Men of Kent and Kentishmen/William Caxton

William Caxton,

THE FIRST ENGLISH PRINTER.

We have Caxton*s own authority for saying that he was born in "Kent in the Welde," although other counties have claimed the honour of his birth. The date of his nativity is uncertain. Oldys places it at 1412, but later authorities at 1422-3. In 1438 he was apprenticed to Robert Large, an eminent Mercer in London. After serving his time he went into business in Bruges, in Belgium, where he resided twenty-four years, acting as agent for the Mercers' Company, and greatly prospered. In 1464 he acted as "Ambassador" or "Deputy" in making a treaty of trade and commerce between Edward IV., and Philip, Duke of Burgundy. He subsequently acted as secretary or agent to Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy, and while in her service he translated, from the French, Raoul le Ferre's Recueil des Histoires de Troye, the original of which was the first book printed by him on his return to England. For about this time Caxton had become acquainted with that art, either from Ulric Zell, of Cologne, or Colard Mansion, of Bruges. His printing press was set up in Westminster some time between 1474 and 1477. Tradition says that the first book printed was one on the Game of Chesses a first edition of which however, had already appeared at Bruges. Whilst conducting his press he was patronized by Edward IV., Richard III., Henry VII., and many of the nobility, and continued busy at the new art till his death, in 1492. Caxton's life has been written by Oldys in the "Biographia Britannica," by John Lewis (1738), by Charles Knight, and by William Blades (1861).