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English printers

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Thames Street is a narrow river-side street in Vintry which, during the reign of Henry VIII, contained the grand residences of many courtiers and merchants. Wool exporter and Lord Mayor of London John Lovekyn had a grand mansion in Thames Street overlooking the river. Sir William Walworth also lived here. The street represented money, authority and power. Historically, the area gained fame for the two greatest benefits to mankind, wine and printing – and for the unfortunate legacy of mob violence. These riots have gone down into history. They are represented in a remarkable set of early London cityscapes.

 

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Vintry is one of the twenty-five wards of the City of London and owes its name to its former status as a site for the wine merchants of Bordeaux who stored and sold their products there. The ‘Worshipful Company of Vintners’ is one of the Livery Companies which probably existed as early as the twelfth century. It received a Royal Charter in 1364. Chronologically, these merchants were preceded by cooks as has been recorded in Fritz-Stephen’s (who was clerk to Thomas à Beckett) lively Description of London of 1170. In this, the first general description of the metropolis, the author lists in great detail the cook shops on the banks of the River Thames which he thought the acme off civilization, ‘at any time of day or night, any number could be fed to suit all palates and all purses’.
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There is a theory that the word ‘Cockney’ is derived from the Latin ‘coquina’ (cookery) at the time that London was widely praised for its cook shops. Later in the thirteenth century the river banks were taken over by vintners and their wine vaults. The cooks packed their pots and pans and moved elsewhere, to Eastcheap and Bread Street. Connected to all this is the name of Geoffrey Chaucer. He was born in the parish of St Martin Vintry into a prosperous Suffolk merchant family which had been engaged in the export of wool to the Low Countries and the import of wine. His great-grandfather Andrew of Dynyngton was also known as Andrew the Taverner, and most likely kept a tavern there. The move to London was made by Geoffrey’s grandfather Robert Dynyngton, known as Robert Malyn le Chaucer (that name, meaning ‘maker of shoes’, may well have been adopted by Robert on the death of his employer, the mercer John le Chaucer). Robert’s son John Chaucer became a prominent London wine merchant and an influential freeman of the city. Young Geoffrey Chaucer was much aware of the link between tavern and creativity. 04 Before the fourteenth century, popular uprisings tended to operate on a local scale. This changed when downward pressures on the poor resulted in mass manifestations of resistance across Europe. In the 1320s, beginning as a series of scattered rural riots, the peasant insurrection in Flanders escalated into a full-scale rebellion that dominated public affairs for nearly five years. Between May and August 1381 England experienced a popular uproar of dramatic severity. Rioters rebelled against the landowning classes and the incompetent government of Richard II. They murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Treasurer of England, numerous lawyers and royal servants, and laid siege to the Tower of London.
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The spirit of rebellion lasted all summer and was recorded with horror by contemporaries, including Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower and the chroniclers Thomas Walsingham and Jean Froissart. That the rebels marched from country to capital was a new phenomenon. This was the first manifestation of urban mob violence in England. A specific target of the crowd was London’s immigrant population. The Peasant’s Revolt had begun in the Essex village of Fobbing in May of that year. It started with the arrival of a Royal commissioner, John Bampton, enquiring into tax evasion. Unrest spread quickly through the county and into Kent. In early June Wat Tyler joined the uprising in Maidstone and assumed leadership of the Kentish rebels. He marched his men into London who left a trail of destruction behind them. They burned down the Palace of Savoy, home of the hated John of Gaunt. The latter was the fourth son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault and took his name from his godfather, John, Duke of Brabant, one of Edward’s allies in the Low Countries: Gaunt is a corrupted form of Ghent. The rebellion soon appeared to be out of control. A horde of drunken men went in search of immigrants.
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The massacre of Flemish citizens took place in the neighbourhood of St Martin’s Vintry. The area was a known haunt of Continental merchants and was located one block down Thames Street from the house of John Chaucer, father of the author. Dozens of Flemings were dragged from the sanctuary of the city churches, beheaded, and their bodies left to rot. Nobody was spared during that violent outburst, except those who could plainly pronounce ‘bread and cheese’, for if their speech sounded anything like ‘brot’ or ‘cawse’, off went their heads, as a sure mark they were Flemish. One of the victims was merchant and financier Richard Lyons. Most likely of Flemish descent, he was killed in Cheapside on 14 June 1381. At his death he held lands in Essex, Kent, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex, and Hertfordshire, as well as London property which included a large house in Thames Street. Lyons had been engaged in the exercise of the sweet wine monopoly. One of the leaders of the London riots, afterwards executed for his involvement, was Jack Straw. Geoffrey Chaucer refers to the massacre of Flemings by Straw and his gang in ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’.

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Jean Froissart’s Chronicle is a crucial source for students of the first half of the Hundred Years’ War. The author originated from Valenciennes and had started his working life as a merchant. Having become a clerk, his skills were soon recognized and he was employed by Philippa of Hainault, Queen Consort of Edward III of England, as court poet and historian. The Chronicle depicts the rebellion – Froissart describes Wat Tyler as a ‘tiler of houses, an ungracious patron’ – and illustrates the latter’s demise. Having been summoned to speak with King Richard II at Smithfield on 15 June 1381, Tyler outlined the rebels’ demands, which included the abolition of serfdom. A fracas then ensued, allegedly because Tyler kept his head covered in the King’s presence, leading the Mayor of London, William Walworth, to try to arrest him. In the struggle between the two men, Tyler was wounded. The other rebels quickly dispersed, having been granted a royal pardon. Tyler was dragged from the nearby hospital of St Bartholomew, and summarily executed at Smithfield.
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A lavishly illustrated edition of the Chronicles in four volumes was commissioned by Louis of Gruuthuuse, a nobleman and bibliophile from Bruges. The four volumes are now in the Bibliothèque Nationale and contain 112 miniatures of various sizes painted by some of the best Brugeois artists of the day including splendid images of the meeting between Richard II and the rebels and the murder of Wat Tyler in the style of Flemish illuminator Loiset Liédet. The London cityscape figures splendidly in the background of both scenes. It may be coincidence or it may be a distant reminder of disturbances in the area, but towards the end of the fifteenth century Thames Street became a centre of legal printing and documentation. The very first book printed in London was Antonius Andreae’s Quaestiones super XII libros Metaphysicae Aristotelis. Dating from 1480, it is a Latin commentary on the metaphysics of Aristotle. Its publication was financed by the draper William Wilcock. The printer of this work went by the name of Johannes Lettou. He may be the same Johannes who worked in the previous years in Rome, mainly for the papal Curia. Apart from the colophons in his books, Lettou’s name is known from a register of aliens in which he is recorded as head of a household of German printers living in what is now Lower Thames Street. A member of this household was William de Machlinia [Maclyn], with whom Lettou formed a partnership in about 1481/2. Their first publication was the Abbreviamentum statutorum, a handbook for lawyers that contained summaries of the laws of the land, alphabetically arranged by subject. The partners published in the following years at least five books of common law. They include two editions of Sir Thomas Littleton, Tenores novelli, in 1482/3 and 1484. Their final joint publication was a full edition of the parliamentary statutes from the reign of Edward II, Nova statuta, during the printing of which Lettou is thought to have died. William de Machlinia continued the business alone for another few years in which he published an edition of the statutes promulgated by the only parliament of Richard III in 1484/5 – one of the earliest examples of an official publication. In March 1486 De Machlinia printed the bull in which Pope Innocent III granted dispensation for the marriage of Henry VIII and Elizabeth of York. There was an old tradition for legal books, manuscript and print, to be richly decorated. Lettou and De Machlinia made a gesture for honouring this tradition, for many copies of their books are decorated with red and blue initials.

 

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The presence of printers in Thames Street was continued by the eminent Henry Bynneman who, using his familiar sign of the Mermaid, had premises here. Motto to the press was ‘Omnia tempus habent’, which is the opening phrase of a passage in Ecclesiastes III and translates as ‘To every thing there is a season [and a time to every purpose under the heaven]’. Thames Street has certainly served a variety of aims and purposes over is long history. Elizabeth’s reign was a period of a great expansion of Italian culture in England in spite of Puritan suspicions. In the 1560s a number of Boccaccio’s vernacular works appeared in English translation and Bynneman’s press was active in publishing those.
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Giovanni Boccaccio was a sophisticated Florentine who performed various diplomatic services for the city government. He was above all a talented urban writer. The background for his Decameron is the Florentine plague epidemic of 1348 (in a sense this is the first urban disaster story). Throughout the narrative urban values of quick wit and intelligence are treasured, while stupidity and dullness are punished. This city orientation was an emerging feature of Europe fiction and Boccaccio strongly influenced its development. Geoffrey Chaucer was intrigued and inspired by Boccaccio’s work. His Canterbury Tales also uses the concept of a large story as the framework which includes all other tales allowing the author to explore a wide range of experiences, perspectives, themes and opinions. Fluent in French, conversant in Italian and widely read, he was open to assimilate the rich domain of Continental literature. Chaucer masterfully adapted Boccaccio’s urban passion. The city was about to take centre-stage in European literature.

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For the medieval student, rhetoric, along with grammar and logic, was part of the trivium – the three rocks of education. Rhetoric was special because, more than logic and grammar, it required invention, spontaneity, and creativity. Renaissance teaching methods emerged from the rediscovery of the classical tradition, and especially of Aristotle who had defined rhetoric as the ability to use all possible means of persuasion to good effect. An able orator could be put on the spot and deliver an argument that would sway an audience regardless of time or situation. Improvisation demands an oratorical flexibility that comes from complete linguistic mastery.

One of Erasmus’s early pupils in Paris was William Blount, fourth Baron Mountjoy, diplomat, scholar and patron of learning. In the summer of 1499 William returned to England and invited Erasmus to accompany him for an extended stay. His financial situation was precarious and he accepted Mountjoy’s invitation. In England, he experienced a spell of luxury on a rural estate, a novel experience for a man who had always lived a life of poverty. He was received as the guest of a nobleman and a published author of Latin poems. His prospects however remained minimal. Mountjoy offered him a small pension for life but no other rewards for his work came his way. During the summer he decided to return to the Continent, but his journey was delayed. He travelled to Oxford where he listened to John Colet lecturing on the ‘Epistle to the Romans’. The latter interpreted the New Testament as a literary text rather than as a bundle of scholastic propositions. Colet tried to persuade him to teach at Oxford and lecture on the Old Testament. Erasmus declined. He considered it impossible to carry out competent exegesis solely on the basis of the Latin translation. Learning Greek was his priority. Oxford could not offer him that opportunity and in January 1500 he returned to France. There was only one active teacher of Greek at Paris, a Byzantine exile, but Erasmus considered him expensive and incompetent. He taught himself the language by patiently translating Greek books into Latin. By late 1502 he claimed that he was able to read and write the language. When the plague drove him from Paris, he moved to Louvain. He kept himself alive by teaching private pupils.

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By the end of 1504 Erasmus returned to Paris to present Jodocus Badius with the finished manuscript of Lorenzo Valla’s In Novum Testamentum ex diversorum utriusque linguae codicum collatione adnotationes (‘Annotations on the New Testament’). This work had been Valla’s most impressive application of his knowledge of ancient Greek. He had observed stylistic defects in the Latin Bible, the Vulgate, and sought to remedy these by referring to the Greek original. He insisted that New Testament scholarship must refer to the Greek text. What he eventually produced was a set of notes on specific passages where unclear phrases or apparent errors could be remedied by looking at the Greek. This pioneering effort attracted little attention until 1504, when Erasmus found a manuscript of the Annotations in a monastery near Louvain. He published it the following year, an important step in the development of his own biblical scholarship and proof of the massive progress he had made in mastering Greek. Shortly afterwards Lord Mountjoy invited him again to England, and this second visit was more successful. He was introduced to William Warham and other prominent dignitaries. Warham, Lord Chancellor of England and Archbishop of Canterbury, became Erasmus’s most generous patron and ‘sacred anchor’. Both men were associated with the paradigm shift of the so-called Northern Renaissance. Warham’s academic background and his travels on the Continent inspired him to support the study of Greek and encourage the revival of classical learning. His money and political support acted as a force enabling Erasmus to get his work on the New Testament published which, in turn, facilitated the biblical scholarship of the Reformation. Froben’s Basel edition of Erasmus’s Jerome was dedicated to William Warham. The dynamics of their collaboration acted as a catalyst for religious change in England.

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Erasmus travelled to Venice to negotiate with Aldus Manutius for a new edition of his Adagia (dedicated to Mountjoy). On the death of Henry VII, Lord Mountjoy wrote to Erasmus in Italy pleading with him to return to England, painting the prospect of a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’. Together with Warham he sent the scholar £10 to cover the cost of the journey. At first Erasmus was hesitant. The level of Italian scholarship may have disappointed him, but he had made many friends in Aldus’s circle. Moreover, his reception had been flattering, especially in Rome. But remaining in Rome would be a sell-out since he would never enjoy the intellectual freedom he demanded. Reluctantly he decided to travel northwards and reached London in the autumn of 1511. Staying at Thomas More’s house in Bucklersbury he wrote his satirical masterpiece Moriae encomium. Erasmus, moreover, had been working on a treatise on Latin composition entitled De duplici copia verborum ac rerum (On the twofold abundance of expressions and ideas), a project that had been the intermittent labour of more than twelve years in Paris, Italy, and England. On this, his third visit to England, Erasmus once again paid a visit to John Colet, the son of a City mercer and twice Lord Mayor of London. After early schooling in London, Colet had moved to Oxford, where he spent some twenty years as a scholar. He received priestly orders in 1498 and left Oxford six years later to become Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. There, in 1509, he began preparations for the founding of St Paul’s School, adapted to receive 153 poor boys (the number of fishes taken by Peter in the miraculous draught). Only those children were admitted who could say their catechism, and read and write competently. As he put down in the school’s statutes, ‘My intent is by this school specially to increase knowledge and worshipping of God and our Lord Jesus Christ and good Christian life and manners in the children’.

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The meeting of Erasmus and Colet was a fruitful one. The latter requested Erasmus to finish De duplici for use in this newly founded school in St Paul’s churchyard. This treatise, often referred to as ‘the copia’, was designed to help the young student in acquiring an elegant style of expression and to provide abundant examples of how to say the same thing in various ways. In the words of Erasmus himself: ‘no artist will better compress speech to conciseness than he who has skill to enrich the same with as varied an embellishment as possible’. The book quickly became the standard work on rhetorical dilation, adopted by virtually every school in England as well as by many schools on the Continent. It went through well over a hundred editions in the sixteenth century alone. Learning to Erasmus had to have a social meaning. He was an educationalist, not a stuffy or retiring scholar. Rather than withdrawing in a study or library, reaching the outside world was him aim. Like every great teacher and reformer, he wanted to communicate with the young. What better method than writing an elegant and entertaining schoolbook? The publication constituted the concluding part of a set of educational writings of which De ratione studii, a basic grammar, forms the foundation. The Colloquia is a student reader; the Adagia a dictionary of examples; and the De copia a comprehensive rhetoric, setting out the rules for applying the grammar and vocabulary the student had acquired during the course of his linguistic journey. The purpose of Erasmus’s treatise was to provide students with a repertoire of linguistic expression. One of his teaching methods was to take a simple phrase and invent as many variations as possible. In chapter thirty-three of the ‘copia’ the author offers an example by demonstrating 195 different and inventive ways of saying ‘Your letter pleased me greatly’. Linguistic invention was the keyword. To Erasmus, playing with language is the root of creativity. In the age of email we do not bother any more. Progress, as Johan Huizinga would argue, stifles playfulness. It is hardly surprising that the author of Homo ludens also wrote a biography of the mind behind In Praise of Folly, praising Erasmus for the fact that ‘he radiates the spirit of play from his whole being!’

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Erasmus, More and Colet – it was an extraordinary meeting of minds in that same year. Colet and More had both joined the Mercers’ Company in 1509 and were close friends (Colet was More’s confessor). Both had studied at Oxford and both were interested in teaching. Thomas More was a proponent of sound education, and not just for boys. His daughter, known by her married name of Margaret Roper, was a qualified scholar in Latin, Greek and theology. More significantly, she was one of the first women in England to appear in print. More and Colet were important figures in England at the times. These men lived in an age of perpetual change and continuous conflict. The range of new discoveries and intellectual challenges had an inevitable impact on the position of the Catholic Church: Savonarola was executed for condemning corruption in the Church in 1498; Luther’s ninety-five theses appeared in 1517, at about the same time as Zwingli became the driving force behind Protestantism in Switzerland. A key element in the growing ferment for change was the advent of printing. It is no coincidence that Geneva became a centre for religious change as well as printing.

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In England, the crucial event was the Tyndale Bible of 1526 which drew on both Greek and Hebrew sources. Colet himself began to translate parts of the New Testament from the Greek, which he read from the pulpit at St Paul’s Cross to crowds that were estimated to number 20,000. This brought him into conflict with his the established church. There was even some concern that he could be charged with heresy. This threat however may have been triggered by his unpopular reforms to the running of the Cathedral. Erasmus described Colet as a quick-tempered man with a fertile mind who was suspicious of undue pomp. Always dressed in plain black, he mistrusted religious institutions and conventional piety, and was intolerant of pilgrimage and the cult of relics as it was widely practised. Thomas More, in the meantime, had to cope with wider responsibilities. As Chancellor, he relentlessly pursued those who were responsible for the clandestine distribution of Tyndale’s Bible. His stubborn opposition to change in the Church may seem paradoxical in the light of the enlightened views he expounded in Utopia, where freedom of conscience is accepted and tolerated. His overriding concern however was the threat of further religious conflict and, as a consequence, the social instability for which too many citizens on the Continent had paid dearly. Defending the status quo meant a vote for peace.

 

Erasmus’s ‘copia’ was first printed in Paris by Jodocus Badius in July 1512 (prefaced by a gracious letter to John Colet) along with several other minor works although pirated copies were already in circulation. The latter, sometimes called Badius Ascensius from his birthplace Asse (Flemish Brabant), was a pioneering printer and a fine classical scholar. He moved to Paris in 1503 where his house came to be known as the ‘Prelum Ascensianum’. He specialized in annotated editions of Roman classical texts for the student market, and also Latin works by contemporary humanist writers. He was himself the author of numerous studies, amongst which a life of Thomas à Kempis, and a satire on female follies, entitled Navicula stultarum mulierum. It is hardly surprising that both towering figures, Erasmus and Badius, were attracted to one another. During the first three decades of the sixteenth century Badius produced an extraordinary number of titles (775 editions are listed in Renouard’s Imprimeurs & libraires parisiens du XVIe siècle). He frequently worked in partnership with Jean Petit, who was by far the most important wholesale bookseller/publisher of this period.

Soon the ‘copia’ was reprinted all over the place. An elegant edition was produced by Matthias Schürer in Strasbourg in October 1516, the title-page of which is printed within a superb historiated woodcut border showing two jesters, architectural columns, and two putti holding a shield with the initials ‘M. S’. This edition contains Erasmus’ long letter to the Alsatian humanist Jakob Wimpfeling, dated 21 September 1514, in which he relates his previous journey to Basel, mentioning all the humanist scholars he had met from Alsace and Basel. Erasmus had first become acquainted with Wimpheling in August 1514 when he stopped in Strasbourg on his way to Basel, and was officially and warmly welcomed by the members of the recently founded literary society. The work concludes with three poems by Erasmus addressed to Sebastian Brant, Joannes Sapidus and Thomas Didimus, together with the latter’s reply. With the University of Louvain increasingly overrun with Dominicans and Franciscans who were united in their enmity to classical learning, Erasmus finally decided to seek a more congenial home in Switzerland. He settled permanently at Basel in November 1521, in the capacity of general editor and literary adviser of Froben’s press. Froben was delighted. His mastery of printing combined with Erasmus’s editorial skill turned the Basel press to the most important house in Europe at the time. As a consequence, the collaboration with Jodocus Badius came to an end.

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It may well have been that Colet intended Erasmus to be the first High Master of his new school. Erasmus, both intellectually and physically, was too restless a mover – the eternal refugee – to settle into a job that would clip his wings. It did not harm their friendship. Colet was an outspoken critic of the powerful Church of his day. He made the Mercer’s Company trustees to the School, rather than the Church or Oxford or Cambridge University, because he found – interestingly – ‘less corruption’ among married men of business. The Worshipful Company of Mercers was the premier Livery Company of the City of London, the first of the so-called ‘Great Twelve City Livery Companies’. Its earliest extant charter dates from 1394. The Company’s aim was to act as a trade association for merchants, especially for exporters of wool and importers of velvet, silk and other fabrics. By the sixteenth century many members of the Company had lost any connection with the original trade. Colet’s school was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and was rebuilt by the Mercers’ Company in 1670. Among famous Mercers were such figures as John Dee, Thomas Gresham and Robert Baden-Powell. The most notable of them in this context was England’s pioneering printer, diplomat, writer and merchant – William Caxton himself.

In 1596 Richard Mulcaster was appointed headmaster of St Paul’s. Previously, he had been the first headteacher of the Merchant Taylors’ School in London. He was a gifted educator and a good scholar in Latin and Greek. Many of his pupils made distinguished careers, the poet Edmund Spenser the most famous of those. His two books on education, Positions Concerning the Training up of Children (1581) and The First Part of the Elementarie (1582) are sections of an unfinished analysis of the educational system of his time. In the development of English schooling, Mulcaster represents a midpoint between Erasmus and John Locke. Whilst developing his pedagogy, he was in close contact with the Flemish/Dutch community in London (with Emmanuel van Meteren in particular) and with correspondents such as Ortelius and Dousa in Antwerp and Leiden. The word school (scole) itself was derived from the Dutch. The contemporary discussion about the use of the vernacular in education which took place in the Low Countries may have encouraged him to write his books in English. He defended this decision in these terms: ‘I love Rome, but London better, I favour Italie, but England more, I honour the Latin, but I worship the English’. Like Erasmus, he thought corporal punishment in education unnecessary and pernicious, but competitive sports and physical exercise were part of his educational thinking. His description in Positions of ‘footeball’ as a refereed team sport is the earliest reference to the game stating that football has positive educational value as it promotes health and strength. For this particular passage he is considered the father of modern football.

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rinus michels

Mulcaster did not create Total Football. That was left to Rinus Michels, another Dutchman. The latter was a master of his own game, elected coach of the century by FIFA in 1999, a man who raised the muddy and rather mundane game of soccer to the level of pure imagination and poetry in motion. The sporting metaphor appears regularly in the aesthetic writings of eighteenth century Classicists when referring to artistic rivalry on an individual level. To them, the creative process was an exciting race between able and skilled competitors. Michels proved that the fundamentals of team sport and creativity are also comparable in the exhibition of silky skills and vanguard tactics, and in the precious interplay of individual initiative and collective effort – or, in literary terms, tradition.

A pamphlet is a short piece of polemical writing, printed in the form of a booklet and aimed at a large public. The character of a pamphlet is oppositional, its contents more often than not politically subversive. Pamphlets are circulated for their impact upon public opinion. The English word pamphlet entered the vernacular in the fifteenth century. Early printers used black-letter (or Gothic) type for news pamphlets, a typeface generally reserved for ballads, proclamations, and other publications intended for a wide audience. Pamphlet writing rose in importance with the growth of the letterpress. Pamphleteering thrives in an atmosphere of controversy. During the mid-seventeenth century French Fronde more than 5,000 political pamphlets appeared (called ‘mazarinades’ after their usual subject, Cardinal Mazarin). One legacy of the French Revolution is a substantial body of pamphlet literature. The most effective political pamphlet ever produced was Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (1776). This passionate plea for American independence sold 100,000 copies within a period of three months. Until the emergence of the mass media, the pamphlet remained an important vehicle for shaping public opinion and expressing political dissent. In the history of censorship, it was the pamphleteers who suffered the most vicious attacks on both work and body.

Queen Elizabeth never married. Until bearing a child became impossible, she considered several suitors. Her last courtship, ending in 1581 at the age of forty-eight, was with François, Duke of Anjou, who was her junior by twenty-two years. In August 1579, Cambridge-educated Puritan pamphleteer John Stubbe wrote The Discoverie of a Gaping Gulf whereunto England is like to be swallowed by another French Marriage, in which he objected to Elizabeth’s proposed marriage with Anjou. He argued that it was against God’s law for a Protestant to marry a Catholic. Moreover, English values, customs and morality would be undermined by mixing with the French. National identity is a serious matter – then and now. The book was printed by Hugh Singleton. Elizabeth was incensed by the publication and a proclamation was issued prohibiting its circulation. Copies of the pamphlet were publicly burned. On 13 October 1579, writer and publisher were arrested. Elizabeth wanted to hang them both by Royal prerogative, but agreed instead to their trial for felony. The jury refused to convict. The accused were charged with conspiring to excite sedition. They were sentenced to have their right hands cut off, though it appears that Singleton was pardoned because of old age. The sentence was carried out at the market place in Westminster. It took three blows to chop off Stubbe’s hand. Surgeons were present to prevent him bleeding to death. He subsequently signed his name ‘John Stubbe, scaeva’ – the left-handed.

Why were punishments so severe for pamphleteers who responded critically to public or political affairs? The authorities lived in fear of the ‘lethal power’ of the printing press. Writing rebellious pamphlets was a criminal act to be punished by public humiliation and physical marking. The aim of punishment in general was to set a disturbing example to others to restrain from criminal or subversive activity. The legal spectacle was designed to shock and prevent. The law was about impact. Early descriptions of hell gave precise descriptions of punishments for specific sins. These were detailed catalogues of crime and its consequences. Temporal and ecclesiastical courts followed a similar line of proceedings. Every potential criminal knew exactly what to expect if he/she was caught. Punishment was a public affair. It was a spectacle, a drama, attended by large crowds who were there to witness that justice had been done. To the pamphleteer, writing controversial documents was a serious and dangerous undertaking. It did not stop authors from expressing their criticism or concern in print. Far from it. The seventeenth century was the age of the pamphlet. London was the centre of printing activity. There, during the time when censorship laws were enforced, twenty formally licensed printers were the only authorized publishers. Of course, there were far more than just twenty printers at work. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the capital housed several hundred unlicensed printing presses, and by the middle of the century, printing facilities were to found in a range of locations outside London. However, the cost of printing remained relatively high. It was not until the 1620s that less expensive type-face technologies reduced the cost of production. This coincided with the revolutionary unrest that would lead to the Civil War. The printing press played a significant role in the outbreak of armed conflict.

The most direct form of expression was the pamphlet. Once printed, a pamphlet would be sold on street corners and in coffeehouses. Pamphlets could easily be transported to more distant locations. The ever increasing level of literacy allowed the messages of printed pamphlets to spread to all corners of the country. It became impossible to maintain the rigid censorship of old. Regulations dating from the sixteenth century required that every prospective publication must be licensed by a censor and then recorded in the Stationer’s register. After 1637 printed materials had to include the name of the person who authorized the publication. Enforcement of these laws went under the jurisdiction of the Star Chamber (a Soviet sounding name if ever there was one) which sat at the Palace of Westminster. The court was set up to ensure the enforcement of laws against prominent or wealthy people who otherwise may escape justice. Court sessions were held in secret and evidence was presented in writing. There was no right of appeal, there were no juries. The court could punish offenders with fines, imprisonment, or corporal mutilation. King Charles I used the Court of Star Chamber as a political tool during the eleven years when he ruled without a Parliament. The Chamber became notorious for judgments favourable to himself and to Archbishop Laud. Their Puritan critics were treated brutally. In his campaign for church uniformity, Laud dismissed nonconformist ministers and suppressed Puritan preachers.

In November 1630, Alexander Leighton was brought before Star Chamber for circulating a petition that demanded the abolition of episcopacy. He was sentenced to be flogged, mutilated and imprisoned for life. Leighton was the first of many Puritans to be punished for their beliefs during the 1630s. In June 1637, lawyer William Prynne, clergyman Henry Burton and physician John Bastwick were prosecuted by the Chamber for publishing pamphlets that criticized Laudian doctrines. All three were sentenced to be stood in the pillory. The letter S and L were branded on William Prynne’s cheeks (Seditious Libeller: he would later say that the letters stood for ‘Stigma of Laud’). So large was the crowd which flocked to see William Prynne branded that Sir Kenelm Digby complained that even the appearance of royalty would bring out fewer people. The Chamber also ordered the physical mutilation of Burton and Bastwick. They had their ears cut off. An account of the execution has been left by John Rushworth, Oliver Cromwell’s personal secretary: ‘The executioner cut off [Burton’s] ears deep and close, in a cruel manner, with much effusion of blood, an artery being cut, as there was likewise of Dr Bastwick. Then Mr Prynne’s cheeks were seared with an iron made exceeding hot which done, the executioner cut off one of his ears and a piece of his cheek with it; then hacking the other ear almost off, he left it hanging and went down; but being called up again he cut it quite off’.

The punishments became the focus for popular demonstrations against Laud and made Prynne, Burton and Bastwick into Puritan martyrs. The practices of censorship and punishment became hotly debated issues. Early in 1641 Parliament decided to dissolve the Star Chamber. From that point until the Royalist regained control over the press in August of 1642, England witnessed a participation in national politics as never seen before. The statistics are staggering. The British Library holds the so-called Thomason Tracts, one of the most important sources relating to the English Civil War. These are a vast collection of printed pamphlets, books, and newspapers, printed in London between 1640 and 1661, originally brought together by bookseller George Thomason. An analysis preserved in the collection shows that although only twenty-two pamphlets were published in 1640, more than 1,000 were issued in each of the succeeding four years. Once censorship was abolished, fear of repression and mutilation disappeared, and all brakes were taken off. The age expressed itself in a flood of hostile pamphlets and an unprecedented violence of words. In contemporary terms, the pamphlet was a petrol bomb of controversy.

The two houses at no. 106 and 107 in High Street, Oxford, originally formed one large tenement known as Tackley’s Inn. It is one of the few examples of a medieval academic hall that has survived. Until the sixteenth century undergraduates and most graduates lived not in colleges, but in similar academic halls which were scattered over the university cities. This was the first piece of property that Adam de Brome acquired when he set to found Oriel College in Oxford. By the mid-fifteenth century the property had been divided into two parts. The western half was Tackley’s Inn proper (also known as Buckley Hall), which consisted of a dining-hall; the eastern half was known the college tavern, the taberna nostra. In 1549, the hall and shops in front were leased to Garbrand Harkes, who sold books from the ground floor and wine from the vaulted cellar. He had been dealing in business in Oxford since 1539. The family remained in business for over a century (1677 to be precise).

Gar­brand Harkes [later Herks Garbrand] was a Protestant refugee from the Low Countries. He was active in rescuing medieval manuscripts from the destruction of monasteries in the time of Edward VI’s commissioners. Manuscripts ex officina Gerbrandi biblio­polae are cited by John Bale in his Index Britanniae Scriptorum. He also saved a ‘cart load’ of books and manuscripts destined for destruction by zealots from the library of Merton College (many of which eventually ended up in the Bodleian Library). During the suppressive Catholic reign of Mary, Buckley Hall became a ‘receptacle for the chiefest Protestants’ who worshipped in the cellar. In the reign of Elizabeth he com­bined the business of book- and wineseller. It was a highly successful family-business, most of his numerous sons and grandsons becoming booksellers, dons, and prebendaries.

Conrad Haebler – the greatest expert on incunabula ever – published five boxes with original pages from incunabula in an edition of 112 copies. This is a leaf from Wynkyn de Worde (= from Woerden in Holland) edition of Chronicles of England (1497) Hain 4998. The two typefaces are based on French examples (WdW types 3 and 5) and are Wynkyns own.

In 1471, printer Wynkyn de Worde (d.1535), working as an apprentice to Johannes Veldener in Cologne, met William Caxton on his visit to the city and agrees to join him in Bruges. He subsequently accompanied Caxton to Westminster (1475/6). During his career as a printer his name appears in a number of variant forms: Winandus van Worden, Johannes Wynkyn, Wynkyn Vort and even William Wykyn. His Christian name was most likely Wynkyn, whilst Worde indicates his family’s origin.

Caxton’s death in 1492 changed Wynkyn’s life. Although the former had a daughter, Wynkyn took over the business. Using Caxton’s device, founts and woodcuts, he rapidly expanded the publishing house. He turned away from the predominantly court material Caxton favoured and concentrated on religious, popular and educational works instead. Wynkyn was particularly active in the field of grammar, working with many of the outstanding grammarians of his day and acting as their publisher. He maintained close contacts with the Low Countries and fellow immigrants. He had trading associations with the York printer Hugo Goes and employed a number of men with Dutch sounding names such as Robert Maas and others.

It is usual among critics in the field to present Caxton as a scholar and man of letters whilst considering Wynkyn a mere artisan. Considering the variety of books and studies he published and the vision he showed in expanding the business, such simplifications are far from helpful to the student of the history of printing and publishing.

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