Notes of a king and a contract with a pickpocket found on an ancient Bible

© Lambeth Palace Library
© Lambeth Palace Library

Analysis of the Latin Bible, published in 1535 on the printing machine of Henry VIII Tudor, has allowed scientists to discover amazing notes, in English, made in the times of the Reformation in the XVI century. The Reformation started a radical change in England, resulting in the Roman Catholic Church losing its rule over the Church of England.

The Bible was stored in the library of Lambeth Palace, which is the official London residence of the Bishop of Canterbury. It is one of the seven copies, which survived till this day.

““We know virtually nothing about this unique Bible – whose preface was written by Henry himself – says Dr Eyal Poleg, a historian from Queen Mary University of London. The challenge was how to uncover the annotations without damaging the book.”

For purposes of the research, the historian recruited Graham Davis, a specialist in the field of 3D visualization. Using a light sheet, which was slid beneath the pages, they took two images in long exposure – one with the light sheet on and one with it off. The first image found two notes made on the printing and the second – only printing. Davis created a program that allowed to „show up“ notes.

Henry VIII
Henry VIII

„These remarks were inspired by “The Great Bible” of Thomas Cromwell, which is considered the epitome of the English Reformation – says the historian. – They were written in approximately 1539-1549, and then, in 1960, were concealed with thick paper.“

The quotations actually duplicate the Latin words in English. Therefore the notes were actually a translation. Poleg notes the fact that these observations support the hypothesis that the Reformation was a long and gradual process.

„Until recently, it was customary to believe that the Reformation was a Rubicon for the church, completely separated Protestants by the Catholic church, then church services began to lead not Latin but English – he continues. – This Bible remains a unique testimony of the times when conservative reformist Latin and English were used together. So Reformation was slow, complex and gradual process. “

On the back page Poleg uncovered a hidden, handwritten transaction between two men: Mr. William Cheffyn of Calais, and Mr. James Elys Cutpurse (pickpocket) of London. The transaction states that Cutpurse promised to pay 20 shillings to Cheffyn, or else he would go to the notorious prison Marshalsea.

Poleg also clarified that Elys was hanged in July 1152. Thus the scientist was able to determine the time when the book was – it’s not likely to have happened after the death of James Elys.