Faro Bishop's library books to be identified in Britain

essexThe 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

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+1 #4 Boris H 2018-12-07 16:55
Frances Drake also known as a pirate for his activities of stealing the cargo of ships returning to Portugal from the colonies.
An important point made by:
"Historyman"] All the ex-Colonial overlord countries have collections and artefacts taken from countries they had invaded, administered or just pillaged.

The exception to this rule is that the only colonial country that did not have any of it's artefacts stolen is Britain.
In fact if the British museum was to return all of it's exhibits to their original country, the museum would be practically empty...
It's time that these books were returned to their original country, I'm sure Britain does not want to knowingly hinder the safe passage of these valuable historical items.
-1 #3 Peter Booker 2018-12-06 11:17
One factor about these books which is often not mentioned is this: if Essex had not stolen these tomes, where would they now be? Certainly not in Faro, since the bishop would have removed them on his promotion in 1616 to Grand Inquisitor, based in Lisbon. They would probably have been lost in the Great Earthquake of 1755. In a sense, Essex´s theft has preserved them for posterity.

They are mainly on theology, and are anyway rarely read nowadays, even in the Bodleian.
-1 #2 Peter Booker 2018-12-06 11:16
Probably before he went to Ireland in 1599, Essex donated the books to Bodley´s new library some time before he was executed for the treason which incidentally was against the Queen, rather than the government. The Queen did not forgive him for returning from Ireland directly contrary to her instruction; and for bursting into her bedroom while she was still in a state of undress; as well as the main case, that of, in February 1600, leading an armed force intending to… "depose and slay the Queen, and to subvert the Government".

Historyman on this occasion raises an important point. If countries such as Portugal, Britain, France and Germany were compelled to return artefacts taken from other countries, their museums would be denuded, and proving provenance in such cases could often be very difficult. Some of the books in question might have been stolen in Cadiz. It is easier in fact and on the conscience to maintain that these artefacts are safe and accessible in their current locations, and it therefore makes no sense to return them.This is the position adopted by the Bodleian in relation to these books.
-3 #1 Historyman 2018-12-06 08:10
Always good to see some mention of culture in the Portuguese news. This is a whiff of Elgin Marble whining here. All the ex-Colonial overlord countries have collections and artefacts taken from countries they had invaded, administered or just pillaged. At the time Portugal had reneged for the first time (as it was later to do regularly) on the The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386. So does Portugal agree to send back all its museums stock taken from other Lusophone countries?

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