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A Material History of the Bible, England 1200-1553$

Eyal Poleg

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266717

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266717.001.0001

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The Great Bible as a Useless Book

The Great Bible as a Useless Book

(p.117) 4 The Great Bible as a Useless Book
A Material History of the Bible, England 1200-1553

Eyal Poleg

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

The Great Bible, instigated by Thomas Cromwell, edited by Miles Coverdale, and supported by Henry VIII, has often been seen as a monument of reform and authority. This chapter explores the Bible’s materiality to reveal hesitation and tensions in its creation. Its layout and title page reveal Henry’s ambivalence towards Bible reading. Mandated for each parish church in the realm it was nevertheless incompatible with the liturgy performed there, leading to the curbing of Bible reading four years after its introduction.

Keywords:   Great Bible, Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Mile Coverdale, Reformation, parish, title page, layout, print


The uncertainties surrounding Berthelet’s Bible, explored in the previous chapter, were part of a wider phenomenon. The story of the English Bible at the end of Henry’s reign does not follow a clear narrative of reform or retraction. Rather, it is a change that is far from uniform, when printers and reformers attempted to second-guess Henry’s intentions, while parishioners and priests were handed a book which they were not quite sure how to use. Conflicting forces of reform and tradition, of innovation and technological limitations, all came to the fore in the development of Bibles. Without a clear direction, these years nevertheless revolutionised the landscape of sacred books in England, with the first attempts to produce a ‘national’ Bible. It was also the moment of inception for the parish Bible, the first time all parish churches in England were instructed to own one. Bibles at the end of Henry’s reign, and predominantly Henry’s Great Bible,1 were in flux, constantly modified to accommodate evangelical or conservative sensibilities. They became a bellwether for moments of transformation and the uncertain course of Henrician reform. When explored in comparison with other contemporary Bibles, the Great Bible’s title page, annotations, liturgical apparatus and use all reveal minute changes in emphases attuned to the religious and political transformations of the period.

Two years after Berthelet and Coverdale each endeavoured to create a royal Bible, another attempt at securing royal patronage was made. In 1537 two London merchants sought to provide the Bible that Cromwell’s injunctions of the previous year had laid down for every parish. Given the unstable religious atmosphere in England, and the deficiencies of English printing, Richard Grafton (of the Grocers’ Company, †1573) and Edward Whitchurch (of the Haberdashers’ Company, †1562) sought a Continental printer to (p.118) produce it. Its text relied on the works of Tyndale and Coverdale, edited and added to by John Rogers, Tyndale’s close associate. It was eventually printed by Matthias Crom in Antwerp in 1537, using a pseudonym.2 The Bible appealed to the reformed faction in Henry’s court. A copy was inspected by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who approved the translation and then passed it to Cromwell on 4 August 1537 for royal approval.3 Consequently, its title page publicised the Bible as ‘Set forth with the King’s most gracious license’, the very first Bible to attract royal support. The addenda to the Bible befitted its newly devised role: It begins with a calendar and almanac painstakingly printed in red and black, and ends with a table of lections. These devices enabled readers to link biblical lessons with the Sarum liturgy. Medieval aids were now put to use in English printed Bibles.

Unlike the portrayal of Henry as a biblical monarch in Coverdale’s Bible, the title page of the Matthew Bible used a more generic Continental woodblock depicting salvation history from the Fall to Redemption. The preliminary materials contain a dedication to Henry (To the moost noble and gracyous | Prynce Kyng Henry the eyght […], sig. [*.V.]v-[VI.]v), which likens him to biblical figures: like Hezekiah and Josiah, he is to proclaim God’s Law and remove idolatry from the land. This simile was patently reformed, equating traditional religion with idol-worshipping. Such opposition to conservative practice extended beyond the Bible’s preliminary materials. Its evangelical stance is most evident in its annotations, which link reformed theology with the biblical text. The Matthew Bible presents a wide array of explanatory materials, with long arguments preceding each chapter and notes in smaller Black Letter in the margins of the text. At times the editor’s preoccupation with these annotations led him to overturn the balance of text and annotations: in Psalm 4, for example, the length of prefatory materials exceeds that of the Psalm text.4 The prologue to the Epistle to the Romans, which reformers considered to be a summary of all Scripture,5 is seven pages long (pt 5, fols LX.r–LXIII.r). Most notes explicate the Hebrew text or provide typological exegesis. So, for example, 1 Rg 14:27 ‘and his eyes received light’ is accompanied by the note ‘Thus speak the Hebrews for that we say. he recovered (p.119) his strength / and was more cheerful.’; the note for Psalm 8:6 ‘To crown him &c is / to make him a king which thing was fulfilled in Christ after his resurrection, Mat. xxviii.d and of him doth the epistle to the Hebrews expound this verse. Hebr.ii.’; in the Song of Songs red rubrics identify the medieval ‘voices’, linking its often obscure biblical speakers to episodes from the life of Christ and the history of the Church.6

The notes to the Matthew Bible also reveal traces of theological strife and the editor’s evangelical leanings. The note for the Epistle to the Romans 3:24 (‘but are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’) reads ‘S. Paul himself / in these words / freely without the law / without works / it is a gift’ (pt 5, fol. LXIV.v). The letter of the Bible is seen as accommodating the reformist theology of justification by faith alone.7 Such notes became one of the most controversial elements in the history of the English Bible. Seventy years later, the notes of the Geneva Bible were rejected by Crown and Church, contributing to the creation of the King James Bible.8 Notes have attracted criticism in the period under investigation as well. The notes of the Matthew Bible did not escape unscathed. In a copy of the 1537 edition (Bible Society BSS.201.B37.6) an early modern reader systematically obliterated all the notes with brown paint (including entire folios from the prologue to the Romans), leaving only chapter summaries and cross references.9 Herbert has suggested this followed the 1543 Act for the Advancement of True Religion, which required such notes to be removed or obliterated.10

(p.120) The Great Bible’s Title Page, Preliminaries and Idealised Narratives

Cromwell became an ardent supporter of a new English Bible, a Bible worthy of royal patronage both in its content and in its material grandeur. Such a Bible would combine Cromwell’s own evangelical leanings with the political aim of consolidating Henry’s control over the English Church. In order to facilitate such an endeavour, Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister, joined forces with Coverdale, whose 1535 Bible was the first single-volume Bible in English, and the merchant-publishers Grafton and Whitchurch, veterans of the Matthew Bible. The creation of the new Bible was beset by practical difficulties just as the previous ones had been. English printers were simply not equipped to produce a book of the magnitude sought by Cromwell, a large and complex volume worthy of royal support. There was simply no press big enough in England for printing such a large folio.11 Likewise, England lacked the paper mills to furnish paper for printing such a Bible. As Cromwell sought the best-quality paper for his new Bible, the need to import paper further discouraged local production. Therefore, it is of little surprise that an early decision was made to move the printing of the Bible to the Continent.

The printer chosen for the project was François Regnault, who had been printing for the English market for some twenty years. Grafton and Whitchurch spent much of 1538 in Paris supervising the production, while Coverdale worked there on revising the translation of the new Bible. Their correspondence with Cromwell provides insight into the course of the project. Letters sent from Paris to England preserve valuable information regarding the production of the Bible. While the team in Paris was appreciative of the quality of printing, and especially of the high-grade paper available for Regnault in Paris, it quickly became clear that the project had run into difficulties.12 Mounting political tensions between France and England led to French inquisitors being sent by the King of France to investigate the printing of the Bible. This was followed by the confiscation of the printed sheets of the Bible, which the French authorities refused to release. Nonetheless, they allowed (and, as suggested by Mozley, possibly even encouraged) the project to relocate (p.121) to England. Regnault’s presses, types and paper made their way to London, where Grafton and Whitchurch assumed the role of printers of the Great Bible. Correspondence continued between England and Paris for the retrieval of the sheets; some sheets of the Paris printing have indeed been identified by Blayney, embedded into the second edition of the Great Bible (April 1540).

This move of men and materials had a lasting impact on English book production. It introduced advanced printing materials and techniques into England, which influenced the printing of subsequent editions of the Bible, and of other books as well. The unique circumstances of the printing of the Great Bible also shaped the appearance of its subsequent editions. As can be seen in Appendix 2, the 1538/9 printing was quickly followed by six editions printed by Grafton or Whitchurch (working individually rather than collaboratively on subsequent editions) between 1540 and 1541. The second edition replicated the first. Possibly in the hope of retrieving the confiscated sheets, exact page length was preserved, enabling the insertion of leaves from the first edition (printed either in Paris or London) into the second. This strategy continued into subsequent editions. Five of the seven editions (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 7th) were designed to allow the mixing of materials between them (printed at sixty-two lines per page, with care taken to preserve the length of each folio, thus enabling interchanging folios between the editions). The remaining two editions (4th and 6th editions, at sixty-five lines per page) also allowed the mixture of elements between them. Nowadays most surviving Bibles bring together components from different editions. Fry’s survey of 146 copies of the Great Bible, still one of the most detailed analyses has revealed only thirty-one unmixed copies, scarcely more than 20 per cent, with the majority of surviving books each containing elements from at least two editions.13 At times this was done during the compilation of the Bible (as, for example, in mixing sheets from Paris and London into editions); at other times it was done by later collectors.

All seven editions of the Great Bible share the same woodcut for their title pages (see Figure 4.1). Previous attributions of the title page to Holbein have been disproved, and the identity of the artist remains unknown.14 Since there is ‘[n]o other printed visual statement [apart from the title page for (p.122) Coverdale’s Bible] relating to the English Reformation from Henry’s reign’, the significance of the title page and its wide dissemination is evident.15 The artist had been well instructed on his mission. String convincingly argues for a methodological difference between the title page of Coverdale’s Bible (see Figure 3.2) and that of the Great Bible. While the former was based on a collection of texts given to Holbein to illustrate, the latter is the visual manifestation of Henry’s authority. Henry reigns at the top of the page, distributing Bibles to laypeople and clerics, aided by Cromwell to his left and Cranmer to his right (each identified by his coat of arms). The Word of God then reaches the general public in the lower register, who duly proclaim ‘vivat rex’ and ‘long live the king’. Iconographical omissions are likewise revealing. The three men imprisoned at the bottom-right corner do not praise the monarch; the laypeople in the lower register do not hold a Bible, but hear the Word of God through the sermon of a preacher in the bottom-left corner;16 the Roman Church is absent from the dissemination of the Word of God, which flows from Henry to his people, aided by his ministers, the material artefacts and oral dissemination. This title page of the Bible masterminded by Cromwell distilled his theory of Scripture and obedience, although it set the Bible on a collision course with the reality of the English Church.

The iconographical shift from the title page of Coverdale’s Bible to that of the Great Bible is seen by String as reflecting a change in the nature of authority. Coverdale’s depicts the transmission of authority from God, at the top of the page, through the unfolding of divine history, all the way to Henry at the bottom of the page. In the title page of the Great Bible, on the other hand, Henry is at the top register, and thus ‘the transmission of the Word of God … begins with God and Henry’.17 We can now even extend this analysis further, to see in the new iconography a hierarchy of authority. In Coverdale’s Bible God takes the form of a tetragrammaton (the divine name in Hebrew letters), befitting Coverdale’s evangelical stance. In the Great Bible, on the other hand, the depiction of God is anthropomorphic. God assumes a human form, and so enhances the affinity between Henry and the Divinity. This is made explicit by their physical proximity, sharing the top register: Henry’s outstretched arms distributing Bibles mirror God’s posture of benediction. In the Great Bible, even God seems to be subjected to Henry’s authority. The constraints of God’s position between Henry’s head and the top of the page forced the (p.123)

The Great Bible as a Useless Book

Figure 4.1 Title page of the first edition of the Great Bible. This iconic image distils Henry VIII’s attitude to the English Bible (The Byble in Englysh […] [Paris and London: Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch, 1539]).

Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

(p.124) artist to squeeze Him against the upper register of the frame, leaving God at a fraction of Henry’s size (Henry’s height is 4.6 times greater than Christ’s). If in Coverdale’s Bible Henry is a second Solomon, here he becomes a second Christ in Majesty. The break from Rome was complete with Henry as the Vicar Christi (the vicar of Christ), the title conferred on late medieval popes.

This woodcut was used in all seven editions of the Great Bible, demonstrating the appeal of its message to Henry, which is evident also in the choice to replace the earlier title page of the New Testament (from the second edition onwards) with this one as well. It also attests to the difficulties in procuring a new title page. Unable, or unwilling, to replace it completely, subtle modifications were nevertheless made to its appearance, adapting it to new environments. Such changes could be traced back to the time of the Great Bible’s compilation in Paris. Two luxurious vellum copies were sent from Paris in 1538, as described in a letter from Coverdale and Grafton to Cromwell on 23 June 1538: ‘[W]e have here sent unto your lordship ii examples, on parchment, wherein we intend to print one for the king’s grace, and another for your lordship.’18 These have survived, one at the National Library of Wales, and the other in St John’s College, Cambridge, with the latter Bible commonly seen as Cromwell’s copy.19

While the copy at the National Library of Wales lacks some of its preliminary materials, the hand-painted title pages of that at St John’s survive intact (see Figure 4.2). Its printed title pages were carefully painted over, with the original print at times peeping through, as in the brick background still visible through the red stockings of the green-clad figure at the bottom right of the opening title page, which diverges the most from the original print.20 Its artist, constrained by the layout of the original printed page, still managed to introduce important modifications. The most evident omission in the painted title page, as noted by Orth, is the removal of the prison. Other modifications, so far unnoticed by scholars, were introduced by the artist to distance the image further from the original title page. In place of the prison, there is now a group of three people: a man in red hose and green cape holding an open book, another man in a blue coat in an orans posture, and behind them a woman with (p.125)

The Great Bible as a Useless Book

Figure 4.2 Hand-coloured title page of the Great Bible. This lavish image contains signifi cant modifi cations of the original printed title page (Cambridge, St John’s College, copy Bb.8.30).

By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.

(p.126) a wimple or open-fronted veil. Aston noted the lack of books among the laity in the lower register, yet the unknown artist had changed this by having the three assemble around an open book, in what appears to be a presentation scene. Given the importance of the presentation copy, and the significant modification to the original layout, I believe this to be the presentation of the Bible to its patron, with the two men most likely Grafton and Whitchurch, and the woman possibly Ann Welles, Whitchurch’s first wife (Grafton married only in 1545/47).21

The Great Bible as a Useless Book

Figure 4.3 Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of Jane Seymour (1536/37), Kunsthistoriches Museum Vienna. This portrait is similar to the modified title page of the Great Bible.


The image of the woman below this small group (or adjacent to the prison in the printed title page) was also changed. In the original image, a woman is sitting next to a group of children, her hair in curls, possibly with a white undercap; her hands instruct the children, while her face is turned toward the man on her left (possibly the prison’s warden). This was completely transformed in the painted title page. The woman now faces the children, and her features are clearer and more subtle. Her headgear has been turned into a lavish gable hood, worn by nobility and royalty.22 This sumptuous short gable, in gold and possibly jewels, and the distinctive facial features are reminiscent of Holbein’s portrait of Jane Seymour, painted in 1536 (see Figure 4.3). As demonstrated by Dolman, the portrait was well known at the time and had served to inspire other depictions of Jane Seymour, including one that was made in 1539, shortly after the hand-painted title page.23 The integration of Jane into the title page combines with the newly devised presentation scene to transform our understanding of the St John’s copy. Rather than Cromwell’s Bible, this copy appears to have been Henry’s own dedication copy. The prison scene and (p.127) the penalty for disobedience gave way to an idealised scene of the royal family: the recently deceased Jane, whose memory was kept alive in numerous images, was seen in the company of children, alluding to the young Prince Edward, Henry’s much sought-after heir.

Modifications of the title page continued into subsequent editions. While its iconography could not be easily changed in the course of mass production, the central text was changed effortlessly to accommodate a less evangelical stance. The title page of the first edition advertised a Bible that was ‘[t]ruly translated from Hebrew and Greek’. This mildly reformed sentiment detached the Bible from the Latin Vulgate and sent it back ad fontes, to its Greek and Hebrew origins. This claim was omitted from subsequent editions, and instead the revised title page told of a new prologue by Cranmer, as well as that ‘[t]his is the Bible appointed | to the use of the churches’.

The title page of the Great Bible presented an ideal state in which the kingdom functioned in harmony and the laity embraced a new appreciation of the monarch. Reality, however, was different. Like the appearance of Cranmer’s prologue in the second edition, the title page of the Great Bible is indicative of the movement of people in and out of Henry’s grace. Thomas Cromwell, the instigator of the Great Bible, appears on its title page supporting Henry by disseminating the Word of God to lay dignitaries. Shortly after the appearance of the Great Bible, Cromwell devised Henry’s ill-fated marriage to Anne of Cleves in January 1540. The conservative faction in court used this opportunity to move against Cromwell, leading to his execution in July 1540. The printers of subsequent editions of the Great Bible faced the problem of retaining the image of a convicted traitor. The solution was not to replace the woodcut altogether— a cumbersome and very costly endeavour. Rather, they erased Cromwell’s coat of arms from the fourth edition of November 1540 and all subsequent editions (see Figure 4.4). Rather than completely removing his memory, the lacking title page reminded readers of the fate of those seen to oppose Henry. In a later hand-painted vellum copy of the Great Bible presented to Henry VIII (see Figure 4.5), another solution was devised. There, the artist employed a similar colour palette to that of the St John’s dedication copy. While the prison is in place, and the woman remains as in the printed edition, Cromwell’s coat of arms is painted over, and his figure is modified to the likeness of an elderly man with white hair and beard. This is probably Anthony Marler, whose dedication is written on the blank page facing the image: ‘This book is presented unto your most excellent | highness by your loving, faithful, and obedient | Subject and daily Orator24 Anthony | Marler of London haberdasher’. (p.128)

The Great Bible as a Useless Book

Figure 4.4 Title page of the fifth edition of the Great Bible. Following the execution of Cromwell his coats of arms were obliterated from the title page (The Byble in Englysh […] [London: Edward Whitchurch, 1541]).

Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

Anthony Marler, a wealthy London haberdasher, supported Grafton and Whitchurch and took over the production of the Bible following Cromwell’s execution, with Grafton and Whitchurch retaining their roles as printers. Unlike the two merchant-printers, Marler’s commitment to the evangelical cause is not obvious. This has led Blayney to claim that ‘however much


The Great Bible as a Useless Book

Figure 4.5Title page of Marler’s presentation copy of the Great Bible (BL Copy C.18.d.10). This was part of Marler’s failed campaign to support his Bible-printing monopoly.

© The British Library Board.

he [Marler] may have been prompted by evangelical zeal, his financing of reprints of the Great Bible was just one business deal among many’.25 For (p.130) Marler this was a commercial enterprise above all. Producing the Bible, the largest and most elaborate book printed in England hitherto, was costly; at the agreed price of 10s. for unbound copies, and 12s. for bound copies, profit margins were small.26 Later legal battles demonstrate the financial implications for Marler of printing the Bible: A record from October 1546 notes that Grafton owed £600 to Marler;27 a court record from 1560 reveals Marler seeking 100 marks from John Fryer, doctor of medicine, and Philip Scapulis, alien member of the Stationers’ Company, for the production of the Great Bible. They had been given 130 copies of the printed Bible as surety for the loan, and possibly for a share of the profits.28

Marler proceeded to secure an audience for his Bibles. On 1 May 1541, as the fifth edition was nearing completion, he petitioned the Privy Council to reissue the proclamation for the need of parish churches to own a Bible. The proclamation was made on 5 May 1541, under the pain of 40s. for noncompliance, and with half of the fine promised to any informant.29 Ryrie demonstrates the effect of this proclamation, as churchwarden accounts testify to a rise in Bible acquisition.30 Marler proceeded to secure his investment by seeking, and securing, a monopoly on printing the Bible. This was granted to him for four years under the royal seal on 11 March 1542.31

Further transformations of the title page reveal forces at work aimed at curbing the wave of vernacular Bibles. After Cromwell’s execution, the title page of the fourth edition was treated more cautiously. Following the 1538 injunctions for the approval of biblical translations, the title page stated: ‘overseen and perused at the commandment of the King’s highness, by the right reverend fathers in God Cuthbert bishop of Durham, and Nicolas bishop of Rochester’. This note, however, was quickly removed, and does not appear in the fifth edition (though it is preserved in the sixth). Bishops (p.131) Cuthbert Tunstal (†1559) and Nicolas Heath (†1578) grew closer to the conservative wing in the 1540s, giving credence to a claim made in 1546 that they requested their names to be removed from the Great Bible: ‘[B]ut when they saw the world somewhat like to wring on the other side they denied it, and said they never meddled therewith, causing the Printer to take out their names which were erst set before the Bible to certify all men that they had diligently perused it according as your highness had commanded.’32 Both bishops denied any link to the Bible, and the title page was modified once more. This attests to a growing unease with the vernacular Bible. And indeed, despite Marler’s best efforts, no Bible was printed in England after 1541 and until the end of Henry’s reign.

The quick succession of editions may have led to market saturation, yet the reaction of Tunstal and Heath suggests that other forces were at play. Resistance to the English Bible was evident throughout Henry’s reign. Tunstal’s withdrawal from the Great Bible is indicative of the ways a mildly conservative bishop opposed reform while following Henry’s injunctions. As the Bishop of London he rejected Tyndale’s New Testament but was lenient towards heretics; he then supported the break from Rome and Henry’s divorce, albeit at times reluctantly. A similar picture arises from Ryrie’s study of Bishop Bonner, whose enthusiasm during the printing of the Bible in Paris weakened after he became the Bishop of London.33 Ryrie suggests that a pragmatic stance, although strongly opposed by more ardent reformers, was typical of many bishops who disapproved of Cranmer’s reforming tendencies and objected to vernacular Scripture, especially one prepared by evangelical translators such as Tyndale and Coverdale.34 The matter came to a head at the same time that Marler secured his monopoly. In the Canterbury Convocation of February and March 1542, clergy and bishops assembled to discuss the English Bible.35 They strongly opposed the Great Bible and advocated an episcopal revision. With Henry’s support, Cranmer deferred the decision—indefinitely—by sending for consultation at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. But Henry himself also came to oppose to the Bible, which ultimately frustrated Marler’s efforts. Blayney even suggests that (p.132) granting Marler the patent for the printing of Bibles was aimed at thwarting attempts at printing the Bible during the remaining years of Henry’s reign.

Henry grew disillusioned with the Bible as a vehicle towards conformity and obedience. Introducing vernacular Scripture was a major religious and social transformation. Henry’s aim in this was clear, and received a visual manifestation on the Bible’s title page: a godly monarch distributing Bibles, reaching a populace enthusiastically calling ‘long live the king’. Early attempts were made to ensure conformity by directing and qualifying biblical access. In April 1539 the Proclamation for Uniformity of Religion decreed that the Bible should be read in low voices and not during service. The draft proclamation was amended by Henry himself, who added that he had permitted the use of English Scripture ‘for his majesty’s intent and hope was that they that would read the Scripture, would with meekness and wish to accomplish the effect of, read it, and not to maintain erroneous opinions and preach, nor for to use the reading or preaching of it in sundry times and places and after’.36 Access to the Bible was not the right of the people; it was granted by the king, and hence could be revoked. The 1541 injunctions stated that Bible reading should lead people to keeping the commandments, and

to obey their sovereign Lord and high powers […] without murmur or grudgings […] the purpose above rehearsed, humbly, meekly, reverently and obediently; and not that any of them should read the said Bibles with loud and high voices, in time of the celebration of the holy Masse and other divine services used in the church, nor that any his lay subjects reading the same should presume to take upon them any common disputation, argument or exposition of the mysteries therein contained.37

Henry feared that lay access to Scripture could lead away from the ideal expressed on the Bible’s title page; that men and women might subject the biblical text to interpretations other than those intended by their king.

In 1543 the Act for the Advancement of True Religion alongside the King’s Book curbed unrestricted access to Scripture. The former forbade private and public reading by women of the lower classes, artificers, apprentices, journeymen, yeomen and the lower classes; the latter subjected lay Bible reading to the wishes of the monarch. In effect, Henry replaced the Bible with the summary of doctrine in the King’s Book as the means of instructing the laity.38 (p.133) The legislation was inspired by conservative Bishops such as Gardiner, and corresponded to the lack of new biblical prints for the remainder of Henry’s reign. The image on the title page of the Great Bible had become reality: the hierarchy of the page, the absence of Bibles in the hands of the laity and the prison on the right all came into effect with the restrictions on Bible reading in 1543. From Henry’s perspective, a four-year experiment in popular access to the Bible resulted in restrictive injunctions which aimed at moulding reality to the monarch’s wishes. Nevertheless, Bibles were not retracted from parish churches, and the Act was followed by a single persecution (and, as shown by Ryrie, not a clear-cut one), which inevitably sent a mixed message regarding lay use of the Bible.39

Biblical Layout and Subduing Reform

In the Great Bible, as in the Matthew Bible before it and the Geneva Bible after it, notes turned into a battleground between reformed and conservative factions. Notes concerned theological interpretations of Scripture; they empowered individual readers to engage with the text and removed the need for clerical mediation. In the first edition of the Great Bible, the Prologue to the Reader, most likely written by Coverdale, explains the role of pointed hands, or manicules, in the Bible:

We have also (as you may see) added many hands both in the margins of this volume, and also in the text, upon the which, we purposed to have made in the end of the Bible (in a table by them selves) certain godly annotations: but for so much as yet there hath not been sufficient time ministered to the king’s most honorable council, for the oversight and correction of the said annotations, we will therefore omit them, till their more convenient leisure. Doing now no more but beseech the most gentle reader, that when you come at such a place where a hand does stand (or any other where, in the Bible) & you cannot attain to the meaning & true knowledge of that sentence, then do not rashly presume to make any private interpretation thereof: but submit your self to the judgement of those that are godly learned in Christ Jesus. To the which Jesus with the father and holy ghost be honour and praise for ever. Amen.


(p.134) Manicules indeed appear throughout the Bible (e.g. Figure 4.7, a page from the Psalms of the first edition of the Great Bible). According to the Prologue, their incorporation follows a simple rationale: they identify difficult places in the text, and were to be accompanied by a table of annotations at the back of the Bible. Due to lack of time and the need to have the notes approved by the Privy Council, the notes were put aside, to be integrated at a later time.

This short account conceals much debate about the notes, which we can glimpse from the correspondence between Paris and England, between Coverdale, Grafton and Whitchurch who oversaw the production of the Bible, and Cromwell, their sponsor, embedded in Henry’s court. The notes are first mentioned in a letter from Coverdale and Grafton to Cromwell on 23 June 1538, in which they request additional funds for the printing of the Bible, whose material aspect (with paper ‘of the best sort in France’) and contents they praise. The Bible follows the original languages, and would contain a table ‘with such annotations […] as shall doubtless {d}elucidate and clear the same’.40 At this early stage, the annotations were seen as integral to the new Bible. This, however, was immediately qualified, as they promised that the notes would contain no ‘singularity of opinion’, that is no religious dissent.

Cromwell’s response has not survived, but a letter from Coverdale, Grafton and William Gray to Cromwell,41 dated 9 August 1538, explains the marks and layout of the Bible. The manicule ‘signifies that upon the same (in the later end of the book) there is some notable annotation; which we have written without any private opinion, only after the best interpreters of the Hebrews, for the more clearness of the text’. Despite Coverdale’s assurance that the annotations were sound, the tone makes it clear that the notes had caused Cromwell unease. Coverdale’s subsequent letter of 13 December 1538 adopts a very different tone:

I humbly beseech your lordship, that by my lord elect of Hertford, I may know your pleasure, concerning the Annotations of this Bible, whether I shall proceed therein or no — Pity it were, that the dark places of that text (upon the which I have always set a hand ☞) should so pass undeclared. As for any private opinion or contentious words, as I will utterly avoid all such, so will I offer the annotations first to my said lord of Hertford; to the intent that he shall so examine the same, afore they be put in print, if it be your lordship’s good pleasure, that I shall so do.42

(p.135) Clearly Cromwell had objected to the notes, leading Coverdale to assure him of their usefulness; he even suggested that Cromwell would scrutinise them before publication. This meant a great deal to Coverdale. Half of the short letter is dedicated to the matter of the notes, and only at its end does Coverdale raise the possibility of the Bible being confiscated ‘if these men proceed in their cruelness against us’. For Coverdale, the political tensions surrounding the production of the Bible appeared secondary to the incorporation of notes.

We can now return to the Prologue and observe the tensions it reveals. Evelyn Tribble, and in her footsteps William Sherman, has seen this as an isolated moment, in which biblical segments were identified as ‘Church property’ to which lay readers should have no access.43 A close reading of the Prologue, however, suggests this was a moment of transition: the notes had been compiled (as suggested in the letter of 9 August), and the editors were awaiting final approval. The Prologue’s solution resembles the Bible’s title page and its ideal of Bible reading: Henry’s goal was the creation of an obedient populace, rather than encouraging a variety of opinions. Exegetical and interpretative notes, which could support individual opinions, did not serve this purpose. Their removal, and subjecting oneself ‘to the judgement of those that are godly learned’, better suited Henry’s aims. Indeed, there is no indication that the notes had ever been submitted to the Privy Council or to Cromwell; nor were they inserted into the second edition of the Great Bible. Rather, the Prologue itself was removed from the third edition, as were the manicules.44 The opportunity for lay empowerment was shut before it had been fully opened.

The story of the notes and their gradual erasure reflects tensions between reform and conservatism at Henry’s court. It is also indicative of a growing distrust of lay reading. In a popular addendum to the second edition of the Great Bible, lay reading was actively encouraged. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, compiled a short treatise (A prologue or preface made by the | most reverend father in God, Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury | Metropolitan and Primate of England, sig. *.ii.r-v.r in the second edition), preserved in all subsequent editions and advertised on its title page. The Preface was well received by Henry, who quoted from it in his 1545 Christmas speech.45 Taking a (p.136) strong stance on the value of lay reading, Cranmer encouraged all people to read the Bible. He admonished readers not to give in to lack of time or leisure, and advised them to consult the Bible even though ‘thy wife provoketh thee to anger, thy child giveth thee occasion to take sorrow and pensiveness’. His call was made explicitly to the lower classes: to the publicans, the fishermen and the shepherds, who should read the Bible time and again. While the value—and even efficacious nature—of Bible reading was asserted, it was also qualified. Cranmer was weary of disputations and advised that readers consult the learned in difficult matters. His position was summarised in the famous dictum ‘I forbid not to read, but I forbid to reason’.46 Lay reading of the Bible was not to be done in private, but rather within parish churches. Cranmer’s Prologue proved to be a rearguard action; its ideal of lay reading was eventually repealed in the injunctions of 1543.

The Great Bible’s manicules reflect tensions between reform and conservatism, as well as Henry’s disillusionment with lay reading. They also testify to the transition between two eras and the gradual assimilation of new technologies. The manicules were a medieval icon, commonly inserted by readers onto manuscript margins as means of identifying passages of interest. They are often accompanied—or replaced—by the letter NB (nota bene, ‘note well’). This device was embraced by early modern readers, who often left manicules in the margins of their books.47 None of the medieval Bibles surveyed for this book contain manicules written by the original scribe(s) as part of the initial design of the book. Rather, they were employed by active readers.

In printed Bibles, printers began to employ this device to guide readers through the biblical text. In Vorsterman’s 1528 Dutch Bible,48 Olivetan’s French Bible of 1535 and the Matthew Bible of 1537 (the latter two serving as Coverdale’s models in compiling the Great Bible), printed manicules accompany the text. They appear in the margins, or at times within the text box. Their role was, as Wim François has put it, to point at ‘passages with a certain (theological) interest’. The editors of these reformed Bibles employed manicules to empower readers in their encounter with key biblical passages, alerting them to these sections and then leaving them to their own devices.

In the Great Bible, Coverdale attempted to use the manicules differently, breaking away from their medieval function. He introduced the (p.137) double-manicule: one in the margin and the other within the text block (see Figure 4.7). This enables the quick and accurate retrieval of a relevant passage, as the marginal manicule attracts the eye of browsing readers, while the in-text manicule supports precise identification. The number of manicules had also increased significantly, in the absence of other forms of marginal annotations in the Great Bible.49 Coverdale’s most notable innovation was the attempt to use manicules as tie-marks, linking text and commentary. This was unlike other early modern books which employed manicules alongside asterisks or stars to link text and marginal annotations, much like the use of footnotes in more modern books.50

Coverdale endeavoured to confine all annotations to the end of the book. This would have simplified the task of printers by clearing much of the marginal space; it would have enabled the compilation of lengthier annotations, not restricted by the marginal space;51 and it would have enabled editors to modify notes without resetting the biblical page itself. This method drew upon Erasmus’s Novum instrumentum, with its significant annotations section at the end of the book.52 Whereas Erasmus’s notes are indicated in the biblical text, Coverdale’s manicules were to link text and annotation. This would have required much leafing between text and annotation across the book. Together with the use of a generic sign, it would have made retrieval cumbersome. This device would have also affected the very nature of the intended Bible. Dense annotation (as suggested by the sheer number of manicules) facilitated scholarly uses, as did Erasmus’s Latin and Greek New Testament. Yet such a Bible would have been forbidding when used by untrained readers. This may have contributed to Cromwell’s objection. The result was that the first two editions of the Great Bible became the exact opposite of what Henry had hoped for. They directed readers to the parts that were most theologically complex, without offering answers apart from the advice to consult the clergy.

The above-mentioned 1543 Act for the Advancement of True Religion took a clear stance against notes in Bibles. Conservatives also opposed the notes. The interrogation of Grafton and Whitchurch (8 April 1543) demonstrates that even after the removal of the manicules from the Great Bible, their memory persisted. Foxe’s 1570 account recalls how

(p.138) Grafton was called, and first charged with the printing of Matthew Bible, but he being very fearful of trouble, made excuses for him self in all things. Then was he examined of the great Bible, & what notes he was purposed to make. To the which he answered, that he knew none. For his purpose was to have retained learned men to have made the notes, but when he perceived the king’s majesty, and his clergy not willing to have any, he proceeded no further. But for all these excuses, Grafton was sent to the Fleet [Prison].53

This account, however, was written at a very different time. Twenty years after the introduction of the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible presented a plethora of notes, announced on its title page and preserved in many editions and reprints.

Parochial Difficulties

The manicules in the first two editions of the Great Bible reveal a book that—much like Berthelet’s 1535 Bible—was in the process of a complicated and unintentional transition. Examining the Great Bible’s liturgical role further removes its history from narratives of progress and reform. The complex reception of early modern Bibles has been explored by Margaret Aston in a seminal article on ‘Lap books and lectern books’.54 Aston saw the size of books as meaningful for their intended audiences, with large books being used by the clergy, and smaller lap books by the laity, and linked more closely to reform. Although some book types, such as the Late Medieval Bible (LMB), do not fit these categories, they help us understand the difficulty with the Great Bible. It was a book of a size hitherto reserved for liturgical performances (such as Antiphoners, hefty tomes for chants sung in connection with Psalms and Canticles) or for academic study (glossed books). With the Great Bible, a book of this size was put in lay hands. Aston briefly alludes to another tension within the Great Bible, the incompatibility of vernacular scripture with the primarily Latin rite of Henry’s reign.55 A closer investigation of the liturgical use of the Great Bible will allow us to expand Aston’s understanding to reveal an innate contradiction in the use of the Great Bible, especially (p.139) when seen against the background of late medieval parishes, their book culture and liturgical customs.

The most stable addendum to the Great Bible is its liturgical apparatus, which appears in all seven editions. In four editions it is the only material additional to the biblical text, apart from Cranmer’s Prologue.56 As we have seen, the Bible opens with a calendar and an almanac printed in red and black, and ends with a table of lections. The calendar and table of lections function together to enable the identification and retrieval of biblical readings for liturgical feasts: One can find the feast for a specific date in the calendar, and then proceed to retrieve the lessons—the biblical texts read on that feast—in the table of lections. Marks in the biblical text itself correspond with the table of lections to indicate the beginning of the lesson (a full Maltese Cross ✠) and its end (half-cross ), a system already at play in Wycliffite Bibles (discussed in Chapter 2). These devices, much like those of the Matthew Bible, facilitated the use of Bibles in liturgical rites. However, the Great Bible had little to no role to play within such services.

The Great Bible broke new ground in a way so far unnoticed by scholars. It was not only the first vernacular Bible actively supported by the state, but also the first Bible assigned to parish churches. There seems to have been much scholarly inaccuracy about this topic, and a general tendency to infer from modern book-cultures on medieval and early modern practice. Thus, in his study of book ownership in parish churches and by parish priests, Hunt argues that the ‘polemical characterisation of pre-Reformation clerical learning—with the Bible “scarse to be found in one Priests studie of an hundred” was grossly inaccurate’.57 Similarly Gee’s study of parish libraries suggests that ‘[t]he Reformation injunctions concerning the provision of English Bibles in parish churches may have intended to extend and develop the already established tradition of providing Latin Bibles in churches’, a sentiment echoing that of Fiona Kisby.58 Even well-informed scholars such as Hudson and Solopova could claim, while tracing the origins of the Wycliffite Bible, that in the early fifteenth century ‘lectern bibles [were] held, at least in theory, by any church’.59 None of these articles, however, provide evidence (p.140) for Church legislation for parish ownership of Bibles prior to the 1530s, nor to a considerable number of Bibles owned by parish churches. Another voice appears in Robert Whiting’s study of the early modern parish, claiming that ‘[i]t is evident from the wardens’ accounts and inventories, however, that before 1538 the possession of this book by a parochial community was virtually unknown’;60 his subsequent study prefaced a small survey of LMBs in parishes with Philip Nichols’s 1548 claim that ‘[t]he bible was an unknown thing within these twenty year here in England’.61 This comment was made by an ardent reformer, whose wish to demarcate a boundary between the medieval past and reformed present is obvious. Nevertheless, his claim concurs with the medieval injunctions and inventories explored at the end of Chapter 1, to suggest that only very few parish churches owned a Bible prior to Henry VIII’s legislation.

The injunctions of 1536 and 1538, mandating that parish churches own a copy of the Bible, were a novelty. No one, however, had told priests and parishioners how exactly those new books were to be used. The injunctions of 1536 seem to be an uneasy combination of medieval legacies and reformed ideals. The Bible was to be kept in the choir, a usual location for non-liturgical books kept in medieval parish churches.62 Thus, for example, in one of the rare instances of a Bible bequeathed to a parish church in the fifteenth century, a 1467 will specified it was to be chained in the choir of the church of St Martin, Saundby.63 These, however, were books kept mostly for clerical use, and, as demonstrated by Margaret Aston, also for a lay elite.64 This contradicted the reformed ideal of the 1536 injunctions for all parishioners to consult the Bible. And indeed, the 1537/8 Church decrees in the dioceses of Worcester, Lichfield and Coventry, York, Salisbury, Exeter and Hereford (for which Cranmer issued the injunction following the vacancy of the see), commonly placed the Bible in the nave, the area most accessible to the (p.141) laity.65 This accorded with Henry’s initial injunctions to ‘discourage no man from reading any part of the Bible’. The practical implications were addressed in Salisbury, where bishop Nicholas Shaxton (†1556) decreed that the Bible was to be chained to a desk, with similar devices extant in the diocese of York. Such a location also agrees with Cranmer’s above-mentioned Prologue to the Great Bible, which advocates lay reading of the Bible as part of daily devotions. This broke with medieval custom in both location and intended audience. Parish books were typically directed at clerical use, often supporting preaching, liturgical use or pastoral care. A nationwide book directed explicitly at parishioners was a novelty.

The vague indication of lay access to the Bible was mirrored in the foiled incorporation of notes into the Great Bible, and the brief possibility of lay empowerment. Another use, however, was linked with the inception of the Great Bible. The new Bible had originally been intended to have a major liturgical role. At the end of 1538 and the beginning of 1539, as the Bible was being produced in Paris and London, Cranmer was drafting a new liturgy of the realm.66 This comprised a cycle of continuous biblical reading, in which the Old Testament was to be read yearly, and the New Testament three times a year. The plan was not executed during Henry’s reign, and the new liturgy had to wait until the accession of King Edward VI in 1549. Only then was the continuous reading of the Bible integrated into the liturgy of the English Church in the new Book of Common Prayer (as discussed in the following chapter). The intended use of the Great Bible within the liturgy is indicated in its addenda. The most stable non-biblical addition to the Bible is a table of lections according to the Use of Sarum, which supported a use within the liturgical year. Some bishops even tried to adopt the monastic custom of lectio divina to a parish setting, introducing the daily reading of a chapter of Scripture.67 Such use, however, was in stark contrast to existing liturgical rites, which were still quintessentially medieval, as well as with church architecture. Consecutive daily reading of vernacular Scripture was not part of the parish liturgy, and continuous reading (or Lectio continua) of the Bible was all but unknown in parish churches. The Psalms were chanted in sequence (p.142) in monasteries and cathedrals; continuous reading of specific biblical books in monasteries commonly took place during the sequence of prayers in the Night Office and during mealtimes in refectories. On the Continent reformed churches experimented with continuous reading, as part of their rejection of the non-biblical elements of the liturgy.

In England, a more conservative stance was taken by the Convocations of 1541 and 1543, which mandated ‘that every Sunday and holy day throughout the year the curate of every parish church, after the Te Deum and Magnificat, should openly read unto the people one chapter of the New Testament in English without exposition and when the New Testament was read over, then to begin the Old’.68 The withdrawal of Cranmer’s draft liturgy, however, had left the new Bible in a liturgical vacuum. Without Cranmer’s new liturgy, the worship in parish churches was ill-suited for the new Bible. In the first decade after its introduction, the Great Bible accorded neither with liturgical reading nor with performance. The primarily Latin service was carried out by the priest from the altar, hardly visible behind a rood screen; biblical lessons took place at lecterns near the altar, or from pulpits affixed to rood screens.69 A vernacular book, laying on (and possibly chained to) a desk on the other side of the church, was simply unusable in the course of the liturgy. Despite its great cost and elaborate liturgical apparatus, the Great Bible was useless for church services, until significant changes to worship were introduced in subsequent decades.70

The discrepancy between the addenda to the Great Bible and its possible uses transforms the way we view the Bible in late Henrician England. Rather than simply seeing the use of the Bible as a bone of contention between evangelicals and conservatives,71 its impracticality sheds a different light on the surviving evidence. Complaints about priests removing the Bible to the choir were interpreted by reformers—and by modern scholars—as an attempt to withhold the Word of God from the laity. The author of an anonymous reformed tract of 1546 explicitly claimed that ‘many of this wicked generation, as well priests as other their faithful adherents, would pluck it other into the choir, either else into some Pew where poor men durst not presume to come’.72

(p.143) We can now appreciate such a complaint as arising from the attempt to bring the Bible into the location common for books in the later Middle Ages, as well as into the sphere of liturgical performance. Priests not only followed the known liturgy by moving Bibles to pulpits, but were also forced to do so in order to facilitate any use of vernacular Scripture in liturgical services. Indeed, in 1542 Thomas Becon, reformed priest and tutor, lamented that

[Henry the Eight supported the vernacular Bible] but how many read it? Verily, a man may come into some churches, and see the bible so enclosed and wrapped about with dust, even as the pulpit in like manner is both with dust and cobwebs, that with his finger he may write upon the bible this epitaph: Ecce, nunc in pulvere dormio.73

The Great Bible was in the wrong place at the wrong time for liturgical use. Priests taking it to ‘their side’ of the church incurred the wrath of Church reformers. Those leaving it unused did not fare better. When it was left in the nave, parishioners were faced with a book they were not accustomed to, nor instructed how to use. Such discrepancies can also explain the evidence for parishes failing to purchase the Great Bible. Apart from its cost, and the objections of conservative curates and parishioners, it was unusable. It was also unfamiliar. Priests did not find a use for these Bibles in liturgical rites, nor for the delivery of sermons,74 two of their main duties. Seen through the eyes of parish priests, the Great Bible was both expensive and useless.

In the eyes of Henry and his officials, these were not the greatest threats arising from the Great Bible. A vernacular Bible with meticulous aids for identifying liturgical readings and following the Church calendar was chained in the church nave, where priests were unable to use it during divine services. The laity, supported by Church injunctions and encouraged by Cranmer and other reformers to read the Bible, took up the opportunity and actively consulted the Bible during liturgical services. And as they were responsible for paying for half of its costs, they may have even considered this their right. Such lay initiatives were strongly opposed by Henry. Within the context of liturgical impracticality, we can revisit the above-mentioned Church and (p.144) State injunctions in the 1540s, such as the Act for the Advancement of True Religion and the King’s Book, which repeatedly rejected the lay custom of consulting the Great Bible during services, especially when done out loud.

Opposition to lay reading during services is evident in local episcopal initiatives. Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, placed six Bibles in St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1541, however, he had Grafton and Whitchurch print a proclamation, which has survived bound in a copy of Berthelet’s 1540 reprint of the Great Bible.75 Bonner’s proclamation accorded with royal ideology in encouraging lay reading as instilling greater obedience to the monarch. Reading, however, should not become a communal exercise, and especially ‘no reading thereof be used (aloud and with noise) in the time of any divine service or sermon: or that in the same there be used any disputation, contention, or any other misdemeanor’. This was later reiterated in Bonner’s now lost Th’Advertisement of the Bishop of London Renewed Again to the Reader of This Bible. If notes were seen as the bone of contention regarding the Bible’s design, reading it during services was the crux of a controversy regarding its use. All this had led Henry to retract his support for general lay readership. This was the inevitable outcome of the contradiction between the Great Bible’s liturgical apparatus and the reality of liturgical rites, putting it, once more, on a clear collision course with Church and State.

It is of little wonder that the Great Bible had not been met with considerable enthusiasm in many parish churches. In a 2004 DPhil dissertation, Gregory Duke has thoroughly traced the evidence for the purchase and possession of Bibles in East Anglia parish churches. He has tried to compensate for the limitation of traditional sources, such as churchwardens’ accounts or court records, by deploying church-plate certificates, which supply important evidence for the purchase of church goods (and books) in Edward VI’s time. He concludes that ‘[f]rom the point of view of the church-plate certificates and the churchwardens’ accounts, the introduction of the English Bible into East Anglia may be concluded to be a partial failure’.76 This has been reaffirmed by other scholars noting a widespread lack of Bibles in parishes in the first years following Cromwell’s injunctions and the introduction of the Great Bible.77 Such a lack gave rise to new means of enforcement, the (p.145) above-mentioned penalty for its lack. This had only partial success. As shown by Duke, the Great Bible was more commonly purchased by churches in urban centres, and less so in rural parishes. This followed medieval patters of Bible ownership, when LMBs were commonly bequeathed to urban churches. It also had a more pragmatic logic as ‘parishes which were further away from bookselling centres were forced to spend more for their copies of the Great Bible, owing to costs for portage’.78 With no official distribution network, portage became a major expenditure, with parishes paying up to 30s. for a Bible whose cost was capped at 10s./12s.79

Psalms, Latin and a New Orthodoxy

The layout of the Great Bible is indicative of a book created to serve the wider population. While Coverdale’s and the Matthew Bible were made as tools of reform, in the Great Bible concessions had to be made to current religious customs. Its calendar mirrored calendars of more conservative Books of Hours, often printed by or for Regnault himself.80 As we have seen throughout this study, the Psalms’ unique place within liturgical performance and private devotion have made them most susceptible to modifications of appearance and layout. They became the site of competing mnemonics, where opposing ways of recalling them had left their trace on the pages of the Bible. Late medieval Latin Bibles preserved a more archaic presentation of the Psalms, while a small group of mendicant Bibles experimented with numerical mnemonics; scribes and patrons of the Wycliffite Bibles, the first translation of the entire Bible into English, quickly began to integrate Latin elements into the English Psalter. Performative knowledge of the Psalms took a material form in these Latin incipits, which preceded each English Psalm with its opening words in Latin.

(p.146) Coverdale’s Bible presented the Psalms in a uniform fashion. In the first English single-volume Bible, as in early manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible, the Psalms were made to look like any other book of the Bible (see Figure 4.6). There are no Latin incipits and the Psalms are numbered, with the chapter numbers appearing both in a running title and preceding the Psalms (where they are merged with the biblical superscription, once more in a similar fashion to Wycliffite Bibles). Thus, for example, the second Psalm is preceded by: ‘The II. A Psalme of Dauid’. The Psalms were also subjected to alphabetical sub-division, as any other biblical text, and composed in continuous textual blocks with verses distinguished only by short spaces. The layout of the Psalms in Coverdale’s Bible breaks from that of medieval Bibles and presents an alternative to the Psalms’ mnemonics. Their performative nature, evidenced in the distinctiveness of each verse as a unit of chant, or in their Latin incipits, was obliterated. A remark made by Coverdale at the end of the Book of Psalms explicates his view of the Psalms. There, an interpretation of the Hebrew word sela supplies evidence for the Psalms’ unique qualities: ‘In the Psalter this word sela comes very oft. and (after the mind of the interpreters) it is as much to say as, always, continually, for ever, forsooth, verily, a lifting of the voice, or to make a pause and earnestly to consider, and to ponder the sentence’ (pt 3 fol. 37v). The interpretation of the Hebrew word enabled Coverdale to muse on how the Psalms should be read. Although the vocal qualities of the Psalms are acknowledged, they are secondary to their meditative reading, which the printed Psalms aimed to encourage. The Matthew Bible followed suit. It presented the Psalms surrounded in an interpretative frame (such as long summaries between the Psalm number and the superscription, or the above-mentioned elaborate marginal annotations [p. 118]), without Latin incipits. The two Bibles took a more evangelical stance by disconnecting the Psalms from their Latin performance, as befitting their editors.

The Great Bible’s Psalms (see Figure 4.7) follow the Matthew Bible in text and headings, but present them in a new, simpler layout: most of the page is occupied by the text of the Psalms (with numbers and foliation); arguments and marginal commentary, apart from the above-mentioned manicules, are omitted. For the first time in an English printed Bible, the Psalms are introduced—alongside their number and superscription—by their Latin incipits. This was hardly a random decision, but must have been discussed and revised by the production team. The members of the team working on the production of the Great Bible in 1538 Paris—Coverdale, Grafton and Whitchurch—were responsible for the two earlier Bibles, which lacked such a device. Coverdale as editor, and Grafton and Whitchurch as publishers, had much influence on the appearance of these two earlier Bibles. No direct (p.147) evidence exists for discussions surrounding the nature of the Psalms, but Cromwell’s more grounded understanding of English religion and the limitations of reform suggests it was he who had made the decision to transform the layout of the Psalms.

The result has made the Latin incipits the most distinctive feature of the Psalms’ layout. They were printed in Roman capitals on the background of Black Letter. The effect of the slender Roman type isolated from the body of the Psalm marked out the Latin incipits and directed the attention of readers, more accustomed to Black Letter, to this element. This was a novelty, and such a use of Roman capitals differed significantly from the English and Continental models of the Great Bible, as well as from other contemporary devotional books. While the Olivetan 1535 Bible mirrors Coverdale’s Bible by omitting the Latin incipits altogether, these were incorporated into Lefèvre’s French Bible of 1534. There, however, the Latin incipits are not distinguished typographically from the text of the Psalm; they were entered in the same type, size and colour alongside the Psalm number. In English primers, some printed by or for Regnault, Latin incipits are a standard element, although often not set apart by a distinct font or location.81 When they are set apart, as in Regnault’s 1531 Latin primer, this relies only on minor typographical variants, as the first line of each Psalm is written in a slightly larger type.82 The centrality of Latin to the way the Psalms were recalled did not end with the Middle Ages, and Psalms were still known by their Latin incipits. Thus, for example, the title of a meditative work on Psalm 50/51, printed by Regnault in 1538 and bound with a primer printed that same year, clearly identifies the Psalm as ‘the Ij. Psalm called Miserere mei Deus’ (STC§21790–1).

The Great Bible’s Psalter is a typographical conundrum. As Ian Green affirms, readers in early modern England were more accustomed to Black Letter.83 English printers owned relatively few founts of Roman types, and typically printed in Black Letter. Roman type was common in scholarly books (as in Erasmus’s New Testament), which were printed on the Continent and appealed to a more educated milieu. Black Letter, on the other hand, was seen as a traditional typeface, common in liturgical works. In the Psalter of the Great Bible we can see the reverse of this tendency, with the new translation provided in Black Letter, while the traditional Latin incipits are in Roman type. This was probably unintentional, arising from the technological limitations of early modern printers. Liturgical books could be printed in red and (p.148)

The Great Bible as a Useless Book

Figure 4.6 Psalms 2–5 in Coverdale’s Bible. This layout exemplifies reformers’ tendency to remove any Latin component from the English Psalms (Biblia. The Bible that is, the Holy Scripture […] (Cologne?: Eucharius Cervicornus and Johannes Soter?), pt.3 fol. 12v). Edinburgh University Library Special Collections.


The Great Bible as a Useless Book

Figure 4.7 Psalms 5–7 in the first edition of the Great Bible. The Latin incipits, printed in Roman type, became the most noticeable feature of the Psalms’ layout (The Byble in Englysh […] [Paris and London: Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch, 1539], pt. 3 fol. 2v). Edinburgh University Library Special Collections.

(p.150) black, providing printers with clear means of singling out texts; wishing to avoid the complications of dual-colour printing (which necessitated pulling the press twice and, as shown above, had clear limitations in the Matthew Bible), Regnault resorted to the next available tool for singling-out textual elements.84 The need to mark out and direct attention to the Latin incipit was obvious to the printer, and the Bible was to be linked to living (Latin) liturgy from its onset.


The Great Bible is a large book. Its weight in a sixteenth-century binding is 6.80 kg. Its margins, however, are narrow, with a text area of 338x232 mm and a page size of 375x252 mm.85 This was not only a practical issue, arising from the need to accommodate the largest type into a royal folio. In the Great Bible, the marginal space provides a clear view of the book’s intended function. On the pages of the Great Bible marginal annotations were discouraged. This was not a book to be used in disputations, nor to furnish the laity with materials for theological arguments. How the book was to be used, however, remained unclear throughout Henry’s reign. It was mandated to all parish churches, but with little understanding of how to employ it. Cranmer’s liturgical draft of 1538/9 would have been a perfect match for the Great Bible and its liturgical apparatus, but it was retracted before implementation. The Great Bible had to await the reform of the liturgy under Edward VI and the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer to make liturgical sense.

The story of the Great Bible is that of uncertainties and material transformations. It contradicts Bernard’s view of the Reformation as a major force directed and controlled by Henry himself,86 to suggest a more jagged course, where conditional support was first given and then retracted at the sovereign’s will. Hesitation surrounds all the main actors responsible for the Great Bible as they implemented their religious convictions, while trying to guess Henry’s intentions. The title pages of Coverdale’s and the Great Bible, the only two visual manifestations of an English Reformation, were not created by Henry, nor under his direct authority. They were introduced by stationers (p.151) who tried—with the support of Henry’s ministers, especially Cromwell—to represent in a graphic form Henry’s understanding of the Bible, and the biblical roots of obedience to the monarch. Throughout the creation of Bibles in the 1530s we can see how these books engaged with two types of readers simultaneously: the general population; and that very special reader—King Henry himself.

Unlike earlier Bibles, which were more reformed in nature, the Great Bible reflected the mixed reality of the English Church. At a time when Church doctrine was intrinsically linked to the complex politics of Henry’s reign, the Great Bible was supposed to cater for the needs of people in every parish church, as well as in cathedrals and colleges. It accommodated knowledge of the Psalms, which was oral and performative; it followed the Psalms’ appearance in Books of Hours, one of the most popular books in the later Middle Ages. Its incipits enabled readers to tie the English text, new to many, to the familiar Latin Psalms, known through their performance.

In 1541/2, Marler’s investment finally failed. He was trapped between the bishops’ rejection of the Great Bible and Cranmer’s stalling of the revised orthodox translation. Marler and his books were in limbo. After the quick succession of the seven editions, no other Bible was printed in Henry’s reign, the outcome of the combination of market saturation and a shift towards conservatism. The tortuous story of the Great Bible looks different when we regard the Bible’s title page. There, Henry’s hesitant stance towards lay reading prefigured the retraction of Bibles in 1543. But, although access to the Bible was denied to the lower classes, no order was issued for recalling these Bibles. They remained in parish churches, part of a gradual process of transformation in parish religion. This process gained momentum after Henry’s death, when reformed printers and clergy engaged afresh with transforming Bibles and religion.


(1) DMH§46; STC§2068. For subsequent editions, see Appendix 2.

(2) The Byble: which is all the holy Scripture: in whych are contayned the Olde and Newe Testament (Antwerp?: Printed for R. Grafton and E. Whitchurch of London, 1537). DMH§34; STC§2066. For its history see Peter W. M. Blayney, The Stationers’ Company and the printers of London 1501–1557 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 356–9.

(3) J. S. Brewer, R. H. Brodie and James Gairdner (eds), Letters and papers, foreign and domestic, of the reign of Henry VIII: preserved in the Public Record Office, the British Museum, and elsewhere in England (London: Longman, Green, Longman, & Roberts, 1864–1932), 12:ii:434, 512.

(4) Preliminaries 36 lines (27+110 mm high); Psalm 24 lines (114 mm).

(5) For the centrality of Romans for reformers’ thought see Ralph S. Werrell, ‘Tyndale’s disagreement with Luther in the prologue to the Epistle to the Romans’, Reformation & Renaissance Review 7:1 (2005), 57–68.

(6) The voices were printed in red—a highly difficult and innovative printing venture for the time, which required pulling the press twice for the same side. This had led to some inaccuracies, and the unseemly printing of black over red in Sg 2:16, 17. In all subsequent prints the voices for the Song of Songs were printed solely in back.

(7) In this case the reformed tone of the notes differs from the translation itself. The translation of Rm 3:28 is often used to separate reformed and conservative Bibles. Unlike its notes, or many reformed Bibles, Matthew’s translation of the sentence does not allude to justification by faith alone: cf. Wim François, ‘The early modern Bible between material book and immaterial Word’, in The agency of things in medieval and early modern art: materials, power and manipulation, ed. Grażyna Jurkowlaniec, Ika Matyjaszkiewicz and Zuzanna Sarnecka, Routledge research in art history (New York and London: Routledge, 2018), pp. 129–43.

(8) See Femke Molekamp, ‘Genevan legacies: the making of the English Geneva Bible’, in The Oxford handbook of the Bible in England, c.1530–1700, ed. Kevin Killeen, Helen Smith and Rachel Willie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 38–53; Maurice S. Betteridge, ‘The Bitter Notes: the Geneva Bible and its annotations’, The Sixteenth Century Journal 14:1 (1983), 41–62; William W. E. Slights, ‘“Marginal notes that spoile the text”: Scriptural annotation in the English Renaissance’, Huntington Library Quarterly 55 (1992), 255–78.

(9) Such obliteration is reflected in Books of Hours: Eamon Duffy, Marking the hours: English people and their prayers 1240–1570 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), ch. 9: ‘The break from Rome’, pp. 149–70.

(10) DMH§34, p. 19, following Brooke Foss Westcott, A general view of the history of the English Bible (London: Macmillan, 1868), p. 114. At the end of 3Rg (= CXXXIXv), a note identifies Spanish ownership in 1554, which may suggest another location for these erasures. For the Act see The Statutes of the realm, printed by command of his majesty king George the third, in’ pursuance of an address of the house of commons of Great Britain from original records and authentic manuscripts (London: Eyre and Strahan, 1817; reprint, 1963), 3:894–7. For the original draft, analysis and reappraisal see Blayney, Stationers’ Company, pp. 550–5.

(12) See James Frederic Mozley, Coverdale and his Bibles (London: Lutterworth Press, 1953), pp. 202–60; A. J. Slavin, ‘The Rochepot Affair’, The Sixteenth Century Journal 10:1 (1979), 3–19; re-assessed by Blayney, Stationers’ Company, pp. 360–74.

(13) Francis Fry, A description of the Great Bible, 1539, and the six editions of Cranmer’s Bible, 1540 and 1541, printed by Grafton and Whitchurch: also of the editions, in large folio, of the authorized version of the Holy Scriptures, printed in the years 1611, 1613, 1617, 1634, 1640 (London: Willis and Sotheran, etc., 1865).

(14) Myra Dickman Orth, ‘The English Great Bible of 1539 and the French connection’, in Tributes to Jonathan J.G. Alexander: the making and meaning of illuminated medieval & Renaissance manuscripts, art & architecture, ed. J. J. G. Alexander, Susan L’Engle and Gerald B. Guest (London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2006), pp. 171–84 suggests execution in France by the Master of François de Rohan before production moved to England; String negates this suggestion, arguing that the design should be attributed to Lucas Horenbout or Giarolamo da Treviso ( Tatiana C. String, Art and communication in the reign of Henry VIII (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), p96n19).

(16) As noted by Margaret Aston, ‘Lap books and lectern books: the revelatory book in the Reformation’, in The Church and the book: papers read at the 2000 summer meeting and the 2001 winter meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, ed. R. N. Swanson, Studies in Church history 38 (Woodbridge: Boydell for the Ecclesiastical History Society, 2004), pp. 163–89 at 178.

(18) Alfred W. Pollard, Records of the English Bible: the documents relating to the translaton and publication of the Bible in English, 1525–1611 (London: Oxford University Press, 1911), p. 234.

(19) The copies are mentioned in Orth, ‘The English Great Bible of 1539 and the French connection’, p. 178; Blayney, Stationers’ Company, pp. 373–4. The best study is still Leslie A. Sheppard, ‘A vellum copy of the Great Bible, 1539’, The National Library of Wales Journal 1:1 (1939), 9–22. Blayney has argued that these Bibles utilise quires that were possibly produced in Paris and later confiscated by the French authorities. The association between Cromwell and the St John’s copy rests on John Williams (†1650), Archbishop of York, and his possible family ties with Cromwell.

(20) The examination of the page with a light-sheet reveals other instances of the printed page underneath the painted image.

(21) For Ann Welles see Blayney, Stationers’ Company, p. 357. This idea was first suggested to me by Richard Rex.

(22) Georgine De Courtais, Women’s headdress and hairstyles in England from AD 600 to the present day, rev. edn (London: B. T. Batsford, 1986), pp. 40–3.

(23) Brett Dolman, ‘Wishful thinking: reading the portraits of Henry VIII’s queens’, in Henry VIII and the court: art, politics and performance, ed. Thomas Betteridge and Suzannah Lipscomb (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 115–29 at 121–2.

(24) This phrase mirrors the 1535 dedication to Henry VIII in Coverdale’s Bible, which ends ‘Your graces humble subject and daily Orator, Myles Coverdale’.

(25) Blayney, Stationers’ Company, p. 467. For Grafton and Whitchurch see their respective entries at the ODNB ( Meraud Grant Ferguson, ‘Grafton, Richard (1506/7–1573)’, in Oxford dictionary of national biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Alec Ryrie, ‘Whitchurch, Edward (d. 1562)’, in Oxford dictionary of national biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) ). Both printers were interrogated for religious dissent in 1543 and fell out of favour when Mary ascended the throne, which was not the case for Marler.

(26) In the 1530s, a thresher’s daily wage was 3.5p per day, hence requiring thirty-four days’ salary for purchasing an unbound Bible. This is based on the wages supplied by Gregory Clark, ‘The long march of history: farm laborers’ wages in England 1208–1850’, Economic History Review 60:1 (2007), 97–135 at 100.

(27) Blayney, Stationers’ Company, p. 530. I thank Jim Bolton for his assistance in this matter.

(28) Henry R. Plomer, ‘Anthony Marler and the Great Bible’, The Library, 3rd Series 1:2 (1910), 200–6.

(29) A copy of the proclamation, printed by Berthelet, is preserved in the British Library C.18.e.2.(21). It is printed in Pollard, Records of the English Bible, §43 pp. 261–5; Paul L. Hughes and James F. Larkin (eds), Tudor royal proclamations, vol. 1: The early Tudors, 1485–1553 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964), pp. 296–8.

(30) Alec Ryrie, The Gospel and Henry VIII: evangelicals in the early English Reformation, Cambridge studies in early modern British history (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 43.

(32) A supplication of the poore commons: Whereunto is added the supplication of beggers (London: John Day and William Seres?, 1546), pp. 277–8; available at http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A00758.0001.001, accessed 19 November 2019; printed in Mozley, Coverdale and his Bibles, p. 253.

(33) Bonner’s changing attitudes were depicted in Foxe’s account of a meeting between Bonner and Grafton the day after Cromwell’s execution, when Bonner did not object to that act. The meeting and its reassessment are discussed by Ryrie, The Gospel and Henry, pp. 217–21.

(34) Reflecting also David Scott Kastan, ‘“The Noyse of the New Bible”: reaction and Reform in Henrician England’, in Religion and culture in Renaissance England, ed. Claire McEachern and Deborah Shuger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 46–68.

(35) Blayney, Stationers’ Company, p. 542; Ryrie, The Gospel and Henry, p. 44. The Convocation’s three evangelical bishops were in a clear minority.

(37) See note 29 above.

(38) See Ryrie, The Gospel and Henry, pp. 44–54; Richard Rex, ‘The crisis of obedience: God’s Word and Henry’s Reformation’, The Historical Journal 39:4 (1996), 863–94 at 891–3; and to a lesser extent Kastan, ‘“The noyse of the new Bible”’, p. 59. For the Act, N.10; For the King’s Book see Henry VIII, The King’s book: or, A necessary doctrine and erudition for any Christian man, 1543, ed. T. A. Lacey, Church Historical Society new series (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1932), pp. 5–6.

(41) Gray was most likely Cromwell’s man, who defended his reputation posthumously: Blayney, Stationers’ Company, pp. 413, 421–2, 425–7.

(43) Evelyn B. Tribble, Margins and marginality: the printed page in early modern England (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), pp. 24–5; William H. Sherman, Used books: marking readers in Renaissance England, Material texts (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), pp. 42–3.

(44) Blayney (Stationers’ Company, p. 382) suggests this was removed to avoid placing continuous blame on the Privy Council, an interpretation which sidelines the question of lay reading.

(45) Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: a life, rev. edn (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), pp. 258–60, 348.

(46) That is to discuss, argue or question.

(47) Sherman, Used books, ch. 2: ‘History of the manicule’, pp. 25–52.

(48) Wim François, ‘Typology—back with a vengeance! Texts, images, and marginal glosses in Vorsterman’s 1534 Dutch Bible’, in Imago exegetica: visual images as exegetical instruments, 1400–1700, ed. Walter S. Melion, James Clifton and Michel Weemans (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 89–136 at 94; followed by François, ‘The early modern Bible’, p. 132. I thank Wim François for his advice, and for supplying me with an early version of this article.

(49) This is evident from the comparison with the Matthew and Olivetan’s Bibles, which served as its models. Thus, for Deuteronomy chapter 6, the Great Bible has one (double) manicule, the Matthew Bible one and Olivetan’s none; for Deuteronomy 12 2/1/0; 1 Regum 14 1/0/0; Psalm 3 3/0/0; Matthew 21 1/0/0.

(51) Avoiding, for example, the imbalance of text and annotations, evident in the Matthew Bible (p. 118)

(52) Desiderius Erasmus, Nouum Instrumentu[m] omne […] (Basilaeam: In ædibus Ioannis Frobenij, 1516), pp. 225–675.

(53) John Foxe, The first [- second] volume of the ecclesiasticall history contayning the actes and monumentes of thynges passed in euery kynges tyme in this realme, especially in the Church of England (London: printed by Iohn Daye, 1570), https://www.johnfoxe.org/index.php; followed in Mozley, Coverdale and his Bibles, p. 284; Pollard, Records of the English Bible, p. 230. The more in-depth analysis is Blayney, Stationers’ Company, pp. 548–50, which suggests Grafton and Whitchurch spent only twenty-five days in prison.

(55) This is evident in the integration of the Bible’s table of lections into a copy of Berthelet’s 1535 Latin Bible, explored in Chapter 3, pp. 109–13.

(56) See Appendix 2.

(57) Arnold Hunt, ‘Clerical and parish libraries’, in The Cambridge history of libraries in Britain and Ireland, vol. 1: To 1640, ed. Elisabeth Leedham-Green and Teresa Webber (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 400–19 at 404.

(58) Stacy Gee, ‘Parochial libraries in pre-reformation England’, in Learning and literacy in medieval England and abroad, ed. Sarah Rees Jones, Utrecht studies in medieval literacy 3 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003), pp. 199–222 at 221; Fiona Kisby, ‘Books in London parish churches before 1603: some preliminary observations’, in The Church and learning in later medieval society: essays in honour of R.B. Dobson; proceedings of the 1999 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. Caroline M. Barron and Jenny Stratford, Harlaxton medieval studies. New series 11 (Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2002), pp. 305–26 at 324.

(59) Anne Hudson and Elizabeth Solopova, ‘The Latin text’, in The Wycliffite Bible: origin, history and interpretation, ed. Elizabeth Solopova, Medieval and Renaissance authors and texts 16 (Leiden: Brill, 2016), pp. 107–32 at 128.

(60) Robert Whiting, The blind devotion of the people: popular religion and the English Reformation, Cambridge studies in early modern British history (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 190.

(61) Robert Whiting, The Reformation of the English parish church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 90.

(62) Hunt, ‘Clerical and parish libraries’, p. 414. Gee has uncovered only one instance of a book kept in the nave (Gee, ‘Parochial libraries’, p. 207).

(63) James Raine (ed.), Testamenta Eboracensia: a selection of wills from the registry at York Part 2, Publications of the Surtees Society 30 (London: J. B. Nichols, 1855), p. 283.

(64) Margaret Aston, ‘Segregation in church’, in Women in the church: papers read at the 1989 summer meeting and the 1990 winter meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, ed. Diana Wood and W. J. Sheils, Studies in Church history 27 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), pp. 237–94 at 244–8; and, to a lesser extent, C. Pamela Graves, ‘Social space in the English medieval parish church’, Economy and Society 18:3 (1989), 297–322 at 301; Gee, ‘Parochial libraries’, pp. 205–6.

(65) Walter Howard Frere and William McLure Kennedy (eds), Visitation articles and injunctions of the period of the Reformation, vol. 2: 1536–1559, Alcuin Club collections 15 (London: Alcuin Club, 1910), pp. 9, 15, 20, 35–6, 44–6, 55–9, 63, 65.

(66) Text: Francis Aidan Gasquet and Edmund Bishop, Edward VI and the Book of Common Prayer: an examination into its origin and early history with an appendix of unpublished documents, 2nd edn, The Catholic standard library (London: J. Hodges, 1891), pp. 373–4; Thomas Cranmer, Cranmer’s liturgical projects. Edited, from British Museum ms. Royal 7, B.iv, with introduction, appendix, notes, and indices, ed. J. Wickham Legg, Henry Bradshaw Society 50 (London: Harrison, 1915), pp. lv, 15; and to a lesser extent xxvi, xxxv, xxxvii. Analysis: MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: a life, pp. 221–6, 332–4.

(67) Worcester, York (four chapters), Salisbury, Exeter and Hereford.

(68) 21 February 1543: Gerald Lewis Bray, Records of Convocation VII: Canterbury 1509–1603 (Woodbridge: Boydell in association with the Church of England Record Society, 2006), p. 271.

(69) Susan Wabuda, ‘Triple deckers and eagle lecterns: Church furniture for the book in late medieval and early modern England’, in The Church and the book: papers read at the 2000 summer meeting and the 2001 winter meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, ed. R. N. Swanson, Studies in Church history 38 (Woodbridge: Boydell for the Ecclesiastical History Society, 2004), pp. 143–52.

(70) It is possible that these changes were instituted, in part, by the availability of these Bibles, but more research is necessary in order to validate such a hypothesis.

(71) As in Eamon Duffy, The stripping of the altars: traditional religion in England c. 1400–c.1580, 2nd edn (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), p. 361.

(72) A supplication of the poore commons, p. 275; alluded to in Aston, ‘Lap books and lectern books’, p. 178; Ryrie, The Gospel and Henry, p. 50, n137.

(73) STC§1739, §1740: Thomas Becon, Newes out of heauen: both pleasaunt [and] ioyfull, lately set forth to the great co[n]solacion [and] co[m]forte of all christen me[n] (London: John Mayler for John Gough, 1542), unfoliated; reprinted with minor changes in Becon, ‘The news out of heaven both pleasant and joyful’, in The early works of Thomas Becon: being the treatises published by him in the reign of King Henry VIII, ed. John Ayre (Cambridge: University Press, 1843), pp. 35–58 at 38. While this treatise was written in Henry VIII’s reign, its dating to 1541 by Mozley (Coverdale and his Bibles, p. 264) is unclear. The biblical quotation is from Job 7:21.

(74) Although, like the Wycliffite Bible and the LMB, discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, this would have been of much use in the preparation of sermons.

(75) The Byble in Englyshe, that is to saye, the content of all the holye scrypture, bothe of the olde and newe Testament, truly translated after the veryte of the Hebrue and Greke textes, by the diligent studye of dyuers excellent lerned men experte in the foresayde tongues (London: Thomas Petyt and Roberte Redman for Thomas Berthelet, 1540), Bible Society Copy BSS.201.B40. This is reproduced in DMH §52, p. 29. For general discussion see Blayney, Stationers’ Company, pp. 384–8.

(76) Gregory Duke, ‘Parish, people and the English Bible in East Anglia, 1525–1560’ (Ph.D., University of Oxford, 2004), p. 151.

(77) J. Charles Cox, Churchwardens’ accounts from the fourteenth century to the close of the seventeenth century, The antiquary’s books (London: Methuen, 1913), pp. 116–18, where the term ‘half-bible’ refers to the part of the cost covered by parishioners; Whiting, Blind Devotion, pp. 190–1; Whiting, The Reformation of the English parish church, pp. 90–1, 245. With an additional bibliography p. 257n12.

(79) This adds credence to the complaint on the price of Bibles at the end of Henry’s reign (Chapter 5, p. 157)

(80) See, for example, the nearly identical calendars of: This prymer of Salysbury vse is set out a long wout ony serchyng: with many prayers, and goodly pyctures in the kale[n]der, in the matyns of our lady, in the houres of the crosse in the. vii. psalmes, and in the dyryge (Parys: Per Franciscum Regnault in vico sancti iacobi, e regione maturinorum. Ad signum Elephantis, 1531); This prymer of Salysbury vse is set out a long withoutony serchyng, with many prayers, & goodly pyctures in the kalender, in the matyns of our lady, in the houres of the crosse, in the vij. psalmes, and in the dyryge (And be newly enprynted at Parys: per Franciscum Regnault, 1533); Here after foloweth the prymer in Englysshe sette out alonge: after the use of Sarum (Rouen: Nycholas le Roux for Franchoys Regnault, 1538); Thys prymer in Englyshe and in Laten is newly tra[n]slatyd after the Laten texte (Paris: Francois Regnault, 1538). This is also reflected in the slightly less populated calendars of Regnault’s Sarum Missal, such as Missale ad usum insignis ac preclare ecclesie Sa[rum] (Paris: François Regnault, 1533); Missale ad vsum ecclesie Sarisburiensis (Paris: F. Regnault, 1534).

(81) See note 80

(82) Type height (x-height) of 3 mm, in contrast to the regular height of 2 mm.

(83) Ian Green, Print and Protestantism in early modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 61–5, 86–7.

(84) Employing Roman type as a means of differentiation was used in Coverdale’s 1535 Bible for singling out the divine name (‘LORDE’), in a custom parallel to the Second Temple Jewish writing of the tetragrammaton in a different script, evident in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

(85) While some later trimming in rebinding may have occurred, these measurements are common across existing Bibles, and also apply to those with contemporary bindings, such as Bible Society BSS.201.B39.2.

(86) G. W. Bernard, The King’s Reformation: Henry VIII and the remaking of the English Church (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), pp. 521–7.