A Material History of the Bible, England 1200-1553

A Material History of the Bible, England 1200-1553

Eyal Poleg

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780197266717

Publisher: British Academy


This book examines the production and use of Bibles in late medieval and early modern England. The analysis of hundreds of biblical manuscripts and prints reveals how scribes, printers, readers, and patrons have reacted to religious and political turmoil. Looking at the modification of biblical manuscripts, or the changes introduced into subsequent printed editions, reveals the ways in which commerce and devotions joined to shape biblical access. The book explores the period from c.1200 to 1553, which saw the advent of moveable-type print as well as the Reformation. The book’s long-view places both technological and religious transformation in a new perspective. The book progresses chronologically, starting with the mass-produced innovative Late Medieval Bible, which has often been linked to the emerging universities and book-trade of the thirteenth century. The second chapter explores Wycliffite Bibles, arguing against their common affiliation with groups outside Church orthodoxy. Rather, it demonstrates how surviving manuscripts are linked to licit worship, performed in smaller monastic houses, by nuns and devout lay women and men. The third chapter explores the creation and use of the first Bible printed in England as evidence for the uncertain course of reform at the end of Henry VIII’s reign. Henry VIII’s Great Bible is studied in the following chapter. Rather than a monument to reform, a careful analysis of its materiality and use reveals it to have been a mostly useless book. The final chapter presents the short reign of Edward VI as a period of rapid transformation in Bible and worship, when some of the innovations introduced more than three hundred years earlier began, for the first time, to make sense.