When Was the First Newspaper Published in Britain? | History Hit

When Was the First Newspaper Published in Britain?

Scan of a page of the The London Gazette, April 8 to April 11, 1809, announcing grant on April 4 of Royal Licence giving authority for Jerome De Salis, and his descendants, to assume & use title of Count in UK.

The London Gazette claims to be England’s oldest newspaper. Its first edition was published on 7 November 1665 under the name The Oxford Gazette.

The London Gazette is not a conventional newspaper covering general news: rather, it is the official journal of the British government and is published on behalf of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, making it subject to Crown copyright. When it was first published, it was also sent by post to subscribers, rather than being purchasable at a news stand.

This has led to several other newspapers claiming that they were the first to be published in Britain – the earliest being The Stamford Mercury, which began publishing in 1712.

A politically turbulent period

The Gazette’s appearance came during a particularly turbulent time for Britain. The English Civil War, which had ended in 1651, was still well within memory. The war had been a scourge on the English population, with some 4% perishing in the conflict: a similar loss as a proportion of the populace was not seen until World War One.

It was also notable for being a propaganda war, with both sides utilising innovations in printing to support their causes and denounce their enemy.

King Charles II in his garter robes by John Michael Wright, c. 1660-5.

Image Credit: Public Domain

The Restoration, as the period in the immediate aftermath of Charles II’s return to the throne was known, was one of glamour and excess, but also political instability. There had been very recent attempts to rekindle the Civil War and other armed insurrections and Charles’ position was far from secure.

Meanwhile, the English press was underdeveloped, and accurate news was difficult to come by. The term ‘fake news’ might be a 21st century one, but lack of impartial, comprehensive news covering was standard for much of history. Instead, information was often delivered late and was frequently coloured by political bias.

Stuarts and Restoration London historian Rebecca Rideal answers some of the key questions about the Restoration and the rule of Charles II. Rebecca is the author of 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire.
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Relocation of the crown to Oxford

In 1665, plague struck London, forcing King Charles II and his court to relocate to Oxford. Fear of infection made courtiers afraid to handle the pamphlets produced in London but they remained thirsty for news. Charles therefore ordered that a journal be printed in Oxford. The new journal would provide an authoritative alternative to the London press. The Gazette’s strap line has always been ‘Published by Authority.’

The diarist Samuel Pepys remarked of the newspaper ‘full of newes, and no folly in it’. When Charles returned to London the Gazette moved too.

A London Gazette reprint its front page after the Great First of London 3-10 September 1666.

Image Credit: Public Domain

The Gazette has covered countless monumental events in its 350-year history.

Issue 85 provided a faithful account of the Great Fire of London, in which the paper’s own printing facilities were destroyed. Issue 15,858 included Admiral Collingwood’s dispatch from Trafalgar mourning the death of Admiral Nelson, ‘…who fell in the Action of the Twenty-first, in the Arms of Victory, covered with glory.’

From the death of Queen Victoria to dispatches from the front lines during World War One, The London Gazette has printed it all. The term ‘gazetted’ refers to either armed forces promotions being publicly published in The London Gazette, or having official notice of bankruptcy published too.

Today it continues to print every weekday, publishing bills passed in Parliament, appointments to public office, military awards and other official business. It is also available online: every copy has now been digitised.

Sarah Roller