Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 2. Star Chamber Decrees; The Stationers’ Registers

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVIII. The Book-Trade, 1557–1625

§ 2. Star Chamber Decrees; The Stationers’ Registers

As a direct consequence of the company’s charter, no one, thenceforth, could print anything for sale within the kingdom unless he were a member of the Stationers’ company, or held some privilege or patent entitling him to print some specified work or particular class of book. And even the members of the company who printed or published were subject to many limitations in the exercise of their calling. Royal proclamations and injunctions, and Star chamber decrees must not be ignored; the numerous printing monopolies granted to individuals must not be infringed; and, more important still, the strict trade regulations, as laid down and enforced by the Stationers’ company, could not be disregarded with impunity.

The charter of incorporation was probably the more readily granted by the authorities of state, in that it provided an organisation for securing better supervision of the press, and furnished means of suppressing those seditious and heretical publications which haunted the authorities with a perpetual fear, and which were the subject of frequent prohibition. The extent to which this supervision was made effective may be gathered from the shifts to which the secret presses were put in order to carry on their hazardous work.

The particular class of book to which the terms heretical, traitorous and seditious were applied varied, of course, with the form of religion professed by the reigning sovereign. Proclamations against popish books were issued by Edward VI, but, in the reign of queen Mary, a great effort was made to stem the tide of protestant literature which the preceding reign had encouraged. In 1555, a stringent royal proclamation was issued prohibiting the printing or importation of the works of Luther, Calvin, Bullinger, Melanchthon, Latimer, Coverdale, Tindale, Cranmer, Becon, and other reformers; and, in 1558, another brief but peremptory proclamation was directed against heretical and treasonable books, including the service books of Edward VI.

By the death of queen Mary, these enactments were soon rendered null, but the accession of a protestant queen brought no real freedom, as, with the increase of printing, there also grew up an increasing desire on the part of both state and church to obtain complete control over the production and distribution of printed literature.