‘My chefest juel’: Edward VI’s copy of the Wycliffite bible

This fifteenth-century copy of the Wycliffite translation of the Bible is enriched with ornamented title-pages and illuminations inserted in 1550, including this vellum leaf. On the recto, is painted in large gold capitals: ‘EDOVERDVS SEXTVS’. Probably prepared for the young monarch himself, this text was used by Richard Crowley in preparing his printed edition of the General Prologue, which proudly declared on its title page that the volume lay in ‘the kyng hys maiesties Chamber’. The verso, shown here, attests to the renewed importance that lollard texts acquired in the context of the early English Reformation, when Protestants anxiously sought evidence that their religion was not lately invented but had a long and respectable pedigree. The founder of a medieval movement that provided evangelicals with a much needed precedent, John Wyclif had already begun to enter into legend. This bible contains several marks of ownership, stretching from 1519 to 1571. Reflective of the special status of the book to its successive possessors, the most poignant is this bequest by a notable Protestant gentlewoman:

Sethen I knowe my lyf is short
And that my book and I must part
To you my dere and faythful frende
My chefest juel I doo comend
Your pooer and faythful frend in the Lord, Elyzabeth Tyrwhyt. AW

Holy Bible, Wycliffite translation, 15th century.

CUL: MS Mm.ii. 15, fo. 274v

Further Reading

Margaret Aston, ‘John Wyclif’s Reformation Reputation’, in her Images and Reformers (London, 1984), pp. 253-4.

Ann Hudson, ‘“No Newe Thyng”: The Printing of Medieval Texts in the Early Reformation Period’, in D. Gray and E. G. Stanley (eds), Middle English Studies Presented to Norman Davies (Oxford, 1983), pp. 153-74.

John Purvey, The true copye of a prolog wrytten about two C. yeres paste by Iohn Wycklife … the originall whereof is founde written in an olde English Bible bitwixt the olde Testament and the Newe. Whych Bible remaynith now in ye Kyng hys maiesties chamber (London: [Richard Grafton for] Robert Crowley, [1550]).

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