The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Books of the English 1500 to 1800 Part 2

At the very beginning of Elizabeth's reign a system of censorship was introduced by an injunction ordering that no book should be printed unless it were first licensed by certain authorities. This regulation was but indifferently observed; other orders followed, and in 1586 the Star Chamber issued a stringent decree for the regulation of printing. This decree gave the authorities a more effective hold upon the legitimate press, but the suppression of seditious and heretical books, many of which were printed abroad and imported surreptitiously, was far from being successfully achieved.

Before the Stationers' Company received its charter, printing had been carried on at Oxford, St Albans, York, Cambridge, Tavistock, Abingdon, Ipswich, Worcester, and Canterbury. By 1557 all these presses were extinct, and, with one trifling exception, no printing was done outside London, until the Cambridge press was revived by the University in 1583. A similar revival followed at Oxford two years later. In 1586 there were in London twenty five master printers, owning among them fifty-three presses; and, since the Star Chamber decree of that year permitted no addition to these numbers, the production of books was limited to the capacity of these presses.

Notwithstanding official restrictions, the literary activity of the Elizabethan era was accompanied by an enormous increase in the output of the native press. New poems, new plays, translations from other literatures, especially Latin, French, and Italian, followed each other in quick procession, varied by graver treatises such as chronicles, voyages and travels, philosophical dissertations, and works of theology. All these were in addition to numberless Bibles, Prayer- books, legal treatises, and A B Cs and other school books, which, though more prosaic, brought much profit to those printers who were fortunate enough to possess monopolies for these particular books. Altogether the period covered by the reigns of Elizabeth and James I is one of the most interesting in the whole story of book production in England. The list of English printers contains no names which can stand beside the great continental printers whose work has been referred to in the preceding chapter but some very respectable work was done by the best native presses, and enterprise and literary taste are apparent in the more important publications. Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch printed several issues of the Book of Common Prayer in the reign of Edward VI.

Besides printing Hardyng's Chronicle of Englande and kindred works, Grafton also compiled two historical chronicles, which were printed by his son-in-law Richard Tottell in 1562 and 1569. This Tottell, publisher of the wellknown poetical Miscellany which goes under his name, was the owner of an exclusive patent for the printing of law books. Henry Denham displayed good taste in many of the books he printed between 1564 and 1589; and Richard Jugge, four times master of the Stationers' Company, issued in 1568 the first edition of the 'Bishops' Bible,' a fine book containing good copper-plate portraits.