Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Tag: london

Books with names but no bodies

In recent days I have been enjoying Adam Smyth and Gill Partington’s edition of Critical Quarterly on missing texts. As the title of their introduction asks, what is the material history of books with names but no bodies?

As it happens there is one particular book for whose body I have been searching recently: To Your Tents, O Israel by Henry Walker. The events which prompted its writing are well-known: on 4 January 1642, Charles I had made famous attempt to arrest five leading opponents in the House of Commons: arriving at Parliament only to find, in his own words, that ‘all the birds are flown’. Charles was determined to track down the rogue MPs, and believing that they were still in hiding in the capital, he decided to confront the Corporation of the City of London.

At about ten o’clock the following, Charles was taken by coach up the Strand towards the Guildhall. By the time he got there, a substantial crowd had assembled to meet him. After addressing the Corporation, Charles dined with London’s Sheriff, George Garrett, at his house in Aldermanbury Street next door. After their lunch was finished, he emerged and made his way back to his carriage. At this point the crowd surged and shouts went up of ‘privilege of Parliament’. This was the moment that Henry Walker, a 29-year old ironmonger turned writer and bookseller decided to throw a self-penned text into Charles’s coach.

The text has become known as To Your Tents, O Israel because of the passage in scripture it is supposed to have alluded to: 1 Kings 12:16, which told the story of King Rehoboam’s tyrannical rule over Israel. Rehoboam was a tyrant who imposed heavy taxes and harsh punishments on his people. In response, the ten northern tribes of Israel rebelled and formed their own nation. In alluding to these events, Walker was making a fairly heavy handed comparison to the extra-Parliamentary taxation that Charles had introduced under his period of Personal Rule in the 1630s.

However, it’s not actually clear if To Your Tents, O Israel was the title, or even if the text had a title. Nor is it clear what form the text took. It is described variously in contemporary accounts as a “Pamphlet”, “Petition”, “Paper” and “Sermon”. No copies survive and it’s not clear how many were made. We do know, though, that it was printed rather than hand-written. The only direct account we have of the text’s production is by a hostile witness, John Taylor:

He plotted and contrived with a Printer, the said night before to write and print a perrillous Petition to his Majesty, and borrowed the Printers wives Bible, out of which he tooke his Theame out of the first of Kings, Chap, 12. ver. 16 part of the verse; To your Tents O Israel. There was writing and printing all night, and all the next day those Libels were scattered, and when his Majesty had dined, and had taken Coach to returne to White-Hall, Walker stood watching the Kings comming by amongst the Drapers in Pauls Church-yard, and having one of his Pamphlets in his hand meaning to have delivered it to his Majesty, but could not come at him by reason of the presse of People, insomuch as Walker (most impudently sawcy) threw it over the folkes heads into his Majesties Coach.

John Taylor, The whole life and progresse of Henry Walker the ironmonger, E.154[29].

However, details in this account can be checked and verified. The printer was Thomas Payne, whose shop at the sign of the sugar loaf in Goldsmith’s Alley was a stone’s throw from Walker’s establishment in Butler’s Alley in St Giles Cripplegate. It was Payne who, having thought better of his role, shopped Walker to the authorities. In 1650 he received a belated reward of £20 from the Commonwealth’s Council of State ‘‘as a gratuity for his sufferings by printing a book for the cause of Parliament, written by Mr. Walker”. So it does seem clear that the text was in printed form, although it whether it was a book or a sheet is open to question. And it was written and printed overnight, which suggests it cannot have been that long or had a significant print run.

Something which may help resolve the question of what form of printed text it was is a reference two and a half years later in another of Walker’s works: an edition of his newsbook Perfect Occurrences for 30 August to 6 September 1644. At this point Walker was not acknowledging himself as the author of Perfect Occurrences, hence the references in the third-person:

Here followeth a true copie of Master Walkers petition to the king, for which he suffered.

To the Kings most Excellent Majestie.

Humbly beseecheth that your most Excellent Majestie, would be graciously pleased to meditate on that place of Scripture written, 1 Kings. 12. 15. 16. Wherfore the King hearkned not unto his people, for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah the Shulanite, unto Jeroboam, the Son of Nebat, So when Israel saw that the King hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king saying, what portion have we in David, Neither have wee portion in the son of lesse: To your tents O Israel, now see to thine own, &c. The Lord blesse guide and direct your gratious Majestie, and encrease the number of your faithfull loyall Subjects. Amen.

Perfect Occurrences, 30th August-6th September 1644, E.254[28].

So if we can trust Walker’s reprint, it seems that the text was more akin to a printed version of the manuscript petitions that were common for the king and Parliament to receive at the time. And a text of this length would barely take up half a side of quarto, so it seems unlikely that it was a pamphlet or other book: more likely, a single sheet with some copies taken to distribute to the crowd or paste up on walls, and which Walker was fortunate enough to have the chance to thrust upon Charles.

And so this particular missing text is perhaps not as missing as it seems. A version of it turned up, and is still extant, in a later text – and even if it is a summary or rewrite of the original, it does give some suggestions about what the text said and what form it took. Similarly, an apparently unreliable account in a work by one of Walker’s enemies turns out, when checked against other evidence of the London print trade, to have more in it than first appears. There is something quite satisfying about the fact that it is the material traces of other texts that allows at least a partial reconstruction of another text.

For Ada Lovelace Day: Jane Coe

Ada Lovelace Day exists to raise the profile of women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This post is about a woman who played a significant role in the printing trade in seventeenth-century London: Jane Coe.

As Sarah Werner has made clear – in another post for Ada Lovelace Day – women played a significant role in trades related to books and printing in early modern London. However, their role can often be obscured by the slender evidence that survives about early modern printers and booksellers. Even where evidence does survive, it has to be read carefully: like all trades of the period, printing was dominated by men, and the terms in which female printers are described by contemporaries can underplay their importance.

Jane Coe is no exception. We know a lot about what she printed. The English Short Title Catalogue lists over seventy titles printed with either “Jane Coe”, “I. Coe” or “J. Coe” on the imprint. Some of these were serials that ran over a number of years, so the actual number of books she printed must run into the tens of thousands.  In the main, these were short quartos: printed versions of letters, satirical pieces accompanied by woodcuts, news pamphlets giving accounts of battles and negotiations, and above all newsbooks. Their emphasis is overwhelmingly Parliamentarian. However, we know very little about Jane herself.

Jane’s original name may have been Jane Bowyer. On 27 December 1634, a Joane Bowyer married Andrew Coe in the church of St George the Martyr in Southwark.

Andrew was an trainee printer who was served an apprenticeship with the Stationers’ Company. He was not made free until 1638, having been bound to his master George Miller in 1630. This makes a 1634 marriage seem, on the face of it, unlikely. Under the terms of their indentures apprentices were not allowed to marry. To do would technically prevent them from qualifying for their freedom. However, there were good reasons why apprentices might break the rules. One is financial gain. It is not uncommon to find apprentices marrying well-heeled widows (sometimes the wives of their masters), presumably calculating that it would be financially worth their while or that the widow’s resources would enable them to purchase their freedom by redemption. The other is love.

If this is Jane  – and I can find no other marriage records for an Andrew Coe – then we have no way of knowing what prompted their marriage, or whether they lived together afterwards. The next time they appear in the records is in the parish registers of St Giles Cripplegate, where Andrew had set up business. We can hazard a guess about the family’s financial status by looking at the type he used, which was old and worn. He presumably did not have enough capital to buy a new set, and either inherited an old set or purchased it from another printer.

Cripplegate was a parish just outside the City walls, and with a high concentration of printers and booksellers. Grub Street, soon to become synonymous with a certain kind of printed book, is within the parish boundaries. Many of its parishioners also seem to have had puritan leanings. In 1641 there were conflicts between the parish and its high Anglican vicar and churchwarden, William Fuller and Thomas Bogh. Bogh went as far as to assault a Parliamentary messenger sent to enforce an order to remove the parish’s altar rails. So it is possible, especially given the subsequent output of their press, that Andrew and Jane’s religious leanings ran this way, although again there is no way of proving it.

In February 1640, the couple had a son, named after his father:

Jane, again, is entirely absent from this record. All that is recorded is the name of her husband and his profession. However, it’s clear that she must have had some involvement in the business. At some point around the end of June 1644, her husband died, and Jane took over the running of the press. An illustration of how difficult some historians have found it to accept that this was possible can be found in H. R. Plomer’s Dictionary of Printers for the period, which says this about Andrew’s death:

The younger Andrew was six years old at this point, and presumably in no position to run anything in relation to the business. And yet Plomer’s assumption – despite the fact that it was Jane’s name that appeared on the imprints of the press’s books after this date – seems to have been that the couple’s son must have been the real head of the operation.

After the older Andrew’s death, Jane continued to print the same kind of books that the press had already become known for. Between 1644 and 1647 she was involved in the production of several newsbooks, including Perfect Occurrences, The Moderate Messenger, and The Kingdomes Scout. In 1645 she took on an apprentice, Samuel Houghton, who came from Mowsley near Market Harborough. It was Jane whose name appeared in the Stationers’ Register for many of her titles, and Jane who presumably took the copy there for the licenser to approve.

What happened to Coe after the 1640s is not clear. At some point, the business was finally handed over to her son: his name appears on a few imprints in the 1660s, by which stage he would have been in his twenties. His name also appears at various points before that, with the formulation “Printed by J. Coe and A. Coe”. So it does seem clear that Jane’s eventual aim was to set her son up in her and her husband’s trade. By October 1664, Andrew was firmly ensconced in Cripplegate, had a wife named Hannah, and had a son (a third-generation Andrew):

Again, however, the surviving evidence about Jane is very slim. I can find no record of Jane’s death anywhere in the registers of St Giles Cripplegate or other London parishes. No wills survive for either her or her husband.

So Jane remains something of an enigma. She was clearly something of a publishing force in the world of cheap print in the 1640s, but tantalisingly little remains about who she was. I hope this post brings her achievements to a slightly wider audience.

For more on the Coes’ business, the best work is the recent article by Sarah Barber, ‘Curiosity and Reality: the context and interpretation of a seventeenth-century image’, History Workshop Journal vol.70 (2010), pp.21-46. Some of the details above I owe to this article, although others are based on my own trawls of Jane’s books and of London parish registers.

The Hutton report

I’m currently doing some digging on parish politics in St Giles Cripplegate, London, during the 1630s. Irritatingly the vestry minutes for that period do not survive – it always seems to be the way that the particular period of a parish I want to research has no extant records! But the evidence that does survive suggests it was a pretty divided parish during this period. The vicar, Dr William Fuller, was an Anglican who resisted the Long Parliament’s attempt to strip away Laudian innovations:

For at St Giles’s Cripple Gate the Sectaries and the Orthodox got almost to Daggers drawing the one about Executing the Order the House of Commons the other for preserving their Church in ancient condition with the Rails about the Communion Table.

Nalson, Impartial Collection, p. 491.

The ‘sectaries’ of the parish went as far as submitting a petition to Parliament, a copy of which was printed. Fuller was singled out for complaint but so too was his curate, a man called Timothy Hutton:

Certaine Parishioners attended to see the christian buriall of a dead corps, could neither find the said Doctor or his Curate, though having notice before thereof: after that also, another Corps, then a third, all attending in the church yard. And at the last; hearing that Timothy Hutton his Curate was at the Fortune to see a Play, they sent to desire him, to officiate for the three corps: but hee would by no meanes come; then they sent a second, then a third also, certifying how long they had waited: yet would the said Timothy Hutton by no meanes come, untill such time that the play was ended.

The petition and articles exhibited in Parliament against Dr Fuller, Deane of Ely, and vicar of S. Giles Cripple-gate (London, 1641), BL, TT, E.175[1], sig. A3v.

I quite like the sound of Hutton: on another occasion he spent a night in the cells for being drunk and was fined a shilling by the magistrates for swearing.

Less amiable by all accounts was the churchwarden, Thomas Bogh, who was summoned in October 1641 to account for himself before the Commons after the MP John Venn gave an account of Bogh’s violent behaviour. In September 1641 Parliament issued reminders about the need to remove Laudian additions to churches, and in addition imposed lectureships on parishes: the godly faction within the congregation wanted the Puritan John Sedgwick (brother of Obadiah), but Bogh was having none of it.

On 15 October, Sedgwick and a crowd of parishioners assembled outside the locked church doors in the pouring rain, and waited an hour before concluding that they weren’t going to be let in. A few days later, John Chambers, servant to the MP Sir Roger Burgoyne, was assaulted by Bogh as he tried to deliver an order insisting that the church’s altar rails were removed.

Fuller, meanwhile, was summoned by the Commons and only released in November after posting substantial bail. In July 1642 he and Hutton were once more in trouble for reading a declaration by Charles I to the congregation. Further into the civil war, Fuller’s assets were seized and he ended up with the king in Oxford. During the Interregnum he returned to London to his old parish, dying in 1659. His request to be buried in the churchyard of St Giles Cripplegate was denied, though, so his body now lies in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster about half a mile south of his former parish.

London crowds and the Restoration

There is an interesting post by Lucy Inglis over at Georgian London about the moment, in March 1660, when a painter went into the Royal Exchange and obliterated the inscription by the statue of Charles I that had been symbolically beheaded in 1650:

Exit Tyrannus, Regnum Ultimus Anno Libertatis Anglicae Anno Domini 1648, Jan 30.

I hadn’t come across this incident before, but I’m not so sure – as Lucy suggests – that it’s necessarily evidence of different parts of London society uniting to welcome Charles II back to London. So (in the nicest possible way!) I thought I would set out some counter-examples.

It’s true that this is certainly the traditional way of looking at the events of 1659 and 1660. C. H. Firth’s history of the period argued that the London crowd had become alienated by the heavy taxation of the Protectorate and the Commonwealth which followed it, which combined with the economic downturn of 1659 led them to welcome Charles II back. Firth’s account contrasts this with the role of the London crowd in forcing Charles’s father out of London in 1642.

There is certainly something in Firth’s arguments. Merchants and tradesmen alike were under pretty severe economic pressure during this period. But as subsequent historians like Tim Harris have argued, there are some things about this narrative which are jarring. One is the tendency to see the crowd as a monolithic entity capable of switching allegiance depending on the circumstances. “The crowd” exists only as a perception in the minds of individuals: crowds themselves are a collection of individuals, who will have joined it for a range of motives, and one crowd is not the same as another.

Early modern crowds were certainly capable of what might be described as mindless or at least non-political violence. But they were also just as capable of highly targeted and politicised acts of violence. The poachers and woodcutters who killed the Earl of Middlesex’s deer in 1642 were targeting a potent symbol of his gentility, in response to grievances about their treatment at his hands. Likewise, enclosure protestors who ransacked the muniment rooms of manor houses were attacking the legitimacy of those oppressing them. And early modern crowds, or at least their leaders, were equally able to strategise. The apprentices who petitioned Parliament in 1647 for their rights to holidays planned their march well in advance, and backed it up with printed advertisements scattered about the streets and pasted up and down London’s walls. All of which means we need to be careful when ascribing uniform motives to crowds, and equally careful of not stripping their actions of a political vocabulary.

Another counter-argument to Firth’s narrative is the circumstances in which the painter expunged the legend by Charles I’s statue. By March 1660 neither Cromwell was in power. Oliver had been dead for a year and a half and it had been nearly a year since Richard had resigned the Protectorship. England was ruled once more by a republican Commonwealth with power constituted in a reformed Rump Parliament. It was the Rump, and the steps it tried to take to protect independent sects, that prompted many of the actions taken by Londoners during 1659 and 1660. It is a mistake to read too much royalism into their demands: foremost in the demands of the various petitions from that time, and of the various crowds which protested, was a call for a free Parliament to protect their rights. Some saw these rights as religious: their rights as mainstream Presbyterians or Puritans. Some saw these rights as economic: their right to earn a living and to be protected from the effects of the downturn. There is an argument that at least some of the Londoners who welcomed Charles II back saw him as the best way, in the circumstances they faced, of guaranteeing those rights.

Equally, many of their protests were neither quiet nor dignified. 5 December 1659 saw a crowd of rock-throwing apprentices quashed only at sword- and gunpoint by a detachment of 2,000 soldiers. A number of apprentices were killed. February 1660 saw several regiments in London mutiny, more violent protests by apprentices, and the military occupation of the Common Council of the City of London’s Corporation by the army. Even the incident with Charles I’s statue is ambiguous. A contemporary pamphlet claimed that it was actually done at the instigation of General Monck, the architect of Charles II’s return:

Providence… check[ed] these exorbitances after a long tract of time, by causing the Right Honorable, and Ever-noble General Monck, to be a happy Instrument in carrying on (without bloodshed) the blessed returns to our due Obedience, and of hard-hearted and implacable Rebels, to become patient and loving subjects; who (to his everlasting Memory let it be recorded) ordered that abominable Superscription of EXIT TYRANNUS as a Capital offender to be expunged.

The loyal subjects teares, for the sufferings and absence of their sovereign, Charles II (London, 1660), British Library, Thomason Tracts, E.1017[29], p. 4.

While this may seem – and probably is – too good to be true, it does indicate another problem facing anyone trying to reconstruct early modern crowds, which is the likely interaction between different social groups in organising and conducting protests: whether that be aristocrats, the middling sort, apprentices, wage labourers, men or women. Trying to unpick these layers isn’t made easier by the fact that many of our accounts of crowds of this time are filtered through the lens of the authorities, whether they be personal accounts of political elites, printed literature aimed at or censored by elites, or court records reflecting official rather than hidden transcripts. One of the quotes Lucy cites about London’s reaction to the Restoration is an example of this:

Bow Bells could not be heard for the noise of the people.

This quote comes from the Diurnall of Thomas Rugge, a manuscript now in the British Museum compiled about events from 1659 to 1672 (Additional MSS 10,116-10,117). A barber by trade, in compiling his Diurnall Rugge mixed his own knowledge with that of friends and blended it with contemporary printed accounts such as those in newsbooks and pamphlets. As a result it is hard to know whose views it gives, and asides like this may just as easily reflect accounts of the Restoration sympathetic to Charles II as they do reality. And ultimately we can never know whether all those cheering were doing so through joy, through fear, or because it was what everyone else was doing.

Then again, it’s partly the ambiguities in the sources that allow historians to argue back and forth about the nature and existence of popular politics. And – like the reader of a paper I wrote who objected to my preferring to use the phrase ‘crowd action’ instead of riot – I’m equally aware that my own views on early modern crowds can be criticised as overly schematic, idealised and reflecting twenty-first century liberal concerns!

Recycled woodcuts, part 3

I have blogged in a couple of previous posts (1, 2) about the reuse of woodcuts by mid-seventeenth century printers and booksellers. Various names appear in both posts: printers like Jane Coe, Bernard Alsop and Thomas Harper, and booksellers like John Greensmith and  Thomas Bates. Inspired by Gavin Robinson’s recent post reconstructing the life and allegiance of a London merchant of the same period, I thought it might be interesting to post about the lives of a couple of these figures in more detail. Doing so can tell us a surprising amount about why woodcuts were being recycled at this time.

Thomas Bates was a bookseller based in Bishop’s Court in the Old Bailey. A number of the pamphlets he sold reused woodcuts. His date of birth is unclear, but he was made free from his apprenticeship in 1619, which if he served the typical length of time would put his birth date around 1595. He was apprenticed to Michael Sparke, who would later go on to publish the books of the religious radical and martyr William Prynne. Before doing so, however, he seems to have spent some time in the 1610s as a journeyman, travelling the country selling his wares. Through this he was intimately linked to wider networks of chapmen and pedlars.

Sparke’s early career, and his later willingness to publish books no other bookseller would take on, may be significant to the choices that Bates made in his own career. By the 1640s, Bates was the member of a partnership of three booksellers: the other two members were Thomas Banks and Francis Coules, also based in the Old Bailey. Their typical product was the short, eight-page quarto pamphlet, often satirical or scandalous, and illustrated with a woodcut on the frontispiece. This kind of pamphlet was quick and cheap to print, and was clearly a popular product. As church and Parliamentary censorship waned during the 1630s then broke down in 1641, hundreds of pamphlets in this genre were produced.

The products the three partners sold may owe something to their links to the ballad trade. Ballads are exactly the kind of books that are likely to have been a staple of Michael Sparke’s sales as he travelled round the country. Bates’s links to his partners may well have come from the networks and knowledge that his master built up during this period. A more definite link can be determined with Francis Coules. He was the oldest of the three and, earlier in his career, he had along with Henry Gosson and Edward Wright been the junior member of a partnership of booksellers who had gradually bought up the copyright to popular broadside ballads. As the partners built up their stock of ballads, they also seem to have developed new methods of marketing them. During the sixteenth century, woodcut illustration was unusual: only one fifth of surviving ballads were illustrated. Slowly, the ballad partners began to change this. By 1640, five out of six surviving ballads were illustrated.

It seems likely that some link can be traced between the woodcuts used to illustrate such ballads and the pamphlets that Bates, Coules and Banks were selling. Selling satirical pamphlets in the early 1640s was not without its risks. All three were summoned to appear before Parliament at various points and Bates seems, according to various sources, to have served some time in prison on at least two occasions. However, Bates’s stock seems to have spanned a reasonably wide range of religious and political positions. Profit, not politics, was probably his primary motivation: and it is here that using illustrated title pages makes sense. In an increasingly saturated market, illustrated frontispieces stood out, and probably sold well. Indeed the amount of pamphlets with illustrations entirely unconnected to their content suggest that any illustration enhanced the selling-power of books. In that sense, the pamphlets on sale in Bates’s shop are the legacy of a trend that began with ballads.

But Bates and his partners were faced with a tension to resolve. They needed their books to stand out, and for that they needed illustrations: the fresher and more eye-catching, the better. But they also needed to preserve their bottom line. It is very difficult to reconstruct costs and profits for printers and booksellers without any sources, but here is a very rough and indicative attempt to do so, which at least may give an idea of the sort of margins Bates would have been working under. Booksellers in this period were typically the “undertaker” for pamphlets: which is to say they put up the capital, paid the printer, and took the risk if books didn’t sell.

  • The cheapest paper – ‘pot paper’ – sold in the 1620s for between 3s. 4d. and 4s.6d. a ream. A ream contained 500 sheets, and an eight-page quarto pamphlet was made from one sheet. Thus one ream would have supplied 500 copies of the books Bates was typically selling.
  • Print runs at this time are also hard to estimate, but the limitations of presses and working practices at this time suggest runs somewhere between 250 – 1,500 copies for a short quarto book. If we assume a very high print run of 1,000 copies, two reams would be needed to provide the paper. That suggests a cost of about 10s.
  • Paper was between half and three quarters of the cost of a book, so the cost to Bates’s printers for an unillustrated book might have been about 20s.
  • The printer would then have sold his work to Bates. In 1655, John Sturgeon paid the radical printer Richard Moone 40s. for 1,000 copies of A Short Discovery of his Highness the Lord Protector’s Intentions. Whether this is a good comparison is hard to say. In both cases the printer would have been producing works that put him at some risk, but the risks during the Protectorate were probably rather higher. If we assume a lower price of, say, 30s., that still allows for some profit to the printer.
  • Bates also needed to make a profit. Again, estimating book prices accurately at this period is very hard, but assuming his eight-page quartos sold for 1d., that would mean potential revenue of £4, and a potential gross profit of £2 10s. This is of course a best-case scenario, assuming that every copy of a relatively high print-run sold.
  • Net profit, after deducting operational costs of running a bookshop, is even harder to estimate so I won’t attempt it here.

Adding a freshly-cut woodcut to this process would inevitably have eaten into the margins of printers and booksellers. Assuming the printer absorbed the cost, he would have passed it on to the bookseller. So you can imagine discussions between the bookseller (who would generally have owned the copyright), the printer and the author about whether to use a woodcut, and if so whether to reuse an old one. If Bates had money to spare, he might have decided to get the printer to commission a bespoke woodcut. If cash was tight, he might have asked for an old to be reused. It’s possible that some woodcuts, like those with “speech bubbles” left blank, were designed to fulfil both purposes.

Amongst the printers that Bates used was Bernard Alsop. He had been apprenticed to Humphrey Lympenny in 1601, then transferred in 1603 to the mastership of William White. By 1616 he had gone into partnership with Thomas Creed, who seems to have either retired or died the next year. Alsop inherited his press, type and ornaments, and was still using them in the 1640s: Creed had already got good use out of them, so by the outbreak of the civil wars they were getting pretty tired. Indeed Alsop’s work is often identifiable by reuse of a small number of ornaments (perhaps the only ones still in good condition), or by particularly worn type.

In 1626 Alsop went into partnership with Thomas Fawcett, and together they published a number of literary works by the playwrights Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, the poet and playwright Thomas Dekker, and the writer Robert Greene; as well as numerous religious books. In 1641, though, their surviving output starts to change. They still published big, literary works by authors such as Ben Jonson. But they also started picking up a number of short satirical quarto pamphlets of exactly the kind sold by Thomas Bates. Like Bates, they also started to get into trouble with the authorities and were hauled before Parliament a number of time for printing scandalous texts. Their poor quality type and sloppy workmanship may have made it somewhat easier for the authorities to identify their works. They also moved into publishing newsbooks – typically one or two sheet quartos – as they were invented in 1641 and then became popular in the subsequent years.

What prompted this switch in their output is not clear. Perhaps it is symptomatic of wider changes in the tastes of the reading public, perhaps it was where the money was. But you can easily imagine Alsop being concerned to protect his profits, and fighting his own corner with booksellers: trying to recycle a woodcut commissioned by one bookseller for the book of another, while still charging as much as he could get away with. Equally, booksellers may have demanded that he use specific woodcuts. The famous picture of a preacher in a tub that inspired this series of posts may have generated good sales, and prompted rival booksellers to request it for their pamphlets as well.

So little trace of this kind of commercial back-and-forth survives that we can only guess at what negotations took place between printers like Alsop and booksellers like Bates. What does seem clear, though, is that a complicated set of personal, commercial, political, or religious transactions lay behind the use of every woodcut. Looking at the lives of Alsop and Bates gives at least a sliver of insight into what those transactions may have been.

The illustrations to this post are woodcuts by the Swiss artist Jost Amman, depicting a woodcut artist, a printer and a bookbinder respectively, and taken from his Das Ständebuch (1568).