The Management of Civil War Newspapers: Auteurs, Entrepreneurs and Editorial Control

By Peacey, Jason | The Seventeenth Century, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

The Management of Civil War Newspapers: Auteurs, Entrepreneurs and Editorial Control


Peacey, Jason, The Seventeenth Century


Writing to Secretary of State John Thurloe from Copenhagen in April 1658, England's diplomatic representative Philip Meadowe noted that

most of the intelligence from these parts which Mr Nedham puts into his Politicus is made by Mons. Van Bunning's secretary, purposely to cloud his highness in his ministers; Mr Nedham presently swallows the gudgeon and what he finds in the publick corranto transplants immediately into his Politicus, not considering that in so doing he serves the design and interest of another.1

Such evidence regarding a leading journalist such as Marchamont Nedham raises profound issues for those concerned with analysing one of the most important pamphlet genres of the early modern period. The 'news revolution' has become a prominent strand in recent scholarship relating to early modern print culture, as historians have identified growing contemporary interest in political affairs, and stressed the importance of the emerging news culture for transforming the political life of the period, and even for helping to create a 'public sphere'.2 Recent historiography has drawn particular attention to the literary qualities and scandalous content of seventeenth century journals, and leading journalists are now well known. This is particularly true of those who proved innovative (Sir John Berkenhead), those who were particularly radical (Gilbert Mabbott), and those whose racy and humorous prose was matched by sophisticated political understanding and conceptual importance (Nedham).3 Where scholarship arguably remains underdeveloped, however, is in relation to 'authorship'. Although there is a growing appreciation of the need to contextualise early modern authors in terms of their personal, financial, and political motivation, the circumstances under which they operated, their relationship with the print industry, and the pressures to which they were subjected, such analysis is rarely undertaken with respect to journalism, despite the fact that scrutiny of early modern newspapers places issues relating to the status and role of authors into far sharper focus.4

The aim of this paper is to establish a conceptual framework for scrutinising the nature of early modern news culture, and an outline of areas which require greater research. Perhaps the most obvious is the relationship between journalism and 'truth', in terms of editorial attitudes towards, and achievement of, factual accuracy. This is clearly an area which has received little scholarly attention, but it is obviously beset by serious historiographical pitfalls, and a more general assessment of journalistic authorship might have greater benefit.5 This piece, therefore, stresses the need to acknowledge the unsure foundations upon which accepted attributions rest, and upon which assumptions that papers reflected the ideas and attitudes of a single editor depend. It also demonstrates the need to devote greater attention to the processes by which newspapers were produced, and to contextualise them in relation to political circumstances, censorship, and governmental manipulation. Stripping away accepted wisdom, and applying detailed knowledge of both contemporary politics and the early modern publishing industry, permits a more sophisticated understanding of the identity of civil war newspapers, the role of their editors, journalists, and authors, and the power of managerial control, and an enhanced appreciation of the extent to which such texts represented the minds of those whom we regard as their authors. It also highlights the degree to which authorial integrity and independence could be undermined, and the extent to which a journalist could combine the characteristics of a 'publisher's hack', a 'politician's pawn', and a 'noble family's retainer', not to mention a principled political commentator.6 It is only by recognising that journalists could be all four things, at different times and to different degrees, that it is possible to achieve an accurate appreciation of authorship, entrepreneurship, and editorial control in the realm of early modern newspapers. …

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