This week in history: The first book printed in England

18 November 2014

18 November 1477: the first book printed in England

Born in Kent in around 1422, William Caxton served as an apprentice in London. He later moved to Bruges, then a major centre of the wool trade, becoming a prosperous merchant and diplomat. In the early 1470s, he spent some time in Cologne, where he mastered the art of printing. Back in Bruges by 1472, he set up his own printing press and produced the first book published in English, his own translation of The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye – a French courtly romance by Raoul Lef�vre.

He returned to London in 1476 and took premises in Westminster, and began producing an English edition of Les Ditz Moraulx Des Philosophes – a compendium of philosophical wit and wisdom first assembled by Guillaume de Tignoville and translated from the French by Lord Antony Woodville, Earl Rivers.

Caxton worked on the book with the French original to hand, and in the finished book, the first ever published in England and completed on 18 November 1477, he appended an epilogue. Here he took Rivers to task for ‘omitting certain and divers conclusions touching women’ by Socrates in the manuscript, and made it plain that he’d taken the liberty of translating and restoring the missing bits himself.