False Provenance and News Networks: The Deceptions of Edwarde Allde

A Guest Post on News Networks this week, from the ever-excellent avoidingthebears.wordpress.com:

13 August 1621 was a bad day for the printer Edward Allde. Along with the bookseller Thomas Archer, he was summoned before the court of the Stationers’ Company in London and informed that, at the request of the Secretary of State, he was to be imprisoned. More than that: his printing press was to be broken.[1] The government and the Stationers’ Company certainly didn’t want Allde printing any more. They weren’t to have their wish. Allde’s career in the early 1620s is an example both of the scattergun and rather ineffective English approach to censorship, and of the complex relationship of the English print market to European news networks.

What had Allde and Archer done to rattle the authorities to this extent? Their imprisonment has assumed great significance in the history of serialised printed news in England, due to a much-quoted postscript in a letter by the Cambridge scholar Joseph Mead, dated 22 September 1621. Mead writes that ‘My Corrantoer Archer was layd by the heeles for making or adding to Corrantoes &c as they say’.[2] Corantos were broadsheets of foreign news, which before this point had been produced in the Netherlands and imported to England. According to the court record, however, Archer wasn’t imprisoned for producing them. Rather, both he and Allde were charged with publishing a pamphlet entitled A briefe description of the reasons that make the declaration of the ban made against the King of Bohemia […] of no value.[3]

A briefe description is a quarto pamphlet dealing with a single issue: the Imperial ban against the erstwhile Palatine Elector Frederick V, son-in-law of James I, who had been driven into exile following his ill-fated bid for the crown of Bohemia. James’s insistence upon seeking Frederick’s restoration by diplomatic means meant that texts dealing with the situation trod a dangerous line – or, as in the case of A briefe description, stepped blithely over it by openly criticising the Emperor.

Presumably aware that A briefe description was likely to touch a nerve, Archer and Allde didn’t put their names to it. Rather, they attributed it to ‘Arnold Meuris bookeseller at the signe of the Bible’, in The Hague.

This appears to be a reference to Aert Meuris, a prolific and wealthy printer from The Hague who, amongst other things, produced news pamphlets for the Court of the Province of Holland.[4]

In the light of this fakery, it may seem perverse to claim A briefe description as an example of international news networks in action. The pamphlet is polemical commentary rather than ‘news’, and its title page carries a barefaced lie about its provenance. However, texts like this are important when seeking to understand how foreign news functioned in England in the early 1620s.

Although it could be argued that A briefe description isn’t a ‘news’ text, exactly, it is news-adjacent in more ways than one. Mead’s postscript suggests that Archer was also producing – or at least selling – corantos, Moreover, such texts could be in themselves sources of news: A briefe description carries information about the Imperial ban as well as a polemic against it. The question of whether texts like this should make their way into, for example, statistical analyses of news printing is rather too big to tackle here. However, we’d be mistaken to dismiss texts like A briefe description when considering news publication and circulation.

The fact that Archer and Allde falsified a provenance for A briefe description is itself rather telling. The lie on the title page of A briefe description may not describe a real movement of texts between The Hague and London – but it can tell us some interesting things about how such international networks were perceived, and how canny stationers like Archer and Allde manipulated these perceptions.

Falsifying foreign imprints appears to have been a frequent practice for Allde. His imprisonment appears to have been quite short, as on 8 October 1621 he was before the court again, for having ‘latelie Imprinted diverse bookes without lycense or entrance, and being called into question for the same, hath used verie unfitting wordes and scandalous speeches of the Master and wardens, and table of Assistantes’. ‘Diverse books’ makes it clear that he was known for underhand printing on some scale; this is supported by the number of pamphlets with false foreign imprints that are associated with him. One of these was A proclamation made by the high and mighty Fredericke by the grace of God King of Bohemia (1620) – printed at Prague, according to the imprint. In 1621 he also printed two further pamphlets attributed to Meuris, both of which dealt with Dutch politics. The Stationers’ Court ordered ‘that he shall not be warned to attend anie more as a liverie man untill he shall submitt himselfe to this table’ – which he didn’t do for nearly two years.[5]

Despite the suspension of his livery membership, and the court-ordered damage inflicted upon his press, Allde continued to print pamphlets about foreign affairs – most of which have either no imprint, or a falsified foreign one. In 1622 he printed a pamphlet of Dutch news purporting to be from Amsterdam, as well as two news pamphlets claiming to have been printed in The Hague but without named printers. He even printed a translation of Ernst von Mansfeld’s Appollogie alleged to have been printed at Heidelberg – an unlikely story, given that Heidelberg was under siege by Spanish and Imperial forces.[6]


Allde was not the only stationer to engage in such practices. The printer William Stansby and the bookseller Nathaniel Butter were imprisoned for a controversial pamphlet purporting to be from The Hague: A plaine demonstration of the unlawful succession of Ferdinand the second, which argued that the Emperor was the product of an incestuous union.[7] Stansby’s excuse – that Butter persuaded him to print the book because ‘manie other treatises concerning the affaires of Forraine Princes were publiquely sold without contradicion’ – is undermined if one accepts F. S. Ferguson’s conclusion that several of these ‘other treatises’ (themselves attributed to named Dutch printers) were surreptitiously produced in the same print shop as A plaine demonstration.[8]

Why did these stationers falsify imprints? The main reason was presumably self-preservation. Publishing texts about the conflict in the Empire could bring uncomfortable and expensive punishment, as Archer and Allde found out. Naming an existing foreign printer like Meuris could give extra credibility to the deception, as long as no-one wrote to The Hague to check.

There were also sound commercial reasons for claiming that a text had been published in The Hague. Meuris was rather closer to the action than Archer – especially given that The Hague was the location of the Palatine court in exile. The Hague was also, like Amsterdam, a known centre of news publication, where corantos were produced for the English market. Allde’s false imprints testify to a sense of distance. London was a long way from the places where the events described in these texts took place. It also wasn’t central to the European news economy in the way that Amsterdam and The Hague were. News from Europe and beyond reached London later and with more difficulty.

One reader’s periphery is of course another reader’s node. News obtained from London-based booksellers and newsletter writers fed into sociable and professional networks throughout England and Scotland. It’s important to recognise how, by exploiting a known international link, Allde and Archer expressed a sense of connectedness. Their deception relied on the assumption that their readers knew that texts about continental news, in English, could and did come from Dutch printing houses.

The notion that London was at once linked to and removed from European news networks is key to understanding how news functioned in early 1620s England. These falsified imprints aren’t just examples of stationers behaving badly. They speak to a growing, but complex, sense of connection between the booksellers of London and the great flood of information passing through nodes in European news networks. When considering how the movement of news may have influenced readers’ mindsets – how they might have seen themselves and the texts they read in relation to international networks – one could do worse than examine the subterfuges of stationers.


[1] William A. Jackson (ed.), Records of the Court of the Stationers’ Company 1602 to 1640 (London: The Bibliographical Society, 1957), p.146

[2] Joseph Mead to Sir Martic Stuteville, 22 September 1621, British Library Harley MSS 389, ff.121r-2v (f.122r).

[3] A briefe description of the reasons that make the declaration of the ban made against the King of Bohemia, as being Elector Palatine, dated the 22. of Ianuarie last past, of no value nor worth, and therefore not to be respected (‘the Hayf’ [London]: Arnold Meuris [Edward Allde for Thomas Archer], 1621, STC.11353).

[4] Craig E. Harline, Pamphlets, Printing, and Political Culture in the Early Dutch Republic, (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987) pp.97-99; Otto Lankhorst, ‘Newspapers in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century’, in The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), pp.151-159 (p.154).

[5] Jackson, pp.138, 159. Allde remained suspended from the livery until he submitted to the court on 5 July 1623.

[6] The appollogie of the illustrious Prince Ernestus, Earle of Mansfield, &c (‘Heidelbergh’ [London]: [Edward Allde], 1622, STC.24945).

[7] A plaine demonstration of the vnlawful succession of the now emperour Ferdinand the Second, because of the incestuous marriage of his parents (‘the Hage’ [London]: [William Stansby f. Nathaniel Butter], 1620, STC.10814).

[8] William Stansby to Sir George Calvert, SP. Dom., James I, vol. 157, art.41, printed in Greg, ed., A Companion to Arber, p.211. A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland, and of English Books Printed Abroad: 1475-1640, Vol.1: A-H, first compiled by A.W. Pollard & G. R. Redgrave, 2nd edn. begun by W. A Jackson and F.S. Ferguson, completed by Katherine F. Pantzer (London: The Bibliographical Society, 1986), p.481 (STC,10814). Ferguson thought that this press ‘might be that of W. Jones’.


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