Friday, November 9, 2018

Blog no. 50 - Printing Dutch books in Norwich


A blue plaque commemorating Solempne in Norwich

To celebrate reaching the 50th post in this blog and 5,000 page views, I can think of no more appropriate subject than Anthony de Solempne (spelt variously), who for several years ran a printing press in my hometown of Norwich. Solempne was from Brabant in the South Netherlands and arrived in Norwich in 1567 along with his family. It is perhaps more appropriate to call Solempne a printer/publisher, for it is likely that he was assisted by a typesetter Albert Christaensz from Holland. Between 1568 and 1570 Solempne ran his printing press at the sign of the Dove near to the church of St. John Maddermarket in Norwich. For several reasons it is not certain precisely how many books rolled off his press. At this time, books were often given false publishing details if they were of a sensitive, e.g. religious or scabrous nature. However, it is generally agreed that he printed at least five and possibly eight Dutch books. Among these are an edition of the psalm settings composed by Petrus Dathenus, a catechism and a confession of faith. These books would be used in the Dutch church in Norwich, which had several thousand members at this point. 
One Dutch book about which there has been less agreement is the first edition of Historie van B. Cornelis Adriaensen van Dordrecht, a satire on the misdeeds of a Friar Minor in Brugge. However, the late Karel Bostoen did a brilliant job in analyzing where the book might have been printed and came to the conclusion that although it was written in the Low Countries, it was printed in Norwich due to its scabrous anti-clerical content. 
There were four booksellers in the Dutch community in Norwich and at least one bookbinder, so there must have a thriving book trade in Norwich at this time. The question arises as to whether Solempne in fact had a licence to print. Printing was tightly controlled in this period and in general restricted to London and the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge, so one is left to wonder if Solempne ran his printing press without the knowledge, or perhaps simply without the permission, of the authorities. We also do not know why he stopped printing in 1570. Perhaps there was no longer demand for his books. What we do know is that Solempne continued to operate in Norwich as a wine merchant. The books that he printed continued to be used for many years and add another chapter to the story of Dutch in England.

Further reading: 
Christopher Joby, The Dutch Language in Britain (1550-1702). Leiden, Brill, 2015
Karel Bostoen, 'Waar kwam de Historie van B. Cornelis (1569) van de pers? Het spoor terug naar de plaats van uitgave, boekverkoper en boekdrukker'. Handelingen van het Genootschap voor Geschiedenis 'Societe d'Emulation' te Brugge, 151, pp. 65-111.

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