Banned Books: Censorship in Eighteenth-Century England

Thesis (M.A.), 2009

89 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents


1.. The Culture of Censorship
1.1 Alteration ofcial Norms
1.2ate of Art and an Attempt of Term (re)Definition

2.. Historical Background
2.1 Control of the Printing Press in Tudor England
2.2 Control of the Printing Press in Earlyuart England
2.3 Control of the Printing Press in Lateuart England

3. Regulation of the Printing Press in the 18th century

4.. Banned Books: the Reformation of Literature
4.1 Booksppressed on Religious Grounds: Theortest Way with the Dissenters and the trial of Daniel Defoe
4.2 Booksppressed on Political Grounds: Drapier’s Letters and Hibernian patriot Jonathanift
4.3 Booksppressed on Moral Grounds: The epic comedy of human nature: The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding


Works cited

Inhaltliche Zusammenfassung


The historical development of censorship is parallel to the evolution of our civilization. If one talks about censorship as a type of social control then one is “overstretching” the concept of the word, as there are a wide variety of social control measures. Thus, breeding can be regarded as censorship or God’s verdict about a forbidden fruit can also be considered as a censorship act.[1] But, since the focal point of this paper is literary censorship, a narrower meaning of the term, such as book censorship, is required. Traditionally, book censorship has been seen as a control over printed expression by authorities, and mostly by the church or government. Alec Craig emphasizes that “it is writing rather than speech that attracts authoritative attention and social pressures because it is so much more enduring and effective; and books have been subject to control of some sort wherever they have been an important medium of communication.”[2] The earliest examples of such regulations can already be found in Ancient Rome and Greece, where the works of Ovid andcrates were suppressed, or in China, where the writings of Confucius were banned and burned by order of the emperor. However, these censorship measures were not of systematical character, and authorities in the ancient world failed to institutionalize this practice of book suppression. Not until the invention of the printing press and a consequential wide spread adoption in the usage of printing books, especially during the Reformation, was it necessary for the authorities to create a system of sharp control of the written word.

It is widely known that literature is one of the richest sources that contains the knowledge of social consciousness. It portrays the impression of social norms and values as well as modes of thought of a given age. There is also another crucial function of literature, namely it exerts an influence — through its readers — upon the very formation of these norms and values. Annabel Patterson says that “literature is a privileged medium by which matters of serious public concern could be debated.”[3] In order to control this debate, governments have engaged in some methods, including censorial measures. Therefore, suppression of governmental criticism has been and remains its first priority. Apart from political arguments, books can be banned on religious, sexual, or social grounds. The word “banned” is often used in a sense of suppression, removed from circulation by an authority. Thus, the use of words “banned” and “suppressed” is interchangeably in this study. Every government and authoritarian regime develops its own methods of censorship. An attempt is made in the present study to define the main characteristics of censorship, according to a reign of certain sovereign or by focusing on a special period of media development in England. The study arose from a desire to explore the further development of censorship as an authorial “weapon” to control the written word after expiration of the Licensing Act at the end of the seventeenth century; thus the intention of this study was as much critical as historical. The main focus of this paper is through the various methods of censorship employed by the English government in the eighteenth century and the difference between these methods and measures of censorial control in previous ages. An outline of the motives and methods of literary censorship in the eighteenth century will be illustrated by detailed discussion of three literary works.

The study consists of four major chapters. The central contention of the opening chapter covers the modern understanding of the term censorship; it presents the current discussion upon the culture of censorship and compares it with a traditional view on censorship as a special form of authoritarian control over communication. It also provides a short overview of the changing process of social norms and values, and its connection with the nature of censorship. The historical development of censorial measures is introduced in the second chapter. The history of censorship in England has been well covered by F.ebert, whose book Freedom of the Press in England, 1476 – 1776: The Rise and Decline of Government Controls is regarded to be a contributive work to the study of book history and is often cited by other scholars. This book with the works of Cyndiasan Clegg and John Feather are the base of literary source for the historical chapter of this paper, which treats the development of the printing press in England from its establishment until the end of the seventeenth century. It will also briefly pay attention to the most important events of these periods. The historical overview is followed by the chapter on regulation of the printing press in the eighteenth century. 1695 was a significant year in the development of the free printing press in England, because with the expiration of the Licensing Act meant that there was no censorship before publication. From both a modern and historical perspective, one talks about censorship that is often in connection with freedom of speech., debate on the liberty of expression is an essential point to be elaborated. The changed political situation in which royal-episcopal power has been replaced by parliamentary power, led to the discussion of free expression within the English Parliament. But eventually, it led to the fact that freedom of expression became regarded as a civil right. Conventional methods to suppress printed materials on government criticism or books that threatened accepted religion, such as licensing or monopolizing, which were used in the seventeenth century, were not of much benefit in this period. Thus, other methods had to be found by the English government. Therefore, the third chapter of this paper examines an implementation of common law as a chief means for control of the printing press and public opinion.ecial attention is paid to three categories of legal restrictions, namely seditious, blasphemous, and obscene libels. However, the law of seditious libel is simply regarded to be the most applicable law of that period. Although a large amount of books were suppressed on religious or political grounds, they were often convicted under seditious libel. The study will then move to the final chapter where some profound political, religious, and economical and social changes that happened in the eighteenth century will be briefly outlined. They are worth mentioning, since they affected the social life of English society and therefore, provided the writer with wide range of materials. Finally, a critical review will be undertaken of literary works from three representative writers of the Augustan Age: Daniel Defoe, Jonathanift, and Henry Fielding; with a final introduction of the history of suppression and some of their works.

1. The Culture of Censorship

1.1 Alteration ofcial Norms

As mentioned in the introduction, censorship is as old as civilization or has been around since the first act of writing. One must be aware, however, that the word “censorship” as we understand it, was unknown to ancient or even Middle Age societies; the institution of the censor existed in ancient Rome. The censor, a magistrate, had two tasks to complete, to register the citizens to pay taxes (census) and to supervise public morals (censura morum), as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. Thus a close relation between censorship and morality is self-evident, with the latter being defined through cultural norms and customs. Verification of an utterance is based on the validity of norms which are the instruments of social control. According to Williams, “[n]orms … are rules of conduct; they specify what should and should not be done by various kinds of social actors in various kinds of situations.”[4] All societies have rules or norms specifying appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, which have been accepted as legitimate by all members of society. This means that social norms are generally established; otherwise, a person who does not conform to general rules can be punished. This statement also applies to products of cultural life of society, such as art, music, and literature. Written words illuminate changing cultural attitudes towards social life and since literature can, through its readers, exert a strong influence on norm formation, it is a censor’s task to preserve social norms. In other words, a modern understanding of censorship regards it as a technique used for the proving of printed materials by means of accepted norms, in order to make possible alterations or to enact a ban.[5] These norms, which in turn are based on a widespread idea of values, undergo a historical change without which there would be little or no progress. In this process, the tension between normative claims and their enforcement plays an essential role. In relation to literature, Doris Ruhe asks the following question: what consequences does a literary work have for its contemporaries and for following generations?[6] A religious work that has been banned by the church, due to its heretical views in the Middle Ages, can be regarded as an essential work on the freedom of religious in the Age of Enlightenment. There were writers who “share[d] a tendency to break rules, transgress boundaries, destabilize hierarchies, and question authority of various kinds”[7] and at any time. Literary transgression, as a technique to subvert accepted norms and rules, is contributive to the process of social changes. In regards to the cultural process, repeating transgressions can be a sign that norms begin to outlive themselves and new norms should be adapted. However, history shows that any act in the overthrowing of a generally accepted system has been seen as a threat to the ruling authority.nce written text plays a central role in the process of communication and deliverance of social norms and customs, all written texts need to be proved by means of institution of censorship. In this case, censorship is regarded to be an authorial instrument that served as a restrictive method for the spectrum of possible thinking and actions of mankind.[8]

However, the postmodern account of censorship does not focus on its negative effect as in recent commonly held assumptions on censorship; after it acknowledges censorship as a constituent element of discourse, as “a tool in cultural criticism.”[9] Some ideas of a contemporary debate on censorship will be introduced in the next subchapter.

1.2 ate of Art and an Attempt of Term (re)Definition

Censorship is traditionally associated with a dictatorial regime (for example Nazi Germany and Communist countries in Eastern Europe) or at least with a state that has a strong institutional control over printed material. Until recently, this statement was also generally applied to the early-modern English state that exerted strict control over printed books, whether religious or secular.ebert’s Freedom of the Press in England was the most influential work that supported this opinion. The same approach, regarding censorship as an authorial control of all utterances of mankind[10], was set by Ulla Otto in Germany. Yet her study, Die literarische Zensur als Problem derziologie der Politik, made an essential contribution to the current discussion in the English speaking world covering censorship as a “cultural phenomenon.”[11] By considering censorship under a political-cultural aspect, Otto claims that it is not only the instrument of control that is in hands of those in power. The central position in her study is the assumption that censorship in the modern literary world plays an important role in correlation with historical changes of cultural norms. However, as long as politics plays an important role in social life and literature, as a cultural possession that exerts significant influence on the public view, by thus reflecting all aspects of social life, then powerful authorities will continue to censor printing materials in order to restrict the forming of public opinion.[12] In this respect, this authorial act can be understood as an imposition of “right values”, as for instance the principles of right morals.

Donald Thomas begins his book A Long Time Burning with a remark that “the main problem in writing a history of literary censorship is to avoid writing the history of too many other things at the same time.”[13] Indeed, the growing interest in censorship studies that has been observed over the previous decades is characterised by a diversity of academic publications from differing scientific areas. Censorship became an often discussed theme in such disciplines as sociology, law, political science, and communication studies. Beate Müller pointed out that censorship, as a field of study, has become “a more productive area of research” due to “debates about issues such as political correctness, ‘hate speech’, ethnic minorities, pornography, feminism, the canon, or the commodification of art.”[14] In this context, it is possible to say that censorship has become an interdisciplinary term, which makes it rather difficult to agree on one mutual definition.

Two factors played an important role in this developing process. The first is the recent availability of archival material for research purposes; such as, from 1998 an officially accessible archive of the Index Congregation of the Roman Catholic Church or the release of official records from some countries in Eastern Europe, as well as of the former German Democratic Republic. Another reason for the revival of censorship studies is, according to Müller, that “the concept of censorship itself […] has experienced a profound change.”[15] The modern consideration of censorship, as a cultural phenomenon that transcends time and place[16], gave the term a new evaluation: namely that censorship is an integral element of the social communication process rather than a repressive force. This widening in the concept of censorship was due to a new approach called “new censorship”. It was mostly based on works of the French sociologist Michel Foucault and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu, who brought the concept of censorship far beyond its conventional boundaries.

Contemporary understanding of censorship has been influenced by Foucault’s works on power as well as the relationship between power, knowledge, and discourse. Foucault analyses the ways in which human beings operate within a given culture and thus make different decisions which are a “subject to someone else by control and dependence.”[17] He assumes that discourse as a subject is controlled, selected and organised in each society through certain procedure.[18] In his essay, Foucault does not use the term censorship, most likely due to “the overwhelmingly negative connotations traditionally accorded to the term,”[19] Rosenfeld supposes. The same point of view is also held by Post, who says that “Foucault’s work invited us to ‘escape from the limited field of juridical sovereignty andate institutions, and instead base our analysis of power on the study of techniques and tactics of domination’”[20]. By quoting Foucault, Post asserts that “censorship transmutes from an external, repressive force to “a positive exercise of power” that constitutes practices as it defines their boundaries.”[21] Foucault also places a modest amount of stress on socioeconomic or political conditions of discourse, in contrast to another proponent of the new censorship, Pierre Bourdieu. He pays much attention to “the particular social, economic, political, and cultural conditions that make possible and then limit the production, content, and reception of text.”[22] Bourdieu also advocates an idea of censorship as a structural necessity of a discourse, although he does not refer to the power but to language (or “symbolic structure”), as a significant element of discourse and as an “instrument of knowledge and communication.”[23] In his concept, some communicational rules that exist in a field-specific discourse govern this particular discourse; and there is no discourse without these rules. According to Bourdieu, “there are the structures of the linguistic market, which impose themselves as a system of specific sanctions and censorships.”[24] Further, he asserts that censorship is “the structure of the field itself which governs expressions by governing both access to expression and the form of expression, and not some legal proceeding which has been specially adapted to designate and repress the transgression of a kind of linguistic code.”[25] To this extent, censorship “determines the form […] and, necessarily, the content, which is inseparable from its appropriate expression and therefore literary unthinkable outside of the known forms and recognized norms.”[26]

Thus, both Foucault and Bourdieu observe that discourse without censorship is impossible and also conclude that censorship is omnipresent, since it is regarded by them to be a norm.[27] Therefore, “the call for juridical force to check oppressive discursive practices has thus come to be seen not as invoking the state ‘as a censor, but rather as a parliamentarian’”[28] to protect social norms and values. Foucault’s and Bourdieu’s accounts of censorship offer a productive form of power that has influenced numerous scholars of the next generation; among them are theorists Michael Holquist, Frederickhauer, and Judith Butler. All centre thair attention to censorship’s ubiquitous character, and Holquist speaks about a paradoxical aspect of censorship. Despite the generally pervasive view that regards censorship as “an absolute choice between prohibition and freedom”[29] he proposes an opinion that “[t]o be for or against censorship as such is to assume a freedom no one has. Censorship is[30] and conceives it as “a particular form of editing” “in all disciplines that mediate language.”[31] The problematical concept of censorship is also underlined byhauer; he identifies censorship as an editing act, a choice, a selection. “I am tempted to conclude that the word censorship […] does not describe a category of conduct, but rather attaches an operative conclusion (ascribes) to a category created on other grounds.”[32] Censors or those who possess definite professional competence, or are agents, as Bourdieu names them, play a leading role in this process, since they are the ones who dominate specific discourse production.[33] “The process by which we set and enforce standards, by which we establish and modify the norms of evaluation, is inevitably a process that in a differentiated society falls, by topic or domain, more into the hands of some than of others.”[34] He concludes that “[t]he language of censorship is thus the language of professionalism, the language of expertise, the language of institutional competence, the language of separation of powers.”[35] However, the questionhauer focuses on is not censorship per se, but whether we as society have to rely on judgments of these content-determining authorities. As we use their language, the language of power, in making social decisions and in regulating our social behaviour.[36]

The view that censorship governs regulation of speech by engaging “in circumscribing the social parameters of speakable discourse” is also held by Judith Butler. By enforcing the distinction between what is permitted and what is impermissible, censorship legitimates boundaries of speech.[37] Butler agrees with Foucault’s idea of censorship as a productive form of power and summarizes her views:

[censorship] is not merely privative, but formative as well. I want to distinguish this position from the one that would claim that speech is incidental to the aims of censorship. Censorship seeks to produce subjects according to explicit and implicit norms, and this production of the subject has everything to do with the regulation of speech. By the latter, I do not mean to imply that the subject’s production is narrowly linked to the regulation of that subject’s speech, but rather to the regulation of the social domain of speakable discourse.[38]

A provocative opinion on the regulation of speech is held by Annabel Patterson. Her series of essays, Censorship and Interpretation, present an original redefinition of censorship as pressure on intellectuals, with a resulting literary discourse that implies an ambiguous possibility for interpretation; thus, she argues that we in part owe our very concept of literature to censorship.[39] The difference between Foucault’s approach and hers, Patterson pointed out, is that there was an implicit social contract between authors and authorities. Both sides knew what could be said publicly and how far the authors could go in their attempt to criticize authorities. “[Writers] gradually developed codes of communication, partly to protect themselves from hostile and hence dangerous reading of their work, partly in order to be able to say what they had to publicly without directly provoking or confronting the authorities.”[40] Thus, she claims that writers developed special codes of communication in order to talk about contentious issues without directly provoking the authorities and thereby entering into a “cultural bargain.”[41] However, speaking on this authorial intention, Patterson remarks that “authors who build ambiguity into their works have no control over what happens to them later”, applying in this extent that an author is not able to influence a reader’s interpretation of the text, since the process of reading and understanding, especially by following generations of readers, can be influenced by historical circumstances and a reader’s ideological needs.[42] One of the examples of misunderstanding an author’s intention, who uses satire as a method to avoid censorship, is Daniel Defoe’s Theortest Way with the Dissenters (1702), which will be looked at a little more closely in the following section.

Despite their differences, both accounts share the same idea. Where one belongs to the group of proponents of censorship as a discursive form of power or to the proponents of the theory of functional ambiguity, all scholars agree that censorship has a changeable character. It is more important to have a better understanding of censorship in modern accounts by recognizing the diversity of its forms than to find a specific definition of the term. Furthermore, the use of interdisciplinary approaches in the contemporary debate, covering the nature of censorship, can become confusing or, as McElligott notices, “[create] a terrible intellectual muddle which distorts the political and social realities of the society which it purports to describe.“[43] This is always to be kept in mind when one rethinks the nature of censorship. Freshwater states that the “[c]onclusion about censorship should surely be provisional, rather than fixed; plural rather than singular; time and site-specific, rather than universal.”[44] Thus, before we agree on one modern definition of the term, special attention is needed to be paid to the discourse and censorial measures of centuries before the eighteenth, since “aims, motives, and modus operandi “ of the government’s censorial machine in early modern England, as McElligott asserts, “could and did change in the light of shifting circumstances.”[45]

2. Historical Background

When in the Middle Ages Christianity became the prevalent state religion in most European countries, it was taken for granted that the Roman Church was responsible for the control of thoughts and opinions and for the suppression of those views that competed with its own. In its endeavour to intensify the control of written and early printed works, lists of books that were forbidden to be read by good Catholics were issued by the ecclesiastical authorities of the Roman Catholic Church. After this, local catalogues of “bad books” based on the Papal Indices of banned books appeared all over Europe. The most famous and long lasting example of these indices is the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. It was published in 1559 under Pope Paul IV at the Council of Trent and tracts in philosophy, history, astrology, and religion as well as literary works were put into the Index at one time or another. It was administrated by the Roman Inquisition and enforced by government authorities and its main focus was to prosecute authors who dared to utter against orthodoxy by suppressing their books. Among the authors listed in this catalog of prohibited books were such famous names as Rene Descartes, Giordano Bruno, Galileo Galilei, David Hume, John Locke, Daniel Defoe, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Voltaire, and many other famous scientists, philosophers, statesmen, and writers.[46] Many of the writers whose names appeared on the list belong to the canon of Western literature. The Index went through 300 editions until it was abolished in 1966 when it was seen more as a historic document than a censorship material.[47]

The last decades of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth century are characterised by remarkable social changes. The expanding of the universities, the growing commercial life, and the increasing interest in the book trade led to a rising need for information provided by books. According to John Feather, “late medieval England was far from being a wholly literate society, but it was a society in which literacy conferred social and economic advantages.”[48] On the other hand, the extent of literacy, the translation of the Bible into vernacular, and the new spirit of learning and inquiry favoured the proliferation of “evil opinions” that were offensive to ecclesiastical authorities. As in others countries, the main priority of the Roman Church in England was to prevent the circulation of dangerous ideas of heresy and unorthodoxy amongst the population. At the end of the fifteenth century, books on the New Learning reached England from the Continent and the questions of religion controversy began to appeal to public opinion. At this time the church had to admit that it had failed to control printed books. However, since the stability of the government and the peace of the realm demanded strict control over the printing press, this function was gradually taken over by the crown during the sixteenth century.

2.1 Control of the Printing Press in Tudor England

With the introduction of the printing press “a closer interest in the new art”[49] was taken by the crown. According toebert, “both the political and economic trends as well as religious movements were powerful forces shaping the government’s policy concerning the press.”[50] Two proclamations that were issued at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century played a significant role in the rise of royal control over the printing press. The royal Act of 1484 encouraged foreign printers, booksellers, and bookbinders to come to London and establish their businesses to stimulate interest in the new crafts. The appointment of an official printer to the king became “a highly lucrative position”[51] and was the next step made by the crown in order to keep the printing press under royal control.

The reign of Henry VIII and his series of laws formalising printing were very significant for the evolution of English censorship. In cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church against the massive flood of Lutheran pamphlets that were proliferating throughout the kingdom he issued lists of prohibited books and proclamations that empowered the clergy to prosecute the printers of the forbidden books. According toebert though, the distribution of heretical literature was secretly encouraged by Henry VIII himself in order to undertake the maintenance of the Catholic Church in England.[52] Henry VIII is commonly seen as an outstanding monarch in the history of England. His strategy in regulating the printing press consisted of promoting recognition of the king’s right to control as his royal prerogative. The same attitude was also used in ruling the country and in establishing the king’s authority over every political issue. At the time, Henry VIII was attempting to obtain a divorce from Queen Catherine which was rather a scandalous issue for the Roman Catholic Church, especially considering the statuses of the people involved. Thus, the circulation of Reformation books played a rather positive role for Henry VIII, showing the inability of the church to stem the growing tide of heretical literature, therefore undermining the safety and stability of the state. After his request for the Pope’s permission for divorce was refused, Henry VIII came to a decision that greatly influenced the history of England.veral laws were passed by Parliament including the Act ofpremacy in 1534 which declared the king of England as being the sole protector and supreme head of the church and of the state. Hence, the Church of England was established and religion became a state matter.ebert observes that “the religious dissensions of Henry VIII’s reign were more political than theological. … He [Henry] attacked the Church of Rome on a theological basis; he built his own church on a political foundation.”[53] As a consequence, the king achieved his goal of taking control of the ecclesiastical (church) and governmental (Parliament) authorities in order to strengthen his position.

ortly after Henry VIII’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church, printing privileges were granted by the king to the craftsmen of the English book trade in order to institute the system of royal licensing, in which a pre-print allowance for every book had to be received. This also established a method for granting patents of monopoly for important classes of printed books. Ever since then the names of the author and printer as well as the date of print were required to be set out in each copy of a book. The Act of 1534 was passed for the protection of native printers against foreign competition and a number of restrictions were placed on all books printed abroad. Although, as Cyndiasan Clegg asserts, while this printing privilege “was primarily economic and legal in nature; it granted to its recipient the right to enjoy the economic benefits derived from printing.”[54] The idea behind the act was also for it to be a censorious measure, specifically an attempt to suppress dissenting opinions that could undermine the safety and peace of the kingdom or threaten the king’s authority. Not everyone agreed with Henry’s decision to break with the Church of Rome which resulted in both religious and political controversy. This caused Henry VIII to decree that every “attack on Henry’s church was an attack on Henry’s government.”[55] Through royal statutes and proclamations, orders of the Privy Council andar Chamber decrees on the one hand and through licenses and patents of monopoly on the other, the royal rules for the printing press and regulations for public opinions were enforced. The Tudor proclamations that were the chief implement employed in the control of printing finally led to the Act of 1538 that was, according toebert, “the first attempt to establish a regular censorship and licensing over all kinds of printing.”[56] A new concept of seditious opinions was introduced in this proclamation which “was occasionally modified throughout Henry’s reign, with special orders appearing in response to unforeseen political developments.”[57] This firmly established licensing system continued to be the primary means of censorship for the subsequent sovereigns of the Tudor dynasty with several alterations appearing due to historical events and political circumstances of their own times.

Liberation of the protestant press during the rule of the next Tudor monarch, Edward VI, was observed, especially during the first years of his reign with Lord Edwardmerset as protector. Many more protestant tracts entered into circulation sincemerset revoked all treason and heresy statutes which “freed the press of all the censorship and licensing regulations imposed by Henry VIII.”[58] When the Catholic Mary I ascended the throne in 1553 the state religion of England briefly moved back to Roman Catholicism. During her reign, most Protestants either went underground or left the country. In order to stabilise the situation after the reign of Edward VI, a royal charter was granted in 1557 to the Company ofationers giving it the power to control the book trade by examining and licensing books before publication. It was also empowered to seize and destroy all unlicensed presses. Thus the “dual system of control”[59] of the press was created: the officials of the Company ofationers carried out royal regulations under the direction of such church authorities asar Chamber and later on the court of High Commission, institution established by Elizabeth I for approving books for print.

When in 1558 the crown passed to Elizabeth I, “one of her first, and most delicate, tasks was to try to find a permanent solution to the problem of church doctrine and governance.”[60] The royal injunctions that reinforced the policy of the pre-publication licensing system were issued in 1559. They covered not only manuscripts and printed books but also pamphlets, plays, ballads, and even sermons. Despite the opinion that the Tudor period is characterised through a gradually growing control over the press, there were still some moments when the situation for printers was quite flexible. Arnold Hunt pointed out that

the express purpose of the licensing system was to prevent ‘heretical and seditious’ texts from getting into print; and unless the system was conspicuously failing in this regard, there was no reason why all texts should be subjected to detailed scrutiny. The vast majority of the books, after all, contained no objectionable material, and in such cases the approval of the licenser was merely a formality. As a result, the system was routinely disregarded.[61]

The reason for this conflict was probably the arguments over the organisation of an effective licensing system through which the last decades of Elizabeth’s reign is characterised. Every official institution involved in this matter (government officials, clergy and officials of theationers’ Company) tried to get its own piece of the pie and very often acted independently from each other “[committing] themselves more and more to their own institutional agendas rather than the hegemony of the state.”[62] According to Clegg, the relationship between these institutions was “remarkably fluid, responding to changing political and economical events.”[63] Subsequently, some further attempts had to be made in order to tighten up the system of press control. This is why in 1586, all printing presses except those at London, Oxford, and Cambridge were prohibited.nce the threat to the general acceptance of Anglicanism came not only from pro-Catholic literature, which was usually printed abroad, but also from Puritan literature, which was the work of printers in England, the next important regulation was enacted. It declared that all books were required to be licensed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London with the exception of books printed by the queen’s printer and of law books that were to be licensed by the Justices. This statute of 1586 resolved finally “nine years of conflict in the printing trade over royal privileges and the authority theationers’ Company.”[64] Hence some of the confusion that arises about methods of press control during the Elizabeth’s reign can be explained as “a pragmatic situational response to an extraordinary variety of particular events”[65] and not draconian censorship measures as it was thought to be until recently.[66]

To summarize, the Tudors worked on the principle that the peace of the realm demanded the suppression of all dissenting opinions. Thus the object of censorship was more religious and political than moral. As Thomas remarks,

this earliest form of literary censorship dealt almost entirely with the suppression of political opposition and religious dissention. From time to time there were short-lived efforts to prevent the publication of books on the grounds of their obscenity or lasciviousness but the real spur to this kind of censorship was the knowledge that literature might get into the hands of the lower orders of society and would incite them to perform obscene or lascivious acts of the sort described in these books, a problem not much encountered until after 1695.[67]

Probably less attention was paid to this kind of literature because it was neither originally written in the English language, nor available in an English translation. Furthermore, the increasing power of the Puritan movement, the growing interest in public affairs, and the dissatisfaction of unprivileged printers towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign resulted in a mass of literature being printed. Most of these were pamphlets that dared publicly criticise the government and this was a significantly more dangerous threat to Elizabeth’s policy than simple ‘naughty’ literature.

2.2 Control of the Printing Press in Earlyuart England

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the printing trade was rapidly expanding partly due to the growth of interest in public affairs, both domestic and foreign, and partly because of the alteration of cultural practice, especially of political culture. The procedure of censorship developed further over the seventeenth century going from royal monopolies and licensing systems to the suppression of political and religious discussion by means of legislation.

When the House ofuart, with James I in the head, ascended the English throne in 1603, they inherited “the system of censorship as part of the machinery of government.”[68] However, censorship in Jacobean England was, according to Clegg,

not merely an act of suppression or an authoritarian effort to control the printed word engaging two parties – the King and the subject (the censor and the author) – but like any cultural practice [entailed] a complex cultural negotiation. […]Furthermore, authors, publishers, readers were “individuals” upon whom the mere fact of print conferred authority – […] – so to study censorship is to study moments of individuation.[69]

That means that every participant of a political discourse due to a newly acquired understanding of their own identity and authority used the press as a medium of propaganda to impose their ideas onto others. This political discourse had an essential influence on the position of the king. The Tudors exploited their royal prerogative to secure their positions. James I was not as strong a monarch as Henry VIII, thus the inherent rights of the foreign-born king were not enough to resist the growing power of Parliament and of the ecclesiastical authority. In addition, there was another tendency of the political discourse at the opening of the seventeenth century, namely a division within the Church of England. Two parties, the Puritans and the group of conservative pro-Catholic churchmen, tried to enforce their own orthodoxies. Consequently, the impact on political discourse and on the printing press was enormous since “[b]oth parties regarded controlling ecclesiastical licensing and the High Commission as fundamental to securing their power-base at court and within the church.”[70]


[1] Rolandim, Zwischen Medienfreiheit und Zensureingriffen: Eine medien- und rechtssoziologische Untersuchung zensorischer Einflußnahmen auf bundesdeutsche Populärkultur, diss., U Münster, 1997, (Münster: Verlag für Kulturwissenschaft, 1997) 10.

[2] Alec Craig, Suppressed Books: A History of the Conception of Literary Obscenity (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1963) 17.

[3] Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation. The Condition of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1984) 23.

[4] Gerdittler, Norm undnktion: Untersuchungen zumnktionsmechanismus, Texte und Dokumente zurziologie (Olten: Walter-Verlag, 1967) 11.

[5] Bodo Plachta, Zensur (Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam., 2006) 17.

Doris Ruhe, “Einführende Überlegungen“, Prozesse der Normbildung und Normveränderung im mittelalterlichen Europa, ed. D. Ruhe, K.-H.ieß (Stuttgart: Franzeiner Verlag, 2000) 2.

Marvin K. Booker, Techniques ofbversion in Modern Literature: Transgression, Abjection, and the Carnivalesque (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1991) 5.

Seim 41.

Richard Burt, preface, Licensed by Authority. Ben Johnson and the Discourses of Censorship (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993) xii.

Ulla Otto, Die literarische Zensur als Problem derziologie der Politik, Bonner Beiträge zurziologie 3 (Stuttgart: Enke, 1968) 3.

Reinhard Aulich, “Elemente einer funktionalen Differenzierung der Literarischen Zensur. Überlegungen zur Form und Wirksamkeit von Zensur als einer intentional adäquaten Reaktion gegenüber literarischer Kommunikation“, “Unmoralish an sich ...” Zensur im 18. Und 19. Jahrhundert, eds. Herbert G. Göpfert, Erdmann Weyrauch, Wolfenbüttelerhriften zur Geschichte des Buchwesens 13 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998) 178.

Otto 13.

Donald Thomas, introduction, A Long Time Burning, by Thomas (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969) xi.

Beate Müller, “Censorship and Cultural Regulation: Mapping the Territory”, Censorship and Cultural Regulation in the Modern Age, ed. Beate Müller, Criticaludies 22 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004) 3.

Müller, “Censorship and Cultural Regulation” 4.

Aulich 183.

Neilmmells, “Writing and Censorship: an Introduction”, Writing and Censorship in Britain, eds. Paul Hyland, Neilmmells (London: Routledge, 1992) 5.

Michel Foucault, Die Ordnung des Diskurses (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1992) 75.

[19] Sophia Rosenfeld, “Writing the History of Censorship in the Age of Enlightenment”, Postmodernism and the Enlightenment: New Perspectives in 18th Century French Intellectual History, ed. Daniel Gordon (London: Routledge, 2001) 126.

[20] Robert C. Post, “Censorship andlencing”, Censorship andlencing. Practices of Cultural Regulation, ed. Robert C. Post, Issues & Debates / Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities 4 (Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute, 1998) 1.

[21] Post 2.

[22] Rosenfeld 127.

[23] Pierre Bourdieu, Language andmbolic Power (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994) 166.

[24] Bourdieu 37.

[25] Bourdieu 138.

[26] Bourdieu 139.

[27] Post 2.

[28] Post 2.

[29] Michael Holquist, “Corrupt Originals: the Paradox of Censorship”, PMLA 109 (1994): 16.

[30] Holquist 16.

[31] Holquist 18, 17.

[32] Frederickhauer, “The Ontology of Censorship”, Censorship andlencing. Practices of Cultural Regulation, ed. Robert C. Post, Issues & Debates / Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities 4 (Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute, 1998) 160.

[33] Müller, “Censorship and Cultural Regulation” 8.

[34] Schauer 162.

[35] Schauer 162.

[36] Schauer 162-163.

[37] Judith Butler, “Ruled out: Vocabularies of the Censor”, Censorship andlencing. Practices of Cultural Regulation, ed. Robert C. Post, Issues & Debates / Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities 4 (Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute, 1998) 255.

[38] Butler 252.

[39] Patterson 10, 4.

[40] Patterson 11.

[41] Sammells 10.

[42] Patterson 18.

[43] Jason McElligott, Royalism, Print and Censorship in Revolutionary England (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2007) 186.

[44] Helen Freshwater, “Towards a Redefinition of Censorship”, Censorship and Cultural Regulation in the Modern Age, ed. Beate Müller, Criticaludies 22 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004) 242.

[45] McElligott, Royalism 218.

[46] For a detailed list of suppressed books or authors see Hubert Wolf, Index: Der Vatikan und die verbotenen Bücher (München: C. H. Beck, 2007) 258-269.

[47] “Index Librorum Prohibitorum”, Encyclopedia of Censorship, 2005 ed.

[48] John Feather, A History of British Publishing (London: Routledge, ²2006) 11.

[49] Feather, A History of British Publishing 25.

[50] Fredrickebert, Freedom of the Press in England, 1476-1776: the Rise and Decline of Government Control, introduction, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1952) vii.

[51] Feather, A History of British Publishing 26.

[52] Siebert 44.

[53] Siebert 27.

[54] Cyndiasan Clegg, Press Censorship in Elizabethan England (Cambridge: CUP, 1997) 6.

[55] Siebert 49.

[56] Siebert 48.

[57] “United Kingdom – Tudor censorship (1485-1603),” Encyclopedia of Censorship, 2005 ed, 632.

[58] S. Mutchow Towers, Control of Religious Printing in Earlyuart England (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2003) 21-22.

[59] Sheila Lambert, “State Control of the Press in Theory and Practice: the Role of theationers’ Company before 1640”, Censorship and the Control of Print in England and France 1600 – 1900, ed. Robin Myers (Winchester: Paul’s Bibliographies, 1992) 2.

[60] Feather, A History of British Publishing 33.

[61] Arnold Hunt, “Licensing and Religious Censorship in Early Modern England”, Literature and Censorship in Renaissance England, ed. Andrew Hadfield (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001) 128.

[62] Jason McElligott, “’A Couple of Hundreduabblingall Tradesmen’? Censorship, theationers’ Company, and theate in Early Modern England;” Media History 2 (2005): 89.

[63] Clegg, Elizabethan England 43.

[64] Clegg, Elizabethan England 55.

[65] Clegg, Elizabethan England 5.

[66] Cyndiasan Clegg, Press Censorship in Caroline England (Cambridge: CUP, 2008) 193.

[67] Thomas, A Long Time Burning 8.

[68] Thomas, A Long Time Burning 11.

[69] Clegg, Press Censorship in Jacobean England (Cambridge: CUP, 2001) 15-16.

[70] Clegg, Jacobean England 226.

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Banned Books: Censorship in Eighteenth-Century England
University of Münster  (Englische Philologie)
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