Dr. Eyal Poleg, a historian, discovered annotations in England’s first Bible printed in Latin and published in 1535 by Henry VIII’s printer. It is one of seven surviving copies and is housed in Lambeth Palace Library in London.
“At first, the Lambeth copy first appeared completely ‘clean.’ But upon closer inspection I noticed that heavy paper had been pasted over blank parts of the book. The challenge was how to uncover the annotations without damaging the book,” Poleg told Phys.org.
Poleg discovered that the annotations were copied from the famous “Great Bible” of Thomas Cromwell, which is seen as the epitome of the English Reformation.
Poleg says the presence of the writing supports the idea that the Reformation was a gradual process rather than a single transformative event.
“The book is a unique witness to the course of Henry’s Reformation,” he said.
Poleg explained that the Latin Bible was altered to accommodate reformist English and it now serves as a testimony to the 10-year period, 1539-1549, in which England began to move away from the Church of Rome.
“Until recently, it was widely assumed that the Reformation caused a complete break, a Rubicon moment when people stopped being Catholics and accepted Protestantism, rejected saints, and replaced Latin with English,” he explained.
“This Bible is a unique witness to a time when the conservative Latin and the reformist English were used together, showing that the Reformation was a slow, complex, and gradual process,” he said.
The Latin Bible slowly stopped circulating, but Poleg was able to track the subsequent journey of the book.
On the back page he discovered a hidden, handwritten transaction between two men, Mr. William Cheffyn of Calais and Mr. James Elys Cutpurse of London.
Cutpurse, which is medieval English slang for pickpocket, promised to pay Mr. Cheffyn 20 shillings or go to prison.
Dr. Poleg found that Mr. Cutpurse was hanged in Tybourn in July 1552 — a piece of information he deemed significant.
“It allows us to date and trace the journey of the book with remarkable accuracy,” Poleg said. “Our Bible found its way to lay hands, completing a remarkably swift descent in prominence from Royal text to recorder of thievery.”