to be Governor of the English Nation in Bruges in, or just after,
1470. Certainly by 1472 John Pickering is mentioned as Governor.
Perhaps it was because of the changing political situation back
in England. In 1469 Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, ‘the
king-maker’, staged a Lancastrian coup and made a show of
restoring Henry VI to power. Edward IV fled England and landed in
the Low Countries on 9 October 1470. He was protected by Louis de
Gruuthuse, first in the Hague and later in Bruges in his magnificent
town house, which still stands.
The Gruuthuse town house in the 1640s; the wing
at the back and at the left much as they were in the 1470s. Antonius
Sanderus, Flandria illustrata (Cologne, 1641-44), p.270.
Caxton had strong Yorkist connections
so he was well placed to improve his contacts with Edward’s
court during the exile, but with a Lancastrian king in power back
in England, his position as representative of the English Nation
was perhaps becoming difficult. By 17 July 1471 he was in Cologne.
At that date he obtained a Geleit from the city, which granted him
a specific legal status. Twice he ensured that his Geleit was renewed,
the last extension expiring on 19 December 1472.
Cologne from Hartmann Schedel, Liber chronicarum.
Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 12 July 1493. Larger
Printing was introduced to Cologne in the
mid 1460s, the first printer being Ulrich Zell who had worked in
Mainz in the workshop of Gutenberg’s
successors. Unusually among early printing towns, Cologne also had
an important university. Combining a good local market for books
with the advantages of being a major trading centre, Cologne soon
overtook Mainz and Strasbourg to become the dominant printing city
of the western and northern parts of Germany.
Cologne was one of the towns that constituted
the Hanseatic League and, situated on the Rhine, it was of particular
importance for trade with England. Although the rivers of Europe
were not the well-regulated waterways that we know today, shipping
was more reliable and far easier than land-based transport. The
export of books followed established trade routes from Cologne to
the Low Countries and England, towards the German and Scandinavian
cities on the Baltic Sea, and to central Germany and further east
into present-day Poland.
We do not know why Caxton went to Cologne. He had previously been
there as ambassador
for Edward IV, and there were outstanding matters between Cologne
and Edward, especially after he regained power later in 1471. However
the Cologne records do not suggest that Caxton was in the city in
an official capacity. Nor would it seem that he was in Cologne on
his normal business for, in the preface to the Recuyell of the
Histories of Troy, he wrote that he managed to finish his translation
of the Histories in Cologne ‘because that I have now good
leisure, being in Cologne and have none other thing to do at this
time’. He finished his translation on 9 September 1471.
But he did more than this. This was where he first published a printed
book, De proprietatibus rerum, then a well-known encyclopedia
of the world written in Latin by Bartholmaeus Anglicus, that is
‘Bartholomew the Englishman’. Much later, about 1495,
Wynkyn de Worde, Caxton’s successor, mentioned that Caxton
had been the first ever to print this work, while in Cologne. Although
his name does not appear, only one Cologne edition can be the one
which he produced. Caxton would not have been involved in the practical
work. His role was that of an entrepreneur, the publisher rather
than the printer. Scholars have long agreed that the typeface was
designed by Johann Veldener, and it has been argued, convincingly,
that the actual printer was Johann Schilling.
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