The Bible in English: John Wyclif to King James VI
A small display of material relating to the King James Bible ran from 2 November 2011 to 8 January 2012.
Our treasures display marked the 400th anniversary of the most famous English translation of the Bible.
The King James Version, published in 1611, is recognised as one of the most significant contributions to written English.
It is the result of almost 200 years of work by scholars, religious reformers and editors to let people read and hear the Bible in their own language.
The path to the King James Version
The path to the printing of the King James Version was anything but smooth.
Along the way, translators and printers had to contend with objection, obstruction and persecution by the authorities.
They weren't helped, either, by the varying religious affiliations of the Tudor monarchs.
As a result, to avoid punishment for heresy, some of them prepared and printed their translation on the Continent.
First edition Bibles on display
In our small display we charted significant milestones on the rocky road to the English Bible.
The highlight of the exhibits from our collections was a first edition of the 1611 King James Version.
Visitors also saw:
- Manuscript versions of John Wyclif's New Testament — one from the 14th century, the other from the 15th
- An 1810 edition of the New Testament Wyclif translated from the Latin in 1380, and which was first printed in 1731
- The only known copy of the 1537 edition of William Tyndale's translation of the book of Jonah
- A 1538 copy of the first complete Bible in English, which Myles Coverdale first published in 1535.
- A copy of the first authorised version of the English Bible. 'Matthew's Bible' was published in Antwerp in 1537 by English editor John Rogers, also known as Thomas Matthew.
- Taverner's Bible, dated 1539, which is named after its editor, Richard Tavener. This is a revised version of Matthew's Bible.
- The Great Bible, a large folio book printed in Paris in 1537 but finished off in London in 1539 after the Inquisition seized most of the copies that had been produced.
- A first edition of the Geneva Bible, translated by Protestants exiled by the English Catholic Queen Mary, and first printed in Geneva in 1560.
- A first edition of the New Testament from the Rheims Bible, the foremost Catholic version of the English Bible. This translation was published in 1582, with the Old Testament published in 1609/1610.
- The Bishops' Bible, a translation by Anglican Bishops published in 1568, with beautiful typography and illustrations.
The treasures display in our George IV Bridge Building is a small sample of the millions of items in our collections. We change the display several times a year.