King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Thomas Sparke was born in South Somercotes, Lincolnshire in 1548. South Somercotes is located a short distance inland from the sea where the church of St. Peter, called The Queen of the Marsh, has served as a landmark to sailors for generations. Nothing is known of his parents or early education. He started his university studies at Oxford in 1567. He spent much of the rest of his life at Oxford and at Bletchley, Buckinghamshire where he ministered as a parish priest for thirty-eight years.
He was a family man, married to Rose Inkforbye with whom he had ten children. Only five survived their parents including sons Thomas, Andrew, William, and daughters Rose and Grace. Two of the sons attended Oxford and one Cambridge. William succeeded his father as rector of Bletchley.
Thomas was revered in Oxford. Anthony á Wood summed up the feelings of the community with the following assessment:
He was a learned man, a solid divine well read in the Fathers, and so much esteemed for his profoundness, gravity, and exemplary life and conversation, that the sages of the university saw fit after his death, to have his picture painted on the wall in the School – Gallery among the English Divines of note there.
Religiously, he was strongly identified with the Puritan cause much of his life. However, after the decisive Hampton Court Conference of January 1604 he became much more a conformist to traditional Church of England practice and governance.
He died on 8 October 1616 at his home in Bletchley and was buried in the church there. A brass memorial has been placed on the wall in tribute to him.
Of Thomas Sparke's early education nothing is known. He was given a scholarship to study at Magdalen College, Oxford when he was nineteen years old. He graduated B.A. in 1570 and proceeded M.A. in 1574, B.D. in 1575, and D.D. in 1581.
Thomas Sparke like many of the Translators had a career as a scholar/teacher and as a parson, ministering to the needs of his flock.
He began his academic career with his election to the position of perpetual fellow at his college, Magdalen. He continued at Oxford until at least 1578 when he was appointed rector at Bletchley. As early as 1580 he commenced writing for publication, his first being A Comfortable Treatise for a Troubled Conscience. Next was a Brief Catechism, with a Form of Prayer for House Holders. He was still writing seventeen years later when he published in 1597 The Highway to Heaven by the Clear Light of the Gospel.
He attended the historic Hampton Court Conference in January 1604 as a member of the Puritan delegation. It was at this event that fellow Puritan John Rainolds suggested to King James I a new translation of the Bible. He came to the conference as a good Puritan would, without priestly garb. It was remarked that his clothing was "such that turkey merchants wear". Nonetheless, it was at this conference that Thomas Sparke yielded to the arguments of the king in favor of greater conformity in religious practice.
His pastoral and church responsibilities started about 1575 with his selection as chaplain to Thomas Cooper, bishop of his home diocese of Lincoln. Shortly thereafter he became rector of St. Peter's Church, South Somercotes, the parish of his birth. Other preferments came his way between 1576 and 1582 when he was made archdeacon and then prebendary of Stow, associated with Lincoln Cathedral.
Of course, it was becoming rector at Bletchley that most impacted Thomas and his family. It was there he ministered for almost forty years. At Bletchley he saw many of his children born, and where he and his wife, Rose, buried half of them before their own deaths.
Thomas Sparke and the Translation
Thomas Sparke is one of several men who are believed to have been involved in the translation of the King James Bible but whose exact role is not clear. Sparke, as already mentioned, was one of the Puritan delegates to the Hampton Court Conference. The idea to ask King James for a new Bible may have been decided beforehand by the Puritan delegates including Sparke. Also, when the king commissioned the new translation, he stated that he wanted it reviewed "by the bishops, and the chief learned of the church". Certainly, Thomas Sparke qualified as among the most learned of the church in his time.
One of Thomas Sparke's surviving sons married Elizabeth Brett, the daughter of Translator Richard Brett of Quainton. William Sparke, like his father Thomas, was a student at Magdalen College and became rector at Bletchley upon his father's death. William and Elizabeth then had a son, William, who attended Magdalen, ultimately becoming a physician.
When Rose Sparke died on 7 August 1615, she was buried in the Bletchley parish church. Thomas, her husband, had a monument placed over her tomb with the following inscription:
Here vunder resteth ye body of Rose
davghter of Andrew Inckforby Mar
chant of Ipswich in ye Covnty of Svff':
The onely wife of Thomas Sparke
Doctr of Divinitie Parson of this
church. She lived wth him a lovinge
helper fortie yeares & bare vnto him
ten children of whom five went to
heaven before her, & five she left heare
behinde her to follow her vertves &
godly example. She depted ye 7th of Avgst 1615.
Sixtie eight yeares a fragrant rose she lasted
Noe vile reproach her vertves ever blasted
Her Avtvme past expects a gorgeous springe
A second better life more flovrishinge.
Thomas Sparke filius natu maxim' et inaff. tissim' posvit.
Eccl. 39. 13 } Harken to me yee holy children &
bringe forth frvites as the rose.
C. St. G.