RASTELL, JOHN (or RASTALL), JOHN (d. 1536), English printer and author, was born in London towards the end of the 15th century. He is vaguely reported by Anthony a Wood to have been " educated for a time in grammatical and philosophical " at Oxford. He became a member of Lincoln's Inn, and practised successfully as a barrister. He was also M.P. for Dunheved, Cornwall, from 1529 to the time of his death. He began his printing business some time before 1516, for in his preface to the undated Liber Assisarum he announced the forthcoming publication of Sir A. Fitzherbert's Abbreviamentum librorum legum Anglorum, dated 1516. Among the works issued from the " sygne of the meremayd at Powlysgate," where he lived and worked from 1520 onwards, are The Mery Gestys of the Wydow Edyth (1525), and A Dyaloge of Syr Thomas More (1529). The last of his dated publications was Fabyl's Ghoste (1533), a poem. In 1530 he wrote, in defence of the Roman doctrine of Purgatory, A New Boke of Purgatory (1530), dialogues on the subject between " Comyngs and Almayn a Christen man, and one Gyngemyn a Turke." This was answered by John Frith in A Disputacion of Purgatorie. Rastell replied with an Apology against John Fryth, also answered by the latter. Rastell had married Elizabeth, sister of Sir Thomas More, with whose Catholic theology and political views he was in sympathy. More had begun the controversy with John Frith, and Rastell joined him in attacking the Protestant writer, who, says Foxe (Actes and Monuments, ed. G. Townsend, vol. v. p. 9), did so " overthrow nd confound " his adversaries that he converted Rastell to his side. Separated from his Catholic friends, Rastell does not seem to have been fully trusted by the opposite party, for in a letter to Cromwell, written' probably in 1536, he says that he had spent his time in upholding the king's cause and opposing the pope, with the result that he had lost both his printing business and his legal practice, and was reduced to poverty. He was imprisoned in 1536, perhaps because he had written against the payment of tithes. He probably died in prison, and his will, of which Henry VIII. had originally been appointed an executor, was proved on the 18th of July 1536. He left two sons: William, noticed below, and John. The Jesuit, John Rastell (1532-1577), who has been frequently confounded with him, was no relation.
Rastell's best-known work is The Pastyme of People, the Chronycles of dyvers Realmys and most specially of the Realme of England (1529), a chronicle dealing with English history from the earliest times to the reign of Richard III., edited by T. F. Dibdin in 1811. His Expositiones terminorum legum Angliae (in French, translated into English, 1527; reprinted 1629, 1636, 1641, etc., as Les Termes de la Ley), and The Abbreviation of Statutis (1519), of which fifteen editions appeared before 1625, are the best known of his legal works.
Rastell was also the author of a morality play, A new Interlude and a Mery of the nil Elements, written about 1519, which is no doubt the " large and ingenious comedy " attributed to him by Wood. The unique copy in the British Museum is incomplete, and contains neither the date nor the name of the author, identified with John Rastell on the authority of Bale, who catalogues Natura Nalurata among his works, adding a Latin version of the first line of the piece. This interlude was printed in W. C. Hazlitt's edition of Dodsley's Old English Plays, by J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps for the Percy Soc. (Early English Poetry, vol. 22, 1848), and by Julius Fischer (Marburger Studien zur englischen Philologie, vol. v., 1903). See also an article on " John Rastell and his Contemporaries " in Bibliographica, vol. n, 437 seq., by Mr. H. R. Plomer, who unearthed in the Record Office an account of a law-suit (1534-35) in connexion with Rastell's premises at the " Mermaid." For the books issued from his press see a catalogue by R. Proctor, in HandLists of English Printers (Bibliographical Soc., 1896).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)