Naudé, Mazarin and the origins of France’s oldest public library

FeaturedNaudé, Mazarin and the origins of France’s oldest public library

As an undergraduate I studied history and developed an interest, some might say an obsession, in the French King Louis XIV, also known as the Le Roi Soleil or The Sun King, as a result of his carefully managed image. Louis’s reign was the longest of any European monarch, lasting 72 years  and was the high watermark for the style of monarchy known as absolutism. It was the notion of Louis’s absolute monarchy, which triggered my interest and which saw my first essay on the Sun King discussing Louis’ proclamation “L’état c’est moi“(I am the state/the state is me). As it turns out this proclamation was apocryphal and Louis’s absolute monarchy was not all-powerful as nineteenth century scholars led us to believe. As Parker  says:

It is highly arguable that absolute power really rested on a compromise with the families and groups who controlled the key institutions of central and provincial France. In return for the latter’s political conformity the monarchy sustained their material interests through a system of patronage from which both parties benefited.¹

Louis’s first minister Cardinal Mazarin was the owner of a great library, known as the Bibliothèque Mazarin, is today France’s oldest public library. The library was run by Gabriel Naudé, writer of the first modern treatise. In this blog I will delve into the history of Mazarin, his library, and his Librarian Naudé.

Portrait of Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602-1661) by Pierre Mignard
Portrait of Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602-1661) by Pierre Mignard c1660

Giulio Raimondo Mazarini, an Italian by birth, was born in Pescine, Aquila in 1602, and would study at Jesuit School in Rome. Having served as a captain in the papal army from 1624, before becoming a papal nuncio in Paris between 1632 and 1636. It was during this time that he attracted the attention of Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister to French King Louis XIII, who took him under his wing. Having become a naturalised Frenchman in 1639, Mazarin’s service to France was recognised and rewarded with the granting of a Cardinal’s hat in 1641. Two years later following the deaths of Richelieu (1642) and Louis XIII(1643) he was chosen by Anne of Austria, the Queen Regent, to be first minister.

The Fronde and exile

As first minister Mazarin continued many of Richelieu’s policies, which proved unpopular with the nobles and judiciary. They resented him for impeding their access to the royal government, through restrictions on the sales of offices of state, which were traditionally a source of income for many nobles. Many were also suspicious of him, due to his Italian birth. Printed pamphlets, known as Mazarinades circulated, attacking the Cardinal, accusing him of jumping into bed with the Queen or being homosexual.

Folger call number DC124.M2925 var. Cage. A Mazarinade from 1651. The title roughly translates as “Unfortunate Prosperity, or the short history of Cardinal Mazarin, in which is set forth all the ruses and all the trickery that he used to achieve his prodigious fortune, with a relation of all the causes of his disgrace.

Between 1648 and 1653 France was embroiled in a period of unrest and civil war known as the Fronde. On one side was Mazarin and the monarch, on the other the parlements, the noblesse d’robe. Initially Mazarin agreed to make concessions to avoiding a head on confrontation. However, when he and Anne arrested several deputies, including the popular figure Pierre Broussel, rioting broke out and a mob barricaded the streets of Paris, an event know as the journées de barricades (day of the barricades). Anne, Mazarin and young Louis XIV were forced to leave the city and raise troops to retake the city. With the end of the Thirty Years’ War, marked with the Peace of Westphalia, the Royal army was deployed to put down the Frondeurs. In March 1649 the Peace of St Germain was agreed bringing an end to what became known as the Fronde Parlementaire.

Many frondeurs such as Gondi were unhappy with the peace, and a second period of civil war known as the Fronde des nobles ensued from 1650-1653.  During the ensuing conflict Mazarin, fearing reprisals from the parlement was forced to flee the country, when the frondeurs allied with the forces of the Prince Condé. Whilst in exile Mazarin was able to sway the great General Turenne, whose forces were then arrayed against Condé’s. By September 1651 Louis had reached the age of his majority, following his thirteenth birthday and Mazarin was recalled to France.

A second brief exile occurred before a triumphant Louis reentered Paris in October 1652, with Mazarin following in February 1653. Mazarin continued to serve Louis until his death in 1661, by which time he had:

“…negotiated lasting peace treaties with both the Holy Roman Empire and Spain (securing valuable territorial and dynastic rights in the process), preserved the “absolutist” innovations of Richelieu and Louis XIII, and trained those who would direct the century’s most spectacular reign, including Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Michel L Tellier, and even Louis XIV himself.“²

Les bibliothèques de Mazarin

Mazarin owned three libraries during his lifetime, the first one was established in Rome before he moved to France in 1639. Following his move to Paris he tasked his librarian Gabriel Naudé with establishing a second considerably larger library, which was dispersed during the Fronde in 1652. Lastly, the library which was reassembled on his return from exile in 1653 and which today forms the core of the current Bibliothèque Mazarine, following the instructions of Mazarin’s will.³

Mazarin’s new Library was to be located within L’Hôtel Chevry-Tubeuf, situated close to the Palais Royal, where Anne of Austria and the young Louis XIV resided. Mazarin set about extending and refurbishing the building, including two galleries by François Mansart to house his art collections, constructed between 1642 and 1644 (today they form the Galleries Mansart and Mazarine of the Bibliothèque National de France). Between 1646 and 1648 a new wing of the Palais Mazarin was constructed by Pierre Le Muet and Maurizio Valperga along the Rue Richelieu. Contemporary accounts show that this wing was about 190 toises (144 meters) long, with the lower floor comprising stables and the upper floor containing a library and living quarters.4

The Palais Mazarin with the library wing from the Plan de Paris par Bullet et Blondell 1676

French historian Henri Sauval (1621 – 76) provided a description written around 1655, but not published until after Mazarin’s death:

“This illustrious library is in a gallery of about thirty toises, about four and a half in breadth, covered with a vault of more than five, lighted by eight windows, and surrounded by two shelf arrangements. The first are full of books in-quarto and folio, and, moreover, are accompanied by a large desk breast high prevailing all around; and fifty Corinthian columns of wood, tall strong, and worked with the cleanliness. The balusters are placed above, where one goes up by four staircases practiced, and hidden in the four corners of the first shelves. This second ordinance occupies all the space which, from the first, goes as far as the birth of the vault, and is destined for the volumes, both in octavo and for the other little books; and for further enrichment and convenience, a small gallery the stone worn on the cornice and entablature Corinthian columns and closed with a painted iron baluster breast high.”5

Yann Sordet current director of the Bibliothèuqe Mazarin argues that the Mazarin’s new library was significant for several reasons, that it was the first library in France to housed in a purpose-built wing and that it was also:

The first library in France to be designed as a gallery: a rectilinear space, not segmented by desks, pulpits or cupboards, in which the books were not only pushed to the periphery, but also lined the walls from floor to ceiling. It was a functional, modern library, with as its sole decoration the mass of books and the shelving structures.6

Piquard provides more details about the design  and construction saying that:

It was a matter of building along the Rue de Richelieu, on the edge of the Mazarin Palace, a long gallery in which the books would be placed On shelves fixed to the wall, while the middle of the room would be used to welcome the readers. The work was completed and the books in place at the end of 1649.7

He then quotes the principles set forth by Naudé in his Advis  which recommends that the library should be built:

“In middle aisles so that the dampness of the earth does not produce the remorse which is a certain rot that attaches itself Insensibly to books “8

Naudé also talks about the importance of a well-lit library:

“But all these difficulties and circumstances are nothing to those which are to be observed for the giving light, and conveniently placing the windows of  a Library, as well for being of great importance, that it be fully illuminated to the very farthest corners, as in respect likewise of the several natures of the winds which ordinarily blow, & which  produce effects as different as are their qualities and the places through which they pass ; … “9

Naudé also made  several recommendations concerning the interior design, which Le Muet would have followed:

Much less ought one to employ so much gold on the ceiling, Ivory and glass upon the Walls, the Cedar Shelves, and Marble Floor, seeing as this is not now in use; nor do they now place their Books upon Desks, as the antients did; but upon Shelves that hide all the Walls ; but in lieu of such gildings and adornings, one may supply it Mathematical Instruments, Globes, Mapps, Spheres, Pictures, Animals, Stones and other curiosities as well Artificial as Natural, which are ordinarily collected from time to time. 10

We have some idea of how the library looked based on architectural drawings discovered by Knud Bøgh, among the collections of the Royal Library of Denmark. The drawings are thought to have been made on the occasion of a visit by the future Christian V of Denmark, who stayed in Paris from December 1662 to May 1663. They are likely to have influenced the design of Frederick III’s  Royal Library which began construction in 1665.

Architectural drawings of the gallery of the Bibliothèque Mazarin 1662-4 (Royal Library of Denmark)
Architectural drawings of the gallery of the Bibliothèque Mazarin 1662-4 (Royal Library of Denmark)

In terms of decoration the Library was said to have featured varnished woodwork, probably the work of carpenter Pierre Dionys and inspired by the Roman libraries of Borromini.

The library was completed in 1653, but in 1668 was removed to its current site within the Palais de l’Institut de France, on Quai de Conti opposite the Louvre, in execution of the Cardinal’s will. This new library occupied a wing of the newly formed Collège des Quatre-Nations was created as a device by Mazarin to ensure his collection was not dispersed after his death as it had been during the Fronde. As Sordet points out, Mazarin:

Sparing himself the trouble of drawing up a deed of conveyance, he created an institution from scratch, which would perpetuate his person in the form of a college. The act of ‘foundation’ – as defined by canon law, allocating a mass of goods or assets to a perpetual service – consisted in forming a corporate body (a college) to receive it. It took over ten years for this idea to come to fruition: Mazarin first brushed aside Naudé’s proposal to entrust his library to the University of Paris (1649), he then preferred the King’s protection (1650); but his last will and testament (1661) brought the university back into the loop, as it were, because, as the library was attributed to a college, it automatically came under the University’s supervision.11

In 1668, seven years after Mazarin’s death, Mazarin’s library, with the exception of his collection of manuscripts which were taken by Colbert for the Bibliothèque du Roi, moved to the new site. The new library designed by Louis Le Vau, opened to the public in 1691, took the form of two galleries intersecting at right angles, rather than a single gallery. All the fittings, including columns from the previous library in the rue Richelieu, columns, pedestals, capitals, shelves and wood panelling, were transported and fitted  into the new library.

Bibliothèque Mazarine
Bibliothèque Mazarine

Gabriel Naudé

Gabriel Naudé. Line engraving by C. Mellan, 1765, after himself
Gabriel Naud̩. Line engraving by C. Mellan, 1765, after himself РCC BY 4.0 Wellcome Images

The size of Mazarin’s library at the time of his death was recorded in an inventory drawn  up in 1661-2 by the executors of his will , totaled around 29,200 which included 2400 manuscripts and  26,800 printed books. This was smaller than the first Parisian Library that he had amassed before it was dispersed in the Fronde and which was though to total between 40,000 and 56,000.

The man entrusted with the position of Librarian to Mazarin’s new library was Gabriel Naudé, who was appointed in 1642.  As Clarke says:

“One of this new minister’s first acts was to offer Gabriel Naudé a position as librarian in his household at a salary of 200 livres a year. He wished, Mazarin said, to build a library that would rank from its very beginning among the richest and most complete in Europe.”12

Born in Paris 1600, Naudé was well educated and was an avid reader of authors classic and modern. Having attended several colleges, and receiving the title master of arts he enrolled in the University of Paris to study medicine. Despite being named royal physician to Louis XIII in 1632 Naudé never practised medicine, perhaps for the because:

In the first half of the seventeenth century the practice of medicine centred in scholarly libraries and botanical gardens, not in hospitals or laboratories. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that although physicians trained at Paris were often learned men, their scientific ideas were rooted in the past. Understandably, the more intelligent among them escaped from medical practice into literature, philosophy, or the natural sciences.13

In 1620 published Naudé Le Marfore, ou Discours contre les libellés, his first book, at his own expense and it would be his writings that brought him to the attention of President Henri de Mesme, offering Naudé position of librarian.The library of  de Mesmes was contain 8,000 printed books including many classics from the Aldine Press and was

 …the venerable collection of one of the better established robe families in Paris. Particularly in the last half of the sixteenth century, the Hotel de Mesmes and its library had been at the centre of learned parlement culture. More than this, the de Mesmes library was one of a handful of robe libraries, the de Thou library among them, whose status as the private professional collections of public persons granted them, as sites of public scholarship and loci of Gallican and constitutional research, a quasi-public status in the Parisian intellectual community.14

Title page of Naude's Advis
Advis pour dresser une bibliothèque présenté à monseigneur le président de Mesme.. Par G. Naudé, 1627 –

Instructions for erecting a Library

In 1627 Naudé wrote his famous Advis pour dresser une bibliothèque, in which he laid out his vision of the universal library. Addressed to “Monseigneur le President de Mesme” Naudé’s Advis is considered the first modern treatise on Librarianship. It consisted of nine chapters or poincts as Naudé called them:

  1. One must be curious to set up libraries, and why.
  2. How to learn and to know how to draw up a library.
  3. The number of books which are required.
  4. Of what quality and condition they ought to be.
  5. By what expedients they may be acquired.
  6. The disposition of the place where they should be kept.
  7. The order which it is required to assign them.
  8. Of the ornament and decoration necessary to be observed.
  9. What should be the main purpose of the library.

Naudé’s stated reason for writing his Advis was a lack of suitable guidance on the selection of books, but he clearly had a particular vision of what a Library should be. In his Advis he appealed to De Mesmes’ sense of honour :

“And therefore, my Lord, it seems very much to the purpose, since you govern and preside in all signal Actions, that you never content yourself with a Mediocrity in things which are good and laudable; and since you have nothing of mean  and vulgar, that you should also cherish, above all others, the honour and reputation of possessing a Bibliothèque, the most perfect, the best furnish’d and maintain’d of your time.”15

Naudé’s Advis was significant in that it advocated a move from collecting books for their material features, rich bindings and illustrations to a more reasoned consideration of their scholarly value. Unlike his contemporaries, such as Claude Clement, Thomas Bacon and Bodley, Naudé promoted what he considered a universal library:

a Library which is erected for the publick benefit ought to be universal, but which it can never be, unlesse it comprehend all the principal Authors that have written upon the great diversity of particular Subjects”16

A public library

As we see Naudé’s vision for a universal library also involved making it available to the public. Influenced by his experience of private libraries Naudé believed that the value of the library would benefit the public and that citizens should have access to as much information as possible. This was a radical idea since, as Lars Qvortrup say, at that time of writing it was widely believed that possession of knowledge was dangerous and should be limited to an educated few. Up until the 17th century libraries were mostly private institutions which sought to restrict access to books rather than promote. Naudé however subscribed to the Baconian theory that education of the human mind could transform society and that liberal public access to a well-stocked and organized library supported this. As Rovelstad states:

“Naudé’s user was everyone who may reap any profit from the library’s collection.”17

Naudé was able to convince de Mesme that creating and opening a great library to the public would bring him unique prestige and lasting fame:

“we first deduce, & explain the reasons which are most likely to perswade You, that it is to Your advantage, and that You ought by no means to neglect it. For not to go far from the nature of this Enterprise, common sence will informe us, that it is a thing altogether laudable, generous, and worthy of a courage which breathes nothing but Immortality, to draw out of oblivion, conferve, & erect (like another Pompey] all these Images, not of the Bodies, but of the Minds of so many gallant men, as have neither spared their time, nor their Industry, to transmit to us the most lively features and representations of whatsoever was most excellent & conspicuous in them.”18

The contents of the library

In his Advis Naudé makes many recommendations for the types of books that should be included in a library. For example he recommends buying not only works in their original language, but also their translations and commentaries:

“I Will now say notwithstanding, […] to omit nothing which may serve us for a guide, in this disquisition, that the prime rule which one ought to observe, is, in the first place to furnish a Library with all the chief and principal Authors, as well antient as modern, chosen of the best Edi­tions, in gross, or in parcels, and accompa­nied with their most learned, and best In­terpreters, and commentators, which are to be found in every facultie; not forget­ing those which are lesse vulgar, and by consequent more curious.”16

Naudé  was opposed to  censorship of religious works and was in favor of the inclusion of controversial and heretical works in a collection. He believed that a good library must include works on all subjects and that scholars should  be free to read these works because their contents and arguments had to be known in order to be refuted. As Paul Nelles states Naudé’s Advis signifies:

“a shift in contemporary experience of the library. It initiated a methodological discussion which supplanted the dominant bibliographical conception of the library as a static repository of existing knowledge with a recognition of the library as an institution actively engaged in the production of new knowledge. The Advis bears witness to the ongoing early modern redefinition of the central purpose of the library from one of determining the authority texts to one of evaluating the validity of sources.”20

Naudé  would take a break from his work in theBibliotheque Memmiana to return to his medical studies. Around 1629 Guido de Bagni, the Vatican ambassador in Paris returned to Italy, and asked Naudé to join him as his librarian. He served Cardinal Bagni and then Cardinal Barbarini until 1642, when he was recalled to Paris to enter the employ of Cardinal Richelieu, who had been planning a royal library and invited Naudé to return to his native city. However, with the death of Richelieu, Naude came into the employ of the newly risen Cardinal Mazarin, who as we know was embarking on the creation of his first Parisian library.  As Lemke says of their partnership:

“…there is little doubt that the right patron and the right bookman had come together and that neither Mazarin nor Naudé could have accomplished singly what they achieved in the next years together. Theirs was a genuine interest in learning, and Naudé, the implementor of their passion, was not dogmatic. Instead, he had come to the job with an open mind, a broad education, and a great joy of vocation.”21

With his new position Naudé now had the opportunity  to put into practice the principles he had set out in his Advis. Naudé set about assembling the collection for the Bibliothèque Mazarin which was estimated to contain between 40,000 and 56,000 items at the time of its dispersal. Naudé set about amassing the collection through bulk acquisition of books and whole libraries, a method set out in his Advis. Clarke says that Naudé:

“…saw at once that the most practical method of acquiring books rapidly and in large numbers lay in block purchases by weight without regard for their condition or for duplicates. He knew that he must watch for large private collections to appear on the market and that he must also haunt the Parisian bookstores for suitable volumes.”22

To this end in 1643, Naudé acquired the collection of the late scholar from Limoges Jean Descordes, to form the basis of the Bibliothèque Mazarin. It consisted of 6,000 to 7,000 items including 1,700 volumes in folio, 2,000 in quarto, and 3,000 or 4,000 in octavo. Naudé was not restricted to buying books locally, having exhausted the bookshops of Paris, he travelled to Flanders, then Italy, Germany, and England. His friend Gian Vittorio Rossi, described his methods in a letter to Cardinal Chigi:

“Having purchased every last one of the books dealing in any language whatever with any subject or division of knowledge no matter what, he left the stores stripped and bare. Sometimes, it seemed as if he had come to these shops not as a buyer of books, but to ascertain the size of the walls for he measures with a rule all the books and shelves to the very roof, and names his figure on the basis of that measurement… [the seller]would wrangle, but in the end it is he [Naudé] who by insisting, by bullying, by blustering, and finally by sheer gall, gets his way so that he carries off the very best volumes cheaper than if they were pears or lemons, while the merchant, reflecting on this transaction, complains later that a spell was cast over his eyes and his hand forced, because he could have gotten a far better price for these books from the spice merchants for wrapping incense or pepper, or from the grocers for wrapping up butter or fish in sauce, and other pickled items.”23

In his Advis Naudé also suggested other means of acquiring book such as making the library known in order to attract gift, working with antiquarian book dealers, and consulting library and bookseller catalogues. He maintained an extensive network of contacts of scholars and friends, who were said to be alerted to donate and/or purchase new books for the Mazarin Library.

The order of books

Having acquired the books for Mazarin’s library, Naudé had to ensure they were arranged appropriately on the shelves. According to  Paul Nelles, Naudé’s Advis:

“confronted the most pressing dilemma facing the universalization of the library in this period: the need to establish a nonhierarchical classification of knowledge that avoided the charge of arbitrariness but which could yet claim to accurately serve all disciplines of knowledge and provide a stable basis for investigation”21

Naudé would devote a whole section of his Advis to the arrangement of books titling the seventh Poinct or Chapter L’ordre qu’il conuient leur donner (The order which it is requisite to assign them.) He set out the importance of organising the Library saying:

“…for without this, doubtless, all inquiring is to no purpose, and our labour fruitless; feeling books are for no other reason laid and reserved in this place, but that they may be serviceable upon such occasions as present themselves; Which thing is not withstanding impossible to effect, unless they be ranged, and disposed according to the variety of their subjects, or in such other sort, as they may be easily be found, as soon as named.  I affirm, moreover that without this Order and disposition, be the collection of books whatever, were it of fifty thousand volumes, it would no more merit the name of a Library than an assembly of thirty thousand men the name of an Army, unless they be martially in their several quarters, under the conduct of their Chiefs and Captains; or a vast heap of stones and materials, that of a Palace or house.”22

Naudé propsed a classification scheme for subject arrangement that mirrored the University Curricula and which he said were familiar mostly to readers:

“I conceive that to be alwayes the best which is most facil, the least intricate, most natural, practised, and which follows the Faculties of Theologie, Physick, Iuris∣prudence, Mathematicks, Humanity, and others, which should be subdivided each of them into particulars, according to their several members, which for this purpose ought to be reasonably well understood by him who has the charge of the Library.”23

He further established that arrangement would aid discovery saying that:

“…fourth & last, that all Books of like argument & subject be precisely reduced, and disciplin’d in their destin’d places; since in so doing, the memory is so refreshed, that it would be easie in a moment onely to find out whatever Book one would choose or desire, in a Library that were as vast as that of Ptolomy.”24

He was critical of alphabetical and symbolic  classification schemes of libraries like the Ambrosiana and other libraries that arrange their books ‘pellmejle’ only to be located alphabetically in an author catalogue. Instead Naudé proposed two catalogues one arranged by author and one by subject:

“After all which it shall be very requisite to make two Catalogues of all the Books contained in the Library, in one whereof they should be so precisely dis- pos’d according to their several Matters and Faculties, that one may fee & know in the twinkling of an eye, all the Authors which do meet there upon thefirst subject that shall come into ones head ; and in the other, they fhould be faithfully ranged and reduced under an Alphabetical order of their Authours, as well to avoid the buying of them twice, as to know what are wanting, & satisfie.”25

To accomplish this Naudé recommends the employment of a Librarian, with experience of books to provide assistance to the readers and maintain the library. This man must be a learned and honourable person, who would add prestige to the library and be given an appropriate salary, along with the rank and title of librarian, in order to acknowledge his social standing.

 The composition of the Library

We know from various accounts, including Naudé himself, that the first Library of Mazarin contained at least 40,000 items, which were amassed over a period of ten years as a result of Naudé’s efforts. We know from Naudé’s  account of the surrender of the library that its rich and varied holdings included:

“Civil law philosophy in folio and books of theology in quarto…Medicine, chemistry  and natural history in volumes of all sizes…Around two hundred Bibles in all languages, Greek, Hebrew and other oriental tongues, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish. German, Flemish, English, Dutch, Polish, Hungarian, Swedish, Finnish, Welsh, Hibernian and Rutenian and commentaries on the Bible in volumes of all sizes.”26

Naudé collected books in many different languages including Hebrew, Syriac, Samaritan, Ethiopian, Arabic, Greek, Spanish, Provencal, Italian and Latin. We also know that he advocated the inclusion of heretical texts and he lists books:

“in all languages including Lutheran, Calvinistic, Socinian and other heretical books in all languages, with many Hebrew,  Syriac, Arabian , Ethiopian, and Oriental books of all sorts.”27

Later on he describes books on the history of many nations and other subjects:

“All the history, ecclesiastic and profane, universal and special, of every nation” and claims that “Italians, Germans, Spaniards, Englishmen, Polonians, Dutch, and other nations, found here the histories of their own nations, far more rich and better furnished than they could find in their several native countries…Books on mathematics to the number of thirty-five hundred volumes, the Fathers, Scholastics, controversies, sermons, books of the Louvre press and almost all of the humanities.” Lastly, “many large volumes of charts, prints, travels, voyages, tariffs, etc.”28

Once the Library was completed Mazarin instructed Naudé to:

“throw open the library doors to “every living soul” and to provide his readers “with all the books they desire in any language or on any subject.”29

And by 30 January 1644 the Gazette de France was reporting that Mazarin’s palace had been transformed into:

“an academy for all the learned and curious, who flock there on Thursdays, from mo rning till night in order to peruse his beautiful library.”30

Mazarin Library opened to the public with great fanfare. Clarke quotes that day’s Paris Gazette which reported that Mazarin:

“Welcomed in his library all learned and curious people every Thursday from morning to evening to “feuilleter”, literally “leaf through”, his rich collection.”whilst Naudé is described as the most”thoughtful, wise and hardworking librarian and scholar”, who possesses “perfect” knowledge of books. His library was soon called “without flattery, ‘une bibliotheque vivante’ “-a living, lively library.”31

Naudé, keen to let the patrons of his Library come and go with ease, persuaded Mazarin to install a second entrance to the Library, above which was to be placed the following inscription:

“In the prosperous reign of LouisXIV during the wise regency of Anne of  Austria, most august mater castrorum, Julius Mazarin, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, a minister most pleasing to both councils, in his own good will wishing this library, so rich in books of all languages, arts, and sciences, to be an honour to the city, an ornament to France, and a promoter of knowledge, determined that it should be open to the public and, consecrating it as a gift, endowed it with permanent wealth and commended it to posterity”.32

Naudé and the Fronde

Naudé continued to serve Mazarin during the Fronde. When Mazarin was forced into exile, Naudé remained and in addition to fulfilling his duties as Librarian, took up the role of defender of the Cardinal. In September 1649 Naudé published  his response to the attacks on the Cardinal made in mazarinades,  Judgement of all that has been written against Cardinal Mazarin or La Mascurat as it was more commonly known. Rather than a direct defense of the Cardinal, La Mascurat takes the form of a dialogue between two characters St Ange, Librarie, and Muscarat, imprimeur, in which Naudé is St Ange and Mascurat  is the Paris printer R. Camusat.33

On 14 February 1651, a few days after Mazarin’s exile, Naude was forced to surrender the keys of the Library to Monsieur Tubeuf Presidentof the Chambre des Comptes. Tubeuf had taken possession of the Palais Mazarin, as surety for a debt, owed him by Mazarin, but also in the hopes of saving the library. In his Remise de la bibliotheque de Monseigneur le Cardinal Mazarin par le Sieur de Naude entre les mains de Monsieur Tubeuf, Naude describes the sad scene in which he leads Monsieur Tubeuf from room to room, showing him each part of the library before surrendering the keys. He says:

“And having implored the said Sieur Tubeuf to use the utmost care to prevent as far as possible the dissipation of this the most beautiful, the best and the largest library which had ever been brought together in the world, containing, to my own knowledge, more than forty thousand volumes, of which more than twelve thousand were in folio, I withdrew, with tears in my eyes at the thought that the public was on the eve of being deprived of so great a treasure, and that the noble intentions of His Eminence were being so ill repaid..” 34

When the Parlement proposed to sell Mazarin’s Library, Naudé attempted , in vain, to avert disaster by proclaiming that the Mazarin intended to give the library to the public and saying:

Believe, if you please, that the ruin of this library will be more carefully marked in all histories and calendars, than the taking and sacking of Constantinople.35

Sadly, Naudé’s appeals and other attempts to save the library were in vain and the library was auctioned off. Mazarin’s enemies deliberately chose to sell it off in small discrete lots, to prevent the Cardinal from regaining possession. In 1652 having had to stand by impotently as his life’s work was rendered asunder, Naudé left France for Sweden to serve as Librarian to Queen Christina. The only part of the BibliothèqueMazarin which Naudé was able to save were the medical books which he personally bought at auction.

When Mazarin returned in 1653, one of his first thoughts was for his Library. He set about reconstructing the great collection of books that had been lost during the Fronde and Naudé  was recalled from Sweden. Sadly Naudé died in Abbeville, 29 July 1653 before he could reach Paris.

First page of The Mazarin Bible [Biblia latina]. Genèse-Psaumes. – [Mayence] : [Johannes Gutenberg et Johannes Fust], [c. 1455]. – In-folio. - 1er volume.
The Mazarin Bible [Biblia latina]. Genèse-Psaumes. – [Mayence] : [Johannes Gutenberg et Johannes Fust], [c. 1455]. – In-folio. – 1er volume.
Naudé was succeeded by François de La Poterie, who aided Mazarin in his efforts to reclaim what he could of his library, but as we know the library that Mazarin left to the newly formed Collège des Quatre-Nations, was substantially smaller than before the Fronde. The reformed library reopened to the public again in 1689 and remained open during the revolution even while the Collège was closed.

Naudé and Mazarin bibliographic legacy can still be seen today in the Bibliothèque Mazarine located at Quai Conti and its digital surrogate the Mazarinium digital library. Its manuscript collection was rebuild during the revoloution through the efforts of the Librarian Abbé Gaspard Michel, known as Leblond. Since 1945 it has been under the administrative authority of the Institut de France, which took over the buildings of the Collège. 

Its collection have continued to grow and today contains roughly 600,000 items. Its collections include an exceptional heritage library, that comprises around 80,000 printed volumes prior to 1800, including 2,400 incunabula, 4600 manuscripts, a collection of works and works of art.35 Included amongst the collections is a Guttenburg Bible, also known as the Mazarin Bible holds the distinction of being the first copy discovered around 1760 in the library of Cardinal Mazarin.

Naudé’s ideas as expressed in his Advis represent the early origins of modern librarianship, representing a break with the religious orientation of libraries of the past. They represent an expression of an idea, that is resonant today, knowledge as a public good.

The Bibliotheque Mazarin today By Remi Mathis & Marie-Lan Nguyen (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0
The Bibliotheque Mazarin today. By Remi Mathis & Marie-Lan Nguyen (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sources:1.Parker, D. (1971) THE SOCIAL FOUNDATION OF FRENCH ABSOLUTISM 1610- 1630″, Past and Present, , no. 53, pp. 67.

  1. Cardinal Mazarin Goes into Exile. By: Cavendish, Richard, History Today, 00182753, Feb2001, Vol. 51, Issue 2
  2. Yann Sordet. D’un palais (1643) l’autre (1668) : les bibliothèques Mazarine(s) et leur decor. Journal des Savants, De Boccard, 2015, p. 79-138.
  3. ibid
  4. Sauval, H. (1724) Histoire et recherches des antiquités de la ville de Paris. Tome 2 / . in Yann Sordet. D’un palais (1643) l’autre (1668): les bibliotheques Mazarine(s) et leur d’ecor.
  5. Sordet,Yann (2016) Reconstructing Mazarin’s Library / Libraries in Time and Space Sources, Tools and Hypotheses Quærendo 46 (2016) 151-16
  6. Piquard, M. (1975). La bibliothèque de Mazarin et la bibliothèque Mazarine, 1643-1804. Comptes-Rendus Des Séances de L’année… – Académie Des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 119(1), 125–136.
  7. Evelyn, J., & Naudé, G. (1661). Instructions concerning erecting of a library: presented to my lord, the President De Mesme.(Keynes.B.2.8) London, Printed for G. Bedle, and T. Collins … and J. Crook. University of Cambridge Digital Library. [English translation of Naude’s Advis]
  8. ibid
  9. ibid
  10. Sordet,Yann (2016) Reconstructing Mazarin’s Library / Libraries in Time and Space Sources, Tools and Hypotheses Quærendo 46 (2016) 151-164
  11. Clark, Jack. A. (1969)Gabriel Naudé and the Foundations of the Scholarly Library.The Library Quarterly 39(4), pp. 331-343.
  12. ibid.
  13. Nelles, Paul (1997)The Library as an Instrument of Discovery: Gabrielle Naude and the Uses of Historyin Kelley, D.R., (1997) History and the disciplines: the reclassification of knowledge in early modern Europe, University of Rochester Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk;Rochester, N.Y.
  14. Evelyn, J., & Naudé, G. (1661). Instructions concerning erecting of a library: presented to my lord, the President De Mesme.(Keynes.B.2.8) London, Printed for G. Bedle, and T. Collins … and J. Crook. University of Cambridge Digital Library. [English translation of Naudé’s Advis]
  15. ibid
  16. Rovelstad, M. V (2000) Two seventeenth-century library handbooks, two different library theories. Libraries & Culture, 35(4), pp. 540-556.
  17. Evelyn, J., & Naudé, G. (1661). Instructions concerning erecting of a library: presented to my lord, the President De Mesme.(Keynes.B.2.8)London, Printed for G. Bedle, and T. Collins … and J. Crook. [English Translation of Naude’s Advis]

19 ibid

  1. Nelles
  2. Lemke, A. B., 1991. Gabriel Naudé and the Ideal Library. The courier, Spring(280), pp.27-44
  3. Clarke
  4. De Rossi, Giovanni Vittorio.Epistolae ad neur 1602-1661, exposition organise’e
    pour Tyrrhenum et ad diversos.Cologne, 1749 in Clark, Jack. A. (1969) Gabriel Naudé and the Foundations of the Scholarly Library. The Library Quarterly 39(4), pp. 338
  5. Nelles, Paul (1997)The Library as an Instrument of Discovery: Gabrielle Naude and the Uses of Historyin Kelley, D.R., (1997) History and the disciplines: the reclassification of knowledge in early modern Europe, University of Rochester Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk; Rochester, N.Y.
  6.  Evelyn, J., & Naude, G. (1661). Instructions concerning erecting of a library: presented to my lord, the President De Mesme.(Keynes.B.2.8)London, Printed for G. Bedle, and T. Collins … and J. Crook. [English Translation of Naude’s Advis
  7. ibid
  8. ibid
  9. ibid
  10. Clark, Jack. A. (1969)Gabriel Naudé and the Foundations of the Scholarly LibraryThe Library Quarterly 39(4), pp. 331-343.
  11. ibid
  12. Gazette de France. No. 13 (January 30, 1644) in Clark, Jack. A. (1969) Gabriel Naudé and the Foundations of the Scholarly Library. The Library Quarterly39(4).
  13. Naudé, G., Richmond, V., & Dana, J. C. (1907).News from France or, A description of the library of Cardinal Mazarin, preceded by the Surrender of the library (now newly translated). Chicago, A.C. McClurg & Co [California Digital Library].
  14. ibid
  15. Evelyn, J., & Naude, G. (1661). Instructions concerning erecting of a library: presented to my lord, the President De Mesme. (Keynes.B.2.8)London, Printed for G. Bedle, and T. Collins … and J. Crook.