Bibles for the Virgin Queen

On the title-page of an edition of the Great Bible published in Rouen in 1566, and ignored by most bibliographers, Queen Elizabeth I (“Elisabetha Regina”) is represented in a pose reminiscent of her portrait in the 1563 edition of the Acts of Martyrs by John Foxe: as a new Emperor Constantine, with an open book and scepter, offering her country the benefits of Godly rule. Rouen, as Caen, was a major source of printed books for the English market all through the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, especially religious and law books. Cardin Hamillon, whose name is mentioned at the end of Tyndale’s prologue Thoughe a man hadde a precyous jewell, in some copies but not the Strozier’s, belonged to a dynasty of Rouen printers. Richard Carmarden, presented as the financer of the edition, could be the member of the Customs administration who warned Elizabeth I of malpractice in this administration in a manuscript text entitled “A Caveat for the Queene” (1570).

Elizabeth ordered that the Great Bible be revised in 1568 by a commission of bishops and scholars under the direction of Archbishop Matthew Parker. This new Authorized Version, which was to be displayed in all cathedral and parish churches of sufficient means, avoided “bitter notes upon any text” in sharp contrast with the Geneva Bible and was constantly republished until 1633, long after the KJV appeared in 1611. It was the last of the large format English Bibles to be lavishly illustrated, with a remarkable engraved portrait of William Cecil, her Secretary of State, represented as no less than King David in initial letter B of Psalm 1.