Richard Pynson (1448–1529) was born in Normandy but by 1482 he was working in London as a glover. By 1502, he had established himself as a printer in Fleet Street, near St Dunstan-in-the-West and convenient for the legal trade associated with the Inns of Court at the Temple. Although Pynson’s first publications were religious, his output after 1500 was dominated by legal titles. Pynson had become regius impressor (the king’s printer) by 1506, responsible for publishing parliamentary statutes as well as items of royal propaganda.
Magna Carta cum aliis Antiquis Statutis (Magna Carta with other Ancient Statutes), published by Pynson in 1508 with the privilege of the Crown, was the first printed copy of the Latin text of Magna Carta. It reproduced in 37 chapters Edward I’s 1297 confirmation of Henry III’s 1225 Magna Carta. A further 63 laws were reproduced alongside the Charter of Runnymede of 1215 and the Charter of the Forest. Conceived as a practical handbook for practising lawyers and legally minded gentlemen, the work was some 200 pages long and combined statutes in Latin and legal French.
Pynson’s edition drew on the long-standing tradition of manuscript collections of the laws of the realm, which opened with the Great Charter. Such manuscript and printed collections underpinned the common law legal culture of Tudor and Stuart England, and resulted in the text of Magna Carta being regarded as the foundational statute of the realm. Pynson’s edition was reissued, adapted, abridged and copied throughout the next 300 years. The tradition of printing the extant laws, known as the antiqua statuta, continued into the 19th century with The Statutes of the Realm (1810).