The Lambeth Palace heist

A posthumous confession leads to the discovery of hundreds of rare and important books, stolen from a palace library, in a London attic. Photo: Daniel Scalberg, Hampton Court Palace

VANCOUVER, Wash., May 26, 2013 — Alison Flood, reporting for the British News paper The Guardian, reported the return of hundreds of rare books stolen from the Lambeth Palace Library in the 1970s.

Following the death of an ex-library employee (referred to as “associated with the library”), an attorney acting on behalf of his estate contacted the library in February 2011 to report a written confession and revealing the location of the missing books in a London attic.

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The thief defaced the books in an obvious attempt to remove identifying marks. He cut out book crests and applied chemicals to eradicate the ink in an attempt to conceal ownership. It is uncertain why the removal of marks was necessary since there is no evidence the thief attempted to sell the books.

Conservationists have spent the past two years restoring the extensively damaged books to their original state. The Library delayed announcing the return of the books until they had completed 10 percent of the restoration.

As early as the first part of the 1970s, the library was aware of about 60 missing books. They were shocked, however, when they discovered around 1,400 books in stacked boxes. The missing books were from the libraries of the Elizabethan and Jacobean archbishops John Whitgift, Richard Bancroft, and George Abbot, dating back to the library’s original foundation collection in 1610. Others taken included engraved, illustrated volumes from Theodor de Bry’s America and Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2.

Whitgift (c. 1530-1604), Bancroft (1544-1610), and Abbot (1562-1633) were instrumental contributors to the translation of the famous King James Bible (KJB) in 1611. The discovery and return of these important books may allow scholars to find information important to answering questions about the making of the KJB. Did the translators deliver a single copy of their work to the printer or did they submit a annotated Bishops’ Bible with their changes incorporated? Can we find written evidence that King James authorized the famous Bible? Do these archbishops refer to any written documents that might shed light on these questions?

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Although Whitgift died before the completion of the KJB, he was present and representing other bishops at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 where the original decision for a new translation was initiated.

Richard Bancroft opposed the new translation when it was first proposed. His loyalty to the Bishops’ Bible became evident immediately. When James pounced on the idea of a new translation, it was to Bancroft that James turned for project leadership. While not listed as a translator, he was the most influential participant as “chief overseer” of the production. James appointed him to select the translators and write the translation rules governing the translators.

George Abbot, known as one of England’s greatest scholars, called for the inclusion of a translation of Protestants’ non-canonical Apocryphal books. Contemporary church leaders were surprised because of his conservative Puritan theology.

The documents in the Lambeth Library were available to scholars prior to theft in the 1970s. However, the collection was still in a certain amount of disarray following a direct bomb hit during the Second World War. Perhaps these documents have not yet been thoroughly researched.

The return of these priceless books and materials is good news in a world with much bad news. Hopefully, scholars will have access to these materials soon. I have just added research at the Lambeth Palace library to my personal “bucket list.”     


Donald L. Brake, Sr. is author of A Visual History of the Life of Jesus, due to be released by Zondervan Publishing in 2014. The book is marked by outstanding imagery, that will leave readers with a greater and lasting appreciation for Jesus as he was in his own time and place. 

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.

Contact Donald L. Brake, Sr.


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