Taken from a 'Breeches' (Geneva) Bible in my possession, printed in 1610, and used in a display size for the headings of each of the books. This particular Bible contains a notation that it was used by a 'riding preacher,' which meant it was carried around in a horse's saddle-bag and used by a preacher with pastoral responsibilities in scattered rural parishes. It also bears the signature of its first owner, in Elizabethan handwriting. This version, which had been approved in 1560 by Queen Elizabeth I, was in general circulation prior to the King James Version of 1611. The term 'Breeches' comes from Genesis 3:7, in which the translation reads: "Then the eyes of them both [Adam and Eve] were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed figge leaves together, and made themselves breeches."|
It is interesting to think that this particular Bible must have been one of the very few in circulation in the same area and around the same time as when the Pilgrim Fathers (founders of the early American settler colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620) emigrated to Holland. Saxilby, in Lincolnshire, where this Bible came from, according to successive family inscriptions on the flyleaves, is only 18 miles from Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, where the Pilgrims gathered (both village names have Scandinavian origins, being within the 'Dane-Law' territory which was overrun by the Vikings between the 8th and 11th centuries). Perhaps Scrooby was one of the villages visited by the 'riding preacher' on his rounds . . . The Pilgrims almost certainly passed through Saxilby on their way to the east coast, where they sought to escape from governmental interference and oppression in matters of religious observance.
It had been illegal for anyone other than the aristocracy and clergy to privately own a Bible, since it was considered very likely that unlearned persons gaining access to it would be led to gather others around him, to discover that the primal relationship between man and God was mediated only by Jesus Christ, and not by any church or state. Seditious sentiments such as this would, it was realized, lead to political revolution, and upset the whole fabric of feudal society, which was dependant on everyone knowing and (unquestioningly) keeping their place. Women and servants in particular were not allowed to own one, but in any case, it most likely would be far out of the financial reach of a poor person to buy one; besides which, practically no book-shops existed, except those in central London. Books were not usually sold ready-made, as now, but in folded sheets or 'sections,' which were then taken to a book-binder to be sewn together and covered with leather 'boards' in a style which would match the rest of the buyer's library. Devout, scholarly Christians such as John Wycliffe, who sought to make the Word of God available to ordinary people in the English language, risked their lives for doing so, and many believers of an evangelical bent, like the Pilgrims, fled for safety to the European continent, where there was slightly more tolerance for Protestantism. Indeed, Wycliffe was fortunate to die of natural causes, for even after his death the ecclesiastical authorities had his remains dug up and burned, the ashes being thrown into a nearby river. The pedantic King James VI of Scotland, who became King James I of England in 1603 at the death of Elizabeth I, was highly sensitive to any threat to his supreme authority over church and state, and in 1604 convened a committee to produce a version with royally-approved commentaries that would stifle any others. The 'King James' version, dedicated to him, was published in 1611.
This 1610 edition was probably the last version of the Bible to be printed in 'black-letter' or Gothic typeface; roman was used for the side-notes but because the main text was revered as 'holy,' it was seen as more appropriate to mimic the traditional style as had been used in the scriptoriums of monasteries, who for centuries had been producing hand-written Bibles and prayer-books on parchment in the Gothic style. The 1611 King James was typeset throughout in roman, text and all.
The 'Geneva' version, which had been the work of evangelical Protestant scholars in exile in Geneva, Switzerland, was probably the one favoured by the Pilgrim Fathers as they set out for the New World, rather than the King James version (whose overweening worldly authority they were desperately seeking to escape from, under penalty of imprisonment or death). It is sobering to think that many people in those days had literally been willing to die for the right to read and obey the Bible, a privilege which in our time we esteem but lightly. However, apart from bringing literary and spiritual edification, the book itself was sometimes used as a kind of talisman against evil: in 1676, a Massachusetts settler named Wright, "a man of singular and sordid Humour" refused to enter the garrison house as the town of Rehoboth was being attacked by Indians, being convinced that if the Bible was in his hands he would be free from violence, but "the Enemy, finding him in that Posture, deriding his groundless Apprehension, or Folly therein, ripped him open and put his Bible in his Belly" (The First Frontier, David Horowitz).