As interpretations of history painting changed their content drew more than ever from artistic interpretation. This image by Daniel Maclise, the Cork born painter of Scottish descent, depicts William Caxton showing his first print run to Edward IV and his family. Its all very nuclear with Elizabeth Woodville snuggled up against Edward’s shoulder – her eldest daughter Elizabeth of York by her side. In front of the king stands his heir Edward and younger son, Richard of Shrewsbury. The illustration can be found in Cassell’s History of England. But is it history?
One of Caxton’s friends and patron in England was Elizabeth’s brother Anthony, 2nd Earl Rivers. Anthony translated works that Caxton printed and some of the printers works found their way into the future Edward V’s library at Ludlow where Lord Rivers was responsible for his nephew’s education.
Rivers was not the only contact Caxton had with the royal family. He had found patronage in Europe in the person of Margaret of Burgundy – Edward IV’s sister. Caxton probably printed his first book in England in 1474. Two years later he moved into the Almonry in Westminster – where Maclise situated his painting – Caxton was under the Abbot of Westminster’s patronage at that time.
We become part of the audience watching the king and queen’s response and are drawn to the centre of the picture which has a ‘spot light’ of brightness. Even Caxton’s dog gets in on the act creating a very domestic scene. it’s all very cosy – no wonder the children’s uncle was in receipt of a bad press after Edward’s death!