Writing in the preface to his A dayly exercise and experience of dethe (1537, STC 25414), Richard Whitford, the early sixteenth-century English Bridgettine Father and prolific author of orthodox devotional literature, explains that
This lytle tretie, or draght of deth, dyd I wryte more than .xx. yeres ago / at the request of the reuerende Mother Dame Elizabeth Gybs / whome Iesu perdon / then Abbes of Syon. And by the oft callyng vpon / and remembraunce of certeyen of her deuout systers. And nowe of late I haue been compelled […] to wryte it agayne & agayne. And bycause that wrytynge vnto me is very tedyouse: I thought better to put it in print. (sig. aiv–aiir)
Meditating on this passage in his introduction to A Companion to the Early Printed Book in Britain, Vincent Gillespie has shown that the active engagement by Syon and other religious houses ‘with printers as part of a sustained campaign of defence of orthodox catholic teaching’ is at least as important for the early history of print as was access to the press by Protestant reformers and polemicists. For authors across the confessional spectrum, printed books offered unique material prospects for the dissemination of religious ideas, and the physical and financial opportunities afforded by printed books surely explain the central role of religious printing of all kinds in the development of the trade in English printed books.
The special role of Syon in cultivating interests in print has been central to Gillespie's work, shaping a field that importantly corrects the historical overemphasis on reformed writing in histories of the book in Britain and illustrates the role of late medieval piety in the pre-Reformation print tradition. Indeed, as J. T. Rhodes has shown, the number of printed books either originating from or associated with Syon before 1540 was ‘far higher than for any other religious house or order in England’, a fact that she attributes to the Cambridge education of many of the brethren, and the particular regard accorded to books within the double community. But the production of so many books would seem also to reflect the successful consolidation of markets beyond the abbey's walls.