The Bookbindings of William of Orange

The Bookbindings of William of Orange

De La Fontaine Verwey, Herman; Hamilton, Alastair
Source: Quaerendo, Volume 14, Number 2, 1984 , pp. 81-123(43)

During the heyday of bookbinding in Paris around the middle of the sixteenth century, various prominent Dutchmen had their books bound in the French capital, among them Marcus Laurinus, Cardinal Granvelle, Anne de Lorraine, the Duke of Aerschot and Count Mansfeld. (The last two during their imprisonment in Vincennes). William of Orange too, commissioned bindings from a Paris workshop. Evidence for this survives in the form of three books with his arms on their bindings : Le songe de Poliphile (2nd edn., Paris 1554), La Cyropédie, a translation of Xenophon (2nd edn., Lyons 1555), and L’heptaméron, the tales of the Queen of Navarre (Paris 1559). The Prince first became acquainted with French bookbinding when he spent several weeks at the French court in June 1559 as a hostage for the ratification of the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis and as the plenipotentiary of Philip II on his marriage to the daughter of Henry II. William was present at the tournament at which the French king was mortally wounded and at his dying. William’s plan to establish a small library in the French style in his castle at Breda was closely connected with his second marriage to Anna of Saxony in 1561. Anna had had an exceptionally strict and formal upbringing and suffered from attacks of melancholy, and it was William’s hope that he could cheer her up by giving her French books on the subject of love to read, such as Amadis de Gaule. This strategem, however, was to be a dismal failure, for Anna learnt her lesson only too well and rapidly turned to drink and eventually succumbed to insanity. When the Prince left the Netherlands at the beginning of the revolt in 1568 he took with him some of the movables in the castle at Breda. According to the inventory these included forty-eight books with bindings bearing his coat of arms. Some of these, containing French erotic texts, later turn up in Anna’s possession. They were confiscated from her when she was placed under house arrest in Beilstein Castle in 1571, following the scandal involving Rubens’s father. After her death in Dresden, where she was locked up by her family, a number of other French books were found among her belongings: these were of a general nature and almost certainly also came from the court library at Breda. The three surviving books with William’s coat of arms do not appear among Anna’s collection. Perhaps she gave them away or they were kept by the Prince but later mislaid during his wandering life or sold after his death. The second series of bindings bearing the Prince’s coat of arms was made in Antwerp between 1578 and 1581. From 1577 William spent much of his time in the city on the Scheldt, where his third wife, Charlotte de Bourbon, lived with the children. The Antwerp years, or at least the early ones, were the happiest of William’s life. Prominent Huguenots such as Languet and Du Plessis-Mornay were also in Antwerp and served the Prince as advisers. It was at about this time that William first had dealings with Plantin, and in 1578 Plantin was appointed printer to the States General. The Catholic spiritualist Plantin had much sympathy for Orange’s efforts to bring about a climate of tolerance and expected much of the Prince, as is evidenced by two idealistic poems in Orange’s honour, written to mark the visit to the Officina Plantiniana which the Prince and his consort made on 14 December 1579. The first Antwerp bindings of simple calf with the Prince’s arms (stamped with a different block from that used for the Paris bindings) grace two copies of a hymnal printed by Plantin at the end of 1578 and published in the beginning of 1579, Les cantiques saints, which its author, Charles de Navières, had dedicated to William and Charlotte. At this time the poet and soldier Navières was William’s chamberlain, having previously served Charlotte’s sister, Françoise de la Marck, as chamberlain and military adviser in his birthplace Sedan. The two completely identical bindings for the hymnal must have been made by one of the binders then employed by Plantin. The same block reappears on six calf bindings for a copy of Plantin’s master-piece, the Biblia Regia (1568-72), now in the Stadsbibliotheek in Haarlem. Probably this bible was a gift to the Prince from the printer, possibly in connection with the visit to his printing shop. The tool also occurs on a calf binding made for the revised Italian edition of Guiccardini’s famous description of the Low Countries, which Plantin published in the spring of 1581. Here again we may assume that it was a gift to the Prince from Plantin. In an appendix the author turns to two other volumes of religious verse by Charles de Navières, printed in 1580 by other Antwerp printers: Les psalmes mis en vers and Premier livre des hymnes, the latter dedicated to Archduke Matthias, the governor, and the former to the children of William of Orange and at the same time to his sister Catharina and her husband Günther von Schwarzburg. This is a translation of Luther’s psalter, intended for the French-speaking Lutheran congregation in Antwerp which was led by the Spanish reformer Cassiodoro de Reyna, bête noire of the Calvinist preachers. Are we to take this dedication to Orange’s children as an attempt to win over the princely family for the Lutheran cause? The rumours this dedication must have caused at the time may well have been the reason for Navières’ departure from Antwerp shortly afterwards and his return to Sedan, which he helped defend against the Ligue. When in 1595 Charlotte’s second daughter, Maria Elizabeth, married in Sedan Duke Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne, widower of Françoise’s daughter Charlotte de la Marck, Charles de Navières devoted a rhymed letter to the young duchess and her elder sister, Countess Palatine Louise Juliana. In it the poet reminded the two princesses of the years he had spent in the service of their parents in Antwerp-the years in which the armorial bindings were made.

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