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Nicholas Spierincke and the Cambridge University Press

Please read this account in conjunction with the draft family tree at http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/20976966/recent?pg=42 - please be aware that the earlier connections are tentative and should not be taken as confirmed fact unless there is clear documentary evidence. For example, there is currently no established link between the Cambridge Spierincke's and the London Spering's.

Nicholas Spierinck (c1470-1546)

Nicholas came from a large family "with a disconcertingly limited choice of Christian names".[1] He was primarily a bookbinder and a bookseller, and his family had numerous connections in the book trade. His father was Claes, and the family came from a village called Zwijndrecht on the Scheldt near Antwerp. However, with such a widely distributed family, it is possible that another member of the family was the progenitor of the subsequent London Spering's (see below) and not Nicholas.

Nicholas left the Netherlands prior to 1500 and went first to Lille France and then to Cambridge England about 1501 (citation needed). He was an archer in King Henry's court (citation needed).

He first appears in the records of Cambridge University in 1505-06. In 1505, Nicholas leased a tenement beside King's College (see below footnotes).[2] He probably lived in (what is now) Kings Parade (then the High Street),[3] but over the years also leased properties elsewhere.

As well as being a bookbinder/stationer, he was also a beer brewer. He owned a 'beerebruehouse' (the Cross Keys, in Magdalene Street/Bridge Street).[4],[5] It appears that many 'aliens' from the Low Countries settled in Cambridge to escape political instability and religious persecution and brought brewing skills with them.

There are no examples of his binding work after 1533 and it may be that he switched his attention more towards his brewing and pub, which he left to his grandson 'Nycholas Spyrynke' in his will (see end of this page).[6] If this was the Nicholas who later became a goldsmith in London, he would only have been about 3 years old at the time!

In 1534 Henry VIII granted the University the right to nominate three printers and sellers of books to print books approved by the Chancellor and to sell them in the University and elsewhere. Nicholas, along with Garrett Godfrey and Segar Nicholson, became one of the first three printers of what later became the Cambridge University Press, one of the oldest printers in history.[7] However, no one in the University thought to actually print books for another 50 years.

The spelling of his name varied considerably as did so many of his contemporaries - Gray quotes the following variants: Speryng, Spieryncke, Sperynk, Speyryncke, Speyrincke, Speyrinck, Spiring, and Sperynge. Whether this was a conscious attempt to anglicise his name or the inevitable result of the medieval penchant for reckless spelling is difficult to say. His colleague Garrett Godfrey (another Dutchman) did have an anglicised name,[8] possibly to avoid being identified as a Dutchman during a time when Dutch ships attacked English ones in the Thames estuary or to avoid ingrained xenophobia in Cambridge (citation needed).

Nicholas (like Garret Godfrey) was very active in the local church. At Great St Mary's, he served as a churchwarden (1517, 1522), Elector (1521, 1524, 1525, 1528, 1538, 1542), and both Elector & Auditor (1530, 1531).[9] He died in late 1545 or early 1546 and was buried in St Mary's Church. From the transcript of his will (proved in the University Court of Cambridge), it is clear that Nicholas was married to Agnes and seemingly had an only son, William, who in turn had a son Nicholas. There was also a Kateryn Spyrnyke, who may have been a daughter.[10]

From Bob:

In 16th century England, the crafts of engraving and goldsmithing were closely related. He also opened the first bookshop in Cambridge in 1505 (possibly the first one ever in England). After 1543 London began to emerge as a center of arts and commerce and beginning around 1545 there was a mass migration from all around England almost overnight and London turned into a boomtown. Cambridge was only about 50 miles away.

William Spierinck (c1500-1551)

According to McKitterick [11], William was never a printer, but he is listed as a Stationer/Printer/Bookbinder in Cambridge stationers, printers, bookbinders, &c. (1919), by Henry Paine Stokes.[12] Regardless, William served as a churchwarden of the University church (1544-45), warden of the lights (1538-39), and Elector (1540, 1542, 1543)[13], and died about 1551 ("within months" of John Scarlet, and 5-6 years after his father).[14] If William left a will, it was probably proved at the University Court of Cambridge (as was his father's) and it would be worthwhile trying to get hold of this.

In 1548, he was charged with neglecting a farm house (on 30 acres of land) which apparently had burned down 2 years previously. [23]  1551, the year of his death, William was involved in a grandiose scheme to print the first English bible and contributed £100 to the endeavour. However, it came to nothing and he lost his money.[15] 

William Spierinck/Sperynge married Elizabeth Cheke (born ~1518, and therefore possibly 20 years younger than him). [17,18,19] She was the sister of Sir John Cheke, tutor of the later Queen Elizabeth I. [20,21] Her father Peter Cheke died between 1525 to 1531 (from deeds) but had a stake in the house in which William later lived. [22] The Cheke family was of aristocratic stock and very well-connected, with a pedigree that goes back to the 1200's including many noble Lords and Ladys. There are several trees on Ancestry with further (unsubstantiated) information about the Cheke family, including the following: Cheek Family TreeLane Family Tree, emsuggs treeMiller Family Tree, Sullenger Family Tree, Johnson-Wright Family Tree, Claiborne Co ClinesBingham tree, Pulliam/Wainscott, and others. I will contact them for further information about William and Elizabeth.

Nycholas Spyrynke (c1520-????)

Nycholas was left the Cross Keys pub in the 1546 will of his grandfather, but whatever became of this? Did he sell it and move to London? I need to check the following reference for a full account of the old inns of Bridge Street - J. H. Bullock in Camb. Public Libr. Record, 1939, 11 sqq., 47 sqq., 110 sqq.

Nicholas was still in Cambridge in 1563 (see land deed below), but there is no further information about him thereafter. 

And is this Nicholas the same person as Nicholas the Goldsmith in London (see The London Spering's in the following section)? His father William and Elizabeth Cheke were probably married some time after her 16th birthday (about 1534). Gray suggests that William's wife died in 1541 (she was buried within St Mary's Church and would have been about 23 - did she die in childbirth?) [16], so this suggests their son Nicholas may have been born between 1535 and 1541 (unless William was married before or afterwards and this second wife was Nicholas' mother). However, Nicholas' grandfather's will leaves him the pub directly and not "when he reaches the age of his majority", and this might suggest that Nycholas was at least 16 if not 21 years old at the time of his grandfathers death in 1546. This would place his date of birth at 1525-1530 or earlier. So there is still a lot of uncertainty about the date of Nicholas' birth.

Estimated birth dates for Nicholas & George (the Goldsmiths) are 1543 and 1558 respectively. These are based on the birth dates of their children and may be inaccurate. However, if they are correct, then William (their putative father) would have died 7 years before the birth of George, and his wife 2 years before the birth of Nicholas. This suggests that William was not the father of Nicholas and George the Goldsmiths.

But if William was the only son of Nicholas the Bookbinder, then how can the Spering goldsmiths be related to the Cambridge bookbinders? Approximate dates of birth could be: Nicholas 1470, William 1495, Nicholas 1520 ... so conceivably, Nicholas the goldsmith born about 1543 could have been the son of Nicholas the grandson.

But the link between the Cambridge Bookbinders and the London Goldsmiths remains to be definitely established.

References and Sources

[1] A History of Cambridge University Press: Printing and the book trade in Cambridge, 1534-1698 by David McKitterick. Cambridge University Press, 1992 - 524 pages at http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521308014
And how does the author (McKitterick) know this? I consulted his book in the British Library but the references he cites do not include this information. I emailed him on 27th Aug 2010 and spoke with him on the phone on 3rd May 2011. He told me there were lots of Spiering's in the Low Countries (Rotterdam, Dordrecht, etc) who were illuminating manuscripts. He gleaned this information from two standard reference books, namely:


Rouzet, Anne

The next step is to check out these references at the British Library. 

[3] The earliest Cambridge stationers & bookbinders, and the first Cambridge printer (1904), by George John Gray, at http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924029498114, p43-53. The references to Foster presumably relate to St Mary's Parish Book, by J. E. Foster, 1904. The latter does not appear in any online search.

[4] Gray, p46

[5] See also Cambridge and its economic region, 1450-1560, by John S. Lee p80, at http://books.google.co.uk/ which in turn cites CBD pp83, 155 (I don't know what this is)

[6] Gray, p46

[8] Gray

[9] Gray

[10] Gray

[13] Gray

[15] McKitterick, vol I, pp49-50

[16] Gray, p46 and Churchwarden's Accounts of St Mary the Great, Cambridge, p95, at http://www.archive.org/stream/churchwardensacc00sainuoft#page/94/mode/2up

[17] From Abstracts from the wills and testamentary documents of printers, binders, and stationers of Cambridge, from 1504 to 1699 (1915) by Gray, G. J. (George John), b. 1863; Palmer, William Mortlock, 1866-1915), pp31-32. Available at http://www.archive.org/details/stationerscambridge00grayuoft

[18] In ERASMUS AND CAMBRIDGE The Cambridge Letters of Erasmus translated by DFS THOMSON, page 225: "His son William married Elizabeth, the sister of John Cheke" At www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=13923934

[19] In the Annals of Cambridge (Vol II), the will of Agnes Cheke (p136), her mother, mentions Elizabeth Sperynge. Her father's will (Peter Cheke) is on p135,  at

[20] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cheke

[21] See page 2 of John Strype's biography at http://books.google.co.uk/ebooks/reader?id=WAQFAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&pg=GBS.PA2

[22] http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0265%2FD.XXIX.25

[23] In the Annals of Cambridge (Vol II, p38)  at http://www.archive.org/stream/annalsofcambridg02coopuoft#page/38/mode/2up

Tenements owned or leased by Nicholas or William Spierinck

The Parish Deeds of Great St Mary's Church reveal some of his leased properties (in Scole Lane, and High Street), which were later passed to his son William. In 1505, Nicholas leased probably his first tenement, beside King's College.

From Corpus Christi College Cambridge Archives, Cambridge, Great St Mary's parish deeds, CCCC09/08
at http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD/GBR/2938/CCCC09/08




CAM/98 (former reference: Box 236)

Covering Dates

21 Nov 1505

Lease of a tenement in St Mary's by King's College to Nicholas Speryng. A red seal is attached.

Also from http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/records.aspx?cat=272-kcar6-2_1-1&cid=30-4-8#30-4-8

Title Counterpart of lease to Robert Goodhale, apothecary, of a garden in Schools Lane for 60 years at an annual rent of 6s.
Reference CCCC09/08/268
(former reference: IX 23.n)
Creator Master and Fellows of CCCC
Covering Dates 10 Mar. 1513
Extent and Medium 1 membrane; vellum; Manuscript
Content and context

The garden lies between Schools Lane (S) and another garden of the college's (N) and abuts on the garden of an almshouse, once Margaret Falcon's and lately John Ray, burgess's (E) and on the house and garden now the property of the said Robert, previously Richard Smith's, and once the college's, called 'Clarehalle' and on Schools Lane (W).

Notes on dorse: 'modo in tenura Nicho' sperynge'; 'nunc W'l Spering pro fundo gardini'.

Title Counterpart of lease to Nicholas Spierinck, stationer, of a tenement for 50 years at an annual rent of 33s 4d.
Reference CCCC09/08/270
(former reference: IX 23.p)
Creator Master and Fellows of CCCC
Covering Dates 15 June 1523 (15 Henry VIII`)
Extent and Medium 1 membrane; vellum; Manuscript
Content and context

The tenement lies between a tenement once Margaret Falcon's, now in the tenure of Thomas Hodgkin (S) and a college tenement leased to Robert Stele, pewterer (N), and abuts (E) on the High Street' and (W) on a foundation lately William Dalling's, now John Ray's.

An undated note on the dorse states that the property is now leased to William Spierinck son of Nicholas (see next) 

Title Counterpart of lease to William Spierinck, stationer, of a tenement for sixty years at an annual rent of 33s 4d
Reference CCCC09/08/271
(former reference: IX 23.q)
Creator Master and Fellows of CCCC
Covering Dates 12 July 1537 (29 Henry VIII)
Extent and Medium 1 membrane; vellum; Manuscript
Content and context

The tenement lies between a college tenement leased to Nicholas Spierinck (S) and another leased to Roger Sherman (N) and abuts (E) on the king's high street at the west end of St Mary's.

Endorsed by Matthew Parker: 'Hanc Alienationem factam Petro Sherys bibliopolae Approbamus pro hac vice nos infra scripti quorum interest, Anno 1551' . With Parker's signature and lists of fellows in his hand.

Title Gift with warranty (a) by Clare Hall to Richard Smyth of Cambridge, apothecary, and others, of a house with small garden and another garden in Great St Mary parish; with rough note of dimensions (b)
Reference D.XXIX.25
Covering Dates 28 Oct. 1470 (49 Henry VI)
Extent and Medium 1 membrane, 1 sheet; parchment, paper
Content and context

The other parties with RS are: William Smyth, mercer, Godfrey Charlys, Richard Hylderston, William Waleys and Richard Middleton. The property lies between Le Scholelanes on the south and west and a garden of Corpus Christi College, now in the tenure of the said RS, on the east and north. The house and small garden extend in length 33 feet 4 inches southwards from the garden in the tenure of RS to ['per'] Scolelanes, and 33 feet 4 inches northwards from the said garden in the tenure of RS to the other garden in the north. The house extends 19 feet in width at the east end and the small parcel of garden extends 19 feet in width at the west end at Scolelanes. The other garden extends 21 feet in length northwards from the said house in the south as far as the garden in the tenure of RS on the east side and extends in length 21 feet to Scolelanes in the west. The same garden extends 19 feet in width at the south end to the said house and garden and similarly extends 19 feet in width at the north end at the garden in the tenure of RS.

Title Gift with warranty (a) by John Barnard and Agnes, his wife, late wife and executrix of Robert Goodeale, and others, to William Butte, MD, and Margaret, his wife, and others, to use of WB, of house and garden as in D.XXIX.25a; with note of dimensions (b)
Reference D.XXIX.29
Covering Dates 1 Feb. 1525 (16 Henry VIII, 1524/5)
Extent and Medium 1 membrane, 1 sheet; parchment, paper
Content and context

The full list of the parties is: 1) John Barnard and Agnes, his wife, Master Andrew Manfeld, Thomas Marshall and Thomas Hodgekyn of Cambridge, feoffees to the use of Robert Goodale to fulfil his will 2) William Butte, MD, and Margaret, his wife, Peter Cheke, gentleman, John Smyth and Henry Veysey of Cambridge. Livery of seisin endorsed. Bears five seals.

Title Lease for 20 years (a) by Master William Butt, MD, to Nicholas Speryng of Cambridge, stationer, of a stable in Scole Lane and the garden lying behind it; with counterpart (b)
Reference D.XXIX.30
Covering Dates 10 Aug. 1525 (17 Henry VIII)
Extent and Medium 2 membranes; parchment
Content and context

Annual rent: 13s 4d. Each deed bears a seal.

Title Gift (a) by William Butte, MD, and Margaret, his wife, and Henry Veysy of Cambridge, gentleman, to William Sperying and others of house and garden as in D.XXIX.25a; with note of dimensions (b)
Reference D.XXIX.31
Covering Dates 20 June 1531 (23 Henry VIII)
Extent and Medium 1 membrane, 1 sheet; parchment, paper
Content and context

The list of parties is: 1) William Butte, MD, and Margaret, his wife 2) William Sperying, Robert Smyth, alderman, George Alyngton, gentleman, William Hassyll and John Thyrlebye, burgesses of Cambridge. The deed recites the terms of D.XXIX.29. Peter Cheke and John Smyth have both died. Consideration: 20 marks. Endorsed with livery of seisin. Bears seals and signatures of WB and HV.

Title Gift (a) by Nicholas Sperincke, son and heir of William Sperincke, late of Cambridge, stationer, to Zegar Nicholson, burgess, and Philip Scarlet, stationer, both of Cambridge, of house and garden as in D.XXIX.25a; with note of dimensions (b)
Reference D.XXIX.32
Covering Dates 16 July 1563 (5 Elizabeth I)
Extent and Medium 1 membrane, 1 sheet; parchment, paper; 32a has holes in the bottom half and some of the text is missing.
Content and context

Consideration: 20 marks. Endorsed with livery of seisin.

Note: The term 'gifted' refers to the most common type of medieval deed that begins with the phrase 'Sciant presentes et futuri'. They normally include a clause on holding the property from the lords chief fee or a clause on rent or service. Sometimes there is a separate deed of quitclaim.

Title Counterpart of lease to Agnes Cheke, widow, of a tenement with a garden for 60 years at an annual rent of 20s.
Reference CCCC09/08/281
(former reference: IX 25.d)
Creator Master and Fellows of CCCC
Covering Dates 27 June 1536 (28 Henry VIII)
Extent and Medium 1 membrane; vellum; Manuscript
Content and context

The tenement lies between a tenement lately Margaret Coke's (E) and a tenement of the House of St John and its garden (W) and abuts (S) on a tenement late of William Godfrey, chandler, and (N) on Cutlers Row.

Title Notes on the geneaology of the Cheke family
Reference KCHR/3/8
(former reference: Coll 25/11)
Covering Dates 22 Dec 1963
Extent and Medium 6 sheets; paper
Content and context

1 autograph letter signed from Brigadier C Viner to the Librarian at King's [A N L Munby], also inludes a Cheke family tree.

Title Counterpart of lease to Richard Gosnell, MA, and Ellen his wife of the White Hart and a garden plot for forty years at an annual rent of £4.
Reference CCCC09/09/48
(former reference: X 3.t)
Creator Master and Fellows of CCCC
Covering Dates 10 June 1548 (2 Edward VI)
Extent and Medium 1 membrane; vellum; Damaged by water; Manuscript
Content and context

Neighbours now tenements of Henry Veysey and of the college (S) a tenement of Gonville Hall in the tenure of William Hawk (N), a tenement of William Speringe commonly called the Cross Key (W) and the Peas Market (E).

Foster's book is now (Sep 2011) available online
- see Churchwarden's Accounts of St Mary the Great, Cambridge, p95, at http://www.archive.org/stream/churchwardensacc00sainuoft#page/94/mode/2up

From Abstracts from the wills and testamentary documents of printers, binders, and stationers of Cambridge, from 1504 to 1699 (1915) by Gray, G. J. (George John), b. 1863; Palmer, William Mortlock, 1866-1915), available at http://www.archive.org/details/stationerscambridge00grayuoft

What to do now?

Please feel free to email us suggestions, modifications and additions to this page. Specific areas where you could help include:

  1. Do you know any additional interesting facts or links that could go on this page? 
  2. Further analysis of migration needs to be udnertaken when the pages relating to geographic distribution have been updated.

Maurice Gleeson
Sep 2011

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Last update: April 2011

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