Navarrese Private Libraries – Part 1

For my Student Research Grant, I was able to fund the digitization of some 16th and 17th court documents from the Archivo Diocesano de Pamplona (ADP) in Pamplona, Spain. These are for the honors thesis that I am currently writing about private libraries in the 16th and 17th centuries. Within these court documents, scribes and notaries painstakingly (or carelessly) noted down the household goods, papers, and books of individuals. I am interested in the books of 35 individuals whose personal libraries were inventoried so that the parties fighting over the goods could be sure of what the deceased owned. These documents offer some of the best insight into how people interacted with books in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Unfortunately, the scribes were not always careful in taking down this information because it was not as historically crucial as it is today. They rarely write out full titles, authors, and other identifying information that the book historian of the present day can use to figure out exactly which book an early modern individual owned. Scribes would work in pairs with one dictating the list of items to the other person, so the person writing out the inventory would sometimes misinterpret what was being said. I don’t get to look at the actual physical books that the people owned, so I can’t just look at the books! All I get is a list of titles. These are some different examples of what appears in the inventories:

Good information: “Ytten la letura de Paulo de castro sobre digestos y codigo en cinco cuerpos ynpression de Leon de quinientos y quarenta y quatro encuadernados en papel” (Next, the lecture of Paulo de Castro about the Digest and Codex in 5 volumes imprint of Lyon in 1544 bound in paper)

Fair information: “Yten libro intitulado la araucana” (Next, book titled La araucana)

Poor information: “Iten treinta libros en quarto, octavo, y doze” (Next, thirty books in quarto, octavo, and duodecimo [different sizes of books])

For me, it is particularly important to know as best I can which book an item is and what it is about because I am connecting a person’s private library to their identity as an individual in that society. I believe that people could project an identity through their library and what they read. Their libraries could be in line with what society dictated to be appropriate for them (such as moral and religious works for women), or it could contain works that transgressed that (e.g. banned books).

Therefore, in order to get an accurate idea of their library to connect to their identity, I need as accurate data as possible. The first time I transcribed the information, I only had 5 weeks (1 week in 2016 and 4 weeks in 2017) so I was deciphering 17th century handwriting and typing as fast as I could. There are errors in that transcription because I either typed a mistake, couldn’t read the handwriting, or misinterpreted the handwriting the first time around. With these copies, I am able to check my work and make sure my data is up to par. Additionally, since I made a website with my data, that website is becoming more accurate as I update the information. So it’s a win-win! (Check out the website here!)

Along with the digitized copies of the book inventories, I have also ordered the pages containing the household good inventories. It is important to consider these books in the context of the rest of the goods. The other goods enable me to gauge the wealth and social status of an individual and see what other goods might be connected to the books. Often, the items that went along with being literate is included such as bookshelves, desks, and boxes. With items like paintings, it is possible to connect themes between them and the books. An individual may have a painting and a book about a particular saint which may indicate a special devotion to them. These are all of the things I hope to uncover in these new copies.

In the first manuscript I looked at, I was able to better gauge the social status of Juan de Aragon, an important lawyer, and his wife, Maria de Ceniceros. In the very beginning of their inventory of household goods, there is a ton of gold, silver, and precious gems, all of which obviously indicate high status and wealth. I had already placed them as being of high status, because he owned over 200 books, but their goods confirm that they did not just spend money on books, but that the whole household was richly appointed.

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