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Elizabethan Injunctions (1559)

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Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)
Identifier: uk_1559


Commentary on the Elizabethan Injunctions 1559
Ronan Deazley

School of Law, University of Birmingham, UK


Please cite as:
Deazley, R. (2008) ‘Commentary on the Elizabethan Injunctions 1559', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. Elizabeth's Religious Settlement

4. Injunctions Regulating the Press

5. Censorship under Elizabeth

6. References


1. Full title
Elizabethan Injunctions (1559) (Items 6 and 51)


2. Abstract
Royal Proclamation setting out the manner in which the Elizabethan Church was to be reformed and governed. Injunction 51 of this Proclamation continued in the tradition of Henry VIII's 1538 Proclamation in providing the legal foundation for a system of pre-publication licensing in Elizabethan England.


The commentary describes how, in accordance with the Injunctions, the licensing and censorship of the press was to be carried out, not by the Stationers' Company, but by the Privy Council and Elizabeth's newly established Ecclesiastical Commission (the High Commission). It also details how Elizabeth also continued to rely upon the sporadic use of statutory measures and royal proclamations to respond to seditious or heretical texts. Moreover, it suggests that, in practice, the extent to which the Elizabethan press was subject to regulatory control was much less draconian than has usually been suggested.


3. Elizabeth's Religious Settlement
Mary (1516-1558) acceded to the throne in 1553 restoring the papal supremacy and renouncing the title of Supreme Head of the Church. When she granted the Stationers' Company its Royal Charter in 1557 there is no doubt that part of her reason for doing so lay in the desire to establish an institutional regime that would facilitate the regulation and supervision of the press.[1] The preamble to the charter sets out the reason for the grant as providing a "suitable remedy" for the "seditious and heretical books rhymes and treatises [that] are daily published and printed by divers scandalous malicious schismatical and heretical persons", publications which Mary considered not only induced her subjects to "sedition and disobedience" against the Crown, but also contained "very great and detestable heresies against the faith and sound catholic doctrine of Holy Mother Church".[2] Mary's uncertain and unsuccessful reign was short-lived, and when Elizabeth (1533-1603) succeeded her half-sister in 1558 she returned the country to Protestantism, in time establishing a secure and stable Church of England. In 1559 Elizabeth affirmed the charter which the stationers had received under Mary with what Clegg has described as "a rather perfunctory document which neither repudiated Philip and Mary's goals for using the stationers to eradicate anti-Catholic doctrine in England nor advanced her own interests in a reformed English church".[3] In the same year she enacted the Act of Supremacy 1559 (which provided the queen with the title of "Supreme Governor of the Church"), articulated the means by which Elizabeth would secure the reformation of the English church, and also laid the foundations for the numerous statutes governing treason and sedition that would be enacted by parliament throughout her long 45 year reign.[4] Following the Act of Supremacy the queen established an Ecclesiastical Commission (the High Commission) for London "to put in execution throughout the realm the Acts (I Elizabeth) of Uniformity and Supremacy and to inquire touching all heretical opinions, seditious books, contempts, false rumours and the like and hear and determine the same".[5] The exact nature of the High Commission's role received further articulation in the guise of the 1559 Injunctions which Elizabeth issued by royal proclamation on 19 July, the function of which was to "set forth to the clergy the form and substance of the Elizabethan Church and the means by which it should be reformed and governed".[6]


4. Injunctions Regulating the Press

Two of the Injunctions refer specifically to books. The first, item 6, required the clergy to provide for their parish "one boke of the whole Byble of the largest volume in Englyshe" (at the expense of the parish) which was to be "set vp in some conuenient place within the said Churche" so that their parishioners should be able to read the same "with greate humilitie and reuerence" outside the times of common service.[7] The second, item 51, concerned the licensing of books, and contained essentially three discrete provisions. The first set out that "no manner of person shall print any manner of boke or paper, of what sort, nature, or in what language soeuer it be" unless it was first licensed either by the queen herself, or by six of her Privy Council, the chancellors of the universities, or the ecclesiastical authorities referred to within the Injunctions. The second referred specifically to the High Commission who were charged with licensing "any manner of bokes or papers" to ensure that no publication contain anything "either heretical, sedicious, or vnsemely for Christian eares".[8] Finally, item 51 included a proviso that "these orders do not extend to anye prophane [that is, secular] aucthors, and workes in any language, that hath ben before commonly receyued or allowed in any the vnyuersities or Scoles: But the same may be printed and vsed, as by good order they are accustomed".[9] Of these two injunctions Arber writes that they "were the sole foundation of, and the primal authority for, all Protestant Episcopal licensing of books in England".[10]


5. Censorship under Elizabeth
Siebert reads the Injunctions as indicative of the interest of the Tudors in establishing a licensing system "designed to protect existing institutions by suppressing popular political and religious discussion", a system albeit with considerable flaws.[11] Clegg, on the other hand, argues that the extent to which the Elizabethan press was subject to regulatory control was in reality much less draconian than has usually been suggested. In the first place, this measure establishing a licensing regime is one of only 53 items within a document whose goal was to set forth the parameters and governance of the Elizabethan Church. This supports the notion that, to the extent that licensing did occur at this time, it was primarily ecclesiastical in its scope and intent.[12] This is also born out by the relatively scant evidence of actual censorship during Elizabeth's reign. Despite the censorial role placed upon the High Commission by the 1559 Injunctions, relatively few works actually received any form of pre-print authorization. For example, Clegg estimates that, during the 1560s "only three percent of the entries in the Company's Registers record ecclesiastical authorization; during the 1570s this increased to seven percent, and in the 1580s to forty-two percent".[13] As to the type of works for which the Stationers sought authorization, she continues:

"In the 1560s seventy-two percent of the books that received ecclesiastical authorization treated religious or political topics, while most of the remainder were in foreign languages or translations of contemporary Continental authors. In the 1570s sixty percent were religious or political, the remainder again being largely foreign language texts or translations ... [which] evidence suggests that the Stationers understood the requirement that book should be licensed ‘according to Her Majesty's Injunctions' to mean that they needed to seek official approval only for religious, political or foreign texts."[14]

Moreover, it would appear that the more usual manner of addressing seditious or heretical works during this period was by way of parliamentary legislation, in the guise of one of the eleven statutes on treason enacted throughout Elizabeth's reign, or by means of bespoke royal proclamations concerning texts which the queen regarded as specifically problematic.[15]


Regardless of the severity of censorship during the Elizabethan period, what the Injunctions did provide was a model for the control of the press. This model continued in the tradition of the Henrician proclamation of 1538,[16] and would be sustained in one form of another until 1695 (with the exception of a few years during the Civil War and the Interregnum). Importantly though, the actual licensing of works lay outside the stationers' remit. As Patterson puts it, their role in the practice of Elizabethan censorship was that of "policeman rather than judge";[17] indeed, Elizabeth's 51st injunction required no more of the stationers than that they "be obedient" thereto.[18] The company's primary interest lay solely in securing to its members exclusive control over their published works, and in the general regulation of the book trade.[19] In the words of Arber: "So we must think of these printers and publishers as caring chiefly for their crowns, half-shillings, and silver pennies. They bore the yolk of licensing as best they could, but only as a means to hold themselves harmless from the political and ecclesiastical powers. Their business was to live and make money; and keen enough they were about it".[20]


6. References


Governmental Papers and Legislation

Act of Supremacy, 1559, 1 Eliz., c.1


Books and Articles

Arber, E., A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1557-1640, 5 vols. (London: n.p., 1875-94)

Chambers, E.K., The Elizabethan Stage, vol.III. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923)

Clegg, C.S., Press Censorship in Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Clegg, C.S., Press Censorship in Jacobean England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Greg, W.W., "Entrance, Licence and Publication", The Library, 4th Ser., 25 (1944): 1-22

Greg, W.W., Some Aspects of London Publishing between 1550-1640 (Oxford: n.p., 1956)

Patterson, L.R., Copyright in Historical Perspective (Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1968)

Siebert, F.S., Freedom of the Press in England 1476-1776 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965)

[1] Patterson writes that "Mary's motive in granting [the charter], whatever the source of the initiative involved, was to obtain an effective agency for censorship"; L.R. Patterson, Copyright in Historical Perspective (Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1968), 29.

[2] Stationers' Charter 1557, reprinted in E. Arber, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1557-1640, 5 vols. (London: n.p.: 1875-94), 1: xxviii; see uk_1557.

[3] Cyndia Susan Clegg, Press Censorship in Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 22; see: uk_1557.

[4] Act of Supremacy, 1559, 1 Eliz., c.1; the Act provided sanctions for violating Elizabeth's Oath of Supremacy "by writing printing teaching preaching expres woordes dede or acte".

[5] Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Eliz., vol.I, 118.

[6] Clegg, 37.

[7] Injunctions, item 6, reprinted in Arber, 1: xxxviii; as well as the bible, the clergy were also required to provide a copy of the "Paraphrases of Erasmus, also in Englyshe, upon the Gospelles".

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Arber, 1: xxxix.

[11] F.S. Siebert, Freedom of the Press in England 1476-1776 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965), 63, 56-63, 103; see also E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, vol.III. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), 161-64, and W.W. Greg, Some Aspects of London Publishing between 1550-1640 (Oxford, 1956), 5-6.

[12] In general see Clegg, 38-40.

[13] Clegg, 43. See also Greg who comments that "from 1557 to 1571, licence ... is sporadic and indeed exceptional. The earliest instance is in 1560-1, by the Bishop of London. The Archbishop of Canterbury first appears in 1564-5, licensing Stow's ‘Breaffe Cronenacle'. In the whole fourteen years only about fifty licences are recorded among all the 1600 entries: the Bishop and the Archbishop account for all but two"; W.W. Greg, "Entrance, Licence and Publication", The Library, 4th Ser., 25 (1944): 1-22 (8).

[14] Clegg, 43-44. When one considers that not every book published in any given year was necessarily entered on the company's register then the significance of the extent to which the Elizabethan press appears to have been affected by a culture of pre-publication censorial control diminishes even further. In the 1560s and 1570s, for example, the number of books entered on the Stationers' Register accords very closely with the number of books in print in any one year during this period. However from the end of the 1570s the correlation between works in print and works entered in the Register begins to break down. Clegg estimates that less than 60 percent of books were registered in the 1580s, while the number drops even further in the 1590s. In 1592 for example only half of the books printed in that year were entered on the Stationers' Register; see Clegg, 18, 61. In the period following Elizabeth's reign, Clegg further estimates that "of the number of books that issued from England's presses between 1603 and 1625, fewer than 1 percent were in any way involved with efforts to suppress them or punish their authors or printers"; Cyndia Susan Clegg, Press Censorship in Jacobean England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 19.

[15] For further commentary see uk_1557.

[16] See uk_1538.

[17] Patterson, 36.

[18] Arber, 1: xxxix.

[19] Indeed for a list of works licensed by the Company that were otherwise ordered to be burned by Archbishop Whitgift and Bishop Bancroft in June 1599 see Arber, III, 677-78.

[20] Arber, 2: 11.

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