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1. History of the collection

The initial assets were gathered from royal collections, which were joined early in the 18th century by manuscripts that had accompanied Philip V from France and those of the libraries of noblemen seized during the War of Spanish Succession, particularly the libraries of the Marquis of Mondéjar (1708) and the Duke of Uceda (1711). The library of the Marquis of Mondéjar, an erudite bibliophile, included manuscripts from the library of García Loaisa, donated in 1650 to the Dominican convent of San Vicente, in Plasencia. Following the death of bishop Diego de Arce y Reinoso, it was then acquired by the marquis. The library of the Duke of Uceda, formed primarily in Italy, adds rich assets to the collection, as he took advantage of his time as viceroy of Sicily to take codices and printed books from the cathedral of Messina, which had been deposited in the palace of Palermo as punishment for the uprising of 1674. It contains, among others, a valuable collection of Greek manuscripts that Constantine Laskaris had donated to the city of Messina upon his death, and the collection of manuscripts of historical interest gathered by Portuguese clergyman Jerónimo Mascareñas.

That same century saw the addition of other important collections through the purchase of private libraries, thanks to the preferred acquisition right granted the library appraisers. That was the case with the library of Juan de Ferreras (1721) which, although with few assets, included medieval codices acquired by Ferreras, mostly at the auction held in Madrid in 1702 of the valuable library of famous bibliophile and historian Juan Lucas Cortés, sold after his death in 1701. The collection of the Count of Guimerá (1735), a typical scholar's library, through which the part that remained in the hands of the Duke of Híjar was received, including manuscripts of interest for the history of Aragon and Valencia.

In 1736 negotiations began to acquire the library of constable Juan Fernández de Velasco. This wealth of assets was came to the Biblioteca through two purchases: one in 1736 and another in 1741. In the latter year, the library of Juan Isidro Yáñez Fajardo was acquired. These assets, with various origins, include the collection of manuscripts of chronicler Juan José Dormer, of fundamental interest for the history of Aragon, the collection of genealogical manuscripts, and Italian, French and Portuguese manuscripts.

Two years later, royal librarian Blas Antonio de Nasarre began negations for purchasing the entire library of Andrés González de Barcia, which the family had put up for sale immediately after his death. His efforts, however, were unsuccessful. With significant Americanist assets, it was acquired partially on three different dates: 4 March 1744 and 19 and 23 June 1780.

In 1753, the Royal Library acquired the library of Juan Alfonso de Guerra y Sandoval, king of arms and chronicler of Philip V, which brought in significant noble assets.

Four years later, the library of the 13th Count of Miranda Antonio López de Zúñiga, the result of contributions by the successive counts, was added. It was started by the 11th Count of Miranda, possibly at the auction of the property of the heir to the Count-Duke of Olivares, Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán. The collection included delicately illuminated manuscripts of Italian origin, no doubt acquired by one of the counts during his time as viceroy in Naples.

The exact date is unknown for the acquisition of the library collected in Avignon by the Marquis of Cambis-Velleron, made up of a significant number of liturgical, hagiographic and other manuscripts from the 13th to the 15th centuries, as well as other individual purchases of less extensive libraries.

Another way of increasing the collection in the 18th century was by exchange or trade, a procedure that was extremely beneficial to the Royal Library. The first significant exchange took place between 1735 and 1737 with the Dominican Convent of Santo Tomás of Avila, through which the collection of the Royal Library was enriched with 356 manuscripts, many of which were medieval. The second major exchange, also organised by Nasarre and Iriarte, took place in 1739, followed by another in 1753, resulting in the acquisition of the collection of the Dominican Convent of San Vicente Ferrer in Plasencia, which agreed to trade its Latin and Greek prints and manuscripts for a collection of books considered to be of use to the convent.

Another procedure pursued in the 18th century, albeit infrequent, was donation. This is how the papers of the Jesuit Andrés Marcos Burriel, located in part in the Imperial College of Madrid, were acquired. They were given to the Royal Library following his death in 1762, joining the collection that Burriel himself had already donated before dying. Most of them are copies of documents he was commissioned to draw up for the Capitular Archive of Toledo and other archives.

Throughout the 19th century, assets continued to move, remaining for a time at the Biblioteca Nacional before being transferred to their final destination. This is the case of the files of the Inquisition related to the censure and classification of books, which remained in the Biblioteca until 1914, when they were transferred to the National Historical Archive, or that of the library of the Infante Sebastián, which remained between 1838 and 1859, when it was ordered to be returned.

However, if there is one thing that characterises the 19th century, it is the publication of a great many copies of old publications and manuscripts, encouraging the formation of extensive private libraries and which, during the second half of that century, enriched the Biblioteca Nacional. That is the case of the purchase of the private libraries of J.N. Böhl de Faber, Agustín Durán, Serafín Estébanez Calderón and Pedro Caro y Sureda, 3rd Marquis of La Romana.

Subsequent disentailment of the artistic, bibliographic and documentary assets of the Church, enacted by the liberal governments of the 19th century, resulted in the transfer of a significant portion of those assets to several State controlled museums, archives and libraries. This brought a set of old manuscripts of great artistic and codicological interest to the Biblioteca Nacional.

In the 1880s, many theatre manuscripts by contemporary Spanish authors were purchased, as well as the significant collection of manuscript comedies and farces purchased from Agustín Fernández Boada in 1882. However, the key year in that decade for the formation of the collection of manuscripts was 1886, in which the library of the duchy of the house of Osuna e Infantado was acquired. This brought in the library of the Marquis of Santillana and the library of the Counts of Benavente.
The century closed with the acquisition of the library of Pascual de Gayangos. The purchase was completed in two phases: in 1895 and 1900. This collection comprised 1,155 manuscripts, mostly literary and historical.

Before moving leaving this century, it is important to mention two donations. The first, in 1873, was the library of Luis Usoz y Río. The second, in 1899, included the papers of composer F. Asenjo Barbieri, a collection physically brought together in the collection from Mss. 13990 to Mss. 14103.

In the early 20th century, the collection of manuscripts increased with the acquisition of hand-written manuscripts by José Amador de los Ríos Serrano (1908) and by Narciso Campillo (1912), among others. After that, the Biblioteca Nacional went through a rather insignificant period from the point of view of increasing its collection of manuscripts, which came to an end in 1960 with the donation of the codex of El Cantar de Mio Cid.

From that moment, the acquisition of manuscripts was mainly characterised by the diversity of the assets. In 1970, the manuscripts of Benito Pérez Galdós were purchased from the novelist's family; in 1973, those of Enrique Jardiel Poncela were obtained by donation; a year later, a collection of papers and documents belonging to the marquis of Mulhacén, Carlos Ibáñez de Ibero came in; in 1981, a significant collection of letters from Santiago Ramón y Cajal; the following year, a donation of papers from Juan José Domenchina; in 1984, the personal archive of Adriano del Valle was purchased; and a year after that, the multiple archive of Rafael Alberti, Celestino, Juan Antonio and Jose María Espinosa Echevarría, and Manuel Gil Gala was incorporated. In 1985, a significant collection of autographed comedies by Alfonso Paso was acquired, and the following year the 36 known letters from Antonio Machado to Guiomar were added.

Significant among the acquisitions in recent years is the autograph by Lope de Vega, known as the Daza Codex.

2. Bibliography of the collection

  • JULIÁN MARTÍN ABAD. “La colección de manuscritos de la Biblioteca Nacional: (nombres propios, fechas, y procedimientos y acasos de su formación)”, Memoria de la escritura: manuscritos literarios de la Biblioteca Nacional: del Poema de Mio Cid a Rafael Alberti. Madrid, 1995, pp. 23-36.
  • JULIÁN MARTÍN ABAD. “Un capítulo de la historia de la bibliografía institucional española, el de la catalogación de la colección de manuscritos de la BNM”, Bulletin of Spanish studies, LXXXI, 7-8, 2004, pp. 1129-1150. The Iberian Book and its Readers: essays for Ian Michael / edited by Nigel Griffin, Clive Griffin and Eric Southworth.