13th November 1539. Power Yoked with Religion.

In conformity with Letters Patent of Henry VIII dated today in 1539, Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch received a licence to print the Great Bible.

‘No person was to print them in England for the space of five years, excepting such as should be appointed by the Vicar-General, Lord Cromwell’, thus avoiding a diversity of translations.(1)

Great Bible

Great Bible Cover showing Henry VIII in ‘Glory’.

The two ex-merchants Grafton and Whitchurch, ‘proprietors’ of the book, along with Myles Coverdale, ‘the corrector of press’, had originally been in Paris to do the printing,

They were forced to flee after Inquisitors of Faith charged the printers with heresy, despite having the blessing of the French King, Francis.

However they did manage to escape with type-face and printing-press, along with assistants of the original printer.

The King is shown on the wood-cut, title-page of the Bible, the first in the English language, to be sent to all churches, and demonstrates the monarch’s supreme power over Church and State.

A small Christ is seen communicating the ‘Word of God’ to a massive, enthroned Henry who passes it on to his councillors, then to bishops, then to the common folk.

The Bible could be ascribed cynically as Henry’s Bible as he couldn’t resist making annotations in the margins in the 1545 copy.(2)

He marked ‘bene’ (good) at the top of a page of the Book of Solomon-Proverbs-bracketing lines referring to immoral women ‘lyppes of a harlot but ultimately is bytter as wormewode’.

At the bottom he wrote, ‘for wyves’ emphasising that husband and wife, ‘to not be straungers- be glad with the wife of thy youth’ (sic), which smacks to modern eyes of hypocrisy!

Chained Bible.

Chained or Great Bible on lectern.

This was written when married to his sixth wife Catherine Parr, between 1543-47, who was to outlive him.

Religious piety, inhumanity and tyranny, personify Henry VIII, who has a miniature portrait decorating a Book of Psalms made for the king in 1540.

It accompanies the first Psalm: ‘Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly’.

In the Psalter Henry is identified by the Illuminator with the Psalmist himself, King David. The first Psalm is annotated by Henry: ‘Nota quis sit beatus’ (note who is blessed), as if he was confident he was not wanting in the counsel of the ungodly.

Another miniature shows David defeating Goliath in the guise of Henry and Pope Paul III, who two years earlier had excommunicated Henry.

What the Great Bible and Psalters show is how far religion was utilised by Henry to promote his notion of the Divine Right of Kings, which caused much controversy in later reigns.

(1) Also known as the Chained, Whitchurch or Cromwell Bible.

Cromwell ordered that the Bible be put, ‘in a convenient place that ye have care of, whereas     your parish may most commodiously resort to same and read it’.

(2) Copies once kept in an upper library of Westminster Palace, now in the British Library c.25 b.4(1) f 4.v.

Ref: English Typographia Sources 5 John Johnson Typography and Printers Instructor Vol 1-11 1824.

Ref: en.wikipedia/great_bible/Pic Image.

Ref: mesa-medieval.org/Pic Image of Chained Bible.

Ref: William Thomas 1548 1st biography of Henry VIII. The principal token of a tyrant is immoderate satisfaction of an unlawful appetite.

Ref: Matter of Judgement: Suzannah Lipscombe. History Today vol 64. issue 6. 2014.

Ref: Typographia, or the Printers Instructor, John Johnson 1824.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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