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

§ 3. Censors

In the first year of her reign, Elizabeth confirmed the Stationers in their charter, and, in the same year, issued the Injunctions geven by the Quenes Majestie. One of these injunctions had an important bearing on book production in England, for it is the authority on which was based that licensing and censorship of books which was actively enforced by the dignitaries of the church during this and the next two reigns, and which enabled them to obtain and retain a tight hold on the output of the legitimate press. This injunction ordained that no manner of book or paper should be printed unless the same

  • be first licenced by her maiestie by expresse wordes in writynge, or by .vi. of her privy counsel, or be perused and licensed by the archbyshops of Cantorbury, and yorke, the bishop of London, the chaunselours of both universities, the bishop being ordinary, and the Archdeacon also of the place where anye suche shalbe printed, or by two of them, whereof the ordinary of the place to be alwaies one. And that the names of such as shal allowe the same to be added in thende of every such worke, for a testymonye of the allowaunce thereof.
  • Had this injunction been literally obeyed, the object of its promoters would have been at once secured. But the numerous proclamations which were issued against dangerous and obnoxious books attest both the determination to suppress them and the ineffectiveness of the means employed. In June, 1566, the Star chamber issued a decree against the printing, importing, or selling of prohibited books, threatening offenders with pains and penalties and authorising the Stationers’ company to make search for such books in suspected places. The publication of one of William Elderton’s ballads, entitled Doctor Stories stumblinge into Englonde, in 1570, was made the occasion for a further effort in the shape of a privy council order addressed to the master and wardens of the Stationers’ company, commanding that they suffer neither book nor ballad nor any other matter to be published without being first seen and licensed. Admonition was backed up by example, and the severity with which offenders were occasionally treated served as a reminder of the risk involved in intermeddling with such matters. William Carter, a printer who had been imprisoned on divers occasions for printing “naughtye papysticall books,” found that these were no empty threats, for, as Stow relates in his Annales, on 10 January, 1584, he was condemned for high treason as having printed a seditious book entitled, A treatise of schisme, and, on the morrow, he was drawn from Newgate to Tyburn and there hanged, bowelled and quartered.

    A long-standing feud, between the printers who held monopolies and the unprivileged men who were continually infringing patents, resulted in appeals by both parties for state intervention, and the authorities were not slow to avail themselves of this opportunity for tightening their hold on the press. Accordingly, in June, 1586, the Star chamber enacted a most important decree for the regulation of printing, which was practically a consolidation and amplification of previous legislation, and was superseded only by the still more stringent but short-lived decree issued by the Star chamber of Charles I in 1637. By the ordinance of 1586, it was enacted that all presses at present set up, and any which might hereafter be set up, should he reported to the master and wardens of the company; that no press should be set up in any other place than London, except in the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and only one press in each of these two places; that, in order to diminish “the excessive multytude of prynters havinge presses already sett up,” no further press to be erected until such time as, by death or otherwise, they are reduced to the number which the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London shall think requisite for the service of the realm; and, on the occurrence of vacancies, the company is to nominate free stationers to fill the vacancies and to present them to the ecclesiastical commissioners to be licensed. Severe penalties are threatened against those who shall print any books except such as have been allowed according to the order appointed by the queen’s Injunctions.