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

§ 24. Foreign presses

In the early days of printing in England, when the native press produced but a very small proportion of the books in demand, the foreign printer and stationer were so freely tolerated, if not actively encouraged, that a large part of the trade fell into the hands of strangers. But, by the beginning of the sixteenth century, the pinch of competition began to be severely felt by the native craftsmen, and, in the succeeding years, repeated efforts were made to eliminate the alien element and reduce the importation of foreign-printed books. By an act passed in 1523, aliens were forbidden to take any but English-born apprentices, and, in 1529, another act prohibited any foreigner, not already established, from setting up a house or shop for the exercise of any handicraft within the realm. These enactments aimed at squeezing out the foreigner from the home trade; and a further act in 1534, directed against competition from abroad, prohibited the importation for sale of books ready bound, and also provided that no undenizened alien should sell foreign-printed books within the kingdom except by wholesale. This act protected the native bookbinder and the retail bookseller, and, at the same time, helped to limit facilities for the dissemination of seditious literature.

These efforts ultimately rescued the home trade from the domination of the foreigner; but, since the demand for books could not be limited to those produced in the country—scholars, especially, being dependent on continental presses for certain classes of literature—there was necessarily a large and continuous business in the legitimate importation of foreign books of various kinds. In the first half of the sixteenth century, service books represented no inconsiderable part of the books so brought into the country, and François Regnault, who had shops both in Paris and London, was one of the leading men in this particular traffic. Other prominent foreigners engaged in importation were the Birckmans, who had places of business in Cologne, Antwerp and other towns, and whose connection with London extended over the greater part of the sixteenth century. The books of Plantin, the great printer-publisher of Antwerp, must also have found their way here in large numbers, for, in 1567, he was negotiating for the establishment of a branch in London, but the project fell through.

Of the many English books printed abroad from the middle of the sixteenth century, by far the larger number were concerned with the acrimonious poltico-religious controversies of the day, and were produced on foreign soil either because their authors had sought safety there, or, possibly, because there was less chance of the work being interrupted. Among the chief places of their origin were Antwerp, Rouen, Louvain, Leyden and Dort; Amsterdam, whence proceeded the “Family of Love” books; Middleburg, chiefly from the press of Richard Schilders; Geneva and Zurich, the protestant strongholds; and Douay and St. Omer, the Roman Catholic fortresses. Much interest centres round the early editions of the English Bible, several of which were printed on the continent, the first of them (Coverdale’s version) at Zurich in 1535, and some editions of the Genevan version which bear an English imprint were actually printed at Amsterdam or Dort. The first (Latin) issue of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was printed at Basel in 1559; and the edition of William Turner’s New herball printed by Arnold Birckman at Cologne, in 1568, may be cited as an example of a different class of English book for which we are indebted to the foreign press.