Friday, November 19, 2010

Family Bibles

The Center owns two copies of the “Geneva Bible,” one of the most famous English translations of the scriptures and an enormous influence on Renaissance literature and culture, including the plays of William Shakespeare. As is the case with copies of most old “family” bibles, they contain various examples and genres of manuscript annotation, all of which reflect various social roles of the book. The Bible held an important function for the early modern family (as it has for families in many historical periods), building community through sessions of reading aloud while at the same time guiding the moral and spiritual development of its owners. It also served as an important educational site, especially in the development of literacy; MS annotations consisting of “pen trials” and other forms of handwriting practice found in bibles suggest they were used in this way. The typically extensive and personalized annotation of bibles should also come as no surprise since many households of the time owned only one book, usually a Bible, Book of Common Prayer, or John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments.

The Bible : translated according to the Ebrew and Greeke, and conferred with the best translations in diuers languages [Geneva Bible]. Imprinted at London: By the Deputies of Christopher Barker, printer to the Queenes most excellent Maiestie, 1598. 
[2], 434, [4], 441-554 leaves; [164] p. ; 23 cm. (4to). STC (2nd ed.) 2171   

Renaissance Center copy has the New Testament of the 1599 Barker edition; in later mottled calf, in phase box; births and baptisms of the children of Richard Palmer are recorded on 3I2v and *1v (dated 1627-1638); signature of Edmund Pell (1719) on 3I2v; inscribed on front pastedown: "Geoffrey Palmer bought at Lampert [?] March 1857"; given to the Renaissance Center by William A. Ringler.

These notes, written in English secretary hand, record the births of various members of the Palmer family in the 1620s, including Richard (the father), and his daughters Anne, Jone, and Avelina. I believe that Richard Palmer wrote the entries and crossed out the first record, which is essentially the same as the third (the birth of Anne Palmer), except for its incorrect birth times. But there is the also the possibility Richard wanted his own entry to hold the primary position in the family records. 

The first two entries (for Richard and Anne) read as follows:

Richard Palmer the soone of Jefferie
Palmer was baptised the x daye of Iunne
in the yeare of our Lorde 1572

Anne Palmer the Dautter of Richard
Palmer was borne at Winge the ffifth
daye of September beinge Wedsonda[y]
betwixte one and Twelfe a Cloke at
nighte: 1627    

blank leaf with ms family records

The second leaf continues with seventeenth-century Palmer family records, including the birth (and death) of his son Charles, along with the death and burial of Avelina Palmer. The records also contain the names of two godfathers (Sir Anthony Coolly and Roger Palmer) and a later ownership inscription from an Edmund Pell, dated 1719.

The Bible : translated according to the Ebrew and Greeke, and conferred with the best translations in diuers languages [Geneva Bible]. Imprinted at London : By Christopher Barker, printer to the Queenes most excellent Maiestie, 1586. 
[2], 434, [4], 441-554 leaves; [164] p. ;  21 cm. STC (2nd ed.) 2145.   
See catalog record for detailed local notes. 

Our other copy of the Geneva Bible, published in 1586, probably contains one of the greatest chronological ranges of annotation of any books in the collection."Robert White of Babworth," whose ownership inscription appears several times throughout the book, appears to be one of the bible's earliest owners. On leaf containing the "preface to the Christian reader" (shown above), he has added an inscription in the period's secretary hand: "Who soeuer heare in doe looke Robert White."

This leaf contains a number of additional early inscriptions, including two more by Robert White ("Robert White Bookee" and "Robert White Booke"). Nicholas and Francis Kent, two men who owned the book in the later seventeenth century, have also added their names, as has a Thomas Hemsworth. In a faint ink at the bottom of the leaf one can just make out a record related to his son Robert (I cannot determine if this is a record of birth, baptism, or burial): "Robert hemsworth the sonne of Thomas hemsworth [????] the [??] of marche."

I wrote about these manuscript annotations in an earlier post. It consists of yet another ownership inscription by Nicholas Kent, who has added an amusing piece of doggerel verse relating to the book.


The three images above depict a series of leaves containing Hindson family records dating to the eighteenth century. The manuscript annotations are fairly standard for family records in bibles, being very similar to the seventeenth-century notes related to the Palmer family I transcribed above. The second image contains not only the Hindson family records but also inscriptions from the book's earlier ownership history, including "Robert" in Robert White's hand and a gift inscription related to the Kents: "John Kent Book given by his Uncle Richard Kent who was Buryed ye 14th day of Aprill, Anno Domine 1671." The third image contains more of the Hindson records, including one related to a family business: "Began to work with my father July 12 1766."

This image contains some of the book's latest family records, related to the Dawbarn family in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Written in a number of different hands and inks, the annotations record births, marriages, and deaths of family members from the 1820s to the 1910s, including Robert Hugh McKay Dawbarn, described as a "noted surgeon." 

The final image bears a gift inscription dated 15 July 1849, when a "Miss Robinson of Newark, England" presented the bible to "Charles Dawbarn of Wisbeck, England." The remainder of the inscription describes the bible's special place within several families during its history:

"This Bible the comfort of 'a family' for many generations, now passes from the possession of its last survivor, with the earnest prayer, that its blessings may rest upon many succeeding generations."


  1. I should like to see this bible, as Charles Dawbarn was my great great grandfather. is this possible?

    1. I no longer work at this library but yes, you should be able to see this Bible if you are in the Western Massachusetts area. I would contact Jeff Goodhind, the librarian at the Center ( for more information. Glad you found this blog post and glad I decided to revisit it!