What Was The First Book To Be Printed In English?

The first book to be printed in England was printed in 1473.
The first book to be printed in England was printed in 1473.

A man by the name of William Caxton was the first man ever to print a book in the English language. The book, which was called “The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye,” was first produced in 1473. However, the exact location of where the book was printed is unknown. Some scholars have theorized that it was printed in Ghent or Bruges. While the book was the first book to be printed in English, it certainly was not the first to be printed in England. An edition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales was the first book to be printed in England, also by William Caxton.

William Caxton

Many facts about William Caxton are unclear. However, speculations place his birth in c.1422 and death in c.1491. William may have been born in either Hadlow or Tenterden. The man was a writer, merchant, printer, and diplomat. Despite the lack of details about him, it is known that he was the first man to bring a printing press into England in the 15th century.

After his settlement in Bruges during the mid-15th century, William Caxton began his translation of the book which was written in French. His exhaustion upon the completion of the translation in 1471 was what drove him to learn about printing. William acquired a printing press in 1476 and set up in the Westminster Abbey Church.

A copy of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales was the first book William ever printed with the press. Other titles included Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres, the Golden Legend, Ovid's Metamorphoses (the first ever edition in English), the Book of the Knight in the Tower, and other books.

Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (Recueil des Histoires de Troye)

The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye was a book about French romance that was written by the chaplain to Philip III, who was the Duke of Burgundy. The chaplain’s name was Raoul Lefèvre. Originally, the book was written in French thus necessitating a lengthy translation by William Caxton making. Upon its printing, it became the first ever to be printed in English.

Recuyell, recueil or as it is written in modern French, translates to “collection.” Therefore, the book’s title may be written as “A Collection of the Histories of Troy.” For the most part, Caxton’s translation was in English, but there were a few words he used that were from other European languages. William is understood to have printed the translated work with the help of Johann Veldener and Colard Mansion.

Today, only 18 copies are available, and they are extremely expensive and precious. In 2014, one of the copies sold by the Duke of Northumberland fetched a whopping fee of more than £1 million ($1.4 million USD).

Other Works

Recently, in 2017, another one of his printed works was discovered by the University of Reading. The discovered book was a medieval handbook belonging to a priest. The handbook is believed to have been printed by William between 1476 and 1477. Two pages of the rare book are valued at £100,000 ($140,000 USD).


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