fol. A(ii)r, William Burghley
The holie Bible. London: Richard Jugge, .
Folio. 820 leaves (, cxxviii, clxxxv, , cciiii, cxiii, clix), 15¼ x 10⅜ inches. Black letter and roman, double column, 57 lines. Almanac and calendar printed in red and black; wood engraving of Queen Elizabeth on title page; New Testament title within woodcut border; illustrated with 143 engravings, woodcuts, and maps; printer’s device on colophon page. Bound in 18th-century dark brown morocco; spine gilt; edges gilt. § DMH 125, variant title page; STC (2nd ed.) 2099.2. § CD-ROM: 8.7, title page; 8.7, fol. A1r, Robert Dudley.
This first edition of the Bishops’ Bible is a revision of the Great Bible undertaken by Archbishop Matthew Parker with the assistance of many bishops and scholars. It was the most lavishly produced Bible of the sixteenth century, or any other preceding century. The march of text in noble black letter gave all the pomp and dignity that the arts and crafts of this world could lend to Divine Word. It was a Bible worthy of Queen Elizabeth.
The Bishops’ Bible is a tottering verbal edifice demonstrating that a committee put together a classic biblical translation only once (not this one, unfortunately, but the King James Bible forty-three years later.) The work of various translators was inharmonious; criticism was harsh upon publication and continues to this day. In spite of the many shortcomings, it has a quite respectable edition history: in 65 years (1568–1633) it had at least 38 different editions. Of these, fifteen were folio, ten quarto, and thirteen octavo. Eighteen were complete texts (both Old and New Testaments), nineteen were New Testaments, and one was the Gospels. Any work, then or now, which commands this many editions automatically puts a claim on our attention. The edition of 1602 was the text from which the King James translators worked.
The Psalms were newly translated from the Hebrew with inferior results. Archbishop Parker seems to have realized this for he cautions in his preface:
Now let the gentle reader have this christian consideration within him selfe that though he findeth the psalmes of this translation folowing, not so to sounde agreeably to his eares in his wonted wordes and phrases, as he is accustomed with, yet let him not to be to much offended with the worke, which was wrought for his owne commoditie and comfort(A(i)v).
The new translation of the Psalms was continued in the quarto edition of 1569 but in 1572 the Great Bible version was printed in black letter parallel to the new translation in roman type. By 1577, the new translation was completely replaced by the Great Bible text, with one exception—the new translation was used one last time in the folio edition of 1585. An example of the Bishops’ translation of a portion of Psalm 23 gives some indications of its lack of success:
He will cause me to repose myself in pasture full of grasse, and he lead me into calm waters. . . . Truly felicitie and mercie shall follow me all the dayes of my life, and I will dwell in the house of God for a long time.
As with other sixteenth-century Bible translations, the Bishops’ Bible is a political statement as well as a translation of the Word of God. Of course, Queen Elizabeth leads off with her title-page appearance, but the placing of the engravings of two members of her court is both curious and suggestive: the likeness of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1531–88), is placed below the title of the second part of the Bible, which begins the Book of Joshua, thus linking him with Joshua, the successor to Moses as leader of Israel. William Cecil, Baron Burghley (1520–98), appears in the opening of Psalm 1, "B", in Beatus Vir making him the godly example for all. Is access to the Divine Word now being granted by the favorites of Elizabeth’s court?
That this is a Bible of the Age of Discovery is also apparent in the reference to America that appears in the note occurring at Psalm 45:1: "Ophir is thought to be the Ilande in the West Coast of late found by Christopher Colomba, from whence at this day is brought much fine golde."
Discovery led to travel, and Bibles traveled along with their owners. Professor Charles Ryrie, in an address delivered at Texas Christian University, noted the far-flung influence a particular edition of a Bible could have:
The wood engraving illustrations of the Bible have an interesting history. Originally drawn by Virgil Solis for a folio Lutheran Bible published in 1560 at Frankfurt, they appeared next in a 1566 folio Dutch Bible published in Cologne. Then they found their way across the channel to be used two years later in the first Bishops’. But in 1570 they once more were back on the Continent, being used in a folio Latin Bible published in 1570 at Antwerp. Thus the same illustrations were used in a German Lutheran Bible, a Dutch Bible, an English Episcopalian Bible and a Latin Bible—an obvious early trend toward ecumenicity (Ryrie 1969, 12).
Attached to the Ryrie copy is a manuscript note, reading: "this is a magnificent copy of the first edition of the Bishops’ Bible 1568. Perfect every leaf is the true edition. The Bible is in fine condition equal to the proof impression which I have. Francis Fry, f.s.a. Tower House, Cotham, 1876." The Dictionary of National Biography informs us that Francis Fry (1803–86) was a diligent student of Bible bibliography whose work was "marked by laborious accuracy, great bibliographical acumen, and a profound acquaintance with the history of the English Bible."
Literature: Dictionary of National Biography 20:296; Ryrie 1969; Strype 1831.