The Vicar General to Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, directed the clergy to "provide one book of the Bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it." At the food of the pare appeared these words: "This is the Bible appointed to the use of the churches."
Truly, by size alone this would be the Great Bible. Because of its public placement, it often became necessary to chain the Great Bible to the pulpit to prevent theft, thus earning it the title of "Chained Bible" - not because it was kept from the people, as in the past, but because it was kept for the people, to be read and heard.
The Great Bible, printed in 1539, is known as one of the most beautiful Bibles ever printed. At the time of the translation, two versions were already in print -- the Matthews Bible and the Coverdale Bible. Because Coverdale's Bible was not translated from the original texts, and the Matthew's Bible was under great suspicion of its origin as a Tyndale Bible, Thomas Cromwell and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer commissioned Myles Coverdale to complete a whole revision of the Bible. Coverdale began work immediately, using the Matthew's Bible as a base, and revising where needed. By 1539, printing had started in Paris; however, the inquisition in France was on, and the printer was arrested. Rather than burning the printed pages, the French Inquisitor-General sold them as waste paper. Through shrewd management, Thomas Cromwell was able to buy the Bible pages and transport them back to England, where they finished the work. In April of 1539, the first edition of the Great Bible appeared, also known as the "Cromwell Bible," the "Cranmer Bible,' and the "Chained Bible." Thomas Cromwell issued an injunction that a copy be set up in every church, and a reader was appointed so that even the illiterate could learn the Word of God, as they desired. With this action, the Great Bible, funded by King Henry VIII, became the first Bible authorized by the government for public use.
The public placement of the Great Bible stirred the hearts of the people to have a personal copy of the Word of God and sparked a renewed spirit to print the Scriptures for every man. Henry VIII had given authorization for the printing and placing of the Bible and confirmed its proclamation in the churches to Lord Cromwell and Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.
In a tragic turn of events, Henry betrayed his own counsel and conscience by having Thomas Cromwell executed in 1540. Following the death of Henry VIII and the Ascension of Mary I, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was tried as a heretic and, like John Rogers who had preceded him, gave his life in the flames.