Richard Pynson and Wynken de Worde. Two Early English Printers

A Comparative Analysis of their Lives and Works

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

16 Pages


Table of Contents


1. The Office of King’s Printer in England

2. Two Printers and Their Lives and Works
2.1 Richard Pynson
2.2 Wynkyn de Worde

3. Comparative Analysis of De Worde’s and Pynson’s Work
3.1 Their Business Relationship
3.2 Genres Printed
3.3 Style of Printing
3.4 Ship of Fools: Two Editions




In today’s world there are obvious qualitative and quantitative differences between the products of the print media, be they newspapers like “The Guardian” and “The Sun” or publishing houses such as “Faber & Faber” and “Bantam”. “Quality paper” and “yellow press”, “broad sheet” and “tabloid” are only some of the terms exemplifying this distinction.

Looking at the situation in England at the end of the late fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth century when printing was in its infancy, parallels to the contemporary situation can be identified. Five hundred years ago Richard Pynson and Wynkyn de Worde were amongst the first printers in England. Between them they produced well over a thousand individual titles. But their approaches to work as well as their positions in society were different, and so were their working methods and, thus, the different markets they supplied.

The objective of this paper is to compare and to contrast the lives, works, and achievements of two influential printers of that time. The terminology used is the common terminology of book studies. Major research on this topic has been carried out for many years. Early publications such of those of E. Gordon Duff in the 1920s are still relevant. More recently, scholars such as Henry Robert Plomer, Pamela A. Neville and, Lotte Hellinga have contributed to this subject. All these authorities have been consulted in the preparation of this paper.

1. The Office of King’s Printer in England

Henry VII created the office of King’s Printer in 1504. He recognized at an early stage how useful the printing press was in distributing documents legitimising his reign, laying down uniform rules for his army, and distributing the parliamentary statutes in English.[1] He chose William Faques over the more experienced printers Wynkyn De Worde and Richard Pynson. William Faques was from Normandy. Only seven or eight still existing publications from his press can be identified and only three of these qualify as official publications: a proclamation on coinage, the statutes for the last parliament of Henry VII’s reign, and a psalter commissioned by the king.[2] It could be argued that Henry VII wanted the statutes for his last parliament and the proclamation on coinage to bear the imprint impressor regius or alternatively it may be that the Chancellor William Warham was responsible for persuading Henry VII to create the office to simplify his work.[3] Although the main task of the King’s Printer was the printing of statutes and proclamations, the office did not carry with it the monopoly of printing all legal texts. Despite Faques and Pynson being successively King’s Printer, Henry in addition patronized various London printers including Wynkyn De Worde. As Neville states: “[T]he title of King’s Printer under Henry VII, though it may have brought some prestige to its owner, did not necessarily bring government commissions along with it.”[4]

It was previously asserted that Faques remained King’s Printer until his death in 1509, but Pynson already printed the Expositio hymnorum in 1506 identifying him as regius impressor.[5] Pynson was at first paid an annuity of two pounds, which was raised in 1515 to four pounds. Although the office was lucrative it also had its disadvantages as Pynson had to put other commissions to one side until he had completed the government orders.[6] However, as the King’s Printer, Pynson was not restricted to official publications, for example Henry VIII requested Pynson to print Lydgate’s version of the history of Troy.[7]

Neville suggests that the choice of Pynson as King’s Printer was sensible as Pynson had already proved himself as an experienced and diligent printer, well-qualified to print official documents due to his specialisation in law printing. Under Henry VII, though, Pynson never enjoyed a monopoly for government documents and between 1506 and 1510 Wynkyn de Worde seems to have printed such publications.[8] This situation carried on until 1513 with other printers printing statutes and proclamations “[…] but from 1513 Pynson had secured exclusive rights, and printed all documents and propaganda relating to the preparation of wars with France and Scotland.”[9]

2. Two Printers and Their Lives and Works

2.1 Richard Pynson

According to Hellinga, Pynson was born in Normandy, perhaps before 1451, which would have accorded him the privileges of an English citizen as Normandy was still subject to England.[10] It is likely that he studied in Paris as the name “Ricardus Pynson Normannus” is found in a list of students in 1464[11] and by the early 1480s he was resident in the parish of St. Clement Danes outside Temple Bar where he was on record as a glover and pouchmaker. However, Plomer did research in the parish records and states that it cannot be conclusively proved that the glover Richard Pynson and the printer Richard Pynson were identical.[12]

While living outside Temple Bar Pynson and his servants were the victims of an attack from a mob headed by Henry Squire. He gave evidence that his servants were so intimidated that they had left him and as a result his business was suffering.[13]

In 1502 he moved to “The George” on the corner of Chancery Lane in Fleet Street within the City boundaries. It is likely that he moved to be safer within the city walls. It may well be that he entered the book trade via bookbinding as a follow up to the leather goods trade. His first address just outside Temple Bar was near the Inns of Court, the lawyers’ chambers. William de Machlinia had been printing in the early 1480s for a clientele of lawyers and after his business disappeared there was for a time no printer for Law-French texts. However, Hellinga states that Pynson’s establishment, as a legal printer was not an immediate response to Machlinia’s stopping business. There was a gap of several years before Pynson took over Machlinia’s customers.[14] Duff on the other hand takes the view that Pynson succeeded immediately on Machlinia’s death or retirement: “A very strong reason for this impression is that had any long time elapsed between the cessation of Machlinia’s press and the commencement of Pynson’s, England would have been left without a printer who could set up law French.”[15]

In 1490, prior to Pynson setting up as a printer, he commissioned two legal works in Law-French from Guillaume le Talleur in Rouen, and he probably obtained his first printing types from the same source.[16] It may well be that Pynson’s native language helped in dealing with one of the staples of his business, legal works in Law-French. In most of the works he printed the style of his types and ornaments was French.[17]

There is also an unsubstantiated record (now lost) that in his early years in London he was granted denization to protect his right to carry on a business as a foreign national. It is equally possible, as stated above, that Pynson being born before 1451 in Normandy made denization unnecessary.

Probably Pynson began printing on his own account in 1490-1491. Although his first dated book appeared in November 1492 five books can be placed earlier.[18] The earliest printing that can be dated is an indulgence in English printed for the Crutched Friars of Tower Hill dated 1491.[19]

It is difficult to determine exactly the extent and composition of what Pynson printed. An examination of the accounts paid to Pynson by the King shows that much of his official work such as proclamations and statutes has not survived. [20] Hellinga has calculated on the basis of surviving material for the first ten years:

“[…] that 18 per cent of his production was for lawyers, 17 per cent for schools, 15 per cent was for clergy, and 8 per cent were official publications, but 40 per cent were English texts for ‘laymen’, literary as well as devotional. Of the total production of his period this output in English was 39 per cent, in Latin 36 per cent, and in Law-French 25 per cent.”[21]

Pynson in effect enjoyed a monopoly in the field of legal printing for many years. After 1514 he was confronted with competition from other printers such as John Rastell, Robert Redman and on occasions Wynkyn de Worde. In particular Redman tried to take his business by offering lower prices. But Pynson had established himself with a solid business model, which he was able to vary to take advantage of new opportunities. “[H]e could produce books that stood out as major publications, and others that were witnesses to interesting connections in the world of contemporary learning.”[22]

Although Pynson’s post as King’s Printer brought him prestige it was not his only and probably not his major source of income. Pynson had recognized at an early stage that schoolbooks would serve as a mainstay of his business. For the whole of his career his works were in demand from schools and teachers and he produced a steady stream of well-printed texts.[23]

An important part of Pynson’s publishing work was the printing of texts relating to Henry VIII campaign against Martin Luther. Indeed, Henry’s VIII title ‘Fidei Defensor’, which still appears on English coins today (F.D.), was awarded to him by Pope Leo X in 1521 after the publication of the tract Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus M. Lutherum.[24]

Pynson died in early 1530, leaving bequests to his two apprentices and survived by his daughter Margaret.[25]

2.2 Wynkyn de Worde

Wynkyn de Worde as stated by Duff was “[…] by far the most important and prolific of all the early English printers […]”[26] with a known output of between seven and eight hundred books.[27] His date of birth and family background are unknown and he appeared in written documents only from 1479[28]. His name suggests that he was born either in Alsace (Woerth-sur-Sauer) or in Wörth am Rhein. He became Johannes Veldener’s apprentice, met up with William Caxton in Cologne (1471-2) and then returned with Caxton to Bruges (1472) before going with him to Westminster (1475 or 1476).[29] It is assumed that De Worde worked for Caxton in Westminster until his death in 1491. “[He] was certainly married and settled in Westminster by 1480, in which year his wife Elizabeth is mentioned in a deed.”[30] The death of Caxton was a turning point in De Worde’s life, in that he took over his business and printed using Caxton’s device, founts, and woodcuts. Only five books are known to have been printed in these first two years (1491-1493).[31] In 1496 he was granted dezination, safeguarding his right of residence and right to carry on a business.[32]

In 1500/01 De Worde moved from Westminster to Fleet Street in London and by 1509 he also had a shop at St. Paul’s Churchyard. The reason for his move was to be closer to the flourishing book trade in the neighbourhood of St. Pauls Cathedral. After his move De Worde concentrated on religious, popular, and educational books rather than the courtly material favoured by Caxton.[33]

De Worde from the beginning used woodcuts to make his books more appealing to the customers although they were of variable quality. New areas he opened up included religious and spiritual books, possibly due to his connection to Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother. From the beginning of 1509 to her death on 29 June he named himself printer to the King’s mother in most of the books he printed.[34]


[1] Lotte Hellinga, William Caxton and early printing in England. (London, 2010), 118.

[2] Pamela A. Neville, Richard Pynson, King’s Printer [1506-1529] : Printing and Propaganda in Early Tudor England. Diss., (London, 1990), 31.

[3] Neville, King’s Printer, 32-33.

[4] Ibid. 36.

[5] Ibid. 34.

[6] E. Gordon Duff, The printers, stationers, and bookbinders of Westminster and London from 1476 to 1535. (Cambridge, 1906), 162.

[7] Hellinga, Caxton, 118.

[8] Neville, King’s Printer, 54.

[9] Hellinga, Caxton, 118.

[10] Ibid. 114.

[11] Duff, The printers, 55.

[12] Henry Robert Plomer, Richard Pynson, Glover and Printer. (London, 1922), 50.

[13] Duff, The printers, 158.

[14] Hellinga, Caxton, 115.

[15] Duff, The printers, 56.

[16] Pamela Neville-Sington, Richard Pynson. (Oxford, 2008).

[17] Hellinga, Caxton, 115.

[18] Duff, The printers, 57.

[19] Hellinga, Caxton, 115.

[20] Duff, The printers, 163.

[21] Hellinga, Caxton, 117.

[22] Ibid. 117-118.

[23] Ibid. 119-120.

[24] Ibid. 118-119.

[25] Duff, The Printers, 166.

[26] Ibid. 129.

[27] Ibid. 137.

[28] Norman F. Blake, Wynkyn de Worde. (Oxford, 2008).

[29] N. F. Blake, de Worde.

[30] Duff, The Printers, 130.

[31] N. F. Blake, de Worde.

[32] Hellinga, Caxton, 115.

[33] N. F. Blake, de Worde.

[34] Duff, The Printers, 133.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Richard Pynson and Wynken de Worde. Two Early English Printers
A Comparative Analysis of their Lives and Works
University of Münster  (Buchwissenschaft)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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984 KB
Richard Pynson, Wynkyn de Worde, Buchwissenschaft, Anglistik, Printing Press, Print, Printing, Printers, Early England
Quote paper
Harry Altmann (Author), 2014, Richard Pynson and Wynken de Worde. Two Early English Printers, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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