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Friday, July 31, 2015

Elizabeth Pickering: The First Woman to Print Books in England

Colophon from: The Great Charter, Called in 
Latin Magna Carta ...London: Elizabeth Pickering, 1540/41.
To continue our series of posts on books related to Magna Carta, and the Library's collection of early printed Magna Cartas, one of the Library's editions was printed by a woman named Elizabeth Pickering (or Pykeryng). This might seem striking in the period, and it is. Elizabeth Pickering was the first woman in England to print books that survive today. Her edition of Magna Carta (1540/41), stands with Granville Sharp's copy of Magna Carta and the second printed edition of the Great Charter, from 1514, as the most notable editions that the Library owns. Widow of noted law printer Robert Redman, Pickering took over her husband’s printing press on his death in October 1540. At least two women are known to have printed earlier works, but these have not survived, while Pickering produced as many as thirteen titles that have come down to us. Ten are directly attributable to her, and three others may be hers as well. 

Pickering's first book, A Lytle Treatyse Composed by Iohn Sta[n]dysshe, with a colophon dated December 13, 1540, was printed at her shop at the "sygne of the George" in London's Fleet Street, where her husband also printed. Pickering continued publishing under her own name until transferring her press to William Middleton, on her remarriage to William Cholmeley in 1541. In our Magna Carta, Pickering employs Robert Redman’s monogram, and clearly identifies herself as the book’s printer in the colophon. Pickering printed her edition of Magna Carta in English, as Redman had done for the first time in 1534, and helped spread its tenets to a wider audience. We are fortunate to have one of her most remarkable works in the collection, and as a centerpiece of our current exhibit.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections