Book Series Texts and Transitions, vol. 7

Agency and Intention in English Print, 1476–1526

Kathleen Tonry

  • Pages: 241 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:15 b/w
  • Language(s):English, Middle English, Latin
  • Publication Year:2016

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53576-0
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-56207-0
  • E-book
  • Available

An innovative study bringing together the intellectual and material traditions of England’s early press, from William Caxton to Thomas Berthelet.


“Overall, this book is a valuable addition to the newest revisionist scholarship on early English print history (…) But perhaps Tonry's most important point is one that cannot be stressed enough: one should not read print history backwards (…)” (Valerie Schutte, in The Medieval Review, 7 October 2017)

“Agency and Intention in English Print draws fresh attention to a number of little known texts and early editions. As Tonry herself puts it, it is a work that peers into “the neglected corners and crannies of early English print” (16) to offer a range of new insights. It will undoubtedly prove useful to those researching the earliest decades of English print culture, especially those scholars with interests in the production and circulation of religious books or the intersections between England’s first printers and London’s mercantile classes.” (Lindsay Ann Reid, in Renaissance Quarterly, 71/1, 2018, p. 407)

“(…) her book is original and insightful and a valuable contribution to the study of early print.” (Hilary Maddocks, in Parergon, 34/2, 2017 p. 265)

“Kathleen Tonry’s lucid, thoughtful, and consistently interesting book is an exploration of the kinds of agency enjoyed by printers of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century books.” (Adam Smyth, in Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 94/3, 2019, p. 907)

“The extensive coverage here gives Tonry a sound evidence base from which to make the high-level arguments of her book.” (Edward Smith in The Year's Work in English Studies, Volume 98/1, 2019, p. 292)




This volume offers a new intellectual framework for early print that bridges divisions between the study of print and the study of literature, between manuscripts and printed books, and between pre- and post-1500 textual cultures. Through an extensive focus on medieval texts and ideas, it is demonstrated here that in the half-century before the Reformation, English print was part of a highly energetic tradition of late medieval textual production. Central to this tradition was the expression of ethical agency, or moral ‘entente’, through the creation of texts and books. This insight reveals how the first English printed books expressed the deliberate moral and cultural commitments of individual printers.

By following early print across a range of genres (history writing, religious instruction, hagiography, law books, and translation), this study also sheds light on the contexts within which the agencies of early printers mattered, including mercantile politics, civic and statute law, and theological economics.

The volume, which treats the pre-Reformation press as a whole, is based in particular on the bibliographical evidence provided in editions by William Caxton, Wynkyn de Worde, Richard Pynson, John Rastell, and Thomas Berthelet, as well as on close readings of texts and contextual materials. The questions raised here, however, are about more than old books and early printers: ultimately, this study argues that the history of the material book is an intellectual history of agency and textual production.


Introduction: Agencies

Chapter 1. The Personality of Print

Chapter 2. Usurers and Printed Books: The Mercantile Contexts of Intention in Late Medieval London

Chapter 3. The Uses of Religious Printing by Merchants, for Merchants

Chapter 4. Print’s Experiments with Readerly Agency in Historical Writing.