Glasgow Incunabula Project update (10/9/14)

Another example of vernacular English printing features in this batch of incunabula. I highlighted some books by William Caxton and the St Albans schoolmaster printer in a blog earlier this year, but this time we return to the work of Wynkyn de Worde.


De Worde’s device (following that of his master, Caxton)


Arms of Henry VII & BM duplicate stamp

A native of the Duchy of Lorraine, Wynkyn de Worde was William Caxton’s assistant for some 15 years. When Caxton died in 1491, De Worde took over his printing business. Known as the ‘father of Fleet Street’, he realized that there was a wide market for cheap publications and is regarded as the first to popularise the products of the printing press in England. His prolific output amounted to over 800 publications, and included: romances, outline histories, children’s books, instructions for pilgrims, works on etiquette, marriage, medicines for horses, and husbandry- and parliamentary statutes, as in this copy of the Statuta Angliae dating from 1496.

The statutes of parliament had first appeared in print in the reign of Richard III (1452–85). An official publication, they became the primary means of communicating parliamentary law, and no manuscript statute books were made after 1500. Less prone to error than their manuscript predecessors, the printed statutes were reliable and strengthened the authority of the law itself. Henry VII (1485–1509) contributed to their development by requesting that they be produced in English, rather than in the traditionally used French. Once they began to be published in the vernacular, they circulated widely outside the legal profession.

Four editions of these statutes from the 11th year of Henry’s reign were published in 1496 – three by De Worde and one by Richard Pynson. Copies of any of them are extremely rare. This copy was sold as a duplicate from the British Museum Library in 1769, presumably because they also had a copy on vellum. It is clearly marked with the duplicate sale stamp on the verso of the title-page, rather spoiling the effect of the large hand-coloured woodcut of Henry VII’s arms.


Act concerning the export of horses

Statutes perhaps do not sound like the most interesting of texts, but  the content is actually rather entertaining. The perennial concerns of the economy, criminal justice and the defence of the realm all feature, including legislation on: weights and measures; customs on woollen clothes; the punishment of rioters, usurers, vagabonds and beggars; and an act prohibiting the export of horses without a licence.

This will be one of many books that will be displayed as part of our major exhibition showcasing the Glasgow incunabula project opening at the end of February 2015 in the Hunterian Art Gallery. Plans for Ingenious Impressions are now well underway, and the beautifully produced catalogue being published by Scala is now at the proofing stage. If you cannot wait another six months to see the exhibition, however, you should know that we are giving the Friends of Glasgow University Library a sneak preview of the exhibition this Saturday afternoon (that is: Saturday 13 September 2014, in case you are picking this up retrospectively). All welcome!


Contents page

The latest ten books to be added to the project website are:

Categories: Special Collections

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