Commentary on:
Star Chamber Decree (1566)

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Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)
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Identifier: uk_1566

 

Commentary on Star Chamber Decree 1566
Ronan Deazley

School of Law, University of Birmingham, UK

 

Please cite as:
Deazley, R. (2008) ‘Commentary on Star Chamber Decree 1566', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org

 

1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. Elizabeth, the printing patentees and the Star Chamber Decree 1566

4. Provisions of the Star Chamber Decree 1566

5. References

 

1. Full title
Ordinances decreed for reformation of divers disorders in printing and uttering of Bookes (1566)

 

2. Abstract
A decree prohibiting the publication of any book considered to be contrary to statute, injunction, ordinance and letters patents, as well as banning the importation of such works. This provided the first occasion on which the proprietary interests of the Stationers' Company and the ideological control of the press become explicitly linked.

 

The commentary describes the background to the Decree and in particular the concern of Elizabeth's High Commission over the influx of Catholic texts from continental Europe. The commentary argues that the Decree is particularly significant in that it formalised, for the first time, the specific link between the interests of the government in regulating and censuring the press and the economic interests of the Stationers' Company. The formal inclusion of the category of ‘letters patents' within the remit of the Decree ensured that works published under a printing privilege now attracted the formal protection of the Star Chamber.

 

3. Elizabeth, the printing patentees, and the Star Chamber Decree 1566
When Elizabeth (1533-1603) affirmed the Stationers' Charter in 1559,[1] while in the same year issuing her Injunctions designed to outline the future structure and governance of the Church of England,[2] she had kept the economic interests of the book trade and the ideological control of the press institutionally distinct, as had been the case with Henry VIII's (1491-1547) royal proclamation of 1538.[3] The first time in which the proprietary interests of the stationers and the censorial impulses of the monarch and the government became formally intertwined came when a short set of recommendations produced by Elizabeth's High Commission was approved by the Privy Council at the Star Chamber in June 1566. One of the catalysts for the Decree was the concern on the Commissioners' part over the recent influx of Catholic texts from continental Europe, texts which contested and criticised the substance and authority of Elizabeth's ecclesiastical settlement.[4] However, there is no doubt that the stationers also availed themselves of the opportunity to pursue their own best interests. Both Blagden and Patterson find the hand of the stationers at work in the drafting and substance of the Decree.[5] The first paragraph is perhaps the most significant:

"[N]o person shall print, or cause to be imprinted, nor shall bring, or cause, or procure to be brought into this realm imprinted, any book or copy against the form and meaning of any ordinance, prohibition, or commandment, contained, or to be contained in any of the statutes or laws of this realm, or in any injunctions, letters patents, or ordinances, passed or set forth, or to be passed or set forth by the Queen's most excellent Majesty's grant, commission, or authority."[6]

Whereas the 1559 Injunctions had established a licensing system principally concerned with heretical and seditious texts, with this new Decree, the prohibition on printing "unlawful" texts now extended to any book contrary to statute (which of course would have included Elizabeth's Act of Supremacy 1559),[7] injunction, ordinance and, crucially, "letters patents". The inclusion of this latter category of works ensured that works published under a printing privilege now also attracted the protections of the Star Chamber.[8] This perhaps should not surprise given that the printers and publishers who controlled the most lucrative of the early Elizabethan printing privileges also held senior positions within the Company at the time. In 1566 the Master of the Company was John Cawood (1513/14-1572) who, along with Richard Jugge (then Upper Warden) (c.1514-1577), was the Queen's Printer with the monopoly on all official printing.[9] John Day (1521/22-1584), who had held the patent on the Catechism in English since 1553, served as Under Warden in the same year as Cawood and Jugge.[10] Jugge himself had replaced William Seres (d.1578/80), Upper Warden in both 1565 and 1561, and who, in June 1559, had been granted the patent for printing "all manner of primers".[11] In any event, the proprietary interests of (at least some of) the stationers were secured within the Decree.[12]

 

4. Provisions of the Star Chamber Decree 1566
Elizabeth's Injunctions focused not just upon ecclesiastical works, but primarily upon such works that were printed within England. The 1566 Decree widened the parameters of the regulation of the book trade in this regard, extending its reach to address the importation of offending texts. In this way, Ransom observes, "the early press had ceased to be an insular matter".[13] This focus on continental imports also worked to the advantage of the stationers in that it provided a protection against foreign reprints of their works, something which the 1557 Charter had failed to address. The ban on importing ‘unlawful' works was also accompanied by an extension to the search-and-seize powers granted to the Company under the Charter, to include the authority to search "all workhouses, shops, warehouses and other places of printers, booksellers, or such as bring books into the realm to be sold, or where they have reasonable cause of suspicion", and to open "all packs, drifats, maunds, and other things wherein books shall be contained".[14] Of this new search provision, Blagden writes: "[T]hough ostensibly directed against seditious publications, [it] was exactly what the governing body of the Company wanted for the battle, which was just beginning, against the secret printing of privilege copies".[15] Indeed, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that when the stationers began to exercise their renewed authority to search for offending texts, they were searching as much for works that contravened their own printing privileges, as they were for heretical and seditious texts.[16] In May 1567, for example, when two of the ‘searchers' appointed by the Company (Hugh Singleton (d. in or before 1593) and Thomas Purfoot) presented to the High Commission a list of ‘unlawful' books found in the possession of the York stationers, their inventory included 70 primers (for which Seres of course held the printing privilege), but didn't include anything that might have given Elizabeth's commissioners cause for concern.[17]

 

In addition to the above, the Star Chamber Decree also included a number of other initiatives. While item 51 of the Injunctions had simply declared that any guilty person "shall be punished by order of the said commissioners", the Decree set out specific sanctions for contravention which included the forfeiture of the unlawful books, the imposition of financial penalties, exclusion from the book trade, and three months imprisonment.[18] Booksellers and bookbinders were also implicated in the business of disseminating offending texts as they were now to be subject to a 20 shilling fine for every book they might "sell, utter, put to sale, bind, stitch or sow".[19] The Decree provided that any forfeited books were to be brought to the Company to be destroyed or turned into waste paper, and that any moneys generated were to be divided one half to the queen, the other half to the person who seized the books or made the first complaint which led to such seizure.[20] Finally, the last paragraph of the Decree required that every member of the book trade (whether "printer, stationer, bookseller, merchant, [or] other person") should enter into recognizances "of reasonable sums of money to her majesty's use" so that he "shall truly observe all the said ordinances" as well as assisting the Company in enforcing them.[21]

 

The Star Chamber Decree of 1566 occupies a particularly significant place within the history of the development of copyright within Britain. It formalised, for the first time, the specific link between the mutually reinforcing interests of both the government and the stationers, "the former providing the authority and the latter the local knowledge and the executive ability, the former being vulnerable to printed criticism and the latter to invasion of literary property".[22] The economic interests of the book trade and the ideological control of the press became explicitly intertwined in a manner that, as Patterson puts it, provided a "modus operandi"[23] which would be relied upon and replicated in various guises until the collapse of the licensing system in May 1695 following the lapse of the Licensing Act 1662.[24]

 

5. References

Governmental papers and legislation

Act of Supremacy, 1559, 1 Eliz., c.1.

 

Cases

Day v. Ward and Holmes (1582) Arber, II, 753

Day and his Assigns v. Dunn, Robinson and Others (1585) Arber, II, 790

Flower and Assigns v. Dunn and Robinson (1585) Arber, II, 794

Flower and Assigns v. Bourne and Others (1586) Arber, II, 800

 

Books and Articles

Arber, E., A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1557-1640, 5 vols. (London: n.p., 1875-94)

Blagden, C., "Book Trade Control in 1566", The Library, 5th Ser., 13 (1958): 287-92 (290)

Clegg, C.S., Press Censorship in Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Feather, J., A History of British Publishing (London & New York: Routledge, 1988)

Loewenstein, J., The Author's Due: Printing and the Prehistory of Copyright (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002)

Milward, P., Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age: A Survey of Printed Sources (London: The Scholar Press, 1977)

Patterson, L.R., Copyright in Historical Perspective (Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1968)

Ransom, H., The First Copyright Statute: An Essay on An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, 1710 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1956)


[1] See: uk_1557.

[2] See: uk_1559.

[3] See for example Loewenstein's observation that, with the 1538 proclamation, "the mechanism of ideological regulation" was "technically splintered off from the elementary commercial monopoly"; J. Loewenstein, The Author's Due: Printing and the Prehistory of Copyright (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 110.

[4] Thomas Stapleton, for example, an exile at Louvain, translated a number of books, for distribution in England, designed to support the Catholic position and undermine that of Protestantism. These works included the treatise De Expresso dei Verbo of Cardinal Hosius (1558), Frederick Staphylus' Apologia (1562), and Ecclesiastica Historia by the Venerable Bede (1566). To these translations Stapleton added his own works, such as A Fortresse of the Faith (1565) and Of the Expresse Worde of God (1567). In general, see P. Milward, Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age: A Survey of Printed Sources (London: The Scholar Press, 1977), 8-16.

[5] See: C. Blagden, "Book Trade Control in 1566", The Library, 5th Ser., 13 (1958): 287-92 (290); L.R. Patterson, Copyright in Historical Perspective (Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1968), 39.

[6] Ordinances decreed for reformation of divers disorders in printing and uttering of Bookes, 1566, s.1.

[7] Act of Supremacy, 1559, 1 Eliz., c.1.

[8] Indeed it was upon this decree that John Day based his claim in the Star Chamber cases of Day v. Ward and Holmes (1582) and Day and his Assigns v. Dunn, Robinson and Others (1585); see E. Arber, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1557-1640, 5 vols. (London: 1875-94), 2: 753, 790. See also Flower and Assigns v. Dunn and Robinson (1585) and Flower and Assigns v. Bourne and Others (1586); Arber, 2: 794, 800.

[9] Cawood had previously been Master of the Company in 1561 and 1562, while Jugge had previously served as Upper Warden in 1560 and 1563; see John Feather, A History of British Publishing (London & New York: Routledge, 1988), 35. For an indication of the type of works which the Queen's Printers produced see Arber, 1: 564, 570.

[10] Day also became the patentee for the Psalms and the ABC in 1567; Feather, 36. For a transcript of Day's licence to print Cunningham's The Cosmographical Glass, granted on 11 November 1559, see Patterson, Appendix I, 232.

[11] Feather, 35-36. Richard Tottel who was granted the patent on law books in 1559 was Under Warden in 1561, and Upper Warden in both 1567 and 1568; ibid., 36.

[12] In 1577 the stationers holding printing privileges from Elizabeth were as follows: Jugge, the Queen's Printer (official documents, bibles and testaments), Tothill (law books), Day (the ABC and the Catechism), Roberts and Watkins (almanacks and prognostications), Marshe and Vautrollier (certain school books in Latin), Byrd (music books, and ruled paper for music), Seres (psalters, primers, and prayer books), Flower (the Grammar); see Complaint of the Stationers of their hindrance through privileges, April 1577, Arber, 1: 111.

[13] Harry Ransom, The First Copyright Statute: An Essay on An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, 1710 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1956), 36.

[14] Ordinances, 1566, para.5.

[15] Blagden, 290. He continues: "[T]he Privy Council authority was being used, not against the printing or importing of seditious books, but - as the Court [of Assistants] had planned it - against infringers of patent rights"; ibid.

[16] See Blagden, ibid.

[17] See Cyndia Susan Clegg, Press Censorship in Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 47-48.

[18] Ordinances, 1566, para.2.

[19] Ibid., para.3.

[20] Ibid., para.4.

[21] Ibid., para.6.

[22] Blagden, 289.

[23] Patterson, 39.

[24] See: uk_1662.


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