Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)
Commentary on early Tudor printing privileges
School of Law, University of Birmingham
Please cite as:
Deazley, R. (2008) ‘Commentary on early Tudor printing privileges', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org
1. Full Title
3. Printing Privileges and Printing Patents
1. Full title
These be the Articles of the Pope's Bulle ... to which are added letters of protection from Henry VIII (1518)
One of the earliest examples of work printed by Richard Pynson, the King's Printer between 1508 and 1530, to make reference to the fact that the work in question was printed under the protection of the King. The royal printing privilege provided one of two different models for preventing the unauthorised reproduction of works after publication which prefigured the introduction of statutory copyright in the early eighteenth century.
The commentary describes the early attitudes of the monarchy towards the regulation of the printing trade within England, and the exercise of the royal prerogative in granting printing privileges not just to the royal printer, but to other favoured subjects both in relation to individual works as well as to entire classes of work (with the latter more often referred to as printing patents).
3. Printing Privileges and Printing Patents
"When William Caxton introduced the printing press into England in 1476, the creation of a new form of property, eventually to be called copyright, was inevitable."
During the early years of printing in England, all practitioners of this new trade, whether English or from the continent, were encouraged in their art. Shortly after William Caxton (1415/24-1492) established his printing press in Westminster in 1476, the government passed a statute to regulate and restrict the manner in which Italian merchants, and other "merchants strangers", were able to carry on their trade within the City of London. An act clearly concerned with the encouragement of domestic trade alone, it nevertheless specifically allowed any foreigners to import books into England, as well as providing that any foreign "scrivener, alluminor, reader [binder] or printer of ... books" might carry on his business within the realm. This exemption for foreign printers and booksellers was significant indeed. As Bennett notes, prior to 1513, Caxton aside, almost all the printers working in England came from overseas. However, the privileged position which these foreign tradesmen enjoyed within the English book trade was not to last forever. In the wake of considerable domestic unrest at the problems posed by foreign competition in all aspects of English trade, Henry VIII (1491-1547) initiated a regime of overt domestic trade protectionism. In 1523 an Act was passed which required all aliens "using any manner of handicraft within this realm" to hire English apprentices only; printers and booksellers were not exempt from this restriction. Moreover, in 1534 an Act was passed which concerned printing and the book trade alone. With this legislative measure the privileged status bestowed upon foreign printers by the 1484 Act was revoked, and it was made an offence to import bound books, or to sell any manner of printed books brought from "beyond the sea" from an alien. Within fifty years "the attitude toward foreign influence in the trade was completely reversed", allowing for the emergence of the first generation of truly English printers.
There is no doubt, however, that Henry's interest in supporting the domestic book trade was not concerned solely with national economic interests. Other legislative initiatives in the same year included the Act of Supremacy which established Henry's authority as Head of the Church of England, as well as the Treason Act which provided that anyone who might "slanderously and maliciously publish and pronounce, by express writing or words, that the King our Sovereign Lord should be Heretick, Schismatick, Tyrant, Infidel, or Usurper of the Crown" was to be adjudged a traitor, guilty of high treason, and subject to pain of death. Henry, having broken from Rome, was, not surprisingly, acutely concerned with the control and censure of ‘heretical' religious doctrine. From the 1530s onwards he issued a number of royal proclamations designed to both secure his own position as the head of the Church in England as well as suppress ecclesiastical texts (printed primarily on the continent) with which he took issue. The 1534 Act provided a further opportunity for pursuing these ends. As Feather notes:
"Superficially [the Act] was a measure designed to protect the economic interests of the growing number of English printers and booksellers, and certainly it had this effect. It also ensured, however, that all of those involved in the book trades were indisputably in the royal jurisdiction. The explicit prohibition on book imports by foreigners was undoubtedly intended to prevent the import of books, whether in English or Latin, which were politically or religiously unacceptable to the crown. It marks in fact the beginning of the restrictive controls which were to characterise the English book trade until the end of the seventeenth century..."
The desire to control the ideological content of the press was not, however, the only manner in which the Tudor monarchs involved themselves with the workings of the book trade. Almost from the very beginning of printing in England there existed the office of royal printer. The first of these, appointed by Henry VII (1457-1509) in 1485, was Peter Actors who, while not actually a printer, nevertheless received a grant for life to "import, so often as he likes, from parts beyond the sea, books printed and not printed into the port of the city of London ... and to dispose of the same by sale or otherwise without paying customes, etc. thereon and without rendering any accompt thereof". He was succeeded in 1504 by William Facques, who held the position for four years, after which Richard Pynson (c.1449-1529/30) held the office from 1508 to 1530. As the King's official printer, Facques and Pynson, and those who followed, were required to print royal proclamations, injunctions, statutes, and other such works as the monarch might request.
In addition to the office of royal printer, Henry VIII and the Tudors who succeeded him also assumed, in the exercise of their royal prerogative, the right to grant printing privileges over individual texts as well as entire classes of work (with the latter more often referred to as printing patents). It was not until 1518 that Henry first began to issue such privileges, by which time this particular form of book protection was already well established on the continent. Indeed, the first privileges protecting printed works were issued in Italy and Germany in the 1470s, followed by France and Spain towards the end of the fifteenth century, as well as Portugal in 1501, Poland in 1505, and Scotland in 1507. In England, while such privileges were often bestowed upon the royal printer, equally they were extended to other such printers and booksellers as should find favour with the court. To hold a royal printing privilege ensured that its recipient could publish his work safe in the knowledge that should any other printer violate the privilege, they could be held to account for so doing before the Privy Council. In short, these printing privileges provided their holders with a valuable legal and economic protection. Indeed, as Siebert notes, within a few years of the first of these privileges being issued, "the entire craft was scrambling for printing 'privileges' and the phrase 'cum privilegio a rege' appeared in the colophons of almost all the printers". As such, these privileges provided the first of two proprietary models for protecting published works which prefigured the introduction of statutory copyright into Britain with the passing of the Statute of Anne 1709, the second being the 'stationers' copyright' that developed within the book trade itself following the incorporation of the Stationers' Company in 1557.
Governmental papers and legislation
In what Sort Italian Merchants may sell Merchandises. Several Restraints of Aliens, 1484, 1 Ric.III, c.9
What Apprentices strange Artificers shall take, &c., 1523, 14&15 Hen.VIII, c.2
Touching Artificers Strangers, what they may do as concerning retaining Apprentices, Journeymen, &c., 1529, 21 Hen.VIII, c.16
An Act for Printers, and Binders of Books, 1534, 25 Hen.VIII, c.15
An Act whereby Offences be made High treason, and taking away all Sanctuaries for all manner of High Treasons, 1534, 26 Hen.VIII, c.13
Statute of Anne, 1710, 8 Anne, c.19
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)
Armstrong, E., Before Copyright: The French Book-Privilege System, 1498-1526 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)
Bennett, H.S., English Books & Readers, 1475 to 1557 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952)
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)
Hughes P.L. and Larkin, J.F., eds, Tudor Royal Proclamations, Volume 1 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1964)
Judge, C.B., Elizabethan Book-Pirates (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934)
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)
Siebert, F.S., Freedom of the Press in England 1476-1776 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965)
Witcombe, C.L.C.E., Copyright in the Renaissance: Prints and the Privilegio in Sixteenth-Century Venice and Rome (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2004)
 L.R. Patterson, Copyright in Historical Perspective (Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1968), 20.
 In what Sort Italian Merchants may sell Merchandises; Several Restraints of Aliens, 1484, 1 Ric.III, c.9.
 Section 12 set out as follows: "Provided always that this Act, or any Part thereof, or any other Act made or to be made in this said Parliament, shall not extend or be in prejudice, disturbance, damage, or impediment to any artificer, or merchant stranger, of what nation or country he be or shall be of, for bringing into this realm, or selling by retail or otherwise, any book written or printed".
 Ibid. In general see F.S. Siebert, Freedom of the Press in England 1476-1776 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965), 25.
 Caxton died in 1492 and was succeeded by his apprentice Wynken de Worde who came from Wörth in Alsace.
 H.S. Bennett, English Books & Readers, 1475 to 1557 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), 30.
 See for example Patterson, 22.
 What Apprentices strange Artificers shall take, &c., 1523, 14 & 15 Hen.VIII, c.2, s.1. Similarly, they were not allowed to employ any more than two journeymen, unless they were also English born; ibid., s.2. This was followed by an Act in 1529 which, amongst other things, provided that foreigners, unless already established, were not entitled to set up "any House, or Shop, or Chamber" within the City of London, or within any other English city, town, borough or village; Touching Artificers Strangers, what they may do as concerning retaining Apprentices, Journeymen, &c., 1529, 21 Hen.VIII, c.16, s.18.
 An Act for Printers, and Binders of Books, 1534, 25 Hen.VIII, c.15.
 Ibid., ss.2, 3.
 Harry Ransom, The First Copyright Statute: An Essay on An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, 1710 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1956), 23.
 John Feather, A History of British Publishing (London & New York: Routledge, 1988), 12.
 Act of Supremacy, 1534, 26 Hen.VIII, c.1.
 An Act whereby Offences be made High treason, and taking away all Sanctuaries for all manner of High Treasons 1534, 26 Hen.VIII, c.13, s.2.
 See: uk_1538.
 Feather, 16.
 Quoted in C.B. Judge, Elizabethan Book-Pirates (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934), 6. As Siebert notes, the role which Actors fulfilled was more in the way of King's stationer, rather than King's printer, in that his principal duty was "to supply written and printed books for the officials and the members of the king's family"; Siebert, 30.
 Pynson was succeeded by Thomas Berthelet in 1530, and then by Richard Grafton in 1547, John Cawood in 1553, and Cawood & Richard Jugge in 1558.
 See uk_1559a for the privilege granted to John Day, 11 November 1559, to print William Conningham's The Cosmographical Glass.
 The first of these generic printing patents appears to have been granted in 1539 as a result of a request by Richard Grafton that Henry VIII grant him a monopoly over the printing of the Bible in English. Henry responded by granting a privilege providing the exclusive right to print English Bibles for seven years not to Grafton but to Thomas Cromwell; see Siebert, 38. Another early example was that granted to Richard Grafton and Edward Whitechurch in May 1545 by Henry, by way of Royal Proclamation, for printing the Primer (a service-book for use in church) in both English and Latin; see P.L. Hughes and J.F. Larkin, ed., Tudor Royal Proclamations, Volume 1 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1964), 353. By the end of the sixteenth century printing patents existed for all manners of works including: bibles and testaments; law books; the ABC and the Catechism; almanacs and prognostications; Latin school books; music books and manuscript paper; and psalters, primers, and prayer books. See The griefes of the printers glasse sellers and Cutlers sustained by reason of privileges granted to private persons, August 1577, E. Arber, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1557-1640, 5 vols. (London: n.p., 1875-94), 1: 111, and uk_1586.
 In general see Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe, Copyright in the Renaissance: Prints and the Privilegio in Sixteenth-Century Venice and Rome (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2004), 326-43, and Elizabeth Armstrong, Before Copyright: The French Book-Privilege System, 1498-1526 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 1-20. As to Scotland in particular, James IV granted permission to Walter Chepman and Andrew Myllar to set up a press in Edinburgh with a privilege preventing the import of any books of "Lawes, actis of parliament, cronicles, mess bukis, and portuus efter the use of our Realme" that they might print. The life of the press was however short-lived; see Armstrong, 9, and Witcombe, 334.
 See for example Richard Pynson: These be the Articles of the Pope's Bulle ... to which are added letters of protection from Henry VIII (1518).
 In addition, privileges were often granted by the Tudor monarchs, not by way of patronage, but simply to ensure that certain types of works were produced for circulation. This was especially true of Elizabeth and her interest in the spread of education and classical learning throughout her reign; see Cyndia Susan Clegg, Press Censorship in Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 13.
 See Clegg, 6-14.
 Siebert, 35.
 Statute of Anne, 1710, 8 Anne, c.19; see: uk_1710.
 See: uk_1557.