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Licensing Act

Licensing Act, 1662. A feature of the Commonwealth period was the unprecedented proliferation of pamphlets and broadsheets. In 1662 Charles II's government moved to curb them, 13 & 14 Car. II c. 33 condemning ‘the general licentiousness of the late times’, and the ‘heretical, schismatical, blasphemous, seditious and treasonable books, pamphlets and papers’ which had appeared. Henceforth, publications were to carry the name of printer and author and were to be submitted for approval to a licenser. From 1663 until the Glorious Revolution, the office was held by Sir Roger L'Estrange, who used his powers in favour of the Tory/royalist cause. After 1688 the matter became even more contentious. A Whig licenser, Fraser, was forced to resign: a Tory licenser, Bohun, was dismissed. In 1693 the Act was continued for two years only and in 1695 it was not renewed at all. Macaulay remarked that while the decision owed more to practical objections than to high principle it did ‘more for liberty and civilization than the Great Charter or the Bill of Rights’. That is excessive, since many controls continued and Parliament refused to allow the publication of its debates until the 1770s. Nevertheless, within a decade of the Act lapsing, the London and provincial newspaper press had established itself.

J. A. Cannon

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