Leicester scholar’s Bible ushers in new royal chapter (and verse)

Photo: Neil Turner for Lambeth Palace.

The Bible that His Majesty King Charles will use to recite the Coronation Oath is a special edition edited by a University of Leicester scholar to mark the 400th anniversary of the popular King James Authorised Version.

Professor Gordon Campbell prepared the Quatercentenary Edition of the King James Bible in 2011, designing it to be as close to the original text as possible. The King James Authorised Version is believed to be the King’s favoured version.

Oxford University Press (OUP) has been commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury to produce the Coronation Bible to be used by His Majesty King Charles III at Westminster Abbey on 6 May 2023. The Coronation Bible will play a significant role in the ceremony, with the King set to place his hand upon it while reciting the Coronation Oath.

The Bible produced for His Majesty's Coronation will feature typesetting based on the Quatercentenary Edition of the King James Authorized Version, published by OUP to mark the 400th anniversary in 2011. The Quatercentenary Edition was chosen for the Coronation to celebrate the significance of the translation, as well as to highlight its pivotal role in the histories both of the English language and of the United Kingdom.

Professor Gordon Campbell, Emeritus Professor and Fellow in Renaissance Studies at the University of Leicester, said: “Over the centuries the King James Version has been quietly updated, with spelling modernised, cross-references added, etc. I decided to publish an edition that was as close to the original as possible, but in roman type, which is much easier to read than the black letter ('Gothic') type of the original. I therefore reproduced the original pagination and a text (with all its 350 misprints) that was line by line, word by word and letter by letter the same as the 1611 Bible. It is as close as one could possibly get to the 1611 text. 

“It has for centuries been the traditional and much-loved Bible of the Church of England and the people of England. Think, for example, of Thomas Macaulay (a Leicestershire man!): ‘if everything else in our language should perish’, the King James Version ‘would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power’.

Photo: Neil Turner for Lambeth Palace.

“In the first instance we printed 500 copies, but Education Secretary Mr Gove showed it to Prime Minister Mr Cameron, and they ordered 23,000 copies, one for every school in England. The Coronation is its second surprise.

“The Bible is woven into the fabric of Coronations. It serves two functions. First, in the section of the Order of Service called 'The Presentation of the Bible', the Moderator of the Church of Scotland will present the Bible to the King and say 'Sir: to keep you ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, receive this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.' This presentation dates back to the Coronation of William and Mary in 1689. 

“Second, in the section that follows, 'The Oath', 'the King places his hand on the Bible and the Archbishop administers the Oath'.”

Hand-bound in leather and decorated in gold leaf by renowned bookbinding company, Shepherds, Sangorski & Sutcliffe, the intricate design of the binding—a collaboration between OUP and the binders—draws inspiration from both historic Coronation Bibles and His Majesty's love of the natural world.

The Coronation Bible used in the service will be retained by the Archbishop of Canterbury and placed in Lambeth Palace’s archive alongside their collection of all four twentieth-century Coronation Bibles. OUP will then produce three identical copies; the King’s personal copy, which will be given to him as a gift, and a further two to be placed in the archives of Westminster Abbey and Oxford University Press’s head office in Oxford.