20 September 2021
400 years of British newspapers
On 24 September 1621, London printer Nathaniel Butter published a newspaper. It wasn’t called a newspaper, but there were sufficient elements that we recognise as those which make a newspaper. It had reports on a number of news stories, all of them current. It was published on a specific date. It was one a series of news publications with the same title (or approximately so), introducing a pattern. The title appeared at the top of the sheet: Corante, or, newes from Italy, Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France.
Front page of Corante, or, newes from Italy, Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France, published 24 September 1621
As with all first, the first British newspaper needs to come with qualifications and caveats. It was not the first newspaper published in English, as English language newspapers, or corantos, had been published in Amsterdam since at least December 1620. It may have been preceded by corantos published in 1621 by London printer Thomas Archer, but those do not survive. Although published in London, in English, it was effectively a translation from a Dutch original, as were the earlier news publications. It was not the only type of news publication available, as single-story newssheets had long existed before this date, and manuscript news service were available to subscribers, but it was irrefutably something new. It established the rhythm of public news in Britain.
There is advice from Naples, that certain Ambassadours of Messina are arrived there and from thence are to go to Spaine, to congratulate the king and to give him a present of 150000 crownes, as also that in Naples a contention falling out between the Spaniards and Neopolitans, there were many on both sides slaine and wounded, so that if the Cardinall the Vice Roy had not stept in among them, there would have been a great slaughter.
By letters of the 21 from Genoa it is certified that Petro de Liena is arrived there with two galleys from Spaine, and that the rest stay still at Vado.
There are 8000 men of Moravia, Bohemia and many souldiers of Sylesia gathered together in Marble, that are to go withal speede to releeve Presburge.
The Earl of Colalto, 8 dayes since, meeting with the Hungarians that came to Newstadt, and there in the suburbs took certain children and carreyed them prisoners, whereof some of them were Turkes.
Not that the first British newspaper had anything to say on its two sides on the one sheet of paper about news in Britain. Aside from being a translation from Dutch publications, it was far too dangerous to challenge the British authorities by publishing news about what was happening at home. Instead, the Corante, or, newes from Italy, Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France told its readership about what was going on in Europe, with particular focus on the Thirty Years War. This was important news for the merchants and officials who were likely reader of the publication – it affected their business, it was a general topic of conversation, it was news for them.
Bottom of other side of Corante, or, newes from Italy, Germany, Hungarie, Spaine and France, showing publication details with date, 24 September 1621
This first surviving first British newspaper is held by the British Library. On 23 September 2021 we are hosting an event to mark this quatercententary. Old News, New Perspectives: 400 years of Newspapers will look at the origins of newspapers and the transformative growth of news in this country ever since. Its special guest speakers will be Matthew Shaw, formerly of the British Library and now Librarian at The Queen’s College, Oxford, author of the recently-published An Inky Business: A History of Newspapers from the English Civil Wars to the American Civil War; and the Times columnist and former MP Matthew Parris, who in 2015 won the British Press Award for Political Journalist of the Year. The event will be introduced by Chief Librarian Liz Jolly.
Details of the event can be found here: https://www.bl.uk/events/old-news-new-perspectives-400-years-of-newspapers