Thomas Sternhold

Last updated

Psalm 1 in 1628 printing with tune, metrical version by Thomas Sternhold. Psalm 1 metrical 1628.jpg
Psalm 1 in 1628 printing with tune, metrical version by Thomas Sternhold.
The Whole Book of Psalmes 1631 Book of Psalms.jpg
The Whole Book of Psalmes

Thomas Sternhold (1500–1549) was an English courtier and the principal author of the first English metrical version of the Psalms, originally attached to the Prayer-Book as augmented by John Hopkins.



Anthony Wood says that Sternhold entered Christ Church, Oxford, but did not take a degree. The first definite date in his life is 1538, when the name of Thomas Sternhold appears in Thomas Cromwell's accounts. He became one of the grooms of the robes to Henry VIII, and was a favourite, to whom a legacy of a hundred marks was bequeathed him by the king's will. He may have been the Thomas Sternell or Sternoll who was elected for Plymouth to the parliament that met on 30 January 1545, and was dissolved by Henry VIII's death in January 1547.

Sternhold was born in Blakeney, Gloucestershire and died on 23 August 1549. His will, dated August 1549, was proved on 12 September following. Among the witnesses to his will was Edward Whitchurch, probably his publisher. His property consisted of land in Hampshire and at Bodmin in Cornwall. Part of the Hampshire property might have been inherited. Slackstead, however, had been purchased recently, as it had been granted, as part of the possessions of Hyde Abbey, to Sir Ralph Sadler in 1547. The Bodmin property also he had purchased from the crown in 1543, as part of the possessions of the dissolved priory of St. Petrock there.

Psalm translations

His earliest metrical versions of the Psalms may have been composed in Henry's reign; Miles Coverdale had published his 'Goostly Psalmes,' a translation of Luther's psalm versions, as early as 1535. In 1540 the earliest Psalms by Marot, valet de chambre to Francis I, were known at the French court, and soon afterwards passed into Protestant worship at Geneva. Sternhold, Marot, and Coverdale all wished to substitute the Psalms of David for the ballads of the court and people.

Sternhold (with the exception of Psalm cxx) used only one metre, and this the simplest of all ballad measures, the metre of Chevy Chace . This choice of metre became the predominant metre (common metre) not only of the old and new versions of England and Scotland, but of other metrical psalters and English hymns in general. Sternhold is said to have sung his psalms to his organ for his own solace. (Strype). The only edition which Sternhold lived to publish he dedicated to the young king Edward VI. In this dedication he expresses a hope of ‘travayling further,’ and ‘performing the residue’ of the Psalter; but his total contribution to the old version consists of only forty psalms.

Sternhold is remembered as the originator of the first metrical version of the Psalms which obtained general currency alike in England and Scotland. The Versification of Certain Chapters of the Proverbs of Solomon has been attributed to him in error. Sternhold and Hopkins's version has had a larger circulation than any work in the language, except the authorised version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. [1] Sternhold's work forms its base. His first edition undated, but, as being dedicated to Edward VI, not earlier than 1547, contains nineteen psalms (i–v, xx, xxv, xxviii, xxix, xxxii, xxxiv, xli, xlix, lxxiii, lxxviii, ciii, cxx, cxxiii, cxxviii). It was printed by Edward Whitchurch, and is entitled ‘Certayne Psalmes chosē out of the Psalter of Dauid and drawē into Englishē Metre by Thomas Sternhold, grome of ye Kynges Maiesties Roobes’ (Brit. Museum). The second edition, printed after his death—apparently by John Hopkins, who adds seven psalms of his own in order to fill in a blank space—added to those of the former edition eighteen new psalms (vi–xvii, xix, xxi, xliii, xliv, lxiii, lxviii). It is entitled ‘Al such Psalmes of Dauid as Thomas Sternhold, late grome of the Kinges maiesties robes, did in his lyfetime drawe into English Metre,’ and is printed by Edward Whitchurche in 1549 (Cambridge University Library). Three more psalms (xviii, xxii, xxiii) are added to these in a rare edition of the growing Psalter printed by John Daye in 1561, and the complete number (40) appears in the full editions of 1562, 1563, and all subsequent ones. The only one of his psalms which remains current is the simple rendering of Psalm xxiii (‘My Shepherd is the Living Lord’). The text of his psalms, as found in all editions after 1556, follows the Genevan revision of that year.

The Sternhold-Hopkins psalter continued in general use till Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady's New Version of the Psalms of David of 1696 was substituted in 1717.

See also

Related Research Articles

Psalms Book of the Bible

The Book of Psalms, commonly referred to simply as Psalms, the Psalter or "the Psalms", is the first book of the Ketuvim ("Writings"), the third section of the Hebrew Bible, and thus a book of the Christian Old Testament. The title is derived from the Greek translation, ψαλμοί, psalmoi, meaning "instrumental music" and, by extension, "the words accompanying the music". The book is an anthology of individual psalms, with 150 in the Jewish and Western Christian tradition and more in the Eastern Christian churches. Many are linked to the name of David. In fact, of the 150 Psalms, David is named as the author of only 75. David is specifically noted as the author of 73 psalms in the titles of the psalms but his authorship is not accepted by some highly critical modern scholars.

Myles Coverdale

Myles Coverdale, first name also spelt Miles, was an English ecclesiastical reformer chiefly known as a Bible translator, preacher and, briefly, Bishop of Exeter (1551–1553). Regarding his probable birth county, Daniell cites John Bale, author of a sixteenth century scriptorium, giving it as Yorkshire. Having studied philosophy and theology in Cambridge, Coverdale became an Augustinian friar and went to the house of his order, also in Cambridge. In 1514 John Underwood, a suffragan bishop and archdeacon of Norfolk, ordained him priest in Norwich. He was at the house of the Augustinians when in about 1520, Robert Barnes returned from Louvain to become its prior. In 1535, Coverdale produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English. His theological development is a paradigm of the progress of the English Reformation from 1530 to 1552. By the time of his death, he had transitioned into an early Puritan, affiliated to Calvin, yet still advocating the teachings of Augustine.

Bay Psalm Book Psalter first printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Bay Psalm Book is a metrical Psalter first printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was the first book printed in British North America. The Psalms in it are metrical translations into English. The translations are not particularly polished, and none has remained in use, although some of the tunes to which they were sung have survived. However, its production, just 20 years after the Pilgrims' arrival at Plymouth, Massachusetts, represents a considerable achievement. It went through several editions and remained in use for well over a century.

"Old 100th" or "Old Hundredth" is a hymn tune in Long Metre from Pseaumes Octante Trois de David (1551) and is one of the best known melodies in all Christian musical traditions. The tune is usually attributed to the French composer Louis Bourgeois.

Metrical psalter

A metrical psalter is a kind of Bible translation: a book containing a metrical translation of all or part of the Book of Psalms in vernacular poetry, meant to be sung as hymns in a church. Some metrical psalters include melodies or even harmonizations. The composition of metrical psalters was a large enterprise of the Protestant Reformation, especially in its Calvinist manifestation.

Bible translations into Welsh

Parts of the Bible have been translated into Welsh since at least the 15th century, but the most widely used translation of the Bible into Welsh for several centuries was the 1588 translation by William Morgan, Y Beibl cyssegr-lan sef Yr Hen Destament, a'r Newydd as revised in 1620. The Beibl Cymraeg Newydd was published in 1988 and revised in 2004. is a new translation in colloquial Welsh which was recently completed.

Louis Bourgeois (composer)

Loys "Louis" Bourgeois was a French composer and music theorist of the Renaissance. He is most famous as one of the main compilers of Calvinist hymn tunes in the middle of the 16th century. One of the most famous melodies in all of Christendom, the Protestant doxology known as the Old 100th, is commonly attributed to him.

Robert Crowley, was a stationer, poet, polemicist and Protestant clergyman among Marian exiles at Frankfurt. He seems to have been a Henrician Evangelical in favour of a more reformed Protestantism than the king and the Church of England sanctioned. Under Edward VI, he joined a London network of evangelical stationers to argue for reforms, sharing a vision of his contemporaries Hugh Latimer, Thomas Lever, Thomas Beccon and others of England as a reformed Christian commonwealth. He attacked as inhibiting reform what he saw as corruption and uncharitable self-interest among the clergy and wealthy. Meanwhile, Crowley took part in making the first printed editions of Piers Plowman, the first translation of the Gospels into Welsh, and the first complete metrical psalter in English, which was also the first to include harmonised music. Towards the end of Edward's reign and later, Crowley criticised the Edwardian Reformation as compromised and saw the Dissolution of the Monasteries as replacing one form of corruption by another. On his return to England after the reign of Mary I, Crowley revised his chronicle to represent the Edwardian Reformation as a failure, due to figures like Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset and John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. Crowley's account of the Marian martyrs represented them as a cost mostly paid by commoners. The work became a source for John Foxe's account of the period in his Actes and Monuments. Crowley held church positions in the early to mid-1560s and sought change from the pulpit and within the church hierarchy. Against the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, Crowley was a leader in the renewed vestments controversy, which eventually lost him his clerical posts. During the dispute he and other London clergy produced a "first Puritan manifesto". Late in life Crowley was restored to several church posts and appears to have charted a more moderate course in defending it from Roman Catholicism and from nonconformist factions that espoused a Presbyterian church polity.

Psalm 23 Book of Psalms, chapter 23

Psalm 23 is the 23rd psalm of the Book of Psalms, generally known in English by its first verse, in the King James Version, "The Lord is my Shepherd". The Book of Psalms is the third section of the Hebrew Bible, and a book of the Christian Old Testament. In the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, and in its Latin translation in the Vulgate, this psalm is Psalm 22 in a slightly different numbering system. In Latin, it is known by the incipit, "Dominus reget me".

Decisions concerning the conduct of public worship in the Church of Scotland are entirely at the discretion of the parish minister. As a result, a wide variety of musical resources are used. However, at various times in its history, the General Assembly has commissioned volumes of psalms and hymns for use by congregations.

Exclusive psalmody

Exclusive psalmody is the practice of singing only the biblical Psalms in congregational singing as worship. Today it is practised by several Protestant, especially Reformed denominations. Hymns besides the Psalms have been composed by Christians since the earliest days of the church, but psalms were preferred by the early church and used almost exclusively until the end of the fourth century. During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and many other reformers, including those associated with the Reformed tradition, used hymns as well as psalms, but John Calvin preferred the Psalms and they were the only music allowed for worship in Geneva. This became the norm for the next 200 years of Reformed worship. Hymnody became acceptable again for the Reformed in the middle of the nineteenth century, though several denominations, notably the Reformed Presbyterians, continue the practice of exclusive psalmody.

<i>Genevan Psalter</i>

The Genevan Psalter, also known as The Huguenot Psalter, is a metrical psalter in French created under the supervision of John Calvin for liturgical use by the Reformed churches of the city of Geneva in the sixteenth century.

Becker Psalter

The Becker Psalter is a German metrical psalter authored by the Leipzig theologian Cornelius Becker and first published by Jakob Apel in Leipzig in 1602 under the title Der Psalter Davids Gesangweis. Several composers set the psalms contained in the volume, notably Heinrich Schütz, whose four-part chorales were published in 1628 and revised and expanded in 1661.

Psalm 100

Psalm 100 is the 100th psalm in the Hebrew Bible of the Book of Psalms. In English, it is translated as "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands" in the King James Version (KJV), and as "O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands" in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Its Hebrew name is מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה‎, 'Mizmor l'Todah' and it is subtitled a "Psalm of gratitude confession". In the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, and in the Latin Vulgate, this Psalm is Psalm 99 in a slightly different numbering system. In the Vulgate, it begins Jubilate Deo, or Jubilate, which also became the title of the BCP version.

Hymn tune

A hymn tune is the melody of a musical composition to which a hymn text is sung. Musically speaking, a hymn is generally understood to have four-part harmony, a fast harmonic rhythm, and no refrain or chorus.

Tate and Brady refers to the collaboration of the poets Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady, which produced one famous work, New Version of the Psalms of David (1696). This work was a metrical version of the Psalms, and largely ousted the old version of T. Sternhold and J. Hopkins' Psalter. Still regularly sung today is their version of Psalm 34, "Through all the changing scenes of life". As well as the 150 Psalms they also wrote metrical versions of the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed.

Rhymed psalters are translations of the Psalms from Hebrew or Latin into poetry in some other language. Rhymed psalters include metrical psalters designed for singing, but are not limited to that use.

George Joye was a 16th-century Bible translator who produced the first printed translation of several books of the Old Testament into English (1530–1534), as well as the first English Primer (1529).

John Pullain (1517–1565) was an English churchman, a reformer and poet, Marian exile and Geneva Bible translator.

John Halle

John Halle, or John Hall of Maidstone was an English surgeon, known as a medical writer and poet.


  1. Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : "Sternhold, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.

Free scores by Thomas Sternhold in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)