Reading with Jane Austen ~ Holy Bibles in the Godmersham Park Library

UPDATE: since this was posted I have done a bit more research re: the Bibles at Godmersham.

First, I discover (with thanks to Gillian Dow) that the Chawton House blog has an in-depth essay by the then CH librarian Jacqui Grainger on the Holy Bibles extant in the Knight Collection. You can read that here:

This list gives more detail of each bible title than what is listed in the Knight Collection – you can find a link to the excel file here (scroll down):

So in comparing what bibles are listed in the Godmersham 1818 catalogue to those listed in the 1908 Chawton Library catalogue (a nightmare of a list), and seeing what is today in the Knight Collection, we find some overlap, some discrepancies, some books gone missing, and more questions than when I started on this adventure… I note in red below what is new information; at the end of the post I add in the bible titles Grainger listed in her blog post that could have been listed in the 1818 catalogue based on their publication date (i.e. 1818 or before) to see if they are in either the 1818 or 1908 catalogue. Confused?? I submit that this is a proven way to absolutely lose your mind – but bear with me if you can….

A Bible handwritten in Latin, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England. The Bible was written in Belgium in 1407 AD, for reading aloud in a monastery – image from Wikipedia

In the spirit of Christmas, I thought a look at the Bibles at Godmersham Park might bring up some interesting finds. There were many religious books in Edward Austen’s Library, many commentaries, sermons, and theological treatises – all reflecting a thoughtful gentleman’s moral approach to life. Edward, as George Austen’s son, was certainly grounded in such, and his brother James and later Henry were both rectors. You can read several posts on this blog of Edward’s son Charles’s diary entries regarding his study in this very library (with grateful thanks to Hazel Jones for sharing those with us!) – and most of what he was reading were these very religious texts.

But in limiting this post to just the Holy Bible to see which editions were housed at Godmersham, and likely works that Jane Austen would have had access to while visiting her brother, I find that there are only six Bibles listed in the catalogue, and NONE of them remain in the collection.

If one looks at biblical references in Jane Austen’s writings (fiction and letters), we find mostly joking references to characters or scenes from the Bible, and though we can infer her religious upbringing and her moral approach to life as seen in her characters and plots, Austen mentions little about the celebration of Christmas itself or any references to the actual meaning of Christmas (we can forgive her! – she gave us the wonderful Christmas Eve story of Mr. Elton’s drunken proposal to Emma! AND we cannot forget that she really created the very first Scrooge, long before Dickens ever did so!).


Here are a few examples from her Letters showing this tendency to jokingly comment on Biblical characters or stories:

  • Ltr. 90 to Francis Austen 25 Sept 1813 – she likens the transporting family members in various fashion (post-chaises, chairs, horses, and a coach) to “St. Paul’s Shipwreck, where all are said by different means to reach the shore safely” [see Acts 27:44]
  • In Ltr. 108 to Anna Austen, 28 Sept 1814, Austen jokes about one of Anna’s use of the “vortex of dissipation” in her book: “… I cannot bear the expression; it is such thorough novel slang – and so old, that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened.”
  • “We do not much like Mr. Cooper’s new Sermons; – they are fuller of Regeneration & Conversion than ever – with the addition of his zeal in the cause of the Bible Society” Austen writes Cassandra in September 1816 [Ltr. 145].
  • And Austen jokingly writes to her niece Fanny about Anna who is visiting and is “so young & so blooming & so innocent, as if she had never had a wicked Thought in her Life – which yet one has some reason to suppose she must have had, if we beleive the Doctrine of Original Sin, or if we remember the events of her girlish days.” [Ltr. 151, February 1817].
  • In Ltr 153, March 1817, she again writes Fanny: “As to making any adequate return for such a Letter as yours my dearest Fanny, it is absolutely impossible; if I were to labour at it all the rest of my Life & live to the age of Methusalah [sic], I could never accomplish anything so long & so perfect…”


Christmas references in the letters are few and far between, and all just make mention of visitors either being there for Christmas, or staying through Christmas, or not visiting for Christmas at all. She wishes Cassandra “a Merry Christmas, but no compliments of the season” [Ltr 15, 1798], whatever that means! She makes a quick reference to Cassandra’s “Christmas gaieties” in 1801 [Ltr. 29]. But it is only in Letter 77, dated 29-30 November 1812, when she is at Godmersham and writing to Martha Lloyd that she touches on seasonal doings:

“We are just beginning to be engaged in another Christmas Duty, & next to eating Turkies, a very pleasant one, laying out Edward’s money for the Poor; & the Sum that passes through our hands this year is considerable, as Mrs. Knight left £20 to the Parish.”



So let’s look at what Holy Bibles were in the Godmersham Library, and add these titles to our ever-growing list of Lost Sheep. You will see that many are very old, now very collectible and expensive to acquire. As we have no images of these Bibles, and most were lavishly and beautifully illustrated, I include a title page image if one was available online. And we ask that if you should have any of these Bibles on your shelves, to please check to see if they might have one of the Knight bookplates – we live in hope!

The Holy Bible, according to The Authorized Version, with notes, explanatory and practical; taken principally from the most eminent writers of the United Church of England and Ireland: together with appropriate introductions, tables, indexes, maps, and plans: prepared and arranged by the Rev. George D’Oyly, B.D. and the Rev. Richard Mant, D.D. Domestick Chaplains to His Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. Under the direction of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. For the Use of Families.

Oxford: Printed for the Society at the Clarendon Press, by Bensley, Cooke, and Collingwood, printers to the university; sold by F. C. and J. Rivington, booksellers to the Society, St. Paul’s Church-Yard; and by all other booksellers in the United Kingdom, 1817. 4to. 3 vols.

[This set is listed as being in the Knight Collection, so we are hoping it is NOT a Lost Sheep – so stay tuned!] – ok, question resolved, I think: The Knight Collection’s D’Oyly and Mant’s set is the 1826 edition, not 1817. WorldCat lists several editions published between 1817 and 1839, 1826 included. So either the 1818 catalogue has the date wrong (it may have been an 1826 printing and this was not noted), or Edward had an 1817 edition and someone later acquired the 1826, which is listed in the 1908 catalogue AND the Knight Collection – so one scenario: Edward’s set went missing, and a later Knight wanted to replace  the title that was in the 1818 catalogue but could only get an 1826 ed… 


The Holy Bible Containing the old Testament and the New Newly translated out of the Original Tongues And with the former Translations diligently Compared and revised by his Majesties speciall command. Appointed to be read in Churches.

Cambridge: Printed by John Hayes Printer to the Universitie, 1683.1st ed. 8vo. 2 vols.

Update: this is listed in the 1908 catalogue but is not in the Knight Collection.

[Image from The Wellcome Collection:]


The Holy Bible: containing the Old Testament and the new: newly translated out of the originall tongues: and with the former translations diligently compared and revised: by his Majesties speciall commandment. Appointed to be read in churches … London: By Robert Barker, printer to the Kings most excellent Majestie, 1641. 8vo. 1 vol.

[For an image, all I can find is this title page for the 1611 edition printed by Robert Barker – from the University of Michigan]

Update: not listed in 1908; not in Knight Collection.


1660 Holy Bible – title page from the Royal Trust Collection

The Holy Bible Containing the Bookes of the Old & New Testament.

Cambridge: Printed by John Field, Printer to the Universitie. And illustrated wth. Chorographical Sculps by J. Ogilby, 1660. 4to. 2 vols.

A copy of this Bible is presently for sale at Bauman Rare Books for $32,000. Their catalogue entry reads:

Monumental 1660 Cambridge edition of the King James Bible, richly illustrated with engraved title page, 128 double-page engravings by Visscher, Hollar, Lombart and others after Rubens, De Bruyn de Vos, Tintoret and others, eight folding maps (including a double hemisphere by John Seller and a plan of Jerusalem), 13 engraved portraits of apostles and 12 small plates mounted on four sheets of scenes from Revelations. “It presented the standard text of the Authorized Version in perhaps the most impressive form available in the mid-17th century.” Beautifully bound in nicely restored contemporary paneled morocco-gilt.

The King James Version of the Bible (first published 1611) has exercised an incalculable impact on piety, language and literature throughout the English-speaking world. Macaulay praised it as “a book, which if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power” (PMM 114). “In 1660, John Ogilby reissued the large folio Bible of 1659, published by John Field, the printer to the University of Cambridge, with a number of additional engraved plates… For this issue, Ogilby supplied eight whole sheet engravings, seven of which were by [Wenceslaus] Hollar… Nicolaes Visscher supplied Ogilby with sets of engravings from his own stock, most of which were the work of Cornelis Visscher, after Rubens, de Vos, de Bruyn, Tintoretto and others… Ogilby’s Bible was a very expensive book… It presented the standard text of the Authorized Version in perhaps the most impressive form available in the mid-17th century. Its illustrations were works of the best artists, and allowed those who could afford the book to visualize the events of the Bible in a grand style” (Museum of the History of Science, Oxford). “The finest edition of the Holy Bible then extant” (Lowndes, 1367). The collation and number of plates vary greatly from copy to copy—the present copy is bound with the largest number of illustrations we have seen offered. The most expensive of these Bibles were ruled in red—as is this copy. Published in two volumes, this copy is bound with the Old Testament in Volume I, and the Apocrypha and New Testament in Volume II; this copy without the Volume II title page or separate New Testament title page. Engraved general title page depicts Solomon (i.e., the restored Charles II) enthroned. Text and plates ruled in red throughout.

1660 Holy Bible, engraving image from Bauman Rare Books

Update: the 1908 catalogue lists a “Bible and Prayer Book, 1660 – no other information, so possibly this; not extant in the Knight Collection.


The Holy Bible Containing the Old Testament and the New: Newly translated out of the originall Tongues, and with ye Former translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties speciall command. Appointed to be read in churches.

Cambridge: Printed by Tho: Buck, and Roger Daniel, Printers to the University of Cambridge. And are to be sold by Roger Daniel, at the Angell in Lumberstreet, London, 1638. 4to. 1 vol.

This Cambridge edition, containing the first major revisions of the King James version, standardized the use of italics and altered several readings in the New Testament. Image is from Sothebys.

Update: listed in 1908 as “Bible and Prayer Book, Cambridge 1638,” so possibly this – not in Knight Collection.


The Holy Bible, or, the Old and New Testament, Explained by Question and Answer, From the Writings of the most eminent Historians, Divines, and Commentators; Containing Many Useful and Entertaining Parts of Knowledge; And embellished with Proper Maps, neatly Engraved, and other Ornamental and Instructive Representations. Designed for the Promoting of Christian Knowledge. [Epigraph on title page].

London: Printed for S. Austen, in Newgate-Street, 1748. 1st ed. 8vo. 1 vol.

[Image is from Chanticleer Books on Abebooks – for sale for $650 – but alas! no MGK bookplate…]

Update: not listed in 1908; not in Knight Collection according to Grainger essay – but the KC list shows a Holy Bible, 1748 – and why I now feel nuts….


I have also chosen two works on the history of the Bible, as these two works remain in the Knight Collection and we have images for them:

Thomas Stackhouse. A New History of the Holy Bible, from the Beginning of the World, to the Establishment of Christianity. With Answers to most of the Controverted Questions, Dissertations upon the most remarkable Passages, and a Connection of Profane History all along. To which are added, Notes explaining difficult Texts, rectifying Mis-Translations, and reconciling seeming Contradictions. The whole illustrated with proper Maps and Sculptures. By The Reverend Mr. Thomas Stackhouse, Curate of Finchley, and Author of The Compleat Body of Divinity.

London: Printed for the Author, and sold by T. Payne, at the Crown in Pater-Noster-Row, and the Booksellers in Town and Country, 1733. 4to. 2 vols. (one is missing, so we have a partial Lost Sheep).

This title has the older Thomas Knight bookplate:

Update: this is listed in 1908 as being 2 vols, so the missing volume went missing after 1908.


J. Hamond. An Historical Narration of the Whole Bible. In Two Parts. The First, treating of the Old Testament, with the various Histories of the Lives, eminent Examples, and glorious Actions of the Patriarchs, Judges, Kings, and Prophets; interspersed with many plain, profitable and pious Instructions and Observations thereupon. The Second, containing an Account of the Life and Travels of Our Blessed Saviour and his Apostles. With a Summary of the of the [sic] Matter, Doctrine Scope, and Divine Authority of all the Canonical Epistles. And an Explanation of several chief Heads in that Mysterious Book of St. John’s Revelation. By J. Hamond, D.D. The Whole being an useful Guide to such as desire to read the Holy Scriptures to their Spiritual Comfort and Advantage. Curiously adorn’d with Proper Cuts, engraven by Mr. John Sturt. 

London: Printed for R. Ware, at the Bible and Sun upon Ludgate-Hill, 1749. 8vo. 1 vol.

This title bears the oblong bookplate of Montagu George Knight:

Update: this title is happily found in 1818, 1908, and remains in the Knight Collection!


Bibles listed in Grainger essay with earlier dates:

7. Leusden, J. and Hooght, E.v.d. (eds.) (1831) Biblia Hebraica, secundum ultimam editionem jos. athiae a Johanna Leusden…ab Everado van der Hoght, V. D. M. Editio nova, recognita, et emendata, a Judah D’Allemand. Londini: Typie excudabat A. Macintosh, 20 Great New Street. Impensis Jacobi Duncan, Paternoster Row. [Accession no. 9478] Inside the front board is the stamp of Adela Portal, and inside the back board the bookplate of her son, Montagu Knight.

Update: not in 1818, in 1908 as “Bible Hebrew, Van de Hooght, London, 1831,” and in Knight Collection. 

11. Scott, T. (ed.) (1850) The Holy Bible; containing the Old and new Testaments, according to the authorized version; with explanatory notes, practical observations, and copious marginal references / by the late Rev. Thomas Scott… a new edition, with the authors last corrections and improvements, and eighty-four illustrative maps and engravings. [New edn.] London: Printed for Messrs. Seeleys, Fleet-Street and Hanover-Street; Hatchard and Co., Piccadilly; and Nisbet and Co., Berners-Street. [Accession no. 9473]

Update: in 1908 and in Knight Collection, 6 vols.

15. Girdlestone, C. (ed.) The Old Testament. With a commentary consisting of short lectures for the daily use of families by the Rev. Charles Girdlestone M.A. vicar of Sedgley, Staffordshire (1837). London: Printed for J. G. & F. Rivington. [Accession no. 9477]

16. Girdlestone, C. (ed.) The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. With a commentary consisting of short lectures for the daily use of families by the Rev. Charles Girdlestone M.A. vicar of Sedgley, Staffordshire (1835). London: Printed for J. G. & F. Rivington. [Accession no. 9476]

Both of the Girdlestone testaments contain the bookplate of Montagu Knight.

Update: in 1908 listed as Girdleston’s [sic] Commentary, 1835, no. 21-26. WorldCat has dates on this 6 vol. set from 1833-1842; New Testament was 2 vols; Old Testament 4 vols. – so likely the set now in the Knight Collection.

17. Scott, T. (ed.) (1835) The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments, according to the authorized version; with explanatory notes, practical observations, and copious marginal references / by Thomas Scott, Rector of Aston Sandford, Bucks. New edn. with the author’s last corrections and improvements; and with two maps London: Printed for L. B. Seeley and Sons; Hatchard and Son; Baldwin and Cradock; and R. B. Seeley and Burnside. [Accession no. 9474]

Update: there is the 1850 edition (see 11 above) in 1908, not this 1835 ed – need to check dates noted in Grainger’s essay against the 6 volumes.

21. Cranmer, T. (1585) The Holy Byble, conteining the Olde Testament and the New. Authorised and appointed to be read in churches. Imprinted at London: By Christopher Barker, printer to the Queen’s most excellent Maiestie. [Accession no. 8962] contains the bookplate of Montagu Knight.

Update: there is a listing in 1908, “Bible, 1585” – no other info, so possibly this title? 

All the other bibles in the Grainger post are not listed in either the 1818 or 1908 catalogues as far as I can tell. There are however a number of other bible titles listed in 1908, and whether it can be determined that any of these actually refer to any titles in the Knight Collection is a detective journey for another day (also need to be at Chawton – wouldn’t that be nice!). Here is a listing of those:

  • Bible and Prayer Book, 1660.
  • Bible and Prayer Book, Cambridge, 1663.
  • New Testament, Latin. Amsterdam 1686 (in Poet’s Cabinet)
  • New Testament, French. Paris, 1668 (    ”    ) – could this be Grainger’s #20?

La Bible qui est toute la Ste. Ecriture du Vieil et du Nouveau Testament autrement L’Ancienne et la Nouvelle Alliance (1678) .Amsterdam: chez la Veuve de Schippers. [Accession no. 9479] Contains Montagu Knight’s bookplate.

  • New Testament, Latin. London, 1584 (    ”    ) – could this be Grainger’s #22??

Il Nvovo Ed Eterno Testamento Di Giesv Christo (1556). Lione: Per Giouanni di Tornes e Guillelmo Gazeio. [Accession no. 9480] Contains the bookplate of Montagu Knight.

  • Prayer Book with matching Bible. Cambridge, 1582 (or 1682)
  • Testament, Greek; by Valpy. London, 1831.


So, just giving you a small taste of what Edward Austen’s library at Godmersham offered the family and visitors in need of a Bible close at hand. We can perhaps picture them all sitting around the fire during Christmas week and reading in the round…

Wishing you all a Festive Holiday Season!

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