‘The Guift of my Dear and tender Mother’: an embroidered bible

This King James Bible bound with an edition of the metrical psalms was a precious heirloom passed down through several generations. Its first owner seems to have been the mother of Mary Arbunot, who stitched the embroidered binding. Worked in coloured silks and silver threads, this depicts the allegorical figures of Hope and Faith surrounded by flowers and birds. The copious notes that fill the fly-leaves and loose notes that precede the printed text reveal that, following her mother’s instructions, Mary Arbonut charged her own children with the responsibility of preserving the volume for posterity. Her departure from this life ‘to Enjoy a Blessed Immortality’ in 1707, aged 59, is duly recorded by her son Lemmel Bradley. The tradition was continued by his descendants until 1789, when the Essex surgeon Lemuel Cook signed his name in fulfilment of ‘the desire of my ancient parent’ that the book be kept within the family and gifted to his heirs. The practice of using bibles to register births, marriages and deaths was common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The survival of many such books, some of which were bound with John Speed’s popular set of Old Testament genealogies, reveals how reading Scripture became interwoven with remembering personal lives. AW

The holy bible containing the old testament and the new [King James Version] (London: Robert Barker, 1640), bound with The Whole Book of Psalmes (London: R. Bishop for the Company of Stationers, 1640).

CUL: BSS.201.C.40.5

By kind permission of Bible Society

Further Reading

Femke Molekamp, Women and the Bible in Early Modern England: Religious Reading and Writing (Oxford, 2013).

Alexandra Walsham, ‘Jewels for Gentlewomen: Religious Books as Artefacts in Late Medieval and Early Modern England’, in R. N. Swanson (ed), The Church and the Book (Studies in Church History, 38, Woodbridge, 2004), pp. 123-42.

Jennifer Heller, The Mother’s Legacy in Early Modern England (Farnham, 2011).

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