Welcome to ‘Printing in sixteenth-century France at the Edward Worth Library’

The Edward Worth Library is a rare books collection, bequeathed to Dr Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin, by Dr Edward Worth (1676-1733), who was one of the Hospital’s earliest Trustees. This web exhibition, curated by Ms Ambre Turhan (M2 – CEI, Culture de l’écrit et de l’image, École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques), with the assistance of the staff of the Edward Worth Library, explores Worth’s collection of books printed in France in the sixteenth century.

Anon., Colloquiorum familiarum incerto authore libellus Grece & Latine, non pueris modo sed quibusuis, in cotidiano colloquio, graecum affectantibus sermonem, impendio futurus vtilis (Paris, 1528), Sig. A8v: Simon de Colines’ device.

As this online exhibition demonstrates, the sixteenth-century French book trade encompassed printers, booksellers and publishers, functions that were sometimes found singly (i.e. some members were printers alone), or were sometimes combined.[1]  The profession of bookseller had, of course, predated the printing press. According to René de Lespinasse, the status of booksellers had been established by the University of Paris as early as 1275.[2] In 1467, King Charles VIII (1470-98) authorised booksellers to form corporations with parchment makers and writers. Then, in 1488, the king strengthened the university’s privileges by giving it the right to appoint 24 master booksellers, known as ‘libraire-jurés’.[3]

The arrival of printing at the Sorbonne in 1470 raised the question of who was best placed to run a printing press. The booksellers were initially entrusted with this task and they dominated the book trade until the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the trade became less monopolized. As Frédéric Barbier explains, printers initially operated without a guild system, which led to very difficult working conditions and strikes.[4] It was King François I (1494-1547) who published the first statutes of the ‘maître imprimeur’ on 31 August 1539, although master printers were already active long before the edict was published. This edict answered a number of outstanding questions, and was an attempt to legislate the profession of the ‘maître imprimeur’, as well as those of journeymen and apprentices. The introduction of rules to establish a hierarchy and to operate a printing house, also underlined the independence of the printer’s profession from that of booksellers in France. It was a gradual process, running at the same time as the printers’ and booksellers’ monopoly in the major printing centres.[5]

The French book trade in the sixteenth century was undergoing constant change, responding to the challenges of the relatively new invention of printing, the impact of the Reformation in France, and, particularly during the second half of the century, the tumultuous political and military events of the subsequent wars of religion.[6] The early sixteenth-century book trade incorporated people like Josse Badius (1462-1535), Simon de Colines (1480?-1546), Chrestien Wechel (1495-1554), Michel de Vascosan (d. c. 1577) and Sebastianus Gryphius (1493?-1556), all members of the first and second generations of the book trade, who operated as printers, booksellers and publishers. Some operated as printers alone: Jean Bienné (d. 1588), Mamert Patisson (d. 1601/02) in Paris and François Le Page (fl. 1575-92), in Poitiers. Yet others did not actually print books themselves but acted as either solely booksellers (in the case of the Vincents and Abel L’Angelier (fl. 1572-1609)), or both booksellers and publishers – as in the case of the early Paris-based printer Jean I Petit (fl. 1492-1530). Some, such as the female printer Denyse Girault, acted as both printer and bookseller. Many members of the book trade were related by kinships links – links forged by the marriages of the women of the book trade.

Several members of the book trade mentioned in this exhibition were recognised as ‘libraire jurés’: Simon de Colines, Jean I Petit, Chrestien Wechel among the first generation of printers; Michel de Vascosan in the second generation; Guillaume Cavellat (d. 1576/77?) in the third generation and Abel L’Angelier in the fourth generation. Others were given the prestigious title of ‘King’s Printer’: Michel de Vascosan, Adrien Turnèbe (1512-65), Guillaume Morel (1505-64), Fédéric I Morel (1523-83) and his son Fédéric II Morel (c. 1552-1630) and Mamert Patisson in Paris, while Simon Millanges (1540/41-1623), held the same position in Bordeaux and François Le Page in Poitiers.

This exhibition views the world of the book in sixteenth-century France through the lens of the Edward Worth Library. The online exhibition explores four generations of printers, based primarily, though not exclusively in Paris, whose works may be found on the shelves of the wonderful library of Edward Worth. Since Worth’s collection of one of the most important French printing dynasties of the period, the Estiennes, has already been explored by Ms Agathe Vézine, they will not be explored here. Instead, the focus will be on their colleagues and competitors in the world of the sixteenth-century French book trade. This exhibition is the sixteenth in a series of websites exploring the holdings of the Worth Library. For further details please contact our website:  www.edwardworthlibrary.ie.

[1] Walsby, Malcolm, ‘Les étapes du développement du marché du livre imprimé en France du XVe au début du XVIIe siècle’, Revue d’histoire moderne & contemporaine, 67, no. 3 (2020), para. 24.

[2] Lespinasse, René de, Les métiers et corporations de la ville de Paris: XIVe-XVIIIe siècles. Tissus, étoffes, vêtements, cuirs et peaux, métiers divers (Paris, 1897), p. 694.

[3] Barbier, Frédéric, ‘La foi, le souverain et l’imprimé’, in Frédéric Barbier, Histoire du livre en Occident (Paris, 2020), p. 125.

[4] Lespinasse, René de, Les métiers et corporations de la ville de Paris, pp 271-2.

[5] Ibid., pp 696-7.

[6] On the French book trade in the sixteenth century see Pettegree, Andrew, Malcolm Walsby & Alexander Wilkinson (eds), French vernacular books: books published in the French language before 1601 = Livres vernaculaires français: Livres imprimés en français avant 1601, 2v. (Leiden & Boston, 2007); Pettegree, Andrew, The French book and the European book world (Leiden, 2007); Pettegree, Andrew & Malcolm Walsby (eds), French books III & IV: books published in France before 1601 in Latin and languages other than French, 2v. (Leiden & Boston, 2012); and Walsby, Malcolm, Booksellers and Printers in Provincial France 1470-1600 (Leiden, 2020).




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