King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Thomas Ravis was born about 1560 in Malden, Surrey to Thomas and Mary (Lisle) Ravis. His mother was the widow of Robert Benson. Thomas had several brothers and sisters.
His preparatory schooling was in London, from which he proceeded to Oxford for his university training. He spent much of the next twenty-five years associated with the university. Beginning in 1591 he was given church responsibilities for a number of congregations. He was a Calvinist in his theological views, but on church order he was traditional and conformist.
Near the turn of the century Thomas married Alice Tinley, a woman who was considerably younger than himself.
1604 was an eventful year for Ravis. In January he was invited to the Hampton Court Conference where King James I decided to move forward with a new translation of the Bible. Thomas Ravis' association with this project would assure him a place in history. Also, that year he began his service in high office in the Church of England, which, along with the translation, occupied much of his few remaining years.
Thomas Ravis died 14 December 1609, probably in London. He was buried in the north aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral with a memorial stone over his tomb. It is unclear whether Thomas and Alice had any children. Alice was bequeathed the bulk of Thomas' estate worth £7,000. Within the year she married Sir John Borlase, a military man of renown for his service in the Low Countries. They became the parents of three sons. Alice outlived her second husband, finally passing in 1656.
Thomas Ravis had a fine preparatory education at Westminster School in London, where a significant number of other Translators studied. Thomas' first application for acceptance to Christ Church College, Oxford was turned down on the grounds that Westminster graduates were deficient in their training in logic.
Thomas appealed his rejection to Lord Burghley, who interceded in the boy's behalf. He was admitted as a student in 1575 and graduated B.A. in 1578, proceeded M.A. in 1582, B.D. in 1589, and D.D. in 1595.
Thomas Ravis had an impressive career as an academician and churchman. In 1588 he was given the post of Oxford University proctor, and later was appointed vice-chancellor for two terms. It was during his tenure as vice-chancellor that proposals were first put forward to establish the Bodleian Library which became one of the great libraries of the world. At this same time Lord Burghley, the university chancellor, appointed Thomas as dean of his college, Christ Church. Ravis instituted reforms that proved unpopular with some students; they called them part of the dean's "great tyranny". Clearly, not all held this view, and one of Thomas' greatest admirers was Richard Corbet, the poet, future bishop, and Christ Church dean. Corbet was likely a student at the college under Ravis' administration.
Thomas Ravis' church service commenced with his ordination in 1582. He then began preaching in and around Oxford. His first ecclesiastical preferment came in 1591 as rector of Merstham, Surrey, and All Hallows, Barking, London. All Hallows was the home parish of Lancelot and Roger Andrewes. Several of the Translators served there.
Shortly thereafter, he was installed as canon of Westminster Cathedral where he later held office as chapter treasurer and steward. In 1598 he was appointed as vicar of Islip and Little Wittenham, both near Oxford.
In 1605 Ravis was made bishop of Gloucester and was allowed to keep his deanery of Christ Church, his canonry of Westminster, and his vicarages at Islip and Wittenham. Each carried not only responsibility but income as well. Two years later he was given the office of Bishop of London.
Ravis fulfilled these positions with skill and grace. Speaking of his service in Gloucester, one writer said he "had the respect and affection [of] both the clergy and people of the city and diocese". At Gloucester he was known for his sumptuous entertaining and improving the long neglected bishop's palace. Under his administration conduits were provided to bring water to the building. In London he brought improved sanitation to the episcopal residences.
His service ended with his death at age forty-nine.
Thomas Ravis and the Translation
Thomas Ravis was appointed by the king as head of the Second Oxford Company having for their assignment the translation of the Gospels, Acts, and book of Revelation. The scholarly and church experience of the members of his company was staggering. The future archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot and Sir Henry Savile, Greek scholar and mathematician were but two of the group. Ravis' selection to lead such company demonstrates how trusted he was as a scholar and leader. Their portion of the Bible was at the very core of Christianity, the story of Jesus and His church.
While others of the Second Oxford Company had more scholastic achievements, Ravis' talent may have been to keep such a group of notables with strong personalities pushing forward in a united way toward their critical objective. Thomas Fuller, the biographer, once described Ravis as "a grave and good man" who had "gained the good liking of all sorts". Undoubtedly, in the great translation project the individual talents brought by each to the effort proved vitally important to its outcome.
As with many of the Translators, the background of Thomas Ravis' family is shrouded in obscurity. According to one early writer he was "extracted from a considerable family". "Considerable" may have had reference to the family's wealth, their social standing, or the family's size. Ravis' will mentions his brother-in-law, Thomas Edwards, Doctor of Laws. Edwards was a very successful London lawyer who married Francis Ravis, Thomas' sister. The couple named one of their son's Ravis Edwards. The fact Thomas' sister married such a distinguished man supports the proposition that the Ravis' family was a prominent one.
Thomas Ravis' estate at the time of his death was worth approximately £7,000, an enormous sum of money for that time. Nearly all of it passed to Alice, his wife. Alice brought a fortune into her marriage with Sir John Borlase, a veteran of the European war in the Low Countries. Sir John continued his military career, ultimately becoming master guard of ordinance, and a lord justice of Ireland. Toward the end of his life he fell into financial difficulties and Thomas Ravis' money was gone. When Sir John died in 1648, Alice had to petition Parliament to help with the cost of his funeral and burial at St. Bartholomew the Great at Smithfield.
Thomas Ravis was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. A stone placed over his tomb has an inscription paying high tribute to him, reciting his many accomplishments. Missing from the list is any mention of his work on the King James Bible translation. Like many of the Translators, his contribution was not fully appreciated or recognized in his own lifetime.