Vol. 11 (2022): Works and Traditions: Early Modern Encounters
Part Two - Case Studies

'till death us do part’. The Afterlife of Early Modern Religious English

John Denton
University of Florence

Published 2022-03-24


  • AVolatry,
  • Book of Common Prayer (BCP),
  • Church of England (C.of E.),
  • King James Bible (KJB),
  • Thomas Cranmer

How to Cite

Denton, J. (2022). ’till death us do part’. The Afterlife of Early Modern Religious English. Journal of Early Modern Studies, 11, 39–64. https://doi.org/10.13128/jems-2279-7149-13428


In 2011 and 2012 two important anniversaries were commemorated by church services, sermons, round tables, conferences and documentaries, during which hyperbolic acclamation (aka AVolatry) was showered on the so-called King James Bible (KJB), also known as the Authorized Version (AV), on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of its publication (1611) and the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of its last official edition (1662), which is still in use (if so desired). Tributes were paid to the translators of the Bible and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who is considered to be the main author of the 1549 and 1552 editions, upon the latter of which subsequent editions published after his execution are based. These cornerstones of the liturgy of the Church of England, which, until the early nineteenth century, was the predominant church in the land, were claimed to have made an enormous contribution to the development and embellishment of the English language. However, one of the main aims of this article is to argue that this contribution deserves more critical scrutiny. When these two texts first appeared, the BCP in 1549, imposed on an unwilling people in place of the traditional Latin liturgy, was challenged by a serious rebellion, which was crushed with extreme violence by government forces. The KJB was considered to be nothing more than a new edition of the last (1602) printing of the Bishops’ Bible; in the words of the translators themselves: ‘… we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one … but to make a good one better’. The consecration of these two texts as ‘timeless classics’ was largely the work of the nineteenth century. In the second half of the twentieth century they were mostly replaced by contemporary versions. The ‘thou God’ has become the ‘you God’