Book of Common Prayer (1699)

The Book of Common Prayer used by the Church of England was first drafted by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and published in 1549, marking the break with the older Latin Catholic rite. According to the Act of Uniformity passed that year, it was to be used in all church services throughout the kingdom. Cranmer produced a more distinctly Protestant version in 1552 during the reign of Edward VI, but subsequent revisions in 1559 and 1662 gave it again a more Catholic turn.

This copy, printed in 1699 (and including the Psalms, 1700), was owned by Mary Knapp, who wrote her name boldly at the top of the title page. The book is only 7.5 inches high, making it easy to hold, and we might imagine that Mary received it as a special gift and carried it with her to church services, where she could have enjoyed looking at the illustrations during long hours in the pew.

The book is now in a modern binding, but it contains 44 engravings that were hand-colored and gilded in the period. The pages are further lined with red ink.

The engravings themselves, depicting biblical scenes, coupled with their bright decoration, indicate a high-church or Laudian influence on this particular edition of the BCP. Such decoration is also more representative of the reigns of Charles II and James II than of the more staunchly-Protestant William, who with Queen Mary succeeded Catholic James at the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. In fact, Bill and Newcomb began printing the BCP around 1678, and one of the editions they produced in that year added illustrative plates and included a portrait of Charles II. In 1691 they produced a copy with engravings by Van de Gucht but these are not the same as the ones used here. By the time Bill brings out this edition of 1699, he is still using engravings but has placed King William’s portrait as the frontispiece. That and the designation “Printers to the Kings Most Excellent Majesty” declare the official ties between church and state; the monarch as “Defender of the Faith.”

Source: Book offered for sale by Andrew Cox Books, 2/28/2020; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

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