The Incunabala print from Oxford and St. Albans


Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

29 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)


Excerpt

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The beginning of book printing in England

3. The printing of incunabula in Oxford
3.1. The City of Oxford and its surroundings
3.2. The printer and his partners in Oxford
3.3. The printings from Oxford

4. The printing of incunabula in St. Albans
4.1. The City of St. Albans and its surroundings
4.2. The press in St. Albans
4.3. The printings from St. Albans

5. The bankruptcy of both presses

6. Further attempts to establish a press at Oxford

7. Final remarks

8. Appendix

9. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This paper is about the printing of incunabula in the old medieval cities of Oxford and St. Albans. The former was a centre of learning, the latter a centre of religion. Caxton, who lived and worked in Westminster, brought the craft of book printing from the continent and set up the first press in England. By far the most important part of the printing was done in London, although it is true that at certain times France, the Low Countries and Switzerland made important contributions to the English book market. Moreover a variety of centres in England such as Oxford, St. Albans, Canterbury, York and Cambridge were responsible for some printing. Nevertheless their output was small and many presses went bankrupt. The first presses were founded by outstanding craftsmen trying to serve the needs of the market and assuming all the risks of production and sale. However, printing in England can only be considered against the background of trade with the Continent. The name of the first English printer varies from Theodoric to Dietrich[1] Rood but the same person is meant. Thomas Hunt and the schoolmaster of St. Alban’s seem to be the “exceptions to the rule that printers in the British Isles were French, Netherlandish or German by birth, until Andrew Myllar began to print in Edinburgh and John Rastell in London”[2]. Oxford University Press is today one of the finest publishing houses in the world. It dates back to 1585, when “printing (there) became firmly established”[3]. However, there existed two presses long before that date and there was a press in St. Albans for a short time, too.

2. The beginning of book printing in England

With the beginning of printing, books ceased to be exclusive luxury items for the few and became relatively inexpensive, soon being sold all over Europe. The change was steady, as the demand for books could not rise at once; but, over the years, printing became established in England. The new medium was common in next to no time and books were freely circulated. From a study of the productions of the numerous presses in European countries, it is possible to determine, more or less precisely, the common requests of those people who could read. This is particularly true for England, where just a few books were printed for export.

It was soon after the year 1450 that the first incunabula appeared at Mainz. In 1465, Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz[4] – two German printers - went to Italy and set up a press at Subiaco[5]. Both moved to Rome two years later.[6] Italy had a number of various city states and had the longest tradition of higher learning and the greatest wealth of manuscripts. The invention swept up to the “rich, commercial paper-making city of Basel”[7], unfortunately we have no exact dates, but it is accepted that it was in the late 1460s. In 1470 the first French press began operating in Paris. In all cases, the first printers were Germans. The Netherlands, which have constantly claimed to be the birth-place of printing, have no validated date earlier than 1471. Austria followed in 1482[8] and Spain in 1474[9]. There are therefore eight European countries preceding England.

In contrast to the other countries, the first printer of England was not German. William Caxton, who was born in 1422, was an agent[10] of the English King and “Governor of the English nation in Bruges”[11], when he was commissioned by Margaret of Burgundy to translate the “Recueils de histoires de Troyes” by Raoul Lefevre from French[12] to English. This book had 700 folio pages, so publishing it can be considered as “a hazardous venture for a first attempt by a beginner at the craft”[13]. Although he had found it harder to translate than he had anticipated, he did not destroy the first sheets.[14] The work was finished in 1473 or 1474. In 1475, Caxton stayed in Cologne and “learned the art of John Veldener”[15]. Veldener was in many ways a “teacher and typefounder to Caxton”[16]. In 1476 Caxton returned to England and founded the first printing shop on English soil. Primarily turning towards the Netherlands and Cologne – “dominating both the commerce and the higher Latin-based, intellectual life of the lower Rhine basin”[17] - Caxton did not import his recently earned insight into printing and publishing processes entirely: ”cast type, paper, presumably recipes for printing ink, and he engaged at least one skilled workman from the Netherlands”[18]. Less attention is paid to the fact that he also imported books from the Continent.

Of over 90 works which Caxton printed 74 were in English, so his central goal was to publish for English academics and students the finest material not only of his native land but of any other. Up to the year 1490 he was virtually a monopolist, as the other “printers showed signs of choosing areas of expertise, although the example of Caxton´s enduring success with vernacular literary texts was not lost on them”[19]. He died in 1491. Wynkyn de Worde from Wörth in Alsace[20] continued his work and published more than 800 prints. The print runs of the editions were small, “250 – 500 copies ... were probably the norm (...)”[21]. Legal printing in London was an area for specialists which continued through a succession of printers: “William de Machlinia, Richard Pynson, Robert Redman and the two Rastells, John and William”[22]. More printing presses were established in Oxford and St. Albans; both businesses were evidently much smaller and only “operative for short times”[23]. In Oxford Theodoric Rood began printing in 1478 and his main business was probably in Oxford and the surrounding area. The press at St. Albans dealt mainly with scholastic printing. The two presses went into operation after Caxton, and so there is a great probability that there was a connection between him and them: “the St. Albans Printer used some Caxton types for his later productions”[24].

3. The printing of incunabula in Oxford

3.1. The City of Oxford and its surroundings

Oxford seems to have been mainly disregarded by the Roman conquerors, as the first evidence, not only of the existence of Oxford but also of its significance, comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle where it is stated that Edward, took control of "London and Oxford and the lands obedient to those cities"[25]. Oxford had clearly developed into an important town due to its location. A place significant both politically, because it indicated the boundaries of the two kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex, and commercially because it lay by the rivers Cherwell and Thames[26].

A new fortified town was then founded no longer attached to the early Minster, the northern gate of this reinforcement almost certainly being on the site of what is one of the oldest buildings in Oxford today, St Michael's church tower. This new town of Oxford dates from the early 10th century. The municipality of Oxford had by no means a non-violent life. At least two events of a bloody nature took place. The old church of St Frideswide[27] was the site of a massacre of Danes, which in turn caused the town to be pillaged in the years 1009 and 1013.

The unification of England indicated the end of Oxford’s military significance. At the time of the Norman Conquest Oxford had become a well urbanised town. As elsewhere, the turmoil that came in the wake of the Norman Conquest also seriously affected Oxford. It is fair to assume that the town tried to defend itself against the advancing Normans and this might account for the hard times it endured in later years. The Domesday Book records the demolition of much of the town.

The castle itself was the scene of a better-remembered event. During the disorder of the reign of Stephen[28], Queen Matilda was besieged there but she was able to escape. Dressed in white she crossed the Thames unnoticed, as it was impossible to tell her white figure from the white background of snow and ice.

Oxford had often had close contacts with royalty. It was the scene of royal councils in 1018 when the reign of Canute[29] was formally recognised and in 1065 when Edward the Confessor had to come to terms with rebels. In the 14th century there was a strong decline in wealth and the Black Death[30] dealt a serious blow to what was, until then, a growing population.[31]

One of the consequences of this decline was the availability of land which was rapidly bought and used for the foundation of additional university colleges in the 14th century. However by that time, the university had descended into “provincial obscurity”[32]. There followed a fast building program and enormous reorganisation of the university structure: Teaching was now handed over to the individual colleges. Another social and religious disturbance was to have an extraordinary influence on the growth of the University, namely the Reformation. The reign of Henry VIII brought the closure of religious institutions and in Oxford this meant that the possessions formerly held by the religious orders were now owned by the colleges.

This, of course, favoured the University. Christ Church, for example, was built upon the site of St Frideswide's, then followed Trinity, St John's, Gloucester Hall. However, there was also a harmful aspect to this turmoil. Most of the academics and lecturers were clerics[33] and this meant a serious interruption of academic activities and a decline in the number of students. They were also hazardous times and possibly the spread of fundamental ideas was even more risky. These issues were enough to deter many from attending the University. The decline and wealth of the University always brought in its wake a corresponding action in the prosperity of the town which granted scribes, bookbinders, and other craftsmen who were associated with the “academic scene in late medieval Oxford”[34].

3.2. The printer and his partner in Oxford

The evidence would suggest that it was James Goldwell[35] who was involved in establishing the first press at Oxford. Perhaps with the adhesion of a group of members[36] of the university – or book buyers[37] - it would not have been hard for Goldwell to convince some Cologne printer to move to Oxford and found a press there. In these days, there was the institution called the “Wanderdrucker or roving printer”[38]. Nevertheless the stimulus for Rood coming to Oxford may also have been that a “capitalist or consortium may have financed a mission of printing to Oxford”[39]. On the one hand, a German printer, who had been trained in one of the superior printing centres there, was invited to move to a new city with a university in another country under the call of a distinguished churchmen and a man of learning.

On the other hand, in the colophon to the Phalaris of 1485 there is a Latin poem describing Theodore Rood, “sent by Cologne”[40]. However there is some controversy about whether Theodoric Rood was really the first printer of the first three Oxford books. The controversy has raged over the years, but this point has not been settled.[41] The first work of the first Oxford printer was a book in Latin belonging to the Western intellectual custom; but the edition itself was in competition with others that were assembled in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. Goldwell would have provided the impetus[42] for this venture as well as making the first texts available to the printer.

[...]


[1] David Rogers, “Printing in 1478. The background to the first press at Oxford” Journal of the Printing Historical Society, 13 (1978/79), 74.

[2] Lotte Hellinga (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Vol III 1400 – 1557 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 13 f.

[3] Falconer Madan, The Early Oxford Press. A Bibliography of Printing and Publishing at Oxford ‘1468’ – 1640 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1895), a3.

[4] http://www.typolexikon.de/p/pannartz-arnold.html (06.07.2003)

[5] http://www.sumscorp.com/perspective/giesecke.html (05.07.2003)

[6] http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/people/A0847417.html (05.07.2003)

[7] David Rogers, “Printing in 1478. The background to the first press at Oxford” Journal of the Printing Historical Society, 13 (1978/79),, 69.

[8] http://www.aeiou.at/aeiou.encyclop.b/b844279.htm (07.07.2003)

[9] http://www.gutenbergdigital.de/gudi/dframes/texte/framere/post_1.htm (06.07.2003)

[10] Richard Deacon, A biography of William Caxton. The first English Editor. Printer, Merchant and Translator, (London: Muller, 1976), 160.

[11] R.A. Peddie (ed.), Printing. A short History of the Art (London: Grafton & Co., 1927), 173.

[12] N.F. Blake, Caxton: England’s First Publisher (London: Osprey. 1976), 171.

[13] H.S. Bennett, English Books and Readers 1475 to 1557. Being a Study in the history of the book trade from Caxton to the incorporation of the Stationers´Company (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), 11.

[14] R.A. Peddie (ed.), Printing. A short History of the Art (London: Grafton & Co., 1927), 172.

[15] John Feather, A history of British Publishing (London et al: Croom Helm, 1988), 9.

[16] David Rogers, “Printing in 1478. The background to the first press at Oxford” Journal of the Printing Historical Society, 13 (1978/79), 72.

[17] Ibid, 71.

[18] Dennis E. Rhodes, Studies in Early European Printing and Book Collecting (London: The Pindar Press, 1983), 10 Lotte Hellinga (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Vol III 1400 – 1557 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 10.

[19] Lotte Hellinga (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Vol III 1400 – 1557 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 11

[20] H.S. Bennett, English Books and Readers 1475 to 1557. Being a Study in the history of the book trade from Caxton to the incorporation of the Stationers´Company (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), 30.

[21] John Feather, A history of British Publishing (London et al: Croom Helm, 1988), 8.

[22] Lotte Hellinga (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Vol III 1400 – 1557 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 11.

[23] N.F. Blake, “The Spread of Printing in English During the Fifteenth Century.” Gutenberg-Jahrbuch (1987), 26.

[24] N.F. Blake, “The Spread of Printing in English During the Fifteenth Century.” Gutenberg-Jahrbuch (1987), 26.

[25] http://www.know-britain.com/cities_towns/history_of_oxford_2.html (18.07.2003)

[26] http://www.britainexpress.com/cities/oxford/rivers.htm (17.07.2003)

[27] http://www.britainexpress.com/cities/oxford/saxon-oxford.htm (17.07.2003)

[28] 1135-1154

[29] http://www.britainexpress.com/cities/oxford/saxon-oxford.htm (17.07.2003)

[30] 1349

[31] http://www.britainexpress.com/cities/oxford/medieval-oxford.htm (17.07.2003)

[32] John Feather, A history of British Publishing (London et al: Croom Helm, 1988), 9.

[33] http://www.britainexpress.com/cities/oxford/stuart.htm (17.07.2003)

[34] David Rogers, “Printing in 1478. The background to the first press at Oxford” Journal of the Printing Historical Society, 13 (1978/79), 67.

[35] Ibid., 26.

[36] John Feather, A history of British Publishing (London et al: Croom Helm, 1988), 14.

[37] David Rogers, “Printing in 1478. The background to the first press at Oxford” Journal of the Printing Historical Society, 13 (1978/79), 74.

[38] Ibid, 68.

[39] Harry Carter, A history of the Oxford University Press .Volume I to the year 1780. With an Appendix Listing the titles of books printed there 1690 – 1780 (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1975), 7.

[40] Ibid., 6.

[41] Dennis E. Rhodes, Studies in Early European Printing and Book Collecting (London: The Pindar Press, 1983), 8

[42] N.F. Blake, “The Spread of Printing in English During the Fifteenth Century.” Gutenberg-Jahrbuch (1987), 27.

Excerpt out of 29 pages

Details

Title
The Incunabala print from Oxford and St. Albans
College
University of Münster  (English Seminar)
Course
Hauptseminar: Early printing in England: Wynkyn de Worde
Grade
2 (B)
Author
Year
2003
Pages
29
Catalog Number
V21216
ISBN (eBook)
9783638248839
File size
1572 KB
Language
English
Tags
Incunabala, Oxford, Albans, Hauptseminar, Early, England, Wynkyn, Worde
Quote paper
Michael Gärtner (Author), 2003, The Incunabala print from Oxford and St. Albans, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/21216

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