The new English liturgy

The Act of Uniformity of 21 January 1549 ordered that the new Book of Common Prayer be in place by Whitsunday, 9 June. Cranmer gave the sermon at its first use in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It was first printed by Edward Whitchurch (7 March), and his business partner Richard Grafton, the King’s Printer (8 March). A revised Book of Common Prayer was authorized by a second Act of Uniformity on 14 April 1552, and after the death of her sister Mary, Elizabeth authorised a third version in 1559, and James I again in 1604. While we often refer to the Book of Common Prayer by the date 1662, this was in fact the fifth major edition. New editions made changes but were also seen in radically different ways. Thus while the 1549 book was considered a travesty of the old religion, by the time of the Civil Wars the Book of Common Prayer was thought of by many as a kind of ‘mass book’ full of ‘popish’ superstition. Such changes in memory are also reflected in formats and sizes of prayer books. The example we see here is probably the smallest ever made. In 64° format, its characters are too tiny to be practical for reading, and its purpose was perhaps as a ‘jewel book’ to be carried on the person as a mark of devotion. For comparison it is shown here alongside a folio version (by the same printer in the same year) for use by the minister in church. BC

The booke of common prayer: with the Psalter or Psalms of David, of that translation which is appointed to be used in churches (London: Robert Barker, 1600), 64°.

CUL: SSS.34.24

The Booke of Common Prayer, and administration of the sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the Church of England (London: Robert Barker, 1600), bound with a 1598 Geneva Bible and a 1591 Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter in English metre, folio.

CUL: Syn.6.60.7

Further Reading

Brian Cummings, ed., The Book of Common Prayer: the Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662 (Oxford, 2013).

Gordon Jeanes, ‘Cranmer and Common Prayer’, in C. Hefling and C. Shattuck (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (New York, 2006), pp. 21-38.

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