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Early Printed Bibles - in English - 1525-1534

The British Library holds one of the richest collections of Bibles printed in English in the world.

The development of the Bible in English is traced in several widely available histories, for example David Daniell's The Bible in English (2003). The standard bibliography in the field is A.S. Herbert's 1968 revision of Darlow and Moule's Historical catalogue of printed editions of the English Bible, 1525-1961 (see Selected Bibliography).

In the descriptions below, only selected copies of first editions are listed. We may hold further copies, some of which may be imperfect or are examples of variant printing. Later editions will also be held. These can be found by searching Explore the British Library or the English Short Title Catalogue.

Page from William Tyndale's New Testament

Page from William Tyndale's New Testament (Worms, 1526). BL shelfmark: C.188.a.17. Copyright © The British Library Board

The earliest printed Bibles in the English language were produced overseas. Until well into the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547), and again during the reign of Queen Mary (1553-1558), the printing of scripture in English was prohibited. The names and locations of those responsible for printing them were not therefore always clearly identified. 

The first extensive biblical text to be printed in English was the Tyndale New Testament. William Tyndale (1494?-1536) was a priest and scholar who translated the New Testament from the original Greek. Printing began in Cologne (Germany) in 1525, but was interrupted when Tyndale was forced to flee southwards to the city of Worms. Printing of the New Testament then began again and was completed in 1526. The British Library holds:

  • The only known copy of the uncompleted edition (the 'Cologne Fragment'), 31 leaves, which includes Tyndale's Prologue, a woodcut of St Matthew, and chapters i-xxii of Matthew's Gospel [G.12179; facsimile at 3050.ee.21];
  • A hand-coloured copy of the complete work printed in Worms by Peter Schoeffer in 1526, but without its title-page [C.188.a.17]; this is usually on view in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library; it is one of only two complete copies known to have survived, the other being at the Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart (Germany);
  • Copies of Tyndale's translation of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) printed at Malborow in the lande of Hesse (but in fact Antwerp) by Hans Luft (i.e. Johan Hoochstraten) in 1530 [G.12161; C.23.a.2 (imperfect)].

More information can be found at Online Gallery: William Tyndale.