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Privilege granted to Valentim Fernandes (1501)

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Printing privileges emerged in Portugal in the 16th century replicating a system already in place in some parts of Europe. Hundreds of privileges were granted based on petitioning by printers to the monarch, providing the printer a monopoly over the printing and selling of a certain work, for a certain amount of time, thus protecting the printer's investment. 

A royal privilege is not the same as a printing authorisation issued by the Inquisition, so that a printed work may contain both the text of the royal privilege as well as the text of the Churches’ permission to print the work. See, for example, the first edition of Lusíadas, 1572.

The printing press trade was brought to Portugal by foreign printers, such as Valentim Fernandes de Morávia, Germão Galharde, Pedro de Craesbeeck, João Pedro de Cremona, etc. Therefore, it is no surprise that the first printing privilege was granted to a German printmaker, author, interpreter and translator who became known in Portugal as Valentim Fernandes.

Today we know of 18 books printed by him, such as SacramentalTratado de Confisson and Vita Christi, a 1495 masterpiece. Valentim Fernandes was a pioneer in the art of printing illustrated books in Portugal. His prominence was owed not only to the high quantity and quality of books he printed but also to the level of trust that the monarch had in him. So much so that the monarch gave him the power to draft, sign, translate and interpret as he saw fit in the context of business transactions involving German traders in Portugal.

The first privilege granted to Valentim Fernandes was placed in the upper corner of the cover of Jorge Manrique's funeral elegy to his father, Glosa famosissima sobre las coplas de Don Jorge Marrique, a classic of Spanish literature:

«First published in 1480 under the title 'Verses on the death of Rodrigo Manrique, Master of Santiago' is without question Jorge Manrique's best known work, and considered one of the greatest and most beautiful creations in Spanish literature of all time. With this elegy the author constructs a poetic monument to the memory of his dead father. The overriding virtue of the work and the reason for its success lies both its skilful form and in its content. From the formal standpoint, the piece comprises forty octosyllabic verses in the rhyming pattern known as pie quebrado, a formal style invented by his uncle Gómez Manrique, also a poet. The most original aspect of the content is the combination of historical facts with deeds from his father's own life.» (

This privilege emerges on the cover of the work in a very discreet manner, as opposed to what happened the following year with the privilege also given to Valentim Fernandes to print a translation of the Travels of Marco Polo.

Professor Artur Anselmo, a well-known Portuguese expert in this field, concludes that the inclusion of the phrase «Con privilegio» was the result of a decision taken by Valentim Fernandes after completing the graphic arrangement of the title page: a pragmatic decision which he took with the support of the monarch in order to fence off counterfeiters.


Commentary by Patricia Akester


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