John Day – Master Printer

In 1547, the year Henry VIII died, about a dozen printers were active in London (it’s hard to be precise because the words ‘imprynted by’ apparently sometimes meant ‘sold by’). A rising star among these men was John Day, then in his twenties. He would go on to become ‘one of the most industrious and enterprising, as well as one of the best’ – and wealthiest – printers in Elizabethan England. He was a staunch protestant, and a list of the books he published bears witness to this. (During the reign of catholic Queen Mary, Day is said to have been imprisoned for a while ‘for pryntyng of noythy bokes’ – ‘naughty books’, repugnant to the catholic authorities).
 
In Day’s lifetime the regulations for what could be printed, and who could print it, changed. In 1538 a Proclamation ruled that only books approved by an official licencer could be printed. In 1557 regulation of the printing trade passed to the Stationers’ Company, which received a royal charter. Only members of the company (of which Day was eventually Master) could own a printing press. While these measures might be seen as a form of censorship, they also gave to those fortunate enough to be entitled to print books protection from having their books copied by other printers, at least for a period of seven years. Thus my title leaf from Day’s ‘The Seven Sermons’, dated 1562, bears the words ‘Cum gratia and privilegio Regis Maiestatis per septennium’. Day had exclusive rights to a number of very profitable items including the ‘ABC and catechism’ used in schools, and ‘Whole Book of Psalms’ which included music and has been described as the best-selling book of the period.    
 
On two of my leaves Day describes himself as 'dwelling over Aldersgate', which stood where the Great North Road entered the city of London. His press was there and his books were sold 'under the gate' and elsewhere in London, and doubtless also in market squares around the country.

John Day is said to have had 26 children by two wives. One of the boys, Richard Day, took over the business after his father’s death in 1584.