September 27

“In the seventh year of Henry VIII. September the 27th (1509). The King gives to Richard Pynson Esquire, our Printer, Four Pounds annually, to be paid from the receipts of the Exchequer during life.” Thus honored by royal decree, Richard Pynson, one of the great triumvirate of early English printers, which included William Caxton, and Wynkyn de Worde, and by all odds the best printer of the group, thereafter used the title of Esquire proudly. The colophon of an edition of Statuta read: “Richard Pynson Squyer and prenter vnto the kynges noble grace.”

Pynson’s early life is not well documented. He was a native of Normandy, probably learning the craft of printing in the city of Rouen. He began printing in England in 1491 or 1492. His first dated book, the Doctrinale of Gallus, was completed on November 13,1492. However, he had produced a number of books, undated, prior to this time, one of which was a splendid folio edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Pynson was the first printer to use roman type in England.

As a printer noted for his fine editions, Pynson was frequently the victim of piracy. In 1525 a printer named Robert Redman “borrowed” the device of Pynson for the printing of a law text. When Pynson himself produced an edition, he hotly brought the matter before the public, much in the way of his Italian contemporary, Aldus, who was victimized in much the same manner. At the end of an edition of Lyttleton’s Tenures, “moost truly correctyed and amended,” Pynson wrote: “Richard Pynson, the Royal Printer, Salutation to the Reader. Behold I now give to thee, Candid Reader, A Lyttleton corrected, not deceitfully, of the errors which occurred in him, I have been careful that not my printing only should be amended, but also that with a more elegant type it should go forth to the day: that which hath escaped from the hands of Robert Redman, but truly Rudeman, because he is the rudest out of a thousand men, is not easily understood. Truly I wonder now at last that he hath confessed it his own typography, unless it chanced, that even as the Devil made a Cobbler a Mariner, he made him a Printer. Formerly this Scoundrel did profess himself a Bookseller, as well skilled as if he had started forth from Utopia; he knows well that he is free who pretendeth to books, although it be nothing more; notwithstanding he is a Buffoon who hath dared to engage in it, his reverend care for the Laws of England should knowingly and truly have imprinted them all. Whether the words which I give be profitable, or whether they be faithful he can tell, and do thou in reading Lyttleton excuse his care and diligence in that place where thou dost see it. Farewell.”

It was Pynson, as Royal Printer, who printed the famous attack on the principles of Martin Luther by Henry VIII, Assertion of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther, issued in 1521. “What serpent so venomous,” wrote the King, “as he who calls the pope’s authority tyrannous?” Luther replied with equal ardor, calling Henry a lubberly ass and a frantic madman. Although Henry later led England into the Reformation, he remained estranged from Luther and German Protestantism. The Pope, however, named the King Fidei Defensor, or Defender of the Faith.

One Comment

  1. Lowell Peterson says:

    Where might a find a copy of Luther’s letter to Henry in which Luther referred to Henry as a “lubberly ass”?

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