Educated at Winchester College and New College Oxford Dr. Thomas Ken was appointed in 1679 chaplain to Princess Mary, niece of King Charles II and wife of Prince William of Orange. During his time at The Hague it is known that he had differences of opinion with the Dutch King and probably because of this he returned to England in 1680 to become one of King Charles’s chaplains. It was whilst in this post that he famously refused in 1683, to receive Nell Gwyn at Winchester on the grounds that it was not suitable for the Royal Chaplain to officially accept a mistress. The King admired his honesty and bluntness, and Ken took up the post of Bishop of Bath and Wells, which became available soon after, on the suggestion of the monarch. When Charles was on his deathbed, it was Ken whom he asked to be with him and prepare him for death.
In 1688 Ken was one of seven bishops who signed a petition to King James II asking him to re-consider his policy of religious tolerance to Catholics, resulting in all of them briefly being imprisoned in the Tower of London. When William and Mary took the throne in 1689 they naturally began by demanding oaths of allegiance from all persons holding public positions, including the bishops. Ken once again found himself at odds with the monarch and refused to take the oath, on the grounds that he had sworn allegiance to James, and could not during his lifetime swear allegiance to another King without making such oaths a mockery. He and some fellow Bishops were consequently forced out of office. Despite his grave religious differences with James II, Ken’s principles stood firm, so much so that in 1692 he wrote to Queen Mary “I do not give you the title Majesty, not daring to do, because I think it justly belongs to none but your royal father…” He lived on for a further twenty years, much of the time as a guest at the home of Lord Weymouth at Longleat, devoting much of his retirement to writing poetry and hymns. He died in March 1711.
This intriguing portrait of the notable Bishop, only recently discovered, is by the fairly obscure artist F. Scheffer who seems to be known almost entirely for his various portraits of Ken. Four variants of this painting have been previously recorded, including two three-quarter lengths at Winchester College and the Bishop’s Palace, Wells. A possible fifth is the version in the National Portrait Gallery, though stylistically that appears to be by another hand, as Ingamells concluded. An almost identical version to this portrait is the oval that hangs at Longleat where Ken resided until his death.
Reference: John Ingamells “The English Episcopal Portrait 1559-1835”, 1981, p253-4