The historian José António Martins will go to London next April to find out which books were stolen from the Diocese of the Algarve when Faro was sacked by Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, in 1596, (pictured left, with ruff and fashionable beard).
The plundering Earl took the library’s contents back to England where later they were gifted to his friend Thomas Bodley in 1602 and became part of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.
José Martins, a master in Medieval History at the University of Porto, wants to catalogue, once and for all, the titles that were removed from the Faro library of Bishop D. Fernando Martins de Mascarenhas (1594-1616).
"This is important for the library of the Diocese of the Algarve, it is part of the history of the diocese," points out the academic, adding that the books are of great importance because "they are part of the European culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."
Jose António Martins says that the Bishop had a large library for the time, 91 volumes, some of which now are rare, including two incunabula* from the sixteenth century.
The 65 titles known to have come from the Bishop’s library include the only known remaining copy of the Pentateuch - the first five books of the Old Testament - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
In addition to the books collected by D. Fernando de Mascarenhas, others were present that had belonged to his predecessors, including those brought by D. Jerónimo Osório when the headquarters of the diocese was transferred from Silves to Faro in 1577.
Martins wants to photograph and digitise the smaller documents and the frontispieces of the larger volumes that bear the arms of the Bishop of the Algarve - but some of the original works may not be in Oxford, such the Pentateuch which is known to be in the British Library.
There have been two inventories, the first one made by a British researcher in the 1960s and a second one by Violinda Pinheiro e Rosa, widow of the Faro historian, José António Pinheiro e Rosa.
The researcher does not rule out the possibility that the books could be collated and exhibited in the Algarve, "A book exhibition, with the books on loan - I do not see any problem with that. Books can come here for a temporary exhibition of three, four or five months so people finally can see them," said Martins, well aware of 'FARO 1540', an Association for the Defense and Promotion of Cultural Heritage and Environment of Faro, which in 2016 asked for the books to be returned.
The Association sent a letter to the British government, the University of Oxford, the Queen, the British Prime Minister, the British Embassy in Portugal, the State Secretary of Culture of Portugal, Faro Municipality, the Bishop of the Algarve and the media - the books remain in Britain.
The former Bishop of the Algarve was from a noble family whose members held important positions.
Trained as a lawyer, Fernando Martins Mascarenhas was born in Montemor-o-Novo in 1541 and died on January 20, 1628, having left the Algarve in 1616 to be an Inquisitor General. He also was rector of the University of Coimbra and founded the College of the Jesuits in Faro.
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, (1565 - 1601), was an English nobleman, swashbuckler ** and a favourite of Elizabeth I.
In 1589, he took part in Francis Drake's English Armada, which sailed to Spain in an unsuccessful attempt to press home the English advantage following the defeat of the Spanish Armada, although the Queen had ordered him not to take part.
In 1591, he was given command of a force sent to the assistance of King Henry IV of France. In 1596, he distinguished himself by the capture of Cádiz and visited Faro on the way back to England, bagging the Bishop’s library, en route.
During the Islands Voyage expedition to the Azores in 1597, with Walter Raleigh as his second-in-command, he defied the Queen's orders, pursuing the Spanish treasure fleet without first defeating the Spanish battle fleet.
So when the 3rd Spanish Armada first appeared off the English coast in October 1597, the English fleet was far out to sea, with the coast almost undefended, and panic ensued. This further damaged the relationship between the Queen and Essex, even though he was initially given full command of the English fleet when he reached England a few days later.
Fortunately a storm dispersed the Spanish fleet - a number of ships were captured by the English and though there were a few landings, the Spanish withdrew.
In 1601, he led an abortive coup d'état against the government and was executed for treason.
* An incunable, or sometimes incunabulum is a book, pamphlet, or broadside book printed in Europe before the year 1501. Importantly, incunabula are not manuscripts. As of 2014, there are about 30,000 distinct known incunable editions extant.
** Swashbuckler: 1550s, "blustering, swaggering fighting man" (earlier simply swash , 1540s), from swash "fall of a blow" (see swash) + buckler "shield." The original sense seems to have been "one who makes menacing noises by striking his or an opponent's shield."
See also: Faro library books overdue by 418 years