In 1631 the Royal Printers to The Crown reprinted the King James Bible, an edition that has subsequently become known as ‘The wicked Bible’ primarily because the seventh commandment reads,
“Thou shalt commit adultery”.
This could be seen as a simple typographic error, and the subsequent punishment of the printers as a cruel twist of fate, if seen out of context, but there is more to this than meets the eye.
Encouraging the flock to become adulterous, could be shrugged off as a simple compositors omission of the word ‘not’, but a further re-writing of Deuteronomy 5:24 in the same edition is not so easily excused,
‘the LORD our God hath shewed us his glory and his great arse’.
Here we appear to be looking at something more like sabotage than poor craftsmanship.
The publication of the first ‘official’ English language Bible in 1611 was controversial on many levels, contemporary critics damned it with phrases such as “(I would rather be) rent into pieces by wild horses than any such translation by his consent should be urged upon our poor churches.”
On a more fundamental level there was a great deal of profit to be made from selling it, gaining access to the sole license was a war that was waged between three families.
Robert Barker who was the official King's printer, bought the original manuscript for £3,500 in 1610 with financial assistance from Bonham Norton the master of The Stationers Company and John Bill, a part-time spy, said to have the King’s ear. Barker was a good printer but a bad manager, whereas the other two were astute dealers used to fair means and foul.
The first edition was rushed out for 1611. A power struggle followed as the three men sought to gain a monopoly on the source of such potential wealth, a bitter series of litigation followed.
When John Bill died unexpectedly in 1630 the animosity between Barker and Norton must have reached its peak, so much so that the unscrupulous Norton made an all out attack on his one remaining rival, including perhaps sabotage. As a result of his own unproven accusations of bribery Norton was imprisoned, where he died in 1635.
For the sacrilegious printing Robert Barker and one Martin Lucas, were fined £200 and £100 respectively and ordered to “print one work every year at their own cost of ink, paper, and workmanship, and as many copies as the Archbishop should think fit to authorise".
Robert Baker, it seems never paid the fine, which was subsequently converted into providing a Greek letter font for Oxford University Press, which there is no record of him supplying either. He continued printing for a further 13 years before being committed to debtors prison, where he died in 1645.
Martin Lucas was not a printer, and had nothing to do with the matter except as executor for John Bill’s last will and testament (for which he was left a legacy of £50).
Eleven copies of this edition are believed to exist today.