Last year the Parker Library acquired a volume that once belonged to Archbishop Matthew Parker: the Apocrypha from the Bishops’ Bible. Curiously enough, it looks like it was never meant to be housed in the Library, as it was not among the books Parker bequeathed to the College. Instead, it was bought from a Sotheby’s auction, and now represents the newest, and arguably most obscure, item of the collection. As it is part of a five-volume set of the Bible, one would perhaps expect it to be a voluminous tome, but in reality it is instead rather little (203x145mm). A lavishly decorated binding makes up for its modest dimensions, presenting gold-stamped foliage and gauffered edges. It also contains one of the most puzzling features of the volume: two initials on both front and back boards, reading ES. Despite the efforts of more than one scholar, these are still waiting to be deciphered (and the Library welcomes any suggestions…!). These are also specific to our copy: the other three traceable volumes of the set (at the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, and the private collection of the Duke of Rutland) do not present any initials embossed on their bindings.
Unfortunately, we only know very little about our book since it left Parker in 1575, but some clues of its whereabouts can be traced thanks to the annotations found on its flyleaves and contents page. These seem to suggest that it was in Oxford between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, as one signature reads ‘:Jo: :Prideaux:’, which likely refers to John Prideaux, rector of Exeter College (1578-1650), and another is ‘Robert Gregory C.C.C. Oxon.’, which refers to a student of Corpus Christi College (1819-1911). Given Prideaux and Gregory’s scholastic interest, it is only fitting that they would own a book such as the Apocrypha (although there is no evidence to suggest they knew it was indeed Parker’s own copy!).
Since the American volumes do not have the same signatures, the set probably split at an early stage, but it is impossible to say why and when. In fact, not much more is known of the dwellings of the book prior to Prideaux, or between him and Gregory. One may speculate that Parker left it to his son John, as some (unnamed) books are listed in Parker’s will as part of John’s inheritance. John also had a connection with Christ Church, Oxford, which may explain how the book travelled from one city to the other. The book then must have left the city (possibly) around the end of the nineteenth century, as our Fellow Librarian, Dr Christopher de Hamel, identified the bookplate on the inside of the front board as being that of the Marquess of Crewe (1858-1945), who had no obvious connections to Oxford. One last clue may be hiding behind a very faint inscription just under Gregory’s signature, dated 1794. But for now, we can only hope to keep adding pieces to this fascinating jigsaw.