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A Decree of the Star Chamber Concerning Printing July 11, 1637


During the reign of Charles I, the English Star Chamber court that sat at the Palace of Westminster issued a decree on July 11, 1637, making it a general offense to print, import, or sell "any seditious, scismaticall, or offensive Bookes or Pamphlets." The decree was published as a pamphlet from London by Robert Barker, "Printer to the King's most Excellent Maiestie: And by the Assignes of John Bill, entitled A Decree of Starre-Chamber, Concerning Printing, Made the eleuenth day of July last past. 1637.

The decree also forbade anything to be printed which had not first been licensed and entered in the Stationers' Register, a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company of London. The company had been given a royal charter in 1557 to regulate the various professions associated with the publishing industry, including printers, bookbinders, booksellers, and publishers in England. The Register itself allowed publishers to document their right to produce a particular printed work, and constituted an early form of copyright law. The Company's charter gave it the right to seize illicit editions and bar the publication of unlicensed books. The decree also stated that nothing could be reprinted without being re-licensed.  

The decree further stated that in all cases the full signed imprimatur was to be printed; the names of the printer and the author were to be printed as well. The decree also limited the number of master printers to twenty, and specifyied the number of presses, journeymen, and apprentices each could have. The decree also made it an offense to work for an unlicensed printer, or to operate an unlicensed press. 

In 1884 The Grolier Club issued a deluxe limited edition reprint of this decree as their first publication, printed by the De Vinne Press, New York. Eric Holzenberg, Publications of the Grolier Club 1884-2009 IN: For Jean Grolier and His Friends, No. P1,

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