Books of Secrets: Natural Philosophy in England, 1550-1600

Books of Secrets: Natural Philosophy in England, 1550-1600

by Allison Kavey


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How cultural categories shaped--and were shaped by--new ideas about controlling nature

Ranging from alchemy to necromancy, "books of secrets" offered medieval readers an affordable and accessible collection of knowledge about the natural world. Allison Kavey's study traces the cultural relevance of these books and also charts their influence on the people who read them. Citing the importance of printers in choosing the books' contents, she points out how these books legitimized manipulating nature, thereby expanding cultural categories, such as masculinity, femininity, gentleman, lady, and midwife, to include the willful command of the natural world.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252032097
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 07/11/2007
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

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Natural Philosophy in England, 1550-1600
By Allison Kavey


Copyright © 2007 Allison Kavey
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03209-7

Chapter One

Printing Secrets

The second half of the sixteenth century was marked by the formalization of English printing with the 1555 incorporation of the Stationers' Company. The company proved to be a functional institution around which printers could coalesce and on whose regulations they would base an increasingly vibrant and lucrative trade. Two generations of men printed the majority of texts between the stationers' incorporation and Elizabeth I's death in 1603. The first generation included the signers of the company's incorporation papers, primarily men who already made at least some of their living from printing. They produced, reinforced, and refined the regulations that had defined printing practice in Edward's, Mary's, and the first decades of Elizabeth's reign. They also trained the men who would follow them in the print shops. The second generation of English printers began their careers as apprentices to the original members of the company, from whom they learned their trade and inherited a complicated web of social obligations and interactions that influenced the locations they chose for their shops, the books they licensed and printed, the partnerships they formed with other printers, and the apprentices they chose for themselves.

This chapter will examine the relationships that shaped the English print market by analyzing the social networks that influenced the production of books of secrets. An examination of the printers of The Secrets of Albertus Magnus will demonstrate the connections between printers and their books, while an analysis of the intersections surrounding The Treasurie of commodious Conceits, and hidden Secrets and its components and The Widowes treasure will reflect the connections among printers. A final set of interrogations will center on the relationship between a single author and a printer and the effects of their collaboration on both their careers and the broader popular print market. More broadly, the chapter will address the location of "secrets" in the print marketplace in an attempt to describe the place they held and the ways in which these books reflect a set of connections among printers and an agreement about the meaning and cultural position of books of secrets.

Printers and Their Books

The four sixteenth-century editions of The Secrets of Albertus Magnus provide an excellent place to begin this investigation, since it was the first book of secrets to be translated into English. It was printed first in 1560 with an edition by John King, then in 1565 by William Copeland, then in a 1570 edition by William Seres, and finally by William Jaggard in 1599. The book must have sold well, implying some level of resonance with readers, or it would not have been reprinted so frequently. Because of its popularity, it occupied an important position in the print marketplace, bridging the first two generations of company printers and serving as an integral part of the collections of some of the most successful London printers in the middle and late sixteenth century. An examination of the career trajectories of these men that includes an accounting of their colleagues, their positions within the Stationers' Company, and the other books they licensed will produce a richer understanding of the role that a single book of secrets played in the early decades of company printing and the different ways in which books like this one could be printed, combined with other books, and reprinted to ensure the survival of their producers.

John King, the printer of the 1560 edition under the title The boke of secretes of Albertus Magnus, wrote the forty-third signature on the original bill of incorporation for the Stationers' Company. He printed actively between 1555 and 1561, during which time licensing fees were recorded on his behalf for eighteen books. He was fined for printing two books without a license and it is possible that he escaped the notice of his peers for producing a few more unlicensed titles. King was far from the most successful printer of the first generation of company men, as demonstrated by the relatively small number of books he licensed. It is possible to more perfectly locate his financial situation by comparing his contributions to company projects with those made by his peers. In 1556, for example, he contributed four pence to a drive initiated by the Lord Mayor of London and the court of Aldermen to benefit Bridewell. John Awdelay, an apprentice who had not yet completed his term of service, matched King's donation of four pence, and they tied for the lowest fee paid, indicating that it may have been the minimum required of company members. The highest fee paid during this drive was three shillings, four pence, the amount offered by four masters of the company, Bonham, Waye, Wolfe, and Turke, and Thomas Duxsell who lacked an office but must have made a good income.

This comparison does not reflect the sum of his finances, however, as indicated by the two shillings he donated the same year to defray the costs of the company's incorporation. Hugh Cottesforth paid eight pence in that drive, the lowest amount offered, while Master Cooke captured the high end with a donation of thirty-five shillings. The Masters again contributed more on average than other members of the company, with the smallest fee being ten shillings. King's two shillings placed him in the lowest quarter of donations for that drive. His relative impoverishment, or at the very least lack of disposable income, in 1556 may be attributed to the few books he had under license, and thus the small number of titles he was able to produce and sell.

The latter years of his career saw him holding many more titles, and The boke of secretes of Albertus Magnus was among the last five books King printed before he died in 1561. It appeared during his most productive period, which fell in the last two years of his life, and coincided with his printing other titles dedicated to exposing aspects of managing the natural world, including the final book he licensed, The medysine for horses. In combination with his early production of cookery and household conduct manuals, these books indicate a commitment to providing affordable vernacular guides that could increase readers' rewards from their manipulations of the natural world. Some of his high productivity during this period may be due to the gradual maturation of the two apprentices King presented to the company in 1556. It is likely that they worked with him until his death, which came before their terms of service would have been completed. A second explanation for his high productivity during the latter 1550s and early 1560s can be located in the increase in licensed titles that occurred throughout the company during this period. The 1560s marked the beginning of a widespread increase in the number of printers working in London and the number of titles they licensed.

William Copeland, the printer of the 1565 edition, The booke of secretes of Albertus Magnus, was another charter member of the Stationers' Company, and his is the fiftieth signature among the original members. Copeland's father had been a successful printer and established a productive shop at the Rose Garland in Fleet Street, which passed in 1547 to his son. The proof of this inheritance can be found in each book William Copeland printed, as he marked his transition to master of the shop by adding his name at the bottom of his father's device, a rose garland. He printed successfully at that address from 1547 through 1556, a period during which he also achieved a measure of financial stability. His relative liquidity is indicated by his donation of twelve pence to the Bridewell campaign and two shillings, six pence, in support of the company's incorporation, both of which occurred in 1556. That year, he was also ordered by the Privy Council to deliver all his copies of Archbishop Cranmer's Recantation to John Cawood, one of the masters of the company, to be burnt. This command, coming in the midst of Mary's reign, is not surprising, since she and her ministers carefully policed the production of Protestant literature and were constantly prepared to overturn individual privileges granted to particular printers by Edward VI and Henry VIII. It is also worth noting that neither was Copeland the only printer to be so punished, nor did the remainder of his catalog reflect extreme Protestant commitments, but instead a concerted effort to license and print books that would prove to be steady sellers.

William Copeland continued to license ballads, sermons, and other small books in the second half of the 1550s, and he attracted the attention of the company three times in 1558-1559 for printing books without a license, first Bradford's Sermons of Repentance, then Nostradamus, and The epestelles and gospelles. By 1561 he had left the Rose Garland for a new shop, the Three Crane Wharf at the Vinetree in St. Martin's Parish, and he licensed no books that year. In 1562 he moved again, to Lothbury against St. Margaret's Church, and he resumed licensing and printing inexpensive books, including a quarto edition of the Book of Virgil, a small book attributed to Virgilius the medieval necromancer. Between 1562 and his death in late 1568 or early 1569, he licensed twelve titles and printed at least one more, since no record of a license exists for his 1565 printing of The booke of secretes of Albertus Magnus. His edition of this text came, like King's, toward the end of his career. He printed it along with other books of knowledge and wonders, like An introduction to knowledge, A breaf and pleasaunte treatese of the interpretation of Dreames, and the second to last book he licensed, A mooste breffe treatise of the strange Wonders seen these latter yeres in the Ayer in soundry Countryes as in Germanye & c.

Both King and Copeland developed catalogs that emphasized vernacular books devoted to interpreting and influencing the natural world. Copeland in fact devoted one-third of his printing efforts between 1562 and 1568 to books that addressed the construction of knowledge and interpretation of the natural world, which suggests that these books had proved effective in attracting customers. He did not print enough books overall, or even enough books of secrets, to ensure that this system would prove financially successful. Twelve books in six years, even with the possibility of reprints of books he had already licensed, would not have provided much of a living, and he was buried at the company's expense between June of 1568 and July of 1569, indicating that his estate could not pay for his funeral.

The 1570 printer of The Boke of secretes of Albertus Magnus, William Seres, lived a very different life from the economically marginal ones of John King and William Copeland. Like them, he was a charter member of the Stationers' Company, but he continued to rise in power, eventually holding the position of master five times. Part of his success can be attributed to the sole right to print prayer books, primers, and psalters in Latin and English he received from Edward VI in 1553, lost during Mary's reign, and then regained in 1559. The market for books for religious services burgeoned under Elizabeth I, and Seres benefited from his monopoly over their production. He did not, however, enjoy his privilege without question, especially as he neared death and attempted to negotiate the successful transition of his patents to his heirs. Toward the end of Seres's life, he assigned them, along with some of his printing equipment and copies, in exchange for annual rent to Henry Denham, who joined with seven other members of the company to allow Seres to satisfy remaining printing demands.

Other printers, to whom Seres had not assigned his privilege to print private prayer books, psalters, and primers, also began printing them, claiming that the queen had no right to grant special printing rights, and that the production of all good and useful books should belong to every printer. Seres responded with a letter to the Lord Treasurer in which he argued that there was significant ancient precedent for the granting of printing privileges to loyal and skillful men by princes, and that the practice should continue because uncontrolled printing, particularly of religious texts, could be dangerous. The matter was resolved in 1583 by an agreement within the company that men with privileges would contribute an allowance to support the institution and its poorer members. This agreement corresponds with Seres's demonstrated commitment to the success of the Stationers' Company, to which he donated an impressive amount of money and time over the course of his career. He donated, for example, four shillings to the company's incorporation fees in 1556 and another twenty shillings that year toward wainscoting in the council chamber and a new window in the company hall. He followed these financial donations with temporal ones, beginning his first term as Warden of the company in 1561.

Seres's career cannot be summarized simply as the combination of a fortunate printing privilege and a talent for politics. Between 1555 and his death around 1580, he licensed forty titles or more, at least half of which were not protected by his monopoly of personal religious books. He, like King and Copeland, produced a number of books that investigated the natural world, particularly as it applied to the human body. His catalog was heavily medical, and the books he printed offered systems for comprehending and thwarting disease at a time when the medical marketplace was relatively open and competitive. In 1564, for example, he licensed The Dyall of Agues contanynge the names in greke laten and englesshe, a medical text that provided an epistemology and vocabulary for the commonly diagnosed disease ague. He continued his production of medical works in 1567, when he printed Serten verces in Latin by Hippocrates and Master Doctour Haddons workes. The first book would have found an audience among medical students, whose training was still grounded in works attributed to Hippocrates, as well as vernacular medical practitioners interested in linking their diagnoses and prescriptions to a broadly recognized and respected medical authority.

That year Seres also expanded his investment in the natural world from the management of the human body to the characteristics of an increasingly profitable and popular natural product, wine. The nature and properties of all Wynes that are commonly used here in Englonde &c was Seres's last contribution to natural knowledge before his edition of The Boke of secretes of Albertus Magnus. These titles indicate an interest in producing books of natural knowledge, particularly medical texts, which would have made Albertus Magnus a logical addition to his catalog, since it combined an encyclopedic account of natural products with their medical, magical, and natural philosophical properties. Like King and Copeland before him, he produced his only book of secrets as the capstone of a recognizable series of titles devoted to various aspects of natural philosophy. The text correlated nicely with some of the precedents he established with his earlier titles, particularly the celebration of ancient authority, as indicated by his edition attributed to Hippocrates and this book's attribution to Albertus Magnus, and the management of disease, as shown by his books of medical recipes and practical advice. Its production also represented the first fading of one of the brightest stars of the first generation of printers, as it would mark the rising of a brighter one in the firmament of the second generation of the Stationers' Company.


Excerpted from BOOKS OF SECRETS by Allison Kavey Copyright © 2007 by Allison Kavey. Excerpted by permission.
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