Updated: Nov 28, 2020
Text: Thomas Ken (1637-1711). Tune: Thomas Tallis (ca. 1508-1585)
1. All praise to thee, my God, this night, For all the blessings of the light; Keep me, O keep me, King of kings, Beneath thine own almighty wings. 2. Forgive me, Lord, for thy dear Son, The ills that I this day have done; That with the world, myself, and thee, I, ere I sleep, at peace may be. 3. O may my soul on thee repose, And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close; Sleep that may me more vig'rous make To serve my God when I awake. 4. When in the night I sleepless lie, My soul with heav'nly thoughts supply; Let no ill dreams disturb my rest, No pow'rs of darkness me molest. 5. O when shall I in endless day Forever chase dark sleep away, And hymns with the supernal choir Incessant sing, and never tire! 6. Praise God from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heav'nly host: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Bishop Thomas Ken lived in a time of religious turmoil that could mean death, or imprisonment, if one were found on the wrong side. His parents died when he was young so he ended up living with his stepsister and her husband, Izaak Walton, the writer of The Compleat Angler, a kind and decent man who raised Ken well.
Ken studied at New College at Oxford where he earned his B.A. and M. A. He served several parishes of the Anglican church; in 1672 he came to Winchester College. There in 1674 he wrote a collection of prayers for morning, noon and night, with three hymns to attend them. In doing this, he was, like Luther, making use of the tradition of the daily hours from the monastery, reducing them to three for home devotions.
The collections of hymns for daily devotions in the home, something Protestants realized they needed, were also appropriate for schools where young boys lived together under the direction of their school teachers. (Girls were still taught at home by their parents or a governess if the parents were wealthy.) What is clear about these hymns is that they all seem to follow an order that one can see is nearly universal in the daily hymns that go way back to Ambrose in the fourth century.
First, they notice the place of the sun or light and ask for protection under God’s wings. Then thinking of the past hours, asking forgiveness for one’s failures through the day so that one could sleep well during the night. Insomnia was a problem then as ever, especially for a bad conscience, so repent. Count your blessings, like counting sheep. Then think of eternity when there will be no night or sleep. Just joy and praise. And then the doxology. There is probably no verse so widely known in the English speaking world. It is sung to this melody and also the melody of Old 100th, but in either case most people in the church can sing it without seeing the text.
King Charles II appointed Ken to be the chaplain for Princess Mary, who one day would reign with William of Orange. Ken spoke what he believed to be the truth about an issue to William who sent him packing. When King Charles II came to visit Ken’s city, and he was chosen to be the host for Nell Gwynn, the King’s mistress, Ken refused and had the roof taken off of his house so he could claim the house unfit for guests. He gained the respect of King Charles II, depite his clear denunciation of his life style. The king appointed him Bishop of Bath, and wanted him at his side as he was dying.
James II, a Catholic, became king in 1685. Since he at the time had no heir, and Anglican Queen Mary would succeed him, his being Catholic seemed to be no threat, but when his second wife produced a son, things changed. In 1688 the Glorious Revolution occurred assuring the realm would be Protestant. When James II required the bishops to sign his Declaration of Indulgence, seven, including Ken, refused, arguing that the king was threatening religious freedom. For that they spent some time in the Tower of London.
After an altercation with King William, Ken was removed from this office and spent the next twenty years teaching and writing at Warminster, a grammar school for boys. It was here he wrote his famous hymns.
With all the unrest going on and the uncertainty in our public sphere, I can think of no better prayer to use at bedtime than this hymn. It covers everything. The hymn speaks to us from a time much more uncertain and difficult than we can imagine. Violence, tyranny and disease stalked the land. I do lie awake worrying about the fate of the country, the state, the cities. And what it portends for our daily lives. God grant me the courage to speak out as Ken did when he saw things he could not countenance, and then the faith to fall asleep soundly in the confidence that God’s angels are hovering around me, ministering to me and my loved ones through the night.
Thomas Tallis' Canon is one of the greatest tunes to come out of England. A musician in even more turbulent times than Ken, he served under King Henry VIII. He remained an unreformed Catholic, people thought, but he skillfully managed to satisfy both Henry VIII, and his establishing of the Anglican church to serving Mary, who worked to bring Catholicism back to England, and then Elizabeth who restored her father’s Anglicanism. Tallis could write complicated pieces of polyphony when the Catholics were in charge; and tunes for the Protestants that did not obscure the words, an important feature of texts set to music for them. Tallis’ Canon, as it is called, can be sung as a round which gives people singing it an easy way to sing in harmony, while yet singing the same melody.
NB: Some scholars think the first line started Glory to thee, my God, this night.
Kings College Choir/wonderful pictures of the people I wrote about above
Music at Liebfrauen/Cappuccinis/The first line is Glory to thee...
New Cambridge Singers/Choir Audience and Orchestra
St. Philips Boys Choir