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The King James Bible: Crown, Church and People



This essay addresses several unresolved problems associated with the production, dissemination and reception of the King James Bible. It argues that James i’s initial enthusiasm was not sustained and that Archbishop Bancroft was the key figure for seeing the translation through to completion. His death, just before the Bible appeared, explains why there was no order for its purchase by parishes. Instead, its acquisition was left to individual bishops, so that it took until the Civil War for the new Bible to be widely available in worship. Its broad acceptability by that time was a result of its increasing use in household and private devotions as much as in public worship.


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This paper was first given to ‘An Anglo-American history of the KJV’ conference at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, in September 2011 and then to seminars at Canterbury, Durham, London and Oxford, and I am grateful to all those various audiences for their comments and criticism, and to George Bernard, Nicholas Cranfield, Liz Evenden, Andrew Foster, Leonie James, Peter Lake, Aaron Pratt, David Shaw and especially Nicholas Tyacke.



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1 The Geneva Bible was printed, for the last time in the seventeenth century, in 1644. See Norton, D., A history of the Bible as literature, Cambridge 1993, i. 216–25, and The King James Bible: a short history from Tyndale to today, Cambridge 2011, 135; Campbell, G., Bible: the story of the King James version, Oxford 2010, 125–7; and Darlow, T., Moule, H. and Herbert, A., Historical catalogue of printed editions of the English Bible, 1525–1961, London 1968, nos 545, 579.

2 Rees, G., ‘The king's printers’ Bible monopoly in the reign of James i', in Langman, P. (ed.), Negotiating the Jacobean printed book, Farnham 2011, 18, 23–4.

3 From 1611 to 1616 the Geneva Bible appeared in different formats (folio and quarto), and different packages (whole Bible, ‘third part’ and the New Testament); the last quarto was published in 1615, the last folio in 1616: RSTC 2239, 2241–2, 2244.

4 Barlow, W., The summe and substance of the conference … in his maiesties privy-chamber, at Hampton Court. Ianuary 14. 1603, London 1604 (RSTC 1456.5), 46–7.

5 Ibid. 21–84; Spottiswoode, J., The history of the Church and State of Scotland, London 1677 (Wing S.5021), 465–6; The Psalmes of King David translated by King Iames, Oxford 1631 (RSTC 2732), in collaboration with Sir William Alexander; Doelman, J., ‘The reception of King James's psalter’, in Fischlin, D. and Fortier, M. (eds), Royal subjects: essays on the writings of James VI and I, Detroit, Mi 2002, 454–75. Rainolds may have been guided here by Patrick Galloway. For a different view of Rainolds's motivation see Feingold, M., ‘Birth and reception of a masterpiece: some loose ends and common misconceptions’, in Feingold, M. (ed.), Labourers in the vineyard of the Lord: scholarship and the making of the King James version of the Bible, Leiden 2018, 23.

6 Pollard, A., Records of the English Bible, London 1911, 53–5, 331–4. These latter two provisions seem to have been widely ignored. For exceptions see Bishop Anthony Watson to the dean and chapter of Chichester, 22 Aug. 1604, WSRO, Cap. I/4/9/25, and Archbishop Richard Bancroft to Archbishop Matthew Hutton of York, 14 Apr. 1605, NRO, MC 36/174.

7 Bancroft to Heads of Houses, July 1604, BL, ms Lansdowne 988, fos 274v, 297r. See also HMC, Calendar of the Cecil papers in Hatfield House, xvii, London 1938, 431.

8 William Eyre to James Ussher, Dec. 1608, Bodl. Lib., ms Rawlinson C 849, fos 262v–263r; printed in The correspondence of James Ussher, ed. Boran, E., Dublin 2015, i. 65.

9 Bancroft to John Harmar, 20 June 1606, and Henry Airay to Harmar, 12 June 1607, WCRO, CR 136B/194–5: see appendix below.

10 The parliamentary diary of Robert Bowyer, 1606–1607, ed. D. H. Willson, Minneapolis, Mn 1931, 167–70.

11 Thomas Ridley to Sir Richard Paulet, 17 Nov. 1608, Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, 44M69/F2/11/40. I owe this reference to Arnold Hunt.

12 For different views see Norton, King James Bible, 92–4; Rees, G. and Wakely, M., Publishing, politics and culture, Oxford 2009, 72; and Campbell, Bible, 61.

13 John Beaulieu to William Trumbull, 23 Nov. 1609, BL, ms Add. 72248, fo. 135v. This fits neatly with the dating of John Bois's notes of 1610 on the revisers’ deliberations on the New Testament. See Allen, W., Translating for King James, London 1970, 6, 9–10, 139–41.

14 N. J. S. Hardy, ‘Revising the King James apocrypha: John Bois, Isaac Casaubon and the case of 1 Esdras’, in Feingold, Labourers, 270–2.

15 Ephemerides Isaaci Casauboni, ed. Russell, J., Oxford 1850, ii. 809.

16 The holy Bible, conteyning the Old Testament, and the New, London 1611 (RSTC 2216), sig. A2v; echoed by Parry, G., ‘Literary patronage’, in Loewenstein, D. and Mueller, J. (eds), The Cambridge history of early modern literature, Cambridge 2002, 128–9.

17 Worcester Cathedral Muniments, A26 (Treasurer's register 1611–59), fo. 28r; Ussher to Thomas Lydiat, 4 Oct. 1611, Bodl. Lib., ms Bodley 313, fo. 61r, printed in Correspondence of Ussher, i. 77; and see n. 14 above. For an alternative date of publication, in ‘early 1611’, see Feingold, ‘Birth’, 12. I am grateful to David Morrison for help with the first reference.

18 Patterson, W. B., King James VI and I and the reunion of Christendom, Cambridge 1997, 84106; Shriver, F., ‘Orthodoxy and diplomacy: James i and the Vorstius affair’, EHR lxxxv (1970), 449–74, esp. p. 459; Pattison, M., Isaac Casaubon, 1559–1614, Oxford 1892, 279, 286–7.

19 Barlow, Summe and substance, 46; Calderwood, D., The true history of the Church of Scotland, Edinburgh? 1704, 475; Sparke, T., A brotherly perswasion to unitie … seene, allowed, and commended by publike authoritie to be printed, London 1607 (RSTC 23019.5), 2–3, 50–1.

20 James i, A meditation upon the 27, 28, 29 verses of the XXVII chapter of St Matthew, London 1620 (RSTC 14382), 1–2 (King James Bible), 66 (Bishops’ Bible).

21 Moore, H. and Reid, J. (eds), Manifold greatness: the making of the King James Bible, Oxford 2011, 188–90; Darlow, Moule and Herbert, Historical catalogue, no. 313.

22 Bancroft to John Cowell, 30 Aug. 1604, BL, ms Lansdowne 988, fo. 298v.

23 Bancroft to Harmar, 20 June 1606, WCRO, CR 136B/195.

24 Barlow, Summe and substance, 46–7; Strype, J., The life and acts of … John Whitgift, London 1718, 588–9; Pollard, Records, 53.

25 Airay to Harmar, 12 June 1607, WCRO, CR 136/194.

26 Hill, T., Truth and love happily married in the saints, London 1648 (Wing H.2032), 24–5, attributed the changes to several ‘great prelates’, which was narrowed down to ‘a great prelate … the chief supervisor of the work’ in [Whiston, E.], The life and death of Mr Henry Jessy, London 1671 (Wing W.1679), 49, and thereafter much repeated. See, for example, McGrath, A., In the beginning: the story of the King James Bible, New York 2001, 188. In contrast, Prynne claimed that Bishop Lancelot Andrewes had ‘the last perusal’ of the text, on the orders of the king, and for Philippians ii.10 Andrewes changed the translators’ ‘in’ to ‘at’ the name of Jesus every knee should bow. His source was Richard Brett (d. 1637), one of the translators ‘and others of note’: Prynne, W., A moderate, seasonable apologie, London 1662 (Wing P.4011), 34. See Fincham, K. and Tyacke, N., Altars restored, Oxford 2007, 134–5.

27 Rees and Wakely, Publishing, 74–5; The holy Bible, sig. Bv.

28 Fincham, K., ‘Oxford and the early Stuart polity’, in Tyacke, N. (ed.), The history of the university of Oxford, iv, Oxford 1997, 186–8; Daniel Featley to George Paule and to Thomas Morton, n.d. Bodl. Lib., ms Rawlinson D 47, fos 19, 209; Fincham, K., Prelate as pastor, Oxford 1990, 276; Visitation articles and injunctions of the early Stuart Church, ed. Fincham, K., Woodbridge 1994–8, i. 96–7. For its purchase in Exeter diocese see Craig, J., ‘Erasmus or Calvin? The politics of book purchase in the early modern English parish’, in Ha, P. and Collinson, P. (eds), The reception of the continental Reformation in Britain, London 2010, 50–1; for Norwich diocese see NRO, ANW 3/17–19; PD 58/38(S), fo. 32r (1610–11); PD 136/57 (unfoliated: 1612–13); DN/PRG 14/3 (unfoliated: 1612–13).

29 For the costs of church Bibles see section III below.

30 See section II below.

31 I owe this suggestion to Nicholas Tyacke.

32 Lee, J., Memorial for the Bible societies in Scotland, Edinburgh 1824, 45, 55–6, 59; Mann, A. J., The Scottish book trade, 1500–1720, East Linton 2000, 38–9; National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh, CH2/718/3, p. 38; CH2/154/1, pp. 31–89.

33 Fincham, K., ‘Prelacy and politics: Archbishop Abbot's defence of Protestant orthodoxy’, Historical Research lxi (1988), 40 and n. 21.

34 See section II below.

35 Pollard, Records, 58–60; Norton, D., A textual history of the King James Bible, Cambridge 2005, 46–7.

36 I owe this point to the anonymous reader. Is this also further evidence of James i’s distance from the project by 1611?

37 Barlow, Summe and substance, 46. See also Covell, W., A briefe answer unto certaine reasons by way of an apologie, London 1606 (RSTC 5880), 94, and Sparke, Brotherly perswasion, 51.

38 Visitation articles, i. 206. The same phraseology was used by James Hussey, commissary to Archbishop Abbot; Richard Montagu, archdeacon of Hereford; Richard Fitzherbert, archdeacon of Dorset; and Bishop Robert Wright, first at Bristol and then at Coventry and Lichfield, followed by Bishop Robert Skinner at Bristol: Articles to be ministred … within the citie and diocesse of Canterbury, London 1619 (RSTC 10161.5), no. 37; Articles ecclesiasticall … in the visitation of the … arch-deacon of Hereford, London 1620 (RSTC 10218.5), no. 23; Articles to be ministred … in the visitation of the … archdeacon of Dorset, London 1624 (RSTC 10192.4), no. 38; Visitation articles, ii. 61, 68, 70, 73.

39 White, J., A defence of the way to the true Church, London 1614 (RSTC 25390), 256–7; Buckinghamshire Record Office, Aylesbury, ms Archd. pprs Bucks c.257, fo. 112 (precedent book containing York diocesan acta), a reference I owe to Andrew Foster. See also Ambrose Ussher's description of it as ‘the authorized Bible’ in 1620: HMC, 4th report, part I and appendix, London 1874, 589, 598.

40 SHC, D/D/Ca 175 (unfoliated: Dunster, 1612), 181 (unfoliated: Croscombe, 1613); NRO, ANW 3/23 (unfoliated: Filby and Burlingham St Andrew, 1619–20); ms 2686, fos 4r, 7v (1620–1); NorthRO, CB 54 (unfoliated: 6 Feb. 1621).

41 M. E. McClintock, Lancaster priory (parish church guidebook), Norwich 2003, 12, 24. I owe my knowledge of the pulpit to Nicholas Cranfield.

42 The canons of 1604 required each church to possess ‘the Bible of the largest volume’, which in practice might be the Great, or Bishops’ or Geneva Bible: The Anglican canons, 1529–1947, ed. G. Bray, Woodbridge 1998, 375. See n. 67 below.

43 This analysis draws on the records of thirteen of the twenty-two English dioceses: Bath and Wells, Canterbury, Chichester, Coventry and Lichfield, Durham, Ely, Exeter, Gloucester, Leicester archdeaconry in Lincoln, London, Norwich, Oxford and Peterborough.

44 Pollard, Records, 66. See also McCullough, P., ‘Andrewes and Donne: using Bibles in the age of translation’, Lambeth Palace Library Annual Review, London 2011, 71–2.

45 This is based on 187 sets of visitation articles for 1612–41, mostly listed in Visitation articles, ii. 257 ff.

46 Ibid. i, pp. xxii–xxiii.

47 Foster, A., ‘Churchwardens’ accounts of early modern England and Wales’, in French, K., Gibbs, G. and Kümin, B. (eds), The parish in English life, 1400–1600, Manchester 1997, 7682.

48 Cambridgeshire Record Office, Cambridge, P30/4/1, fo. 285r.

49 For a sample see London Metropolitan Archives, mss 4457/2, fo. 129r (1612); 577/1, fo. 31r (1612–13); 1432/3, fo. 98v (1612–13); 959/1, fo. 116r (1612–13); 9235/2, fo. 228r (1613).

50 GRO, GDR 120; P154/14 CW 2/1 (unfoliated: 1613); Tewkesbury churchwardens’ accounts, 1563–1624, ed. C. J. Litzenberger (Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Gloucestershire Records Series vii, 1994), 113 (1613); P34 CW 2/1, fo. 4r (1615). At least one of them survives, a Bible of 1611 for Oxenhall (P241 MI 4).

51 SHC, D/D/Ca 175, 180–1, 206, 220, 235; D/P/tin 4/1/2, p. 8 (1614); D/P/blag 4/1/1 (unfoliated: 1619); D/P/som 4/1/1, p. 334 (1626); DHC, Dartington PW2, p. 299 (1614); Chudleigh PW1, p. 367 (1615–16); 272 A/PW1, p. 34 (1618); D 1815 Z/PZ1, pp. 70, 74 (1622); NDRO, 1201A/PW1, fo. 56v (1612–13); NRO, ANW 3/17a–b, 18–25; PD 136/57 (1613); PD 461/48 (1619–20); PD 209/154, p. 156 (1619–20).

52 SHC, D/D/Ca 206, pp. 26, 307, 310, 317. Much the same happened in Canterbury diocese in 1615–16: Canterbury Cathedral Archives, Dcb–X/5/6 i, fos 203v, 213r, 216v; Dcb–X/9/12, fo. 18r.

53 Ridley, T., Forasmuch as I haue lately seene two letters under the hande of the late lord bishop of Couentrie and Lichfield, London 1618 (RSTC 21053.7); Lichfield Record Office, B/V/1/33, p. 65; B/C/5/1618.

54 NorthRO, church inspection books 3–5; CB 42–6, 47, fos 232r–7r, 48; 49P/GB1, fo. 44v (1619); 55P/57, fo. 2v (1619–20).

55 Churchwardens’ accounts of Pittington and other parishes in the diocese of Durham from AD 1580 to 1700, ed. Barmby, J. (Surtees Society lxxxiv, 1888), 94, 96, 184; Durham University Library, DCD/D/SJB/4 (unfoliated: Brancepeth), /5, fo. 11r.

56 Leicestershire Record Office, Leicester, I D 41/18/7. See also 41/18/1–6, 8–9; WSRO, Ep.I/26/2.

57 NRO, ANW 3/21, /25; PD 484/118, fo. 260v.

58 Lee, Memorial, 82, 104–5; Mann, Scottish book trade, 38, 49–50; Anglican canons, 528, 547; Darlow, Moule and Herbert, Historical catalogue, nos 481, 494, 510–12, 522; Laud, W., Works, ed. Scott, W. and Bliss, J., Oxford 1847–60, vi. 457.

59 RSTC 2216–17, 2226, 2245, 2247, 2284–5, 2305, 2312, 2319, 2331, 2335, 2339. What no one knows is their print-run. The contemporary printer, Michael Sparke, suggested print runs of 1,500 or 3,000 copies, depending on quality; more recently, Pollard has proposed average runs of 5,000, Barnard 800–1,000, Rees and Wakely 3,000. With thirteen folio editions, the size of the market would suggest an average print-run of between 1,000 and 1,500: Sparke, M., Scintilla, London 1641 (Wing S.4818B), 1; Green, I., Print and Protestantism in early modern England, Oxford 2000, 52–3; Pollard, Records, 67; Barnard, J., ‘The financing of the authorized version, 1610–1612: Robert Barker and “combining” and “sleeping” stationers’, Publishing History lvii (2005), 44 n. 31; Rees and Wakely, Publishing, 67, 82.

60 For Worcester cathedral (1611), see n. 17 above; for Exeter cathedral (1615) see Exeter Cathedral Library, ms 3553, fo. 48v. Bisse presented his 1611 copy to Wadham College, Oxford, on its opening in 1613: Wadham College Library, Oxford, shelfmark J.10.18. For a 1613 folio in private hands by mid-century see Lambeth Palace Library, *E 185 1613, sig. A2v.

61 Pollard, Records, 65–7; Norton, Textual history, 47. Sparke in 1641 noted that the want of folio Bibles by 1629 ‘caused Cambridge printers to print it’ and the king's printers retaliated with a folio edition of their own: Scintilla, 1; Green, Print, 53.

62 For example, Denton in Norfolk and St Alban, Wood Street, London: NRO, PD 136/57 (unfoliated: inventory dated 25 Apr. 1613); London Metropolitan Archives, 7673/1, fo. 115r (1625).

63 See, for example, repeated orders to a group of Norwich city parishes in 1613–18: NRO, ANW 3/17a, 20–1.

64 SHC, D/D/Ca 204 (unfoliated: Charlton Mackerell, 1617), 220 (unfoliated: Murlinch, 1620); Lichfield Record Office, B/V/1/48, p. 1 (1626). See also section II above.

65 WSRO, Par 106 9/1, fo. 19v (40s. paid for a new Bible, 12s. received for the old); SHC, D/D/SAS SE14, fo. 6 (50s. and 13s. 4d.); D/P/blag 4/1/1 (unfoliated: 1619; 46s. and 9s.); London Metropolitan Archives, 577/1, fos 30v–1r (47s. and 20s.); GRO, P34 CW 2/1, fo. 4r (44s. 8d. and 8s. 6d.); DHC, Chudleigh PW1, pp. 365, 367 (46s. 8d. and 10s.); D1815 Z P21, pp. 70, 74 (40s. and 14s.); NDRO, 1677A/PW1 (unfoliated: 1612–13; 56s. and 10s.); NRO, PD 59/54, fo. 57r (paid 37s.). See DHC, Chanter 733, no. 35, for Bishop Cotton of Exeter forbidding the sale of the old Bible at Kenn c. 1611–16. These figures indicate that the price of 32s. for a bound church Bible, as listed in Downes, T., Bookes as they are sold bound, at London, at Dublin, London 1620 (RSTC 7154.3), followed by Rees and Wakely, Publishing, 82–8, is highly misleading.

66 GRO, GDR 117, fos 202r, 269v, 273v–6r; Lichfield Record Office, B/V/1/35, p. 30, B/C/5/1618.

67 Geneva Bibles were recorded in churches at Aldwincle All Saints, Castor, Lilford, Stretton and Raunds; but also Great Bibles at Geddington and Upton chapelry, and Bishops’ Bibles at East Carlton, Little Casterton and Market Overton: NorthRO, inspection books 3, 5 (1619, 1631); for canonical requirements see n. 42 above.

68 The holy Bible, sig. A3iiir, Bv.

69 Fuller, T., The church-history of Britain, London 1656 (Wing F.2417), book x. 58. See also Norton, King James Bible, 135. Awliscombe in Devon is the only parish in this study known to have purchased the Geneva Bible in 1611–40. See an entry in the churchwardens’ accounts for 1628 recording the purchase of ‘a Bible of the largest volume with the Geneva notes’: DHC, 3020A/PW2.

70 Darlow, Moule and Herbert, Historical catalogue, nos 564, 571, 620.

71 Green, Print, 76.

72 Rees and Wakely, Publishing, 76–82; Green, Print, 52–3.

73 Leicestershire Record Office, DE 1966/3; Darlow, Moule and Herbert, Historical catalogue, no. 429. For another example, of a quarto of 1614 used as a family Bible from 1619 see NDRO, B36B 02 (RSTC 2234).

74 Canterbury Cathedral Library, W/L–6–58(3), H/N-6-7 (RSTC 2280, 2337.3).

75 Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 2278, copy 1. See Moore and Reid, Manifold greatness, 192–4.

76 Waters did not elaborate on this claim: WSRO, Ep.I/17/20, fo. 173r. See also charges against him in 1625: Ep.I/15/1, 1625 folder, no. 170.

77 Hall, J., The honor of the married clergie, London 1620 (RSTC 12674), 139; Day, J., Day's descant on Davids psalmes, Oxford 1620 (RSTC 6424), sig. A3r. See Feingold, ‘Birth’, 24–5, 27, and the report of William Boswell in 1633 that a team translating the Bible into Dutch ‘much commend our last into English, before all others in any language, they have seen’: BL, ms Add. 6394 i, fo. 131r.

78 RSTC 2918.7. The full Bishops’ Bible had not been printed since 1602 (RSTC 2188).

79 McGrath, In the beginning, 280: Nicolson, A., Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, London 2004, 228.

80 Prynne, W., Canterburies doome, London 1646 (Wing P.3917), 512–13, 515; Laud, Works, iv. 262–3. See Reports of cases in the courts of Star Chamber and High Commission, ed. Gardiner, S.R. (Camden Society, n.s. xxxix, 1886), 297.

81 Rees and Wakely, Publishing, 11–28, 76–80.

82 Muir, L. and White, J. A., Materials for the life of Nicholas Ferrar, Leeds 1996, 138–9. I owe this reference to Trevor Cooper.

83 See Norton, Bible as literature, i. 211.

84 WCRO, CR 136B/195. The address reads: ‘To my loving freind Mr Dr Harmer at Winchester’. Harmar was Warden of Winchester College from 1596 to 1613.

85 The 2nd Oxford company, responsible for translating the Gospels, Acts and Revelation.

86 Giles Thomson, dean of Windsor.

87 WCRO, CR 136B/194. Henry Airay was Provost of Queen's College from 1599 to 1616 and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford from 1606 to 1607. The address reads: ‘To the right worshipfull my very good friend Mr Doctor Harmar Warden of new College by Winchester give these.’

88 Warden of Merton College from 1585 to 1622 and a member of the 2nd Oxford company.

89 Elizabeth, who outlived her husband.

This paper was first given to ‘An Anglo-American history of the KJV’ conference at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, in September 2011 and then to seminars at Canterbury, Durham, London and Oxford, and I am grateful to all those various audiences for their comments and criticism, and to George Bernard, Nicholas Cranfield, Liz Evenden, Andrew Foster, Leonie James, Peter Lake, Aaron Pratt, David Shaw and especially Nicholas Tyacke.



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