Sidney celebrates the King James Bible

Sidney has celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible in 1611 with a day of special lectures, readings and music.

The production of the King James Bible is closely tied to Sidney’s early history: two of our first Masters were involved in the process of translation. Professor John Morrill detailed the importance of James Montagu, Sidney's first Master and James I's editor, and Samuel Ward, Montagu's successor but one as Master, who was one of the team of translators.

It was evident, both from John Morrill's talk, and from Professor David McKitterick's presentation of the world of sixteenth and early seventeenth-century publishing, that the King James Bible was entering something of a competitive market, with other translations such as the Geneva Bible remaining in widespread circulation. Whilst the commerce of the King James Bible reflected the economic and political privilege of the King's Printer it was also shaped by the overt politics of James' unifying mission. As Professor McKitterick showed, the pretexts of the King James Bible deliberately reflected the different parts of the Kingdom now united by the Scottish monarch.

That wider political and cultural world was also explored by Kerry McCarthy, Associate Professor of Music at Duke University, through the wider use of various translations, Roman and English, by the composer William Byrd. Byrd composed Catholic and Protestant liturgical music, and published his final collection in 1611. The day was also interspersed with readings from various translations, ranging from English and German to Czech and Swahili, designed to show the process of translation and the broader impact of the King James Bible.

Geoffrey Hill, Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, concluded the lectures, rigorously arguing that the various different translations be seen as the products of their period. Challenging some of the more uncritical reflections on the cultural legacy and 'relevance' that have been made in this quatercentenary year, Professor Hill, returning to themes of the earlier talks, argued that any one of many different translations might have come to assume the status now enjoyed by the King James Version.

The day's proceedings ended with a special Festal Evensong, featuring the music of William Byrd and Thomas Weelkes. The College Choir were joined by the renowned viol consort Fretwork. In his sermon the Pastoral Dean, Peter Waddell, explored the alleged threats to ecclesial and cultural life posed by the translation of the Bible into the vernacular.

You can listen to podcasts of the lectures by following the link to the University's Streaming Media Service.

This is an archived news story, first posted in 2011.

News item posted Sunday, 3rd May 2015

  • Professor David McKitterick
  • Professor David McKitterick