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    The Book of Common Prayer - 1549



The First Book of Common Prayer

Although a formal break with the Papacy came about during the time of Henry VIII, the Church of England continued to use liturgies in Latin throughout his reign, just as it always had. However, once Henry died and the young Edward VI attained the throne in 1547, the stage was set for some very significant changes in the religious life of the country. And so a consultation of bishops met and produced the first Book of Common Prayer. It is generally assumed that this book is largely the work of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (pictured below), but, as no records of the development of the prayer book exist, this cannot be definitively determined.

1549 Book of Common Prayer Title Page



Archbishop Cranmer, as an old man
Archbishop Cranmer in his later years. 
This Book of Common Prayer was not created in a vacuum, but derives from several sources. First and foremost was the Sarum Rite, or the Latin liturgy developed in Salisbury in the thirteenth century, and widely used in England. Two other influences were a reformed Roman Breviary of the Spanish Cardinal Quiñones, and a book on doctrine and liturgy by Hermann von Wied, Archbishop of Cologne.

This prayer book was in use only for three years, until the extensive revision of 1552. However, much of its tradition and language remains in the prayer books of today, as may be seen by even a cursory examination of the text.

The text used here is from a reprint, The First and Second Prayer-Books of Edward VI, published in 1910 as part of Everyman's Library. This book appears in David Griffiths' Bibliography of the Book of Common Prayer as 1910/10, and appears to take as its text an edition published in 1549 (probably Griffiths 1549/1) by Edward Whitchurche (or Whytchurche) of London, or from a 19th century reprint thereof. The title page of the original edition is pictured at right. The reprint uses completely the original language and spelling, which are largely retained here.

The only modernizations in the text presented here are as follows:

  • When a vowel would, in modern usage, be followed by an "m" or "n", this was occasionally indicated in the original text by the vowel-macron, or the vowel with a horizontal line over it, and the "m" or "n" was omitted. As the vowel-macron is not part of the standard ASCII character set, these characters have been replaced by their modern equivalents; i. e., the "m" or "n" has been inserted.
  • The letters "j" and "v" were typically represented in the original by "i" and "u", repectively. The text here replaces "i" and "u" with "j" and "v", as appropriate.
  • The lower case "s" was often represented by something which looks much like a modern-day "f"; the modern "s" is used everywhere here.
  • If a word is obscure or has a different meaning today, the modern equivalent or spelling is noted in brackets.
  • The reader will quickly notice that spelling was not standardized then as it is today. Many words are spelled a variety of different ways within the text. This can be easily seen in the Benedicite omnia opera in Morning Prayer, where "Lord" sometimes has a final "e", and sometimes not, and sometimes is capitalized, and sometimes not; and "praise" is usually, but by no means always, spelled with a "y" instead of "i".

In any older book printed several times, as this one was, there will inevitably be a number of textual variations. We have indicated many of these, as collected in The Two Liturgies ... Set forth in the Reign of King Edward VI (Parker Soc., 1844, Griffiths 1844/9). This book collated six of the twelve printings of the 1549 BCP: Whitchurch, May 1549 (Griffiths 1549/7 or 8); Whitchurch, June 1549 (Griffiths 1549/10 or 11); 3 printings of Grafton, March 1549 (Griffiths 1549/2, 3, & 4); and Oswen in Worcester, July, 1549 (Griffiths 1549/14). By far the most variance is found in the Grafton printings. Variants found in more than one printing, other than obvious differences in spelling, typos, etc., are indicated in the text.

We also have parts of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer in PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format which reproduces, as much as possible, the look of the original. The source text for these PDF files was a true facsimile (probably the only one ever made) of the 1549 BCP privately printed in 1896. This book appears in David Griffiths' Bibliography of the Book of Common Prayer as 1896/5, and is a facsimile of the very first printing of the Book of Common Prayer, Griffiths 1549/1. The links on the image of the Table of Contents below lead to these PDF files. We have a page of technical notes for these PDF files, if you are interested. Note that these files are fairly large - up to a megabyte - and so may take a while to download. You can also get all of them as a single file (size = 3MB)

For more information about this Prayer Book, we have reproduced the Introduction which appeared in The First and Second Prayer-Books of Edward VI, written by Edward C. S. Gibson, Bishop of Gloucester.

In addition to the texts on this site, Holy Communion from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer is available from Linda Howell's 1662 BCP site. The Communion Service, slightly abbreviated, is also available in WordPerfect and MSWord formats from the Diocese of Montreal. The Communion Service is also available online in modern spelling.
    Also, an outline of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer is available on the 1662 BCP site.

Two original texts and a number of reprints are available online, from either the Internet Archive or Google Books, typically as PDF graphics:

The 1549 Act of Uniformity, which was the measure in Parliament specifying that this book, and this book alone, was to be used for all church services, is now online.


Original Table of Contents, 1549 Book of Common Prayer


Links on this image lead to PDF (Adobe Acrobat) files.



ii. A Table and Kalendar for Psalmes and Lessons, with necessary rules perteinyng to the same.

iii. The Ordre for Matins and Evensong, throughout the yeare.    [i. e., Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer]

iv. The Introites, Collectes, Epistles and Gospelles, to be used at the celebracion of the lordes Supper and holy Communion through the yere, with proper Psalmes and Lessons, for diverse feastes and dayes.

v. The Supper of the Lorde and holy Communion, commonly called the Masse. [followed by the Litany]

vi. Of Baptisme, bothe publique and private.

vii. Of Confirmacion, where also is a Catechisme for children.

viii. Of Matrimony.

ix. Of visitacion of the sicke, and Communion of the same.

x. Of Buriall.

xi. The purificacion of women.   [Called "The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth" in subsequent editions]

xii. A declaracion of scripture, with certein prayers to bee use the firste daye of Lent, commonlye called Ashwednesdaie.    [Called "A Commination against Sinners" in subsequent editions]

xiii. Of Ceremonies omitted or reteyned.

xiiii. Certein notes for the more plain explicacion, and decent ministracion of thinges conteined in this boke.

Added in 1550:
The Forme and maner of makyng and consecratyng of Archebishoppes, Bishoppes, Priestes and Deacons


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