King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
William Thorne was born about 1569 in the small village of Semley in Wiltshire. Little is known of his parentage. His family may have had means or influence, as William was given the benefit of a preparatory education at Winchester and his family appears to have had a connection with the aristocratic Pembrokes. After Winchester, William went on to Oxford and a life of exceptional scholarship and church service. Much of his adult life was associated with church responsibilities in the counties of Sussex and Hampshire.
Sometime before 1608 William married Amy Oglander (born 1576). She was the daughter of William and Ann Oglander of Nunwell on the Isle of Wight. Amy's brother was Sir John Oglander who was a royalist and noted diarist of the period.
From land transactions recorded in the last years of William's life it is clear he acquired substantial land and houses during his lifetime. William Thorne died on 13 September 1630 in Chichester and was buried in the cathedral there, where he had so long served as dean. No record has been found of any children born to William and Amy Thorne.
His widow, Amy, later married John Button, a prominent citizen of Buckland, Devonshire.
William was first formally schooled at Winchester College where he enrolled in 1582. As was common for promising students of his time, he moved to New College, Oxford in 1586, graduating B.A. in 1589. He proceeded M.A. in 1592, B.D. in 1600 and D.D. in 1602.
William Thorne was made a fellow of New College in 1589. In 1592 he published his first work, Ducente Deo, in which he reorganized and annotated Cicero's ideas on rhetoric. He dedicated this, his first book, to the future Earl of Pembroke, whose family had shown generosity to the Thornes. In 1600 he compiled an anthology of poems in praise of Thomas Sackville, the chancellor of Oxford University.
For his doctoral disputation in 1602, William defended the position of the Church of England on the canonicity of the Bible, little knowing that he would soon be one of the Translators of what was to become the most widely read and influential English Bible of all time, the King James Bible (hereinafter, KJB).
In 1598 William Thorne succeeded John Harding as regius professor of Hebrew for the university. Harding had left Oxford for a time to take up pastoral duties. Later, in 1604, Thorne relinquished the professorship to Harding who had been appointed as the director of the First Oxford Company of Translators of the KJB. William's prowess as a Hebrew scholar drew attention and praise from Hebraists in England and those on the Continent such as John Drusus of Holland.
The renowned biographer and antiquarian, Anthony á Wood, stated Thorne was "reputed eminent not only for his incomparable skill in oriental sacred tongues, by men unmatchable in them, but also for other learning." It was this familiarity with the ancient languages of the Middle East and its culture that earned him the appellation "orientalist". Besides being expert in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, he was also versant in Syriac, Arabic, and undoubtedly other languages.
William Thorne's church appointments were likewise impressive. He was rector of Tollard Royal, Wilts (1601), prebendary of Bussall (1603), vicar of Amport, Hampshire (1606), rector of Birdham, Sussex (1607), prebendary of Hova Villa (1613), rector of North Marden, Sussex (1616) and of Warblington, Hampshire (1619).
Of all William Thorne's preferments, none was more significant than his 1601 installation as dean of Chichester Cathedral. He served in this important position for the rest of his life.
As dean he had significant administrative responsibilities for the functioning of the cathedral, including matters of personnel and discipline. It has been noted that William Thorne was not a strict disciplinarian, having only drawn up two charges of offences in the nearly thirty years of his deanery at Chichester.
William Thorne and the Translation
For years William Thorne was not included in the standard lists of the KJB Translators. Nonetheless, it has become clear that he was indeed one of the Translators and has been acknowledged as such by more recent historians of the KJB such as Gordon Campbell, David Norton and Olga Opfel.
In 1605 or 1606 a group of fifteen Church of England bishops signed a document recommending William Thorne for a promotion, referring to him as the king's Chaplain and one of the Oxford Translators of the new Bible. He appears to have been a member of John Harding's First Oxford Company joining John Rainolds, Thomas Holland, Richard Brett, Miles Smith, Richard Fairclough, Richard Kilbye and perhaps Daniel Featley.
As a poet and Hebraist without peer, William would have made great contributions to the translation of the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah through Malachi.
Many of the KJB Translators arose from relative obscurity to high positions of trust and scholarly attainment, and after their monumental achievement in bringing forth the KJB, retreated back into relative obscurity. Details of their birth, family, and posterity were lost. In the case of William Thorne, even his identity as one of the Translators was for a time unacknowledged. Contrast this with William Shakespeare, who like the Translators, came from obscure beginnings but once he had made his contributions he was to be remembered forever. Hopefully, after four hundred years, the quarter-centenary celebration will give lasting recognition to men like William Thorne to whom so much is owed.