Posting yesterday about The Order of the White Boar being available on Blurb led me to an interesting point about King Richard and his attitudes and achievements.
While setting up the listing on Blurb, I saw a notification saying ‘VAT will be added to the total at the checkout.’ My immediate thought was ‘But there’s no VAT on books.’ Then, ‘Should I reduce the list price so the buyer pays no more than the normal price?’
I checked. There is of course no VAT on books, as there isn’t on children’s clothes, most foods and various other items. So it worried me slightly that potential buyers might be put off by thinking that the final price would be higher than £6.99. It won’t be.
This extra tax levied on bought goods presumably isn’t used to tax books because, as they are educational, as well as entertaining, they are far too important to allow them to be restricted only to better-off people. They should be available to all.
Then I remembered that in King Richard III’s only Parliament (in early 1484) there was a provision designed to ensure that books would be available as widely as possible.
Parliament was passing laws designed to protect English craftspeople and sellers, whose business was at risk from foreign merchants, who often monopolized the sale of imported goods and exported the money they made back to their home country. Parliament insisted that such ‘aliens’ should not be allowed to sell directly to the public, and could only sell their goods to shops in the town in which they lived.
One category of good only was exempted – books. In 1484 there were only a tiny handful of English book printers and sellers in England: William Caxton and maybe three others. The rest were foreigners. If these ‘aliens’ were prevented from selling imported books at markets and country fairs, the growing book trade – in the cheaper books mass-produced by the newly introduced technology of printing – would be crippled.
Books were not exempted from import taxes, but this provision ensured that printed books continued to be brought into the country and could be sold there freely while the native book trade continued to increase in size. Without the imports, native makers and sellers would not have been able to keep up with the growing demand.
Some experts think that King Richard saw the danger to the book trade and was responsible himself for the exemption which ultimately allowed more people to access books and education to become more widely available.
Interestingly, perhaps, the acts of the 1484 Parliament were the first ever to be printed, allowing them also to be more widely available. It was also 20 years before any other acts of Parliament were printed and distributed so soon after the actual session of Parliament (the acts of Henry Tudor’s first Parliaments were not printed until 1491).
Some people say King Richard III was ‘a man of his time’. Others think that perhaps, in some ways, he was ahead of it.
Postscript: When this blog was posted on Twitter several people tweeted about the apparent importance of books in Richard’s life, with research having been done into the books that we know he owned and read (i.e. they were used, not just for show or to display his wealth and professed learning).
In The Order of the White Boar this is an important aspect of his life at Middleham Castle, and when in London/Westminster for Christmas 1482. Matthew is able to browse his extensive library at the former, and spends time with him in the library at the palace. I don’t know whether Richard owned De Cifris by Leon Battista Alberti, but his son Edward finds on his father’s shelves a copy that he says Richard uses to encode letters to his brother, King Edward IV, when he is away at war, and the members of the Order use it to devise their own secret code. Another book of which Richard may have owned a copy – The Death of Arthur by Thomas Malory – also finds its way into Matthew’s possession and is treasured by him. (This is of course a manuscript copy, as Caxton’s famous print version was not published until 1485.)
Sources: http://www.medievalhistories.com/last-stand-on-vellum/, https://fineartamerica.com/featured/william-caxton-1422-1491-english-everett.html and Peter Blayney, The Stationers’ Company and the Printers of London, 1501–1557.