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Why Cromwell was wary of the Leipzig Book Fair

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Posted by , 2nd April 2020

Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII''s chief man, recognised the power events like the Leipzig Book Fair had in spreading new ideas. Not all were welcome

Image supplied by The Leipzig Book Fair

Hilary Mantel’s “The Mirror & the Light,” includes an interesting reference to trade fairs.

I won’t spoil the story; the final book in her excellent trilogy charting the imagined latter stages of Thomas Cromwell’s life.

However, at the bottom of page 260, there is a reference to the Leipzig Book Fair. 

This Fair has been a prestigious and well-attended event since the Middle Ages, but it grew in importance and size with the boom in the printing of books.

Some brief history from the website of Alumniportal Deutschland;

“Nevertheless, Frankfurt was initially the leading book fair city in Germany.

In the 15th century, Johannes von Gutenberg invented modern book printing in Mainz, making the neighbouring Frankfurt Book Fair the first central meeting place for the book publishing trade. 

But Leipzig was determined to catch up to its sister to the south, and surpassed Frankfurt in the number of books exhibited for the first time in 1632.

Around 1730, the Frankfurt Fair catalogue had just 100 book titles, whereas the Leipzig Fair catalogue featured 700.”

Fairs like Leipzig and Frankfurt and many others across Europe have been around for a very long time. 

They have survived plagues, wars, natural disasters and financial crashes and in Leipzig’s case, even an Iron Curtain.  

Yes, there have been interruptions; this year being one of those as Leipzig like other book fairs and many other trade shows worldwide have cancelled because of COVID-19.

However, they will all come back, and when they do, they will be more vitally important both to exhibitors and visitors seeking to help damaged businesses and rebuild sales. 

As Thomas Cromwell understood, trade fairs are a powerful way to share ideas.

In his case, not all of them were welcome, and that’s why he was wary of the Leipzig Book Fair. 

I’m sure you’ll enjoy finding out why for yourself. 

PS. The Leipzig Book Fair was cancelled this year. The image at the top of this page showing dates for 2020 was taken at last year’s event. The banner highlights the dates of the next Fair which should have been this March 12th-15th.

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