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The Licensing Order of 1643 instituted pre-publication censorship upon Parliamentary England. Milton's Areopagitica was written specifically against this Act.

Contents

Abolition of the Star Chamber

Parliament abolished the Star Chamber in July 1641, which led to the de facto cessation of censorship. (For background information on the earlier censorship measures, see this online edition of Areopagitica.) [1]

The loosening of controls led to an immediate, dramatic rise in publishing. Between 1640 and 1660, at least 300 news publications were produced.

The Licensing Order of 1643

The abolition of the Star Chamber and the severe 1637 Star Chamber Decree, however, did not indicate Parliament's intention to permit freedom of speech and of the press; rather it indicated a desire on the part of Parliament to replace the Royal censorship machinery with its own.

Motivated by a desire to eliminate chaos and piracy in the printing industry, protect parliamentary activities and proceedings from its opponents, suppress royalist propaganda and check the widening currency of various sects’ radical ideas, Parliament instituted a new state-controlled censoring apparatus in the Licensing Order of 16 June 1643.

The Licensing Order reintroduced almost all of the stringent censorship machinery of the 1637 Star Chamber Decree including:

  • pre-publication licensing
  • registration of all printing materials with the names of author, printer and publisher in the Register at Stationers’ Hall
  • search, seizure and destruction of any books offensive to the government
  • arrest and imprisonment of any offensive writers, printers and publishers.

The Stationers’ Company was given the responsibility of acting as censor, in return for a monopoly of the printing trade. [2]

Milton's Areopagitica

In protest, English poet and political writer, John Milton published the Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing.

Censorship during the Restoration

After the Restoration of the monarchy in the 1660s, even tighter controls were imposed on the press. A single individual was given the authority to publish an official newspaper along with the responsibility of serving as censor for all other publications.

1694: the Licensing Order lapses

With the Glorious Revolution of 1688, William and Mary were invited to ascend the throne on the condition that they agree to the terms spelled out in the Declaration of Rights. This came to be understood as part of the British "constitution" that American patriots cited as the source of their own freedoms as "Englishmen."

The Licensing Order was allowed to lapse in 1694. Although most accounts stipulate that "the Licensing act expired in 1695," the "expiration" was not the result of a simple lapse of attention on the part of the government. Instead, the freedoms established by the Declaration of Rights created a more open society, and an explosion of print was the result. In England, the emergence of publications like the Tatler and the Spectator are given credit for creating a 'bourgeois public sphere' that allowed for a free exchange of ideas and information. In America, the end of the Licensing Act also sparked the creation of new publications and set the stage for the battle of words that would lead to the American Revolution in the second half of the eighteenth century.

See also

References

For more information, see http://www.assumption.edu/ahc/1770s/ppressfree.html.

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