History Today at Hatchards

The Beginnings of the English Newspaper

Graham Dukes traces the birth of the press to the English Civil War period.

It is a little more than three hundred years since a permanent newspaper tradition was established in England. As has happened often in the history of journalism, this was an event that came about not so much by gradual development as through a few years of rapid and revolutionary change; and the years were those of the Civil War.

For the true beginnings of the story we must go back farther; in 1640, news periodicals in one form or another had existed for a generation and news pamphlets, reporting great events, had already appeared in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Even in 15495 one Thomas Raynalds had produced a paper of Newes, concerning the General Councell—that is, the meeting of the Council of Trent—and there were many more.

When the seventeenth century began, such pamphlets as these, with very little change, still held their place. The law, as it had always done, discouraged the reporting of domestic news, but an enquiring printer, in the coffee houses of the City, might obtain a view of the latest foreign letters, and once such news was in print there was a ready sale for it. Besides such ventures as these, there were the English editions of the Dutch newsbooks, arriving regularly in the mails from The Hague and Amsterdam.

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