Today we have another fabulous guest post! Today’s writer is Danielle Burton, a history blogger who also works as a project archive assistant at the Derbyshire Record Office. She has a degree in History and an MA in Public History and Heritage. She has a special interest in Anthony Woodville, of whom she is currently writing a biography on, and the Wars of the Roses. However, her own blog focuses on all aspects of little known history. Do check out her blog here, or find her on Twitter! Danielle is talking to us today about Anthony Woodville and his connections to early printing in England…

Anthony Woodville (second from left) with William Caxton presenting the first printed book in the English language to his brother-in-law, King Edward IV, and his family, c.1480. WikiCommons.

In 1476, William Caxton opened his print shop in Westminster. This shop would be the start of a long tradition of printing books in England. Whilst he did often operate alone – although he is thought to have sold books produced by others at his shop – the first few years of his establishment in England were helped by Anthony Woodville, the brother-in-law of Edward IV.[1] Anthony was not only Caxton’s best patron, but also translated texts which Caxton printed for him. As the head of the Household of Edward, Prince of Wales, Anthony also used texts created by Caxton to educate a future king. In many ways, this mutually beneficial role has been somewhat forgotten with time. Many have instead seen Anthony Woodville as someone who achieved little, mainly due to his execution in 1483. However, this is far from the truth.

Whilst there is debate as to how far in advance of Caxton establishing his printshop that he and Woodville became acquainted with one another, it would have been quite easy to establish some form of relationship in Bruges, where Caxton had originally been a merchant. During the 1460s, Anthony would have first visited Burgundy as negotiator and later head of the marriage party for Margaret of York, the younger sister of Edward IV. Caxton was leader of the English community in Bruges.[2] The procession into Bruges of Margaret and her new husband, Charles the Bold, would have included members of the English merchant fraternity, so Caxton is likely to have been a participant alongside Anthony. Even if they did not become close during this occasion, there would have been other opportunities, most notably the exile of Edward IV and his followers, including Anthony, between 1470 and 1471.[3]

Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy (c.1477), The Louvre, WikiCommons.

The latter is more likely as this coincides with Caxton’s decision to resign as head of the English in Bruges and become a printer who specialised in printing English translations of French texts.[4] As the English exiles were staying in the protection of Louis, Lord of Gruuthuyse, known for having the largest book collection in Burgundy, and quite possibly one of the biggest in Europe, this change of business would appear to have been too much of a coincidence.[5] The English nobles who were out in Bruges at the time could have easily become linked with Caxton within the those years, so perhaps it is possible that Anthony, the known bibliophile, and Edward IV, who was interested in increasing his library after this exile, were behind Caxton’s decision to move to England within the next five years.

When William Caxton did move to England, there was little previous printing tradition in England to follow, so it was vital to put an English spin to the Burgundian model of book culture.[6] The first stage of this for Caxton was to place his print shop in Westminster. The decision to place his shop there showed he would be close to his intended audience in the Palace of Westminster and Parliament, suggesting that he already had made connections with these types of people, quite possibly Anthony.[7] The other option was to create genres that would appeal to nobles in a world where increasingly a nobleman’s education was beginning to heavily rely upon both military and cultural pursuits in order to create a well-rounded aristocrat.[8] As both a well-known bibliophile and man of tournament success, Anthony Woodville was the perfect candidate to be a patron of Caxton’s. His role as head of the Prince of Wales’ household also made him the perfect person to advise the new printer in what types of books would be needed to educate noblemen. In exchange for this knowledge, books would be printed and dedicated to the cause of teaching the young prince.[9] This transaction would make their working relationship a mutually beneficial one. Anthony used his status to patronise the works Caxton printed and so Caxton would then publish English translations Anthony had done of French texts.[10]

William Caxton showing the first page from his printing press to King Edward IV, Cassell’s Illustrated History of England (1909), British Library.

The second stage was to produce works suited to this aristocratic audience. It helped that Burgundy and England had similar tastes in terms of chivalric and moralistic style texts.[11] This was what Caxton, alongside Woodville, excelled at producing. The most famous of the three texts translated by Anthony was the Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers, printed in 1477. It was a collection of stories and sayings from the Ancient Greek and classical philosophers, especially Socrates. This book was the first book printed in England to have the date and place of publication attached to it.[12] Caxton illustrates in his epilogue to the text that Woodville removed sexist language because of his respect for women.[13] This respect and love for women in general was Anthony’s version of chivalry, which was perhaps not part of chivalric tendencies for others. Still, his love of religion and desire to improve the morality of others were also factors in the translating process for Anthony.[14] The significance of this can be seen in how he had originally been given the French version of this text. Whilst on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, he was given a copy by a Frenchman.

In deciding to use translations as the basis for their texts, the pair helped to set an example of what types of literature were worthy of patronage in late fifteenth century England.[15] In turn, this increased the demand for books printed in English, which gave greater opportunities not just for Anthony, but all translators.[16] However, according to Anne Sutton and Liva Visser-Fuchs, they believe that translation was purely a hobby for Anthony, but whilst that may be the case, it does somewhat oversimplify the motivations behind his decision to translate.[17] Most notably to educate Edward, the Prince of Wales.

Whilst it’s difficult to explain the whole context behind the relationship between Anthony Woodville and William Caxton, as well as the work of Caxton’s printshop, hopefully, this post has gone some way towards showing that Anthony Woodville did play an important role in the early printing culture in England. Sadly much of this has since been forgotten as his legacy would have been seen in Edward, Prince of Wales, had he truly become Edward V. Whilst this never came to pass, for reasons outside the scope of this post, I must acknowledge that it would have been interesting to see just how the education of the young Prince, organised by Anthony and others within the household at Ludlow, would have shaped a future king.

Thank you so much Danielle for writing for us today! Make sure to check out her blog, Voyager of History, or say hi on Twitter.

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[1] Sutton, Anne F. and Visser-Fuchs, Livia, ‘Choosing a Book in Late Fifteenth-Century England and Burgundy’, in Barron, Caroline and Saul, Nigel (eds), England and the Low Countries in the Late Middle Ages (Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1995), p. 64

[2] Dunleavy, Brian, The Woodville Chronicle (Southampton: Magic Flute Publications, 2017) p. 139

[3] Gill, Louise, ‘William Caxton and the Rebellion of 1483’, English Historical Review, 112.445 (1997), p. 108

[4] Dunleavy, Brian, The Woodville Chronicle, p. 139

[5] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family (Stroud: The History Press, 2013), p. 53

[6] Hellinga, Lotte, William Caxton and Early Printing in England (London: British Library, 2010) p. 61

[7] Hellinga, L., ‘The Guttenberg Revolutions’, in Eliot, S. and Rose, J. (eds) A Companion to the History of the Book (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), p. 210

[8] Dunleavy, B., The Woodville Chronicle, p. 134

[9] Hellinga, L., William Caxton and Early Printing in England, p. 61; Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 82-83

[10] Kuskin, William, ‘Caxton’s Worthies Series:  The Production of Literary Culture’, ELH, 66.3 (1999), p. 540

[11] Sutton, Anne F. and Visser-Fuchs, Livia, ‘Choosing a Book in Late Fifteenth-Century England and Burgundy’, p. 79

[12] Buhler, Curt F., ‘The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers’ (Library (1934) s4-XV (3): 316-329), p. 318

[13] Pidgeon, Lynda, ‘Antony Wydevile, Lord Scales and Earl Rivers: Family, Friends and Affinity, Part 2.’, The Ricardian, 16 (2006), p. 15

[14] Saul, D., Chivalry in Medieval England (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 335

[15] Davies, C. S. L., Peace, Print and Protestantism, 1450-1558 (London: Hart-DaviesMacGibbon Ltd, 1976), p. 132

[16] Sutton, Anne F. and Visser-Fuchs, Livia, ‘Choosing a Book in Late Fifteenth-Century England and Burgundy’, p. 68

[17] Ibid, p. 69

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