September 13

On September 13, 1587 the Italian language was first printed in England, with the august permission of John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury. The vehicle for this initial publication was, surprisingly, The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio. Whitgift certainly did not have the reputation of admiring light literature, but Timperley reports that permission was granted primarily because of the wide popularity of Italian in this era of English history.

Queen Elizabeth had elevated Whitgift to the see of Canterbury in 1583 so that he might exercise his gifts in suppressing the Puritan uprising. This he proceeded to do with some relish, tracking down a number of printers, who were convicted for publishing ideas heretical to both Crown and Church, and forthwith executed. He undoubtedly had some cause to be harsh in his method, as the printers moved about from place to place, defying authority while castigating the ecclesiastics at every opportunity. Eventually the controversy died down, and Elizabeth’s “little black husband,” as she called the Archbishop, survived the harsh period and lived to pray at his Queen’s deathbed in 1603.

Following the printing of the Boccaccio, the Bishop of London allowed to be printed another work by the same writer, entitled Amourous Fiametta. The title page of the latter work reads: “Wherein is sette down a catalogue of all and singular passions of love and jealousie, incident to an enamored young gentlewoman, with a noble caveat for all women to eschewe deceitful and wicked love, by an apparent example of a Neapolitan lady, her approved and long miseries, and with many sound dehortations from the same.”

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