King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Thomas Holland was born in Ludlow, Shropshire perhaps as early as 1539. His father was William Holland of Burwarton, a village located ten miles north east of Ludlow. Thomas left home to pursue his education, eventually moving to Oxford in 1569. He lived there until 1585 when he left for the Netherlands. Returning to England several years later, he married Susan Gunter a native of North Moreton, Berkshire. They were the parents of six children, four sons and two daughters, all christened in North Moreton between 1594 and 1601.
Apart from an interlude of ecclesiastical service from 1590 to 1591, he spent the rest of his life in Oxford. He died there on 17 March 1612 and was buried in the University Church of St. Mary's. His funeral sermon was preached by his colleague and friend, Richard Kilbye of Lincoln College. Holland was noted not only for his scholarship but for his piety. Towards the end of his life he spent even more of his time in meditation and prayer. In tribute to Thomas Holland, Dr. Kilbye in his funeral remarks said his "life and conversation were so holy, upright and sanctified that in him the fruits of the spirit greatly abounded as love, joy, peace, gentleness, meekness, temperance, and brotherly kindness".
One biographer noted that Thomas Holland came to Oxford from the diocese of Hereford. Since it was widely known that Thomas was from Ludlow, this may imply he attended a grammar school in Herefordshire preparatory to matriculating at Oxford in 1569. He was initially associated with Oriel College. If the date of 1539, which is frequently cited as Holland's birth date, is accurate, he would have been thirty when he began at Oxford. This would have been unusually old for an entering student at a time when many started their university education while in their teens. He graduated B.A. in 1570. He proceeded M.A. in 1575, B.D. in 1582, and D.D. 1584 after migrating to Balliol College in 1573.
While still a student at Oxford Thomas Holland was appointed as an assistant to the rector and reader in his home parish of Ludlow. He served in these positions from 1573 to 1577. Also in 1573 he was elected chaplain-fellow of Balliol College, and reader in rhetoric (1575-7). Coinciding with receiving his M.A., he became a member of the faculty of theology and spent the next ten years as a teacher. In 1585 he left Oxford to accept an appointment to serve as the personal chaplain to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was undertaking a military expedition to engage the Spanish in the Netherlands. Dudley, the confidant and companion of Queen Elizabeth I for much of his life, was also chancellor of Oxford. His patronage proved invaluable to Thomas Holland, as it did to Translators, Richard Kilbye and John Harmar.
Dudley, who was an ardent Protestant, utilized Holland in maintaining religious rigor among the troops during the two year campaign which ended without great success and few battle engagements. For his service to Dudley, Holland was graciously rewarded by Queen Elizabeth. Not long after returning to Oxford in 1587, Holland was appointed as the regius professor of theology, a prestigious post which he held until his death. Undoubtedly, this was given him in recognition, not only of his scholarly renown, but for his loyalty and service to Dudley and the queen.
In 1590 in addition to his academic responsibilities, he was appointed a canon of Salisbury Cathedral, and a year later as rector of St. Nicholas Church, Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire. 1592 brought to Thomas the rectory of Exeter College with responsibility as the college's titular head.
As a member of the university community Thomas Holland distinguished himself as a skilled "disputant" or debater. Theological debates or "disputations" were viewed as an essential part of the university experience. As a discipline, it was valued as an essential tool in determining truth. Learned disputations also served the purpose of entertainment, and were staged at universities to mark the visit of the monarch. Holland participated in two important disputations, one marking the visit to Oxford by Queen Elizabeth, and the other the 1605 visit of King James I.
Acknowledged as an outstanding biblical scholar Holland was asked to be one of the Translators of the new Bible. Not long after this project was completed, Holland died.
Thomas Holland and the Translation
While yet a relatively new scholar, Thomas Holland was described as a "prodigy" so inclined was he to the acquisition of knowledge of all kinds of literature. Having proceeded through the classical education offered at Oxford, he became known as one "mighty in scripture", and as one so acquainted with the early Church Fathers that it seemed as if he was one of them himself. Anthony á Wood, a biographer of many notables of his time, said of Thomas Holland that some sip of learning, while others drink of it but with Holland he was "drowned" in learning, so great was his absorption in the subjects of his study.
His reputation as a scholar was not confined to his own country. He was highly admired in foreign universities as well. Religiously he was decidedly a Calvinist in his theological views and a non conformist as to matters of ceremony and discipline.
It is no wonder that a man of such formidable knowledge and talents would be asked to join the team translating the new Bible. Wood remarked that "he had a considerable hand in the effort".
Thomas Holland was assigned to the First Oxford Company with colleagues, John Rainolds, John Harding, Richard Kilbye, Miles Smith, Richard Brett, Richard Fairclough and William Thorne. Every one of these men was a superb scholar. Their task, the translation of the prophets, Isaiah through Malachi, must have seemed challenging, even to such a qualified group. Isaiah, often simply called the Prophet, contributed so richly to establishing the messianic tradition valued by Christians and Jews. Jesus quoted Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry as prophetically foreshadowing his mission.
Thomas Holland and his fellow Translators were able to capture not only the message of the prophets, but the beauty and power of the prophetic language.
As one "taking a considerable hand" in the translation, Thomas Holland helped fashion the words that speak so powerfully even to generations centuries removed.
At the turn of the century in 1600, Thomas Holland found himself drawn into a controversy that was not of his own making. His father-in-law Brian Gunter of North Moreton, brought legal actions against the Gregory family of his own village, claiming they had bewitched his daughter, Anne Gunter, (Susan Holland's sister) as retaliation for Brian Gunter's self defense killing of two of the Gregory sons. Anne Gunter was described as suffering from a multitude of bizarre symptoms that her father urged could only be explained as a form of demonic possession. By 1609 the case had moved to the Star Chamber in London where even King James took a great interest in it. During the Star Chamber proceeding Thomas Holland was summoned to give testimony as was his fellow Translator, John Harding. Harding testified that he doubted the claim that the supposedly bewitched Anne could read with her eyes closed, as she had failed to do so in his presence when the room was darkened. Ultimately it came to light that Brian Gunter had coerced his daughter's testimony and had staged her symptoms. The case was thrown out, Brian Gunter punished, and the prosecution of cases involving alleged witchcraft largely died out in England.