John Waterson

John Waterson (died 10 February 1656) was a London publisher and bookseller of the Jacobean and Caroline eras; he published significant works in English Renaissance drama, including plays by William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, John Webster, and Philip Massinger.


Waterson was the scion of a family of publishers: his grandfather Richard and his father Simon were both in the book trade. Simon Waterson (15851634) was also the brother-in-law of William Ponsonby, the prominent publisher of Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney; when Ponsonby died in 1604, Simon acquired many of Ponsonby's copyrights.

John Waterson became a "freeman" (a full member) of the Stationers Company on 27 June 1620, and soon after was an active independent publisher. He took over the management of his father's shop, at the sign of the Crown at Cheap Gate in St. Paul's Churchyard. (Simon Waterson is thought to have gone into semi-retirement when his son took over, though his name appeared on published books until his death.) The younger Waterson continued to publish some of his father's works; Simon Waterson issued the first four editions of William Camden's Remains of a Greater Work Concerning Britain (1605, 1614, 1623, 1629), and John printed the fifth and sixth editions (1636, 1637).[1] Simon published the first edition of an anonymous English translation of Guarini's Il Pastor Fido (1602), and John published the second edition (1633).[2]

One of John Waterson's earliest publications was also one of his most notable: the first quarto of Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (1623), printed by Nicholas Okes.[3]


John Waterson also published a noteworthy and problematic entry in the Shakespeare canon: The Two Noble Kinsmen (1634), printed by Thomas Cotes.[4] The title page of the quarto attributes the play to Shakespeare and Fletcher, an attribution that inspired three centuries of controversy before its general acceptance in the modern era.

Other first editions of plays published by Waterson include:

(Waterson maintained a close professional relationship with printer Thomas Harper; they worked together on many projects, including the Camden editions noted above.)

Waterson also had a connection with Ben Jonson; he entered Jonson's play The Staple of News into the Stationers' Register on 14 April 1626. For unknown reasons, the play was not published at that time, and Waterson transferred his copyright to Robert Allot on 7 September 1631.

Waterson published works beyond the confines of drama; he issued poetry, with volumes that included:

And Waterson produced the normal range of miscellaneous books typical of stationers in his era, including religious works like Anthony Stafford's The Female Glory, or the Life and Death of the Holy Virgin Mary (1635), and popular fiction like The Tragedy of Alceste and Eliza (1638) both printed by Harper.


Waterson apparently retired from business after 1641. In October 1646 he transferred his copyrights to The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Elder Brother, and Monsieur Thomas to Humphrey Moseley. The shop at the sign of the Crown passed to stationer John Williams; John Waterson's son, another Simon Waterson, served his apprenticeship under Williams in the 1640s. This younger Simon Waterson was active in the book trade in the middle 1650s, doing business at the sign of the Globe in Paul's Churchyard.[5]


  1. Daly, Peter Maurice, Leslie T, Duer, and Anthony Raspa, eds.The English Emblem Tradition. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1988; p. 7.
  2. Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923; Vol. 4, pp. 40-1.
  3. Chambers, Vol. 3, p. 510.
  4. Chambers, Vol. 3, p. 226.
  5. Plomer, Henry Robert. A Dictionary of the Booksellers and Printers Who Were at Work in England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1641 to 1667. London, The Bibliographical Society/Blades, East & Blades, 1907; p. 189.
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