Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper
Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper, part of the Exhibitions at the Folger, opened September 25, 2008 and closed on January 31, 2009. The exhibition was curated by Chris R Kyle and Jason Peacey with Elizabeth Walsh. The exhibition catalog can be purchased from the Folger Shop.
The first newspaper arrived in England from an Amsterdam publisher on December 2, 1620. Containing the latest foreign news, this publication immediately sparked a huge demand for up-to-the-minute reports on domestic and world events. From stories of war to lurid accounts of celebrity scandals among the royal families of Europe, journalism exploded into the world of Renaissance England. Gossip in the taverns and conversations among the political classes gave way to the phenomenon of a wide cross-section of the populace reading the events of the days and weeks in cheaply-printed serial publications.
The early English newspaper has left an indelible mark upon modern news culture. Even in its earliest manifestation, we see the emergence of the dramatic headline and the editorial, the development of tabloids and advertising, and the advent of attempts at state censorship and control over the presses. The content of the newspapers on exhibit reflects not only politics but the wider cultural, social and economic life of the times they covered.
This exhibition traces the development of journalism and the newspaper in England, from the manuscript antecedents of the coranto form to the introduction of newspapers in America in the late seventeenth century, and the birth of the first daily newspaper in England in 1702.
Contents of the exhibition
News Before Newspapers
In sixteenth and seventeenth century England, when the printing of domestic news was banned by the government and the newspaper had not yet been invented, letters were the most common form for the transmission of news. People also copied news reports into their personal diaries. One of the most popular ways to obtain information was to purchase separates. These were manuscript copies of speeches and reports of events of high political drama. Avidly collected and read, they were often circulated among family and friends.
Sir Richard Newdigate received his newsletters from London, and each arrived folded into small packets with wax seals affixed. In 1635, Charles I authorized the government postal service to carry private letters at a fixed rate dependent upon the distance traveled. However, many letters went missing en route and important news was often conveyed orally rather than by letter.
News circulating in this manner could easily be misconstrued. In a private journal titled "Strange Reports," the author collected snippets of news--including many items that are hard to believe were true stories. For example, he reports that Mrs. Honiswood of Kent gave birth to over 260 children. Perhaps more feasible, though still astonishing, is his report of a husband, wife, and two children whose combined ages equaled thirty-one years.
Another famous example of news being copied into personal journals is the final speech of Sir Walter Raleigh—poet, explorer, scientist, and one-time favorite of Queen Elizabeth—who was convicted in 1603 on flimsy evidence of treason and imprisoned in the Tower. As was customary, those on the scaffold were permitted a final speech. Reports of Raleigh’s final, eloquent words quickly circulated in manuscript and were copied into personal journals.
Listen to co-curator Chris Kyle discuss Sir Walter Raleigh's execution.
- Commonplace book. Manuscript, ca. 1650-1670. Call number: E.a.6 and LUNA Digital Image.
- Newdigate Newsletter. June 5, 1680. Call number: L.c. 943 and Key to the dates of the Newdigate collection of newsletters in the MS. collection in the Folger Library compiled by Giles E. Dawson and LUNA Digital Image.
- Sir Walter Raleigh. Speech before his execution, Manuscript, October 19 [i.e. 29], 1618. Call number: V.b.303; displayed p. 271 and Guide to Collection of Political and Parliamentary Documents.
Experiments in Printed News
The Newspaper Arrives
Journalists at War
Serving the Republican Regime
Censorship and the Free Press
Satire and Scorn
Formatting the News
A World of Wonder
Towards a Modern Newspaper
Elections and Party Politics