Biography of William Caxton

Portrait of William Caxton

William Caxton was a fifteenth century pioneer of printing.

When and Where was he Born?

1422, Kent, England.

Family Background:

Early biographical information is difficult to find and can only be gleaned from the frontispieces of his work. It is likely however that William Caxton came from a minor merchant family.


It is likely that his parents gave him a basic education. Apprenticed to Robert Large a rich mercer.

Timeline of William Caxton:

1438: Caxton takes up apprenticeship with Robert Large a rich mercer who would later become the Lord Mayor of London.

1441: After Large’s death he moves to Bruges in Belgium and built up a successful textile business.

1453: William Caxton visits England to be admitted to the Mercers Company.

1463: He is appointed Acting Governor of the Merchant Adventurers in the Low Countries.

1464: Caxton fails to renew a wool treaty with Philip Duke of Burgundy.

1468: This time he successfully negotiated a wool treaty with Charles the Bold, successor to Philip. He is hired to be an advisor by Charles to his wife Margaret who was the sister of King Edward the Fourth of England. He is encouraged by the Princess to take up his work again on the translation of Raoul le Fevre’s “The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye” a popular French romance. He goes to Cologne for a year to learn the art of printing and then sets off back to Brussels to set up his own printing press.

1474: He prints his first book in English “The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye” in greater quantities at the press of Colard Mansion. He prints “The Game and Play of the Chesse” which was the first printed book in English to contain woodcuts.

1476: Caxton sets up printing press in Westminster under the sign of the Red Pale.

1477: His first printed work in Westminster is “Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres”, which was the beginning of a stream of ninety-six books in total. He makes the first printing of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”.

1484: First printing of Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde”.

1485: First printing of “L’Morte D’Arthur” by Thomas Malory.

1490: He begins using a more open typeface originally devised by the parisian printer Antoine Verard which was based on the French lettre batarde.

When and Where did he Die?

1491, London, England. Cause unknown.

Age at Death:




Site of Grave:

St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster , London, England.

St Margaret's Church, Westminster
St Margaret’s Church, Westminster (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


British Library, St. Pancras.