The reading public

Renaissance book production was quite diverse and reflected prevailing currents of thought, humanism and religious reforms. Religious works predominated (more than half of all books published in the 15th century); liturgical texts, the Scriptures, writings by the Church Fathers, and theology were produced alongside devotional tomes such as books of hours, a Parisian speciality. Legal publications were also very popular. Those practicing law had access to major legal works such as the Corpus juris civilis and Corpus juris canonici, as well as manuals, coutumiers and administrative proceedings.

Their importance to Renaissance intellectual and cultural history notwithstanding, these works were reserved for the upper strata of the urban population, those who had both the education and the means to acquire them. Studies of private libraries have allowed scholars to assess the distribution of books across the various social levels.

The books were reserved for the upper strata of the urban population, those who had both the education and the means to acquire them.

Devotional books were commonly found in the libraries of bourgeois men and women, along with occasionnels (broadsheets about current events) and canards (a sort of tabloid). Other works might include almanacs and chronologies listing important past and future dates. Finally, libelles – pamphlets devoted exclusively to secular and church controversies – became increasingly popular during the 16th century, their success buoyed by political and religious strife. All of these early examples of the press, in which information and propaganda co-existed, had neither fixed titles nor regular publication dates.

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