fol. D6v, David and Goliath
THE GREAT BIBLE
The Byble in Englyshe, that is to saye the content of all the holy scrypture, bothe of ye olde and newe testament, truly translated after the veryte of the Hebrue and Greke textes, by ye dylygent studye of dyuerse excellent learned men, expert in theforsayde tonges. Paris: Francis Regnault, and London: Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch, 1539.
Folio. 530 leaves (, lxxxiiii, cxxiii,  blank, cxxxiiii [i.e., 132], lx [i.e., 80], ciii, ), 14¾ x 9¾ inches. Black letter, double column, 62 lines. Genesis and Apocrypha titles within woodcut borders, illustrations and ornamental initials. Bound in decorated brown morocco; spine gilt. First and third title pages and six leaves in facsimile; lacking blank leaf. § DMH 46; STC (2nd ed.) 2068. § CD-ROM: 8.6, title page.
As demonstrated by the controversial history of the early English Bible, nothing leads more directly to the authorization of an official vernacular Bible than the circulation of unauthorized ones. Although many in the English church were opposed to the Tyndale, Coverdale, and "Matthews" Bibles (particularly because of the outspoken Protestantism of their notes), the license that King Henry VIII granted for the Matthews Bible of 1537 and Coverdales second edition of that year removed the official obstacles to their circulation in England. Still, it was widely felt that another revision was required. This would have to satisfy not only the scholars (Coverdales translation had not been based on original languages) and the conservative English clergy (who were offended by Matthews resonances of Tyndale), but also the King. Although he had repudiated the papacy, Henry was not interested in adopting great doctrinal reforms.
On 5 September 1538, having convinced King Henry of the need for a new English Bible, Thomas Cromwell (ca. 14851540), the Royal Secretary and vice-regent in ecclesiastical matters, ordered the English clergy to allow a large, legible edition of the English Bible to be "set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have cure of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it" (Bruce 1970, 68). This edition, known as the "Great Bible" of 1539, was Coverdales revision of the Matthews version, without controversial notes, corrected with the aid of Sebastian Münsters Latin Old Testament, the Greek New Testament of Erasmus, and the Complutensian Polyglot.
The publishers, Richard Grafton (ca. 151172) and Edward Whitchurch, at first entrusted the printing to the expert Parisian press of Francis Regnault, but by the end of 1538, the French inquisitor-general had confiscated the few sheets that had been completed. Taking equipment and supplies back to London, the Englishmen completed the work themselves in April of 1539 at the recently confiscated property of the Gray Friars. The Great Bible was the second complete English Bible printed on English soil, following only Richard Taverners unauthorized Bible of the same year.
Nothing within the Great Bible itself tells of its royal authorization. Official statement of this authorization came only in the second edition of 1540, which was also the first to include the preface and authorization signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer (14891556), declaring it "the Byble apoynted to the use of churches." The large bold format, set in broad double-columns of 62 lines with large capitals and occasional woodcut illustrations, not only reflects the Great Bibles function as a book for public reading, but also expresses the authority that the edition was granted by Henry VIII, Cromwell, and ultimately Cranmer. Although the freedom to read from the English Bible was briefly revoked at the end of King Henrys reign, it was restored under King Edward VI. Grafton, who had become the Kings Printer, lost this title and was imprisoned under Queen Mary, but in 1554 he was able to begin a second career as a Member of Parliament.
The large title page woodcut, formerly erroneously attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger, is printed in black with red text. It depicts the presentation of the word of God by King Henry VIII to Cranmer and Cromwell. They in turn distribute the Bibles to the English people, who shout "Vivat Rex" or "God save the kynge." The Almighty looks down upon King Henry and speaks the words of Acts 13:22, "I have found a man after my own heart, who shall perform all my desire." Thus, to paraphrase Tyndales dying words, it appeared that the Lord had opened the King of Englands eyes.
Literature: Bruce 1970, 6780; Greenslade 1969, 15051; Kingdon 1895; Mozley 1953, 201305.