Caxton, William

Caxton, William, c.1421–91, English printer, the first to print books in English. He served apprenticeship as a mercer and from 1463 to 1469 was at Bruges as governor of the Merchants Adventurers in the Low Countries, serving as a diplomat for the English king. He learned printing in Cologne in 1471–72, and at Bruges in 1475 he and Colard Mansion printed The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, his own translation from the French, and the first book printed in English. In 1476 he returned to England, and at Westminster in 1477 he printed Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres, the first dated book printed in England. Caxton is known to have printed about 100 books, many dealing with themes of chivalry. He was the translator, from French, Latin, and Dutch, of about one third of the books that he printed, and for some he wrote original prologues, epilogues, and additions. His books are of superb craftsmanship and are carefully edited. One of the typefaces used by Caxton is the original Old English type. The size of this type of Caxton's (14 point) is known as English. Wynkyn de Worde, his successor as a printer, was his assistant at Westminster, and the printers Richard Pynson and Robert Copland refer to Caxton (possibly figuratively) as their master.

See biographies by N. S. Aurer (1926, repr. 1965), H. R. Plomer (1925, repr. 1968), N. F. Blake (1969) and G. D. Painter (1977).

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