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Journalists at War

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Journalists at War

The British Civil Wars (1642–1651) provided an important impetus for innovation and improvement in the newspaper industry. Newspapers became much better established, and a new generation of professional writers, publishers and printers emerged from within social groups that had not previously been involved in literary endeavors. Such men and women were willing and able to report on the progress of the war, and the issues involved with a combination of information and wit, although neither their loyalty nor their reliability could be taken for granted.

Peter Heylyn. Mercvrivs aulicus, a diurnall. Oxford [London], January 1643

Running from January 1643 until September 1645, Mercurius Aulicus (shown above) was the first truly substantial newspaper printed during the Civil Wars, operating with court backing out of the royalist headquarters at Oxford and reprinted illicitly in London. Aulicus offered military reports, political intelligence, and biting attacks upon parliamentarians. Despite this, it was often read by supporters of both sides.


Mercurius Britanicus was launched a few months later, in the summer of 1643, with the explicit aim of responding to Mercurius Aulicus, and the two newsbooks traded blows and accusations of inaccuracy every week. An extremely influential newspaper that was widely assumed to have had political backing, it launched the journalistic career of Marchamont Nedham, under whose guidance it became witty, acerbic, and scurrilous. His willingness to experiment with editorializing about both king and Parliament ensured a less than smooth relationship with the authorities, who shut the paper down and imprisoned its editor.


Once released from prison, Marchamont Nedham resurfaced in September 1647as editor of the royalist newspaper  Mercurius Pragmaticus, thus developing a reputation as an unprincipled turncoat. Despite his new political leanings, he retained his biting wit, observing the characters and foibles of parliamentarian grandees in the verses with which he opened each week’s issue.


Mercurius britanicus; communicating the affaires af Great Britaine. no. 129. London, 4-11 May 1646

Mercurius pragmaticvs. Communicating intelligence from all parts... London, 1647

Exhibition Highlights

Censorship and the Free Press

Formatting the News


War of the Words

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