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Kentish Book Culture

Writers, Archives, Libraries and Sociability 1400-1660

Edited By Claire Bartram

This volume explores the writing practices and book collections of a range of individuals in early modern Kent including monks, a mariner and an apothecary as well as members of the gentry and clergy and urban administrators. In a county with ready access to metropolitan, courtly and continental influences, a vibrant provincial book culture flourished, in which literacy was prized and book ownership widespread. Reinforcing the important social role played by the literate and revealing something of their creative potential, the essays gathered here also uncover an appetite for debate, reflected in the books owned, lent, written and published by the Kentish in the period covered. Underpinning all of this is an enduring culture of sociability, centred around the book as an object to be shared.

Interdisciplinary in approach, this collection brings together specialists in the history of the book, literary scholars, social historians and librarians to explore the nature of authorship and the dynamics of the market for print and manuscript books outside London. It demonstrates the rich potential of regional archival study to extend our understanding of medieval and early modern literature.

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6 Book Printing and Protestant Reform in Reformation Canterbury, 1532–1556



Canterbury was one of the very few English cities outside London to have maintained a printing press for any significant amount of time during the first half of the sixteenth century. In the past the press has principally been studied through its links to John Twyne, Canterbury’s resident bibliophile and prominent member of the city’s ruling class, or as a signifier of emergent religious division within Canterbury itself. Examining a cross-section of this press’s output, this chapter re-evaluates claims that characterised the press as radical and considers its place in the cultural and intellectual fabric of Reformation experience in East Kent.

The link between the printing press and narratives of intellectual and cultural progress dates back to histories nearly contemporary to Gutenberg himself. As early as the end of the fifteenth century, the reform-minded Benedictine abbot Johannes Trithemius described printing as a ‘marvellous’ art with the potential to revolutionise monastic learning; half a century later the French philosopher Jean Bodin claimed that printing alone had surpassed ‘all the discoveries of the ancients’.1 In a similar fashion, early advocates for reformed religion seized the chance to ally printed words and images with the history of the Protestant movement. Writing in 1542, Johann Sleidan, one of the earliest historians of the German Reformation, hailed the ‘marvellous new and subtle art’ of printing that had liberated ‘German eyes’ ←157 | 158→from their ‘former blindness’.2 In a similar vein, the English Protestant martyrologist John Foxe deemed the...

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