Under Henry VIII
With Edward Whitchurch, a member of the Haberdashers' Company, Grafton was interested in the printing of the Bible in English, and eventually they became printers and publishers, more by chance than by design. They published the Matthew Bible in 1537, though it was printed abroad. In 1538 they brought presses and printers from Paris to print the first edition of the Great Bible. Whitchurch printed for a time in partnership with Grafton, who set up his press in the recently surrendered house of the Grey Friars, and in 1541 they obtained a joint exclusive privilege for printing service books including the Prayer-book; a little later they were granted a privilege for printing primers in Latin and English.
Also 1541 Grafton was committed to Fleet Prison for printing a "sedicious [sic] epistle of Melanctons" and was also accused by the Privy Council of printing ballads defending the late Thomas Cromwell. In April 1543, he and seven other printers, among them Whitchurch, were sent to prison "for printing such books as were thought to be unlawful." In Grafton's case it was for having printed the Great Bible. He spent six weeks in prison and was bound in £300 neither to sell nor to print any more Bibles until the King and clergy should agree upon a translation.
Under Edward VI and later life
On the accession of Edward VI, Grafton was appointed King's Printer and this gave him the sole right to print all Acts and Statutes. He had held the appointment for six years, when on the King's death, he printed a proclamation of the accession of Lady Jane Grey, in which he signed himself "Printer to the Queen." For this he was cast into prison by Mary I. John Cawood became Queen's Printer, and Grafton's career as a printer ended.
In prison Grafton compiled an Abridgement of the Chronicles of England, which he published in 1563. To this he added in 1568–9 A Chronicle at Large. Neither holds a high place as authorities, as they lack original material. John Stow and Grafton had a running battle over their rival chronicles after Stow justifiably accused Grafton of copying his own work. In the Chronicle at Large, he is the earliest writer known to refer in print to Edward of Woodstock (Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Aquitaine) as the "Black Prince". The origins of the name remain uncertain: Grafton said he had found it in other writers, and gives no further explanation.
Grafton was instrumental in the establishment and maintenance of the London hospitals. He died in 1573, leaving four sons and one daughter, Joan, who married the printer Richard Tottel. Grafton's device was a tree bearing grafts issuing from a tun or barrel of the kind in which books were packed for transport.
- Meraud Grant Ferguson, ‘Grafton, Richard (c.1511–1573)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Grafton, Richard, Chronicle at Large, vol. 1, London (1809), 332, 388, 403.
- Grafton, Richard. , A chronicle at large: and meere history of the affayres of Englande, and kinges of the same, deduced from the creation of the worlde, vnto the first habitation of thys islande: and so by contynuance vnto the first yere of the reigne of our most deere and souereigne lady Queene Elizabeth: collected out of sundry aucthors, whose names are expressed in the next page of this leafe. vol. 1, London, (1809).
- Grafton, Richard. A chronicle at Large. vol. 2, London, (1809).