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William Clayton


  • 3.02 Arts


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Personal profile

Key Research Interests

  • My research interests focus upon print and political culture in Elizabethan and Stuart England and Europe. I am particularly interested in illicit printing, satire, the specialization of the book trade, and the development of radical ideas and political behaviour in early Stuart England and the British Civil Wars. I am also interested in the development of transnational print networks in Protestant and Catholic Europe. 

    My thesis focuses upon illegal printing and illicit texts in England, from 1588 to 1640. I use innovative typographical analysis to identify the printing houses which anonymously-produced illicit works, together with surviving archival and literary sources, to reconstruct the previously-unknown networks of production and distribution which underpinned the dissemination of illicit texts in early Stuart England. I propose that the formation and professionalisation of an illegal print “underground” created an infrastructure, in terms of personnel and tactics, which was crucial in shaping the nature of public politics during the 1640s and beyond. In so doing, I challenge the prevailing narrative that illegal printing “exploded” during the British civil wars as a result of the breakdown of a supposedly pervasive censorship system.

    I also explore the impact of illicit printing, combined with a range of strategies which might be broadly termed the politics of popularity, upon political culture and the performance of politics in th early Stuart period. I demonstrate how networks of individuals, both within and without the centre of government, increasingly embraced these tactics in attempts to influence the policies of church and state, and increasingly came to view appeals to publics as a necessary means of doing so. The changing dynamic between publics and politics was central to the invention and performance of politics as we know it today, whilst the justifications which supported it have formed the theoretical basis for contemporary ideas of free speech and a free press.

Academic Background

  • I graduated from University College London in 2014 (BA History) with First Class Honours. I was awarded an MA in Early Modern History from UEA in 2017. My thesis, 'Actor, Printer, Soldier, Spy: The Lives and Death of the Unlikely Revolutionary, John Harris', was awarded the Larry Butler Prize for Best MA Dissertation in History. I am currently studying for a PhD at UEA, for which I was awarded a fully-funded AHRC Chase Studentship. 

Teaching Interests

I have previously taught on the undergraduate history module Witchcraft, Magic and Belief in Early Modern Europe

Professional Activities

  • Professional Activities

    I am currently co-convener of the UEA Postgraduate History Seminar Series (2019-).

    I will also be acting as a researcher for Series Four of the BBC Radio 4 history podcast, You're Dead to Me, presented by Greg Jenner. 


    Review Article: A.Hadfield, Lying in Early Modern Culture (Oxford, 2020) (Notes and Queries, 2021, forthcoming)

    Article: 'John Harrs, Print, and the Politics of Information' (forthcoming)