The influence of politics on the development of newspapers between 1660 and 1855, at the example of "The Times"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

22 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Prerequisites

3. Newspapers before 1662

4. Political acts concerning newspapers
4.1 Licensing acts
4.2 Tax laws
4.3 Libel acts
4.4 Summary

5. Comparison of selected parameters

6. The London Times
6.1 History
6.2 Comparison of chosen The Times issues.
6.2.1 Issue of the 1 January, 1785
6.2.2 Issue of the 1 January, 1795
6.2.3 Issue of the 1 January, 1805
6.2.4 Issue of the 2 January, 1815
6.2.5 Issue of the 1 January, 1825
6.2.6 Issue of the 1 January, 1835
6.2.7 Issue of the 1 January, 1845
6.2.8 Issue of the 1 January, 1855
6.3 Summary

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Nowadays, there is a wide range of different newspapers, and most people see them as an important part of their everyday life. But newspapers as we know them today have only come into existence about three-hundred and fifty years ago. And although the liberty of the press at least in the countries of the European Union is today highly appraised, this has not always been the case. For a long time newspapers were a thorn in the flesh of governments, which thought that printed oppositional opinions threatened them. Therefore the governments tried to control newspapers tightly by enacting consequential laws. For years politics thus determined the development of newspapers.

This term paper wants to deal with the influence of the English government on the development of newspapers between 1660 and 1855. This relates to London newspapers, if not stated otherwise. Also, the term newspaper is used for the printed product, the company or the owner, resp., and the journalists, if not stated otherwise. The term is also used for news printed before 1670, even though the term itself only occured in the English language during that year.[1]

After explaining prerequisites that were necessary for the emergence of modern newspapers in the first place, I will shortly look at the formation of newspapers before 1660, before I have a close look at laws established by the English government between 1662 and 1843. Then, I am going to compare selected parameters concerning the development of newspapers in different centuries. In the practical part I will analyse eight issues of The Times. I therefore chose the first January issues of a year, published with a time lag of ten years in each case.

In this term paper I want to analyse how the English government influenced the development of newspapers, which consequences this influence had, and how these again showed up in the newspapers themselves.

2. Prerequisites

Several things were necessary for the development of modern newspapers. About 3,500 BC the Sumerians developed writing. Only through writing disciplines like education, literature, and science, as well as trade and commerce could emerge or take place in a broader sphere. While the Sumerians wrote on, or rather carved clay tablets, the Egyptians used papyrus reeds[2] from around 2,200 BC onwards. Compared to other materials like clay, stone and wood, papyrus had the great advantage to write something spontaneously and fast, and to be transported easily because of its light weight.[3] In Asia also materials such as bamboo, and silk were used, before the Chinese eunuch and minister Ts’ai Lun invented paper made of textile waste in the form of rags in about 105 AD.[4] At first this invention only spread throughout Asia, before the Arabs picked it up. In Europe paper wasn’t known until the twelfth century.[5]

In the 1440s Johann Gutenberg introduced a typographical system using movable metal type so that printing was revolutionized. Because of this the at that time widely used parchment receded behind the use of paper.[6] The first printing press in England was installed by William Caxton in 1476.[7]

For the further development of newspapers the expansion of the logistics was important, too. In the seventeenth century roads improved, and the General Post Offices (GPO), which transported and sold newspapers, worked more and more efficiently.[8]

The Industrial Revolution lead to other big advancements at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Logistics were improved by the coming of railways, and steamships; the transmission of news by the installation of the electric telegraph; the production of newspapers themselves by the invention of the steam engine[9], and thus by progress in print technologies. Printing presses, e.g. the Koenig’s steam press from 1814, became bigger, and highly productive so that more copies could be produced in a shorter period.[10]

3. Newspapers before 1662

In ancient times news about government affairs were distributed by handwritten notices. Julius Caesar ordered to publicly display those notices on a daily basis.[11]

At the beginning of the sixteenth century the first printed pamphlets were printed and distributed. While they presented news narratives, i.e. news in the form of prose or ballads, there were also newsbooks, also called canards, which on several pages distributed news on one certain topic in each case. Typical topics were state announcements, victories in battles, royal marriages, executions of witches, etc.[12] These subjects were sensational, and interesting for the public. But compared to today’s newspapers, the canards didn’t report on everyday life.

Nevertheless, the roots of the modern newspaper seem to be weekly news-sheets in Venice from around the second half of the sixteenth century onwards. They were called gazette because they cost one gazetta, which was the smallest coin in the Republic of Venice. In the beginning still handwritten the gazettes presented mainly political and military news from all over Europe. Because they were so popular, the topical range expanded, and by 1600 “they were beginning to resemble a form broadly consistent with today’s newspapers”[13]. They were made of a single sheet of paper folded over to form four pages.[14]

In the seventeenth century newspapers flourished. The topics then comprised every kind of sensational news, e.g. sex and scandal, violence, and murders. Newspapers were sold in towns and cities in bookshops and coffee houses, and in the countryside by hawkers and peddlers.[15]

In London Nathanial Butter, Nicholas Bourne and Thomas Archer published the weekly Newes from 1602 onwards, and especially between 1624 and 1632, and thus start the history of newspapers in England. The periodical news-books only reported on foreign news because the king had the absolute power over the publication of news, and he prohibited domestic news to be printed. Because a the Crown did also not like a controversial discussion of foreign news, a decree of Star chamber concerning printing was passed in 1632. Thus, all the existing news-sheets stopped being published. After protests, the Newes were again published from 1638 onwards.[16]

4. Political Acts concerning newspapers

4.1 Licensing acts

Under Charles II. the first Printing Act was passed in 1662. This was meant to control the press tightly because only people being part of the Stationer’s Company of London were allowed to publish and print, resp., pamphlets, books, news letters etc.[17]

Whereas the well-government and regulating of Printers and Printing Presses is matter of Publique care and of great concernment especially considering that by the general licentiousnes of the late times many evil disposed persons have been encouraged to print and sell heretical schismatical blasphemous seditious and treasonable Bookes Pamphlets and Papers and still doe continue such theire unlawfull and exorbitant practice to the high dishonour of Almighity God the endangering the peace of these Kingdomes and raising a disaffection to His most Excellent Majesty and His Government.[18]

For the press this meant that newspapers were supervised, and censored very much. As the quotation shows the Crown tried to convince people of alleged diliberate misreports. By introducing this system of licensing it wanted to save the public from what it called evil persons. The argumentation was quite simple: Because the act claimed that some news threatened god and the king, nobody could contradict as god and the king formed the head of state.

First, Oliver Cromwell had surpressed the press, then the Restoration under the reign of Charles II. tried to do the very same. But this Printing Act from 1662, and its revived versions from 1685 and 1692 weren’t succesful, and were therefore abolished in January 1695.[19]

4.2 Tax laws

After the failed attempts of the licensing acts to keep up a system of licensing a new strategy was developed. From 1712 onwards several Stamp Acts were introduced. The first of those acts included “several Duties upon all Soap and Paper made in Great Britain, or imported into the same; [...] and Stuffs, printed, painted, or stained; and upon several Kinds of stamped Vellum, Parchment, and Paper; and upon certain printed Papers, Pamphlets, and Advertisements”[20]. By this law newspapers were taxed because they were special consumer goods, but not essential for survival. From then on all pamphlets and newspapers carrying news had to be printed on stamped paper. The tax amount depended on the amount and the size of pages. Brochures consisting of one sheet were taxed one penny, and of half a sheet half a penny. When they were made of more than one and a half sheet, they were defined as pamphlet, and were taxed at 2 sterling per sheet. On the other hand here publishers only had to pay the tax for one copy. Edification literature wasn’t taxed because it belonged to everyday life consumer goods.[21] Because of the increased taxes publishers raised the retail price of newspapers. They also increased the charges for advertisements. Some newspapers even went out of business immediately after the law had been passed, and because of the higher price the sales declined enormously. Still, one loophole was found: Newspapers were often published as a pamphlet to avoid high taxing.[22] This also lead to an expanded range of topics because more pages than before had to be filled. As there was a lack of news for all the pages, the newspapers published more geographical and historical background information, essays, genre pictures, explanations, comments, and counter-arguments.[23]


[1] “Charles perrot, second editor of the gazette ‘i wanted your newes paper monday last past’”.

[2] The generic term “tapa“, i.e. materials used to write on, comprises not only papyrus, but also the inner bark of paper mulberry, fig, and daphne. Cf.

[3] Cf. Stuart 1999, p. 8 f.

[4] Cf.

[5] Cf.

[6] Cf. Stuart 1999, p. 9: The Chinese also invented movable type, the Koreans metal type. It is not for sure if Gutenberg knew anything of these inventions.

[7] Cf.

[8] Cf. Stuart 1999, p. 11

[9] Cf.

[10] Cf. Boyce 1978, p. 101 f.

[11] Cf. Stuart 1999, p. 9

[12] Cf. Stuart 1999, p. 10

[13] Stuart 1999, p. 10

[14] Cf. Stuart 1999, p. 10

[15] Cf. Stuart 1999, p. 11

[16] Cf.

[17] Actually: An Act for preventing the frequent Abuses in printing seditious treasonable and unlicensed Bookes and Pamphlets and for regulating of Printing and Printing Presses. Cf.


[19] Cf.


[21] Cf.

[22] Cf. Boyce 1978, p. 84

[23] Cf. &printsec=frontcover&hl=de

Excerpt out of 22 pages


The influence of politics on the development of newspapers between 1660 and 1855, at the example of "The Times"
University of Rostock  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Mass Media Communication: Newspapers and Magazines
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Times, Mass, Media, Communication, Newspapers, Magazines
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Jana Groh (Author), 2008, The influence of politics on the development of newspapers between 1660 and 1855, at the example of "The Times", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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