At the time, Gove had not found private philanthropists to sponsor the enterprise. It has now emerged that leading Tory donors – mostly former hedge fund and private equity bosses – are footing the bill. They include Lord Stanley Fink, the former co-treasurer of the Conservative party who was once chief executive of the listed hedge fund Man Group. Fink, a life peer, has donated more than £2.3m to Tory projects.
Lord Robert Edmiston, a motor trade entrepreneur who gave more than £3.2m to the Tory party between 2000 and 2010, has also sponsored the Bible project. The life peer is an evangelical Christian who set up the charity Christian Vision.
Others who have funded the scheme include Ramez Sousou of the private equity firm TowerBrook, who has also given support to Cameron's party, Michael Farmer, the Conservative party co-treasurer and City financier who has donated more than £3m to the party, and Lord Harris, a regular donor to the Conservatives and the chairman of Carpetright.
The Liberal Democrat donor Paul Marshall, a hedge fund boss and committed Christian, and his wife have also donated funds for the scheme, as has Sir Peter Lampl, the founder of a private equity firm who is an education philanthropist.
A spokeswoman from the Department for Education said no public funds would be needed for the project. The Bibles, which state on the spine that they have been presented by the secretary of state for education, have been sent to schools this week.
Teachers have greeted the initiative with a mixed reaction. A primary school teacher from Sheffield, who did not want to be named, told the Guardian the Bible, which arrived on Monday, would "stay in the headteacher's office on a shelf".
"I work in an inner-city primary school and there's no way that our children are going to be reading and understanding the kind of English this Bible is written in," he said. "I have nothing against celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, but we really could have done with some more story books."
Another teacher, who did not want to be named, wrote on the forum of the Times Educational Supplement that pupils in her school – a Church of England primary – were presented with their own Bibles. "I feel the inscription on the side is more to do with this project than the actual 'gift'," she said. "Privately funded or not we could all have used the money more appropriately to our own school setting."
The Bibles, which have been published by the Oxford University Press, are accompanied by a letter from Gove.
"I believe it is important that all pupils – of all faiths or none – should appreciate this icon and its impact on our language and democracy," it says. He adds that the gift has been funded through the generosity of private sponsors "who share my view that this book has a unique place in our nation's history and culture".
All schools are expected to have received their copies by the end of the month."
The more I think about this, the more interesting it is to remind oneself that producing the King James Bible was part of the attempt to establish and confirm the Protestant and national control over the lives and minds of the people, as determined by the Privy Council. At the time it was illegal to stay away from church and to do so put you under suspicion of being a Roman Catholic. Though there is no way Michael Gove can seriously believe that sending out bibles can in even the faintest degree re-establish this kind of control, there appears to be some kind of reflex that yearns for some kind of ideological control over how we view 'the nation'. Politicians really do need to come to terms with the fact that no matter how hard they try to do this, they don't succeed in establishing this kind of control. Forces much bigger and stronger than them pull people in many different directions - to both smaller and larger allegiances - to locality, culture, ethnicity, language, Europe and to countries of origin. There is of course a particular irony in Michael Gove trying to do this at precisely the moment when the UK's economy is in the grip of something more international than it has ever been. And another irony in that the document, the King James Bible, is itself a highly multi-cultural document both in its origins, its source texts and translations and indeed in its translators. It was only in its 'enactment' that it was national.