Panorama of Cambridge, c.1630
By an unknown artist, this view of Cambridge from the Backs shows, from left, houses beyond the Castle mound and gatehouse, to right, Queens’ College. The extremities of the drawing, which is nearly six feet long, are not displayed here. The library of St John’s College, shown in the picture, was completed in 1624.

MS Add. 2655


Richard Bancroft (1544-1610)
Verse in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Cambridge, 1564

Queen Elizabeth visited Cambridge in August 1564, and members of the University were encouraged to write congratulatory verses. Most wrote in Latin but some in Greek and even one or two in Hebrew and Syriac. Richard Bancroft entered Christ’s College in 1563, and his verse shows his proficiency in Latin as an undergraduate. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1604, and presided over the companies of translators of the King James Bible.

MS Add. 8915, ff. 67v-68r

John Overall (1560-1619)
Bishop Overall’s Convocation bookconcerning the government of God's catholick Church, and the kingdoms of the whole world
London: Printed for Walter Kettilby, 1690

John Overall was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, Master of St. Catharine’s College, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield and (briefly) Norwich. Having spoken at the Hampton Court Conference on the subject of predestination, he became a member of the first Westminster team of translators which worked on the early part of the Old Testament under Lancelot Andrewes. The Convocation book prints the canons drawn up in 1606 in response to the Gunpowder Plot; their publication at the time was prevented because of objections by King James.

From the Huntingdon Archdeaconry Library, presented 1970
Huntingdon.45.1, title page and frontispiece

Andrew Downes (c.1549-1628)
Isaac Casaubon’s letters to Andrew Downes and others

Andrew Downes, Fellow of St John’s, was widely regarded as the foremost Greek scholar of his day outside Greece, and was Regius Professor of Greek from 1585 to 1625. With his pupil John Bois, Downes was a member of the second Cambridge company of Bible translators. His Greek letters to Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614), classical scholar and philologist, are in the British Library; shown here are copies of Casaubon’s letters to Downes and others.

MS Ff.1.7, ff. 30v-31r


John Bois (1561-1644)
Diary and commonplace book

John Bois, Fellow of St John’s, Rector of Boxworth and Canon of Ely, was one of the leading Greek scholars in the University. He was appointed to the second Cambridge company to work on the translation of the Apocrypha. His diary and commonplace book contains entries from 1627 to 1640. On 29 December 1638, shown here, he wrote (in Latin) ‘In bed, since sleep did not come easily to me, I composed these rhyming verses in Latin and also in English’.

MS Add. 3856, ff. 121v-122r


Joseph Boxhorne
Portrait of Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) c. 1670, after Samuel Wright’s original

Lancelot Andrewes, bishop, court preacher, liturgiologist and linguist, was successively Master of Pembroke (1589), Dean of Westminster (1601), and Bishop of Chichester (1605), Ely (1609) and Winchester (1618). The most distinguished writer to work on the King James Bible, he headed the first Westminster team of translators. Always reluctant to be portrayed, Andrewes was painted secretly while he sat at lunch, according to a Latin inscription on the back of this portrait, by his secretary Samuel Wright. Wright’s portrait passed to Bruno Ryves, Dean of Windsor 1660-77, and it is probable that Boxhorne painted this version of it after he came to England in 1670.

By permission of the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Cambridge


Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626)
A pattern of catechisticall doctrine

A fair copy of Andrewes’s lectures as Catechist at Pembroke College. These lectures, on the Ten Commandments and other aspects of doctrine and faith, were given on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the Chapel, now the Old Library, and attracted large audiences from across the University and beyond. This copy, entitled ‘My Lord of Winton’s Catechisme. LANCELOT ANDREWES’, was bequeathed to Pembroke by Andrewes.

Pembroke College MS LC.II.95, pp. 174-5
By permission of the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Cambridge


Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), ed. & trans.
Novum Instrumentum omne
Apud ... Basilaeam: In ædibus Ioannis Frobenij. Anno. M.D.XVI [1516]

A revised version of the Greek New Testament, with a Latin translation. Though prepared in a hurry using inferior sources, Erasmus’s Greek text became the basis for many translations of the sixteenth century and later, and from 1633 was known as the Textus Receptus, or received text. The new Latin translation dispensed with many of the readings of the Roman Catholic Vulgate, including ‘Testamentum’ in the title. More daringly still, the preface expressed the wish that the scriptures ‘were translated into tongues of all men … I would to God the ploughman would sing a text of the scripture at his ploughbeam, and that the weaver at his loom with this would drive away the tediousness of time.’

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
Young.19, leaf R1r


Against Martin Luther

Henry VIII, King of England (1491-1547)
Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum
Apud inclytam urbem Londinum: In ædibus Pynsonianis, An. M.D.XXI [1521]

Though responsible for the break with Rome which led to the foundation of the Church of England, Henry VIII was anything but a theological radical. Two chapters of his defence of the Pope and church practices may have been written as early as 1518 in response to Luther’s attack on indulgences. The project was revived after the publication in 1520 of De captivitate Babylonica, a work against the Papacy and the sacraments, and reached print in July 1521. Though conventional in thinking it was widely circulated and earned the approbation of Pope Leo X, who finally granted Henry a papal title (Fidei Defensor Defender of the Faith) for which he had long been campaigning, and which his successors continue to bear.

Rel.c.52.2, leaf [a]1r


Martin Luther (1483-1546), trans.
Das Newe Testament Deutzsch
Wittemberg: durch Melchior Lotther, 1522

Luther began his translation of the New Testament while in protective custody in Eisenach in 1521. Working from Erasmus’s Greek text, he produced a first draft in three months and finished the work at Wittenberg in 1522. The first edition was published in September of that year; the 3000 copies rapidly sold out, and this second edition followed in December. Previous translations had been taken from the Latin Vulgate; Luther went back to the Greek, employing a modern idiomatic German that ensured his version reached a wide audience. He also supplemented the text with his own notes, generally explaining difficult words but sometimes drawing unflattering parallels with the modern church. This was a feature that was copied in several later English versions, ensuring that Bible translation would remain controversial until late in the century.

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
Young.99, leaf L1r

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregorii episcopi Nazanzeni carmina
Venetiis: Ex Aldi academia, M.D.IIII [1504]

Gregory’s work contains the earliest printed consecutive chapters of the New Testament in Greek. Erasmus gave this copy, printed by Aldus Manutius, to his friend Martinus Lipsius in 1518, and a written exchange between them is found on the title page:

Erasmus: Sum Erasmi, nec muto d[omi]n[u]m
I belong to Erasmus, and I do not change  my master.
Lipsius: Fui Erasmi, et mutavi d[omi]n[u]m
I was Erasmus’s, and I have changed my master.
Erasmus: Imo no[n] mutavi, cu[m] amicus sit alter ipse
Indeed I have not changed, for a friend is a second self.

BSS.130.B04, title page
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society


“...a precious jewel and a rich...”

William Tyndale (d. 1536), trans.
[The Pentateuch]
Marlborow: Hans Lufft, 1530

The first printed edition of the Pentateuch (the opening five books of the Old Testament) in English. Tyndale had left England in 1524, having failed to find support for his scheme to print the New Testament in English. After an abortive attempt in Cologne a complete edition of this was produced in Worms in 1526. It may have been in Worms, a centre of Jewish learning, that Tyndale learned Hebrew in preparation for his translation of the Old Testament. The first five books of this appeared under a fictitious imprint in 1530. The printer was probably Johannes Hoochstraten of Antwerp, who published many Protestant works for the English market under various pseudonyms around this time. Tyndale himself is identified only by the initials ‘W.T.’ at the head of the Prologue.

From the collection of Francis Fry (1803-1886)
BSS.201.B30.1, leaf E1v
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society

William Tyndale (d. 1536), trans.
The Newe Testament, dylygently corrected and compared with the Greke by Willyam Tindale
Antwerp: [by] Merten de Keyser, 1534

Tyndale’s first attempt to print an English New Testament foundered when the print-shop in Cologne was raided by the authorities; only a single copy of most of the Gospel of Matthew survives. An edition printed the following year in Worms was more successful and was widely distributed in England and Scotland, to the alarm of the authorities. This revised version followed an unauthorised edition with alterations by George Joye, an English scholar living in Antwerp. It was to prove highly influential: a copy was owned by Anne Boleyn, and according to a recent calculation 83 per cent of the text of the King James Bible comes directly from Tyndale’s Testament of 1534.

BSS.201.B34.1, leaf Bb4r
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society


The first complete English printed Bible

Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), trans.
Biblia. The Byble
[Antwerp: Merten de Keyser for Jacob van Meteren?], 1535

Lacking Tyndale’s knowledge of Biblical languages, Coverdale worked largely from German and Latin translations. The resulting text lacks the scholarly authority of the Tyndale or Geneva versions, but included many renderings which survived into the King James Bible. Coverdale’s translation of the Psalter, as revised for the Great Bible four years later, was retained in the Book of Common Prayer and is still sung in Anglican cathedrals and college chapels. The printing history of this Bible was long a matter of controversy, but it is now established that it was printed in Antwerp. Francis Fry, the former owner of this copy, had reached the same conclusion in the 1880s, but failed to publish his findings before his death.

From the collection of Francis Fry (1803-1886)
BSS.201.B35.3, leaf GG4v
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society


The first New Testament printed in England

William Tyndale (d. 1536), trans.
The Newe Testamentyet ones agayne corrected by W. Tyndale: and in many places ame[n]ded, where it scaped before by neglygence of the printer
[London: T. Godfray?], 1536

This edition of Tyndale’s Testament was printed in the year of Tyndale’s execution in Antwerp. The printer was probably Thomas Godfray of London, printer of a number of religious and controversial works, who on this occasion prudently omitted to include his name and address. The opening of the Gospel of John, shown here, was taken over almost unaltered into the King James Bible.

Sel.3.215, f. 63r



Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), ed.
The Byble in Englyshe [Great Bible]
[London]: Prynted by Rychard Grafton & Edward Whitchurch, 1539

Two editions of Coverdale’s 1535 Bible were printed in London in 1537, the first complete translations printed in England. In the same year Grafton and Whitchurch, probably using an Antwerp printer, published ‘Matthew’s Bible’, a conflation of Tyndale’s and Coverdale’s work which printed for the first time those books of the Old Testament which Tyndale had managed to translate but not publish before his martyrdom in 1536. Thomas Cromwell engaged Coverdale to produce a revised version, and ‘the hole byble of the largyest volume’, or Great Bible, appeared in 1539. The title page, formerly attributed to Holbein, shows Henry VIII handing out copies to Cromwell and Archbishop Cranmer, who then pass them on to the nobility and clergy respectively. That the Bibles do not pass any further down the social scale, and that all the people represented, excluding a couple of children at the bottom, appear to be speaking in Latin, suggests how nervously English officialdom regarded the practice of Bible translation at this date.

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
Young.35, title page


Thomas Goodrich (1494-1554), Bishop of Ely
Proclamation for the Great Bible, 1541

The Great Bible is the only English version actually to have been authorised. King Henry VIII directed that every parish church in England and Wales should have a copy by Easter 1539. But now the King is informed that ‘dyvers and many Townes and Paryshes’ have ‘negligently omytted theyr duties … whereof his hyghnes marvayleth not a little’. Such parishes are ordered to acquire a Great Bible before All Saints’ Day, 1541, under penalty of a fine.

MS EDR G1/8, ff. 11v-12r



William Whittingham (d. 1579) et al., trans.
The Bible and Holy Scriptures conteyned in the Olde and Newe Testament [Geneva Bible]
Geneva: Printed by Rouland Hall, M.D.LX [1560]

The Geneva Bible was the most successful of pre-1611 translations. It was the work of a committee of exiles from the Marian persecution, led by William Whittingham, later Dean of Durham. Although its chief importance is that it included the first translation from the Hebrew of the latter part of the Old Testament, the Geneva Bible was innovative in other ways. Rather than the folio size suitable for a church lectern, the format was quarto, better adapted for home use; rather than the gothic ‘black letter’ still favoured in England the type was the Roman by then standard in southern Europe. Finally this Bible came with extensive interpretative side notes, allowing readers to understand the word of God without mediation from the Church. It was perhaps this, rather than the controversial tone of a small number of the notes, which ensured that the Geneva Bible was never accepted by the Church of England, although it did achieve official status in the Church of Scotland. Nonetheless it became widely popular with the laity and was quoted by Shakespeare, used for sermons by Lancelot Andrewes and others, and was even employed by Miles Smith in his preface to the King James Bible. Editions continued to be printed until the mid-seventeenth century.

This large and handsome copy belonged to Henry Hastings, third Earl of Huntingdon (1536?-1595), President of the Council of the North and a zealous protestant who acted as patron to Whittingham and other Genevan exiles.

Sel.3.21, title page

Matthew Parker (1504-1575), ed.
The holie Bible [Bishops’ Bible]
Imprinted at London: … by Richarde Iugge, printer to the Queenes Maiestie, [1568]

Although the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, admired the Geneva Bible, its association with Calvinism ensured that it could never become the official church Bible in England. A revision of the Great Bible was nonetheless necessary and, doubtless in an attempt to ensure its widest possible acceptance amongst churchmen, Parker divided the text up among a panel of Church of England bishops. Generally the bishops were more notable for their orthodoxy than their scholarship or literary attainments and the Bishops’ Bible, often inaccurate and awkward in expression, is one of the least successful of early translations. The Queen never authorised it for sole use in churches as Parker had wished, and even when in 1571 the province of Canterbury enjoined that a copy should be placed in every church they weakened their injunction with the proviso ‘if it can be done conveniently’.

Parker, a noted bibliophile whose library is now at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, seems to have ensured that his Bible was at least handsome to look at. Bigger even than the Great Bible, it is lavishly decorated with woodcuts, portraits of Elizabeth I,  William Cecil and the Earl of Leicester, initials, coats of arms and maps. The cost was considerable, 27s 8d (about £300 at today’s prices). Whether by accident or design, the result was to restrict the circulation of the Bishops’ Bible among the laity, and it never achieved the popularity of the Geneva.

From the collection of Francis Fry (1803-1886)
BSS.201.B68.3, title page
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society



The Douai Old Testament

Gregory Martin (d. 1582), trans.
The Holie Bible [i.e. Old Testament and Apocrypha]
Printed at Doway: by Laurence Kellam, M.DC.IX [1609]

Though translated by Martin before the New, financial constraints meant this first Roman Catholic translation of the Old Testament and Apocrypha was not published until a quarter century after his death. By this time the English College had moved to Douai for the second time. This version appeared too late to be used for the King James Bible, but it and the New Testament remained the standard Roman Catholic translation until the twentieth century, latterly in a revised version by Bishop Richard Challoner (1691-1781), who removed most of Martin’s more startling Latinisms and rephrased many passages in a style strongly reminiscent of the King James translation.

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
Young.147, leaf A1r


Gregory Martin (d. 1582), trans.
The New Testament of Jesus Christ
Printed at Rhemes: by Iohn Fogny, 1582

By the 1570s the spread of vernacular Bibles among the laity had become unstoppable, and a version acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church was clearly necessary. The work of translation was done by Gregory Martin, a friend of Edmund Campion who had been exiled from England since 1569. Working in the English College at Rheims, Martin translated two chapters a day from 1578 to 1580, and after revision by other hands the New Testament was published in 1582. The whole production understandably has the air of a counterblast to the Protestant versions, with a polemical introduction and side-notes which correspond to those in the Tyndale and Geneva versions.  Since the Vulgate was the only version approved by the Church, that had to be the source text, and it had to be followed as closely as possible, even at the expense of common English word order and vocabulary, leading to phrases such as ‘Give us today our supersubstantial bread’ in the Lord’s Prayer. The Rheims New Testament was not an official source for the King James Bible, but was undoubtedly known to the translators.

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
Young.92, leaf Dd4v


William Whittingham (d. 1579) et al., trans.
The Bible [Geneva]
Cambridge: Printed by Iohn Legate, Printer to the Vniuersitie of Cambridge, 1591

Although the University of Cambridge was granted a privilege to print books by Henry VIII in 1534, it remained unexercised for fifty years. John Legate, only the second Printer to the University who actually printed any books, incurred the wrath of the Stationers’ Company in London with this edition of the Geneva translation of the Bible. The right to print Bibles belonged to the Queen’s Printer, and the appearance of this Bible in May 1591 embroiled Legate and the University in more than six months of litigation. No further complete Bible was printed in Cambridge until 1629.

From the collection of Francis Fry (1803-1886)
BSS.201.B91.1, title page
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society


Théodore Beza (1519-1605)
Letter presenting the Codex Bezae to the University, 1581

Beza acquired this fifth-century codex of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles in the mid-sixteenth century. It had been in Lyons from the ninth century until the sacking of that city in 1562, when it was removed to safety in Geneva and passed into Beza’s hands. In 1581 he presented it to Cambridge University for safer keeping. His accompanying letter, shown here, recommends that the manuscript would be ‘better hidden than published’, because of its variant readings.

From MS Nn.2.41



Part of St Luke’s Gospel in Greek

Codex Zacynthius, eighth or ninth century

A palimpsest: parts of St Luke’s Gospel with a catena (commentary), written in the eighth or ninth century, the vellum scraped and then written over in the twelfth or thirteenth century to form a lectionary from the four Gospels. It was given to General Colin Macaulay in 1820 by Prince Comuto on the Greek island of Zante. The uncials of the Gospel text contrast with the cursive script of the lectionary. The parts of St Luke are not continuous, and have been chosen to illustrate the extracts from the Fathers which form the commentary.

BSMS 213, ff. 142v-143r
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society

Psalter in Latin and Old English, eleventh century

The Latin text, in black, has an Old English translation running over it in red. The psalter has been linked to the monks of Winchcombe (Gloucestershire), during the period of their removal to Ramsey Abbey (Huntingdonshire), between 975 and the early eleventh century. There are several full-page illuminations: the opening here shows part of the penitential Psalm, ‘Have mercy upon me O Lord, after thy great goodness’ (Miserere mei Deus secundum magnam misericordiam tuam), with an illustration of the Crucifixion with Saints Mary and John.

Given by Archbishop Matthew Parker to Sir Nicholas Bacon, who presented it to the University Library in 1574
MS Ff.1.23, ff. 87v-88r

Gospels in Anglo-Saxon script, eighth century

The Gospel of St Luke and most of St John; the Gospels of St Matthew and St Mark, and the end of St John, are lost. The script of this volume suggests that it was probably written in Northumbria in the eighth century. By the tenth century, on the evidence of documents added to it but now detached and in the British Library, the volume was at Ely, where it remained until the dissolution of the Priory in 1539. The opening is the story of Nicodemus, St John’s Gospel, chapter 3, when, at the top of folio 195v, Nicodemus asks ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’

MS Kk.1.24, ff. 195v-196r

Wycliffite Bibles, fifteenth century

John Wycliffe (1328-84), philosopher, theologian and religious reformer, inspired one of the first translations of the Bible into English. The first version, which appeared in Wycliffe’s lifetime, was stiff and literalistic, and in the 1380s a second version was made, in more accessible and natural English. After translation of the Bible into English was made illegal by Archbishop Arundel in 1407, these volumes were hunted down and destroyed, and their owners punished. Nevertheless more than 250 Wycliffite manuscripts survived, often a small size which could be more easily concealed. Wycliffe’s followers, the Lollards, went underground and their beliefs remained influential in some parts of the country until the Reformation.

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
MS Add. 6684, ff. 10v-11r

BSMS 155, ff. 64v-65r
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society

Two leaves of St John’s Gospel in Coptic, fourth century
Incense burner and linen rag

This almost complete fourth-century papyrus of St John’s Gospel in Coptic was discovered in 1923 by a team from the British School of Archaeology in Egypt excavating at a cemetery close to the village of Hamamieh, 27 miles south of Asyut. The manuscript was part of the contents of a broken pot, and was wrapped in a rag of linen, displayed here with a bronze incense burner which was found close by. The papyrus leaves, now 44 in number, were originally folded to form a booklet. The three outermost leaves, front and back, are lost. The leaves were conserved, mounted in glass and deciphered by Sir Flinders Petrie and Sir Herbert Thompson, who published a facsimile, edition and translation of the manuscript in 1924.

BSMS 137, pp. 48-49
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society

[Biblia latina (Vulgate)]
[Mainz: Johannes Gutenberg, c. 1455]

The first substantial work printed in Europe from moveable metal type, the so-called Gutenberg or 42-line Bible, was produced in Mainz around 1455 by Johann Gutenberg, Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer. The fine decorated initials were added by hand to the printed text, by an illuminator working in either Basel or Strasbourg. Forty-eight copies of this edition are known to survive, not all of them complete. This copy is of special interest, as it contains marks showing that it was used as printer’s copy for an edition produced at Strasbourg around 1469. Nothing else is known of its early history; it is in an eighteenth-century binding and was once in the library of the 7th Earl of Hopetoun (1860-1908). The first of its two volumes is shown.

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
Inc.1.A.1.1[3761], leaf 1


The Hampton Court conference

Eye-witness accounts of the Hampton Court Conference are extremely rare. Here the antiquary Thomas Baker (1656-1740) copies from a contemporary account, and on page 157 he observes ‘This Account, in an old hand and orthography of that age, seems to have been sent about the time of the Conference. How true it is, I cannot say, but is said by the Reporter to be truth, & not to be contradicted.’ Shown here, King James is said to be ‘content to allowe some newe Translation, if the Bishoppes would consent thereunto.’ Overleaf, contentious points such as the wearing of the surplice are debated. The ‘Puritan’ and ‘Anti-Puritan’ debaters are listed, the unidentified writer clearly siding with the ‘Antis’, for while he names John Reynolds as ‘the principall mouthe’, Laurence Chaderton, Master of Emmanuel, was ‘mute as any Fyshe’ and Patrick Gallowaye ‘silent in all thinges’. The writer concludes that ‘Dr Reynolds & his Bretheren are utterly condempned for silly men.’

MS Mm.1.45, pp. 154-5


The Holy Bible [King James Version]
London: by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Maiestie, 1611

The translation project was carefully planned. Six companies of divines and scholars were formed, two each in Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge. Each was allocated a different portion of the Bible to translate. Their versions were then to be circulated among the other companies, and afterwards to be sent up to a general meeting for final revision. The Bishops’ Bible was to be the base text, with Tyndale’s, Matthew’s and Coverdale’s Bibles, the Great Bible and the Geneva Bible used to correct it when necessary. The Roman Catholic Rheims Bible was not specified in the instructions, but was undoubtedly used as well. By this elaborate process of checking and revision, innovative for its time but anticipatory of similar learned projects later on, the King and Archbishop Bancroft aimed to produce an authoritative final version which would have the backing of the whole Church.

Documentary evidence concerning the actual process of revision is sparse. It seems that James became impatient for results as the companies’ first drafts were completed and there was little time for them to be circulated among the other companies before the general meeting. This appears to have done its work in 1609 and 1610; final editorial work was then performed by Thomas Bilson, bishop of Winchester, and Miles Smith, bishop of Gloucester. The first edition, with its engraved title page by Cornelius Boel showing all twelve Apostles plus Moses, Aaron and the Holy Trinity (but not King James), was printed by the King’s Printer at some point in 1611.

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
Young.40, engraved title page
Crown copyright

King James’s visits to Cambridge, 1615

James visited Cambridge twice in 1615, in March and May. This set of notes, compiled by an undergraduate or perhaps a Bachelor of Divinity, records the questions debated, odes recited and plays acted before the King. The debates held in Latin during the May visit included ‘The Protestant Church is the true Church of Christ’. It is noted that all the debaters were BDs. This opening includes a list of four plays by members of the University, acted before the King, or prepared for acting, during his March visit. George Ruggle’s Ignoramus the lawyer particularly delighted the King. The other playwrights were Thomas Tomkis, Samuel Brooke, and Phineas Fletcher, all of whose plays were published, and (possibly) Thomas Cecil.

MS Add.2677, f. 2v-3r

Rules to be observed in translation

The list of members of the six companies of translators, and the rules to be observed in making the translation, were sent out in 1604, after the Hampton Court Conference. Here they have been transcribed by an unidentified person into a commonplace book containing miscellaneous transcripts mostly of a theological nature. The ‘rules to be observed’ follow a speech of Bishop Barlow in Parliament ‘concerning a Bill for laymen to be assistants to Bishops’ and precede a letter of 12 August 1635 from the Privy Council to the High Sheriff of Norfolk on the levying of Ship Money.

Presented by King George I, 1715
MS Gg.1.29, f. 113v

William Barlow (d. 1613)
The summe and substance of the conference ... at Hampton Court
London: printed by Iohn Windet [and T. Creede] for Mathew Law … , 1604

Held over three days in freezing January weather, the conference at Hampton Court was called to resolve a number of disputes between the bishops and the Puritan wing of the Church over such matters as Church government, vestments and liturgy. The notion of a new Bible translation was introduced almost in passing by John Reynolds, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and the Puritans’ chief spokesman. Though the Bishop of London scoffed at the idea, King James appears to have been immediately intrigued and to have proposed in outline the scheme for translation as it was ultimately executed.

This is a highly partial account of the conference, written to make it seem as though James sided entirely with the bishops against the Puritans. Other accounts suggest the King took a slightly more nuanced position, although the Puritans certainly had little cause for satisfaction from the outcome. Barlow was at this time dean of Chester; he later joined the ranks of the bishops, and was director of the second Westminster company of translators, working on the New Testament Epistles.

Syn.7.60.149(2), leaf G3r


Hugh Broughton (1549-1612)
An epistle to the learned nobilitie of England
Middelburg: by Richard Schilders, 1597

A graduate of Magdalene College, Cambridge, Broughton left England in 1589 after a dispute with Archbishop John Whitgift and spent much of the rest of his life abroad. Capable of debating with leading Jewish scholars in Hebrew, he was keenly alive to the shortcomings of the Bishops’ Bible and campaigned for over twenty years for a new translation, to be undertaken by himself and selected colleagues. This pamphlet is one of the salvos in that campaign; when the King James Bible was begun seven years later, however, Broughton was not invited onto any of the translating companies and his suggestions were largely ignored.

Syn.7.59.61, leaf F3r



Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury (1563-1612)
Letter to the Vice-Chancellor and heads of colleges, 22 July 1604

Robert Cecil, younger son of Queen Elizabeth I’s chief minister Lord Burghley, was Secretary of State from 1596 to 1608 and Chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 1600 to 1612. After the Hampton Court Conference, selection of the translators, and drawing up of the rules for translating, Cecil wrote to the Vice-Chancellor and the heads of the colleges to urge the Cambridge translators on, and to look for ‘any fitt men to joyne with the rest therein’. Any called in from the country were to be entertained in the colleges without charge. Cecil concluded ‘His ma[jes]tie expecteth that you should further this busynesse as much as you cann.’

Cambridge University Archives, Lett.11.A.C.4.I.i

Richard Bancroft (1544-1610)
Letter to the Cambridge translators, 31 July 1604

The Hampton Court Conference met in January 1604; John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, died on 29 February 1604. Though initially hostile to the idea of a new translation, Richard Bancroft, who had been Bishop of London since 1597, bowed to King James’s enthusiasm for the project and played a leading role in organising the work of translation (possibly with his sights on the succession to Canterbury). Over the summer Bancroft wrote many letters urging scholars to take part. Here, in sentiments echoing Cecil’s letter to the Vice-Chancellor, Bancroft urges ‘you should with all possible spede meete togeather in your Universitie and begynne’ work. The King was anxious to see progress: ‘I am perswaded his royall mynde reioyceth more in the good hope which he hathe for the happie successe of that work: then of his peace concluded with Spayne.’

Cambridge University Archives, Lett.11.A.C.4.II.a

Richard Bancroft (1544-1610)
List of members of the first translating companies, 1604

Bancroft sent out lists of membership of the companies in Westminster, Cambridge and Oxford in summer 1604. The list is followed by the ‘rules to be observed in translation’, which are displayed in the adjacent case on the Hampton Court Conference, in a contemporary transcript. The first Westminster company is headed by Lancelot Andrewes, Dean of Westminster. Andrewes complained that most of his company were negligent, which raises the possibility that much of the work of translating the first five books of the Old Testament was undertaken by Andrewes himself.

Cambridge University Archives, Lett.11.A.C.4.III.b

James I, King of England (1566-1625)
The workes of the most high and mightie prince, James …
London: printed by Robert Barker and John Bill, printers to the Kings Most Excellent Maiestie, 1616

King James I was almost certainly the most talented and versatile author ever to occupy the throne of England. His writings range from poetry through Biblical commentary to treatises on kingship, tobacco and witch-hunting. It is hardly surprising that he seized on the project for a new Bible translation with enthusiasm, but although procedures and rules drawn up to guide the work undoubtedly reflect his wishes, he took no part in the translation itself.

Hunter.a.61.2, title page


The Holy Bible [King James Version]
Imprinted at London: by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Maiestie, 1611

Since the King James Bible was technically only a revision and not a new work, it was not entered in the Stationers’ Register. As a result, no precise publication date is recorded, and the size of the edition remains unknown. The King’s printer, Robert Barker, is estimated to have spent £3,000 on preparation and printing. Despite his eminence, Barker was an indifferent craftsman and businessman. The first edition is riddled with misprints, including the repetition of three lines in the Book of Exodus, and the translators’ careful use of italics to denote words not in the original text which were added to clarify the sense became hopelessly muddled. Barker was in financial difficulties within a few years and sold his rights as King’s Printer to Bonham Norton and John Bill. Years of expensive and acrimonious litigation followed; both Norton and Barker were to end their days in debtors’ prisons.

The Geneva and to a much lesser extent the Bishops’ Bible continued to be printed occasionally by Barker and his successors for the remainder of the decade, but by the time of Charles I’s accession in 1625 they had largely disappeared from bookshops. The King’s printers had a monopoly on Bible printing, and it was natural that they produced only the King’s Bible.

From the collection of Francis Fry (1803-1886)
Crown copyright

Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626)
A sermon preached before His Majestie at White-Hall on the 24 of March last,being Easter day, and being also the day of the beginning of His Maiesties most gracious reigne
Imprinted at London: By Robert Barker, printer to the Kings most Excellent Maiestie, 1611

Something of the intensity of Andrewes’ interest in words can be gathered from the opening of this sermon, preached in the year of the King James Bible’s first appearance. T.S. Eliot, who famously plundered Andrewes’ 1622 Epiphany sermon for his Journey of the Magi, wrote in 1928: ‘Andrewes takes a word and derives the world from it; squeezing and squeezing the word until it yields a full juice of meaning which we should never have supposed any word to possess’. This metaphysical sensibility, of which Andrewes is perhaps the foremost exponent in prose as Donne is in verse, informs the richly layered language of the King James Bible.

E.12.9(5), leaf A2r


Ely Cathedral buys the King James Bible, 1612-13

Since the King James Bible was not ‘authorised’ but only ‘appointed to be read in churches’, there were not the same fines and penalties for non-compliance that there had been for Henry VIII’s Great Bible.  Possibly Ely Cathedral waited until its previous big Bible (probably the Bishops’ Bible of 1568) had worn out.  The entry in the Cathedral treasurer’s account book reads simply ‘It[em]. For a greate Bible of the latter edition.  50 s[hillings].’ At about the same time the Cathedral purchased five service books for £2 2s. 6d. and an edition of Bishop John Jewel’s works (probably the 1611 edition) for 24s.

MS EDC 3/1/2, accounts Michaelmas 1612-Michaelmas 1613


The Wicked Bible

The Holy Bible [King James Version]
London: Printed at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Maiestie: and by the Assignes of John Bill, 1631

Though misprints are rife in English Bibles of the seventeenth century (and by no means unknown later on), easily the most notorious is that in this handy-sized edition of 1631. The omission of the word ‘not’ from the Seventh Commandment scandalised churchmen in an age when the Church of England was the main institution for the moral guidance of the people. Barker and his partner were fined £300 (over half a million pounds in terms of today’s average earnings) and Barker spent the last decade of his life in a debtors’ prison. Of the original edition of 1000, around a dozen copies survive today.

From the collection of Francis Fry (1803-1886)
BSS.201.C31.6, leaf D4v
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society
Crown copyright

William Kilburne
Dangerous errors in several late printed Bibles, to the great scandal, and corruption of sound and true religion
Finsbury: [s.n.], 1659

Kilburne waged a brief pamphlet war in 1659 against the Parliamentary printers Henry Hills and John Field. The two men had secured a monopoly on Bible printing in 1655, to the great disgust of many others in the trade, more on account of their closeness to Cromwell and other senior figures than the quality and accuracy of their printing.  The Finsbury imprint on the item shown suggests Kilburne may not have been motivated solely by zeal for the purity of scripture; a Finsbury printer, William Bentley, had had his lucrative Bible-printing business destroyed by Hills’ and Field’s monopoly. On the right hand page of the opening shown, Kilburne describes the omissions and misprints in Field’s so-called ‘Unrighteous Bible’. Field’s career as printer to the University of Cambridge is mentioned elsewhere; Henry Hills later achieved the remarkable feat (for one who had held the offices of printer to the Council of State and the Lord Protector) of being appointed joint printer to the restored King Charles II in 1677.

Syn.7.65.103, pp. 6-7

Hugh Broughton (1549-1612)
A censure of the late translation for our churches
[Middelburg: R. Schilders, 1611]

Broughton was one of the most accomplished Hebraists of his day and, on the face of it, ideally suited to take part in the new translation. He had, however, a difficult and cantankerous personality, and lived in self-imposed exile on the Continent, from where he produced a stream of ill-tempered pamphlets. This is unlikely to have endeared him to the learned divines directing the work, and he was not included in any of the translating companies. It is hardly surprising that he was contemptuous of the new version when it appeared.

Emmanuel College, S10.2.43(10), p. [1]
By kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Emmanuel College, Cambridge

The first Cambridge printing

The Holy Bible [King James Version]
[Cambridge]: Printed by Tho. and John Buck, printers to the University of Cambridge, [1629]

The University of Cambridge was almost certainly meditating its own printing of the new translation by 1623; permission was finally granted in April 1629. By that time work on the new edition was doubtless well advanced. The Bible represents something of a gauntlet thrown down to the often carelessly printed London printings. Considerable scholarly effort seems to have gone into producing an authoritative text, and at least 493 changes were made, 447 of which became standard in later editions. The typography was more forward looking in style, and the edition was available on no fewer than seven grades of paper. No further folio edition was produced in Cambridge for nine years.

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
Young.41, title page
Crown copyright


The Unrighteous Bible

The Holy Bible [King James Version]
London: Printed by John Field, Printer to the Parliament, 1653

Almost as incendiary as the Wicked Bible, this tiny edition again omits a crucial ‘not’, this time from after ‘shall’ in I Corinthians chapter 6 verse 9, resulting in the reading ‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?’ Despite the shoddiness of his early work, John Field was elected printer to the University of Cambridge in 1655; he redeemed his reputation with a fine folio Bible in 1659.

Crown copyright

For bookshelf, hand and pocket

The Holy Bible [King James Version]
Imprinted at London: by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Maiestie, 1613
—— —— [Another edition]
Imprinted at London: By Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most excellent Maiestie, 1615
—— —— [Another edition]
Imprinted at London: By Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most excellent Maiestie, 1618

Editions of the King James Bible in quarto, octavo and duodecimo formats. All of these are bound either with editions of the Book of Common Prayer or of Sternhold and Hopkins’s metrical psalter, or both, making a handy manual of Anglican worship.

Crown copyright


Francis Fry (1803-1886)

Francis Fry, Quaker businessman and bibliographer, entered the family firm of J.S. Fry & Sons, chocolate and cocoa manufacturers of Bristol, in 1823. His business interests extended to porcelain-making and typefounding. He studied printing history, especially the bibliography of English printed versions of the Bible, and became a notable collector. His grandfather Joseph Fry was a partner in the firm of typefounders Fry & Pine, and had printed several Bibles of typographical interest. Fry published a number of books in the field of Bible studies, culminating in A bibliographical description of the editions of the New Testament (1878).

Fry was a frequent correspondent with other important collectors. His scholarly reputation was high among his contemporaries, who did not seriously object to his practice of ‘improving’ incomplete Bibles by binding in missing pages taken from other Bibles; he was insistent that his extensive studies of Bible printing ensured that his substitutions came from exactly the same imprints. Modern scholars have discredited some of Fry’s theories, and his enthusiasm for ‘perfecting’ volumes has made bibliographical study of English Bibles more difficult. After Fry’s death an appeal was launched to buy his collection of over 1,200 Bibles for the Bible Society. The appeal was eventually successful, and the collection was acquired by the Society for £6,000 in 1890. The Bible Society Library and Archives were deposited in the University Library in 1985, when the Bible Society moved out of London to its present headquarters in Swindon.


Theodore Fry
A brief memoir of Francis Fry
London: Barclay & Fry, 1887

A privately printed biography of Fry by his son.

BSH.401.21, frontispiece and title page
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society

Francis Fry justifies his practice of making Bible editions complete

Many of the Bibles which Fry acquired lacked leaves, especially title pages or frontispieces. This excerpt from a memorandum by Fry in 1871 was printed at the time of the purchase of the bulk of his collection by the Bible Society in 1890.

Bible Society Archives, MS in BSA/E3/6/2/3
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society


Francis Fry’s notes on the Great Bible

These manuscript notes show the meticulous way in which Fry studied, compared and recorded the five printings of Henry VIII’s Great Bible between 1538 and 1541. Fry’s equally meticulous study of the printings of the King James Bible gave him confidence in his ability to provide the correct leaves to complete some of his copies of the early editions.

MS Add. 9751/1, p. 3
MS Add. 9571/2, p. 19

George Bullen’s valuation of Francis Fry’s collection, 1889

After Fry’s death his collection was valued by George Bullen of the British Museum Library. He valued the books at £7,589. The Bible Society decided that it wished to acquire it, and an appeal was launched to raise the money. Fry’s son Theodore Fry, MP, gave £1,500, and other members of the family donated £200, so that, as Bible Society Librarian William Wright wrote in a subscription leaflet in 1889, ‘the actual cost of the library has been £4,300.’ The collection was acquired by the Bible Society in 1890.

Bible Society Archives, MS in BSA E3/6/2/3
By kind permission of the Trustees of Bible Society

Arthur William Young (1852-1936)

Arthur Young, barrister and bibliophile, was the second son of Charles Baring Young, and grandson of Sir Charles Baring Young, 1st Baronet, whose wife was Emily Baring. His father was a partner in Baring Brothers Bank from 1843 to 1867, and on their father’s death in 1882, Arthur and his elder brother Charles Edward Baring Young (1850-1928) inherited great wealth.

Arthur Young was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, and was called to the Bar in 1890. He had a house in Hyde Park Terrace, London, and it was there that he built up and housed his remarkable library. He was unknown as a bibliophile and book-collector, since he did not attend sales, and those who acted for him or saw his collection kept the secret. In 1928 he inherited the Daylesford estate in Gloucestershire from his brother Charles. It came as a considerable surprise to the University Library when in 1933 Young made the offer of his collection through his cousin Sir Hilton Young (later the 1st Lord Kennet). The Chairman of the Library Syndicate, Arthur Hutchinson, called it ‘probably the most valuable benefaction … from any private individual in the long course of our Library’s history’. It comprised 150 Bibles, both manuscript and printed. Twenty-seven of the printed books were incunables, including the Gutenberg or 42-line Bible of c. 1455, of which the Library had not hitherto possessed a copy. There were also seventeen Western manuscripts and a manuscript of the Qur’an. Young was a notable collector of coins and medals, and he bequeathed 4,649 specimens to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1936, along with many of his pictures, engravings, porcelain and jade.

William Tyndale (d. 1536), trans.
The Newe Testament of oure saviour Jesus Christe
London: By [S. Mierdman for] Rycharde Jugge, [1553]

A native of Waterbeach and alumnus of Eton and King’s College, Richard Jugge first printed this revised version of Tyndale’s New Testament in 1551. Almost twenty years after Tyndale’s death copies of his translation were now being produced under license from the King and with his portrait on the title page; it is noticeable, however, that the translator is not named. One of the finest English printers of his age, Jugge was later responsible for printing the magnificent Bishops’ Bible in 1558.

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
Young.162, title page

The King’s Primer

[Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) et al.]
The primer, in Englishe and Latyn
Imprinted at London: … by Richard Grafton printer to the Princes grace … M.D.XLV [1545]

Primers or prayer-books for the use of the laity continued to be produced in England after the Reformation, and in 1545 King Henry VIII issued a proclamation announcing the appearance of one standard text for use throughout the kingdom. Archbishop Cranmer was busy during this period with schemes for liturgical revision, and there is little doubt that he was heavily involved with its preparation. The Primer includes what were to become the familiar texts for the Canticles, the Lord’s Prayer and the Litany in the Book of Common Prayer. It was issued in May 1545 in English only, and not until September, after five further English editions had been printed, did this bi-lingual version appear.

From the collection of Arthur Young (1852-1936)
Young.267, leaf b1r

Book of hours, early fifteenth century

This Book of hours of the use of Paris is written in Latin with some French, and includes prayers, devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, penitential psalms, and prayers on going to bed and rising. There are five large illuminations, with much foliage, colour and gilding, of which this opening illustrates the Annunciation in the Matins of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

From the library of the 1st Lord Amherst of Hackney; purchased by Arthur Young in 1906 and presented to the Library by him in 1933
MS Add. 6690, f. 25r

Hilton Young to Alwyn Scholfield, 11 July 1933

Sir Edward Hilton Young (1st Lord Kennet, 1935) was a cousin of Arthur Young, and, as this letter shows, acted as intermediary between the University Library and the elderly, infirm but mentally resilient collector Arthur Young, who would brook no interference in his financial affairs. Alwyn Faber Scholfield (1884-1949) was University Librarian from 1923 to 1949.

MS UA, Library correspondence, 1933


Arthur Young to Harry Creswick, 23 October 1933

Mr Scholfield was seriously ill at the time of Young’s benefaction, and so arrangements for the reception of the collection were deputed to Harry Richardson Creswick (1902-88), then an Assistant Under-Librarian and later University Librarian (1949-67). The moving of the collection was done by Quaritch’s, antiquarian booksellers of London. In this letter, Creswick had sent Young a list of books not yet received in Cambridge; Young, at Daylesford, does his best to recall them.

MS UA, Library correspondence, 1933


Arthur Young to Hilton Young, 15 November 1933

Mr Creswick had received the Bibles, books of hours, primers, prayer books and manuscripts, and they were now in the Library. Arthur Young played down the value of his benefaction, and predicted that his books would find little use: ‘My Holiday was spent chiefly in arranging my Books till … they were taken away to Cambridge University Library there to remain in peace and calmness untroubled by nothing except mice till the end.’

MS Kennet 63/5