fol. hh2r, David and Bathsheba
THE COVERDALE BIBLE
Biblia: The Bible: that is the holy Scripture of the Olde and New Testament, faithfully translated in to Englishe by Miles Coverdale. [Cologne or Marburg: E. Cervicornus and J. Soter?], 4 October 1535.
Folio. 1140 pages (, xc, cxx, lii, cii, lxxxi [i.e., lxxxiii], , cxiii,  leaves, folded map), 12¼ x 7⅞ inches. Black letter (title page and 8 prefatory leaves only) and angular type, double column, 57 lines, no catchwords. Titles within woodcut borders, woodcut illustrations and initials. While there are no divisions there are letters of the alphabet in the margins to indicate portions of each chapter. Bound in 19th-century dark blue morocco by Charles Lewis (1786–1836), one of the master binders of his time. Title, five preliminary leaves, and map in facsimile by John Harris. § DMH 18, variant title page; STC (2nd ed.) 2063. § CD-ROM: 8.1, title page; 8.1, fol. dd3r (detail), Samson; 8.1, fol. hh2r (detail), Bathsheba.
This first complete printed Bible in English came through the inspired editorial labors of Miles Coverdale (1488–1569). He took the work of William Tyndale, Santi Pagnini, Martin Luther, the translators of the Zurich Bible of 1530, and by careful editing and translating, produced an English text of great verbal nobility. The Coverdale was the first English Bible to introduce chapter headings, but grouped them all together at the beginning of each book. Coverdale was also the first to separate the books of the Apocrypha from the canonical Old Testament and place them together before the beginning of the New Testament.
Viewed on the most pragmatic level, Coverdale provided the necessary first complete textual base for the labors of revision which continue to occupy biblical scholars to this day. Coverdale himself continued a lifetime’s work in revision: the diglot New Testament of 1538–39 [8.4], the Great Bible of 1539 [8.6], the Psalter of 1540, the English translation of Erasmus’s Paraphrase of the New Testament 1549, the 1550 reprint of his 1535 Bible, and others.
He participated in the consecration of Matthew Parker (1504–75) as Archbishop of Canterbury in December 1559, and lived to see the publication in 1568 of the Bishops’ Bible, dying on January 20, 1569, at the age of 81. One of the most remarkable feats of Coverdale’s life was that he managed to live so long, and died in bed! Biblical translation in the years of Henry VIII and his children was in many cases not conducive to long life or peaceful death.
Who was the printer, and where was it printed? There is no sure answer for either question. Undertaking such a printing job in England would have been extremely dangerous due to the fluid political situation. For a long time the name most frequently raised as printer and publisher was Christopher Froschauer of Zurich. Current opinion, based on the usage of certain decorative capitol initials, leans toward Eucherius Cervicornus and Johannes Soter at Cologne or Marburg.
James Nicolson, printer/publisher in Southwark (London), promoter of this printing, was an obvious risk taker. He removed eight preliminary leaves printed in the same type as the text, and as publisher in England inserted eight preliminary leaves written by Coverdale printed in black letter containing the dedication Unto the most victorious Prynce and our most gracyous soveraigne Lorde, kynge Henry the eyght, as well as A Prologue. Miles Coverdale Unto the Christian Reader. In the dedication, Henry’s marital status is acknowledged with reference to "your dearest iust wyfe and most vertuous Pryncesse, Quene Anne" (Anne Boleyn). When Nicolson issued a reprint in 1537, the wording was changed to "Queen Jane" (Jane Seymour). Was Nicolson flirting with disaster? Possibly. Had Henry developed a limited unofficial tolerance for the Bible in English? Perhaps the answer lies in interpreting the woodcut on the title page. Attributed to Hans Holbein, it depicts the enthroned King handing the Bible to kneeling prelates and peers. This is raw politics without subtlety. The Hebrew letters for the Divine Name are at the top of the page, but larger space is given to Henry VIII at the foot of the page. The message is clear: if God’s Word comes from above, it is spread via the Monarch’s consent. Priest and knight must reach up to an earthly sovereign to obtain God’s text.
That there now existed a complete English Bible, with limited approval of the sovereign, renders it all the more poignant that Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake, probably on 6 October 1536, a year and two days after the printing of the Coverdale Bible was finished. Tyndale’s dying prayer was "O Lord open the King of England’s eyes!" Maybe they were already open—a little, a very little?
No perfect copy of the Coverdale 1535 is known. In 1974 Warren Howell made a census of extant copies, locating 27 copies in the United States, and 38 copies in England and Ireland. Mr. Howell also identified 12 copies which had been described in auction or booksellers’ catalogues, but which could not be located (The Coverdale Bible 1975). No bibliographer has yet attempted a search on the Continent. A complete facsimile was published in 1975. It is a most useful tool, but modern reproduction methods, in this case, are an inferior substitute for the usual vigor of the original printing.
The Ryrie copy is a remarkable example of near-completeness. It is in superb condition and bears a distinguished provenance. The title, five preliminary leaves, and the map have been replaced by facsimiles executed by the great facsimile master John Harris. In earlier generations, book collectors preferred to have missing leaves replaced by copies, and Harris’s skill was legendary. Attached to the last sheet in the Ryrie copy is this printed notice:
FACSIMILES BY JOHN HARRIS
At one time this copy was owned by one of the most distinguished members of the Methodist Church in England—Dr. Adam Clarke (1762?–1832). He was a profound admirer of John Wesley, and passed through the stages of local preacher and regular preacher, eventually rising to the point of holding the presidential chair of the British Methodist Conference in 1806, 1814, and 1822. He was one of the first Methodists to become a world-class scholar. Dr. Clarke’s books were sold at auction, including this Bible, in 1836. Over the years, Clarke association items have become revered Methodist icons.
Literature: Coverdale Bible,1535 1975; Hotchkiss and Price 1996, 144; Howell 1974; Mozley 1953, 65–124.