The Prodigal Printer Henry Hills:
The Baptist Publisher of the King James Bible
Lecture, 400th Anniversary Celebration
of the King James Bible
September 22, 2011
The King James Bible (KJB), printed by Robert Barker, the King's printer, first went on sale to the public on 2 May 1611. Its importance as a piece of English literature is now universally acknowledged, although its popularity as a religious text for its original audience was not immediate.
In fact, it was not until the second half of the century that it began to supplant the Geneva Bible (1560) as the mainstay in popular religious devotion (the last English edition of the Geneva Bible appeared in 1644). The Geneva Bible was a favorite translation among Dissenters and was preferred to the KJV by many. A good example of this is found in the pamphlet A Three-Fold Discourse Betweene Three Neighbours (London, 1642) which recounts the humorous story of an Oxford merchant named Thomas Williams who ran a haberdashers shop in the High Street. Around Christmas 1641, a fire broke out in his shop. Smelling smoke, Williams and his wife, both active Dissenters came downstairs to find their goods on fire, including a prized Geneva Bible. Stanzas 6 and 7 describe this and infer that Williams could have better borne the loss of the Bible in the fire if it had been a copy of the KJV with the Apocrypha and was bound with a copy of The Book of Common Prayer. The story of how the KJV translators were brought together and endeavored to create a new translation is now the stuff of legend, but it is important to note that the actual production of the King James Bible was not without some technical hitches. There were the inevitable printing errors, most notably a misprint of Ruth 3:16 in the second impression of the first edition which altered the phrase “he went into the citie” to “she went into the citie.” This now has the effect of dividing first editions of the 1611 Authorized Version (AV) into two textual families, either 'He- Bibles' or 'She-Bibles'. In addition, some copies of the 'She- Bible' (1611) printed an error in Matthew 26:36, making 'Judas' instead of 'Jesus' appear in the garden of Gethsemane. For all the rhetoric about the King James Bible being a devoutly religious enterprise in which the book was, as the title page declares, “Appointed to be read in Churches,” it was at the same time a political propaganda exercise. The translation was supportive of the position of James as both the King of England and the King of Scotland, as can be seen by the Scottish thistle and the Tudor rose contained within this border detail of 2 Kings-subtle but effective. James I was very keen to control the final product and make it say what was advantageous to him as king and head of the state church.
Perhaps the best illustration of this can be found by the alteration that was made to Tyndale's translation of Matthew 16:18, which has Jesus declare “Thou arte Peter and upon this rocke I will build my congregation.” The Bishop's Bible of 1568, which served as the textual base for the King James Bible, similarly used 'congregation' in Matthew 16:18. The King James Bible changed this to “Thou art Peter and upon this rocke I will build my Church.” There is much to be gleaned from a careful consideration of how the King James Bible came to be produced and disseminated to the English public during the first couple of generations after its appearance in 1611. In order for us to do this I propose to adopt a rather unusual approach.
I shall use a little known printer from the 17th Century named Henry Hills as a convenient figure to focus on as we consider the early stages of printing and publishing of the King James Bible. Not only was Hills himself one of the many publishers of the Bible during this period, but he was intimately involved in many of the attendant scandals and battles that were associated with its publication and distribution.
Henry Hills (c.1625-1690) is one of the most contentious figures of the 17th Century, primarily because of his role as an official printer to successive governments on both sides of the political and religious debates that divided the nations for most of the 1600s. He was first employed by Sir Thomas Fairfax in Oxford in 1647, then by the Army and the Council of State in 1653, by Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector in December of 1653, and by Richard Cromwell in 1659. Following the Restoration, after a brief period of imprisonment, he was appointed as an official printer of Charles II, a position he also held within the court of James II. Along the way Hills also privately printed a number of other religious and political documents, including some associated with John Lilburne and the Leveller movement, and a number of key documents written by, and produced for, the fledgling Baptist denomination between 1648-1673. For example, he printed A Confession of the Faith of Several Churches of Christ in the County of Somerset (10 August 1656 [George Thomason dating]), produced under the guiding hand of Thomas Collier. Perhaps his most important publication for Baptists was The Humble Apology of Some Commonly Called Anabaptists (28 January 1661, Thomason), issued by seven London churches in the immediate aftermath of the Venner Revolt; significantly Hills listed himself as one of the five signatories from William Kiffen's congregation within this pamphlet. Following his stint as a Baptist Dissenter, Hills became a staunch Anglican (under Charles II), and even a committed Catholic (under James II). In short, he embodied a wide range of religious perspectives, and managed to serve as a prolific printer and publisher for each of them.
In all, between 1647 and 1689 there are over 900 titles, or variants, which bear the name of Henry Hills on their imprint; various editions of the King James Bible were included among these. Hills published from at least six known printing sites in London. In short, Henry Hills had a varied and colorful career, though his life as a printer was filled with controversy from the start. The most important piece of evidence about his life is a broadsheet from 1684 entitled A View of Part of the Many Traiterous, Disloyal, and Turn-about Actions of H. H. Senior. The anonymous author of this broadsheet was a committed Anglican royalist who viewed Hills with extreme hostility. Not only did he list some of the treasonable works Hills was responsible for printing, but chronicled the political treacheries and religious atrocities which he had committed over a forty-year period.
To begin our exploration of Henry Hills, it is important to set him within a professional context as a printer, and appreciate
him as a member of the powerful trade guild known as the Stationers' Company of London. Hills was made a freeman by redemption of the Stationers' Company of London on 7 October 1651, promoted by letters of support written to the Company by General Charles Fleetwood. On 22 October 1656, he was admitted to the Livery of the Stationers' Company. Hills was quite active within the Stationers' Company, taking on twelve apprentices during his lifetime. He progressed through the administrative ranks of the Company, was elected as one of the Assistants on 1 March 1678, as the Under Warden in 1682 and again on 30 June 1683, as the Upper Warden on 5 July 1684, and as the Master on 12 October 1687, and again on 30 June 1688. So much for his professional qualifications and credentials, how did he put this into practice as a printer during his life? And perhaps even more importantly, what do we know about Hills's own beliefs and practices, which may open windows of insight into his role as a Bible publisher? How on earth did a Baptist get so deeply involved with something as blatantly royalist as the King James Bible, which was intimately tied to the State Church?
To answer these questions we need to consider the nature of Henry Hills's relationship with William Kiffen and the Baptists of London, who were beginning to form themselves into an identifiable religious force during the Cromwellian Protectorate. It seems beyond doubt that there was a personal relationship between the printer Henry Hills and William Kiffen, the leader of Baptists in London, which extended over many years. The earliest known contact between William Kiffen and Henry Hills is dated to July 1642, when Kiffen pledged one horse to the Parliamentary cause, together with an armed rider equipped with “a Carbine, Case of pistolls, and a sword.” The horse and arms were valued at £28, and the name of the rider is given as Henry Hills (line 3). Apparently Hills was a member of Kiffen's church through most of his career as a printer for the Commonwealth and the Protectorate governments, although he was not a model church member.
In 1650, Henry Hills became involved in a public scandal which was to haunt him for years to come and cast a shadow over his activity as a printer of the King James Bible. It appears that Hills committed adultery and began living openly with the wife of a taylor from Black Friers named Thomas Hams, who sued Hills over the matter and was awarded £260 in damages. Unable to pay, Hills was cast into the Fleet Prison, where he remained for some time. While in prison Hills repented over his conduct and wrote a pamphlet entitled The Prodigal Returned to His Father's House which was published in 1651 (unfortunately no copies of this pamphlet have survived).
Details of this phase of Hills's life are known predominantly through two subsequent publications, namely A View of Part of the Many Traiterous, Disloyal, and Turn-about Actions of H. H. Senior (1684), and the closely related The Life of H. H. (1688). What is most significant about The Life of H. H. (1688) is that it purports to contain the text of Hill's original pamphlet from 1651. What does seem clear is that Hills's actions brought a sharp rebuke from Kiffen's church. Quoting the text of Luke 15:25-28a, where the Prodigal Son returns to his father's house amidst music and dancing, Hills applies the story to his own situation, placing himself in the role of the Prodigal Son who desires to return to his Father's house, that is, to the Baptist church. This suggests that at the time of the writing of the body of the pamphlet (probably in December 1650), Hills had not yet been so welcomed back into Kiffen's church. No doubt the inclusion of an opening “Epistle to the Reader” by William Kiffen himself was intended to facilitate that acceptance back into the Baptist fellowship, which probably took place sometime in 1652.
Soon thereafter Hill's career as a printer for the government took off. Early in 1653, Henry Hills made a petition to the Council of State to be appointed as one of their printers. On 11 May 1653, the Council of State empowered John Thurloe to make a decision about who should be appointed their official printers; Giles Calvert, Robert Ibbitson, Henry Hills and Thomas Brewster were all in the running, although the appointment eventually went to Hills and Brewster. This began a seven-year long period during which Hills served as one of the printers for the various permutations of Commonwealth government. Some measure of his importance can be seen by the fact that between 1653 and 1659 there were at least 268 official documents which appeared bearing an imprint of Henry Hills. However, it was his connection with the printing of Bibles during the Interregnum that brought Henry Hills his greatest public notoriety. Controversially, in March 1656, Hills and John Field managed to obtain authorization from Cromwell to publish a new edition of the King James Bible, effectively gaining a virtual monopoly in the market which lasted until Charles II once again made it a royal prerogative in 1660. On 6 March 1656, Oliver Cromwell instructed the Company of Stationers in London to enter a book entitled The Holy Bible Containing the Old Testament and the New into their official registers. This action set in motion a sequence of events which brought Henry Hills and his Cambridge colleague John Field into conflict with a number of other printers who had vested interests in the printing of Bibles. Indeed, on the very day that Cromwell issued his instructions to the Stationers' Company, the Master and Wardens of the Company wrote to the Secretary of State John Thurloe in protest over the matter. While they made it clear that they would comply with Cromwell's order, they also spelled out the financial implications upon other members of the Stationers' Company who had already invested heavily in the printing of Bibles and would “suffer deeply in their Estates by being Compelled to leave off.” Meanwhile, on 23 April 1656, the printer John Streater wrote a petition to Oliver Cromwell protesting the license that had been granted to Henry Hills and John Field.
In light of reactions such as these the Council of State had set up a Committee to review the case of Henry Hills and John Field to print Bibles. The Committee included Philip Nye, Thomas Manton and Joseph Caryl, all of whom had been appointed Commissioners for Approbation of Public Preachers ('Triers') on 20 March 1653. They were also deputed to consider the case of printers of Finsbury, who were led by William Bentley, in the matter. In November 1656, William Bentley published a broadsheet entitled The Case of the Printery at Finsbury which outlined his grievances against Hills and Field for their printing of Bibles. He soon followed this up with another broadsheet entitled The Case of William Bentley, Printer at Finsbury near London, Touching his Right to the Printing of Bibles and Psalms. No doubt one of the triggers for Bentley's broadsheets was the fact that an advertisement appeared on 6 November 1656, in the news-sheet Mercurius Politicus for Bibles that were to be published by Henry Hills and sold at his house in Aldersgate Street. The price was two shillings a copy (the equivalent of £150 today).
Hills and Field responded to the charges of Bentley with a broadsheet of their own entitled A Short Answer To a Pamphlet,
Entituled, The Case of William Bentley, Printer at Finsbury near London, Touching his Right to the Printing of Bibles and Psalms. (1656). Here Hills and Field made accusations of their own, labeling William Bently as a duplicitous money-grabber, and calling into question his professionalism (he is described as a 'Paper-Seller' rather than a 'Lawful Master-Printer').
The controversy over the printing of faulty Bibles rumbled on in official channels. Both Houses of Parliament had a long-standing interest in the suppression of foreign Bibles; the matter once again came to occupy the attention of the House of Commons, who on 11 June 1657 considered a report from the Grand Committee for Religion about the work of their sub-committee on Bibles which took place on 12 November 1656. This report concentrated on a small pocket edition of the Bible produced by John Field in 1653. Some of the misprints of this edition were specifically noted, including an unfortunate error in 1 Corinthians 6:9 (“Know ye not that the Unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God?” instead of “shall not inherit”). The Committee noted that some 7900 copies of Field's Bibles had been located, either undispersed or in the hands of various booksellers. It ordered that these be confiscated and that Field himself be required to appear before the House and give an account of himself in the matter.
Nevertheless, despite these controversies a number of Bibles bearing the imprint of Hills were produced during his lifetime. In fact, there are forty-six editions, or versions, of the Bible which bear the name of Henry Hill, or those of his assigns, on their imprint. The earliest of these appeared in August 1657 when Hills, together with John Rothwell, Joshua Kirton, and Richard Tomlins, produced Theodore Haak's The Dutch Annotations upon the Whole Bible (1657), an English translation and notes of the Dutch Bible of 1637, whose preparation had been ordered by the Synod of Dort. Another edition appeared in 1658 with Henry Hills and John Field named as “Printers to his Highness.”
Meanwhile, Hills also served as one of Cromwell's literary 'bloodhounds' responsible for investigating anti-government literature; on 22 June 1658 the Council of State appointed both Hills and John Field to a task of helping to enforce the various Acts of Parliament which had been designed to stamp out “unlicensed, Seditious and Scandalous Bookes and Pamphlets” (lines 9-10). This order is directed to the Master and Wardens of the Stationers' Company, and no doubt the fact that Hills and Field were well placed within that Company made their job easier. The legal powers Hills and Field were given to accomplish this end were quite sweeping; they were instructed to “breake open all or any Locks or Doores and apprehend all and every p[er]son and p[er]sons whom you or any of you shall fynd Soe opposeing or resisting” (lines 56-58).
Given Cromwell's increasing paranoia over opposition to his rule as Lord Protector, and the fact that Hills and Field are here said to be “our Printers by the faithfull Services they have donn us from tyme to tyme in Suppressing such unlicenced Bookes and pamphlet” (lines 25-26), it is perhaps understandable why both men were chosen to be official participants in Cromwell's funeral procession through London five months later on 23 November 1658.
In any event, Hills remained one of the printers serving Richard Cromwell's Protectorate until its collapse in April 1659. His last publications for the Protectorate were a pair of anti-Catholic broadsheets dated 23 April 1659, which bore the imprint “Printed by Henry Hills and John Field, Printers to His Highness, and are to be sold at the seven Stars in Fleetstreet over against Dunstans Church.” Taking advantage of the political uncertainties that characterized the rest of the year, Hills made himself available as a printer to a succession of bodies attempting to form a stable government. On 14 April 1659, a number of workmen-printers from London petitioned Parliament about the monopoly held by Henry Hills and John Field in the publishing of Bibles. The petition was published as a broadside, bearing the signatures of ten printers, who signed, “For themselves, and in the names of 150 Workmen-Printers in London.” They complained that before Hills and Field established their monopoly, there were over sixty printers in full- time employment producing high quality Bibles at reasonable prices. Now, however, the number of printers so employed is only ten to twelve, who “inhance the prices of their Books to excessive dear rates.”
An even more serious charge came when Henry Hills and John Field were named in William Kilburne's Dangerous Errors in Several Late Printed Bibles (1 January 1660). Kilburn accused Hills and Field of “abusing the authority of the State, to monopolize the sole printing of Bibles to themselves, since the latter end of the year 1655, and have raised the prices to excessive dear rates, to the great scandal of Religion, and detriment of the Common-wealth.”
Interestingly, William Kiffen is at one point named alongside Henry Hills within the pamphlet. Kilburn accused them of importing Bibles which had been produced in Amsterdam, in violation of several Acts of Parliament from 1649 and 1652 regulating the printing of the Bible. In this matter, Kilburn suggests, “Mr Kiffin and Mr. Hills cannot be excused (if reports be true).” The imported edition meant here was probably the duodecimo volume bearing the imprint of Robert Barker and dated to 1638, and produced by the Dutch printer Jan Fredericksz Stam from Amsterdam.
Following the Restoration of Charles II to the throne, an acrimonious struggle for the position as official printer to the king took place. The story of who functioned as the official printers of Charles II from 1660-1680 is a convoluted one, involving competing grants made by the king, and deceitful agreements of assigns by members of the Barker family, all of which led to legal suits and counter-suits over rights and privileges. In early 1660 the printer Roger Norton petitioned Charles II that he be given the post originally held by his father before him, and now legally his by right of inheritance. Norton makes his case against the backdrop of Henry Hills and Thomas Newcombe as Cromwell's printers; as a printer Norton claimed that his “priviledge was invaded by the late Usurper Cromwell and granted by him to such persons who took upon them the name of his Printers and Continue to Print Bibles and other Bookes belonging to your Ma[jes]ties Printer” (lines 12-13). His petition was accompanied by a statement signed by thirteen peers who testified to his support of the king when he was in exile.
The public admission of adultery by Henry Hills within The Prodigal Returned to His Father's House (1651) made him an open target for ridicule by his opponents following the Restoration. A number of satirical pamphlets take up the case of Hills and poke fun at his indiscretion. A good example is The London Printers Lamentation, or, the Press Opprest, and Overprest, dated by Thomason to 3 September 1660. The tract criticizes Hills as being one of Cromwell's printers, and thus a person who was opposed to the restoration of the Stuart monarchy upon the throne. In the course of its invective against Hills, the subject of his adultery is brought up:
“Are there not honest and well affected Printers in London sufficient & able and willing to serve his Majesty but his grandest adversaries must be pick'd out for his service? And the printing for his Majesty managed at the House of that libidinous & professed Adulterer H. Hills in Aldersgate-street, one that for his Heresie in Religion (being an Anabaptist,) and his luxury in conversation (having hycritically confessed his fact in Print, and been imprisoned for his Adultery with a Taylors Wife in Black- friers,) would scandalize a good Christian, and an honest man to be in his company.”
The printers were also vilified for actions surrounding the production of Bibles, and were even accused of illegally obtaining the manuscript copy of the King James Bible originally housed with the Stationers' Company.
Henry Hills and John Field again responded to the accusations of their critics with a three-page pamphlet entitled A True State of the Case of John Field and Henry Hills, the Parliamentary Printers (1660). As to the charge that they had illegally obtained the original copy of the King James Bible, Hills and Field replied that they “had made a legal Purchase of the Original Copy of the Translation of the Bible from the Proprietors,” and that it was on that basis that Oliver Cromwell had instructed the Stationers' Company as he did. Moreover, Hills and Field explained that on 20 February 1656 they had paid the heirs of Robert Barker £1200 (£1.75 million today) for the original manuscript copy of the King James Bible, although it is by no means clear what exactly this manuscript copy was.1 No one really knows what happened to this original manuscript copy of the King James Bible. But the best guess is that it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in September of 1666. Henry Hills' printing shop at the Peacock in Aldersgate Street was just inside the area burned by the fire.
Curiously, the scurrilous broadsheet A View of Part of the Many Traiterous, Disloyal, and Turn-about Actions of H.H. Senior (1684) makes the claim that one edition of Hills's Bible misprinted the commandment against adultery in Exodus 20:14:
“He Printed Barebones's Petition against the Royal Family. He was Printer to Richard the Usurper, Oliver's Son; and at that time Printing Pocket Bibles, he corrupted the Commandments, and made it, Thou shalt commit Adultery; remembering probably how delightfully he had liv'd with Honest Thomas Ham's the Taylor's Wife”
This suggestion that Hills was responsible for printing another version of Robert Barker's notorious 'Wicked Bible' of 1631 is an oft-repeated accusation, but it is without textual foundation. There are no extant Bibles bearing an imprint of Hills that contain such an error in Exodus 20:14. Most likely, this is simply an false accusation which arose because of an association between the fact that Hills was an admitted adulterer, and the reputation he had for printing Bibles which contained many errors within them. At the same time, there is evidence that on 7 July 1660, Hills and Field, following a meeting with Vice Chancellor John Conant, entered into an agreement with the University of Oxford to pay them £80 per annum for a period of four years for the privilege of printing Bibles. This was a continuation of a long-standing arrangement between the University and printers of the Stationers' Company, effectively paying the University not to publish Bibles on its own and create competition for those produced by the members of the Stationers' Company. The arrangement is evidenced by Bibles bearing the imprint of John Field and Henry Hills appearing in 1660 and 1661.
Meanwhile Hills's adultery continued to be ridiculed in the popular press. A good example, written on the eve of the Restoration when popular animosity against Anabaptists was at its height, is found in Bibliotheca Fanatica, Or, the Fanatick Library: Being a Catalogue of Such Books as Have Lately Made and By the Authors Presented to the College of Bedlam (1660). Ironically, despite this, for some time after the Restoration Hills as a Baptist was still viewed as a suspicious person, and was named in a list of “diverse persons of dangerous designs” composed by Sir Edward Nicholas on 21 August 1662.
From 1663-71, Hills drops off from the printing scene, with no publications bearing his imprint. Indeed, his name does not appear in a survey of the printing presses of London compiled on 29 July 1668. His future colleague Thomas Newcombe, in contrast, presided over one of the biggest printing businesses in London, with three regular presses, a proof press, one apprentice, and twelve employees.
Hills's fifteen-year long association with Kiffen's church came to an end in May 1665 when he was formally excommunicated for his lack of attendance and his failure to give a satisfactory account of himself before the two delegates, a Mr. King and a Mr. Cooper, who were sent to talk with him.
On 8 August 1672, Hills purchased a one-sixth interest in the patent reversion owned by Matthew Barker, for the “privilege and authority” of printing the Bible, so he clearly retained a financial interest in printing. Between 1674 and 1677 there were no titles that bore his imprint, although he did make himself useful in service to the Stationers' Company by picking up where he had left off in service to the Cromwellian government and continuing as a 'literary bloodhound' seeking out illegal publications. On 4 May 1674 the Stationers' Company ordered a vote of thanks to Hills for “discovering and seizing Counterfeit Psalters.”
In 1675 things began to look up for Hills. On 11 December 1675, Hills and Newcombe received a warrant from Charles II appointing them as his printers. The warrant outlined the extent of their responsibilities for the “Printing of all Bibles, Books of Com[m]on Prayer, of all Translat[i]ons, Statutes & Proclamat[i]ons” (lines 10-12). In many respects this was a formalization of what already existed in practice. It appears that the two had been working in the King's Printing House for some time, having had work farmed out to them by John Bill, who held an official position as one of the king's printers (lines 30- 32). Sometime in early May 1677 Hills petitioned Charles II to be sworn in as one of his official printers. On 11 May 1677, a warrant was issued for Henry Hills to be sworn in as official printer to the king. Commencing in 1677, Hill's position as one of the king's official printers began to be reflected in documents bearing his imprint. There were eight titles which appeared in 1677, including a translation of the Bible into Welsh; the imprint read: “Printed by John Bill, Christopher Barker, Thomas Newcomb, and Henry Hills, Printers to the Kings most Excellent Majesty.” This was something of a Welsh equivalent of the King James Bible, having the same format and layout. In 1679 there were 44 titles printed by Hills, 36 of which were official documents generally bearing the imprint “Printed by John Bill, Thomas Newcomb, and Henry Hills, Printers to the Kings most excellent Majesty,”; the remaining eight of which were private items, including several which related to Titus Oates and the Popish Plot.
Meanwhile, tension between the Stationers' Company and the University of Oxford over the printing of Bibles had been brewing for years, and Hills was frequently at the centre of deliberations in the matter. There are a number of documents which illustrate how influential Hills was in a legal suit brought by the Stationers' Company against the University of Oxford in 1684, attempting to undermine their printing of Bibles. For example, John Fell, the Vice-Chancellor and Bishop of Oxford, wrote a letter on 29 March 1684 to Sir Leoline Jenkins, complaining of some of the tactics Hills was using to stifle the University's aims in printing Bibles. The matter eventually came to the attention of the House of Lords, and there is an intriguing affidavit dated 5 July 1684 from John Guy which gives details of a scheme whereby he purchased from Henry Hills and his partner Thomas Newcombe thousands of Bibles which had been printed in Holland and illegally imported into the country. Apparently, Hills and Newcombe altered the title page of these Bibles and sold them at reduced prices in an attempt to cripple the University presses as an economically viable competitor.
Hills continued his spiritual migration, and converted to Catholicism, probably in January 1686. This conversion opened doors for Hills to receive an official appointment as a printer within the court of James II. Robert Spencer, the Earl of Sunderland, signed a warrant on 3 March 1686 which set out the desire of James II that Hills be appointed his printer for twenty-one years. This warrant was followed by an official patent on 19 March 1686. The terms of the patent licensed Hills to print and sell “any number of the books hereafter ment[i]oned that is to say Missalls, Breviarys, Manualls, Primers, Offices, Catechismes any lives of Saints, the book called the Spirit of Christianity.” The appointment is reflected in the imprint which appeared on a host of Hills's publications starting in 1686: “Printer to the King's most excellent Majesty, for his houshold and chappel.” Some indications about Hills's position within the court can be seen in surviving documents. For example, on 14 August 1686, Henry Hills was consulted about a petition made by Matthew Turner to James II requesting that he be granted permission to print Catholic books. It appears that Turner, a Catholic bookseller, was in financial difficulty (he “hath lost above 400li Worth of Catholic Books and is almost ruined”) and appealed to the king for help. However, the petition potentially infringed upon the legal rights of Hills as the king's printer, so the matter was referred to the Attorney General or Solicitor General to get their opinion. It appears that the legal advice was not supportive of Turner's petition, for a further document from 4 October 1686, gave Hills exclusive rights to print a Catholic almanac and declared that “no other person presume to reprint the same” (lines 4-5). Still, some sort of arrangement to assist Turner must have been struck, for his name appears alongside Hill's in the imprint of ten titles in 1686-87; apparently Hills printed the materials and they were allowed “to be sold by Matthew Turner at the Lamb in Holborn.”
With the rise of anti-Catholic feeling in London towards the end of 1688 it is not surprising that Hills, as the official printer to James II, became the object of public outrage. It appears that a large mob had attacked Hill's home and the Printing House in Blackfriars on a number of occasions, breaking windows and threatening more damage. Henry Hills was so closely associated with the court of James II, that when the king fled the country in the early hours of 11 December 1688, it was perhaps inevitable that Hills quickly did the same. Indeed, Hills and his son James were granted a travel pass on 9 December 1688, so there was clearly some preparations for the family to relocate to France being made. The pass allowed them with “their goods & necessaries to goe from hence to any Port of the Kingdom” (lines 2-3). Hills signed his last will and testament on 10 December 1688 and fled the country to France the next day. When news leaked out in London that James II had fled to France violent mobs again attacked a number of symbolic Catholic sites, including the Printing House in Blackfriars. These riots were noted in a number of newssheets. For example, the English Currant reported on 12 December 1688 that Hills's printing shop had been destroyed by rioters, with considerable loss of printing stock and materials. Similarly, The London Courant also reported on 12 December that Hills's printing house had been destroyed. The incident was also recorded in The Universal Intelligence, noting, “They also demolish'd the Popish Printing House, burnt all his Presses, and many Reams of Paper and Books” (lines 26-28). As it turns out, Hills was not to live long in exile in France. He died, probably sometime in November 1689, and his will was eventually probated on 21 January 1690.
Henry Hills remained a controversial figure even after his death. His religious commitments, particularly his conversion to Catholicism, were viewed with skepticism, long after he had passed from the scene. A good example of this is a short piece of anonymous verse which appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine in March 1736. It was entitled “On Hill, K. James's Printer doing Penance,” and it satirized Hills as a religious hypocrite who, when given a penance to walk for five miles with hard peas in his shoes, got around the anguish involved by boiling the peas first. In this way, the writer says, Hills was able “To give both feet and conscience ease” (line 8).
1 David Norton A Textual History of the King James Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 96, comments, “Whatever it was that Field and Hills had purchased, its real value was not the light it shed on the text but the added authority it gave to their claim to have a monopoly on the printing of the KJB” (96). B.J. McMullin, “The Bible trade,” in John Barnard, D.F. McKenzie and Maureen Bell (eds.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Modern Britain, Volume 4, 1557-1695 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002): 460, helpfully explains, “The right to publish the Authorized version thus did not rest on actual ownership of the manuscript copy, though it remained in the possession of the King‟s Printers. The manuscript itself is presumed to have been destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, but the privilege for the Authorized Version remained with the King's/Queen‟s Printer.”