September 1649: An Act against Unlicensed and Scandalous Books and Pamphlets, and for better regulating of Printing.

Pages 245-254

Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1911.

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September 1649

[20 September, 1649.]

The mischiefs arising from weekly Pamphlets.; Former Laws against spreaders of false news to be put to execution

Whereas divers Scandalous, Seditious and Libellous Pamphlets, Papers and Books are daily contrived, printed, vended and dispersed, with officious care and industry by the Malignant party at home and abroad, for the better compassing of their wicked ends, the subversion of the Parliament and present Government, which they well know cannot with more ease be attempted, then by lies and false suggestions, cunningly insinuated and spread amongst the people, and by malicious misrepresentation of things acted and done, to take off and divide their affections from that just Authority which is set over them for their good and safety, and to bring a low and mean esteem upon the persons, and a suspition and hatred upon the courses and intentions of the faithful Members of the Peoples Representative in Parliament, and of other Ministers of State, serving the Commonwealth in their several Subordinations, especially such who are most constant and conscientious in discharge of their Trust, and are therefore become the utmost object of their wretched spleen and malice. And whereas a great occasion of these mischiefs and scandals, and dis-satisfaction of many, hath been as well the ignorance and assumed boldness of the weekly Pamphleteers, without leave or due information, taking upon them to publish, and at pleasure to censure the Proceedings of Parliament and Army, and other Affairs of State, as also the irregularity and licentiousness of Printing, the Art whereof in this Commonwealth, and in all Forein parts, hath been and ought to be restrained from too arbitrary and general an exercise: To prevent the many mischiefs inevitably following thereupon, the Parliament of England duly considering the premises, and willing to apply fit remedy herein, Do Enact and Ordain, and be it by the authority aforesaid Enacted and Ordained, That the Laws made formerly, and at this present Parliament, now in force for punishment of devisers and spreaders of false and seditious news, lyes and rumors, by writing, printing, speaking or otherwise, shall be put in due and diligent execution, according to the tenor of the same Acts.

The penalty for making, printing or uttering scandalous Books, Papers on Pictures. The Author Ten Pound. Printer Five Pound.; Bookseller Two pound.

And for further remedy, Be it Enacted and Ordained, That no person or persons whatsoever, shall presume to Make, Write, Print, Publish, Sell or Utter, or cause to be Made, Printed or Uttered, any Scandalous or Libellous Books, Pamphlets, Papers or Pictures whatsoever, upon the Penalties following; that is to say, The Author of such Books, Pictures or Papers, shall forfeit Ten pounds or be Imprisoned in the Common Gaol of the County or Liberty where the Offence is committed, or the Offender shall be found, untill he shall pay the same, so that the Imprisonment exceed not forty days; The Printer to forfeit and pay Five pounds, and suffer the like Imprisonment, until he pay the same, the said Imprisonment not exceeding Twenty days, and likewise to have his Press and Implements of Imprinting seized and broken in pieces; the Bookseller and Stationer to forfeit and pay Forty shillings, or be imprisoned in like maner, until he pay the same, the Imprisonment not exceeding ten days.

Buyer to forfeit One pound, if he conceal such Book bought.

And be it further Enacted. That if any person happen to buy any such seditious, scandalous or libellous Pamphlets or Papers, and shall not within Four and twenty hours after knowledge thereof, bring them to the Lord Mayor of London (if the buyers resiance be there) or to some other Justice of the Peace within the County, City or Liberty where such buyers shall then happen to be, to be sent up and disposed of, as by this Act is afterwards mentioned, and give notice likewise of the party or parties of whom he or they had or bought the same, shall forfeit for every such omission, the sum of Twenty shillings for every such concealed Paper, Pamphlet or Book, to be disposed of as is herein after mentioned.

All Books and Pamphlets to be licensed.

And for the prevention of false, imperfect and impertinent Relations of Parliamentary Proceedings, and other such Occurrences and News, the truth whereof may be fit to be known and published, for the satisfaction of all the good people of this Commonwealth therein interessed, and of all the well-affected thereto, in the clear Information of the state of Affairs; Be it Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That no person whatsoever shall compose, write, print, publish, sell or utter, or cause to be made, written, printed or uttered, any Book or Pamphlet, Treatise, sheet or sheets of News whatsoever, unless Licensed (as is hereafter mentioned) upon the like Penalty as upon the Maker, Writer, Printer, Bookseller and Stationer respectively, of scandalous Books and Pamphlets, both for Fine and Imprisonment, is herein before limited and appointed.

Reference to an Ordinance made in Sept. 164[7].

And be it further Enacted and Ordained, That the Offender aforesaid shall be discovered, the Offences heard and examined, and the Penalties levyed and disposed of in such sort, maner and form as is limited, directed and expressed in an Ordinance of Parliament, made in September, One thousand six hundred forty and seven, Against Unlicensed Pamphlets, and for the Regulating of Printing. Provided, That so much of the said Ordinance as specifies the imposition of Penalties upon such Offenders as are beforementioned, in respect that higher Penalties are in stead thereof herein limited and designed, shall stand from henceforth repealed, and be of no further effect.

Former Licenses for printing News-Books, made null.; Clerk of the Parliament to license News-books.

And be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all former Licenses granted by Authority of both or either House of Parliament to any person or persons, for Printing any Diurnal, News or Occurrences, shall be from henceforth void and of no further effect; And that no Book, Pamphlet, sheet or sheets of News or Occurrences whatsoever, shall henceforth be printed, bound, stitched or put to sale by any person or persons whatsoever, unless the same be first approved of and Licensed under the hand of the Clerk of the Parliament, or of such person as shall be authorized by the Council of State for the time being; or (for so much as may concern the Affairs of the Army) under the hand of the Secretary of the Army for the time being, the same to be entred in their several Registers, to be by them kept for that purpose; and also in the Register-book of the Company of Stationers, according to ancient custom; and the Printer thereof to put his hand thereto.

Treasonable matter lyable to further punishment.

Provided always, and it is hereby Declared, That the penalties in this Act expressed, shall not extend to quit any person or persons, that shall make, write, print, publish, sell or utter, or cause to be made, written, published, sold or uttered, any Book, Pamphlet, Treatise, Ballad, Libel, sheet or sheets of News, that shall contain any seditious, treasonable or blasphemous Matter, but the offenders in such kinde shall be lyable to such further penalties, as by the Laws of the Land are provided, or by Authority of Parliament shall be judged, according to the quality of such offences.

Master & Warden &c. to search for unallowed Presses and Books.

And be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That the Master and Wardens of the Company of Stationers London, assisted with such persons as the Council of State shall for that purpose nominate or approve, shall and may make diligent search in all places where they shall think meet, for all unallowed Printingpresses, and all Presses any way imployed in the printing of any such Unlicensed Books as aforesaid; or of any Malignant, Seditious or Scandalous Books, Pictures or Papers, and to seize and carry away such Printing-presses and Letters, together with the Nut, Spindle, and other Materials of every such Irregular Printer, which they finde so mis-imployed, unto the Common Hall of the said Company, there to be defaced and made unserviceable, according to ancient Custom; and likewise to make diligent Search in all suspected Printing-houses, Ware-houses, Shops and other places, for such Unlicensed and Scandalous Books, Papers, Pamphlets, and all other such Books not entred, nor signed with the Printers name, and place of resiancy, being printed or reprinted by such as have no lawful interest in them, and the same to seize; and likewise to apprehend all Authors, Printers, and other persons whatsoever, imployed in compiling, printing, stitching, binding, publishing and dispersing of the said scandalous and unwarrantable Papers and Books, and all those who shall resist the said parties in searching after them; and to bring the Offenders, and what they shall have so seized, before such Magistrate or other Officers as are appointed for the execution of this Act, to be by them ordered and disposed of, according to the direction and true meaning of the same Act.

No seditious Books to be sent by Post or Carrier.

And be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That no person or persons whatsoever, shall presume, by the Post, Carriers, or otherwise to convey, send away, or endeavor to disperse any such unlicensed News as aforesaid, or any seditious or scandalous Papers, Pamphlets, Books or Pictures, to any place, or person or persons, upon pain of forfeiture of Forty shillings apiece for every such Book, Pamphlet or Paper, or Imprisonment of the Offender, the same not to exceed forty days; the said Penalty to be inflicted, paid and undergone, the moneys to be disposed of, and such inquiry, searches and seizures touching the same to be made, as in the case of selling unlicensed News is herein before limited and expressed.

No Printing or Rolling-press to be used, but in London, and the two Universities.; Exception for York and Finsbury.

And whereas the great numbers of lewd and scandalous Pamphlets and seditious Books, have been chiefly occasioned by the multitude of Printing-houses, and Presses erected in by-places and corners, out of the Eye of Government, contrary to the custom and practice of former times; and in that regard some further provision is held requisite for restraining and regulating that general excess and exercise of the Press, and prevention of the said Enormities, It is therefore further Enacted and Ordained by this present Parliament, and by the Authority thereof, That no Printer, nor any person or persons whatsoever, shall from henceforth print, use or imploy any Printing-press, Rolling-press, or any other Instruments for Printing, in any part or place of this Commonwealth, save onely in the City of London and Liberties thereof, and the two Universities (excepting such as shall be particularly Licensed and authorized by special Order of the Council of State) upon pain that all and every person and persons offending contrary hereunto, shall forfeit and pay the sum of Twenty pounds, and shall have all their Printing-presses, Letters and Materials defaced; and be for ever disabled to be a Master Printer, and Owner of a Printing-press: Provided, That this Clause shall not be construed to extend to the Printing-press now used in the City of York, nor to the Printing-press now used in Finsbury, for the Printing of Bibles and Psalms; but that the same shall be in like condition to all purposes, as if this Act had not been had or made.

Printers to enter Bond of 300 l.; Author or Licensers name to be prefixed.

And be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all and every Printer, or other person or persons whatsoever in the said City of London, who now keep Printing-houses, or are Owners of Printing-presses, Rolling-presses, or other Instruments for Printing; as also the Owners of the Printing-press in Finsbury aforesaid, shall before the First day of October, One thousand six hundred forty nine, enter into Bond, with two Sureties, of Three hundred pounds penalty to the Keepers of the Libertie of England by Authority of Parliament, Not to print, nor cause to be printed, any seditious, scandalous or treasonable Pamphlet, Paper, Book or Picture, dishonorable to, or against the State and Government; nor any Pamphlet, Paper or Book of News, not Licensed as aforesaid, and entred in the Register Book of the said Company, nor suffer their Printing-presses, or other Instruments for Printing, to be used for any such unlawful purpose as aforesaid; and that he and they shall also to every Book, Pamphlet, Paper or Picture he or they shall imprint, in the Title-page of each Book prefix the Authors name, with his quality and place of Residence, or at least the Licensers names where Licenses are required, and his own Name and place of residence at length, upon pain to forfeit the sum of Ten pounds for every wilful failing, and to have all his or their Printing materials defaced; and for the second Offence, to be disabled from any more exercise of his Trade of Printing: And that like caution shall be given by the Owner of the Press at York, to the Keepers of the Liberty of England as aforesaid, and by the Printers within either University, to the said Keepers of the Liberty of England, in like sum, and for like purposes, and upon like penalties for failing, as is herein lastly mentioned, whereof the especial care to see the same performed within the time last before limited, is especially commended to the Lord Major of York, and to the said Vice-Chancellors respectively, of which they are under their Hands and Seals to make Certificate to the Council of State, before the Tenth day of October, One thousand six hundred forty nine.

No house or room to be let to a Printer, without notice given to the Master or Wardens.

And be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That no person or persons whatsoever, shall hereafter set up a Printingpress, Rolling-press, or other Instrument for Printing, nor cast any Printing Letters, before they enter into Bond as aforesaid; nor shall any person or persons demise or let, or being within his or their dispose, suffer to be held or used any House, Vault, Cellar, or other Room whatsoever, to or by any person or persons for a Printing-house, or place to print in, unless he or they so demising and suffering, shall first give notice to the Master or Wardens of the Stationers for the time being, of such demises or suffering to work or print there, upon pain of forfeiture of Five pounds for every such Offence; of which intimation the Master and Wardens are hereby enjoyned to make an Entry in their Register Book, upon like pain of forfeiture of Five pounds for every omission thereof.

Nor any implements to be made, Press imported, or Letters founded without such notice.

And be it further Enacted, That no Joyner, or Carpenter or other person, shall make any Printing-press or Rolling press, nor any Smith shall forge any Iron-work for a Printing-press, nor any Founder cast any Printing-letters for any person or persons whatsoever; neither shall any person or persons import, or cause to be imported or brought into this Commonwealth from any parts beyond the seas, any Printing-press or Presses, or any Letters founded or cast, nor shall any person or persons buy any such Presses or Letters for Printing, unless he or they respectively shall first acquaint the Master and the Wardens of the aforesaid Company for the time being, for whom the same Press, Iron-work or Letters are to be made, forged, imported, bought or cast, upon pain of forfeiture of Five pounds for every such Offence; of which intimation the Master and Wardens are to make Entry in their said Register, upon like Penalty of forfeiture of Five pounds for every omission thereof.

Importers of seditious Books to forfeit 5. 1.; No imported Books to be landed, but at London.; To be viewed by the Master and Wardens.

And be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That no person or persons whatsoever shall Import any scandalous or seditious Books, Pamphlets or Papers, upon pain of forfeiture of Five pounds for every such Book, Pamphlet or Paper; nor shall any person or persons land any Imported Books at any Port or place of this Commonwealth, save onely at the Port of London; And that no Dry-fats, Packs, Maunds, Chests or Fardels of Books, be permitted by any Officers of the Customs or Excise to be opened or conveyed away, before notice given, and the same be viewed by the said Master and Wardens of the said Company, or such as they shall appoint, upon pain of forfeiture of Five pounds for every such Offence, so as the Master and Wardens or their Deputies, do make the said view within forty eight hours after such notice, which they are hereby required to make, upon pain of forfeiture of Five pounds for every omission of such view as aforesaid

No Bibles, Psalms, &c. to be imported.

And it is also Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That for the encouragement of all Regular Printers, and support of the said Manufactures in this Commonwealth, That no person or persons whatsoever, shall from henceforth Import, or bring in, or cause to be Imported or brought into this Commonwealth, from any part whatsoever, any English Bibles, Psalms, or any Book or Books, or part of Book or Books, formerly printed in this Commonwealth, nor shall binde, stitch, or put to sale any such Book or Books, upon pain of loss and forfeiture of the same, and of Ten shillings for every Book so imported, bound, stitched, or put to sale.

Books entred not to be printed by others.; The forfeiture

And be it further Enacted, That no person or persons whatsoever in this Commonwealth, shall hereafter print or reprint any Book, Books, or part of any Book or Books, Legally granted to the said Company of Stationers, for their relief or maintenance of their poor, without the license and consent of the Master, Wardens and Assistants of the said Company; nor any Book or Books, or part of Book or Books, now entred in the Register Book of the said Company, or which hereafter shall be duly entred in the said Register Book, for any particular member of the said Company, without the like consent of the owner or owners thereof; nor counterfeit the Name, Mark or Title of any Book or Books, belonging to the said Company, or particular members; nor shall any person or persons binde, stitch, or put to sale any such Book or Books, upon pain of forfeiture of the same, and of Six shillings and eight pence for every Book printed or stitched, bound or put to sale contrary hereunto.

Warrants to search Packs and Packets.

And for the better discovery of Malignant Booksellers, and others who make a trade of vending, dispersing and sending to their Customers and Correspondents in the Countrey in Packets, by the Post, Carriers, and such like persons, divers unlicensed and other scandalous and seditious Books, Papers, Pamphlets and Pictures, to the great abuse of the Parliament, and prejudice of the People, Be it Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That any two Magistrates intrusted with the Execution of this Act respectively, shall have power upon any just occasion of suspition, to grant Warrants under their hands and seals, to some sufficient persons, to search Packs and Packets, and seize and bring away such Books, Papers and Pamphlets, to those who granted the said Warrants, to the end the Penalties may be levied upon the offenders, and disposed of according to the tenor and true meaning of this present Act.

All unlicensed Books seized, to be delivered to the Secretary of the Council.

And be it Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all unlicensed Books and Pamphlets of News, and all seditious, scandalous and libellous Books, Pamphlets, Pictures and Papers, to be seized by vertue of this Act, shall after the condemnation of the offender with whom they are taken, or to whom they belong (if the offender may be discovered and known) be brought, conveyed or sent, and safely delivered to the Secretary to the Council of State, to be disposed of to the fire, or otherwise, as that Council shall direct, and be in the mean time safely preserved by the Officers or persons who seize the same, or by those to whom they make delivery thereof, and give account of their imployment, according to the true meaning of this Act.

Hawkers and Balladsingers to be sent to the House of Correction.; Lord Major to see the Laws against Hawkers put in execution.; Constables power.

And whereas divers vagrant persons, of idle conversations, having forsaken their usual Callings, and accustomed themselves after the maner of Hawkers, to sell and cry about the streets, and in other places, Pamphlets, and other Books, and under colour thereof are found to disperse all sorts of dangerous Libels, to the intolerable dishonor of the Parliament, and the whole Government of this Commonwealth; Be it Ordained and Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That no such Hawkers shall be any more permitted; and that they and all Ballad-singers, wheresoever they are or may be apprehended, shall forfeit all Books, Pamphlets, Ballads and Papers by them exposed to sale, and shall, by such as shall by vertue of this Act seize upon them, be conveyed and carryed to the House of Correction, there to be whipt as common Rogues, and then dismissed; the Keepers of which House are hereby enjoyned to receive such Prisoners, and see this penalty executed, without expecting further Warrant; and where no such House of Correction is, those who seize upon such Offenders, shall deliver them over to the Constable of the Parish or Liberty where they are apprehended, who is forthwith to cause the Offenders to be whipt as common Rogues, upon pain of forfeiture of forty shillings, to be paid by such Keepers of the House of Correction or Constable, omitting, neglecting or refusing to do their duty herein: The said Offences in this clause mentioned to be examined, and the penalties levyed, and to be disposed or in such sort and maner, as concerning the penalties of such as vend unlicensed and scandalous Books and Pamphlets, is herein before directed and expressed: And the Lord Major and Common Council of the City of London, are hereby required to take care that the good Laws of their City against Hawkers, and that this present Act against them and other offenders, be put in full and speedy execution within their City and Liberties thereof, as they tender the Honor thereof, and of Government: And all Constables, Headboroughs, and other Officers and Ministers, are hereby enjoyned to seize upon such last mentioned Offenders wheresoever they may be found, and to cause the penalties of the Law to be upon them executed, upon the penalty last before mentioned.

Penalties in money, [how] to be disposed.; Justices to hear and determine offences against this Act.; All Officers civil and military to be aiding.

And be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That whatsoever penalties in money shall be levyed and received by the pains, industry and prosecution of the Company of Stationers (whose vigilancy and care herein is especially required) shall be disposed of as followeth; viz. After satisfaction of their charges in inquiry and prosecution, the one moyety of the residue shall be by them received and reserved for the use of the poor of their Company; and the other moyety, or one half, for the use of the Commonwealth, to be yearly by them answered, and paid into the receipt of the publique Exchequer: And the Justices of the UpperBench, Justices of Oyer and Terminer, within the limits of their Commission, Justices of Assize in their several Circuits, Justices of Gaol-Delivery, and Justices of Peace, as well within the Liberties as without, within the limits of their several Commissions in their general Sessions, or other Sessions, which they or any two or more of them (whereof one of them to be of the Quorum) may and shall appoint at their pleasure, where and when need shall require, shall by vertue hereof have full power and authority, and are hereby strictly enjoyned to enquire, hear and determine all and every the offences aforesaid, and to give in charge the Presentment of the same; and they and all other Officers and Ministers concerned, are hereby enjoyned and required to be careful and diligent in the discharge of their duty in the premises, according to the tenor and direction of this present Act: And all Officers Civil and Military, Soldiers, and other well-affected people, are hereby specially enjoyned to the aiding and assisting to the execution of this Act, and to seize upon the persons of all such as shall presume to rescue, or actually endeavor to rescue from apprehension or punishment the Offenders against this Act, to cause such Countenancers and Disturbers to be immediately brought before some Justice of the Peace, who is to binde them by Recognizance with good Sureties to the Good Behavior, and to appear at the next Sessions for the Peace, there to be Indicted, Fined and further dealt with, according to Law, and as the quality of such High Contempts may deserve: And such said Offenders as are not able to finde Sureties, are to be caused to be set in the Stocks near to the place where the offence was committed, and to be Imprisoned there for the space of four hours.

Council of State to remove Obstructions, &c.

And because the life of all good Laws is the due execution thereof, and that the careful Observance of this Act, and a strict enquiry into, and punishment of Offenders against the same, will be of especial concernment for the Peace and Safety of this Commonwealth, Be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That the Council of State appointed by the Parliament, shall hereby have power and authority to enquire into, and from time to time to receive an accompt of all wilful defaults and contempts of Officers or others, who neglecting or refusing to do their Duties, shall thereby obstruct the Remedies provided by this Act; and are hereby enjoyned and required, by all good ways and means, to remove such obstructions, and out of the penalties, or otherwise, to reward prosecutors or discovers of Offenders, and to cause this Act to be put in full and effectual execution.

General issue to be pleaded.

And be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That in and upon any Action, Plaint or Suit to be brought against any Officer, or person or persons, for any thing by them acted or done by force of this present Act, every such Officer and person shall and may plead the General Issue thereto, and give this Act, and the whole special matter in evidence; and if the Verdict pass against the Plaintiff or Plaintiffs, or the Plaintiff or Plaintiffs become non-suit, or suffer any Discontinuance thereof, That then the Defendant and Defendants shall recover his and their double Costs for their wrongful vexation in defence of the said Action or Suit, for which he and they shall have like remedy, as in other cases where Costs by the Laws of this Commonwealth are given to the Defendants.

Offenders must be prosecuted within six moneths.

Provided always, and be it Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That no person or persons shall be molested or impeached for any the Offences mentioned in this Act, unless he or they be thereof accused within six Moneths after his or their Offence so committed or done,

Continuance of this Act.

Provided also, That this Act be in force, and to have continuance until the Nine and twentieth day of September, which shall be in the year of our Lord, One thousand six hundred fifty and one, and no longer.