Censorship in 17th-Century England

In Charles T. Jacobi’s Gesta Typographica (London, 1897, although I was only reading passages reprinted in 1964 at the Maidstone College of Art), there’s a mention of a decree made by the Star Chamber on July 11, 1637, that limited the number of master printers in in England to just twenty, and also limited the number of type-founders to just four.

It was a startling tidbit, which made slightly more sense after a little digging. The restriction of legally sanctioned printing to a handful of shops in London was intended as a way to make it as easy as possible for all publications in the kingdom to be monitored and censored by the court of Charles I, whose attempts to consolidate power led to the English Civil War. The 1637 decree was the most extreme of an escalating series of attempts to stifle dissent, often spread by means of pamphlets and books published by independent printers throughout the kingdom. Although small presses continued to produce seditious (in this case meaning anything not sanctioned by the crown) pamphlets and books, many unlicensed founders and printers were raided and arrested, and their equipment destroyed.

In terms of type history, I wonder how many punches, matrices, fonts, and examples were lost in all these purges. The literature I’ve seen so far only discusses the printers themselves, and doesn’t say much about the foundries, or doesn’t make clear if any of the printers had founders working with them under the same roof. It seems possible that entire strands of typographic development may have been snuffed out during this period.

(Note to self: Keep an eye out for other mentions of the censorship by the Star Chamber between 1632 and 1641, thereabouts.)