Thou shalt covet thy neighbour's wife

"Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned." So might Robert Barker have murmured to himself as he lay dying in prison in 1645. The once rich and powerful "Royal Printer" had committed himself to jail as a debtor 10 years previously - and had had a decade to ponder an almighty blunder.

For Barker was the printer of the infamous "Wicked Bible". This text was seen as so dangerous to the social order that all 1,000 copies were ordered to be destroyed and their creator was fined pound;300 - a lifetime's wages then.

Robert was the son of a freeman of the Draper's Company, one of the powerful City of London guilds. The organisation, which backed Puritanism with profit, wanted more English bibles in circulation. Barker's father Christopher solved the problem in true City fashion - with money. He bought the patent to print Elizabeth I's books and the presses on which to do itI he also bought himself a load of trouble.

Christopher had to shell out for the right to hand on the title of Royal Printer to his son. The younger Barker's monopoly was constantly challenged and his business threatened by "pirate" editions of the Bible from the continent (rumour has it that Robert was not above confiscating these and selling them on later). Nevertheless, he prospered and invested in land and property around the royal town of Windsor.

Robert's greatest achievement was the printing of James I's new translation of the Bible - he claims he paid pound;3,500 for the honour. Then things started to go sour. Bitter lawsuits were fought with Bonham Norton, his main rival. Some bibles appeared with so many names on them that it was hard to tell who was the King's Printer.

In 1629, Barker was confirmed as top man and soon after this Norton was sent to prison where he eventually died. However, Barker's own time in the sun was about to run out. In 1631 the nation's devout were shocked by his latest edition of the James I Bible. In it, the Seventh Commandment said, nay ordered, that: "Thou shalt commit adultery."

Not a hope in hell of getting away with that one.

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