‘… through these words comes opinions into the world’

by Olivia Lardner, Bolton Cataloguer

The Inquisitor General’s Index librorvm prohibitorvm et expvrgandorvm novissimvs (Madrid: Diego Diaz, 1667), bound here in Bolton Library G.13.18 with the Vatican’s Index librorvm prohibitorvm Alexandri VII Pontificis Maximi ivssv editvs of the same year (Rome : Stamparia Camerale, 1667), is a testament to the fear of heresy and usurpation, bolstered by paranoia and personal grudges, which burned within the Catholic Church for centuries.

The matter of Bookes seemes to be a thing of small moment, because it treats of words, but through these words comes opinions into the world, which cause partialities, seditions, and finally warres1


Title page of Bolton G.13.18
Index librorvm prohibitorvm et expvrgandorvm novissimvs (Madrid: Diego Diaz, 1667)


The rise of printing – which we celebrate in the Bolton Library – and the Protestant Reformation threatened to swamp Rome’s spiritual and political authority, and the first appearance of an index of proscribed authors, works and parts of works in the early 16th century began a tradition of sweeping tomes which would continue well into the 20th century.2


Headpiece kicking off Bolton G.13.18 showing people attacking books
The very telling headpiece which kicks off Index librorvm prohibitorvm et expvrgandorvm novissimvs


This monumental index of banned books by Antonio Sotomayor, Inquisidor General de España,3 4 prohibits works and passages from Dante Alighieri and Martin Luther, to name but a few.



A stealthy counterfeit

In the 16th century work Index expvrgatorivs librorvm qvi hoc secvlo prodiervnt … ([Heidelberg] : Jean Mareschal, 1586) we have an index expurgatorius, essentially a handbook of ‘corrections’ to be applied to censored works and passages. The omission of a place name here is intentional, an attempt by its printer Jean Mareschal (approx. 1510–1590) to direct attention to Lyon while working in exile in Heidelberg.5


An index expurgatorius Bolton H.20.23
An index expurgatorius


For this 1586 edition is in fact a pirated edition of the 1571 Antwerp Index, produced in Germany for the Protestant market and away from the prying eyes of the Catholic Church.6 It would also explain the item’s choice of dedicatee: Johann Casimir, Count Palatine of the Rhine (1543–1592) and adherent of the Reformed Church.7


A Protestant viewpoint

Back in the late 17th century again, and now on the cusp of the Age of Enlightenment, we have this view of the Catholic Church’s proscriptive activities from another perspective: Disqvisitio academica de papistarum indicibus librorum prohibitorum et expurgandorum (Leipzig : Friedrich Lankisch der Jüngere Erben, 1684). It is authored by Daniel Francke (1641–1729), a native of Weida, who is identified as the superintendent8 of Wietz.9


Title page of Bolton E.16.20
Disqvisitio academica de papistarum indicibus librorum prohibitorum et expurgandorum (Leipzig, 1684)


Biblical censorship

We have a number of signed bindings in the collection,10 but rare indeed are markings from printers and booksellers. Bolton Library A.15.1 is an item signed by its bookseller, and we have two copies of it. Both bear the signature of Reinier Leers (1654-1714) below the avertissement au lecteur on the title page verso:



Histoire critique du Vieux Testament (Rotterdam : Reinier Leers, 1685) is a new edition of the critical history of the Old Testament by the French theologian Richard Simon (1638–1712), an author whose works are not uncommon in the Bolton Library.


Title page of Bolton A.14.26
Histoire critique du Vieux Testament (Rotterdam : Reinier Leers, 1685)


The original French edition so incensed leading figures that it was suppressed, and all copies destroyed; this Rotterdam edition includes changes made by the author in the hope of pacifying its earlier critics.11


Censorship and collecting

To own any of the titles listed in the Index meant punishment, not just in this life, but also in the next. For a book collector, however, their appearance may have rendered such titles very attractive indeed. The Bolton Library’s archbishops began amassing their collections not long after the publication of the 1667 Madrid and Rome indices. How many of the works listed therein have survived destruction as a direct result of the interest taken in them by our Church of Ireland collectors?

A good example is Vniversæ natvræ theatrvm (Hanau : Typis Wechelianis, 1605), collected here in the Bolton Library by Archbishop William King.12 It had been placed on the index, along with every other work by its author Jean Bodin (1530–1596), by 1628, and would remain a proscribed work into the 20th century!13



Quite apart from demonising authors and works in an attempt to safeguard vested interests, the indices of banned books now provide a valuable insight into Reformation Europe and the concerns of the Catholic Church.


Further Reading

Find a contemporary discussion of the banning of books in Venice, Italy’s leading printing centre,14 in chapter 29 of Bolton Library F.10.24 and H.6.9(5) by local historian Paolo Sarpi (1552–1623).



  1. Sarpi, P. (1639). The history of the Inquisition: composed by the Reverend Father Paul Servita, who was also the compiler of the Councell of Trent. A pious, learned, and curious worke, necessary for councellors, casuists, and politicians. Translated out of the Italian copy by Robert Gentilis. London: J. Okes, for Humphrey Mosley, p. 69. Find it here.[]
  2. Kusukawa, S. and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science (University of Cambridge) (1999). Galileo and books, available here.[]
  3. Reusch, F.H. (1885). Index der verbotenen Bücher, Bonn: Max Cohen & Sohn, p. 50. Find it here.[]
  4. Along with questions about Sotomayor’s period of activity, the imprint of the Madrid Index is now queried following the discovery in Bolton Library A.3.13, printed in Geneva in 1652, and in Bolton Library Z.4.10, printed in Avignon in 1669, of an almost exact match to the headpiece used here in 1667.[]
  5. CERL Thesaurus, CERL.[]
  6. Bonnant, G. (1969). ‘Les index prohibitifs et expurgatoires contrefaits par des Protestants au XVIe et au XVIIe siècle’, Bibliothèque d’humanisme et Renaissance, 31(3), pp. 611-640, available here.[]
  7. Watanabe-O’Kelly, H. (2002). ‘The Lutheran legacy: the Albertine electors and Protestant court culture’, in: Court culture in Dresden. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 5-36. Find it here.[]
  8. The Protestant equivalent of a Roman Catholic bishop.[]
  9. Bibliothèque Germanique ou histoire littéraire de l’Allemagne, de la Suisse, et des pays du Nord. T. 19. Amsterdam: Humbert, 1730, p. 193. Available here.[]
  10. See an example in Bookbindings of the Bolton Library #3.[]
  11. Lambe, P. (1985). ‘Biblical criticism and censorship in Ancien Régime France: the case of Richard Simon’. The Harvard theological review, 78(1/2), pp. 149-177. Available here.[]
  12. Read about William King and his collecting activities in A good eye.[]
  13. Goyau, G. (1907). Jean Bodin. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Available here.[]
  14. Grendler, P.F. (1975). The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian press, 1540-1605. The Journal of Modern History, 47(1), pp. 48-65. Available here.[]