The Advent of the Newspaper

Prior to the Seventeenth century, news had been spread via word of mouth, short pamphlets or posters. Political songs and ballads often told of the news of the day, frequently sensationalizing what was happening in parliament and the country as a whole.

During the Seventeenth century periodicals began to emerge, but they still blurred fact, fiction and rumour. Periodicals were different from newspapers in that they were only published occasionally, sometimes only once a month. As the century progressed, news-books and the first newspapers began to appear. These were produced at least once a week. Printing, which was still in its infancy, was strictly controlled in England at the beginning of the 1600’s. As a result of these restrictions, the first newspaper in English was actually printed in Amsterdam in 1620 by Joris Veseler.

When permission was finally granted in England for the printing of papers in London, the format reverted to the old style pamphlet rather than sheets of paper. These pamphlets, known as newsbooks due to their regular publication, went from strength to strength until their production was abruptly banned by the Star Chamber in 1632 (the governing body of England at the time), as the circulation of news was considered inflammatory to society.

Public pressure ended this period of printed newsbook suspension in 1638. The control over printing relaxed again after the abolition of the Star Chamber in 1641. Such was the demand for news during the Civil War, that special war reporting pamphlets and newsbooks began to be produced in earnest. These publications were often biased, taking either the Roundheads or the Cavaliers as their champions.

Following the Restoration of the Monarchy, when Charles II retook the kingdom from Oliver Cromwell, the number of news publications rose. They began to take a form that would be more familiar to us today.

The London Gazette and the Oxford Gazette both began in 1665. Newspaper publication was controlled by the Crown under the Licensing Act of 1662, but the Act’s lapsed from 1679–1685 and then from 1695 onward, spawning a mass of news titles. From a staggered, biased and censored beginning, the modern newspaper was born.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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