King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Giles Tomson was born in 1553 in London to Edward Tomson, a mercer (although at least one biographer gives his father as Giles Tomson, a London grocer). Giles Tomson's will makes clear that he had several siblings. He remained in London until 1571 when he enrolled as a student at Oxford University. He stayed at Oxford for much of the rest of his life, though in his later years he was often at Windsor. It appears Giles Tomson never married. He died on 14 June 1612 at Windsor Castle. His passing was "to the great grief of all that knew the piety and learning of the man". He was buried in the Bray Chantry at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
Giles Tomson's early education was at Merchant Taylors' School in London where as a student he was a contemporary of fellow Translator Lancelot Andrews. His schoolmaster was the famed Richard Mulcaster. He finished at Merchant Taylors' in 1571 and entered University College, Oxford, being supported by a grant from the university.
He graduated with a B.A. in 1575, proceeded M.A. in 1578, and D.D. in 1602.
Much of Giles Tomson's early career was associated with Oxford University. He served first as fellow of All Souls College, then as reader at Magdalen College, and as university proctor.
When Queen Elizabeth I visited Oxford in 1592, Tomson was selected to participate in a "disputation" (a scholarly debate) in her honor. Apparently, Giles Tomson acquitted himself with distinction. Several years later Queen Elizabeth appointed him as one of her chaplains. In this office he preached before the queen on a number of occasions. In 1603 he was given the prestigious position as Dean of Windsor. Nearly ten years before, he had been rector of Pembridge, Herefordshire and canon of Hereford Cathedral.
Following the queen's death in 1603 there was much uncertainty regarding the new monarch, James I. In a sermon delivered in the presence of the new king, Tomson took as his text, Psalms 2:10-11: "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling." He clearly was trying to convey his view that kings were accountable to God.
Giles continued to occupy the deanery of Windsor and remained a royal chaplain until his death. While at Windsor, Tomson obtained valuable music manuscripts consisting of motets, anthems, and consort music and songs. Written in the hand of renowned copyist Robert Dow, these valuable manuscripts passed to Tomson upon Dow's death. Dow, like Tomson, had been a fellow at All Souls College. Today the manuscripts are part of the music collection of Christ Church College, Oxford.
As dean of Windsor much of his time was taken up with administrative duties connected with his office which included church business and discipline. Additionally, he was the registrar of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.
Giles Tomson fulfilled all these responsibilities with skill. As a consequence, he was selected to be Bishop of Gloucester. He was consecrated Bishop on 9 June 1611 and held this office at the time of his death just a year later.
Giles Tomson and the Translation
Giles Tomson was a member of the Second Oxford Company whose assignment was the translation of the Gospels, Acts and the book of Revelation. He joined some of the finest scholars of his day, men like, Henry Savile, Thomas Ravis (the director), Leonard Hutten and George Abbot.
Tomson's participation in the "disputation" before Queen Elizabeth, a decade before the translation, is evidence of the esteem in which he was held by his colleagues. He attended the Hampton Court Conference where King James, at the suggestion of John Rainolds, launched the translation project.
One biographer commenting on Giles Tomson's involvement in the translation stated "he had taken a great deal of pain at the command of King James in translating the four Gospels, Acts of the Apostles and Apocalypse". What "pains" he took are not described. However, it is certain Tomson and his fellows devoted a great deal of time and effort to the project. For Tomson, like others of his company, who had weighty duties away from Oxford, regular and difficult travel was a part of the commitment.
When he was appointed Bishop of Gloucester in 1611, Giles Tomson asked if he might have up to a year to finish his duties at Windsor. His request was granted. Ironically, he died in Windsor 14 June 1612, almost exactly a year after his consecration as Bishop, having never stepped foot in his diocese.
After his death an impressive monument to Giles Tomson was placed on the wall of the Bray's Chantry, St George's Chapel, Windsor where he is buried. It presents a sculpted alabaster effigy of the Translator, showing a frontal view of him in his Bishop's habit. He is sporting what has been termed an "Assyrian beard", and is holding a book in his hands. Below Giles Tomson's figure are words in Latin which are thus translated:
Here lieth Giles Thomson, formerly Dean of this Chapel, whose mind was upright, tongue learned, and hands pure. He was born at London, educated at Oxford, in the College of All Souls; ever a friend to the good, indigent, and learned. Though his mortal body lies under the earth, his soul is raised by piety to the skies.
He was thirteen years Dean of this Chapel, during which he was in manners grave, prudent, and pious. Afterwards he was presented to the Bishoprick of Gloucester, by his Most Serene Majesty King James, and the following year snatched away by death, Jun 11, 1612, aged 59.