In the late 1540s a Dutch immigrant prospering in the London book trade set his heart upon compiling and publishing a ‘Universall Cosmographie’. The fruit of the project was to be a vast work, embellished with maps and illustrations, describing and relating the history of the entire world. The visionary who thought this undertaking might be accomplished, and at a profit, was one Reyner Wolfe. From the modern point of view, the venture would result in one of the most celebrated source books of all time. Wolfe’s enterprise, completed only after his death, eventually furnished Shakespeare with the plots for his history plays, and it is now the subject of a lengthy academic study.
Wolfe had started out printing evangelical texts in Strasbourg. Like many, if not most, in the trade at that time, he was more than a businessman (though a shrewd one): he was committed to propagating the Reformation Word and, as several in power soon realised, could be useful to the