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Experiments in Printed News

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Experiments in Printed News

Major events and natural disasters provided an opportunity to publish lengthy news pamphlets. Dramatic political events from the courts of Europe, reports of strange weather, attacks on the Pope, and news of far-away and exotic lands were all available for purchase by the reading public. The government also used the news for printed propaganda campaigns, taking full advantage of its ability to reach the populace from the pulpit and the town square.

Ludovico Cortano. Good newes to Christendome. London, 1620

The above title page conveys a vision seen over the prophet Mohammed’s tomb in “Arabia” and a depiction of the skies raining blood in Rome. The pamphlet is a good example of how news was transmitted in England before the newspaper. Originally written as a letter, it was translated from Italian into English before being printed.


News which circulated in continental Europe was often translated into English and republished in an effort to satisfy the increasing appetite for exotic news. One report from China marvels at shaven-headed Buddhist priests, the fine quality of Chinese horses, and the small stature of the people. It also laments the lack of grapes to make wine.


Other reports show that for many Elizabethans, news did not have to be current. Roger Ascham was the tutor to Princess Elizabeth and author of The Scholemaster , a popular book on education. In 1550, Ascham traveled to Germany as the secretary to the English ambassador to the Court of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. In order to satisfy the demand in England for news from Germany, Ascham began to compile a daily report on affairs of the court. Although written as a series of manuscript newsletters, Ascham’s reports were of sufficient interest to be published after his death and twenty years after the events described.


Protestant England delighted in reading scandals about the Pope and the Catholic Church. The author of the newsbook, Newes from Rome (right), has reproduced a woodcut which was circulated in Rome attacking corrupt Catholics and the papacy. An empty speech bubble allowed buyers to fill in their own unflattering caption.


The strange and marveilous newes lately come from the great kingdome of Chyna. London, 1577

Newes from Rome, Spaine, Palermo, Geneuæ and France. London, 1590

Roger Ascham. A report and discourse written by Roger Ascham, of the affaires and state of Germany ... London, 1570

Exhibition Highlights

A World of Wonder

Formatting the News

News Before Newspapers

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