Dedicated to Queen Catherine

Two leaves from the First tome or volume of the paraphrase of Erasmus upon the newe testamente, edited by Nicolas Udall, 'enpriented at London in Fletestrete at the sign of the sunne by Edwarde Whitchurche' in 1548 or 1549 (295 x 197 mm)

The Great Bible was not the only book every parish was required to have on public view. An injunction issued in 1547 in the name of King Edward VI (then aged 10) required every parish to also have an English version of a work produced in Latin by Desiderius Erasmus between 1517 and 1523. This was a paraphrase of the new testament – a rewriting and expansion of the original text intended to make the meaning clearer.

The leading light in bringing an English translation of Erasmus' work to publication seems to have been Henry VIII's sixth wife, Catherine Parr, who even did some of the translation herself. My first leaf carries a dedication of one of the gospels to the 'most excellent and virtuous princesse Quene Catherine' by another of the translators, Thomas Key. It must have been written a year or two before the book came out since Henry VIII, who died in January 1547, is referred to in the present tense. In a crescendo of hyperbole in the first main paragraph Key describes Henry (line 19) as a 'pearle of all Christen princes', probably a view that few of the king's subjects would privately endorse.

My second leaf from this book, found by scrolling down, shows how the paraphrase was presented. Short passages from the Great Bible are printed in small type and described in the margin as 'The texte', followed in larger type by Erasmus' much longer rewording and elaboration.

Parishes were given a time limit to acquire their copies of the Paraphrases and to meet demand – 20,000 copies were needed – the book had to be printed on several presses simultaneously. Variant versions exist therefore, in which the text remains constant but the layout may vary. 

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