Political Communication and Political Culture in England, 1558-1688

By Barbara J. Shapiro | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
News, Information
and Political Controversy

This chapter focuses on news and other forms of information and printed polemic with the aim of showing the extent to which the English were informed about personalities and events of political significance and about major political controversies. News, and especially news of political events, was eagerly sought. The query “What news?” was a common greeting, used by “clothiers, hose carriers and wain men” as well as more elite members of society.1 Throughout the period contemporaries commented on the insatiable interest in news, and preachers often complained that news distracted from church attendance. This voracious interest was characterized as “an itch our natures to delight in newness and varietie.”2

London played a key role in the printing, circulation and distribution of news. The areas around the Royal Exchange and St. Paul’s Walk are often mentioned by contemporaries as bustling centers for the exchange and distribution of news. News quickly was transmitted from these centers to the whole of metropolitan London by word of mouth and by hawkers selling news pamphlets, broadsides and ballads, as well as by watermen who ferried passengers across the Thames. Peddlers, chapmen and travelers, and later the post, brought printed news to the countryside. Individuals sent news in personal letters and sent newsletters and printed publications to friends and relatives. Inns and alehouses and other places where travelers stopped also were sources of news.3 Although news did not spread out evenly across the country or across the social classes and professions, the dissemination of news, some accurate some not, became part of early modern life. News and rumor were difficult to distinguish. Wild rumors, especially those stemming from fear of Roman Catholic plots and uprisings, were endemic.

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