Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Bibles for Two Queens

Elizabeth dei gratia... 17th century(?). Folger.

Joseph Nutting. Anna d. gratia... Folger.

Elizabeth I, last of the Tudors, reigned from 1558 to 1603. Anne, last of the Stuarts, reigned from 1702 to 1714. The ghosts of these two queens hover across the Folger’s exhibition hall in the form of their great Bibles, on display together for the first time as part of the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.

I had long known about the Folger copy of the Bishops’ Bible bound for Elizabeth I, but not about the King James Version bound for Queen Anne. There they are, facing each other, in all their weighty red and blue splendor.

Bishops' Bible. 1568. Folger.

Two years after Elizabeth came to the throne, English Protestants on the Continent published the Geneva Bible. Although it was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, her bishops didn’t much like the numerous marginal annotations, so Matthew Parker, Elizabeth’s Archbishop of Canterbury, organized a new translation. This is usually called the Bishops’ Bible because it was mostly translated by bishops from the Church of England. (For more details about early English Bibles, see The Road to Hampton Court on the Manifold Greatness website.)

The copy on display, published in 1568, was designed as a presentation copy from Archbishop Parker to Elizabeth, whose youthful portrait graces the title page. Bound in red velvet with silver-gilt bosses decorated with Tudor roses, and a central bosse featuring a crown and the initials EL RE for Elizabeth Regina, it also features hand-colored woodcuts of Elizabeth’s chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and of her favorite courtier, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. Elizabeth liked a little “color” in her private chapel—she kept a silver cross and two candlesticks on the altar and preferred her priests to serve in proper vestments—so this Bible would have fit in perfectly.

Queen Anne's Bible. 1701. Folger.

Fast forward about 130 years. The 1611 translation of the Bible commissioned by Elizabeth’s successor (and Anne’s great-grandfather) King James I was still the “official” version of the Church of England. A copy of the 1701 edition of this massive volume was bound especially for Queen Anne around 1705, not long after her accession. The binder was Robert Steel, and he did the queen proud—dark blue goatskin blind-stamped with a floral design, with the queen’s arms in gold on front and back and two large blue silk ties trimmed with gold tassels.

Like her distant cousin, Elizabeth, Anne survived religious tumult. Though her father, mother, and stepmother were all Catholics, Anne was raised in the Church of England at the behest of her uncle, King Charles II. When her father, James II, lost the throne in the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 because of his Catholic leanings, Anne had only to wait her turn to succeed her sister and brother-in-law, the Protestant Mary and William. After Anne’s reign, the Church of England was firmly established, and these two massive and ornate Bibles help to tell its story.

Georgianna Ziegler is the Louis B. Thalheimer head of reference at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

2 responses

  1. Julia

    A typo here – Anne’s uncle was Charles II, not Charles I …

    November 10, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    • Thanks, Julia, for spotting that and letting us know! Much appreciated. It should be right now.

      November 10, 2011 at 9:17 pm

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