Cardinal Ximenes: Statesman, Ecclesiastic, Soldier And Man Of Letters With An Account Of The Compultensian Polygot Bible by James P.R. Lyell


The year 1917 marks the quadricentennial of the death of Cardinal Ximenes, one of the makers of modern Spain, and of the commencement of the Lutheran Reformation. Luther and Ximenes were, of course, at opposite poles in religious matters, but each was responsible for epoch making changes in their respective countries.

An attempt is made in the following pages to sketch the salient events in the history of a man, who, in so many varied spheres, dominated the life of his time.

I am indebted, in common with every other writer on the subject, for most of the facts connected with his life to the biography published in 1569 by Gomez, as there practically is no other available source of reliable information. Other material in the shape of manuscripts must undoubtedly exist in Spain, well repay careful research and these sources would and investigation by anyone to whom the necessary facilities might be afforded.

The account of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, the magnum opus of Cardinal Ximenes, and some of the facts collected in Chapters IV, and V., as well as the census of existing copies, and other matter contained in the Appendices, are to some extent presented now for the first time to English readers in detailed and connected form. A good deal of this information was contained in a paper which I had the honour to read this year before the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society.

It is at the suggestion of some of my bibliographical friends that the material is now elaborated and submitted to a wider public in a more permanent form.
September 1917


In Spain, of all the European nations, medievalism gave place to modern civilisation with a far greater effort and amid the clash of more contending forces than in any other country.

Its geographical situation, at the extreme west of Europe, is responsible to some extent for this, as it necessarily formed the final battleground upon which the old dispensation was destined to give place to the new.

The waves of reform which spread from the East, however lightly they might leave their traces on other countries, were bound, either to break or be broken, when they reached the Spanish peninsula.

Again, it is not surprising that modern developments were late in taking root when the nature of the country is considered. A country divided by mountain ranges, unpromising tablelands, and varying conditions of climate conduced to the long period of civil and guerilla warfare which lasted practically all through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries down to the middle of the fifteenth, and effectually prevented the expansion and unification of the country. In order to understand better the conditions that prevailed in Spain during the period covered by the life of Cardinal Ximenes, a few words are necessary as to the state of the country from a political and also from a literary point of view.

In the middle of the fifteenth century we find Spain divided into four main divisions, viz.:- Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and the Moorish kingdom of Granada. Castile was, without doubt, the strongest part of the quartette, extending as it did from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, and for long exacting homage from each of the others.

Adequately to appreciate the change that had taken place and the position of the country in the early sixteenth century, a word is necessary as to the state of Castile prior to the formation of the new empire.

The great Saracen invasion had dominated all the Peninsular Kingdoms since the beginning of the eighth century. The Saracens occupied the fertile district of Andalusia and for long had banished the Spaniards to the mountains. For over a century and a half the Spaniards had been compelled to witness the spoliation and desecration of the fruitful lands and villages of their ancestors at the hands of the infidel invader.

It is a matter of little surprise that such a state of affairs resulted in a war, not only fed by the flames of an outraged patriotism, but by the stronger and deeper incentive of a religious and holy purpose. The Castilian called, and did not call in vain, upon the whole of Christendom to The Church and the assist in expelling the heretics. Army were, to all intents and purposes, synonymous terms. Priest and People were united in a manner never seen before or since. The gorgeously arrayed ecclesiastic might be seen leading the armies of the faithful to battle. Papal bulls gave liberal indulgences to all who participated, with promises of Paradise to those who fell in the fight.

All this had a remarkable educational effect upon the country. More liberal forms of government were then found in Spain than in any other European country. This was due to two main, but quite distinct causes.

On the one hand, the followers of Mahomet were at that time noted for their refinement and knightly courtesy, and they were ever ready and willing to extend to the inhabitants of those parts accepting their domination, some degree, at least, of civil and religious liberty.

On the other hand, the Castilian towns were so often exposed to the sudden attacks and raiding expeditions of the Arabs that every citizen was necessarily a soldier and trained to bear arms. The responsibilities of citizenship carried with them, under such circumstances, corresponding advantages.

The burgess, a man of importance, demanded and received as a quid pro quo for his military services, large and ample municipal and judicial privileges.

Popular representation existed in Castile as early as 1169, and the legislature at that time assumed functions and exercised popular rights in a manner quite unexampled anywhere else. No taxes could be imposed without its consent, and a strenuous scrutiny was maintained over the conduct of all public offices and the administration of justice.

There are three events in the literary history of the and early sixteenth centuries in Spain which fifteenth call for special notice.

The first is the commanding position taken by the Chronicle, both Royal and Personal, in the literature of the day. These chronicles soon developed into tales of personal travel and adventure, most of them purely imaginary, which had a far-reaching effect upon all European literature undoubtedly a sinister influence throughout the world.

It was an age of florid imagery and the apotheosis of pseudo-chivalry and knight-errantry.

Amadis of Gaul is perhaps the best of these romances of chivalry.

The plot is purely an imaginative effort, and its chronology and geography are alike uncertain. It portrays the character of a perfect Knight and depicts with truth the manners and spirit of the Knightly age.

In spite of much that is extravagant and coarse, it is, as we have said, the best of these romances which subsequently became so extremely numerous and increasingly absurd, until Cervantes destroyed them once and for all by the inimitable satire and ridicule of Don Quixote.

The next outstanding event in the literary history of the period is connected with the drama and was the publication of Celestina. It was divided into twenty-one acts or divisions, and forms one of the earliest, if not the earliest drama in any European language.

The grossness of thought and manners throughout the work are characteristic of the age in which it was written, but in spite of these defects the style is easy and at times brilliant. It attained an enormous popularity, which lasted for many years after its publication, not only in Spain but in other countries.

The third, and perhaps the most important literary event, was the preparation and publication of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, the magnum opus of Cardinal Ximenes.

A satisfactory or adequate history of the printing press in Spain remains still to be written. It is a field of bibliographical research which cries aloud for competent treatment.

We can only gather from the facts which are at present available that the first dated book came from Velencia in 1474, and was printed by Lambert Palmart, who also issued other works during the next two or three years.

The early printers in Spain were Germans, and their work is characterised by the same excellence of execution and attention to detail which we are accustomed to find in most fifteenth century presses. The Spanish incunable in many cases is distinguished from those of France, Germany, and Italy, by the beauty of the woodcut initial letters that were employed and the restrained dignity and magnificence of the decoration.

It is unnecessary to trace in any detail the series of events a long recital of internal warfare and miscellaneous intrigue which eventually resulted in a united and prosperous Spain at the end of the fifteenth century.

On the 19th October, 1469, in a private house at Valladolid, with a remarkable absence of ceremony, was celebrated the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, two young people who were destined so notably to influence the history and welfare of Spain. In 1474 Isabella was crowned Queen of Castile, and five years later Ferdinand succeeded his father as King of Aragon. The union of hearts was now cemented by a territorial combination, the importance of which it would be difficult to over-estimate. There is perhaps no more interesting and dramatic chapter in the history of the period than that which covers the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, and includes the life-history of one who in turn occupied most of the prominent parts upon the stage during their eventful reign.

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