William Caxton

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William Caxton was a merchant, writer, printer, and translator from England. Caxton began his career as a merchant, working for Robert Large’s Mercers’ Company as an apprentice. He was educated in the field and went on to create his own company, becoming a successful and wealthy merchant in the process. In the meantime, he became the governor of the London Company of Nation of Merchant Adventurers. Caxton’s career took a turn in the 1460s, as he began to gravitate toward literature. He dabbled in translation, translating works by French authors into English. When he went to Cologne, though, his career took a big turn. He introduced England to the world of printing press after being impressed by German printing technology and seeing its commercial possibilities. He was the first English individual to work as a printer, as well as the first English book trader. He published over 108 novels in various genres during his later career, with four-fifths of them being in English. He is largely responsible for the printing of the English language. Because of the high demand for his printed volumes, even after his death in 1492, Wynkyn de Worde, one of his immigrant workers, remained to run the press for another 40 years.

Childhood  and Adolescence

There isn’t much known about William Caxton’s childhood. He is thought to have been born in Kent between 1415 and 1424. His parentage and ancestry information is hazy or uncertain.

Career of William Caxton

Caxton is thought to have been transported to London while he was in his teens to apprentice to Robert Large, a successful and rich trader. Mercers’ Company was founded and owned by Large.

Large left Caxton a little sum of money (£20) when he went to the heavenly realm in 1441. Caxton took his mercantile life seriously after his master died, and he quickly began trading in the Low Countries. By 1450, he was frequenting Bruges, the epicenter of European wool trade, and had resided there within three years. His business grew and prospered, and he became one of the most prosperous and powerful merchants in the English trading industry. Caxton traded woollen cloth for imported luxury goods from abroad.

In 1463, he was appointed Governor of the English Nation of Merchant Adventurers, a prestigious position. He was now in charge of safeguarding the economic interests of both the English government and his merchant colleagues in this new post.

During his reign, he arranged a trade arrangement with the royal dynasty of Burgundy, the Dukes of Burgundy. His friendship with the Burgundian court and royal family was strengthened by the trade arrangement, which led to his position as secretary to the Duchess of Burgundy, Margaret, sister of King Edward IV and King Richard III. Caxton’s attention shifted from trade and industry to literature by the end of the 1460s.

He read voraciously and attempted translations, the first of which was Raoul Le Fèvre’s ‘Recueil des histoires de Troye,’ which he completed in 1471. Caxton traveled across Europe as a secretary to the Duchess of Burgundy. He initially came to the printing industry during one of his trips to Cologne. Cologne was a university town that had grown into a major printing center in northwestern Germany. Furthermore, its strategic location made it a vital economic center for the book trade.

Caxton gained firsthand knowledge of the printing industry while in Cologne. He cooperated with Johann Schilling to publish an edition of Bartholomeus Anglicus’ ‘De proprietatibus rerum’ or ‘On the Nature of Things,’ a 13th century encyclopaedia.

He founded his own printing press in Bruges, along with Fleming and Colard Mansion, after being inspired by the printing press. His printing press’s first book was a translation of his own work, ‘Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye,’ which was published in 1473. He decided to start a press because of the high demand for the book. He published a couple of French-language books.

Caxton returned to London in 1476. He established a printing press at Westminster and dedicated his time to printing and writing. The press’s first publication was a reprint of Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales.’ ‘Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres,’ printed on November 18, 1477, was the earliest dated book printed in English.
Caxton translated a few novels in addition to printing them, including ‘Golden Legend’ in 1483, ‘The Book of the Knight in the Tower’ in 1484, and Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses in English’ in 1485. The earliest verses of the Bible to be printed in English are found in ‘The Book of the Knight in the Tower.’

Caxton did not limit himself to publishing only one type of book. Instead, he wrote chivalric romances, English classics, philosophies, encyclopedias, conduct, morality, and Roman history, among other things. He published a vast number of devotional and service publications. In 1481, he published ‘The Myrrour of the Worlde,’ the first illustrated English book. John Gower’s ‘Confessio amantis’ (1483) and Sir Thomas Malory’s ‘Morte Darthur’ (1484) are two examples of English literature printed by Caxton (1485). He also printed Chaucer’s and John Lydgate’s writings.

Major Projects of William Caxton

Caxton is well known for his work as a printer and publisher. By introducing the printing press to England, he altered the way English people read. He was the first English printer and also the first English reseller of printed books, with Flemish, German, and French among his contemporaries. He also had a significant impact on the English language, standardizing it through printing.

Personal History and Legacy

Caxton’s personal life, including his marriage and children, is unknown. Despite the lack of precise details about his demise, it is estimated that he died between 1491 and 1492. He was laid to rest in Westminster’s St. Margaret’s Church. After his death, Wynkyn de Worde, one of his immigrant workers, continued to run his printing press for another forty years. J.J. Astor unveiled a memorial to Caxton in Westminster Abbey in 1954, after his death. ‘Near this place, William Caxton established the first printing press in England,’ according to the plaque.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of William Caxton is not available


This English merchant went on to become the first English printer as well as the first English book vendor.