From the Vault: Bishops' Bible

Fri, 03/03/2017 - 11:41am -- mfarias

The Bishops' Bible (1752)

The Redwood Annals have helped us recall valuable works in our collection that have been forgotten over time. We recently rediscovered with the Annals a list of books donated by Robert Johnston, who was very involved in the Library during his time in Newport. While many of them were rare and all of them were quite old, it was the first book on the list that caught our attention: “The Great or Bishops’ Bible. (Black letter.) 1572.” Donated by Johnston during a period in which the Library was still attempting to recover its losses from the Revolutionary War, Johnston’s donation was an example for other Newporters to follow, working to create a cultural knowledge center once again at the Redwood.


A look inside the Bishops' Bible

The Bishops’ Bible is an English translation of the Bible that was translated by command of Royal authority by the Church of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in 1568. It was produced under the superintendence of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. The whole Bible was distributed among fifteen persons, eight of whom were bishops (hence the name), for translation. After they had finished their individual translations, it was sent as a whole to Biblical critics. Once this last stage was complete, it was returned to the Archbishop for his final examination. The work was substantially revised in 1572, the year given to the copy of the Bible in our collection. A later edition, completed in 1602, was prescribed as the base text for the King James Bible that was finished in 1611.


The initials of William, Bishop of Exetor 

Our copy of the Bishops’ Bible had lost the commencement of the Old Testament and the end of the New Testament by the time it was given to us. Most notably, it is missing the title page, which would generally bear the evidence of its edition date. There were, happily, enough clues that characterize the early editions of the work for early librarians to confirm that this was a copy of the Bishops’ Bible from 1572. At the end of the Pentateuch, for example, are printed the initials “W.E.” for William Alley, Bishop of Exeter. The Archbishop wrote a letter to Sir William Cecil confirming the identity behind those initials. This was the portion of the Bible that was translated by Alley. 


The Archbishop's shield from the Preface to the New Testament

In the preface to the New Testament, the Archbishop inserted his own shield bearing a phrase he inherited from his father. On either side of the shield are the letters “M” and “P,” for Matthew Parker. The most notable part of this shield is towards the bottom, where the separated numbers read “15-72,” a note to the edition’s date in which he has inserted this marker. There is a lot of decoration, particularly in the Old Testament of this Bible, but this shield at the beginning of the New Testament is the most useful to us today.


The Newport Mercury article, which was pasted onto the inside of the front cover of the Bible

While the Bible is interesting in its own right, the article that appeared in the Newport Mercury on October 26, 1833 provides insight into the mindset of the Library at the time when the book was given. As the article notes near the beginning: “We are given to understand that the proprietors of the Redwood Library are making strenuous endeavors to repair the loss which the Library sustained from the ravages of war, and the dissipation of the choicest treasures, during the eventful period which has marked the history of the country since this Library has been in existence.” There were a lot of ongoing changes in American life at the time when this article was written, but the Redwood was actively trying to restore itself amid all of this. The article comments on the acquisition of the Bishops’ Bible, laying out its value and the process of authentication detailed above, and ends by making an example of Robert Johnston’s gift: “By thus presenting it to the Library, he has safely deposited it where it will be accessible to the scholar, the divine, or whoever takes an interest in investigating truth. Need we call on others to do likewise? “

Explore the online version of the Redwood Annals: here.