Undergraduate student contribution

John Wolfe

Biographical Information

John Wolfe (also Woolfe) was apprenticed to John Day for ten years, but only served for seven. Sometime after leaving his apprenticeship, Wolfe departed for Italy to further his printing knowledge (Hoppe 243). On 1 July 1583, Wolfe was transferred from the Fishmongers’ Company to the Stationers’ Company (Gadd). In 1587 he became the acting beadle of the Stationers’ Company and then from 1593-1601 he became the City of London’s printer (Gadd). As the acting beadle, Wolfe helped prosecute printers executing illegal printing (Hoppe 264; Gadd).1 When Wolfe’s press was removed from Stationers’ Hall in 1591, Robert Bourne printed for him until 1593, and John Windet did most of Wolfe’s printing from then on (Gadd; Hoppe 267).2 Alice Wolfe, his widow, inherited his printing rights and eventually transferred the rights to other printers and the Stationers’ Company (Gadd).

Printing Locations

John Wolfe’s work places him at several different locations during his career:

Print Output

John Wolfe primarily printed quartos and octavos. For his printing emblem, Wolfe used an elaborate palm tree surrounded by beasts (serpents and toads) (Jowett 94; Huffman 6; STC 12900.5), a simple crowned or uncrowned fleur-de-lis (Huffman 8; STC 25401), or a more extravagant fleur-de-lis (STC 11260; STC 23081a). Wolfe printed the first three books of Edmund Spenser’s well-known allegorical epic, The FAERIE QVEENE (STC 23081a), and Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender (STC 23091). Richard Day, John Day’s son, also allowed Wolfe to print and have the rights to The Whole Booke of Psalmes (STC 2478; STC 2471; STC 2472; STC 2475).
Wolfe, who was interested in international news, printed French news in the 1580s when there was a demand for it in London (Huffman viii; Parmelee 859). Furthermore, he translated numerous French propaganda news items including pamphlets, intellectual works, and declarations (Huffman 69-70; Parmelee 859).3
In his earlier years (1581-1589), Wolfe printed Italian texts about literature, religion, politics, news, and geography while living in London (Huffman 14). He also printed (in Italian) books by Niccolò Machiavelli (Lasino doro di Nicolo Macchiauelli [STC 17158], Historie di Nicolo Macchiauelli [STC 17161], and I discorsi di Nicolo Machiavelli [STC 17159]) and a book by Pietro Aretino (La prima parte de Ragionamenti [STC 19911.5]). Many of these books were printed with false imprints of location or date (Loewenstein 396).4


Wolfe appeared to have printed numerous texts for publisher William Wright, or to be sold by William Wright. These include Greenes, Groats-Worth of witte (STC 12245), A Proclamation set out by the K. of Spaine (STC 18464.5), The Poore-Mans Teares opened in a sermon (STC 22683), and Newes out of France (STC 11285).
Wolfe also printed Morando and The Tritameron of Loue (STC 12277) and The most dangerous and memorable aduenture of Richard Ferris (STC 10834) for the publisher Edward White at his shop at the signe of the Gunne. The shop may have been taken over by Edward’s son, Andrew White, since Wolfe later printed ARTICLES accorded for the Truce generall in France (STC 13117) for him at the shop located at the sign of the Gunne.
John Harrison II was another publisher with whom Wolfe collaborated. Wolfe printed The Shepheardes Calender (STC 23091, The compasse of a Christian (STC 19054), and A Bartholomew Fairing for Parents (STC 23277) for John Harrison II.
Wolfe may have been the partner of Stationer Henry Kirkham, who had a shop located at the Black Boy, opposite the middle door of St. Paul’s Cathedral (Huffman 128; STC 25401).
In the 1580s and 1590s, John Wolfe printed material for both Gabriel Harvey and Robert Greene, despite their ongoing dispute over ideals in literature (Huffman 101). Regardless of the dispute, Wolfe appeared to have shared ideals with Harvey (Huffman 110) and he let Harvey live and work in his shop (Huffman 99, 105). Wolfe also printed an abundance of Harvey’s essays since they express[ed] his interests in new and excellent literature (Huffman 99). These works included Foure Letters (STC 12900.5), A Nevv Letter of Notable Contents (STC 12902), and Pierces Supererogation or A New Prayse (STC 12903).5
Wolfe had a tendency to print material that did not belong to him. One of his prime targets was Christopher Barker since he had printing privileges to English Bibles (Kathman). Barker eventually tried to bargain with Wolfe by persuading him to transfer his freedom from the Fishmongers’ Company to the Stationers’ Company in exchange for work, loans, and the ability to keep all of his apprentices (Hoppe 245; Gadd). Since Wolfe was still a member of the Fishmongers’ Company at this time, his motive for targeting Barker may be explained as a lack of brotherly love. Specifically, by 1582, he and other printers disputed the Stationers’ Company privileged, selective printing system of holding rights to specific book titles (Huffman 2, 128-129).


John Wolfe is not particularly well known today. He was, however, an ambitious printer. By 1583, Wolfe’s shop was searched (because of John Day) and it was discovered that he had three presses in the open, with two hidden in a vault (Huffman 129). He was one of the busiest printers in England, only second to Christopher Barker (Parmelee 859). Wolfe printed almost as much material as Christopher Barker, which suggests that he was well known in London. Not only did he regularly print Continental news for the people of England, he also was educated enough to print Italian texts. Furthermore, Wolfe was a printer who stood up for his beliefs against the Stationers’ Company and had the audacity to continue printing illegally despite being sent to jail twice (Gadd).


  1. Wolfe was a valuable member of the Stationers’ Company because he had experience in illicit printing. Harry R. Hoppe’s John Wolfe, Printer and Publisher, 1579-1601 explains that Wolfe began with names like Robert Waldegrave, Roger Ward, and John Danter (Hoppe 264-265). Hoppe also explains Wolfe’s other duties as beadle, including collecting fees (Hoppe 265). Wolfe apparently also did most of his printing during his tenure as beadle, despite his vast number of responsibilities (Hoppe 266). (JB)
  2. Hoppe’s article explains that Adam Islip and John Windet were given most of Wolfe’s ornaments and gives a list of printers who took over for John Wolfe (Hoppe 266-267). (JB)
  3. Parmelee lists Edward Aggas as a major contributor to translations of French propaganda alongside John Wolfe (Parmelee 861). William Wright and Richard Field were the other two publishers of French news in England before 1600 (Huffman 69). (JB)
  4. Huffman goes into extensive detail about John Wolfe’s affair with printing Italian books. He suggests that while Wolfe was not the only printer to illegally print books, he was seen as the ringleader. Huffman also argues that as a member of the Fishmongers’ Company, Wolfe held no loyalty to the Stationers’ Company and their laws. Many of the Italian books that he printed (like the ones by Machiavelli) were done so with false imprints of location or year (Huffman). Loewenstein also outlines Wolfe’s experiences with fraudulent printing of Italian texts (Loewenstein 395-396). (JB)
  5. Huffman goes into detail about the Harvey-Nashe-Greene debate where Greene’s A Quip for an Upstart Courtier (STC 12300) had supposedly attacked Harvey and his brothers. Harvey responded with his Foure Letters (STC 12900.5), outlining his ideals and principles (Huffman 109-110). Nashe supported Greene and had his Strange Newes, of the Intercepting Certaine Letters (STC 18377) printed by John Danter (Huffman 110). Harvey’s ideals about literature did not agree with Greene’s, and John Wolfe seemed to have benefited from this ordeal by printing for both parties. (JB)


  • Citation

    Gadd, Ian. Wolfe, John. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H.C.G. Matthew, Brian Harrison, Lawrence Goldman, and David Cannadine. Oxford UP. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29834.

    This item is cited in the following documents:

  • Citation

    Hoppe, Harry R. John Wolfe, Printer and Publisher, 1579-1601. The Library 14.3 (1933): 241-288.

    This item is cited in the following documents:

  • Citation

    Huffman, Clifford Chalmers. Elizabethan Impressions John Wolfe and His Press. New York: AMS Press, 1940. Print.

    This item is cited in the following documents:

  • Citation

    Jowett, John. Credulous to False Prints: Shakespeare, Chettle, Harvey, Wolfe. Shakespearean Continuities. Ed. John Batchelor, Tom Cain, and Claire Lamont. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997. 93-107. Print.

    This item is cited in the following documents:

  • Citation

    Kathman, David. Barker, Christopher (1528/9–1599), printer. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H.C.G. Matthew, Brian Harrison, Lawrence Goldman, and David Cannadine. Oxford UP. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/1390.

    This item is cited in the following documents:

  • Citation

    Loewenstein, Joseph. For a History of Literary Property: John Wolfe’s Reformation. English Literary Renaissance 18.3 (1988): 389-412. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6757.1988.tb00962.x.

    This item is cited in the following documents:

  • Citation

    Pantzer, Katherine F., and Philip R. Rider. A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475–1640. Began by A.W. Pollard and G.R. Redgrave. 3 vols. London: Bibliographical Society, 1991. Print.
  • Citation

    Parmelee, Lisa Ferraro. Printers, Patrons, Readers, and Spies: Importation of French Propaganda in Late Elizabethan England. The Sixteenth Century Journal 25.4 (1994): 853-872. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/2542259.

    This item is cited in the following documents:

Cite this page

MLA citation

Boparai, Jasmeen. John Wolfe. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022, mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/WOLF6.htm.

Chicago citation

Boparai, Jasmeen. John Wolfe. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022. mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/WOLF6.htm.

APA citation

Boparai, J. 2022. John Wolfe. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/editions/7.0/WOLF6.htm.

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

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ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - John Wolfe
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  - https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/WOLF6.htm
UR  - https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/xml/standalone/WOLF6.xml
ER  - 

TEI citation

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