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Barker, Christopher (1529?-1599) (DNB00)


BARKER or BARKAR, CHRISTOPHER (1529?–1599), queen's printer, was born about the year 1529, and is said to have been the grand nephew of Sir Christopher Barker, Garter king of arms, whose heir-at-law was Edward Barker, son of his brother John, and believed to have been the father of the printer. He appears to have had some fortune, and was originally a member of the Drapers' Company. Barker began to publish books in 1569, when the first entry in the ‘Registers of the Company of Stationers’ (Arber, i. 398) under his name is a license for ‘Morning and Evening Prayer … made by the Lady Elizabeth Tirwitt,’ printed by H. Middleton in 1574. In 1569 he was not a member of the company, and did not own a press. ‘Certen prayers of master Bullion’ was licensed for him at the same time. In 1575 the Genevan bible was first printed in England, both in quarto and octavo form, as well as two editions of Whittingham's New Testament, all by T. Vautrollier for Barker. In the same year Middleton printed for him, for sale ‘at the signe of the Grassehopper,’ two editions of Gascoigne's ‘Glasse of Government,’ with a preface stating that ‘this work is compiled upon these sentences following set down by mee, C. B.,’ which indicates that the publisher had given some editorial supervision to the book. It contains the punning device of a man barking a tree, with the lines,

    A Barker if ye will
    In name, but not in skill.

His first appearance as an actual printer was in 1576, when he produced two different versions of the Bible, each with the imprint, ‘Imprinted at London by Christopher Barkar (sic), dwelling in Powles Churchyard at the signe of the tygre's head.’ One of these versions was revised by Laurence Tomson, under-secretary to Sir Francis Walsingham, in whose service Barker had been, and whose armorial bearing was the tiger's head used by him.

In 1573 Elizabeth granted a patent of privilege, or the right of disposing of certain licenses, to Francis Flower ‘as her Majesty's printer of the Latin,’ farmed out by him to Vautrollier and others; and about 1575 a patent was granted to Sir Thomas Wilkes as the queen's printer of the English tongue. These and other printing privileges granted by Elizabeth were the subject of one of the earliest and most remarkable documents connected with the history of the English bible and the book-producing trade of this country. This was a representation to the crown of their griefs signed by 45 stationers and printers in the name of 140 others, and proving that the right of printing the bible had been common to all printers up to that date, and that it had never been attached to the office of king's or queen's printer. The petition was signed by Barker as one of those who ‘do lyve by bookeselling, being free of other companies and also hindered by the same privileges’ (Arber, i. 111). But Barker soon afterwards himself joined the ranks of the privileged, as he purchased from Wilkes, on 28 Sept. 1577, a very extensive patent, especially including the Old and New Testament in English, with or without notes of whatever translation. He was thus appointed ‘queen's printer.’ It may be pointed out that this was merely a commercial transaction between two private persons, and that the patent was not given with any view of insuring the production of accurate editions of the Scriptures. By a legal fiction the deed specified that it was granted on account of Barker's great improvement in the art of printing. The subsequent bible-patents take their rise from this.

He was made free of the Stationers' Company on 4 June 1578, began to take apprentices on 16 June, and was admitted to the livery on 25 June. From a broadside in the library of the Society of Antiquaries we learn that in October of the same year he issued a printed circular to the London companies offering copies of his large bible at the special terms of 24s. each bound, and 20s. unbound. The clerks of the companies were to receive 4d. apiece for every bible sold, and whenever the members of a company subscribed 40l. worth and upwards, a presentation copy was to be offered to the hall (R. Lemon's Catalogue, p. 23). About this time he changed the spelling of his name from Barkar to Barker. In December 1582 he addressed to the lord treasurer as warden a petition which contains a most interesting account of the Stationers' Company and the publishing trade of the time, together with a report on the printing patents granted between 1558 and 1582. After complaining of the abridgment of his own patent by those of Seres and Day, he says: ‘But as it is I haue the printing of the olde and the newe testament, the statutes of the Realme, Proclamations, and the boke of common prayer by name, and in generall wordes, all matters for the Churche. … Proclamations come on the suddayne, and must be returned printed in hast: wherefore by breaking of greater worke I loose oftentymes more by one Proclamacon, then I gayne by sixe, before my servantes can comme in trayne of their worke agayne. … Testamentes alone are not greatly commodious, by reason the prices are so small, as will scarcely beare the charges. The whole bible together requireth so great a somme of money to be employed in the imprinting thereof; as master Jugge kept the Realme twelve yere withoute, before he Durst adventure to print one impression: but I, considering the great somme I paid to Master Wilkes, Did (as some haue termed it since) gyve a Desperate adventure to imprint fower sundry impressions for all ages, wherein I employed to the value of three thowsande pounde in the terme of one yere and an halfe, or thereaboute’ (Arber, i. 115).

Together with the other warden of the Stationers' Company, Francis Coldocke, Barker made a formal representation to Lord Burghley in 1583 on the dangers to be anticipated from the setting up of a printing press by the university of Cambridge (Cal. State Papers, Dom., 1581–90, p. 111). From an inquisition ordered to be made by the Bishop of London in the same year, we find that Barker owned five presses, being more than any one else except Wolfe. There were then in London twenty-three printers, who worked fifty-three presses, a number in Barker's opinion more than doubly sufficient for the whole of England and Scotland. There can be no doubt that between 1580 and 1586 the printing trade had fallen to a very prosperous state. Some of the smaller men had organised a system of unlawfully producing privileged books: John Wolfe was one of those of whom Barker had to complain in this respect. The quarrel raged for four or five years; eventually some of the richer members of the company gave up certain copyrights to their poorer brethren.

While elder warden, Barker was fined 20s. on 2 May 1586 ‘for reteyninge George Swinnowe [an apprentice] at his art of printinge a certen space before he presentid him, which is contrary to the ordonnance of the cumpanye’ (Arber, ii. 858). From the year 1588 he carried on his business by deputies, George Bishop and Ralph Newbery, and retired to his country house at Datchet, near Windsor. On the disgrace of Wilkes in 1589, Barker obtained (8 Aug.) an exclusive patent from the queen for the lives of himself and his son Robert [q. v.] embracing ‘all and singular the statutes, books, pamphlets, acts of parliament, proclamations, injunctions, as of bibles and new testaments of all sorts, of whatsoever translation in the English tongue … imprinted or to be imprinted … also of all books for the service of God’ (Egerton MS. 1835, f. 167). Bacon House, in Noble Street, Aldersgate, was occupied by Barker and by his son. Cotton describes thirty-eight editions of the Bible or parts thereof bearing the name of Chr. Barker, and dating from 1575 to 1588, and thirty-four editions as having been produced between 1588 and 1599 by his deputies. To Barker is first due the use of roman type in printing the Bible. He died at Datchet (where he lies buried) on 29 Nov. 1599, in the seventieth year of his age.

[Ames's Typogr. Antiq. (ed. Herbert), ii. 1075–90; Antis's Reg. of the Order of the Garter, ii. 379; Archæologia (1834), xxv. 100; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ii. 425, 2nd ser. x. 247; Cotton's editions of the Bible, 1852; Cat. of the Books in the British Museum, printed to 1640; Eadie's English Bible; Anderson's Annals of the English Bible; Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Queen's Printer's Patent, 1860; Strype's Annals (8vo), ii. pt. ii. 74, iii. pt. i. 510, iv. 103, 195; Nichols's Illustrations, iv. 164, vi. 421; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 572.]

H. R. T.