A short note on Caxton and Wynkyn

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.