Half-hearted Censorship

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum (Augsburg: Johann Schonsperger, 1497).
Leeds Central Library: SRQ 909/SCH 22, f. 225v.

The Nuremberg Chronicles Half-Hearted Censorship

By kind permission of Leeds Central Library and Information Services.

All Our Chronicles

In this copy of the Chronicle, a reader has censored the history of Archbishop Thomas A Becket (1118-1170).  Becket was considered a saint and martyr for defending the rights of the Church against Henry II, and in 16th-century England, contemporaries were quick to draw parallels between Becket’s martyrdom and the execution of Thomas More (1478-1532) at the hands of Henry VIII.   In 1538, Henry ordered the destruction of Becket’s shrine, banned his festival, and demanded that Becket’s name and image was erased from  ‘all the books’.   This reader might have censored the section on Thomas A Becket in compliance with Henry’s decree.  It is the only marginal note in this copy of the Chronicle which suggests anti-Catholic sentiments, and the censorship itself is rather half-hearted.

“A man without money is as a body without soul’ – wrote Thomas Doggett, a trespasser and an adventurer.”

The identified readers of the book were from late 16th_century English gentry or yeomen families, including the Chaffyns of Seals in Wiltshire, James Langrake, and Thomas Doggett, and they made few annotations. Their ownership marks included several notes in English, a psalm, a complaint by Thomas Doggett about being kept for 12 days at someone’s ‘porter’s lodge’, and finally, a rusty imprint of a key, which probably served as a bookmark. 

The book itself is a so-called ‘pirated’ edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1497), inspired by the commercial potential of the Nuremberg project. It was produced by the shrewd Augsburg printer Johann Schonsperger, who pirated both text and illustrations from the Chronicle in order to create a smaller edition. He had to compromise on the quality of the images however, which were crudely copied from the original. At the same time, Schonsperger’s editions were much cheaper and more affordable for the majority. 


The Nuremberg Chronicle was not a book on devotion, but reflected readers’ personal piety. The Chronicle’s predictions of the Apocalypse made them contemplate the vanity of life, the meaning of death, and their hopes of salvation. The margins of the Chronicle preserve manuscript prayers and pious quotations, as well as records of births and deaths in the readers’ own families.