Glossary of Early Modern Popular Print Genres



The Post-master or the Loyal Mercury, nr. 61 (Exon: A. Brice, 1721). Exeter, Devon and Exeter Institution.

Other languages

  • Dutch: Mercurius 
  • French: Mercure 
  • German: Mercurius, Messrelation 
  • Italian: Mercurio 
  • Polish: merkuriusz
  • Spanish: Mercurio 

Material form




The Mercurius (Latin) refers to a printed, periodical series of books of contemporary history. The first use of the term stems from 1592, when the Mercurius Gallo-Belgicus was printed in Latin in Cologne. The reference to the messenger of the Roman gods, Mercurius, presents the books as bringers of news. The genre became widely popular in the 17th century, not only in the Low Countries (where it was still referred to as Mercurius) but also in England (Mercury), France (Mercure) and Italy (Mercurio). The German equivalent, appearing already from 1583 onwards, was the Messrelation (see Relation). 

In the Low Countries, Mercurius also appeared as the title of a weekly newspaper in The Hague in the 1650s, the Wekelyksche Mercurius (weekly mercury). Here, as happened more often, the name of a specific genre was invoked to denote news in a more general sense.  

In Italy, the mercury only came to imply a periodical publication (usually monthly, semi-annual or annual) from the 18th century on. 

In France, the mercure took on a slightly different form. The Mercure Françoys in the early 17th century and the Mercure Galant (later renamed Mercure de France and put under government supervision) were predominantly literary and scientific journals of considerable length, although they also reported on the latest gossips and fashions from the court. Originally, however, the Mercure Galant had started as an irregular publication transmitting news of political events. The Mercure de France continued publication until the early 19th century.  

Related terms

relation, journal


P. Arblaster, A. Belo, C. Espejo, S. Haffemayer, M. Infelise, N. Moxham, J. Raymond, N. Schobesberger, ‘The Lexicons of Early Modern News’, in: J. Raymond and N. Moxham (eds.), News Networks in Early Modern Europe (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2016), 64-101.

J. Dejean, ‘Mercure galant, Le’, in: P. France, The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

P. Grente, Dictionnaire des lettres françaises: XVIIe siècle (Paris: Fayard, 1954).

J.W. Koopmans, Het nieuws verbeeld. Oorlog en vrede in de titelprenten van de Europische Mercurius (1690-1750) (Hilversum: Verloren, 2021).

F. Moureau, ‘Informer et diffuser la pensée dans la France du dernier siècle de l’Ancien Régime’, Lumen 28 (2009), 29-50.

M. Palmer, ‘Mercure de France, Le’, in: P. France, The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

Modified on: 05/02/2024