William Caxton, the first English printer, was born in
the Weald of Kent. In 1438, he became apprenticed to Robert Large,
a leading textile merchant who became the mayor of London the following
year. After Larges death in 1441, Caxton moved to Bruges,
the formost center for trade between the English and the Flemish,
and built up a thriving textile business. He attained such prominence
as a merchant that by 1463 he was acting governor of the Merchant
Adventurers in the Low Countries. In 1464, he attempted unsuccessfully
to renew a wool treaty with Phillip, Duke of Burgundy. Four years
later, Caxton successfully completed the trade negotiations with
Charles the Bold, Phillips successor. Shortly thereafter,
Caxton was hired as an advisor to Charles new duchess, the
former Princess Margaret of York, sister of Edward IV.
It was at the request of the duchess Margaret that he resumed his
abandoned translation of a popular French romance, The Recuyell
of the Historyes of Troye from the French of Raoul le Fèvre.
After spending a year in Cologne learning the art of printing, Caxton
returned to Bruges and set up a printing press, where he published
his translation of The Recuyell, the first printed book in
the English language, around 1474. His next publication, The
Game and Play of Chess Moralised (1476), was a translation of
the first major European work on chess, and was the first printed
book in English to make extensive use of woodcuts.
In 1476, he returned to England and set up a printing shop at Westminster
at the sign of the Red Pale. Here, Caxton published such major works
as Troilus and Creseide, Morte dArthur, The History of
Reynart the Foxe, and The Canterbury Tales. Over the
course of 14 years, he printed more than 70 books, 20 of them his
own translations from the Latin, French, and Dutch.
The typefaces used by Caxton were all varieties of black
letter or gothic type. His earlier works were
set in an early form of French lettre bâtarde. By 1490, he
had acquired a more round and open typeface, a textura originally
used by the Parisian printer Antoine Verard and later favored by
Caxtons successor, Wynkyn de Worde.