In reading Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle’s prefatory notes to her readers, from philosophical to literary publications, her persistence to apologize for being a woman putting her works to print is noticeable. It was a strategic approach to acknowledge at the outset the anomaly in mid-17th century England of a woman formally publishing her work, let alone works of natural philosophy and poetry. In her “To All Professors of Learning and Art” in CCXI Sociable Letters, she writes:
“I wish I could write so wisely, wittingly, eloquently, and methodically, as might be worthy of your perusal; but if any of your noble profession should humble themselves so low as to read my works, or part of them, I pray consider my sex and breeding and they will fully excuse those faults which must unavoidably be found in my works.”
Cavendish does at times defend her efforts at publication and fame, as in the preface “To All the Noble and Worth Ladies,” in Poems, or, Several fancies in verse:
“Condemn me not, as if I should dishounour your sex, in setting forth this work, which is harmless, and free from all dishonesty. I will not say, from vanity, for that is so natural to our sex, that it were unnatural to not be so. Besides, poetry, which is built upon fancy, women may claim, as a work belonging most properly to themselves… for, all I desire is fame, and fame is nothing but a great noise, and noise lives most in a multitude.”
As Katie Whitaker outlines in her biography of Cavendish, Mad Madge, outside of religious works, there had been only nine upper-class women’s work published in the early 17th century, and that values imposed on women during this time such as modesty, silence, and obedience would have meant Margaret was embarking on a completely taboo prospect.
Cavendish’s first five books were published while she and her husband were in exile in Antwerp (they were Royalists during the English Civil War) and were sold by John Martin and James Allestry. After returning to England, from 1666 until her death, except for a Latin edition of her biography of her husband William Cavendish, Margaret employed Anne Maxwell to print her works. The two titles on display were both printed by Maxwell, who had taken over the printing business following her husband David Maxwell’s death in 1665. In 1668, Anne Maxwell had two presses, three compositors, and three pressman. The Maxwells’s printing house was active and established; Anne must have been involved in the business previous to her husband’s death to continue running a successful printing house after his death.
Although not entirely atypical for a woman to be involved in the book trade, it was a small percentage, at least of those women appearing on title pages. Helen Smith provides a rough estimate of 74 out of 1,367 stationers listed in the Short Title Catalogue as being women. In my own rough counts based on the Universal Short Title Catalogue, around twenty women were listed as printers active in London while Margaret was publishing her works. Smith does note the numerous ways it is difficult to document the true extent of women’s participation in the trade.  Like in Anne Maxwell’s case, she only appeared in imprints after her husband’s death. If she had sons taking over the business, it’s possible her name would never have appeared.
Given the small percentage of women active in the trade, it’s interesting to consider why Cavendish began working with Anne Maxwell.
Liza Blake and other historians of Cavendish have referenced her frustrations with printer’s errors, seen in three of her prefaces (World’s Olio, 1655; Philosophical and Physical Opinions, 1655; and Nature’s Pictures, 1656). Noticeably, these complaints were made regarding earlier editions, before she was working with Maxwell, and printed in London while Margaret was still in exile in Antwerp and unable to oversee the printing. In Philosophical and Physical Opinions, she writes:
“But the literate faults I lay to their [printer’s] charge, wherof I cannot choose but complain, for in some place it is so falsly printed, as one word alters the sense of many lines…”
Blake has documented Cavendish herself making or directing others to make handwritten corrections to her printed texts; these corrections continued through 1668 and appeared in works printed by Maxwell, so printer’s errors continued to be a frustration for her. However, once returned from exile and back in London, Margaret became much more involved in the creation of fair copy manuscripts and began working directly with the printers, first with William Wilson, and after his death in 1665, Anne Maxwell. In total, she printed ten editions of her works with Maxwell from 1666-1671, making it her longest relationship with a printer.
It’s possible, given the lack of acceptance Cavendish faced as a writer and philosopher, that she sought ought printing houses that accepted her agency as an author. Harold Weber discusses Cavendish’s singular struggle to place herself within cultural memory, whether in infamy or fame. Fame and historical significance became a theme throughout Cavendish’s prefatory notes to her readers. Having her works printed and control of her publishing output became one device towards this end.
Section Head, Rare Materials Cataloging
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
 Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of. CCXI Sociable Letters Written by the Thrice Noble, Illustrious, and Excellent Princess, the Lady Marchioness of Newcastle. London: Printed by William Wilson, 1664. https://login.proxy.lib.duke.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/books/ccxi-sociable-letters-written-thrice-noble/docview/2240929933/se-2.
 Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of. Poems, Or, several Fancies in Verse with the Animal Parliament in Prose. London: Printed by A. Maxwell, 1668. https://login.proxy.lib.duke.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/books/poems-several-fancies-verse-with-animal/docview/2240969692/se-2.
 Katie Whitaker. Mad Madge (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 151.
 H.R. Plomer. Dictionary of the Booksellers and Printers who were at Work in England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1641-1667 (London: The Bibliographical Society, 1968), 125.
 The Short Title Catalogue is A.W. Pollard’s Short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English books printed abroad, 1475-1640.
The Universal Short Title Catalogue is still continuing to add entries for the 17th century and has provided a facet for women printers and booksellers.
 Helen Smith, Grossly Material Things (Oxford, 2012; online edn, Oxford Academic, 20 Sept. 2012).
 Blake, Liza, 'Early Modern Women in Print and Margaret Cavendish, Woman in Print', in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Women's Writing in English, 1540-1700, ed. Danielle Clarke, Sarah C. E. Ross, and Elizabeth Scott-Baumann (2022; online edn, Oxford Academic, 19 Dec. 2022).
 Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of. Philosophical and Physical Opinions. London: Printed by William Wilson, 1663. https://login.proxy.lib.duke.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/books/philosophical-physical-opinions-written-lady/docview/2240955156/se-2.
 Liza Blake. The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Women's Writing in English, 1540-1700.
 Katie Whitaker. Mad Madge (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 243.
 Harold Weber. Memory, Print, and Gender in England, 1653-1759 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 1-64.
Blake, Liza, 'Early Modern Women in Print and Margaret Cavendish, Woman in Print', in Danielle Clarke, Sarah C. E. Ross, and Elizabeth Scott-Baumann (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Women's Writing in English, 1540-1700, Oxford Handbooks (2022; online edn, Oxford Academic, 19 Dec. 2022), https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198860631.013.38, accessed 20 Oct. 2023.
Plomer, H.R. Dictionary of the Booksellers and Printers who were at Work in England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1641-1667. London: The Bibliographical Society, 1968.
Smith, Helen, 'Grossly Material Things': Women and Book Production in Early Modern England (Oxford, 2012; online edn, Oxford Academic, 20 Sept. 2012), https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199651580.001.0001, accessed 17 Oct. 2023.
Weber, Harold. Memory, Print, and Gender in England, 1653-1759. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Whitaker, Katie. Mad Madge. New York: Basic Books, 2002.