Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle and his contemporaries

Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (1517-1586) was minister first to Charles V and, after his retirement, to King Philip II of Spain's son.  Ordained priest in 1540 and the same year bishop of Arras, later archbishop of Mechlin and of Besançon, and was elevated to cardinal by Pope Pius IV in 1561. He was also a counselor to Marguerite of Parma and played a key role in the early stages of the Netherland's revolt. Indeed, propaganda pamphlets in Dutch still survive and present Philip II, Margaret of Parma and Granvelle as oppressors of the Netherlands and responsible for Spanish rule.

His father, Nicolas Perrenot de Granvelle was minister of the empire Charles V’s for Italy, Germany and the Low Countries and he played a crucial role to the preparation of his son, Antoine as his successor (Dinard, 2012, pp. 157–168). Importantly involved in the politics of the House of Habsburgs, the family of Granvelle was a very powerful noble family of the County of Burgundy (Franche-Comté). It is worth mentioning that their spacious palace remains today in the city of Besançon. Antoine’s contribution to the construction, conservation and use of 16th century buildings in Besançon was immense, buildings like that was the Hotel Montmartin and the previously mentioned Palais Granvelle (Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, l’éminence oubliée, n.d.) which currently hosts the Musée du Temps.

In 1564 his opponents in the Netherlands, such as Prince William the Silent, succeeded in having Philip II decide to recall Granvelle from Brussels. This event, which the king would regret years later, resulted in the looting of Granvelle's palace in Brussels and the destruction of his library there.  Philip II requested Cardinal's return, but he never wanted to return to the Netherlands after 1579, on the pretext of his old age. He died in Madrid in 1586.

The contemporary scholars at the University of Franche-Comté published their research, on the occasion of the anniversary and the conference held on the 500th anniversary of Granvelle's birth, in the academic newspaper En Direct, referring to Granvelle as a forgotten eminence whose power during his life was comparable to that of the Medici and Farnese. Granvelle was one of the ten most powerful personalities of the 16th century in Europe (Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, l’éminence oubliée, n.d.).

Granvelle's birthplace was the county of Franche-Comté. This county had a long history of claims, mainly between France, where it belongs since the time of Louis XIV, and the Holy Roman Empire-Spain in the 16th century. By the Treaty of Senlis of 1493, Franche-Comté was in the possession of the Habsburgs.  This domination lasted almost 200 years. 

The fact that Franche-Comté did not become part of France until a century later, during the reign of Louis XIV, will not encourage French historians to engage in research on personalities who did not belong to the strictly French historical narrative. Moreover, the BnF does not have primary material and went on to Cardinal Granvelle. These are, however, scattered across Europe, in his birthplace Besançon, Madrid, Brussels and even in cities in Germany, e.g. the library in Berlin Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and Austria. As was perceived in France, research on Granvelle was limited in the 19th century. English- and Spanish-language research around Granvelle's time and the socio-political situation of Philip II's kingdom shed more light on Granvelle's correspondence, part of which was eventually published, although its majority is largely unpublished.

Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle served also as viceroy of Naples and Sicily (Wrede, 1996). He served as an imperial representative at the preliminaries of the Council of Trent in 1543, along with influential and powerful men of the time, for instance Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (Morillon & Brooker, 2014, p. 10). According to the survived sources the two men must have been exchanging regularly not only letters about the political situation but also cultural interests and they must have been bound under a strong friendship (Levin, 2018; Morillon & Brooker, 2014, p. 10). Additionally, during that period Morillon was accompanied Granvelle and he earned the favoritism and admiration of Mendoza (Kulawik, 2017).

Mendoza lived in Italy for a long period of time and he was surrounded by people of the letters, the arts and science (Andretta & Pardo-Tomás, 2019; Hobson, 1999). He was a patron of Tizian and a friend of Paulus Manutius (Levin, 2018, p. 184). Around 1550’s, Mendoza sent a copy of Manutius’ Cicero to Granvelle as a gift and this may had inspired the way books were bound and displayed in the Cardinal’s library until 1556 (Morillon & Brooker, 2014, p. 12).

The promising project of a library on the model of antiquity seems to have been in decline after 1560, according to Granvelle's correspondence with the Antwerp printer Plantin. He now seems to have placed greater emphasis on other elements of the physical object of the book. For example, in 1562 Granvelle asked to accept editions on very good quality paper or editions where the pages would have larger margins (Brooker, 2015). Researchers believe today that Morillon’s early death in 1556 could be a reason for the abolish of this method of display which required a purple compartment on fore-edges hosting the title (Brooker, 2015, p. 61).

This demand can be interpreted as a sign of his need for a larger writing surface. As Richardson notes, the reading pattern of "intensive" reading will recede in the 18th century favoring "extended" reading. Granvelle's requirement of long margins is further evidence that reading remained a slow process, hiding its roots in the manuscript era, in which the scholar took notes or drew remarks around the text on the page. This practice has been recognized as particularly important in the field of book history. These elements make the study of the surviving Granvelle collection particularly interesting in terms of the field of anthropological science and material culture.

Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (1503/1504-1575) was the imperial ambassador to Venice at the service of Charles V during 1539-1546. He was the heir of a very influential and intellectual family of Spain with an important history in impressively large private libraries (Hobson, 1999; Morillon & Brooker, 2014).[1] His family was an illustrious noble family interested in the letters and bibliophilia. Diego was a distinguished diplomat with interest in Aristotelian philosophy and poetry, linguistics, and literature who eventually fell into disgrace and he was recalled to Spain in 1552[2]. In his Venetian palazzo, a very rich library of Greek manuscripts and printed books was housed. He possessed many of the Aldine editions and he hired scribes to build his Greek manuscript collection by copying manuscripts found in Mount Athos or other private collections such as the collection of Cardinal Bessarion. Also, it should not be ignored that Mendoza's library was located in Italy. In the 16th  century many Italian cities experienced a great flourishing of the printing industry, with Venice being the dominant one.

The acclaimed library of Mendoza was open to scholars and it gained  international fame. A network of people was created for consulting and using the library and one of them was Conrad Gessner who devoted a separate part in his Biblioteca Universalis on Mendoza’s Greek manuscripts (Morillon & Brooker, 2014, pp. 12–13). An example documenting that Mendoza’s willingness to share his collection with his circle was the fact that  Antonios Eparchos, copied Greek manuscripts under the Mendoza’s circle demand [3] (Sathas, 1960, p. 122). Antonios Eparchos was a scholar and manuscript-printed book seller from Corfu. In 1549 he had also approached Cardinal Granvelle for a sale of fifty manuscripts with Parisian binding as the sources’ of the time reveal Eparchos was in need of gathering money for a daughter's dowry (Brooker, 2015, p. 56). However, the deal with the Cardinal was not finally reached.

Cardinal Granvelle, as bishop of Arras at that time, funded Antoine Morillon’s travel to Italy during 1546-1547 for the purpose of his first stage of library’s building and the acquisition of artworks, roman replicants and more (Morillon & Brooker, 2014; Wrede, 1996).  Many Latin and Italian printed books were purchased at that time under his assistance. As a result, Mendoza met Morillon at his first travel in Venice. More specifically, the correspondence of the ambassador Mendoza to Cardinal Granvelle, proves that Morillon’s work towards Granvelle’s interests meets expectations and the desire on Mendoza’s point of view to hire him as his own librarian since Arnold Arlenius (1510-1582)[4] who used to work for him was about to depart (Morillon & Brooker, 2014, p. 12).  Thanks to this letter, we know that Morillon was in charge for the purchase of books such as Aldines editions and Greek manuscripts which became the core of Granvelle’s library, and their binding in three different binders’ studios in Venice (Wrede, 1996).

As it is expected, Granvelle sent Morillon to visit Mendoza’s acclaimed library. Morillon listed Mendoza’s Greek manuscripts probably with the item at his hand, although Gessner had already done this work for his Bibliotheca. According to Brooker thorough research on bindings and their significance, Mendoza was –probably- the cornerstone on the appearance of the binding and physical formation of Granvelle’s library by providing to Granvelle the copy of Cicero's De Philosophia previously mentioned[5] (Brooker, 2006, 2015, p. 46; Morillon & Brooker, 2014).

This very important role that Mendoza played on the physical display of Granvelle’s library lasted at least for the first decade of its creation. The idea behind the original way of displaying the books vertically on shelves with the fore-edged revealing the title was influenced by a “fashion” started by Paulus Manutius during 1540-1541 at his classical series of Roman writers such as the editions of Cicero, Virgil and Terence (Morillon & Brooker, 2014, pp. 13–15). The title in these editions was placed on a rectangular label in purple colour across a gilt fore-edge. This display would probably be found by people keen on archaeology and antiquity very appealing, and Antoine Morillon, Granvelle’s librarian, was probably among them.

All these were not just the result of the Renaissance spirit as efforts of becoming homini universalis and the endeavour of knowledge on behalf of the political and theological world of the era. As the correspondence of the imperial ambassadors to today Italy reveals the political situation of the Spanish occupation was quite unstable (Levin, 2018, pp. 2–3). After the defeat of the uprising in Padua, the ambassadors seemed to have changed their political line towards a novel occupation in the field of privileges, honours, titles and patronage to the Italian nobles and intellectual-artistic circles (Levin, 2018, p. 183).

Although, the rich correspondence of the Cardinal has been studied and published in regards to the political aspects, the cultural interests in his letters has been remained mostly in obscurity (Brooker, 2015). The majority of his letters can be found today at the Municipal Library of Besancon and the Real Bibliotheca de Madrid (Levin, 2018; Wrede, 1996). This correspondence reveals a fascinating network with scholars, artists, printers and humanitarians who worked or collaborated with him (Wrede, 1996). such were Christoph Plantin, Stephanus Pighius[6], Titian[7]and of course, Antoine Morillon, Fulvio Orsini[8], Hadrianus Amerotius, Justus Lipsius and more.


[1] Diego’s great grandfather was Iñigo López de Mendoza (d.1458), Marquis of Santillana, who acquired a very rich library of manuscripts in the 13th century. On the other hand, his great uncle Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza (d.1495), known also as “el gran cardenal” was considered one of the most politically powerful people of his time.

[2] It could not be a coincidence to this fact, that after 1552 Antoine Morillon would be located permanently in Brussels.

[3]Antonios Eparchos (1491-1571) was a Corfiot scholar and manuscript seller who passed the bigger part of his life in Venice (Sathas, 1960, p. 122).

[4] Alnoldus Arlenius was born in Aarle and was a ancient Greek scholar who worked as a librarian for Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and as an editor for the typographer Lorenzo Torrentino. He was the first cataloguing Mendoza’s Greek manuscripts (Hobson, 1999, p. 73).

[5] Granvelle's library was possibly the only 16th century library following a model imitating the visual appearance of ancient libraries, introduced to the humanists by Manutius. First example of this innovate binding and labeling of the book is the eight volumes by Cicero, a book dedicated to Mendoza.

[6] Letters between the two men are housed in the manuscripts 20212 of the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, Spain.

[7] Tizian created the portraits for both Antoine and his father, Nicolas.

[8] In the correspondence of 1581 Cardinal Granvelle wrote to Orsini about his book collection (Kulawik, 2017).