March 20: Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, 1711

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

Thomas Ken was born in 1637. Throughout his life he was both rewarded and punished for his integrity. His close relationship with the royal family began when he became chaplain to Princess Mary of Orange at The Hague. Ken was appalled at the Prince of Orange’s treatment of his wife, and rebuked him publicly.

In 1683, Ken returned to England and became chaplain to Charles II. His integrity stirred him to rebuke Charles for lax behavior. When Ken was notified that the King’s mistress, the actress Nell Gwyn, was to be lodged at his house, he refused, saying, “a woman of ill-repute ought not to be endured in the house of a clergyman, and especially the King’s chaplain.” The King took no offense, but in the next year made Ken the Bishop of Bath and Wells, declaring that none should have the position except “the little black fellow that refused his lodging to poor Nelly.”

In 1688, when Charles’ successor, James II, tried to undermine the authority of the Church of England, Ken was one of seven bishops who refused to read the King’s Declaration of Indulgence, which offered toleration to Protestant non-conformists and to Roman Catholics. The seven bishops were sent to the Tower, but were acquitted in the courts, and became popular heroes. After the resolution of 1688, however, Ken’s conscience did not permit him to swear allegiance to William of Orange, who became King William III. As a Non-Juror, Ken was deprived of his see.

Ken’s conscience would not let him rest and his disagreement with others of the “Non-Juring” party over various matters troubled him for the rest of his life. He deplored the Non-Juror schism, and after the accession of Queen Anne, he made his peace with the Church of England.

A man of deep piety, Ken was the author of several religious works which were immensely popular in the eighteenth century. He is best known as a writer of hymns, particularly the well-known evening hymn, “All praise to thee, my God, this night,” which concludes with his doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”


I     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 Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II     Almighty God, you gave 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, for ever and ever. Amen.


Deuteronomy 26:16-19

Philippians 4:4-9

Luke 6:17-23

Psalm 145:8-13

Preface of a Saint (2)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

15 thoughts on “March 20: Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, 1711

  1. Bio. He needs a ‘He died in 1711.’statement.

    5th paragraph: Might the The Hymnal 1982’s #’s for these two hymns be noted?

  2. In the 3rd paragraph, where the sentence begins ” After the resolution of 1688″, my [old] edition of LFF has “REV-olution” (not “RES-olution”). Trying to verify this, I came to think “REV-olution” is meant, but I can’t be absolutely certain. I merely point it out for the SCLM’s attention.

    • In the 2006 edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts it is resolution. So the misprint slipped in somewhere. I will dig out my old editions to find out what year revolution became resolution!

  3. John LaVoe is correct. The “Glorious Revolution” occured in 1688, when James II was replaced by William III and Mary II.

  4. I suggest a subtitle such as “Non-Juror and Hymn Writer”. That he was a bishop is not why he is in the calendar.

    Line 1, first paragraph: substitute “at Berkhampsted, Hertfordshire, England, in July” for “in”, after “born”.

    Line 3, second paragraph: although there are variant spellings, I recommend substituting “Gwynne” for “Gwyn”.

    Line 8, second paragraph: other sources suggest that the King said “that little man”, rather than “the little black fellow”. The former version is less likely to confuse modern readers into thinking that the king was referring to his skin color: he probably meant “black-clad”. If so, that could be shown in parenthesis to clarify the words.

    Add a final paragraph, such as: Thomas Ken died on March 19, 1711.

    • I want to “second” what Nigel said, both about the title and about the phrase “little black fellow” being enigmatic as to meaning.

      Overall, I relished the commemoration. The write-up was interesting and significant, the collect fine, and all the readings appropriate — with a reservation about the Old Testament selection. I love the passage itself, but I don’t see why it was the one selected. The four verses revolve around a mutual pact based on rules. Verse 16 announces the fact. Verse 17 is what the Lord agrees to and demands.
      Verse 18 states what the people agreed, which continues into 19, and encompasses exaltation of the nation dedicated in holiness to YHWH.

      I admit I can be slow on the pickup at times, but what I expected, rather than this, was a passage about someone defying a temporal ruler’s order which loyalty to YHWH proscribed, and being punished for the defiance with imprisonment of some sort. Daniel 6:7-21, (thrown to the lions for steadfastness in prayers), comes to mind. Or, Jeremiah37:11-21 (confined in the cistern for daring to announce YHWH’s call to capitulate to Babylon). I just don’t catch the “hook” for which Deuteronomy 26 was chosen. The other lessons were great. I think even the chosen Psalm would work with the two possibilities I mentioned.

      (Even re-reading the OT selection in hopes of seeing the connection, I still don’t see it as the most expressive of Ken’s staunch sense of staying the course with Christian principle. His story is one of being a pillar of integrity and uprightness in a compromising national context; the reading suggests a different and contrary spirit in the nation’s condition and predisposition.)

      That’s my only reservation about the presentation; the commemoration itself, however, has surely earned its place in our calendar. “Thank you” to those who prepared it.

      • One other little point. In the collect, I wouldn’t feel the least bit bad about “impatiently” suffering for truth’s sake if I had to suffer for it. “Patiently” seems more a matter of politeness — Victorian decorum, perhaps; suffering “willingly” seems (to me) more a matter of strength of character and conviction, and thus far more important than mere decorum. (But that just me. Sometimes I even eat salad with the wrong fork shamelessly unregenerate.)

  5. The bio is a bit confusing. In addition to the points already made, ‘James II tried to undermine the authority of the Church of England’ hardly meets the case—he was clearly determined to restore Roman Catholicism, and it was that policy that Ken opposed so outspokenly.

    ‘After the accession of Queen Anne, he made his peace with the Church of England’ is also misleading. Anne became Queen in 1702, and Ken did not begin encouraging his fellow non-jurors to return to their parish churches till 1710. Ken announced his intention to do the same, but died before doing so.

    I am not clear exactly why he is being commemorated. He was a good bishop at Bath and Wells, but not so much so that we would commemorate him for that; his hymns and other devotional writings are good, but again not better than those of others whom we are not commemorating; as an opponent of Roman Catholicism he was not as effective as, say, his fellow bishop Edward Stillingfleet. Are we commemorating him because he swore allegiance to James II but not to William III? What interest does the American church have in questions of that sort?

  6. John and Michael–it’s “revolution” in my 1997 copy of LLF. –I like this prayer of Ken’s: “Our God, amidst the deplorable division of your church, let us never widen its breaches, but give us universal charity to all who are called by your name. Deliver us from the sins and errors, the schisms and heresies of the age. Give us grace daily to pray for the peace of your church, and earnestly to seek it and to excite all we can to praise and love you; through Jesus Christ, our one Savior and Redeemer.”

    • Excellent prayer! Thank you for finding it and sharing it, Celinda. It’s one think everyone can affirm and benefit from praying.

  7. Thanks, John. Almost as soon as I read the name “Thomas Ken,” I remembered our (now deceased) AFP Board member, Rob Barry (Diocese of Springfield) who suggested that prayer once for our website, where it’s now accessible from the “Prayers” sidebar. We prayed it at that meeting. — I had never heard it before and was amazed at how apt it was to the present struggles in our church.

  8. In this time and age; we, young and old, should celebrate the lives of those who regardless of situation clung to the security of their faith and beliefs. A testament that saints did and do walk among us; mortals on earth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s