Augustine Mathewes, Printer (& Rascal)

This month’s post reprints a short preliminary chapter from HM’s recent publication, Labour Vertue Glorie. It’s a biographical sketch of Augustine Mathewes - aka Mathews, Matthews, & A.M. - the man who printed George Wither's A Collection of Emblemes (1635). I won’t be posting any other chapters, and have selected this one simply because it should be of general appeal to anyone interested in printing. Mathewes' printing in A Collection is not an example of the best work being done at the time, not even for England. It’s workmanlike. But the amount of setting and printing involved, with the conditions and equipment of the day (how did anyone see anything?), and his productivity make me feel feeble & lazy. But my printing is better.

The device included on the title page of Labour Vertue Glorie was adapted/appropriated from Mathewes’ own, as it appears on the title pages in A Collection’s four books (i.e. parts). The references included here have been renumbered from what they are in the book, just for simplicity.

AUGUSTINE MATHEWES took his freedom as a Stationer in 1615. The first book he entered to the Register, in 1619, was Thomas Decker’s O per se O, or the belman of London. By 1620 he was working in partnership with John White, who had inherited the printing house of his father, William. In 1624 Mathewes assumed control (“farmes his printing house of John White”) in exchange for an annuity.[1] Mathewes’ name made regular appearances in the Register for the next two decades, sometimes for printing unlicensed works (not an entirely unusual occurrence at the time).


Notable books that Mathewes printed include Lady Mary Wroath’s The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania (1621), which featured a frontis engraved by Crispin de Passe’s son, Simon, and is considered the first published prose romance written by an English woman; an edition of The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England (1622) with a title page that mis-attributes it to William Shakespeare; and the second quarto of Othello (1630). Mathewes also published two editions of William Haughton’s comedic play Englishmen for My Money, one in 1626 for John Norton (whose name appears as printer on the title page), and the second in 1631 for himself.[2] The original license lay with William White, and must have come to Mathewes when he assumed the business (and its licenses) from son John.

William White had printed George Wither’s fourth book, The Shepherds Hunting, in 1615; it may have been through his association with White that Wither met Mathewes. The printer’s first recorded work with Wither was in 1622, when he printed Cantica Sacra, the publication that prefaced Wither’s protracted patent dispute with the Stationers’ Company.


Things seem to have started going badly for Mathewes in 1636. In the Registers of the Stationers’ Company is a record of Sir John Lambe, who was then investigating London’s printing industry, referring to Mathewes as a “pauper,” followed by the ambiguous statement “(let them agree who shall be, they have now 3: presses:).” The same record states that Marmaduke Parsons “hath kept matthews printing house.”[3]

In 1637 a Star Chamber decree tightening controls on access to presses and printing of all kinds was passed, in part a response to Puritans’ challenges to the Church of England. One of the most notorious Puritan pamphlets inciting the decree was The Holy Table, written and published anonymously by John Williams, bishop of Lincoln. “Williams in essence challenged the policy of calling the holy table an altar and of insisting that parish communion tables must be placed altarwise, at the end of chancels…The revised Short-Title Catalogue lists seven separate editions of this work, all dated 1637, but none of them provide information about stationers in the imprint.”[4] One of the stationers was Mathewes, who was caught printing the tract.

A record in the Stationers’ Register dated July of that year includes a letter written by John Lambe, the Dean of the Arches, addressed to himself. He states that “the forbidden book which must forever be associated with this Decree was The Holy Table,” and lists those “worthy to be authorized printers under the increasing durance to which the Press was now to be subjected.” The letter includes a brief statement about Mathewes: “he was taken reprinting of ye Holy Table. Marmaduke Parsons hath long had his presse and priu[v]ledg[e] made over to him and is most fitt to be in his Roome.”[5] Mathewes was out and Parsons was in. 


States Papers Domestic for July, 1637 includes two entries mentioning Mathewes. The first summarizes Lambe’s letter of printers “worthy to be authorized.” The second summarizes Mathewes’ plea for clemency to the commissioners overseeing the printers of London, for his transgression with The Holy Table: “Understanding he has committed a great error, he prays the commissioners to be a means with Archbishop Laud that he may be admitted as a master printer.”[6]

His plea was unsuccessful, and Mathewes seems to have been made an example for the new decree: his name disappears from the Stationers’ Register for the next fifteen years. In 1653 he entered a copy of William Johnson’s book Vocabula Chimica, then oblivion.

1. Arber, E., ed. A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554-1640 A.D. vol 3. Privately printed, 1876. 700
2. Baugh, A. C. Introduction to Wm. Haughton’s Englishmen For My Money, or A Woman Will Have Her Will. Privately printed, 1917. 92
3. Arber. Registers of the Company of Stationers, vol 3. 704
4. Towers, S. M. Control of Religious Printing in Early Stuart England. Boydell Press, 2003. 241
5. Arber. Registers of the Company of Stationers, vol. 4. 1877. 528
6. Bruce, J., ed. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Charles I, 1637. Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer, 1868. 344 

Here's a P.S. found after publication of LVG...