Coronation Bible: Designing a Bible Fit for a King

Neil Turner/Lambeth Palace

The Coronation Bible

Oxford University Press (OUP) has a rich history producing bibles, starting in the 16th century at a time when Shakespeare was alive, writes Clare Hofmann, Design Manager, OUP. It is this expertise and heritage, that resulted in an Oxford bible being used in the Coronation of George III in 1761 and led to OUP being commissioned to produce a special Coronation Bible for Edward VII’s Coronation in 1902. It is also this continuing tradition that landed me a design brief like no other; to create a bible fit for His Majesty King Charles III.

Looking back at previous Coronation Bibles, at least as far as King Edward VII’s, the designs include only the finest leather, gold leaf, and intricate detail. For example, the Coronation Bibles of King Edward VII and King George V are highly decorated, featuring the royal coat of arms surrounded by Tudor and English roses, Scottish thistles, and Irish shamrocks.

In a design choice not initially intended, the King George VI Bible was plainer with only the Royal Coat of Arms used. In fact, it is on record that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, provided feedback about the considerable weight of the Bible, which proved too heavy to carry and so had to be replaced at short notice by a smaller bible, ‘bound as suitably as we could in the time, which I think the Bishop of Norwich will be able to wield’.  


Clare Hofmann

The design for Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Bible was very modern for its time, reflecting the post-war optimism. Musical staves were cleverly wrapped around the whole Bible using the raised bands to link the front, spine, and back. This design also features a diamond inlay of cream calf skin leather, along with the Queen’s cypher and the royal coat of arms.

Taking into consideration the design of previous Coronation Bibles was important in the creation of King Charles III’s Bible, as we wanted to emulate a sense of tradition and heritage, while also bringing a contemporary twist to the layout. Through the flora led design, we convey the celebration, regality, and solemnity of the occasion which felt fitting given how passionate the King is about gardening, nature, and the environment.

While we had to slightly adapt our initial ideas based on the hand tools available from the bookbinders, many were chosen for their beauty and how well they fitted together to create a circlet of flora that as a whole looks like a flower in full bloom. Our collaboration with Shepherds, Sangorski & Sutcliffe to refine and add detail, showcased their skills as fine bookbinders and ensured the highest quality design was created resulting in a truly special binding for the coronation ceremony.

This is the third of three guest posts by people involved in the creation of the Coronation Bible. You can read Part I here and Part II here.