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Du Language des Sardes, Sebastian Münster & his Cosmographia Universalis

Looks like a bit of old text in a slightly dated version of French? Followed by the Lord’s Prayer in Latin and a couple of Romance dialects? That might be what the disrespecting postman thought when, despite the message on the door, he squeezed it through the tight letterbox!

And well… perhaps to some extent it is. But its history is extraordinary – one might almost argue that it is the whole of Western European history on one double-sided sheet.

Although this version was printed in 1575 in Paris, most of its roots are not deeply rooted in French soil (I purchased it online from a shop in Arles in Provence), but in Germany and the ‘Swiss’ city of Basel, following the visit of a young tax lawyer from Spanish Sardinia. In fact, this is a document whose initial inspiration was to show ‘the true nature of Germany’. But there was never anything dogmatic or narrow about the key figure behind this essentially ‘German’ text.

Münster by Christoph Amberger, from Hans Holbein’s Augsburg School

Cosmographia Universalis is the work of a true visionary. Münster is one of the great, largely forgotten, characters of 1500s Germany. His influence spread across Europe, even having a significant impact on English translations of the Bible from Coverdale onwards. With a background in logic, cosmology, mathematics, natural sciences, theology and – above all – Semitic languages, he seized the opportunity of the Reformation turn in Basel to transform the city into a centre of cosmographic dissemination and helped shape the reputation of the city itself.

Nevertheless, his own story started elsewhere…

Münster might well have been named after the Saint’s Day on which he was born – i.e. probably 20th January – but we know that he was born in 1488, a couple of decades after Caxton’s press but before Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Born in Ingelheim, near Mainz, he is traditionally seen as having been the son of a farmer, Andreas. However, in reality, Andreas seems to have been the town’s Spitalmeister (yes, it is small town) and his property was not inconsiderable – so much so that he could make contributions to alleviate the lives of the poor. So, we might consider his upbringing to have been broadly ‘middle class’.

An important period of Münster’s life is missing from most chronologies. This is his time of study at Heidelberg where he was grounded in a wide range of subjects from theology to logic, in mathematics and the sciences. Around 1505 or 1506 he joined the Franciscan Order.

Early on in his Franciscan period there were probably important travel journeys, considered quite dangerous at the time. Foremost amongst these were his academic visits to Louvain and Freiburg. In particular, in Freiburg, under the tutelage of Gregor Reisch – the Carthusian Humanist now best known for Margarita Philosophica, one of the earliest printed encyclopaedias of general knowledge – Münster first started to focus on a very atypical combination of subjects: theology, geography and the Hebrew language.

Konrad Pellikan, teacher of languages, maths and cosmography at Rouffach, where he taught Münster

In 1509, Münster became the monastic student of Konrad Pellikan. Pellikan taught Hebrew, Greek, mathematics and cosmography at the Franciscan monastery of St. Katherina in Rouffach / Rufach (Upper Alsace) where Münster studied under him and is said to have been greatly influenced by his teachings. Pellikan subsequently taught at Pforzheim and Tübingen.

Pellikan himself became a Protestant – but only very gradually and without any such revulsion of feeling as marked Luther’s transformation. He worked for Froben (of whom we will hear much more later) and understood that the Church had disseminated information which was either unsubstantiated or simply outdated. But he still disliked extremist views and Münster seems to have followed his lead on this front.

Nevertheless, over a period of time, Pellikan’s position became untenable. He received through Zwingli a call to Zürich as Professor of Greek and Hebrew at the Carolinum. Formally throwing off his monk’s habit, Pellikan entered on a new life and remained in it until his death in April 1556. But he will be back in this blog post in due course!

Returning to the 1510s, Münster was continuing to build-up his knowledge and his influences. Sometime in the second half of 1514, he commenced studying mathematics under Johannes Stöffler at Tübingen.

Celestrial globe by Stöffler c. 1493
Von Dr. Bernd

Stöffler was another polymath with a focus on what we might now call ‘STEM’ subjects: mathematics, astronomy, astrology. But he was also a priest, maker of astronomical instruments and professor. Around this time (and the dating on this is a little flexible), Münster seems to have come into contact with Melanchthon and started an exchange of letters with him. Melanchthon was Stöffler’s most famous student.

Johann Froben’s printing device by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1523

It is also around this time that Münster started making regular stays in Basel and became increasingly attracted to the city on account of his developing friendship with the Froben family.

Johann Froben, great friend to Erasmus, had established the Froben printing house in Basel in 1491 and was destined to bring some of Münster’s most important early works into print.

For example, the Dictionarium Hebraicum was printed by Froben and rapidly spread across Europe (in part thanks to its size and price), disseminated through the book fairs of Lyon and Frankfurt.

In 1527 Froben also printed Münster’s Aramaic grammar. It is a remarkable text, not only because it made Münster the founder of Chaldean Studies in Germany, but also because he became that using unglossed texts with no instructional material.

Johann Froben (1460 – 1527) by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1522–23. Froben was friends with Erasmus, who had lived in his house when in Basel. Some three years after this portrait Holbein moved to England for two years, returning to Basel before becoming court painter in England under the patronage of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell.

In 1518, Münster graduated from Tübingen but Basel was having an increasing pull on him. But the Helvetic cities were beginning a period of profound change. The cantons had already sought to weaken the control of the Church and, in 1522, Zwingli kickstarted the Swiss Reformation in Zürich with the so-called ‘Affair of the Sausages‘ (a dispute about fasting in Lent and not some EU directive about meat quality). Over the next few years, the cities of St. Gallen, Schaffhausen, Basel, Bienne, Mulhouse, and finally Bern (in 1528) all followed the example set by Zürich. Their subject territories were converted to Protestantism by decree. In Basel, the reform tone was heavily driven by Johannes Oecolampadius, adjacent to whom Münster was eventually to be buried.

Despite Oecolampadius’ relative moderation, it is likely that the Franciscan Order was not entirely comfortable with Münster’s links. In particular, the period between 1527 and 1529 seems to have been an unproductive time in which the Franciscan Order might well have been trying to shield him from Reformation trends / turmoil. The Swiss cantons had been divided along religious lines and Zwingli, who had studied in Basel at the same time as Erasmus, had arrived at a more radical renewal than Luther. That particular brand of Protestantism with overt iconoclastic tendencies never seems to have gained much hold over Münster.

Map of the 13 cantons of the Swiss confederacy in 1530 (green) with their separate subject territories (light green), condominiums (grey) and associates (brown). By Marco Zanoli – Own work; Feldmann, M. / Wirtz, H. G.: Schweizer Kriegsgeschichte, Heft 5. Bern 1925; A. Gasser: Die Territoriale Entwicklung der Schweiz. Eidgenossenschaft 1291–1797. Aarau 1932., CC BY-SA 4.0,

Nevertheless, in a defining moment in 1529, Münster walked out on the Franciscans in favour of the Lutherans and headed for Reformed Church dominated Basel, becoming Professor of Hebrew there and a disciple of Elias Levita. His Venetian Jewish monument says that Elias “illuminated the darkness of grammar and turned it into light.”

Woodcut of Basel from the Nuremberg Chronicle c. 1495

The move to Basel sparked a step change in Münster’s productivity and output. The roof had been lifted on pent-up possibilities and now he started to set new ground.

In this initial period he produced his two volume Hebrew Bible accompanied by a Latin translation – the first German to do so. In the following year (1530), he released his trilingual Latin, Greek & Hebrew dictionary. Although Münster had officially adopted the Reformation, he continued to avoid confessional controversies, seeking interactions with people of all confessions and, indeed, all faiths. That did not mean that he was not prepared to criticise popes and in Cosmographia there is plenty of evidence for his distaste towards the Anabaptists.

Horologiographia with art by Hans Holbein the Younger and printed by Heinrich Petri, 1533. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Petri was the youngest son of Adam Petri, who had established his printshop and which Heinrich inherited in 1527. With Adam Petri deceased, around 1530, Petri’s mother married Münster. That event made him the most important printer in Europe of Hebrew texts.

After this initial period in Basel, Münster’s interests seem to shift subtly with his weight of emphasis broadening out into areas such as the construction of sundials (Horologiographia, 1531), treatises on planetary motion (Organum Uranicum, 1539), and geography (Ptolemy’s Geographia in Latin with illustrations, first published in 1540 but significantly expanded for the 1550 edition, upon which Münster made a step change in his philosophical exertions). Perhaps unsurprisingly, this remains the most prized of his works. Neither of these was a new concern – he had been star watching in his early years – but they were now set in a more academic context and amidst a context of growing interest in Europe.

Altera generalis tab. Secundum Ptol. - Main View
Münster map of the World according to Ptolemy (1550 reprint)

Classical and non-Classical influences collide

The rediscovery of Ptolemy’s geographical works as a result of the Christian diaspora from a Turkish-threatened Byzantium had yielded not just extraordinary information about coastlines well beyond the Mediterranean, but also a technical methodology for cartographic production which had been lost in the Middle Ages. This had combined with new discoveries on voyages (the crossing of the Equator, the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope, the discovery of the Americas) to make the old Mediaeval world view untenable. In Germany there was a further driver: they felt that classical authors had slighted their lands and wanted to catch up with the academic trends of national promotion which had been set by Italy.

On this latter, it was Conrad Celtis addressing the University of Ingolstadt who urged the discovery of the true nature of Germany. He adapted the ideas of Enea to come up with the idea of Germania Illustrata and to see this not simply as an individual project but rather to foster the collaborative work of humanists.

Although Münster’s works on both Solinus (the author of De mirabilibus mundi) and the Roman geographer, Mela, had called upon his skills as both an artist and a linguist, his treatment of Ptolemy was different. Even linguistically there is a clear step change in commitment, comparing the original Greek with all the Latin translations available.

Münster was now refining his exactitude with every step. But he was to hurry his next output – at least, in its first edition.

In 1544 he produced the very first German language geography, Cosmographia. This was to become one of the most successful publications of the sixteenth century. You know something went through lots of editions when nobody can quite agree on exactly how many – but at least 24 over the next century: including versions in Latin, Italian, French and even Czech. The last German language edition was published in 1628; long after his death.

The city of Florence from Cosmographia. One of the drivers of Cosmographia had been to promote the true nature of Germany in an attempt to close the gap opened up by Italian writers and cosmographers such as Paolo Toscanelli (1397 – 1482), who was also a noted mathematician and astronomer.

Cosmographia had in fact been incubating in Münster’s mind for two decades. Amazingly, he had originally conceived this as a project to remap Germany (very much in the thinking of Celtis) but as his interests had widened, his research deepened and national tastes changed, the project was transformed into little less than a geography and history of the entire known world. It drew on a long tradition drawn from a combination of Eratosthenes (Ἐρατοσθένης ὁ Κυρηναῖος) and Ptolemy, the anthropocentric approach of Strabo (Münster was called the ‘German Strabo’ on his grave), the historical traditions of Herodotus and Polybius through to the mercantile discoveries of Marco Polo in the 1270s.

The images of the early editions of the Cosmographia

A series of unfortunate happenings prevented Münster from calling upon the work of his former ‘first choices’.

On previous occasions, Münster had relied on a variety of woodcuts, particularly from Hans Holbein the Younger. But Holbein had been shifting himself between Basel and England, where he (had) had the patronage of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. He then died in 1543, right at the time when Cosmographia was in full flow. Therefore, the least number of woodcuts in the text were by him.

Similarly, in the past, Münster had entrusted cityscapes to Conrad Schnitt. But he had also died in 1541. Therefore, the original cityscapes in Cosmographia were undertaken by the brilliant Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch the Younger.

File:Freiburg (Münster).png
An example of Deutsch’s woodcut work from the Cosmographia.
[Public domain] It was sold as Freiburg but I cannot see why it is not likely to be Friburg – depending on location within the text.

Deutsch’s family had originally migrated from Piedmont. Manuel was the given name of his both his father and grandfather. The family surname had been Alleman (like Allemand in French) but this was linguistically transcribed as Deutsch. For someone clearly so talented, we do not really know all that much about his other work. The other text to which he definitely contributed, published by the Froben house in 1556, was Georg Bauer (who worked under the title, Georgius Agricola – both meaning ‘farmer’), De re metallica, which remained the authoritative text on mining for nearly two centuries.

Unsurprisingly, sheets with either Münster’s own maps or Deutsch’s cityscapes can sell for thousands. Ironically, they were not originally coloured – these were later additions – but these are the ones which tend to sell. Deutsch’s work most closely resembled Münster’s own ideas.

For many of the other woodcuts, Münster relied on David Kandel, especially for a lot of the animal art.

File:Print, book-illustration (BM 1850,1014.986 1).jpg
David Kandel – An aurochs in a landscape, illustration to the Latin edition of Münster’s ‘Cosmographia’, Basel, printed by Heinrich Petri, 1552.
1550 woodcut and letterpress.
[© The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0]

Cosmographia – Developments between 1544 and 1550

Stumpf (c. 1536)

The 1544 version was hardly the high point of Cosmographia. There was a shock coming as well: competition, in this case in the form of Johannes Strumpf. This immediately turned into a city rivalry as well between Basel and Zürich. But it turned out that Münster was concerning himself unnecessarily: Strumpf was really only concerned with the documentation of Switzerland. Nevertheless, in quality terms, Münster still knew that he had been out-manoeuvred: the next version had to be far better.

And indeed, by 1550, Münster was in a far better position to realise his position than he he had been in 1544. The 1550 edition was seen as practically a new work. By then it amounted to to 1,233 pages with 910 woodcuts, 54 new new maps.

Münster was absolutely back on top of the game. But we know not the hour…

The tree of knowledge" Woodcut from Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia  universalis, Basel, 1544 This image is what I assume to be “the tree of  knowled… | Blæk, Dansk

Having published his Rudimenta Mathematica a year before, an outbreak of plague had already hit Basel. By 1552 Münster was 64 and found himself in the house of an old friend – no less than Hieronymus Froben – Johann’s son – when he was taken ill.

Of course, he brushed it off as a passing sickness. But it turned out not to be.

The following morning he was worse and the plague then claimed him.

Key events in Sebastian Münster’s life

Born in Ingelheim, near Mainz
1505 / 06 Joins the Franciscan Order
1509 Becomes the monastic student of Konrad Pelikan
1514 Starts studying mathematics under Johannes Stöffler at Tübingen
Around this time Münster stays in Basel and becomes increasingly attracted to the city on account of the Froben family
1518 Graduates from Tübingen
1527 – 1529Unproductive period in which the Franciscan Order might have been trying to shield him from emerging Protestant trends
1529Leaves Franciscans for Lutherans; heads for Reformed Church dominated Basel, becoming Professor of Hebrew
1540Publishes Ptolemy’s Geographia in Latin with illustrations
1544Produces first German language geography, Cosmographia – one of the most successful publications of the sixteenth century
1552Aged 64, is taken ill in the house of Hieronymus Froben and dies of the plague

It is impossible not to come back to Münster in this post. But we are leaving Northern Europe now for a part of Europe for which Münster had a limited understanding – even though he sought out the very best people.

Sardinia and its languages in the 1500s

Sardinia might hardly have been at the very heart of the German perspective of the World but it was very much part of the Mediterranean World and always had been. But, whereas in past times, its dominating influence had come from Latium (Rome) or Carthage (Tunisia), at this point in history it came from Spain. A few years earlier, it had clearly been from one specific part of Spain at that: the one known originally as ‘Aragon’.

Arquer’s linguistic map of Sardinia. And a more up-to-date version, including the Gallurese and Sassarese dialects in the far North. There is an ongoing dispute about the role played by Arquer’s father in his maps.

Aragon? Yes, it is an autonomous region of Spain centred on Zaragoza. But its historical importance goes beyond modern boundaries. In particular, control of the immediately neighbouring regions of both Catalunya and Valencia gave it access to the Western Mediterranean.

And it should be noted that Aragon played an important role in the change of World view as well. Indeed, it could be argued that Aragon was right at the forefront of ‘de-Christianised cartography’ through the Catalan Atlas and the 1354 decree that every galley should carry on-board navigational maps.

But we are going back to the text now because these are the supposed languages of the Sards…

The Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster) translations

Pater noster, qui es in cælisPare nostre, che ses en sosclesBabu nostru, sugchale ses in sochelus
Sanctificetur nomen tuumSia sanctificat lo nom teuSantufiada su nomine tuo
Adveniat regnum tuum, fiat voluntas tua sicut in cælo et in terra.Venga lo regne teu fasase la voluntat tua axicomen locel (sic) i en la terra.Bengiad su rennu tuo faciad si sa volu[n]tade tua comenti in chelo et in sa terra.
Panem nostrum quotidianu[m] da nobis hodie,Lo pa nostre cotidia dona anos altres hui,Su pane nostru dogniedie dona anosatoros [sic-2] hoæ,
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,i dexia anos altres los deutres notres,e lassa anosateros isdebitus nostrus,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris,axicom i nos altres dexiam als deutois nostres,come[n]te et nosateros lassaos a isdebitores nostrus,
et ne nos inducas in tentationem,i no nos induecas en la tentatio,e no nos portis in sa tentatione,
sed libera nos a malo:mas liura nos del mal,impero libera nos dasu male,
quia tuum est regnum, gloria et imperium in secula seculorum (a translation of Koine Greek  “εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων“),perche teu es lo regne, la gloria i lo imperij en los sigles de le [sic-1] sigles,poiteo tuo esti su rennu, sa gloria et su imperiu in sos seculos de lo(s) [sic-1] seculos,
* Note that the sos / los confusion is a particular characteristic of the 1558 Cologne Italian translation. 1 – The parallels between this version of Catalan and this version of Logudorese in using a different article here indicate to me that I have missed some element of common grammar here. The genitive case tended to die out relatively early in Vulgar Latin but may have been preserved in the article? Note that this might also apply to ‘locel’ (lo cel rather than el cel) earlier in the Catalan version. 2 – Anosatoros and anosateros are alternative meaning the same thing.

From the start, what should be clear here is that this is not an exploration of the differences between Logudorese and Campidanese (i.e. the two main dialects of Sardinian). The language in the middle column is evidently an earlier variant of the ‘Catalan’ language. And that is borne out by the comment in the right hand margin about the language of the ‘citoyens’.

Since we are not really going to dwell on Catalan, you might as well hear the modern version as it has changed quite a bit. Bear in mind also that there still are very significant differences in speech between Barcelona, the Pyrenees, Zaragoza Valencia and the Balearics (not to mention the fossilised dialect of Alghero). If anyone ‘in the know’ wants to chat with me about these, I am happy to learn. For the time being, we will call what we are looking at ‘Catalan’.

Copyright © MMXIX NHM Ministrants, a division of Elfenworks Productions, LLC.
All Rights Reserved.

Catalan evolved from Vulgar Latin (in especially close common development with the Occitan dialects of Southern France) and was given a bit of a boost in 988 when the County of Barcelona was separated from the Carolingian Empire. It went through a ‘Low Middle Ages’ Golden Age thanks to Majorcan polymath Ramon Lull (1232 – 1319) and Ausias March (1397 – 1459). By the fifteenth century, the language’s social and cultural centre had become Valencia. Aragon technically had a separate dialect but in 1150 joined the County of Barcelona in domestic union. It had had other capitals prior to Zaragoza: Jaca and Huesca.

But in Spain its zenith passed with the 1479 Union of Castile and Aragon. The union of the two kingdoms had not been inevitable and Castile might just as easily have had a dynastic union with Portugal instead.

Recent political events in Spain suggest that the situation is far from ‘game over’. Just how long Catalan took to lose its grip on the language of administration on Sardinia is rather more nuanced.

Although on Sardinia, the language is most associated with the fourteenth century repopulation of Alghero, there were also local centres of colonisation in Cagliari, Sassari and Iglesias and the language was used as official until the seventeenth century – some concessions to Castilian accepted. Under Spanish control, Iglesias was one of the most important royal cities on Sardinia, and it is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Iglesia.

So, let us have a look at the particular dialect of Sardinian which has been identified as the language of the peasantry. There is something important to bear in mind here and that is that languages are moving objects! But let us start with the two main dialects of the island using the same text. These are modern languages but the text is so traditional that it is likely to be about as conservative as one can get! There is, of course, another issue on which we have no hope: the difference between a written language and a spoken one. We know how to sound ‘all’ and we know how to sound ‘cough’, but ‘although’ is not at all ‘all-thoff’.

I don’t want to give too much away at this stage, but you will see that the last column has been given various alternatives.

Pater noster qui es in cælis,Babbu nostu chi ses in celu,Babbu nostru chi [or: su cale] ses in chelu,
Sanctificetur nomen tuumSantificau siat su nomini tuuSantificadu siat su nomene tou
Adveniat regnum tuum,Bengiat a nosus su regnu tuu,Benzat a nois su regnu [or, arch: rennu] tou,
Fiat voluntas tua,
sicut in cælo et in terra
Siat fatta sa boluntadi tua,
comenti in celu aici in terra
Sia(t) fatta sa boluntade [volontade] tua,
coment’e in chelu gai in terra
Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodieDonasi oi su pani nostu de dogna diiDona nos oe su pane nostru de donzi die [de dogna die / cotidianu]
Et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
Et perdonasi is peccaus nostus,
comenti nosus perdonaus a is depidoris nostus.
Et [ei] perdona nos sos peccados nostros [or: lassa a nos atteros sos depidos nostros],
comente nois perdonamus a sos depidores nostros [or: coment’e nos atteros lassamos a sos depidores nostros].
Et ne nos inducas in tentationem
sed libera nos a malo
Et no si lessis arrui in tentatzioni,
et liberasi de mali
Et no nos lesses ruer [nos non portes] in tentatzione,
ma libera nos dae [su] male

You will note that the equivalent of ‘Thine is the kingdom’ is not given. That is because it was essentially deemed to be a ‘Lutheran’ formulation. No doubt, Arquer only used it for comparability purposes with other languages. Marchi even leaves the modern translation blank. You will also see that both the above use ‘thy’ forms whereas modern Catalan in the video uses a plural, polite form of ‘you’ in common with modern French or Italian.

To start with we do know that the ‘Northern’ dialects (Logudorese and Nuorese – I do not mean Gallurese etc.) are more conservative than the Cagliari-centred Campidanese. Parts of Nuoro’s province remain the most conservative of all parts of Sardinia.

But most of the difference between the two main dialects is in phonetics rather than intelligibility and, over time, the boundary between the two groups has come to be considered rather more fluid. In some ways, the boundary itself is not a serious isogloss but rather a psychological memory of the administrative division under the Spanish.

Cetti’s Warbler
(Cettia cetti)

There was no real attempt to categorise the dialects before the seventeenth century and Jesuit priest, zoologist and mathematician, Francesco Cetti (who had the Cetti’s Warbler named after him). It should also be noted that the Corso-Sard dialects of the far north of the island were not present at the time. Cetti recognised them as far more ‘Tuscan’ in feel than the remainder of the island.

By it:Utente:Jkens –* (canc) (corr) 00:25, 30 dic 2005 . . Jkens (Discussione | contributi) . . 1105×721 (38.976 byte) (piccole correzioni)* (canc) (ripr) 20:04, 28 dic 2005 . . Jkens (Discussione | contributi) . . 1105×721 (35.770 byte) (Immagina da me disegnata con tanta pazienza, spero almeno questa non venga cancellata. La cedo secondo la licenza GNU FDL.), CC BY-SA 3.0,

Initially, I considered that the key might be an analysis of the verbs. The Logudorese dialect has three classes of verbs like standard Italian, namely: -ARE, -ERE and -IRE (cantare, timere, finire). Campidanese seems to have managed to merge the last two into a single -I form. But when exactly did this development take place?

But my task with the above text was complicated by the presence of so many subjunctives in the Lord’s Prayer text. Subjunctives are a bit ‘voluntary’ in modern English and often now sound a bit awkward. Personally, I like them and use them a lot. But I also see people cringe when I do…

For example, ‘I wish I was in Sardinia’ sounds fine in English rather than ‘I wish I were in Sardinia’ (which most people probably think is an error). [Broadly speaking, the difference revolves around exactly how likely I consider the possibility of me being in Sardinia actually is!] Not in the dialects of the region! You see this as SIA in Italian and in the Catalan version way above and as SIAT (as in siat fatta rather than Latin fiat) in the modern Sard dialects.

But before I get too lost in linguistic details, it turns out that the work has actually been done for me – first by Max Wagner and with more recent confirmation by Giampaolo Marchi – an engineer at the University of Cagliari, initially interested in the map of the city (‘Arquer e la lingua dei Sardi a metà del Cinquecento’ (2005)). And I was probably focusing on the wrong things anyway – look at the definite articles!

The language is Logudorese – a truly historic language with incredible documentation. It was the language in which Sardinia’s laws were written before the Aragonese / Spanish period – including those of Sassari.

Max Leopald Wagner (1882 -1962) was a German philologist and ethnologist with a particular speciality focused on Sardinia and its culture. Although born in Munich in Bavaria, he died in Washington DC. His theory with regard to the two waves of Vulgar Latin on the island, demonstrated that he evidently had access to some variant of this very document.

But it was while reading Giampaolo Marchi that my attention was drawn to the fact that there are small (sometimes, really small) differences in the transcription between the 1550 Basel Latin edition, 1552 Basel French edition, 1572 Basel Latin edition and, most significantly, the 1575 Italian edition printed in Cologne.

This got me thinking about the 1575 French edition and exactly what De Belleforest had access to. At first I thought de Belleforest’s version must have used the 1552 French edition but there are one or two small differences which suggest he had access to multiple previous editions. Unfortunately, we may need to think about this again when we arrive in Paris in the company of Monsieur Chesneau.

In the meantime, we need to look at how Münster collated information about places he had evidently not seen with his own eyes.

As I stated, it was inevitable that we would have to come back to Münster…

Not only did 1550 see the definitive edition of Cosmographia, it also witnessed the flowering of a refinement of years of a methodology of working. Münster knew that the 1544 edition had not been all it could have been. He had felt rushed in order to make it available for the Frankfurt book fair in the autumn of 1544. So, with hardly a pause, he commenced expanding and revising in preparation for the Latin and German editions of 1550. But getting from one to the other was a massive exercise, requiring not just huge effort but also substantial capital outlay too.

It is easy to forget that maps and illustrations were costly to print. The expense risk of printing was being borne by the Petri printing house. Petri had been Münster’s stepson for nearly two decades by this point in time. In a communication with Stanislaus Łaski (part of the famous Łaski family which gave Poland the Archbishop of Gniezno, Primate of Poland, Jan Łaski, as well as his cousin and namesake, the Polish Reformist known in English as John A Lasco) in April 1548, that the illustrations alone were costing between 450 and 600 Gulden. In 1528, Münster’s salary had been one tenth of that figure. If you are very interested in the currency history, then you will need to read up about the Reichsmünzordnung – which is generally beyond the scope of this current post.

Nevertheless, Petri was eventually to be rewarded.

Münster’s own research trips had never got beyond the German lands. His responsibilities in Basel prevented him from going beyond this, even though he set a fast pace on foot. But he had always known that he needed to develop a network of reliable correspondents elsewhere. He had clearly been planning exactly such a network since at least 1528.

But now he was writing four to six letters a day and sending them out in all directions – to churchmen, members of royal families and princes, scholars; people he had met; people he only knew by reputation; people who were recommended to him by another. He left the specifics to the respondent but had a very clear list of the types of information he would ideally like to gather. To some extent, Münster was given a helping hand by Basel’s position as a relatively convenient stopping off point between the Low Countries and Italy or between London and Venice (Strasbourg also competed as an alternative route).

Within this, Münster identified a category of ‘proper respondents’, amounting to exactly 120 people – including a young man born in Cagliari: Sigismondo Arquer.

Michael Servetus.jpg
By Christian Fritzsch – Private collection, Public Domain,

Miguel Servet and the Spanish information problem

Sardinia was, of course, a Spanish possession at this time. And Spain as a whole had been a bit of a blind spot for Münster generally. He had found himself what had seemed to be a good contact in Miguel Servet (Servetus, circa 1510 – 1553), who had fled Spain for French territory in order to see the back of the religious / political climate south of the Pyrenees. But his commentary which fed into Cosmographia attracted some attention as it was riddled with resentment.

Servet was by birth a Spanish theologian, physician and cartographer, probably born in Villanueva de Sigena in what was then Aragon. In short, he was exactly the kind of guy that Münster got on with – on paper. Working as a true polymath, he had included in a religious work the first Western outline of the pulmonary system in 1553 – which had actually been ‘borrowed’ from a Syrian writer.

Before that, perhaps after witnessing the pomp and ceremony of Charles’ coronation in the city of Bologna, he had converted to Protestantism. But his conversion to the Protestant cause was not without complications either. For then he rejected the Trinitarian doctrine and started to run into problems about predestination as well – an issue which had been at the heart of the publication in which he had recycled Ibn al-Nafis’ (died 1288) discoveries in which the relationship of the heart and the lungs was effectively reversed.

It seems that Servet had not been averse to a little Basilean ‘stopping off’ himself. In 1530 it appears that he had been in Basel with Oecolampadius, where it seems that he had supported himself working as a proof-reader for a local printer (one wonders which one?), and the following year he met with both Martin Bucer and Capito in Strasbourg.

In 1553 he had been denounced in Vienne (not Vienna although that is the same Latin name in Caesar’s Gallic Wars) in the Rhone Valley by one of Calvin’s close friends. A release and an escape ensured that it was only his effigy that burned on a heap of his books on that occasion.

But Servet’s subsequent actions now seem inexplicable. With the intention of flight to Italy, he stopped in Geneva – of all places! Luther also condemned his works and he was arrested in the city. Both he and his books were burned by order of the city council. Sebastian Castellion’s abhorrence at what had happened had some long term influence on the development of the Unitarian movement.

So, we know that Münster had a network of people on whom he relied for the collation of local information – even if this network was not always ideal in Spanish territories.

And we also know that for Sardinia, there seems to have been just one person on this front. This was Sigismondo Arquer, the son of an advisor to the Sardinian Viceroy and someone who would be appointed Procurator General of Sardinia under the Spanish Habsburgs, a man who was born in Cagliari in 1530.

In 1544, when Arquer was a mere 14, he started attending the University of Pisa. Three years later he graduated in law from there. That same May (1547) he also gained a degree in theology – but from Siena. His study at Siena had been prompted by disagreements with his theological teachers at Pisa. It is perhaps the first sign that Arquer and ‘the system’ were not always going to see eye to eye. Arquer was not the only Sardinian studying law there either; another was Jaume Aymerich from the Arquers’ most directly competing family. [Jaume was the natural son of Don Salvador Aymerich, with whom Arquer would later run in to trouble in Cagliari.] Much of the dispute between Arquer and the authorities was perhaps driven by the competitive relationship between these two families.

The historic centre of Pisa today. By Luca Aless – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

By 1548 it is clear that he had read some markedly anti-papal texts, including none other than Luther’s ‘Passional Christi und Antichristi’ (1521) in a French translation.

But, at this point in time he had no solid training in either Greek or Hebrew. Nevertheless, from this point on we see an increasing interest in reading the scriptures and developing his competencies in the critical ancient tongues. [Therefore, by the time of his contribution to Cosmographia, languages were almost a professional interest.]

Arquer’s unusual journey between 1548 and 1555

Arguer’s father, Antonio Arquer, was a councillor to the Sardinian Viceroy, Antonio Cardona (or, more correctly, Antonio Folc de Cardona y Enriquez). Unfortunately, Antonio now found himself in prison [we will see how later] and Arquer set off for Brussels to plead his father’s case.

In September 1548 he sailed for Italy but was shipwrecked. However, in November he made his delayed arrival in his old university city of Pisa. From there he travelled to Germany by way of Magnano (in the province of Lucca, although there is another near Turin) and Arosa in Grisons / Graubünden Canton where he stayed for five months. This latter stop seems to have been necessitated by an illness.

The section of Arquer’s journey between Pisa and the Grisons Canton. Arquer was in for a long delay – hence the exclamation triangle! Please note that all the boundaries are modern.

His illness over, Arquer pressed on.

Remember Konrad Pellikan? In April 1549 Arquer turned up in Zürich as the guest of none other than Pellikan. He then headed for Basel with a letter of recommendation from Pellikan addressed to Bonifacius Amerbach, the juror and influential humanist. During his stay in Basel, Arquer seems to have resided at the house of Celio Secondo Curione, the Piemontese-born humanist, grammarian, editor and historian, who had settled there. From his base in Basel, Curione maintained a wide network of correspondence, principally with Heinrich Bullinger, but also with Wolfgang Musculus, Johannes Sturm, Melanchthon and others.

It is important to look more carefully at this letter of recommendation from Pellikan. Pellikan describes Arquer as ‘virum exulem propter fidem’. At first this looks innocent enough.

But in fact, this is more than simply ‘he’s a jolly good guy’; it is almost code in Switzerland for a Protestant exile. Perhaps Pellikan was mistaken or exaggerating? Or just found himself with much in common with Arquer? But perhaps it was genuinely the case? Or perhaps Pellikan was less in Protestantism than he was supposed to be and more concerned with a common, Erasmian heritage?

Portrait of Bonifacius Amerbach by Hans Holbein the Younger (1519 – i.e. thirty years before Arquer’s visit to Basel).
By Paradise Chronicle – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

But then we see something similar again. Amerbach, as administrator of the Erasmusstifftung – the Erasmus Foundation – made a note in the records describing Arquer as ‘propter Evangelium’ and indicating that he (and possibly also Münster and Curione) were funding Arquer’s travel to Protestant England (under ultra-Protestant Edward), where there were already two connected Italian exiles: Pietro Vermigli and Bernadino Ochino, who were known to the Basel set. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had invited both Vermigli and Ochino to help build a more Protestant England.

A painting
Edward VI and the Pope: An Allegory of the Reformation. One or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to this image.

In 1548, Vermigli had replaced Richard Smyth to become the second Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford. But in 1549, a series of uprisings had forced him to move out of Oxford and dwell at Lambeth. Ochino had also found asylum in England, where he had been appointed a prebendary of Canterbury Cathedral.

Had Arquer conned the Basel set into thinking he was Protestant and intended to travel to England? Or was he secretly a genuine Protestant and seriously considering a move to England? Perhaps it is now just too late to tell.

Because the simple fact is that he never went. Instead, in 1551, he followed the Emperor from Brussels via the Augsburg Interim (which was supposed to be the first stage of brokering a tolerance of Protestants but did little on that front) to Madrid.

In 1554 we pick him up at the Valladolid Court (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon had married there and between 1554 and 1559, Joanna of Austria, Phillip the Second’s sister, serving as regent, established her court in Valladolid) before his embarkation for Sardinia in July 1555. However, from Madrid, he wrote to Amerbach in hugely complimentary terms, saying how much he missed ‘the sacred peace of Basel’ (Sancta pax Basiliensis).

Alonso Sánchez Coello - Portrait of Juana of Austria, Princess of Portugal - Google Art Project.jpg
Portrait of Joanna of Austria (1535-1573), Spanish Infanta and Archduchess of Austria and the daughter of Emperor Carlos I of Spain and Queen Isabella of Portugal and sister of King Phillip II of Spain. Portrait by Alonso Sánchez Coello.

[Perhaps it should be noted that Joanna’s Valladolid Court was not entirely free of Protestant influences – the most noted of whom was Augustino Cazalla, whose uncle was the former chaplain to Cardinal Francisco Ximenes (see later) in Alcalá de Henares.]

So it seems the work for Münster must have been undertaken at some point in the early summer of 1549. Arquer might still have been 18 at the time. One might imagine that at a later age he might just have been that bit more cautious. I have to say, there is nothing in the record of his remaining years to suggest that.

Arquer and the ‘Valencian exegesis group

There is another perspective we need to examine beyond Sardinia and Basel and that connection takes us to the Eastern Spanish city of Valencia. Or to be more precise a small town, Pedralba, some 25 miles to the north west of the city. The Centelles were Barons here.

Vista de Pedralba
A view of Pedralba, 25 miles from Valencia.
De Judit Sanchis – Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In setting sail from Barcelona to his native Sardinia and following his senior appointment on the island, Arquer wrote to a somewhat controversial friend: Don Gaspar de Centelles. In Spain, the warning bells were probably already beginning to ring at this point. De Centelles was a Valencian noble, the son of Eimerich Centelles (note the potential Aymerich connection), Baron of Pedralba.

The Centelles also owned several important castles and estates on Sardinia – for example, Uras in Oristano province (which they inherited from the Carroz family). But Centelles was also somewhat distinctive in his interest in making direct translations of the Bible into contemporary languages.

But he was not alone in that aim, not even in his local area. There was also a churchman, Jeroni Conques (born 1516). They had all met up in Pedralba and Conques had a particular interest in translating Biblical texts into Valencian.

Let us have a closer look at that postal conversation between Arquer and Centelles. There are only a few of these letters surviving but, at one time, there were surely many more. The conversation suggests that Arquer had been on a bit of a shopping trip that summer. For a noble in Sardinia that implied visiting the great Catalan centres of Valencia and Barcelona. He went to both that summer and passed his time frequenting booksellers in both cities.

Although the narrative is not entirely clear, Arquer did not come back with what he wanted. He just might have seen a poor copy of what he was seeking in Valencia and thought that he might find a better copy in Barcelona (his discourse with de Centelles suggests exactly this scenario). If that were the case, then he did not find some better copy in Barcelona before setting sail.

What is very clear is that he was looking for texts which hinted at some future study of both Hebrew and Greek. In those days, that almost certainly implied a focus on Biblical study. The logic behind this should be obvious enough. Translation into Latin had been behind much of the corruption of the true faith. But in Spain that had obvious echoes of trends in Germany.

Putting all that to one side, Arquer must have been looking for something very specific. His Protestant connections in Basel could easily have supplied him with dictionaries from Latin to Hebrew and Demotic Greek. In particular, for someone both noble and who had developed some frankly envious connections in Basel, getting works by Erasmus would not have been a particular problem. It was not his work he was seeking. Whatever, it was time to set sail back for Sardinia. And so he did… and the administrative capital of Spanish Sardinia awaited…

Cagliari | SardegnaTurismo - Sito ufficiale del turismo della Regione  Sardegna
Modern Cagliari – Copyright: Sardegna Turismo

Cagliari was a den of competitive familial intrigues. And back on the island, Arquer’s enemies had their eyes out.

The first charge came in 1558 and it was potentially serious. He was formally accused of Lutheranism, thrown into a prison (although that might not have been quiet as dire as it sounds!) but subsequently released thanks to Antonio Paragües de Castillejo, the Archbishop of Cagliari from that year until 1572 – someone with whom Arquer seems to have had a workable relationship. He had formerly been the Bishop of Trieste.

In Münster’s 1550 Cosmographia there is a section entitled Sardiniae brevis historia et descriptio, in which the correspondent (Arquer) criticised the Sard clergy. This passage is given increased focus because of its positioning – it makes it feel almost a conclusion. To be blunt, he suggests that the clergy is too busy ‘procreating’ to have any time for matters more spiritual.

And this is the general consensus: it is this passage that is the problem. Any passage might be problematic in the Spanish culture of the time. But I think that the real issue is earlier on and crashes in on the issue of who is Viceroy!

Sections of the Brief History

The Brevis Historia is divided into a number of sub-chapters as follows [although I have kept the titles as short as possible here]:
– On Sardinia’s location and size
– Natural resources
– History
– Urbanism
– Description of Cagliari
– ‘De magistratibus Sardiniae, incolarum natura, moribus et religione’

For the time being, let us put how the dispute might have arisen to one side. But, let us be in now doubt: it was almost a familial duty to get his own back for the way his father had been treated.

The Inquisitor was able to convince Conques that he had made errors. He renounced those and agreed to a monastic life, literally ‘wall-to-wall’ with recitations of Hail Mary. Arquer was still in prison and would be for years and the investigation would press on even given a change in Inquisitor – the new one being Baltrán (although not the bone you might know by that name).

Centelles made the opposite response to the Inquisitor to Conques. Whilst Arquer’s investigation was to be drawn out over years, Centelles’ was destined to be relatively short and on 17th September 1564, the decision on his case already reached, he was burned in Valencia. Perhaps critically, a raid on his house had found some carefully hidden books – both by characters from Basel’s extensive clique: one by Oecolampadius and another by… Sebastian Münster.

With his important role for the functioning of the Spanish state, Arquer was continually required to maintain contact between ‘mainland’ Spain and the island. On a trip over to Spain, Arquer was to be arrested again. This time, he was not alone – both de Centelles and Conques were also taken in under arrest.

In fact, Arquer’s investigation would continue for seven and a half years between 1563 and 1571. There was probably a good reason for this. Arquer decided to appeal against all the charges and that will have had the effect of extending the investigation. But, even early on in the investigation, he must have had a good idea what was at risk.

Whilst the prolonged investigation into Arquer’s ‘heresy and Lutheranism’ has allowed us to get a better grip on the books in which he was most interested, it did not materially improve Arquer’s position in the opinions of his investigators. Finally, they came to a conclusion.

On the evening of 4th June 1571 – four years before the publication of the De Belleforest French edition of the Cosmographia and 450 years before this blog post – he was burned to death in Toledo’s Plaza de Zocodover, adjacent to the Alcázar. For those who watched, he was a heretic and a danger to society. And, if they genuinely did not think that, then they did not say!

Toledo as depicted in Georg Braun & Frans Hogenberg’s Civitates orbis terrarum (1572) – the year after Arquer was burned there and a more modern image of the centre by Chensiyuan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Federico Zuliani has tried to piece together Arquer’s library and the sequence of purchasing. This is a really careful study. For my own part, I will keep to a simple (and very limited) summary here but there are a number of sources – including the letters to Centelles, the charges against him, the records of witnesses and Arquer’s own requests whilst in prison. Key works would appear to include those by Nicolas Cleynaerts (Flemish grammarian buried in the Alhambra), Aldus Manutius (the Italian humanist scholar of the Greek language), Francisco Ximenes (or Cisneros – former Cardinal of Spain and, indeed, Grand Inquisitor), Agostino Giustiniani (the Genoan bishop who had had a run-in with Erasmus which had made him well-known in Basel), possibly also the precursor of Protestantism in France (who had also had a tense relationship with Erasmus), Jacques Lefèvre (d’Étaples as opposed to Deventer), and the text which Zuliani suggests he was in search of on his shopping trip to Barcelona and Valencia: the Hebrew grammar of Alfonso de Zamora, produced in Alcalá de Henares. Alfonso was a Spanish Rabbi who had nominally converted to Catholicism in 1506 but had actually continued in his Jewish faith. He also revised the Hebrew text for Ximenes’s Polyglot Bible with Alfonso de Alcalá and Pablo de Coronel, translated the Aramaic paraphrase in it, and added the sixth volume.

AuthorText or subject
Alfonso de Zamora de Alcála
(1474 – 1544)
Grammaticae hebraica (1526)
Archivo:Alfonso de Zamora (1526) Introductionis artis Grammaticae hebraica.png
Nicolas Cleynaerts
(1495 – 1542)
Greek grammar
Aldus Manutius
(c. 1450 – 1515)
picture of Bernardino Loschi and Aldus Manutius
& Torresani of Asola
Trilingual dictionary
(Evidently not Erasmus’)
Sixt Birck
(1501 – 1554)
Concordantiae Graecae Novi
(Basel, 1546)
BIBLE CONCORDANCE Birck Sixt Novi Testamenti concordantiae
Francisco Ximenes
(1436 – 1517)
Trilingual Bible
Andrea de Portonaris
(died 1568)
Polyglot Bible
Agostino Giustiniani
(1470 – 1536)

Psalterium Hebraeum, Graecum, Arabicum, et Chaldaicum (first published Genoa, 1516)
Lefèvre d’Étaples
(1455 – 1536)

same edited by Pellikan
Quadruplex psalterium
Sebastian Gryphius
(1492 – 1556)
Psalterium sextuplex
A summary timeline. If we assume that Arquer’s contribution came around May 1549, this all starts to make sense. Münster would have been finalising the 1550 editions, Arquer was young and a bit too lippy for his own good. Viguer was the highly influential Bishop of Alghero, who would die shortly after Münster’s own death in Basel.

Arquer’s section and its appearance in various translations

– Latin, 1550;
– German, 1550;
– French, 1552;
– Czech, 1554;
– Italian, 1558;
…And in all subsequent editions (Maria Teresa Lanieri).

Summary timeline for Arquer

1530Born in Cagliari
1544 – 1547Attended University of Pisa and graduated from there and Siena
After having been shipwrecked, arrives in Pisa on way to Brussels
1548 / 49
Spends around five months at Arosa in the Canton of Grisons
With Konrad Pellikan in Zürich
With Curione in Basel.
Contact with Amerbach and Münster
1551Travels from Brussels via Augsburg to Madrid, following Charles V
1554At Castile’s court in Valladolid
July 1555Leaves Spain for Sardinia
1558Charged with Lutheranism in Sardinia, thrown into prison but released under influence of the Archbishop of Cagliari
1563Arquer, de Centelles and Conques all arrested in Valencia after repeated meetings in Pedralba
1564De Centelles burned at the stake in Valencia
1571After nearly eight years of investigation, Arquer found to be guilty of ‘heresy and Lutheranism’ and is burned at the stake in Toledo

There is a particular street in Paris which was a centre for printing, not just for Paris, but for the whole of Francophone Europe during this period. Its name is the rue St Jacques. The sheet we are looking at was printed on that street and, somehow found its way to Provence in the intervening four and a half centuries.

1466German Doctor of Theology, Johann Heynlin, establishes rue St Jacques’ reputation as a printing centre for the Sorbonne
1530Belleforest born – in the same year as Sigismondo Arquer – in the Comminges (although that has been questioned)
1533Chesneau born in the Anjou
c. 1550Parisian typography establishing international reputation
1563Chesneau moves to rue St Jacques
1564Sonnius active in Paris
1570Belleforest, Chesneau and Sonnius evidently already working together
1572St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. In support of peace in the Wars of Religion, Catherine de Medici marries her daughter to Protestant Henry of Navarre. The attempted assassination of Huguenot leader, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny triggers mob-massacres.

Pierre L’Hullier – who has an arrangement with Belleforest – flees Paris as a Protestant

Chesneau acquires the Cosmographia copy and the right to work with Belleforest
1575Belleforest edition of Cosmographia published with 627 additional French pages and around 4,000 pages in all
1577Sonnius buys the Paris branch of Christopher Plantin’s printworks
Death of Belleforest
1588Death of Sonnius
Henry III expelled from Paris
(Day of the Barricades)

The rue St Jacques, Paris in the 1570s

This section is primarily about the three key players in printing the Cosmographia in Paris in 1575. They were:

  • Michel Sonnius (active in Paris from 1564 to his death in 1588);
  • Nicolas Chesneau (born in Cheffes in Anjou in 1533; active from 1556 to his death in 1584);
  • François de Belleforest (born in 1530, supposedly in the Comminges, adjacent to the Pyrenees – although some have questioned the evidence for this).

But, let us take several steps back at this stage to look at how this one particular street in Paris had become such an important centre for the printing trade.

The origins of the rue St Jacques as the centre of Parisian printing

For Francophone Europe by the late-1500s there were several majors centres of the printing industry. Despite this, it should be noted that all ‘French’ centres played second fiddle in Europe to Venice.

Paris – which we are about to examine in more detail;

Lyon – one of many European cities to claim itself to be ‘the capital of European printing);

Antwerp (although it was more specialised in printing texts in English, not to mention other languages);

Geneva (a distant fourth in the ranking).

Paris had significant advantages. It was a major population hub, was a centre for government and possessed a distinguished university. The Sorbonne was originally its theology department. The rue St Jacques was located at a critical point between the Sorbonne itself and the Church of Saint Mathurin (a centre of the cult of Maturinus’ relics which were destroyed by the Hugenots). The university kept its seal here.

Before Baron Haussmann ploughed through the city in the Napoleonic era, rue St Jacques had been a major axial thoroughfare (a Roman cardo, no less), the starting point of French pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela – which is where the name comes from. In 1466 Johann Heynlin, a German Doctor of Theology, had established a joint venture with Guillaume Fichet – another immigrant, this time from Savoy – and set up the city’s first printing press.

Heynlin – with a million and one spelling variations – had been born in Stein near Pforzheim but was possibly of Swabian origin. He seems to have studied at both Leipzig and Freiburg before his move to Paris. The Epistolae of Gasparinus de Bergamo (1470) became the first book ever printed in France.

Heynlin and Fichet had initially chosen an adjacent site at the Sorbonne itself but had then settled on rue St Jacques. Heynlin employed a few workmen from Switzerland to set up his press. They were Ulrich Gering, Michael Triburger and Martin Kranz. Louis XI had them all naturalised in 1475 but by that time the venture had expired. But this was also the start of the press at the sign of the Soleil d’Or on rue St Jacques. The street would go on to establish itself as the centre of print innovations right through until the time of Degas. It is well recorded through much of this, thanks to remaining at the heart of printing – and later, photographic – innovations.

Rue Saint-Jacques by Charles Marville ca. 1853–70
Rue Saint-Jacques – Photo by Charles Marville c. 1853–70 Claimed to be copyright © French Moments Ltd. although pre-1921, this is doubtful.

Mid-1500s Parisian printing and the key players

Paris had no formal guild structure and the ‘libraires’ (the traditional word) relied on a system of family networks and intermarriage. Michel Sonnius was an important link in one of these networks encompassing several important printing family names (Du Puys, Chaudière, L’Angelier). Just taking his own marriages: firstly, he wed Marie Bichon, the sister of bookseller and printer, Guillaume Bichon. His second wife, Marie de Villette, mothered Catherine Sonnius, who married Jacques du Puys, who in turn was linked to the Chaudière family.

The Sorbonne and the Parlement co-operated in book censorship, a process which was eventually to result in the the Edict of Chateaubriant in 1551.

Until 1560 Chesneau had been based at the house of Claude Frémy. He moved from there to the rue Mont St Hilaire but, in 1563, he moved to rue St Jacques. Libraires were easy to spot as devices hung outside rather like public house signs. Strangely, for someone so militantly Catholic, Chesneau chose Froben’s and added an oak tree – a play on his own surname. The first title to bear Chesneau’s device was published whilst he was still operating under Frémy’s address: Antoine du Val’s ‘Mirouer des Calvinistes’ (1559).

François de Belleforest (1530-1583), plan of Paris, printed in Paris in 1575 by Nicolas Chesneau & Michel Sonnius. The engraver was the Genevan, Pierre Eskrich (died 1590).
Public domain.

François de Belleforest was a prolific French author and poet who also translated a wide range of works including Vergil, Boccaccio and Cicero. He was also the author of the first French pastoral novel, La Pyrénée, long thought to be a translation (of Sannazaro’s Arcadia) but actually reflecting Belleforest’s own roots in the area or, at least, playing on his supposed roots. He was reputedly the son of a soldier who was killed when François was just seven. His most successful work was an adaptation of Matteo Bardello which amounted to seven volumes, one of which is suspected to have been the source of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ story.

Over the period between 1540 and 1560 topography in France had reached its high point and had become acknowledged throughout Europe. But the excellence achieved by both Lyon and Paris then became threatened by religious and political instabilities. The 1560s saw France slide into the Religious Wars. When there was an awkward peace, Catherine de Medici thought she would cement it by intermarriage. [It should be noted that the scenes in La Reine Margot should generally be ignored as there is nothing to suggest that Marguerite de Valois had to be pushed into bowing her head at the wedding ceremony. That is almost certainly a later invention – see below. What we should keep in mind that De Belleforest does seem to have been a geographical advisor to her when she was still Navarre-based. It is also a matter of debate whether Catherine herself changed her mind regarding her actions and sided more securely with the Catholics.]

Whatever, in Catholic Paris the marriage, far from cementing any kind of peace, backfired hideously. In fact, it resulted in one of the bloodiest massacres of the century – not just in Paris but across Western Europe. Printing houses that had flirted with the Protestant cause were often destroyed by mobs. But the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre at least settled matters. Paris was Catholic and that was that!

So, jammed between the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) and the expulsion of Henri III from the city in 1588, there at least seems to have been a period of relative confessional stability.

Painting by François Dubois, a Huguenot painter born circa 1529 in Amiens, who settled in Switzerland. Although Dubois did not witness the massacre, he depicts Admiral Coligny’s body hanging out of a window at the rear to the right. To the left rear, Catherine de’ Medici is shown emerging from the Louvre Palace to inspect a heap of bodies.

Publishers shifted their output dramatically towards religious works. But even that was ground where one’s tread had to be very careful. In the 1520s a ban on French Bibles had been imposed. [Despite this, Francis I (1515 – 1547) – the first king to make the Louvre his residence – had been a promoter of the study of ancient languages.] Chesneau utilised his humanist education to print René Benoist’s French translation of the Bible.

It was to prove just too much for the Sorbonne. The close connection which had been the backbone of the libraires in Paris was suddenly broken. Not that it seemed to do Chesneau any long-term harm. Between 1570 and 1590, ten men had more than 200 editions published. The group included Michel Sonnius (203 – although some might actually be works of his son of the same name) and Nicolas Chesneau (235).

One strategy, seemingly adopted by both, was to take full advantage of what Racaut has called the ‘pamphlet moment’ (the printing of populist polemic) to fund larger-scale, more academic projects. I have to say that I think it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking one was done with gritted teeth in order to fund the other. It is as likely that – Chesneau, at least – was very comfortable publishing these documents and his concern with bringing other work in was essentially a matter of ‘value added’, or to put it another way, profits.

How did the three (Chesneau, Sonnius and De Belleforest) come to work together on the Cosmographia edition of 1575?

If Cosmographia, ultimately the work of a German Lutheran (even one who was ex-Franciscan), seems an odd choice for a militant Catholic, then that needs to be put in the context of the economic crisis in France in the 1570s – which would eventually lead to the monetary reform of 1577. This new economic situation resulted in a changed mode of operation which encouraged printers to compete with one another – sometimes to the significant detriment of others.

Belleforest had originally been in partnership with Pierre L’Hullier to publish Cosmographia. But L’Hullier was Protestant and in the context of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, fled Paris. We have to come back to those tight little family arrangements because, despite the religious differences, L’Hullier was also Chesneau’s brother-in-law. Under the new system, Chesneau both acquired ‘the copy’ of Cosmographia (presumably, at least initially, the 1552 French edition even though I hold that someone in the group had access to another version) and ‘inherited’ his brother in law’s right to collaboration with Belleforest.

Although Belleforest’s background was very different (although Belleforest also published a tract against the Protestant and ‘monarchomaque’, François Hotman), for Chesneau the relationship opened up the opportunity to increase his market share in more lucrative in-folio editions.

Bust of François de Belleforest at Samatan in Gers.
By BastienM – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, [Own Edit]

The caveat to this argument – and I think a critical one – is that Chesneau and Belleforest had already been working together before the Massacre. Together they had produced a bilingual version of Flavius Josephus’ ‘History’, printed by Sonnius in association with Frémy. In 1570, the two of them had produced Augustine’s ‘City of God’ and the following year a range of output including works by Eusebius, Erasmus and St John Chrystotome.

The changed characteristics of the 1575 French edition

The Belleforest version of Cosmographia (‘La Cosmographie universelle de tout le monde‘) in 1575 was an ‘improved’ and enlarged version, adding hundreds of pages in comparison to the French version of 1552 (the year of Münster’s death). It was frankly enormous and is viewed as the definitive French edition (following editions in the language in 1556, 1560, 1565 and 1568).

The Belleforest publication added a huge volume of new material to Münster. On this, there were several different fronts:

  • Belleforest’s intention was to give French lands the same same focus as Münster had given to German lands. This was the main contributor to additional length as the French section was an additional 627 pages.
  • There were changes to the range of maps – of which Münster might well have approved.
  • The splicing-in of various other authors;
  • Increased focus and accuracy on both the Far East and the New World – in part, driven by increased and developing knowledge;
  • Increased focus on comparative political administration.

Belleforest’s expansion on Münster resulted in a hugely comprehensive publication amounting (over its volumes) to 4,000 pages.

But there were certainly some downsides as well.

(a) Münster had never limited his attention to an academic readership. Cosmographia had always been intended for a broad audience and had never been a reference text. It had been meant to be read from cover to cover as a periegesis (περιήγησις). But the Belleforest splicing led to a lack of uniformity.

(b) The ‘geographic’ component in the 1575 French edition was vastly weakened.

(c) Many of Münster’s original maps were abandoned.

Not much of this was out of line with German trends in new editions of the Cosmographia. New editions in that language had also transformed it into essentially a work of reference. Many of the original woodcuts had been abandoned thanks to the degeneration over years of over-use.

Product of the ‘Chez Sonnius’ on rue St Jacques, at the sign of Basel.
Sonnius’ mark on the Cosmographie Universelle by François de Belleforest, a copy owned by Saint-Bénigne Abbey in Dijon and kept at the Carnegie Library (Reims). This is effectively the front page of the sheet now in my possession (which is from Volume II).
Cagliari’s Elephant Tower – part of the Pisan era fortifications.
CC BY-SA 3.0,

The French text – a basic translation

I have done this myself so it may not be perfect – at best, it will be mediocre. The language of the time differs slightly in the way it is written to modern times – for example in the -z plural endings, À SÇAVOIR to mean ‘namely‘, various spelling inconsistencies and additional Ss such as in the verb, ‘to be’ (ESTRE), almost half way back to its roots – but is otherwise straightforward. By the way, sçavoir is actually a hypercorrection of Old French in Middle French, based of a false regression to Latin SCIRE rather than SAPERE. It is an example of the (often sloppy) etymological spellings fashionable at the time – some of which survived. Readers will also note that U and V were still written the same way at this point in time. That would be addressed in the following century.

Development of the verb TO BE in French from its Indo-European root.

To be technical, it is in a very late variant of Middle French (moyen français) – characterised by the total dropping of case inflections and the increased focus on a standardised Ile-de-France variant of the language. [Note that the langue d’oïl dialects tended to keep the last vestiges of case inflection longer than more peripheral dialects.] Nevertheless, even by 1635, the Académie française was still able to claim that ‘very few speak French’ (meaning the Francien dialect as it is now known) and it was not actually until 1880 that French became the sole language of education. It is also very much the kind of period in which spellings are reflecting an out-of-date pronunciation. So, despite what you often hear about French spelling (unlike crazy English spelling) being phonetic, it is not really. In particular, there was a shift from multiple vowel sounds to single vowel sounds (think of fleur or peau), giving French a different feel to Spanish, Italian or Sardinian.

The introduction of printing in 1470 had also left its mark on the French language, as it drew attention for the need for standardisation. One proposed reform came from Jacques Peletier du Mans, who developed a phonetic spelling system and introduced new typographic signs (1550). But this attempt at spelling reform was not followed. And, indeed, even in this really high quality publication, there are variations in the spellings of exactly the same word.

The period with which we are dealing in the development of the French language was that of Michel de Montaigne (died 1592) and just followed that of François Rabelais (died 1553) but was already moving steadily away from that of François Villon (died 1463).

If Belleforest was being honest about his origins, then French might almost have been a learned language to him anyway. Because he would have grown up speaking a (probably very conservative) version of this…

…which is interesting. Because in the hypothetical situation that Arquer and Belleforest (and, indeed, Centelles) had ever met, they would have had a significant opportunity to speak their own languages with mutual intelligibility.

File:Mappa di Cagliari di Sigismondo Arquer dalla Cosmographia di Sebastian Munster - 1550.jpg
Map of Cagliari assumed (usually) to be by Sigismondo Arquer from the Cosmographia 1550. There is an ongoing dispute about the role played by Antonio Arquer in these maps. Marchi claims to have identified another contributor who went by the name ‘C.S.’ as those letters appear multiple times hidden against the background of the map. He has also made some suggestions as to who this might be. Cagliari is now a significant urban area and a modern comparison is barely possible.

The Sardinians have had their own language at other times, but because various peoples have gone to live there and foreign princes have usurped dominion, such as the Latins, Pisans, Genoese, Spanish and Africans; their language has been very corrupted but, nevertheless, has been left with several words which cannot be found in any other language. They still retain many words of the Latin language, mainly from the mountains of Barbagia

Sardegna Barbaria.png

where the emperors of Rome kept their garrisons, as was written by the holder of the Office of Prefect of Africa. [It is possible that the abbreviation actually used in the text was kept that way because nobody knew exactly how to translate it and I am in no better a position!] Hence it is that the Sardinians speak so differently in diverse places, according to which they have had various lords, but all succeed in understanding one another. However, there are two principal languages in this island, one of which is used in the cities, and the other of which is used outside the cities.

Sardinia’s linguistic influences

‘At other times, they have had their own language’! True, but it remains a complete mystery alongside a certain stratum in Sardinian DNA. There is the pre-PIE hypothesis, the Etruscan hypothesis, the Corsican hypothesis, the Illyrian hypothesis… in short, they don’t know! In the cases of some of the other influences mentioned, we do have more of a grip on them. Sardinian retains some features of Latin that have been lost in other Romance languages – like the hard ‘K’ (or C in Latin!): ‘a kent anos!’. Zeneize (the dialect of Genoa) is still spoken as Tabarchino on some islands off Sardinia. And the Africans? Arquer is referring either to the Punic-Phoenician period on Sardinia or to ongoing relations with Libyan groupings in the post-Punic period. But the real mystery remains the substrates before this period.
Su Naraxi – lit. ‘the nuraghe’. The real mystery is what was left in the language from the times of these peoples.
By Francesco ghiani – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Almost universally city-dwellers use the Spanish, Tarragonese… [Should that really be Aragonese – and, if so, who first made that mistake? On the other hand, it may not be a mistake. For now slightly obscure reasons, the Kings of Aragon had traditionally had to swear oaths to Tarragona.] …or Catalan language, which they have learned from the Spaniards, who most often exercise the office of magistrate and urban appointments; the others retain their natural language. Here you will have the difference between the two languages in the Sunday prayer.

[We have already seen the next bit! The text continues and we have not even looked at this verso folio yet…]

On the cosmography of the magistrates of Sardinia and of the nature of the inhabitants, mores, laws and religion

The Viceroy: There are several magistrates in Sardinia. The highest of all is the Viceroy, who holds all the authority of the king and it would be a Spaniard who exercises this role of state, according to the traditional ordinances. The king assigns him an assessor, who has a doctorate in each law and who is called ‘Regent’. He also has other advisers by means of whom he has almost everything and his judicial seat is called the ‘royal audience’.

In days gone by, no one could exercise this office according to the privilege of the kingdom beyond the space of three years, after which another succeeded in his place. But these days, whoever finds himself there, stays there a long time, according to the king’s pleasure!

And because Sardinia is divided into two parts, namely the ‘Capo’ authority of Cagliari and the ‘Capo’ authority of the Logudoro, each half has its own governor who is either in (S)Pain [sic] or Sardinia because it is all one and the same.

Whilst in the presence of the Viceroy he has no authority, in his absence the Governor has total authority, whether he can call that being Viceroy or not. The king allocates this government office to whomsoever he wishes, whoever he considers the most appropriate to administer it.

There is also another city magistrate called Vigher, who even in the presence of the Viceroy has special jurisdiction, covering the punishment of all criminal cases and civil cases.

Vigher, Viguer or Vaguer?

It looks to me as though ‘Vigher’ is in fact Pedro Vaguer (born in Jaca at the northern end of Aragon bordering on France – capital of Aragon until its expansion southwards in the late eleventh century, ordained in Zaragoza, appointed bishop of Alghero in 1541 and holding that office until his death in 1556). In 1534 the Viceroy, Antonio de Cardona, chose him as Counsellor. He was entrusted with some cases at the highest level of nobility on the island including families such as the Cedrellas, the Manca, the Aymerichs and the Cariga.

By 1543 Vaguer probably had his sites on becoming Sard Viceroy in his own right but he then he involved himself in accusations of irregularities, heresy and Devil-worship against some of the most important characters on the island, including the incumbent Viceroy and… Antonio Arquer. If there is one important discovery made here it is the identification of Vigher as Vaguer, the Bishop of Alghero – see below.

Antonio de Cardona & Pedro Vaguer

De Cardona was Viceroy of Sardinia but also a ‘cousin’ of the King of Spain, Philip II, son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. His father had been Admiral and Grand Constable of Catalonia and Aragon.

Most discussion – such as it is – of Arquer is seemingly devoid of comment on ‘Vigher’ but the focus on Vaguer now starts to make some sense. When Arquer was in Basel, he was en route to put his father’s case in Brussels – whether or not he ever had any serious intentions of heading over the English Channel from there. His father was in prison on account of an accusation of heresy from the Bishop of Alghero, Pedro Vaguer.

Although Antonio Arquer was eventually reinstated and even made a knight, he was still incarcerated for more than a year. Arquer was an advisor to de Cardona and, whilst the Viceroy was not thrown into prison, a serious accusation of heresy and devil-worship was also made against him. Vaguer even dragged in de Cardona’s wife, Maria de Requesens, whose daughter (Margarita de Cardona) became a lady-in-waiting to the Holy Roman Empress, Maria of Habsburg, between 1548 and 1581.

We need to ask ourselves who supplied this image of Vaguer? Who gave the woodcut – who would undoubtedly have been one of the Germans – any details of his appearance? Or is this just a generic image made out to represent Pedro Vaguer?

[We continue now with the text itself…]

This appointment is annual in case of the insolence of some who have exercised it, so that other citizens can prevent it. In the past this appointment was on a five year basis and after that, triennial. These days the King or Viceroy gives this appointment to each city, and those who exercise it each have a learned assessor in each right of law.

There are also other magistrates who are lesser, who are omitted for brevity. The ecclesiastical magistrates in Sardinia are constituted according to the Pope’s decrees. There are three Archbishops: one from Caglari, the other from Arborea and the third from Turrite or Sassare, who employ several bishops.

Arborée, Turrite & Sassare

Arborea: One of the four independent judicates of the Middle Ages – but the one which outlasted its neighbours, surviving into the fifteenth century. By the end of the 1200s, the three other judicates had fallen into the control of either Pisan or Genoan families.

Meanwhile, Arborea began a golden age under Marianus the Great. During his reign only Cagliari, Sassari (which was under Brancaleone Doria) and Alghero were outside Arborean control. Eleanor, the elder sister of Hugh III and married to Brancaleone, inherited power in 1387 and is still seen as a local heroine in Oristano. Technically she was ruling on behalf of her sons and one of them, Marianus V succeeded her. On his death in 1407, William III of Narbonne, grandson of Eleanor’s sister took over. Initially, he defended the island against Aragon but on 30th June 1409, he was vanquished at Sanluri. Oristano fell the following year – without resistance. In Chapter 4 of his ‘Brief History’, Arquer notes how unhealthy Oristano is on account of its marshes. This was a problem in nearby Cabras right up to the twentieth century.

Porto Torres (or Turrite) is probably not the island’s most attractive town but it is an historic one. For Rome, Colonia Iulia Turris Libisonis was one of the most considerable cities in Sardinia. Later it had been an independent republic in alliance with Genoa before the Aragonese invasion and it coming to be known simply as Lo Port.

Sassari: Around the eleventh century, Porto Torres had at least partly fallen into disrepair and the bulk of the population had relocated a few miles down the road to Sassari (Sassare).

[This is quite an awkward bit given the context…]

Alongside this, they have an Inquisitor General for the heretics, apostates and witches, according to the laws and conventions of Spain, other than that permitted to inquisitors by the common decrees of Emperors and Popes. This one has infinite privileges and does not recognise anyone superior in Sardinia, other than Spain’s Grand Inquisitor, from whom he is delegated.

He also has beneath him other inquisitors and ministers, for all of whom he is judicator, who proceed with such rigour against those who are so speculate that this cannot be expressed in a few words. Because they keep the poor in prison for many years, examine them and they cry out before they are either condemned or absolved.

They have printed books of these things such as ‘Maleus Maleficarum’ [by the clergyman Heinrich Kramer], ‘Directorium Inquisitorum’ [by Nicolas Eymerich born Girona, 1316, Franciscan friar, appointed Inquisitor General of Aragon in 1357] and some others; ditto their secret instructions and several others who are reliant on their will.

The Sardinians also have a Crusade Commissioner, who recognises no one superior with the exception of the Pope in Rome.

Other than that, as for the mores and nature of the Sardinians, you will find them to be physically robust, agreeable and accustomed to toil, bar a few who are addicted to delicacies and excess. They are not addicted to the study of letters, but very much to hunting. Many devote themselves to the raising of livestock, busying themselves with rustic meats and waters. Those who live in the small towns and villages lead a peaceful life among themselves as well as with foreigners and treat them humanely. They live life one day at a time, and their clothes are very thick. They are not at war and do not have great need for weapons. And this is a point of confusion. Nowhere on this ample island do they have a forge for swords, daggers or other such weaponry, but import all these from Spain or Italy. They are strong with the crossbow, principally for hunting. And if the pirates, Turks or Moors go there to plunder, they are soon hunted down or taken by the Sardinians.

They are very good riders of horses and are bronzed because of the heat of the sun… [The text goes over the page at this point!]

Some remaining commentary

There are a number of small mentions which are not in the images above at all. The first thing obviously continues from Book 2 page 264 of the Belleforest – Chesneau – Sonnius edition. It is a label ‘C’ and the parish of Stampax. It is referring to Stampace / Stampaxi (in Sardu), one of the four historic quarters of Cagliari, beyond the Pisan walls of Casteddu – the old Castello after which Cagliari is named.

Image of Stampaxi in 1854.

Several other places of potential interest (then) outside Cagliari. Some of these are easily identifiable and still places one might visit on a trip to Sardinia – such as Santa Maria de Bonaire. Brilliantly, the translations stops to explain ‘Bonaire’ and one wonders given the proximity of Catalan, French and – indeed, Latin, whether this is just a simple translation from a non-‘Romance’ version of the text. It was called Bonaire because it was far enough out the city to avoid the foul stench of the centre of Cagliari.

Santuario della Madonna di Bonaria.

Some of the other churches and monasteries listed – and all the sites bar one seem to fall into this category – have been less easy to identify, especially San Agostino, which is clearly not the one in Cagliari built only in 1574. Others are now almost lost or in a poor state of repair such as the San Francesco Convent (below) or demolished.

San Francesco Convent – a multi-disciplinary team is trying to put together its history.

The exception to them all being church buildings is the Palissada, which can be seen in the foreground in the map of Cagliari. In 1581 this was demolished, already deemed to be ineffective against bombardment.

Santa Maria de Portu (Portu Gruttis – after the necropolis caves – or Portu Salis – after salt) was later to be known as San Bardilio. Unfortunately, it fell into disrepair, suffered a major collapse and was eventually demolished in 1929.

Summary of chronology

To conclude, I have attempted to put the characters and events above across all sections of this post) into the context of monarchs of England, France, the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. There was not room to add in the French Wars of Religion running from 1562 to 1598.

English monarchs in pale blue (without the turbulent period in between the two); French in dark blue. The split in the Holy Roman Empire is reflected in the red / orange. ‘FWoR’ = French Wars of Religion. The two lines indicate the publication of the 1550 editions of Cosmographia and the 1575 De Belleforest edition in Paris.

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