London: Richard Jugge, 1568
Two English versions of the Bible were readily available in the early 1560s: the Great Bible first issued in 1539 and the Geneva Bible released in 1560. The Church of England was endorsing the Great Bible, but the Geneva Bible was far more popular. Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 to his death in 1575, did not consider the Geneva Bible appropriate for liturgical use. He also knew that the Great Bible was far from perfect and decided to launch a thorough revision of its text. He assembled a committee of about 40 bishops and well-known scholars and instructed them to correct the Great Bible when it misrepresented the Hebrew and Greek texts, to consult two recent Latin translations of the Hebrew Bible, and to stay away from polemics in their notes. The revision was published in September 1568 and remained the standard text of the Anglican Church until the publication of the King James Bible in 1611. It is known as the Bishops’ Bible.
The title page of the Bishops’ Bible is dominated by a portrait of Queen Elizabeth in full regalia, with crown, ermine, scepter, and orb. A Latin inscription identifies her as “Queen of England, France, and Ireland by the Grace of God, Defender of the Faith, etc.” Symbols of royal authority occupy the upper and lower bands of the image. Above the portrait a canopy shelters the heraldic lion of England, the royal arms and the arms of Ireland and Wales. At the bottom of the page the heraldic dragon of Wales sustains the center of a tablet inscribed with a Latin quote from Romans 1:16. The lion and the dragon make a second appearance in the title page as they help support the tablet. The biblical text alludes to God’s power: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe.” Two female figures identifiable as Charity and Faith flank Elizabeth’s portrait and seem to suggest that she completes the trio of Christian virtues as Hope.
The title page with Elizabeth’s portrait and its symbolic imagery implicitly proclaims the status of the Bishops’ Bible as an authorized version to be used throughout the kingdom. It confers prestige and legitimacy upon the edition and connects it with a queen who is both a monarch and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.