The invention of printing was the trigger for massive social change
The German Johannes Gutenberg invented movable metal type and the printing press after moving to Strasbourg, a place that was known for its metal crafts, in 1448 and by the early 1450s had started a business using his new invention.
Until then, books had been hand-written, rare and expensive and generally only the clergy had been regular readers. Most books had been written in Latin, the language of scholarship, but as printed material became more widespread, demand grew for works books printed in people’s own languages.
Initially, the advent of printing had been welcomed by the Church, which needed a of printed prayer books and other materials for use in churches and in the education of the clergy. The church was central to all aspects of life and also oversaw the universities, where scholars, too, needed printed material for their studies.
The Roman Catholic Church had been the dominant power until in the first half of the 16th Century the Protestant Reformation leader, Martin Luther, started to publish more and more writings that challenged its efforts to suppress free thinking.
But it was not only religious works that were published. Gradually the classical works of Ovid, Virgil, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Horace and others became more widespread as did the popularity of stories of chivalric romances, and knight adventures in languages ranging from English through Flemish, French, Italian, and German.
As printed material became more widely available and more people were able to read this eroded the power of the Church to dictate all aspects of life and was to lead to the Reformation.
William Caxton too was a prolific writer and printer of books in the English language.
But political upheaval in England was to be precipitated after William Tyndale produced an English translation of the Bible, believing that everyone should have access to the scriptures in their own language.
However, Henry VIII also disagreed with Tyndale, whose execution he ordered in 1536 because the king saw his work as a direct challenge to his authority. Yet two years later, after he broke with Rome, Henry ordered a new translation of the bible and declared himself head of the Church of England.
Henry ordered every parish church to display a copy. For the first time, any English man or woman who could read could study the Bible in their own language.
Thereafter developed a bloodthirsty period during which successive monarchs either supported the Roman Catholic cause, such as Queen Mary, or the protestant cause, such as Queen Elizabeth I.
There were periods where it was illegal for an ordinary person to own a Bible and when either Catholics or Protestants were persecuted and killed in large numbers.
After this blood-drenched period gradually over time the idea that people should be free to form their own opinions, think independently developed but it was not until the 18th Century that education became widespread, giving many poorer people a chance to learn to read.