The Byble in Englyshe of the largest and greatest volume

Chrzanowski 1541bThe Great Bible is the product of the two most prominent figures in English Bible history: William Tyndale, who (ironically) was executed for heresy in 1536, and Miles Coverdale, an ex-Augustinian friar who worked with Tyndale in Europe until his return to England in 1535. In December 1534, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cramner petitioned King Henry VIII to decree “that the holy scripture should be translated into the vulgar English tongue by certain good and learned men, to be nominated by His Majesty, and should be delivered to the people for their instruction.” Coverdale’s translation of the Bible was published in Antwerp in October 1535, and in 1537 John Rogers (under the name Thomas Matthew) published an English Bible based largely on Tyndale’s translation and secondarily on Coverdale’s work. Both versions received royal licenses.

Lord Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, however, believed that a more “official” version of the Bible in English was needed. The new version should commend itself to conservative bishops and meet the needs of the King’s injunction of September 1538 that English clergy provide “one book of the whole Bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have cure of, whereas your parishioners may most commonly resort to the same and read it.”

Work on the revision was entrusted to Coverdale, who started with the text the Matthew Bible rather than his own translation. Unversed in Hebrew, he made corrections based on comparison with Sebastian Münster’s Latin translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Vulgate, and Erasmus’s Latin version of the New Testament. The first edition of the Great Bible—intended to be the “Bible of the largest volume in English”—was issued in 1539. Six more folio editions were printed before the end of 1541 to meet the demand. Coverdale continued to make revisions and the later editions represented a considerable advance over the first, especially in the poetical sections of the Old Testament. With a preface by Cranmer, these later editions have become known as “Cranmer Bibles.”

The present copy is the sixth edition (November 1541), which is one of two taller early editions with 65 lines per column, rather than 62. Cromwell’s coat of arms was removed from the title page as a result of the Chancellor’s fall from favor (and execution) in 1540. Manuscript notes by Francis Fry, who conducted extensive research on the Great Bible, are loosely inserted. They detail the “reprinted” (changed) leaves found in this edition.

Chrzanowski 1541b *

STC 2075

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675