Great Bible printed in London

The Byble in Englyshe of the largest and greatest volume

London: Edward Whitchurch, 1541. In-folio

STC (2nd ed.) / 2072. Darlow & Moule (Rev. 1968), 60
STROZIER, Special Collections Vault (double oversize) -- BS1671541. Carothers p. 37  

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-          End of the text of Maccabees. The black-letter typefaces were created in Paris as early as 1504 and 1506 for the printers Simon Vostre and Wolfgang Hopyl.

-          Title-page of the New Testament. As a latter-day Moses Henry VIII receives God’s Word from the translators and passes it down to Thomas Cromwell on the right and to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer on the left, then through the hierarchy of church and state to a numerous populace that repeats “Vivat Rex”- Long Live the King.


The “Great Bible” was so called because of its large format that corresponded to royal injunctions of 1538 demanding that an English Bible “of the largest volume” be set up “in summe convenient place” in every church in the realm. It was sponsored by Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540), Henry VIII’s Vice-Chancellor and edited by Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) in Paris in the shop of the bookseller François Regnault (active 1500-1541) where the printing of the first edition started during the summer of 1538 before being interrupted after an intervention of the French Inquisition. The remainder of the production, as well as the printing material had to be transferred to London where Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch completed 7 editions between 1539 and 1541. Henry VIII’s hostility towards vernacular translations at the end of his reign prevented further editions during his life time. Edward Whitchurch published it again in 1549 and 1553, under Edward VI. Under Elizabeth I it was published in 1560 by J. Cawoode, in 1562 by R. Harrison, in 1566 by R. Camarden, in 1568 and 1569 by J. Cawoode again, before it was definitely supplanted by the Bishop’s Bible.

In the editions published in 1541, such as the 4th edition to which belongs the Strozier copy, the coat of arms of Thomas Cromwell, beheaded in July 1540 after Parliament found him guilty of treason, was cut out of the woodblock of the title-page, leaving a conspicuous blank circle.

The Strozier copy belonged to Francis Fry (1803-1886), businessman, philanthropist and bibliographer, who bequeathed the majority of his extensive collection of early printed Bibles to the British and Foreign Bible Society in Cambridge.