William Caxton (1422-1491 or 1492) introduced printing into England in 1476 establishing his first press on the grounds of Westminster Abbey. Printed in 1482, Caxton’s edition of Ranulph Higden’s Polycronicon, written around 1344, a universal history concentrating on Britain. It was translated into English by John of Trevisa in 1387 and was popular text and widely copied and read. Caxton's "modernized" translation expands the chronicle to his own time. The Polycronicon is divided into seven books, after the seven days of Genesis or the seven ages of man. Beginning with Creation the text presents a general history up to Caxton's time. As a British history, Higden mentions King Arthur (challenging Geoffery of Monmouth's account), Harold, and Robin Hood.

Caxton's work exemplifies the blending of print and manuscript that occured as printers perfected the art of printing. Printed in his signature bastarda typeface, the text also includes manuscript initials,  running titles, and marginal chronological notes in red, added after printing during a process called rubrication. Visually the book is similar to a manuscript, a trait of early printed books or incunabula. However, as printers developed their art, we can see less of this manuscript imitation. Initials are printed and more woodcut images are inserted into the text, creating beautiful printed works.


First printed leaf in Polychronicon (1482) with manuscript initial and rubrication.

Saint Albans chronicle

William Caxton's printer's adopted by Wynkyn de Worde. Apprears in our copy of the St. Albans Chronicle.