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Payette Bible Series — 1611 King James “HE” Bible
Tenth installment in Forsyth resident's remarkable collection
A close-up of this flawless woodcut New Testament Title Page in the first King James Bible 1611. Even when corrected and reissued in 1613, they continued to use the 1611 title page inserted into the now 1613 edition in order to salvage this expensive page. Notice the intricate detail to this amazing woodcut with the 12 tribes of Israel on the left side and the 12 apostles on the right. This was an extremely expensive work to create and was reused by all King James Bibles for the next 40 years. And note the use of Hebrew lettering on the top of the page. Also notice there is no mention of a license granted for this work. Yes, you may be surprised to learn that what we now refer to as the “authorized edition,” which was in fact commissioned by the king, was never actually authorized upon release. - photo by Micah Green

About this series

Charles Payette’s Bible collection — numbering more than 3,000 books, wood blocks and other rare artifacts — is considered one of the world’s finest and rarest in private hands. In fact, some books in his collection are the only known ones in existence. Over the next several weeks, the Forsyth County resident is offering a closer look at some of the Bibles.



Watch a video of Charles Payette talking about the 1611 King James “HE” Bible.


Next week

In the 11th of a 12-part series on the Payette Bibles, the FCN will offer a look at a 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

FORSYTH COUNTY — So many people think the King James Bible was the first English Bible, but those who have followed the Forsyth County News ongoing series on resident Charles Payette’s Bible collection are well aware that’s not the case.

During Queen Elizabeth’s long 44-year reign from 1559-1603, readers will recall that the primary Bible read and studied throughout England was the Geneva Bible, although a few editions of the Catholic Bishop’s Bible were circulated beginning in 1568. 

The early Reformers continued their work throughout Europe as they rebelled against the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.

English Puritans also had grievances against the Church of England, including wanting the state (i.e., the royals) to have less power, or none at all, when it came to matters of the church.

When Queen Elizabeth died in March 1603, it was decided James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Stewart, would travel to England and unite the kingdoms of England and Scotland as King James I.

The Puritans knew of King James’ strong Presbyterian upbringing, thus were hopeful he would support their desire for reforms. Unfortunately for them, King James despised the Geneva Bible and believed in absolute royal authority and control, including in matters of the church.

It is interesting to note that the word “Tyrant” is mentioned more than 400 times in The Geneva Bible, but no such mention remained in the subsequent King James version.

As James traveled to England to be crowned king, his journey was interrupted by a delegation of Puritans who presented him with the “Millenary Petition.” It contained numerous grievances and reforms they hoped their new king would approve.

While King James may not have liked the Puritans, he was smart enough to know he should not ignore or dismiss the petition, which had been signed by 1,000 members of the clergy from across England.

King James took the petition seriously enough to convene the Hampton Court Conference at the luxurious 1,000-room estate outside of London. Four Puritans were invited to come and voice their concerns and hopes for reform.

King James gave the opening speech and it became clear immediately that he felt strongly about protecting his own authority and that of the current state of the church. In other words, he had no sympathy for the Puritans.

King James once said, “Kings are justly called gods for they exercise a manner of resemblance of divine power upon earth.”

It was suggested by the Puritans that a new translation of the Bible be created and King James agreed. While he had no real issue with the scriptural translation of the Geneva Bible, the king sorely hated the marginal notes that accompanied it.

The notes included numerous comments that were offensive to many, including charges against the Catholic Church, among other inflammatory claims against authority, including the king’s power structure itself.

King James assembled 54 of the most educated and renowned scholars of the day and commissioned them to write a new translation of the Bible. Even the number of translators most scholars believe was carefully conceived.

There were six companies (groups) established. Six is the number of the trinity (three) multiplied by the number of testaments (two).

Each company consisted of eight members, giving a total of 48 translators under the supervision of six directors. Perhaps a mere coincidence, but 48 is the number of apostles (12) multiplied by the number of evangelists (four). 

During the years 1604-09 the Bible was assembled. Readers should note that the scholars used the very Bibles we have been examining from Payette’s collection, including the Tyndale Bible (N.T.), the Matthews Bible, the Great Bible and the Geneva Bible.

The translators were told to primarily use the 1602 Bishops Bible as a guide (the first Bible Payette ever purchased for his private collection), but they consulted the many others due to their superb translations.

The King James Bible went to press in 1610 and in 1611 the first one rolled off the printing press, by Robert Barker, known as “The Kings Printer.”

The 1611 King James “HE” Bible from Payette’s collection is extremely rare. Called the “HE” Bible because of a typographical error from Ruth 3:15 when the text reads “He went into the citie,” and should have read “SHE.”

Printing was halted once the error was discovered and it took more than two years to reassemble the edition, which was then released in its corrected edition in folio in 1613, while quarto editions were released a year earlier in 1612.

The 1613 edition maintains the 1611 date on the New Testament title page and many 1611 editions were simply rebound with the 1613 general title.

A worldwide census conducted in 2010 by Donald Brake in honor of the 400-year anniversary of the King James Bible determined that of the estimated 500 copies printed there are 137 known to exist in various states, with just 17 of those in private hands.

Just what made this translation so impressive and eventually so popular that it remains the most important single work in the history of English literature?

In short, it was the language. The translators succeeded — albeit benefiting from their brilliant predecessor translators — in the rhythm, imagery, structure and cadence to produce a true masterpiece.

Payette’s copy collates 100 percent complete and perfect. His copy also contains the complete genealogies of Holy Scriptures and a Map, both by John Speed. Readers may remember his amazing map from the seventh part of the Payette Bibles series.

Speed was the most famous and accomplished cartographer, or map maker, of the 17th century. His maps and genealogies were included in most of the early King James Bibles and many of the post 1611 Geneva Bibles as well.

As with all of Payette’s Bibles, besides being rare and in incredible museum quality condition, the books have fascinating provenances.

This Bible belonged to the Biblical scholar Francis Fry, who later gave it to Mr. Edmonds in Cotham, Bristol in 1869.

After thoroughly studying this copy, Fry was able to confirm the authenticity of this rare “HE” Bible as 100 percent correct and perfect which, once again, contains no mixed leaves from the four subsequent massive folio editions (1613, 1617, 1634, 1639/40).

Fry determined there are more than 300 different indicators in his research that one can use to discern the edition. Keep in mind, all five editions are similar in size and number of lines with only minor variations to content.

Irrespective of the incredible religious significance, you are viewing a first edition of the most popular selling book in the history of the world with more than a billion copies in circulation.

Sadly, there are just two more weeks in the FCN’s Bible series, so make sure to read next week when we will examine a 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Besides being one of the most sought-after books in the world, it remained unedited for the next 300 years and caused the “Great Ejection.” The royal provenance is sure to astound you.