The J.B. Treatise: A Self-Instruction Manual for Aspiring Gentlemen of the Fifteenth Century
The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (SASMARS)
The second half of the fifteenth century was, by any standard, a time of dramatic events and rapid change. The definitive loss of England’s Aquitanian heritage (1453), the final paroxysms (in 1483–85) of the decades-long confrontation between the houses of York and Lancaster, and Henry VII’s sanctioning of John Cabot to sail to the New World (1497) provide a panoramic backdrop to other events, social and cultural, that were equally far-reaching in their effects, even if they were less conspicuous in their immediate impact. Among the most significant of these, perhaps, was Caxton’s introduction of printing to England in 1475–76, and the revolution that this engendered through the dissemination of printed texts in the vernacular. That such works found a ready market can be gauged by the success of Caxton’s own printing business, and by the appearance of no fewer than four other commercial English presses by the time that Wynkyn de Worde took over Caxton’s operations in 1491. But Caxton and his emulators should not be given too much credit for creating the market they fed; indeed, there is considerable evidence from manuscript sources that a small but eager readership already existed, well disposed to make the most of the books and pamphlets that the first printers committed to press.
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