Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wolfe, Reyner
WOLFE, REYNER or REGINALD (d. 1573), printer and publisher, was a native of Strasburg, and seems to have learnt the art of printing there, probably from Conrad Neobarius, whose device he afterwards adopted. In both France and Germany many early printers bore the same surname: George Wolfe of Baden, printed at Paris from 1491 to 1499; Nicholas Wolfe at Lyons, in 1498 and 1499; and Thomas Wolfe at Basle in 1527. But Reyner was probably most closely related to John Wolfe, a printer of Zürich, who rose to the position of a magistrate there, and was the host of many English protestant refugees (including John Jewell) during the reign of Queen Mary.
While at Strasburg Reyner seems to have made the acquaintance of Martin Bucer [q. v.] Before 1537 he had settled in England, apparently at Archbishop Cranmer's invitation, but for some years later he annually visited Frankfort fair, bearing letters on these visits from Cromwell to English agents in Germany, and from Cranmer to Bucer, Bullinger, and other continental reformers (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vols. xii–xv. passim). He was a man of learning and a devoted protestant. He established his press in London in St. Paul's Churchyard, and, in imitation of Conrad Neobarius of Strasburg, he set up the sign of the Brazen Serpent, which he adopted as his emblem and trade-mark in most of his publications. Wolfe occasionally employed another device, a cartouche German shield, on which appeared a fruit tree (bearing in its branches a scroll inscribed ‘Charitas’) and two boys. According to Stow, Wolfe built his dwelling in St. Paul's Churchyard ‘from the ground, out of the old chapel which he purchased of the king at the dissolution of the monasteries; on the same ground he had several other tenements, and afterwards purchased several leases of the dean and chapter of St. Paul's.’ Stow also notes that in 1549 Wolfe removed to Finsbury Fields at his own expense ‘the bones of the dead in the charnel-house of St. Paul's, amounting to more than 1,000 cart-loads.’ Wolfe prospered in his trade. Edward VI patronised him and gave him the position of royal printer. He was the first who enjoyed a patent as printer to the king in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The instrument also declared Wolfe to be his majesty's bookseller and stationer, with an annuity of 26s. 8d. during life. Other booksellers and stationers were prohibited from printing or selling any of his books. Despite his protestant zeal, Wolfe figured in the original charter granted by King Philip and Queen Mary to the Stationers' Company in 1554. He took an active part in the new organisation, and was generous in his gifts to it. In Queen Elizabeth's confirmation of the charter in 1559 Wolfe was described as master of the company. In 1564, 1567, and 1572 he again served in the same office. He proved a benefactor to many authors, including the Kentish antiquary John Twyne [q. v.] He died in 1573, and was buried in the church of St. Faith.
Wolfe's earliest publications include the writings of Archbishop Cranmer and John Leland (1506?–1552) [q. v.] the antiquary. He appreciated Cranmer's religious views and Leland's archæological zeal. As early as 1548 he designed a ‘Universal History or Cosmography,’ with maps and illustrations, and he amassed materials for the English, Scottish, and Irish portions of it during the remaining twenty-four years of his life. Before Leland's death in 1552 Wolfe acquired many of his manuscript collections. He employed William Harrison (1534–1593) [q. v.] and Raphael Holinshed [q. v.] to work on the cosmography and history under his direction, but no part of the scheme was completed at the date of Wolfe's death in 1573. Holinshed and his colleague, with the aid of others, continued their labours on a narrower scale, and their results were published in 1577 under the title of Holinshed's ‘Chronicles’ [see Holinshead, Raphael]. Some part of Wolfe's antiquarian collections was purchased by John Stow, who made much use of them in his works. Stow prepared for publication a history of England, which he described as ‘Reyner Wolfe's Chronicle,’ and was urged by Archbishop Whitgift to send it to press; but delays intervened, and Stow died without carrying out that design [see Stow, John].
A portrait doubtfully said to be of Wolfe was drawn by Faithorne, and is reprinted in Ames's ‘Typographical Antiquities.’ Wolfe left two sons, John and Robert, and a daughter, married to the printer John Harrison, who was one of those responsible for the issue of Holinshed's ‘Chronicles.’ Wolfe's widow Joan carried on the business in 1574. Wolfe's apprentices included Henry Bynneman [q. v.] and John Shepperde. The latter subsequently used Wolfe's device of the brazen serpent.
Wolfe's son, John Wolfe (d. 1601), finally inherited his father's presses, but endeavoured to carry on the business independently of the Stationers' Company. He joined in early life the Fishmongers' Company. Before 1580 he was carrying on the trade of a printer and publisher in Distaff Lane, near Old Fish Street and the Old Change, ‘over against the castle,’ whence he issued four books in 1581. Next year he brought out, among other volumes, Thomas Watson's Hekatompathia. In May 1583 the bishop of London ordered an investigation into the number of presses in London. Wolfe was reported to have five presses in all, of which two were discovered by the bishop's officers in a secret vault. On 1 July 1583 Wolfe left the Fishmongers' Company and joined the Stationers' Company (Arber, ii. 688). Thenceforth he proved a loyal and respected member of the society. In 1589 he took an active part in the company's proceedings against Robert Waldegrave [q. v.], the printer of the Martin Mar-Prelate tracts, helping to destroy his press. In the Mar-Prelate tract ‘O read over Dr. Bridge’ (1589) Wolfe was described as ‘the beadle of the Stationers' Company,’ and was denounced as ‘Machiavel’ and ‘the most tormenting executioner’ of Waldegrave's ‘goods.’ At the time he was the busiest printer and publisher of London. No fewer than seventeen volumes came from his press in each of the years 1588 and 1589, many of them in Latin and Italian. Among those whose works he published were Gabriel Harvey, Robert Greene, Barnabe Barnes, and Thomas Churchyard. In the quarrel between Gabriel Harvey and Thomas Nash during 1592 and the following years, Wolfe identified himself with Harvey, whose contributions to the controversy he printed. Nash consequently included Wolfe among the objects of his satiric attacks. Harvey in his ‘Foure Letters’ declared it to be his resolve to be ‘a sheepe in Wolfe's printe more than suffer himself or his dearest friends to be made sheepe in the wolfes walke’ (Harvey, Works, i. 236, ed. Grosart). In 1593 Harvey addressed ‘to my loving friend John Wolfe, printer to the city,’ his ‘New Letter of Notable Contents.’ From 1593 he acted as printer to the city of London, although he was not formally appointed to the office till 1595, when he succeeded Singleton. He was admitted into the livery of the Stationers' Company on 1 July 1598 (Arber, ii. 872). He frequently changed his residence. In 1588 he left Distaff Lane and took up his quarters in the Stationers' Hall. In 1589 he opened ‘a little shop’ in St. Paul's Churchyard, ‘over against the great south door.’ In 1592 he rented for a time a shop in Paul's Chain, and from 1596 until his death his shop was in Pope's Head Alley, Lombard Street, near the Royal Exchange. He died before 6 April 1601, when his shop passed to William Ferbrand, and his press to Adam Islip. He left a widow Alice, who was engaged in the trade till 1613.
[Ames's Typogr. Antiq. ed. Dibdin; A Bibliography of Printing, ed. Bigmore and Wyman, 1886, vol. iii.; Strype's Ecclesiastical Memorials; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Arber's Transcript of the Stationers' Company's Registers; Brit. Mus. Cat. of Books before 1640.]