William Caxton – printer pioneer

William_Caxton_-_The_first_printer_at_WestminsterWhat did Margaret Beaufort and Anthony Woodville have in common, other than starting out as Lancastrians and for different reasons and with different amount of heart in it was forced to accept Yorkist rule?

The answer to that question is their patronage of William Caxton, the man who brought the art of book printing to England and made education and reading accessible to a larger percent of the population.

The date, or even year, of his birth are not quite known, nor is his parentage, but he is believed to have been born sometime around between 1415 and 1426. There are also uncertainties around where he was born, in the book “Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye”- a French novel about courtly romance by Raoul Lefevre who was the chaplain of Philippe III of Burgundy – which Caxton translated and printed, he states that he was born and educated in the Weald of Kent. Oral tradition has him to be both from Hadlow and Tenterden.

The estimation of when he was born is based on an apprenticeship fee being paid in 1438 when the Mercer´s Company recorded his apprenticeship with Robert Large, a wealthy London dealer in luxury goods at the Mercer´s Company and in 1439 Lord Mayor in London.

In the late 1440´s or early 1450´s he was making trips to Bruges and settled there in 1453, where he over the years became prosperous enough to become Governor of English Nation of Merchant Adventurers, for four of the actually 30

years he spent in Bruges. During the period he also entered the household of Margaret of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, something that let him travel and it was on one of these journeys he came into contact with the printers in Cologne, which in their turn was inspired with the German printing that had been invented but Johannes Gutenberg at the turn of the 1430´s and 1440´s.

Apparently this appealed immensely to William Caxton, and it doesn´t seem that he wasted much time to put up a press at Bruges, where he printed the earlier mentioned “Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye” which he himself translated. It turned out that this was one may call a success, and in 1476 he was on his way back to England, not only with a printing press in his “back pocket”, but also, most likely, in the company of the Dutchman Wynkyn de Worde (some claim that Caxton didn´t bring de Worde to England until 1481 to be able to counter the growing completion).

Canterbury Tales - Caxton First EditionWilliam Caxton set up his printing press in Westminster Abbey, and the first book to be printed on it was Geoffrey Chaucer´s “Canterbury Tales”, and somehow it´s interesting that in a time when religious books were important, Caxton still chose a secular book to print. Maybe one can assume that that says something about the nature of Caxton himself.

It was also during this time that William Caxton came into contact with Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, as he himself Caxton_Showing_the_First_Specimen_of_His_Printing_to_King_Edward_IV_at_the_Almonry,_Westminsterhad translated a book, “Dictes or Sayengings of the Philosophres” – a (before Woodville´s translation) French text translated from Latin and originally in Arabic, written in the 11th century by an Egyptian emir – during a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in Spain, and he wanted Caxton to proofread the text. He did and also added an epilogue to the story. This would be the first book printed in England that has both a date and the printer´s colophon which showed the name of the printer and the place it was printed.

It is also likely that Anthony Woodville commissioned William Caxton to print another two books, also based on his own translations; “The Morale Proverbes of Cristyne” in 1478 and “The book named Cordyal” in 1479. As Anthony Woodville was very close to his nephew Edward, it is also likely that it was he who prompted Caxton´s dedication to the prince of “A Boke of the Hoole Lyf of Jason”, 1477. It has also seems that it was actually Anthony Woodville that carried the cost of printing Canterbury Tales.

Caxton_deviceAnthony Woodville became a most likely important and steadfast patron of Caxton´s, and he didn’t take he didn´t take kindly to the fact that this man, who may even have been a friend, was the first victim of Richard´s usurpation of the throne. Less than a month before the Battle of Bosworth he published a part of the so called Winchester manuscript – the oldest surviving version of Thomas Mallory´s Le Morte d´Arthur and the kind of arturian romance appreciated at the time – with his own little twist. In the scribed original there is a section where Arthur has a prophetic dream of a horrendous struggle between a dragon and a bear during his campaign against the Roman emperor. The bear is killed and a ‘phylozopher’* tells Arthur that the dragon represents himself, while the bear ‘betokyns som tyraunte that turmentis thy peple’.

It is here the indignant, maybe grieving and quite possible horrified Caxton sees his chance. In his own printed version of the segment, the bear is replaced by a white boar, a symbolism which can hardly be mistaken. And only weeks later the white boar was indeed killed by the welsh dragon.

With that victory, Caxton also received a new patron. Margaret Beaufort was genuinely interested in learning and Plack, William Caxtoneducation, and both translated books from French to English as well as, in time, founded colleges. When her son had ascended the throne after the battle of Bosworth she started turning her attention to William Caxton and his printing press in the almonery of Westminster Abbey. It was the possibility to bring reading to a wider number of people that awoke her interest, and she was to become one of his leading patrons.

Her support helped him to once again getting the attention in court circles he most likely had enjoyed during the patronage of Anthony Woodville, and the appreciation shows in a dedication from Caxton to Margaret Beaufort in the book “The Hystorye of Kinge Blanchardyne and Queen Englantyne his Wyfe” where he flatter her by calling her the Duchess of Somerset.

William Caxton died in 1491, but Margaret Beaufort continued to hire the services of his worker and successor Wynkyn de Worde who kept the business running for another 40 years.

He is buried in St Margaret´s Chapel and in Poet´s Corner a white stone plaque can be seen with the text “”Near this place William Caxton set up the first printing press in England.”



Caxton, William – Dictionary of National Biography

Caxton and the first English printed books – Dr Anne Marie D´Arcy, University of Leicester (course material)

Caxton, Woodville and revenge – Dr Anne Marie D´Arcy, University of Leicester (course material)

Chaucer´s Caxton – The British Library

Margaret Beaufort-Mother of the Tudor Dynasty – Elizabeth Norton

William Caxton-a biography – George D. Painter




St Mary Spital

Braque_Family_Triptych_closed_WGADeath was ever present in medieval times (as to some extent latter centuries), and when we think about it, we may think that there was no such things as hospitals. And there wasn´t, not as we know them today. But there was places for sick people, one of them was St Mary Spital
In 1197, just outside Bishopsgate, a priory was formed by Walter Brunus and his wife Roisia. Its name was “The new hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate”, but it came to be known as St Mary Spital. This came to be one of the biggest hospitals in medieval England and included a large cemetery with a stone charnel house and mortuary chapel, of which the latter was discovered by archaeologists. It was one of 200 hospitals founded in England during the 12th century, and it came to be one of the biggest hospitals in medieval times providing shelter for the sick, the poor, elderly and homeless.
The original name was Hospital (or priory) of the Blessed Virgin Mary without Bishopsgate and it was located on the east side of Bishopsgate Street. The means to found it came from an undated grant of lands in Bishopsgate Street to Walter Brunus and his wife, some of them by the Alderman Walter, son of Eilred, for the purpose of the foundation.
The parcels of lands given by Walter son of Eilred consisted of 44 ells* (from the Latin ulna) towards the king´s highway (Bishopsgate Street) and 117 ells on the east side towards Lolesworth field, 162 ells in depth west to east and on the opposite side of Bishops Street 13 ells towards the street as well as 16 ells on the west side as well as a depth of 78 ells. To this should be added additional 101 ells towards Bishopsgate Street and 149 ells towards Lolesworth field from contributors whose names have been lost to history.
The church was expanded in 1235, something which was confirmed by Walter and Roisia, who finally was said to have been buried before the altar of the church.

It was the Augustinian order which ran the house, and it contained both canons regular as well as lay brothers and St Mary Spital1sisters. One of the chief purposes of the house – and now we´re getting closer to my original intention with this subject – was to function as a lying-in hospital. An order from the 7th of January 1341 declare that the hospital was founded to receive and entertain pilgrims and the infirm who resorted thither until they were healed, and pregnant women until their delivery, and also to maintain the children of women who died there in childbirth, until the age of seven.
On the 8th of August 1279 the bishop of St Paul´s confirmed a grant to the hospital of a fountain called the tongue wriggling “Snekockeswelle” in his field of Lolesworth, including the right to enclose it with a wall and through a kind of waterconduit bring it to the sick and poor within the infirmary. Just over 20 years later, in 1303, the Archbishop of Canterbury – Robert Winchelsey – ordered that the lamps which had earlier hung between the sick people for their comfort should be returned (no information as to where they had gone in the meantime)

A number of royal servants were lodged at St Mary Spital at the beginning of the 14th century, such as a servant of Edward I´s confessor and three yeomen of Edward III. It also paid off to give alms to the monastery and hospital, in 1391 a papal relaxation in penance was issued for those who did just that, with the reference to the “very many poor widows, wards and orphans are continually sustained” within.

St Mary Spital2In a list of London parish churches and monasteries from around the mid-fifteenth century St Mary Spital is mentioned with the words “Seynt Marye Spetylle. A poore pryery, and a parysche chyrche in the same. And that pryory kepythe ospytalyte for pore men. And sum susters yn the same place to kepe the beddys for pore men that come to that place”

St Mary Spital lived on through the centuries, but when the dissolution hit, the priory itself feel. It seems however as if the hospital survived, not least since the Lord Mayor, Sir Richard Gresham, petitioned the king in 1538 that the London hospitals “Seynt Maryes Spytell, Seynt Bartholemews Spytell and Seint Thomas Spytell’ and ’the new abby of Tower hyll” should be governed by the Lord Mayor and the Aldermen.

In excavations of the area between 1991 and 2007, more than 10 000 human remains have been found, providing a unique insight to the lives in medieval London from the late 12th century to the early 16th century. Among many things one have been able to identify some of the earliest European victims of syphilis.



*An ell equated the linear measure of 45 inches. It seems the word ell has been taken to represent either the distance from the elbow or from the shoulder to the wrist or to the finger tips. It also seem that in some cases the measure “double ell” has taken over the original measure, and has taken its name. What an ell actually was differed from country to country. While an “ell” in England was, as mentioned, 45 inches, it was 37.2 inches in Scotland and 27 inches in Flanders. No accuracy is like the accuracy of medieval times! 😉
The word “ell” originate from the Latin “Ulna” which mean the bone of the forearm, opposite the thumb. Swedish potential readers – as I am Swedish – will recognise the old Swedish measurement “aln”.

Sources: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol27/pp21-23
Measurement in the Middle Ages – http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/history/measure.html
Centre for human bioarchaeology – British museum

The passing of Elizabeth I

“I may not be a lion, but I am lion’s cub and I have lion’s heart”

On this day in 1603 Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, passed into infinity. She was 70 years old and had been the Queen ofElizabeth-I-in-old-age England for 45 years, almost 10 years longer than her father, and decades longer than her siblings, Edward and Mary.

One of the most widely spread quotes attributed to Elizabeth is that she was “but a feeble woman”. That, too, is a way of ruling a court, its courtiers and a country, and a way to get adversaries to let their guard down. But I don´t believe that Elizabeth herself even for a second considered herself feeble. She knew her strength.

I won´t use this text to run through some spectacular moments during her reign – as I actually first planned to do – not least because they each and every one deserve their own time and post.

Let´s just take the time to give a thought to a remarkable woman and monarch who beat the odds and to a very large extent shaped her own destiny.

Elizabeth died around 10 o´clock in the evening while the rain was pouring down outside. She is said to have turned her face to the wall and fallen into a deep sleep from which she would never again wake up*.

Elizabeth_I_Locket_Ring_2After her death, a ring made from ruby, diamonds, gold and mother of pearl, was removed from her finger. Inside it, there was a small compartment containing two miniatures of Elizabeth herself and her mother, Anne Boleyn.

The ring was publically revealed for the first time in 2002, almost 400 years after Elizabeth´s death.


It is said that it was Robert Carey who removed the ring from her finger and thereafter rode for three days to reach Scotland and let James IV of Scotland know that he was now James I of England.

The proclamation of Elizabeth´s death was read by Robert Cecil – the queen´s advisor and son to William Cecil who had stood by Elizabeth for close to 50 years – first at White Hall and then at St. Paul´s Cathedral. No doubt there were those among her subjects who found it incomprehensible that the Queen was dead. After the turbulence that followed the death of Henry VIII, the people of England had now been ruled by the same monarch for more than four decades and many would not personally have remembered a time when good queen Bess was not on the throne.

On the 28th of April, Elizabeth´s coffin was drawn by four horses draped in black livery and over the coffin was a covered by a large canopy carried be six Knights of the realm, and behind her coffin came procession consisting of from the beginning 1 000 mourners, a number which swelled as the procession made its way through London.

She rests in Westminster Abbey.





The Reign of Elizabeth: 1558 – 1603 – J.B. Black

Elizabeth – David Starkey

The life of Elizabeth I – Alison Weir



Mary I

499 years ago today, a princess was born in the Royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich (today a borough in Mary_I_of_Englandsouth east London). It was the princess that should have been a prince, the only surviving child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary.

There is no reason to suspect that the first 10 years of Mary´s life was anything but happy. Catherine gave her very much the same upbringing and education she would have received, had she been the much longed for prince and heir to the throne.

But to Henry, and most likely society at large, it was inconceivable that a woman should, or even could, be regent. 1529 it all turned around.

Henry embarked on his Great Matter to have the marriage to Catherine annulled. Mary was eventually declared illegitimate and separated from her mother for the rest of Catherine´s life.

Felipe_of_Spain_and_MariaTudorShe became sickly from the stress she experienced, such as constantly being subjected to attempts to force her to acknowledge her mother as something else than the rightful Queen as well as acknowledge her father as the head of the English church, something which was impossible to the devout catholic that was Mary. Her longing for children of her own is reputed, a fact that led her to happily look after her younger sister Elizabeth even though she loathed her mother Anne Boleyn.

1533, at the age of 37, Mary ascended the throne as Mary I of England. The following year she married Philip of Spain. One has to assume that it was to the great sorrow of Mary that the two never conceived any children, even though Mary on two occasions thought herself to be pregnant.

Mary reinstated the catholic faith in England, and as a result of her hard persecutions of evangelicals and Protestants she has gone to history as Bloody Mary. She died on November 17th 1558 and was succeeded by her half sister Elizabeth.



Theatre in Tudor London

Theatre was not an entirely uncomplicated business in London in the late 16th imagescentury, even though it has to be said that it during the Elizabethan era both experienced a heyday as well as produced playwrights the like of which we may never see again, not least William Shakespeare, but also Ben Johnson who maybe could be described as the second name of the era, and last but absolutely not least, even if during a much shorter period; Christopher Marlowe.

Acting and entertainment of course exited in England, and London, long before the end of the 1500´s, not least masques had for a long time been popular as well as religious mystery plays as well as other dramatized performances which were presented by smaller travelling theatre groups. Plays and stories about Robin Hood was popular, but less than appreciated by the men in power, not least for their symbolic value- But Robin Hood was not the only “threat” against the power, times were hard and when Elizabeth and her lords feared the gathering of people that a play could gather also could form into a rebellion, it wasn´t completely unfounded.

Another cause for concern were the recurring epidemic of the plague which meant that travelling theatre groups were forbidden in 1574 and when all theatres was closed almost continuously between 1592 and 1594, it was due to an outbreak of the Bubonic plague.

1400x1400_697333To attend a play during this period would have been quite different from today, when it’s more or less implied that the individual should feel deeply ashamed, should he or she happen to sneeze. Theatre in the days of Shakespeare was big, it was loud, there were laughing and there were booing, and at times things were thrown at the actors. As a playwright it was also quite possible to end up behind bars for something you wrote, a fact Ben Johnson knew all about.

The plays were written during a time when the ability of the masses to read were poor, and it was for those masses the plays were produced, even if the nobility too discovered the theatre companies and were patrons of several. In spite of the harsh times, there was love between the Londoners and the theatres which in several cases could house an audience of 3 000, and sold every last ticket, something modern theatres often can only dream about.

At the time, there was no particular costume designers, no stage workers, the thingsMarlowe-Portrait-1585 that needed to be done the actors had to do themselves, from sewing to carpentry, About six different plays were played every week with little time for rehearsal, and primarily during the afternoons as it later in the evenings would be too dark for anyone to see anything.

One of the most prominent theatre companies was The Lord Chamberlain´s Men, for which Shakespeare wrote most of his plays, with mainly Richard Burbage in the leading roles. It was founded in 1594 and enjoyed the patronage of Henry Carey, at the time Lord Chamberlain of England. He was also in charge of court entertainments. The patronage as well as the title as Lord Chamberlain would in time pass on to his son George Carey. When James I ascended to the throne in 1603, the company´s name was changed to “The King´s Men”.

The second most prominent company was the Admiral´s Men, whose patron was Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham. At first they were known as Lord Howard´s Men, but when he was appointed Lord High Admiral the company changed its name, something which happened again in 1603 when they became Prince Henry´s Men.

In 1640´s all the play houses were shut down by the Puritans.



Shakespearean Playhouses – J.Q Adams

The Shakespeare Stage – Andrew Gurr

London, the illustrated history – Cathy Ross & John Clark

A Shakespeare Companion – Andrew Gurr

Images: Wikimedia

The Curtain

ShakespeareanTheater-1The Curtain var den teater som 1577 gjorde The Theatre sällskap i Shoreditch. Här spelade mellan 1596 och 1598 Shakespeare och The Lord Chamberlain´s Men och här uppfördes bland andra Romeo och Julia samt Henry V. 1598 uppförde truppen ”Every Man In His Humour” av Ben Johnson på The Curtains scen med William Shakespeare i en av rollerna.

Som nutida kuriosa kan nämnas att det är på ”The Curtain” teaterscenerna i ”Shakespeare In Love” från 1998 ska utspela sig. Verksamheten på The Curtain upphörde av oklar anledning 1622, och idag finns en minnestavla över teatern på 18 Hewitt Street, en tvärgata till Curtain Road.


I juni 2012 meddelade arkeologer från Museum of London att man funnit lämningar efter teatern, vilka ska finnas till beskådan för allmänheten när arbetet är klart. 2013 lämnades förslag in om att bygga en 40 våningar hög byggnad med 400 lägenheter på platsen. Det är också tänkt att inrymma ett Shakespearemuseum, ett utomhusauditorium med 250 platser och en park med de arkeologiska lämningarna synliga i en glasbyggnad.


The Battle of Bosworth

Today must be said to be the absolute startingpoint of the Tudor era. The day wouldBattle_of_Bosworth_by_Philip_James_de_Loutherbourg start with Richard III on the throne, and by the time it was over, the king of England was Henry Tudor. It is today of course the anniverasary of the Battle of Bosworth, which can also be said to have been the last great battle of the Wars of the Roses.

The outcome of the battle is almost incomprehensible as when the present and the future king met close to Ambion Hill in Leicestreshire, Richard III was backed by approximately 10 000 and Henry Tudor around half of that.

King_Henry_VIIHenry Tudor had left his 14 year long perido as an exile by way of Harfleur and without any mishaps crossed the channel and arrived in England on the 1st of August and landed in Wales on the 7th. Being of Welsh descent Henry had expected more of a support, but he had been away for a long time and had also been not much more than a child when he left, and as a result his arrival was met to a large extent with indifference and silence.

Only a small number of his fellow Welshmen decided to join him on his march further into the country, the most prominent member of the following being Rhys ap Thomas who must be said to have been a leading person in the west of Wales. He had, as a reward for refusing to participate in a rebellion against Richard III, received the position as lieutenant over west Wales by the king, but was successfully courted by Henry Tudor and decided to join the slowly growing army.

The goal for Henry´s march was clearly London, but he didn´t immediately set course for the capital, but after crossing the border between Wales and England on the 15th or 16th of August, he rested at Shrewsbury and later continued eats to meet Gilbert Talbot – a knight who would later be a Knight of the Garter in 1495 and Lord Deputy of Calais in 1509 – as well as English allies and deserters from Richard´s army.

Richard had anticipated the arrival of Henry since mid-July, but when news of the King_Richard_IIIlanding reached him on August 11th , it still took him a couple of days before his loeds found out that the king was mobilising his forces and also was in need of them and their armies. The result was that the York army didn’t gather until August 16th, making Leicester their base.

Richard arrived on the 20th of August and joined Norfolk while Northumberland arrived the day after. After this the royal army moved west with the intention of cutting of Henry´s march on London. Richard III mad his camp on Ambion Hill* which he assumed would be of tactical value.

There were problems in the ranks of Richard´s army. One of his men, Thomas, Lord Stanley, was married to Henry Tudor´s mother Margaret Beaufort. Even though he had declined to participate in Buckingham´s rebellion, his wife´s envolvement had meant that he was under the eye of Richard who also eld his son Lord Strange as a hostage to assure himself of Lord Stanley´s loyalty. Loyalty would have been a tricky thing for Lord Stanley during these days; on one side the king to whom he had sworn obedience, on the other side not only his wife and her son, but also his own son. Stanley and his younger brother William brought 6 000 men to the battlefield in addition to Richard´s 10 000.

As the battle drew closer and the Stanley army was positioned on Dadlington Hill. Richard is said to have sent a message to Stanley to let him know that if he didn´t join Richard´s forces, his son would be beheaded. Stanley allegedly replied that he had other sons. Richard is said to have demanded an immediate execution but was advised to wait until after the battle, which was a stroke of luck for Lord Strange. When Henry Tudor in his turn sent for Lord Stanley, the answer he received was wavering, and when the two armies clashed, the Stanley´s remained in their positions and observed which way the battle was going. When it became obvious that Richard against all odds was losing, the Stanley´s finally joined the battle on the side of Henry Tudor. The Lord_Stanley_Brings_the_Crown_of_Richard_(wide)historians are all in agreement that Richard fought to the very last, and contrary to popular opinion, he didn´t shout “My kingdom for a horse”** (indicating that he was about to flee), but instead shouted “Traitor, traitor, traitor”.

Some people believe that it was the earlier mentioned Welshman Rhys ap Thomas who finally killed Richard III, but there really is no way to know this. Another popular legend is that Stanley found Richard´s crown in a thornbush where it had landed as the former king went down, and handed it to Henry Tudor as the new king who then became Henry VII.

Smaller battles and skirmishes would flame up for a little while longer, but in all, this battle put an end to the Wars of the Roses.

After his death Richard was brought to Leicester where he was put on display for two days to really bring it home to his supporters that he was dead. He was later buried in Greyfriar´s.

As the dissolution swept through the country, Greyfriar´s was destroyed in the 1530´s, and the grave of the last Plantagenet king seemingly lost to the word. In September 2012 the skeleton of a man with an obviously crooked spine was found under the tarmac during a dig in a parking lot where Greyfriar´s was believed to have been located. After many tests, including comparing DNA with now living descendants of Richard´s sister and, such as Michael Ibsen from Canada, it was in early 2013 established that the found remains did indeed belong to Richard III.


Update after original posting: Richard was reinterred in Leicester Cathedral on March 28th 2015, and event which drew visitors from all over the World.


*It is diffucult to, with 100 percents certainty establish wher the exact location for the battle would have been, as it didn´t leave any direct physical traces. In October 2009 the result of geological examinations in combination with archealogical excavations from 2003, suggested that the location of the battle may have been about 3 kilometres southwest of Ambion Hill.

**The quote about the horse is from the Shakespeare play Richard III, a work of art some people consider to be ”Tudor propaganda”, even if it´s never been quite established why Shakespeare would feel the need to create propaganda against Richard III after more than 100 years of Tudor rule.


Bosworth – Chris Skidmore

Bosworth 1485; Last Charge of the Plantagenets – Christopher Gravett

Bosworth Field and the Wars of the Roses – Alfred Rowse


Wikipedia except coffin of Richard III: courtesy of Leicester Cathedral