Newspapers and Their Advertisements in the Commonwealth

W.L.F. Nuttall describes how, when the Star Chamber was abolished in 1641 it became easier to print home news, and many newspapers appeared, supporting both sides in the Civil Wars.

In the early days of English Newspapers, the printing of foreign news was always permissible, but strict censorship by the Government made the publication of home news very difficult. It was not until the Long Parliament abolished the Star Chamber in 1641 that censorship was relaxed and several newspapers with national news made their appearance.

The first of these dealt with the proceedings of Parliament and came out weekly in the form of eight small octavo pages. This set the pattern for subsequent newspapers, which frequently stole titles from each other and plagiarized news and stories. Moreover, in the struggle for survival, some news sheets never got beyond their first number, while others amalgamated so as to meet competition.

The outbreak of the Civil War greatly stimulated the printing of newspapers to satisfy the public demand for news, some papers supporting Parliament and others the King. Among the numerous pro-Parliamentary weeklies, there was the Kingdom's Weekly Intelligencer, issued with the authority of Parliament, and Mercurius Civicus, the first illustrated paper; and from Charles I’s headquarters at Oxford, there appeared the notorious journal entitled Mercurius Aulicus, edited by Birkenhead, an intelligent young man, who at one time had been secretary to Archbishop Laud.

This paper was violently partisan and propagandist and made much of quarrels between Parliamentary factions. After hostilities had begun, it took to exaggerating royalist successes, correcting reports in the pro-Parliament papers and accusing the enemy of atrocities. As might be expected, it produced a reaction from the Parliamentarians, who launched the scurrilous Mercurius Britanicus, which directed its attacks on its Royalist rival.

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