anglican position to be found anywhere.
Ken’s reputation and legacy
Although Ken wrote much poetry, besides his hymns, he cannot be called a great poet; but he had that fine combination of spiritual insight and feeling with poetic taste which marks all great hymnwriters. As a hymnwriter he has had few equals in England ,he wrote Praise God from whom all blessings flow ; it can scarcely be said that even John Keble, though possessed of much rarer poetic gifts, surpassed him in his own sphere. In his own day he took high rank as a pulpit orator, and even royalty had to beg for a seat amongst his audiences; but his sermons are now forgotten. He lives in history, apart from his three hymns, mainly as a man of unstained purity and invincible fidelity, to conscience, weak only in a certain narrowness of view which is a frequent attribute of the intense character which he possessed. As an ecclesiastic he was a High Churchman of the old school.
Crypt of Thomas Ken at the Church of St John the Baptist, Frome
Ken’s poetical works were published in collected form in four volumes by W Hawkins, his relative and executor, in 1721; his prose works were issued in 1838 in one volume, under the editorship of J.T. Round. A brief memoir was prefixed by Hawkins to a selection from Ken’s works which he published in 1713; and a life, in two volumes, by the Rev. W.L. Bowles, appeared in 1830. But the standard biographies of Ken are those of J. Lavicount Anderdon (The Life of Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, by a Layman, 1851; 2nd ed., 1854) and of Dean Plumptre (2 vols., 1888; revised, 1890). See also the Rev. W Hunt’s article in the Dictionary of National Biography.
Thomas Ken in the course of his lifetime was both rewarded and punished for his firm adherence to principle. He was born in 1637 and reared by his half-sister Anne and her husband the well-known angler Izaak Walton. He became a clergyman and served for a year at the Hague as chaplain to Princess Mary, niece of King Charles II of England and wife of the Dutch King William of Orange. During this year he publicly rebuked King William for his treatment of his wife Queen Mary, which may be why he was chaplain there for only a year. Upon his return to England, he was made Royal Chaplain to King Charles. The King had a mistress, Nell Gwyn, and for his convenience wished to lodge her in his chaplain’s residence. Thomas sent the King a sharp refusal, on the grounds that it was not suitable that the Royal Chaplain should double as the Royal Pimp. Charles admired his honesty and bluntness, and when the bishopric of Bath and Wells became available soon after, he declared, “None shall have it but that little man who refused lodging to poor Nellie!” Ken was accordingly made a bishop. When Charles was on his deathbed, it was Ken whom he asked to be with him and prepare him for death.
Under the next king, James II, brother of Charles, matters were different. James converted to Roman Catholicism, the religion of his mother, and political turmoil followed. James issued a decree known as the Declaration of Indulgence, which decreed that various public offices, formerly open only to Anglicans, should thereafter be open to all persons. It was feared that the King would appoint large numbers of Roman Catholics to positions of power, and eventually transfer to them the control of the government. When the King commanded the bishops to proclaim the Declaration of Indulgence, seven of them refused to do so and were by the King’s command imprisoned in the Tower of London. The people of London rioted, and the bishops were freed and carried in triumph through the streets of the city. Soon after, Parliament offered the crown to the King’s daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange (see above) and James fled into exile.
William and Mary naturally began their reign by demanding oaths of allegiance from all persons holding public positions, including the bishops. Thomas Ken and others (known as the Non-Jurors — the older meaning of “juror” is “one who takes an oath,” hence “perjurer” as “one who swears falsely”) refused to take the oath, on the grounds that they had sworn allegiance to James, and could not during his lifetime swear allegiance to another monarch without making such oaths a mockery. They were accordingly put out of office.
The bishops of Scotland also refused the oath, and William and Mary retaliated by disestablishing the Church in Scotland and making the Presbyterians the official state Church there instead. Therefore, we have in Scotland today the Kirk of Scotland (a Presbyterian Calvinist group which is the established Church there), The Episcopal Kirk of Scotland (an Anglican Church, what is known as a “free” Church in the sense of having no ties with the government), the Free Kirk of Scotland (broken off from the Kirk of Scotland), and the Wee Free Kirk of Scotland (broken off from the Free Kirk– everyone calls them the “Wee Frees” and I do not remember their official name).
Thomas Ken became a private tutor and spent the rest of his life in retirement. He died 19 March 1711 and is usually commemorated on 21 March. During his lifetime he was known for his books of sermons. Today, he is best known for several hymns that he wrote, such as the ones beginning with the lines
Awake, my soul, and with the sun
All praise to thee, who safe hast kept
All praise to thee, my God, this night
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow
PRAYER (traditional language)
Almighty God, who didst give to thy servant Thomas Ken grace And courage to bear witness to the truth before rulers and kings: Give us also thy strength that, following his example, we may constantly defend what is right, boldly reprove what is evil, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and ever.
PRAYER (contemporary language)
Almighty God, who gave to your servant Thomas Ken grace And courage to bear witness to the truth before rulers and kings: Give us strength also that, following his example, we may constantly defend what is right, boldly reprove what is evil, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.