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The Stationer’s Company and British press control

Posted by: | September 16, 2009 | No Comment |

England made a lot of contributions to journalism though The Stationer’s Company and press control was probably not a welcome contribution. Formed in about 1538, this guild helped the English government enforce the licensing of all printed works. The guild was formed out of the Brotherhood of Manuscript Producers and theĀ Brotherhood of the Craft of Writers of Text-Letters. It was established by Royal Charter from King Phillip and Queen Mary to prevent the publication of Protestant propaganda.

The Stationer’s Company helped police the publishing world. After 1538, the guild was given power to license all works in England and search publisher’s shops for unlicensed works. They were allowed to seize and burn all prohibited books and imprison their publishers. They were granted a monopoly on all printing in England.

The Stationer’s Company was expected to enforce the law by not printing banned books and to seek permission before potentially controversial books were published.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, one could be put to death for expressing a dissident religious belief through print. The use of book licensing was meant to try and strengthen the power of the monarchy and the church. The charter issued stated that it was meant to “control scandalous, malicious, schismatical, and heretical” books.

The first reference to The Stationer’s Company being allowed to enforce the system was made in 1559 by Queen Elizabeth. With the accession of James 1, censorship seemed to be used lightly, and by the 17th century, England moved to a period of press freedom.

The Stationer’s Company may have held the press back during the 16th century, but cries for freedoms of people and the press would eventually win out.

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