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The Great Bible, probably Henry VIII’s own copy

Thomas Cromwell’s injunctions of September 1538 required every parish to purchase a copy of an English Bible and place it in ‘some convenient place’ for all to see and read. To meet this demand, the Great Bible, so called because of its size, was put into production. 

Six editions followed, with more than 9,000 copies printed by 1541. The woodcut title page was therefore an unmissable opportunity to communicate a visual message about the new Royal Supremacy to every English parishioner. The theme of the illustration visually underscores Henry VIII’s position as the head of the Anglicana Ecclesia, receiving the Word directly from God. 

By tracking the repeating motif of the Verbum Dei (the Word of God), every English man or woman could witness the flow of authority from God to Henry, descending thence to the clergy and to the local parish congregation via Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury, on the left, and to the nobility through Thomas Cromwell on the right. 

This particular Bible with its coloured title page was very probably Henry VIII’s personal copy.

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