In England, until the fourteenth century, the Christian Bible was considered the preserve of the priestly classes. The Vulgate was a Latin translation by Saint Jerome, read and interpreted only by the clergy, as the Church deliberately discouraged common people from reading vernacular bibles. They believed those outside the Church would misinterpret the text in the Bible, which would then lead to heresy. In fact, it was a crime to possess a vernacular bible.
In the centuries that followed, however, the efforts of men who challenged the Church, and the invention of the printing press, made the Bible available in plain English, to ordinary men and women.
In his New York Times article "Where Is it Written? Right Here," Simon Winchester discusses the men who sought to put the Bible in commoners' hands. Among them is William Tyndale, who was strangled and burned at the stake for "such a heretical presumption." Winchester also comments on two interesting books, which go into detail about how the Bible revolutionized England: Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired, by Benson Bobrick, and In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture, by Alister McGrath.
Winchester states that the more important points in these books are about the realizations that came from the brave actions taken to make the Bible available to all, and how the popularization of the Bible led to the establishment of the individual's inviolable rights and the formation of equal government, for and of the people. "In other words, the essentials of popular democracy were inspired by writings first set down on papyrus and in manuscript two millenniums ago in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—words since translated and then printed for the benefit of all, by the courageous and long-suffering heroes," Winchester said.
Bobrick, Benson. Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
McGrath, Alister. In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture. New York: Doubleday, 2001.
Winchester, Simon. "Where Is It Written? Right Here." New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/04/08/reviews010408.winchet.html. 8 April 2001.