William Caxton, the first English printer,
was born in Kent, probably in the early 1420s. As a boy he was apprenticed
to a prominent London businessman. This was the beginning of a long
career as a successful merchant.
For a significant part of his active life
he was based in Bruges, in Flanders (present-day Belgium). Bruges
was an immensely prosperous trading centre where merchants met from
all over Europe, and even from the Middle East. It was one of the
main cities of Flanders, ruled by the Dukes of Burgundy. In the
early 1470s Caxton also spent some time in Cologne. That is where
he first engaged with the newly invented process of printing books.
Around 1473, probably in Bruges, Caxton
was responsible for the first book to be printed in English. Late
in 1475 or early in 1476 he returned to England and settled in Westminster.
There he set up the first English press, and the first substantial
book produced by him in England was, in all probability, Geoffrey
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Many early printers can
only be documented to have been active for a short period, but Caxton
was evidently successful, continuing to produce books for the English
market until his death in 1492.
The squire from Caxton's second edition of The
Canterbury Tales. The British Library G. 11586, f.n8 v.
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