Skip to main content

John Foxe, Actes & monuments of these latter and perillous dayes (London: John Day, 1563)

A popular success during the author’s lifetime, and the most popular book in English puritan households after the Bible, John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (known almost immediately and universally as the 'Book of Martyrs') had a colossal impact on English Protestantism for the next two centuries, shaping attitudes to Catholicism.

Thomas Geminus, Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio (London, 1559)

Born in Belgium, Thomas Gemini came to London to work as an engraver, instrument maker and printer. His chief work was the Compendiosa, an illustrated work on anatomy which was a direct plagiarism of Andreas Vesalius's two great works on anatomy De fabrica humani corporis libri septem and Suorum de humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome, printed in 1543.

Hector Boece, Hystory and croniklis of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1540?)

Whilst a standard form of English had developed in England from the 14th century, based on the dialects of London and the South East Midlands, in Scotland a related language had displaced Gaelic as the language of the elite. This Scottis (Scots) was based upon northern Anglian dialects spoken in those regions that once formed the kingdom of Northumbria. As can be seen in this printing from the 16th century, spelling and vocabulary differed noticeably from standard English.

Hernan Cortes, De insulis nuper inventis Ferdinandi Cortesii ad Carolum V Rom. Imperatorem narrationes (Koln: Melchior von Neuss, 1532).

This text contains the second and third letters of five sent by Cortes to the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Charles V. These provide an account of his conquest of Mexico, and were written as a justification for his actions as de facto governor of Mexico. However these letters could not bridge the distance to the imperial court, and this enabled his political enemies to weaken his position.

Ptolemy's Geographia (Lyon, 1541).

A selection of illustrations from Michael Servetus's (1511?-1553) second edition of Ptolemy's work on geography. This guide to geography, originally written in the 2nd century A.D., became the standard work until the 16th century, and was still having an influence in the 18th century, in spite of its inaccuracies. To some degree later editors augmented and corrected their versions of his text.

The Bible in Icelandic (Holar: Jon Jonsson, 1584).

The first complete printed Bible in Icelandic. These Bibles were more popularly known as Gudbrands Biblia after their translator and editor Gudbrandur Thorlaksson, Bishop of Holar (1571-1627). King Frederick II of Denmark, who helped pay the costs of publication, ordered that every church in Iceland should purchase a copy, and some were given away to the very poor.

Expeditionis Hispanorum in Angliam vera descriptio, Anno D. MDLXXXVIII (London, 1590).

In 1588 King Philip II of Spain sent a great fleet (Armada) to invade England which was defeated by the English fleet and the English weather. Soon after, this set of ten hand-coloured charts was engraved and published showing the operations of the English and Spanish fleets off the south coast of England, with a final chart of Great Britain and Ireland showing the course of the Spanish fleet after its defeat.

The opening of Genesis from the Coverdale Bible (1535) and Matthew's Bible (1537)

The first printings of the English Bible were rather cloak and dagger affairs. All of the first editions were printed abroad at unspecified locations. This reflects the power of the Catholic Church in England in the early 16th century, and the desire of the younger Henry VIII to promote himself as amongst the most pious and Christian princes of the day. The Church recognised only the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible and viewed any attempt at translation into a vernacular as heretical.

Tacuini sanitatis (Strasbourg: Johann Schott, 1531).

An illustrated Latin translation of the Taqwim al-Sihhah (The maintenance of health), originally written by the eleventh-century Iraqi physician Ibn Butlan (died ca. 1038). This work, which is tabular in form, treats matters of hygiene, dietetics and exercise. It emphasises the benefits of daily attention to personal physical and mental well-being. Ibn Butlan came from the Christian community and died as a monk in Antioch.

Details from a chronology of the papacy from Martin Luther's Works (Jena, 1564-70)

When Martin Luther pasted his Ninety-five theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg Castle in 1517, he initiated the Protestant Reformation. The impact of his writings was amplified by the fact that many were printed, and therefore reached a much broader readership, particularly when translated into German. The edition of his works pictured here dates to 18 years after his death, and shows some of the inventive ways in which this new medium was already being used.

Subscribe to