Review of Pilgrims, Profit and Print by Catherine Armstrong

This precisely researched and well written work explores the networks connecting practitioners of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English book trades with the funders of and travellers to the nascent colonies of North America such as Virginia and New England. The importance of print culture in spreading news, and fake news, about North America is not a new topic, but Wilson’s work develops it further, examining the relevant personnel in more detail. He shows how their overlapping concerns give truth to the quotation from John Donne in his sermon preached before the Virginia Company in 1622, that ‘this community of professional tradesmen’ helped to build the vision of English colonies in North America. These tradesmen were, in effect, as Wilson states, ‘the marketing department for the start up enterprise that would in time become the United States of America’ (p. 1).

Wilson makes extensive use of the Stationers’ Company archive and begins by providing a short history of the company, from its founding in 1403, showing how it was possible to become a freeman, liveryman or member of the court of assistants of the Company. This section also outlines the main function of the Company in maintaining a register of copy rights, but also shows how the Company itself sometimes secured the privilege of  publishing certain works. While this summary is unlikely to be new to many of the readers of this journal, it nonetheless sets the scene for the following sections detailing printers and other book-trade personnel who had a focus on colonization. The diverse status of those investors is outlined, from members of the elite to ‘country vicars’ such as Richard Hakluyt. Many investors also had a hand in printing or publishing works about the so-called ‘New World’; in these cases, there was a direct overlap of financial interest between the two activities. Wilson shows how the Stationers’ Company disproportionately contributed large sums to colonial ventures, even though it was relatively new and nowhere near as rich as the ‘Great Twelve’ livery companies.

The next chapter lists men from the Stationers’ Company involved in either investing in or travelling to America. A short biography of each is given, along with information about their involvement in colonization whether financial, practical or both. For example, we hear about George Bishop, the publisher of Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, an ally of Walsingham who was interested in travel generally, but from 1600 in America in particular (p. 14). Thomas Dawson was also actively publishing works on North America and navigation from 1580s to his death in 1620 (p. 27). Wilson argues that this dual interest in publishing and investing is the equivalent of demonstrating confidence in a business by buying shares in it. Some members had a familial interest in Virginia, such as George Swinhow, who had a relative present at the Virginia Massacre of 1622. Others such as Humphery Hooper had no discernible interest in travel at all, but rather saw the investment as a purely commercial calculation (p. 20).

There follows a more detailed survey of the life of one of the best known of the early travellers for Plymouth Plantation, its governor Edward Winslow, whose career began in 1613 as apprentice to stationer John Beale. There is little detail about Winslow’s life as an apprentice, and much of the following information about his political career in the colonies is well known. Similarly the early history of printing in New England itself is surveyed in a brief chapter, with information provided on, among others, Stephan [Stephen??] Daye, an indentured servant who worked off his passage by operating it, and Marmaduke Johnson apprentice to John Field who printed John Eliot’s Bible in the native Algonquian language. We also learn about Benjamin Harris, from a few generations later, who travelled to North America in 1686, perceiving it to be a place of greater freedom. While there he published the first newspaper, Publick Occurrences.

Like other authors before him, Wilson convincingly argues that printers and publishers are as much a part of the history of North America as the English language, common law and the tradition of Magna Carta. This short work outlines some important archival research and provides detail about a number of more obscure investors in the colonial enterprise in its early years. However, there is little sense of the scholarly framework of the already well-researched field. Reference to historiography from Thomas Prince in the eighteenth century through to Lawrence Wroth in the twentieth would have enhanced the book. Nonetheless this is an entertaining read, and adds an important contribution to scholarship in this fascinating area.

March 2022

Was Southampton a Poet?  - I don’t think so.

In her 2011 paper ‘ Was Southampton a Poet ? A Verse Letter to Queen Elizabeth ’[1] , Lara M Crowley put forward the case that Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton was the author of a long verse letter preserved in the British Library’s MS Stowe 962 . ‘The earle of Southampton prisoner and condemn’d. To Queen Elizabeth‘ is one entry in this collection of 254 folios which includes both prose and poetic works from the reigns of Elizabeth, James I and Charles I. In this 74- line long poem in heroic couplets, the earl , who had been imprisoned in the Tower for his part in the earl of Essex’s rebellion of 1601 against Elizabeth I, pleads for the queen’s mercy.

Crowley , an associate professor now at Northern Illinois University, notes that this is the only known copy of the poem. If it was not written by Southampton, she points out , it would be a persona poem, written by one poet but presented as if written by another. The problem with this , she finds, is that it would be the only persona poem in the collection of Stowe 962. Moreover, Crowley notes that Stowe 962 does not include any of the other persona pieces which are to be found in other manuscript collections. Thus it is clear that the poem ascribed to Southampton is not one of a group of persona pieces that appealed to the compiler of the collection. Furthermore, she proposes that if it were a persona piece, we might also expect to see a response in the form of a persona piece nominally from the queen, such poetic dialogues in persona form having been recorded elsewhere.  It appears then that the case in favour of this being a persona poem written not by Southampton but by somebody else is undermined by these points, adding weight to the contention that it was indeed written by the earl.

 Building her argument on the basis of comparison with other verses in the manuscript collection, she explains that the overwhelming majority of the other poems which have been ascribed to an author  in that manuscript have been proven to be accurately ascribed. The weight of probability then, based on the other accurate ascriptions in the manuscript, would support  the suggestion that  the poem which claims to be by Southampton was indeed written by him. She also addresses the possible objection that the preservation of a single copy of this poem by such a famous author would be improbable, citing other instances – notably relating to the earl of Essex- where only a single copy of an attributable poem has been preserved. In the absence of any alternative ascription other than that to Southampton, she asserts, we have little choice but to accept the only available ascription.

Turning to the content of the poem, Crowley compares elements of the earl’s poetic appeal for mercy to his preserved prose letters to the queen , finding , perhaps unsurprisingly , points of pleading in common to both. As she rightly notes, it was not at all unusual for the condemned to write verses in their last days – or what they might have thought were their last days. In the absence of any other copy of the poem , Crowley determines that our judgement of the authorship of this poem has to be made in the context of the other pieces of the manuscript collection in which it is found – Stowe 962. If those other items are accurately ascribed . so might be this particular poem.

Thus far , professor Crowley makes good points. With only one copy of the poem in existence ascribed to such a prominent individual , claiming to be written by him under sentence of death for his participation in an infamous act of insubordination, we can neither ignore the poem – nor can we draw on quantities of external material to support the ascription. It is right that she should investigate the poem. However……


[1] CROWLEY, LARA M. “Was Southampton a Poet? A Verse Letter to Queen Elizabeth [with Text].” English Literary Renaissance 41, no. 1 (2011): 111–45.

December 2021

What I find curious about the attribution of this poem is precisely the absence of external evidence to clinch Southampton as the author. When Chidiock Tichborne, of relatively obscure country gentry origins, completed his elegy just before his execution for his part in the Babington conspiracy, some 45 manuscript copies of the elegy , contemporary and near contemporary , were made.  [2]  And yet the poem of Southampton, one of the most prominent peers of his day , exists in only one copy.  This might ring alarm bells. Is it likely that Southampton’s poem would go unrecorded in anything other than this single copy when Tichborne’s was repeated dozens of times? And how did the original compiler of Stowe 962 , of whom we know very little, come to obtain his copy of the Southampton poem?. Ownership of Stowe 962 cannot be traced back any earlier than the eighteenth century. If indeed the poem was written originally by Southampton, its history between 1601 and – at the very earliest 1700 - is shrouded in mist.

If we cannot know that the poem existed in a form noted down by someone close to Southampton or to the Queen as the putative recipient, IE , if there is no credible eye – witness to its origins, is there anything in Southampton’s life that would seem to support the claim he was the original author?  There are no extant poems which have been signed by Southampton or are demonstrably in his hand. Nor is there any  record among his contemporaries to his having been a poet. This is a point of some significance, given that courtier poets would have their works circulated in manuscript  amongst court circles. The poetic works of Wyatt and Howard were circulated in this form before being compiled into important manuscript anthologies such as the Devonshire  and Arundel Harington manuscripts. Leading courtiers and political figures who did no more than dabble with doggerel in their final days ( such as Thomas Seymour) had their one and only effort recorded. The works also of Sidney were preserved in multiple manuscript collections.[3]  Might we not have expected something of Southampton’s poetic work to have been recorded , for example, in the Dalhousie manuscripts ?

Southampton’s leader in the conspiracy – Essex himself – had a literary reputation which was recorded by contemporaries and by his own secretariat.  That no close associates of Southampton retained copies of this poem or indeed of any other poems would again seem to argue that he was not given to poetic expression.

 Neither Charlotte Carmichael Stopes , nor A L Rowse , the eminent biographers of Southampton at any point note any reference to Southampton as a poet.  Given that both approached their subject with an evident degree of admiration, it would seem unlikely that either of them would have missed a mention of Southampton as a poet to add to his other laudable qualities. In fact, given Southampton’s reputation as a patron of poets, it might almost seem curious that we have nothing that we can definitely attribute to him. As a patron ,did he perhaps recognize his own limitations and refrain from an attempt to write verse?

Let us for a moment assume that the absence of any evidence of Southampton’s poetic inclinations points towards the fact that the poem in Stowe 962 was the one and only attempt by the earl to write verse. Is it likely that , taking up his quill for the first time , Southampton would comfortablychoose heroic couplets in iambic pentameter, liberally scattered with enjambment as his first attempt? Moreover , with no positively confirmed examples of verse attributable to Southampton available , we are unable to make a positive attribution of the piece to him on grounds of style  or verse form.


While Professor Crowley’s arguments cannot be ignored, are they conclusive? My own view is that , in the absence of positive evidence of the sort described above , they are not. The case is not yet proven. And, if the scarcity of positive external evidence supporting the attribution to Southampton undermines the case for his authorship, who did write it? That is another question.


[2] CELM – Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts - CELM: Chidiock Tichborne ( See TIC 12 as the key source for the poem copied from Tichborne’s own manuscript.

[3] CELM -  Philip Sidney CELM: Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586) (

Sir Thomas Fairfax’s Copy of Froissart’s Chronicles

Sir Thomas Fairfax, Lord General of the parliamentary armies during the civil war in England, was an extraordinary character.  A professional soldier who, prior to the Civil War was knighted by Charles I for his role in the First Bishops’ War against the Scots, Fairfax and his father, Ferdinando, second Lord Fairfax of Cameron, declared for Parliament at the start of the civil war. The Fairfaxes, father and son, emerged as leading parliamentary commanders in Yorkshire and the son went on to rise to the highest command in the parliamentary army, playing key roles at the battles of Marston Moor and Naseby as well as at the siege of Colchester, all three engagements proving major points in Parliament’s progress towards eventual success.

Fairfax’s dedication to the parliamentary cause and courage on the battlefield was outstanding and evidenced by the extraordinary number of wounds he received. Amongst religious zealots in the parliamentary army Fairfax became known as the ‘Rider of the White Horse’, a biblical reference from the book of Revelations to a white horse and “he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war". At the same time, the defeated King acknowledged Fairfax as a man of honour. As a member of the minor aristocracy, Fairfax was not a proponent of a complete overthrow of the social order and, along with other army grandees, took steps to suppress the leveller movement which had grown in the ranks of the army.

Fairfax' Froissart - Ownership Inscripti

Image 1 - Ownership Inscription

When Fairfax refused to sign the King’s death warrant and retired from public office on the execution of the King, some parliamentary supporters felt he had compromised his commitment to the cause. Indeed, when General Monk marched south from Scotland to impose the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Fairfax supported his march through Yorkshire, confirming for many parliamentarians their suspicions that he was a trimmer. And yet many Royalists believed he could have done more to save the executed King. By treading his own path between the more zealous parliamentary views and the most loyal royalists, Fairfax managed to damage his reputation in both camps.

Fairfax – also known as ‘Black Tom’ - was a lover of books and took steps to protect libraries in Oxford and York from looting. He inherited a substantial library from his father and bequeathed 28 manuscripts to the Bodleian. In retirement he wrote verse and hired the poet Andrew Marvell as tutor to his daughter. Among the books which belonged to him is a copy of Froissart’s Chronicles, now bound in two volumes, printed at Lyon in 1559 and 1560 by Jean De Tournes, the printer to the King of France. Reproduced here (Image 1) is the ownership inscription of ‘Sir Thomas Fairfax of Denton, Knight’. It has been suggested that this book may originally have belonged to Black Tom’s grandfather who died in 1640 or indeed his great grandfather who died in 1598/99, both named Thomas. However, the ownership inscription here suggests to me a later hand than that which the Great grandfather would have had.  It could certainly be the ownership inscription of the grandfather, but if it is, it would have been inscribed late in his life judging by the style of writing. Indeed, it would suggest that late in life he had adopted a style of writing different from that which he would have learnt in his youth. Overall, the ownership inscription seems to me to be most probably that of Black Tom.


However, it is the marginalia that points towards this book having been used by ‘Black Tom’ very much as a retrospective justification of his own actions and beliefs which had been so controversial. On page 254 of the first volume, (image 2) we see the marginal note ‘A commendation of Sir John Chandos, Regent in France for the King of England’. This is the only instance amongst the marginalia in which Fairfax singles out an individual for his qualities. The original French text describes Chandos, thought to be the mastermind behind key victories at Crecy and Poitiers, as ‘chivalrous, courteous, liberal, gracious, generous, valiant, wise, faithful in all cases’. In singling out Chandos in this way, Fairfax was patently trying to draw a parallel with his own military successes and presumably identifying with Chandos’ chivalric reputation. Later marginal comments refer to the capture of Calais by Edward III (image 3) and to the Jacquerie uprising, events which he would have seen as paralleling his own siege of Colchester and suppression of Levellers.

I am inclined to conclude that in retirement Black Tom looked back at 

the events of Edward III’s campaigns in France and sought to draw parallels with his own career and conduct.  Other books which once belonged to Fairfax may similarly contain marginalia giving clues to his own perception of himself.


Image 2 - A commendation of Sir John Chandos


Image 3 - Siege of Calais

Written in the Stars

Some recent research has led me down one of the odd byways of linguistic study in the 16th and 17th centuries. In that era, European scholars had begun the study of Hebrew and Arabic, investigated ancient languages with biblical significance such as Syriac and Ge’ez and made the first tentative steps to understand Japanese and Chinese. Jesuit colleges in Rome promoted the printing of texts in Arabic for the Christian communities in the Middle East and the Jesuit college in Macau taught Chinese. On the other side of the earth, a Jesuit compiled the first Grammar of the Guarani language of Paraguay.

In amongst all the well-grounded scholarship and first- hand study based on field work, there was also room for imagination and belief. Perhaps the most striking example was the inclusion by some reputable scholars of ‘occult alphabets’ in their compilations of foreign and ancient scripts. Of these, one, the so – called ‘celestial alphabet ‘, was reproduced in books by leading scholars over the coming 150 years at least.  The first printed example I have been able to find was included in the ‘Three Books of Occult Philosophy ‘of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1533, Cologne). Agrippa, a soldier, diplomat and polymath in the service of the Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian I and subsequently Charles V, held views on women and their rights that were unorthodox at the time. He was also open about his interest in Jewish thought and in the kabbalah, views which led him into trouble and which he subsequently recanted. On more than one occasion he was accused of heresy.


Cornelius Agrippa: The Three Books of Occult Philosophy – Celestial alphabet

The small circles at the extremities of these ‘letters’ provide the clue: they are the stars which form the letters of the celestial alphabet.  Agrippa’s work set out the idea that by tracing these letters between the stars, the heavens could be read.  His book was translated into English by James Freake and published in London in 1651.

Agrippa’s celestial alphabet was reproduced numerous times in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is reproduced ,for example, in ‘Thresor de Histoire de Langues’ (1613) by Claude Duret Bourbonnois , a judge, botanist and linguist. It also appears as the ‘Supercelestial’ alphabet in the ‘The Heavenly Golden Rod of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ (1616) ,a compilation of alphabets by the Scot, James Bonaventure Hepburn, a member of the Catholic Order of Minims and Keeper of Oriental Books and Manuscripts at the Vatican. In 1622 it was included in the ‘Specimen Litterarum et Linguarum’ (1622) of Jean Baptiste Gramaye, a jurist and professor at Leuven University.

Gramaye had established a reputation as a historian of the low countries. Sent on a diplomatic mission to Morocco, he was captured by barbary pirates and during a 5 -month captivity in North Africa he turned his attention to the languages and culture of Africa and the east. Gramaye’s alphabets, reproduced in woodcut, served as the acknowledged source for identical images published in ‘Purchas, His Pilgrims’ (1625) by the English Protestant clergyman Samuel Purchas, a chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury and committed anti-Catholic. Thus, the celestial alphabet, first published by a Christian Cabbalist was promoted by both ardent Catholics and zealous protestants.

A celestial map showing the letters in their star formations and describing them as the Celestial Hebrew Alphabet was printed in 1629 for inclusion in ‘Curiositez Inovyes ‘by Jacques Gaffarel, theologian and Librarian to Cardinal Richelieu. The Cardinal’s patronage helped to save Gaffarel from the same sort of suspicions of heresy which had dogged Agrippa.

Gaffarel‘s book, translated into English as ‘Unheard of Curiosities’ by Edmund Chilmead and published in London in 1650, explained the operation of the celestial alphabet, which enabled skilled individuals to read what is ‘written in the stars’. Gaffarel cites Rabbi Eliahu Chomer as an authority for the interpretation of the celestial language which is in this interpretation an early form of Hebrew.

It is also described by James Howell in his ‘Survey of the Signorie of Venice’ (1651), again, citing the authority of Rabbi Chomer. Howell uses the celestial alphabet to read in the stars the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, then threatening Venice, in 1655. It is interesting to note that Howell’s book, Freake’s English translation of the religiously tolerant Agrippa and  Gaffarel’s book in its English translation were all published in 1650-1651 ,at a time of heightened interest in  Hebraism, in ancient Jewish legal and political history and indeed in the Kabbalah. It was also in 1651 that the leading English Jurist and scholar John Selden started to publish his three- part work on the Sanhedrin, the Jewish system of judicial tribunals. These works, which show a marked respect for Jewish traditions and learning would have helped to shape a tolerant and indeed appreciative approach to Judaism leading to the re-admittance of Jews to England under Cromwell a few years later.

A quarter of a century later, leading European scholars were still showing an interest in the celestial alphabet. Athanasius Kircher, a pre-eminent polymath and, again, a Jesuit, has been described as the last renaissance man due to the extraordinary range of his studies and publications. Kircher’s book, ‘Turris Babel’ (The Tower of Babel), presents the celestial alphabet as the Ur-language of Hebrew, consistent with the ideas of Gaffarel.

The discovery of new countries and new languages around the world,  investigations into the ancient biblical languages such as Aramaic and Chaldean and an interest in the occult and the kabbalah in some quarters opened minds in the 16th and 17th centuries to ideas such as the celestial alphabet. We may now find these ideas incredible, but in the intellectual – and religious - ferment of the time it is hardly surprising that some ideas might gain currency which would not survive the more rigorous  and sceptical thinking of the enlightenment.


Gaffarel’s Celestial Alphabet and Map


August 2020

Kircher presents the celestial alphabet (2nd Column) as the origin of Hebrew.

The Fraternity of Sirenaic Gentlemen, William Stansby and the settlement of Virginia

Little is known about the mysterious drinking club, the Sirenaic Gentlemen, who met in the Mermaid Tavern on the corner of Bread Street and Friday Street in the City of London in the early years of the seventeenth century. Supposedly named after the Mermaid or Siren herself, the club is said to have attracted the leading poets and playwrights of the day including Ben Jonson, John Donne, Beaumont and Fletcher as well as travellers, Thomas Coryate and William Strachey and the cosmographer Samuel Purchas. The greatest of all English bibliophiles, Sir Robert Cotton, to whom we owe the preservation of the sole copy of Beowulf, is also counted a member.  Some of these claims have been disputed, one line of argument being that the Sirenaics did not in fact include the truly great names of English literature. A scholarly autopsy of the evidence for the membership of the Sirenaic fraternity (I.A Shapiro:  The Mermaid Club: The Modern Language Review January 1950) challenges the romantic notions that the Sirenaics included characters as socially diverse as Walter Raleigh, Ben Jonson and the printer bookseller William Stansby. Shapiro’s study nevertheless notes that the evidence points towards Jonson, Inigo Jones and Donne being members of the society.


It has been suggested that the engraving above – the frontispiece to Richard Braithwaite’s Laws of Drinking (London 1617) - represents the Mermaid and the drinking club in session.  The tavern sign (top right) shows the phrase ‘Poets impaled [crowned] by laurel coronets’ surrounding something that could, with plenty of imagination, hint at a Mermaid. (Or perhaps it’s just a fish.) However, References in the picture to various Greek mythological places and a philosopher put it pretty well beyond doubt that this was indeed an attempt to represent the Mermaid and the Sirenaic Club in session.

At the top left of the engraving we see the word Hellicon, a reference to the mountain in Greece which, in mythology, was the location of two springs, Aganippe (referenced in the centre of the engraving) and Hippocrene (shown to the left of Aganippe).  The two springs were held to be sources of inspiration for poets, fitting with the motto surrounding the ‘mermaid ‘in the tavern sign.

To the left of the engraving ‘nectar ut ingenium’ would appear to be a jokey inversion of ‘Ut Nectar Ingenium’ – Genius is like Nectar, a Latin tag which appeared on the title page of Christopher Marlowe’s Poem Hero and Leander. Was the engraver, William Marshal, encouraged to come up with something that would read ‘Nectar is like Genius ‘, hinting at the bibulous habits of this talented group?

Most telling of all, however, is the image and name (found at top right) of Aristippus, a philosopher of the 5th-4th century BC, a pupil of Socrates. Aristippus, was born and died in Cyrene, North Africa and founded the Cyrenaic school of hedonistic philosophy. Not only do the general principles of the Cyrenaic school chime with the indulgence of these literary Jacobean boozers, but a reference to the founder of the Cyrenaics could hardly be a more obvious rebus. Cyrenaics = Sirenaics. The reference to Aristippus is confirmation that the engraving by Marshal is indeed a representation of the Mermaid Tavern and the Fraternity of Sirenaic Gentlemen.

William Stansby – Master Printer – and Sirenaic Gentleman?

It has been suggested that the Printer and bookseller William Stansby, who was linked to many of the supposed Sirenaic luminaries, was a member. The attribution is tentative and rests on little more than the fact that Stansby printed works for John Donne, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Coryate, Ben Jonson (whose first folio Stansby produced) and Samuel Purchas, all of whom have been held to be members of the club. Also cited as evidence is a letter from the eccentric Jacobean traveller Thomas Coryate sending greetings to members of the Sirenaic fraternity with whom he had dined before setting off on his travels.  In that letter Coryate sent greetings to figures who probably were members of the fraternity. But he also sent greetings to some who almost certainly were not (as explained by Shapiro). Amongst those who were not necessarily members of the Fraternity, Coryate sent his greeting to his printer, Stansby and it is the latter’s inclusion in the letter that has led to the tenuous conclusion on the part of some commentators that he was a member of the fraternity.

One additional and interesting point might link Stansby to the William Marshal engraving of the Sirenaic fraternity and therefore to the Fraternity itself. This focuses on the Latin tag ‘nectar ut ingenium’ on the  Marshal engraving. The probable original of this phrase, ’Ut Nectar, Ingenium’ appears on the title page of the first and subsequent printed editions of Hero and Leander, written largely by Christopher Marlowe and finished by George Chapman. Amongst his many publications of plays and poetry, Stansby printed the 1613 edition of the Marlowe/Chapman work, four years before the publication of Braithwaite’s work containing Marshal’s engraving. Did Stansby suggest to Marshal the inclusion of a variant of the tag?

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Whether Stansby was a Sirenaic or not, his record as a printer and bookseller was exceptional. Among the works he is known to have printed were John Donne’s ‘an anatomy of the World’, works by Thomas Dekker , later editions of Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’, Ben Jonson’s ‘Epiocoene’, and Jonson’s collected works in Folio of 1616, Francis Bacon’s ‘ History of Henry VII’, the first English edition of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Walter Raleigh’s ‘History of the World’, the fourth Quartos of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1623) and Hamlet ( 1625) , works by the cosmographer Samuel Purchas  and Sir Thomas Herbert’s Travels .

In February 1626 Stansby acquired the rights to publication of a large number of works, including some classics, from the Widow of the printer and stationer Thomas Snodham. These works included Sir Thomas Elliot’s ‘The Boke of the Governor’, the Travels of Sir John Mandeville and a share of the publication rights of music by Bird, Dowland and Morley. This transfer (purchase) of publication rights also included Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and Everyone in his Humour by Ben Jonson. In 1635 he followed this up by acquiring the rights to publish Sejanus, the Alchemist and others of Jonson’s plays.

High literary works were not Stansby’s sole output, however.  In 1610 he printed ‘A True declaration of the estate of the Colonie in Virginia’ for the Virginia Council, an attempt to allay fears and boost London’s confidence in the fledgling colony in the wake of the so-called ‘starving time’ of 1609-10. And in 1612, Stansby produced the first printed set of laws for the new English colony of Virginia: in effect the first set of written laws for what would become the United States of America. In 1630, he printed the Earl of Stirling’s ‘Map and Description of New England’.

Stansby was by no means the most important printer/publisher in London of works relating to the English colonisation of America. The remarkable story of London’s Stationers – printers, publishers and booksellers – and their vital role in the English settlement of North America is the subject of my monograph ‘Pilgrims, Profit and Print: The Stationers of London and the English Settlement of North America’ which – appropriately enough – is only available from the Stationers' Company website.



December 2019