The Earl of Essex and the Bishop´s Library

Peter Kingdon Booker


Soon after I became President of 3As in February 2007, I was approached by a delightful lady who feels strongly that stolen books currently in England should be returned to their former home in Faro. Dorothy has been conducting her quixotic campaign with MPs in England and with the Librarian of their current home, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, for the return of these stolen goods. It is clear that neither the establishment in England nor that in Portugal is concerned with this issue.


In 1596 an expedition jointly led by the Earl of Essex and Lord Howard of Effingham made raids on both Cadiz and Faro. In Faro the library of the Bishop of the Algarve was looted, and four years later the Earl donated the books to Thomas Bodley, librarian to the University of Oxford. Those books are today in the Bodleian Library (sometimes eponymously referred to by members of the University as Bodley).  The raids formed part of the nineteen years of war that existed between the crowns of England and the United Monarchy of Spain and Portugal between 1585 and 1604.


The union of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in 1580 gave rise to the striking of a medal to commemorate the accession to the joint throne of Philip II of Spain. This medal was marked Non sufficit orbis and implied that the Iberian monarchy was universal. For most people, his idea encountered a mortal check in 1588 with the destruction of the Invincible Armada, but it persisted in Spain. Iberian pretensions to universal hegemony also attracted the enmity of Moroccan and Algerian pirates who raided the Algarve and Andalusia with regularity at this time, and the coastal defences which still exist on the Algarvean coast are more to do with defence against Moroccan and Algerian pirates than with the English and Dutch.


In this piece I shall refer to Philip II, monarch of Spain, in the conventional English way. He was the son of the Emperor Charles V and became king of Spain in 1556 as Felipe II when Charles abdicated. Among his many titles, he was king consort of England and Ireland on his marriage with Mary Tudor (1554-58). He became king of Portugal in 1580 as D Filipe I and died in 1598. When he inherited, bought and conquered the throne of Portugal, he became the first ruler of a truly global empire.


The War


The 1596 expedition was the second to conduct a raid in southern Iberia. On 29 April, 1587 Sir Francis Drake with a fleet of 23 ships had raided Cadiz and had destroyed more than 20 Spanish ships. This was the raid in which he was said to have singed the King of Spain´s beard, and which had caused Philip II to postpone for a year the sailing of the Invincible Armada. Drake had been unable to disembark for further destruction ashore in the face of a large Spanish armed force. On his way back to England he had landed at Balieira, Beliche and Cabo de São Vicente as well as Sagres. He had tried to capture Lagos on 25 May, but Portuguese resistance under Fernão Teles de Meneses, Governor and Captain General of the Algarve, was too strong. It was on this visit that an unknown Englishman had made a plan of the house at the end of the world built by the Infante D Henrique (the Navigator), which is providentially the only plan we have of that famous building (Vila do Infante). On this voyage, Drake terrorized other parts of the Portuguese coast and in the Azores captured on 24 June the Portuguese Indiaman São Filipe. In 1585, Drake had also attacked and sacked Ribeira Grande and Praia in the Cape Verde islands.


The Invincible Armada and its defeat cost the united Iberian crown dear, not only in terms of men, money and ships, but also in terms of reputation and self belief. The ability of the Iberian Crown to defend its coastline and the vital treasure fleets from the New World was fatally weakened. The monarch had to call his cortes in order to ask for money and in so doing he demonstrated that the cortes of Castile now had the ability to exercise control over expenditure. Portugal was also required to pay an (unpopular) tax to provide for a naval escort service.


D António, Prior of Crato


In order to follow up on the defeat of the Armada, the English landed at Peniche in 1589 in an attempt to help D António reclaim his throne, but the necessary popular support was not there. It is easy for Britons to forget the pretender to the throne of Portugal, D António Prior of Crato (1531- 95), who was a natural son of the Infante D Luís and grandson of D Manuel I. He is often referred to in Portuguese sources as D António I, King of Portugal. There are similarities between D António and D João I Mestre de Aviz, since they were both illegitimate and they were both acclaimed King by the people of Portugal; opponents also alleged that D António´s mother was a New Christian. As usual in these cases, there are also historians who propose that D António´s parents were married, and it was the morganatic nature of the marriage which caused them to keep it secret. D António was present at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir, and by pretending to be poor and of low birth escaped with the payment of a very small ransom. His claim to the throne was in the meantime overridden by D Henrique, but was resuscitated on the cardinal´s death in 1580. D António´s reign came to an end with the occupation of the Azores in 1583 by the forces of the marquês de Santa Cruz, and he then became a pawn in European politics for the next 12 years. One of the uses to which Queen Elizabeth put him was the attempt in 1589 to stir up a rebellion on his behalf in Portugal. He issued letters-of-marque to English, French and Flemish (framengos) pirates hoping to cover some of his personal expenses on the proceeds.


English Campaigns


The English learned in 1589 that the Iberian coast and sea-lanes were poorly defended and they began a campaign of piracy, concentrating on the route of the treasure and spice fleets near the Azores. They took 299 ships between 1589 and 1591 which yielded £400 000 (the annual income of the English crown) and the annual average yield after 1591 was £100 000. The greatest of the English triumphs was the taking of the Madre de Deus in 1592 which yielded £800 000. By the end of the reign of Philip II in 1598, the Spanish navy on the Atlantic coast was divided between three bases: Cadiz to protect the Atlantic coast between Cabo de S Vicente and the Strait; Lisbon to protect the coast between S Vicente and Porto and the approaches to the Azores; and Corunna to protect the coast of Galicia and the Bay of Biscay. Although there were also militias appointed to guard the coastline, the task of general protection of the whole of the coastline of the peninsula was clearly too great, and the English continued to raid with impunity.


The raid of 1596 - Cadiz


In April 1596, Lisbon merchants heard that the English were in their turn preparing a fleet to attack the peninsula, and Philip II sent vessels to the Channel to watch English naval movements. By June, the reports were so alarming that Lisbon was put on red alert, and the gates closed and prepared for a siege because “se ueyo a descobrir tanto a uinda dos Ingresses e serteza disso que a redea solta comesarão grandes e pequenos, altos e baxos a despeiar fazendas, molheres e filhos, chegando a não auer ia quem ouuesse barca nem andas nem caualgadura por nenhum dinheiro.”


Essex´s fleet left Plymouth on 1 June and arrived off the coast of the peninsula on the 10 June. The joint commanders (Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex and Lord Howard of Effingham, in 1596 created 1stEarl of Nottingham) decided to stop and capture any passing ships to prevent news of their arrival being spread, and by chance they took three out of Cadiz and from them the English learned much about the state of the defences of Cadiz.Their declaration written in Spanish appeared in Lisbon with the assurance that they would attack only subjects of the Iberian king and any other who supported him.There was widespread rumour about the eventual target of the English even after their attack on Cadiz on 1July.


At Cadiz the English overpowered many of the ships anchored in the bay, destroyed others and took the city, where they demanded a monetary tribute. They let go all the inhabitants with their personal belongings before sacking the city over 3 days. Referring to the King of Spain, Monson wrote, “For our attempt was at his own Home, in his Port that he thought as safe as his Chamber, where we took and destroy´d his Ships of War, burnt and consum´d the Wealth of his Merchants, sack´d his City, ransom´d his Subjects and entered his Country without Impeachment.” The burning of merchant ships anchored in the bay at the order of the Duke of Medina Sidonia had cost the merchants millions of cruzados. The English were so much in control that they stayed in Cadiz for 16 days.


The raid of 1596 - Faro


What next? The commanders were clearly undecided and chose to revictual on the coast of the Algarve; had they patrolled the Azores, they should have taken the São Pantaleão which arrived in Lisbon on 8 August with a cargo worth 800 000 escudos. The Portuguese were certainly afraid of such a move.


Philip II sent his Adelentado Mayor Don Martín de Padilla Manrique to take charge of the defence of Lisbon, much to the anger of the Portuguese, and later substituted the conde de Portalegre. By the agreement reached in Tomar in 1580, Philip II had promised that major posts in his administration of Portugal would be reserved for Portuguese, and clearly the Portuguese nobility expected him to abide by it. In the Algarve, the Governor and Captain General Rui Lourenço de Távora reinforced the defences of Lagos and the Bishop of Faro, obeying a royal decree, also led his reinforcements to that town from Faro.


On the 23 July, the English disembarked in the late afternoon to the west of Faro and finding little resistance determined to attack the city on the next morning. As the defendants had been led to Lagos, there were few to defend their city. There was no heroic resistance to the invasion nor was there any great wealth for the English to rob, since the inhabitants had fled with their possessions. They roamed far and wide in search of victuals, even as far as São Brás de Alportel, 17 kilometres from Faro. They were opposed and repulsed in São Brás by local people. This incursion must have taken place on 25 July, and those English who headed in the direction of Loulé and Tavira were opposed by the militias of Loulé and Tavira, and subsequently retreated on Faro. Having sacked the city they fired it and re-embarked on 27 July. News reached Lisbon on 28 July that “os ingresses entrarão en Faro e o saquearão deribando e queimando muita parte delle.” The incursion as far as São Brás de Alportel first appeared in writing in the work of Silva Lopes in 1841, and is clearly based in oral history. The attack on São Brás is commemorated every year not in July but at the Easter Day procession of the Tochas.


The bishop of Faro at the time of the raid was D Fernando Martins Mascarenhas (appointed to the see in 1595) and he was still bishop in 1605. In the dedication to the book published in 1604 D Fernando wrote of the attack by the English, “as mulheres lamentam-se, as crianças choram, uns ocorrem às armas, outros agarram-se às suas coisas, a maior parte são tomados de medo aqui, sem armas ali, sem saber que resolução tomar com a mente perturbada….” The English were “os inimigos impiedosos, insolentes, soberbos, truculentos, irados, em pouco tempo põem tudo a ferro e fogo, e tudo destroem: as igrejas, as casa são roubadas e incendiadas.” This raid clearly rankled with the bishop for apart from the major destruction of the city, with the loss of his books he had lost his means of both entertainment and teaching.


The English appeared off Lagos on 27 July, but appreciating that the potential profit in taking the town was probably not worth the effort after their experience at Faro, they sailed on. Lisbon felt itself under threat for the rest of the summer and was the scene of differences between Portuguese and Castilians and was at risk of open conflict between them. For the Algarve, the cost of the English raid was high in terms of immediate loss and also in terms of the cost of maintaining garrisons and building defences for the future. As for Faro, among its losses was the library of its bishop, now aboard an English ship and on its way to England. When Essex returned to England in 1596, he must have stored the books in one of his houses, since they were not donated until 1600. It is fortunate that he donated them when he did because on 25 February 1601 he was beheaded at the Tower for treason.


Thomas Bodley (1545 – 1613)


Bodley had been educated at Oxford and Geneva. He had taken his degree at Magdalen in 1563 and was admitted as Fellow to Merton and served in many University posts until his 1576 tour of the continent on a college grant of £6 13s 4d. On his return he began a parliamentary and diplomatic career, travelled widely in northern Europe and was aware of the high standards of university libraries in Europe.


The University Library at Oxford had originally been founded by Duke Humfrey of Gloucester (1391 – 1447). When Bodley returned to Oxford having retired from diplomacy in 1596 owing to the infighting between Essex and Cecil, he was unable to resume his fellowship because in 1587 he had married. Bodley was horrified by the state of the University library and in 1598 offered to restore it at his own expense. He determined “to take his farewell of state employments and to set up his staff at the library door in Oxford”. His offer was accepted by the university authorities and he began collecting in 1600. Bodley had the idea of giving publicity to those who endowed his library, and his Benefactors´ Book was placed on display in the Library. This handsome volume with names of donors prominently inscribed on vellum attracted more gifts; Bodley may have been the first to publicise the names of his current donors in this way, and it is a practice which institutions still follow in our own times. When it opened its doors in on 8 November 1602, Bodley´s Library already possessed 2 500 volumes, and in 1605 published its first catalogue.


Essex´s donation


Of the donation made to Bodley by the Earl there were 176 titles and 215 volumes; of these 65 titles and 91 volumes were certainly taken from the bishop´s collection in Faro because they bear the bishop´s arms stamped in gold on their covers.There is one other volume that was dedicated to the bishop and does not bear his arms, and it is reasonable to deduce that this volume was taken from his collection in Faro and there is one manuscript also dedicated to the bishop.It is not certain that this collection of 91 volumes is the totality of those taken from Faro, since it is possible both that Essex did not donate all that he possessed and also that others stole volumes from Faro which were not in the Essex collection. It is possible that Essex gave away those titles which were of no interest to him because they were in Latin, and retained for his own use those written in the vernacular.The Earl had also taken books from his raid at Cadiz, and books of Spanish origin represent the second most important collection given by Essex to Bodley.


At the beginning of the 17th century books were of course still a valuable rarity and most of the books donated were printed after 1571. In comparison with other contemporary libraries, the collection of Bishop Mascarenhas was not a large collection, and contemporary prelates with similar backgrounds had collections twice as large. But of course we do not know what proportion of the whole of Mascarenhas´ collection is represented by those books donated to Bodley by the Earl.


After the raid, Bishop Mascarenhas set about rebuilding his library, in part through Inquisitorial confiscations which he diverted to his own personal collection. He was Inquisitor general 1616 – 1628, and was not alone in using the confiscations made through his office for personal gain.


Of the volumes given by Essex to the Bodleian, 35% were of French origin, and only 24% of Iberian origin, 20% German and 13% Italian. Of the 42 volumes donated by Essex which were printed in Iberia, only 20 were taken from Faro. Other printing centres represented are Italy, Flanders, Germany and Switzerland. The subjects of the books donated are theology (62%) law (17%) teaching (15%).  The overwhelming majority of these books was written in Latin except for one in Castilian and two in Greek; Latin was of course the main language of science until the mid eighteenth century, although Galileo (1562 – 1642) began in 1612 to write in Italian.


Dorothy´s campaign


Letters sent to her by Bodley´s Librarian and given to me by Dorothy discuss the repatriation of items of iconic status and assert that their repatriation is rare. He writes that if everyone were to repatriate such items, the library and museum worlds would enter a period of tumult. The 16th and 17th centuries saw widespread political commotion and collections all over Europe were affected, including Oxford´s own library founded by Duke Humfrey. Some of the works from the original library are now in St Petersburg and Rome. If we see these volumes as a part of a vast European collection, it cannot matter in which part of Europe they are located, if they are well cared for, and if their location is acknowledged and if they are available for consultation. In Dorothy´s collection are other letters from Members of Parliament which are clearly of the opinion that this particular lying dog is much better left asleep.


The catalogue of these volumes shows the titles of the books as follows:-


List of books presented by the earl of Essex in 1600, still in the Bodleian (The books are grouped chronologically under places of printing; titles of volumes which bear the arms of Mascarenhas are printed in italics) Analysis of the entries in the catalogue shows that Bishop Mascarenhas contributed a collection of 65 printed works and one manuscript; and the balance of Essex´s gift was made up of another 111 works.


Their provenance is as follows in modern geographical terminology:


Mascarenhas Not Mascarenhas


 Spain & Portugal 20 22


 France 22 40

 Switzerland 0 7

 Belgium 3 18

 Germany 11 9

 Italy                           9 15


Totals 66 111


The questions remain as follows. If Essex did not donate to Bodley all of the books he took from Faro, where is the remainder? And as he donated books to Bodley which definitely did not come from Faro, where did these volumes come from? Were there books among those taken from Bishop Mascarenhas´ library which do not bear his arms and form part of this donation? Was the bishop´s library plundered in the same raid by other people?


Much of the material for this article has been drawn from the booklet A memoria à luz da história ou a biblioteca do Bispo do Algarve revisitada by João Teles e Cunha, published by the University of the Algarve in 2007.


The Earl of Essex - Addendum


It is thought that when the Earl & his men came ashore in 1596 to the west of Faro it was at the port of Farrobilhas, which is of course now in Quinta do Lago.  Farrobilhas used to be a port for the people of Almancil and for Loulé since it was closer than other alternatives in Faro or further west in Quarteira. It saw a battle between the naval forces of D Afonso IV (1325 – 1357) and the Castilians (which was won by the weather; both sides were destroyed in a strong storm which suddenly got up). There was a castle and look-out tower at Farrobilhas, and on a visitation by the Masters of the Order of Santiago in 1565 to the Hermitage of Nossa Senhora de Farrobilhas, a record was made of a big tower with three storeys and windows “from which they looked out for Moorish raiders”. There were many such watchtowers (atalaias) along the Algarvian coast and their purpose was to give early warning of the advent of the Barbary pirates (from Algeria and Morocco) so that the locals could successfully run away; the alternative was capture and sale into slavery.


On 23 July 1596, the port was attacked by “English pirates” according to the local history, but according to English historians, the attack by the forces of the Earl of Essex and Lord Howard of Effingham, Earl of Nottingham, was a part of the war between England and Spain (to which Portugal was attached at that time). The war lasted from 1585 to 1604 and one of its most famous actions was of course the defeat of the Spanish Armada. From Farrobilhas, the English made their way to Faro which they sacked and burned, having first robbed the bishop of his library. In São Brás de Alportel, the English were chased as if in a hunt.  Farrobilhas fell into desuetude not because of this attack, but because of the continuing silting up of its approaches (as indeed happened at Tavira and at other places in the Sotovento).


One of the major farmsteads in the area of Quinta do Lago was called Quinta dos Descabeçados, meaning The Farm of Those who have been Beheaded. It is entirely possible, although there is no shred of evidence for this supposition, that the farm bears this name because some of the English were caught by the vengeful locals and beheaded at the site of this farm.

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