The Gazette has a long and established history, and has been at the heart of British public life for over 350 years.
An alternative to scurrilous gossip and rumour
During the 17th century, potentially 'reckless' publishing of articles – often just scurrilous rumours issued in pamphlet form – was thought to endanger national security, and this led to a climate in which the printing of any news not pertaining to the coverage of events aboard, natural disasters, official royal declarations and the most sensationalist of crime reporting, was largely prohibited.
As a consequence, the British press was an ill-developed and badly defined industry. The introduction of censorship in 1663, together with the licensing of all news publications, did little to encourage the growth of a healthy press.
However, the situation was to change dramatically in 1665, with the worst outbreak of plague in England since the Black Death of 1348. The Great Plague is thought to have killed 15 per cent of the population in London, and forced King Charles II to remove his court from the capital and relocate – what was effectively the government of the day – to the relative safety of Oxford. It is said that the exiled courtiers were so terrified of the disease that they were unwilling to even touch London newspapers for fear of contagion.
The Oxford Gazette emerged from this turmoil, and when the plague finally dissipated and the court returned to London, The London Gazette was born.
'Mentioned in despatches'
As the first official journal of record and the newspaper of the Crown, The Gazette became an authoritative and reliable source of news, and this served the purposes of both the Crown and the Executive well.
The state already held incomparable sources of information from overseas: during peacetime, the various British embassies could be relied on to relay strategic and political news back home and, in times of war, the despatches of the British generals served a similar purpose – both sources acting effectively as the foreign correspondents of their day.
These varying despatches continued to be used to good effect as The London Gazette developed its profile. Indeed, when the newly launched Times newspaper halted its presses to carry the report of Wellington's 1815 victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, it was merely to reproduce in full the despatch which had already been previously published as a 'Gazette Extraordinary' (Gazette issue 17028).
The Gazette is also the bearer of official War Office and Ministry of Defence events, including listing those 'Mentioned in despatches' (MIDs), where notable individuals are recognised for their activities in the theatre of war.
The Gazette even ultimately produced its own terminology for those appearing in Gazette reports: whether when they were appointed to a new military post, or for committing acts of particular gallantry, an individual was said to have been gazetted when their name reached the pages of The Gazette.
An easing of publishing restrictions, and the general success of The London Gazette in providing reliable official information, led to the creation of two further journals, enabling a more detailed focus on material of particular relevance to Scotland and Ireland.
In 1699, 11 years after the Glorious Revolution brought William and Mary jointly to the throne, The Edinburgh Gazette appeared. By now, the strict Licensing Act had been allowed to lapse, with a consequential relaxation of publishing laws, although the printing history of The Edinburgh Gazette proved less predictable than its English cousin, and only settled down into a pattern of uninterrupted production in 1793.
Meanwhile, The Dublin Gazette, the forerunner of The Belfast Gazette, has been in continuous production since 1706; the 1920 partition of Ireland ultimately led to the production of two separate official publications, the Iris Oifigiuil to the south in Eire, and The Belfast Gazette in Northern Ireland.
From 1889, all three Gazettes were published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Today, The Gazette is published by TSO, on behalf of The National Archives, following TSO's successful retaining of the contract.
The Gazette transformed for the digital era
Continuing its long and illustrious history, today's Gazette continues to publish business-critical information – and, thanks to its digital transformation, this information is now more accessible than ever before.
The Gazette has reinforced its position as the official public record, at the heart of official data, using cutting-edge technology to ensure a single authoritative source of enriched information, with enhanced search functionality and the ability to tailor material to specific user requirements with both the maximum ease and efficiency.
Watch 350 years of The Gazette (video) to find out more.