Silk stockings are the smoking gun (Navarrese Private Libraries – Part 2)

In the first post about what I’m using my Student Research Grant for, I tried to give an overview of what I’m using it for and a little taste of my research. In this post, I’d like to take you through the most thrilling example of what has come up in my research.

The case is the same one that I mentioned in my previous post. It involves Maria de Ceniceros and her husband, Juan de Aragon, an extremely important lawyer in Pamplona. It was one of the first cases that I transcribed when I went to Pamplona this summer. Judging by the initial description in the catalog, I was excited for this case. I thought the library in the inventory would be that of Maria, not her husband. I really wanted to find what I could about women’s libraries since women’s literacy rates were so low and because their reading habits would not necessarily be dictated by a profession like lawyers and clergy. Unfortunately, upon transcribing it, it became abundantly clear that the library in the inventory was 200+ law books, mostly in Latin. This is not the reading material of a 17th century upper-class housewife. So I marked it down as a lawyer’s case and moved on.

Until September 2017…

I was looking over my transcription of the case for Juan de Aragon when I spotted an item that I had missed! A libro de memorias of Maria de Ceniceros. A libro de memorias is basically a personal notebook in which one can write things down to remember. So if Maria knew enough to be able to write notes to herself, she could probably read. But then where were her books? They weren’t in her husband’s inventory or the small portion of the goods that I had transcribed. So now it was a waiting game until I could get the copies.

Flash forward to November 2017

In November, I got the copies for all of the cases and I immediately started going through Maria and Juan’s case. Jackpot!

The first items I spotted were two Books of Hours which were the book for women in the early modern period. One is described as:

“Yten unas oras de nuestra señora con sus manillas cubiertas doradas”

(A books of hours with gilt clasps and covers)

and the other

“Iten unas oras de nuestra señora”

These were two books where it was already safe to say that Maria had read them and read them on a regular basis.

Further within the household goods, between blankets for a bed and a large iron knife, there were listed

“Iten veynte y un libros pequeños y grandes y medianos de Romance, todos de diferentes tomos”

(Next, 21 books small and large and medium in Romance (Spanish), all of different volumes)

It is extremely important that these books were set apart from the others and that they were in Spanish. In the inventory listed for Juan de Aragon, barely 10% (17 titles) are likely to be in Spanish and none are likely to be of interest to Maria. That these 21 are set apart, in Spanish, and still in the household after the death of Juan de Aragon (Maria was a widow for at least 10 years) are strong indicators that these books were hers. It is unfortunate that the scribe was lazy and did not write them down, but at least there’s proof that she was literate.

But wait, there’s more!

In a desk with several drawers, there was a small book in Spanish and

“un libro intitulado suma de confesion compuesta por fray antonio”

which may be a Spanish translation of the confessional written by Antoninus of Florence. However, what cinches these as being the books of Maria de Ceniceros is a silk stocking. The next entry in the inventory says that in another drawer of the desk there were some colored women’s silk stockings that were very worn out. I sincerely doubt that her husband ever got hold of her used silk stockings and stuffed them in a desk that contained some books. I think it is safe to say that the silk stockings mark the desk and its contents as hers! This means that I have knowledge of five women that were literate during this period that owned their own books.

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