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The Bishops' Bible and the Church of England, 1560-1640



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Spillane, Harry 


This dissertation examines a hitherto neglected version of the English Bible: the Bishops’ Bible. First printed in 1568 at the behest of Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury, the version remained in use in churches until the publication of the King James Bible in 1611. Widely rejected as a ‘bad’ translation by historians, this dissertation seeks to understand its creation, use, and place in the Elizabethan Church.

The first part of this dissertation explores the making of the Bishops’ Bible, paying attention to its paratextual and illustrative features, rather than its translation. It reveals the ways in which these features worked as a part of Matthew Parker’s antiquarian projects and shows how the illustrative scheme responded to, and shaped, early Elizabethan visual culture.

The second part of this dissertation explores how the Bishops’ Bible was used. The works of the Protestant polemicist William Fulke, and his Catholic opponent Gregory Martin, are used to unravel how the Bishops’ Bible was engaged with and defended throughout the polemical debates which followed the publication of the English Catholic New Testament in 1582. Parish accounts are employed to illuminate how, and when, the version entered parish churches, and a survey of copies of the Bishops’ Bible is used to explore how readers engaged with the version. The title pages and printed forms (size, illustration, paratextual features, and type) of Bishops’ and Geneva Bibles from across the period are also explored to help illuminate how the Bishops’ Bible was used alongside the Geneva Bible. Consequently, the Bishops’ Bible is shown to have been more than just a ‘bad’ folio bible.

Ultimately, this dissertation contends that the Bishops’ Bible made significant, but hitherto overlooked, contributions to Elizabethan religious culture and that it should be seen as a symbol of royal and episcopal authority.





Walsham, Alexandra


Archbishop Matthew Parker, Bible Illustration, Bishops' Bible, Church of England, English Bible, English Reformation


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge Faculty of History and Peterhouse