Before Charles Wesley or Issac Watts, there was Thomas Ken, who has been called “England’s first hymnist.” He was born in 1637 in Little Berkhampstead on the fringes of greater London. When his parents died, he was raised by his half sister and her husband, who enrolled him in Winchester College, a historic boys’ school. Thomas was later ordained to the ministry and returned to Winchester as a chaplain.
To encourage the devotional habits of the boys, Thomas wrote three hymns in 1674. This was revolutionary because English hymns had not yet appeared; only the Psalms were sung in public worship. Ken suggested the boys use the hymns privately in their rooms. One hymn was to be sung upon waking, another at bed tie, and a third at midnight if sleep didn’t come. All three songs ended with the common stanza, [namely the Doxology.]
In 1680, Thomas was appointed chaplain to England’s King Charless II. It was a thankless job, as Charles kept a variety of mistresses. Once the king asked to lodge a mistress in the chaplain’s residence. Thomas rebuked him, saying, “Not for the King’s Kingdom!” Afterward the king referred to him as “that little man who refused lodging to poor Nellie.”
During the reign of the next king, James II, Thomas, by now a bishop, was sent to the Tower of London (a prison) for his Protestant convictions. After his release, Thomas retired to the home of a wealthy friend, where he died on March 11, 1711. He was buried at sunrise, and the “Doxology” was sung at his funeral.
(An excerpt from Robert J. Morgan, Then Sings My Soul, pg 111)