Commentary on:
Petition from and Privilege granted to Alfonso Chacón for publishing the works of his uncle, historian Alonso Chacón (1599)

Back | Commentary info | Commentary
Printer friendly version
Creative Commons License
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Commentary on Sec. Brev. Reg. 290 F. 105 (Petition from and Privilege granted to Alfonso Ciaccone for publishing the works of his uncle Alonso Chacón)  


1. The Petition

Alfonso Ciaccone’s Petition

The petition is notable for its repeated assertions of the Nephew’s poverty and the necessity of a privilege to enable the Nephew to complete the printing of Chacón’s Lives and Deeds of the Popes, and to encourage the Nephew to publish others of his Uncle’s works.  The printed book’s dedication to Pope Clement VIII expands on the Nephew’s dire straits and on his gratitude for the Pope’s “liberality” – a generosity which Ciaccone nonetheless implies was due to him.

Invocations of the petitioner’s parlous state to justify issuance of a privilege were not unusual, and confer a personal touch on otherwise often formulaic requests.  For example, Francesco Rocchi, a miniaturist, sought authorization to make wax medallions of the Agnus Dei, “having to support with his labors and art his poor widowed mother who is extremely poor with no [other] help, and with useless grandchildren” (“convenendoli sostenar con le fatiche e arte sua la povera madre vedova poveriss[im]a senza alcuno aiuto, et anco nipoti inutili.”)  See Sec. Brev. Reg. 124 F 288r (petition) (Oct. 3, 1586). 

Printer-inventor Leonardo Parasole sought a privilege for a method of printing musical notation for plain chant, invented by himself and Cistercian monk Fulgenzio Valesi; Parasole requested that the Pope “condescend to grant a privilege personally to the said Leonardo Parasole and to Silvio Valesi, nephew of the said Don Fulgenzio, who is deprived of father, mother and other relatives except for two very young sisters who are as poor as can possibly be, that it would be a pious action to do them this grace.”  (“si supplica a Vostra Beatitudine degnarsi di concedere un Privilegio in persona di detto Leonardo Parasole et in persona di Silvio Valesi nepote di detto Don Fulgentio privo di Padre, Matre et parenti solo che doi sorelle piccide ma poverissimi, che piu esser non possono, che sara’ una opera pia a fargli tal gratia”) See Sec. Brev. Reg. 207 F. 50 (1592).

The petition of Luigi Zannetti, a Venetian printer, urged the grant not only for the usual reasons that the work, a Life of St. Catherine of Bologna, was prepared at great expense and the petitioner’s fear that others will print to the detriment of the publisher, but also evokes the poverty of the nuns on whose behalf he is undertaking the printing: Zannetti “has taken on the task of printing the life of the Blessed Catherine of Bologna entirely at his expense because the nuns of the said convent are poor and live from alms and their number comes to 220 [nuns]”  (“ha preso il carico di stampar la vita della Beata Catherina di Bologna a tutte sue spese perche le monache del detto monasterio son povere e vivono di elemosina et arrrivano al numero di 220.”)  See Sec. Brev. Reg. 247 F 22 (1596).  

The Jesuit Francisco Rodriguez petitioned for a privilege in a book he wrote on the Jubilee because, inter alia, “of being poor, virtuous, and burdened with family, as is expected of those who serve others, I wish to have some earnings from this little book” (“si per esser povero, virtuoso, et carico di famiglia, come anco per che suole sempre servire noi altri, io desidero habbia qualche guadagno co[n] questo libretto.”).  See Sec Brev 295 F 174r (petition) (May 15, 1600).

The petition also makes the requests, standard by this point, for exclusivity over multiple language versions, as well as different formats and versions of the contents.  The further request, specifying “the sole coats of arms of the Popes and Cardinals,” is understandable in light of the nature of the book, particularly in its portions covering Renaissance-era Popes. The work consists less of an account of lives and deeds and instead largely collects and correlates the coats of arms of the Popes and the cardinals they appointed.  Chacón does not appear to have created the engravings of the coats of arms (these are uncredited); his contribution, in addition to his often-scant narrative, lies in identifying the coats of arms and the corresponding papacies.


2. The Privilege 

The privilege grants a broad scope of exclusivity, including over “any languages whatsoever,” a specification added in a different handwriting, and in fact wider than the three languages, Latin, Italian and Spanish, requested by Ciaccone.  It does not separately identify the coats of arms, but the general coverage of “any part”of the book may have sufficed.

Like most of the privileges on this website, Ciaccone’s privilege takes the form of a motu proprio; motu proprio means that the favor, law, or regulation in question is being provided at the pope's own initiative rather than as the result of a petition, at least in theory.  Ex certa scientia meant that the Pope has his own knowledge of the situation (rather than, perhaps, having just been told about it by his advisors).  Both phrases ensure that the document in question is valid even if fraud would otherwise vitiate it.  See entry from the Catholic Enclyclopedia, accessed online (

The name given to certain papal rescripts on account of the clause motu proprio (of his own accord) used in the document. The words signify that the the provisions of the rescript were personally decided on by the Pope, that is, not on the advice of the cardinals or others, but for reasons which he himself deemed sufficient. The document has generally the form of a decree . . . One characteristic result of its use is that a rescript containing it is valid and produces its effect even in cases where fraud would ordinarily have vitiated the document, for the words signify that the pope in granting the favour does not rely on the reasons alleged. When the clause is used in dispensations, the latter are given a broad interpretation; a favour granted motu proprio is valid even when counter to ecclesiastical law, or the decisions of the pope himself. Consequently, canonists call the clause the “mother of repose.”

In fact, however, the grant often does reiterate the reasons given in the permission. Cf. Sec. Brev. Reg. 140 F. 315 (Voss), va_1589,


3. Persons mentioned in the petition and privilege

Pietro Aldobrandini (1571 – 1621). Italian Cardinal and patron of the arts, made cardinal in 1593 by his uncle, Pope Clement VIII.

Marcello Vestrio Barbiani (? – 1606). Cardinal-Secretary of Brevi (papal letters). The son of a famous lawyer, Barbiani joined the Papal court after his wife, a Roman noblewoman, passed away. In 1596, he was granted a canonicate in the Vatican Basilica. Barbiani served in various capacities under Gregory XIV, Clement VIII, and Paul V, before passing at a very old age shortly before July 9th, 1606.  See Giammaria Mazzuchelli, Gli scrittori d’Italia. Vol. 2,1 at 178 (1758).

Alfonso Ciaccone. (dates?)  Nephew of Alonso Chacón. Upon the latter’s death, Chacón’s assets passed to the Holy See, at which time Pope Clement VIII granted Ciaccone the deed to all his uncle’s assets. R. Lanciani, Storia degli scavi, IV 367 (1912). Ciaccone’s petition to Pope Clement VII for printing privileges of the present work, as well as Ciaccone’s dedication to Clement VIII of the work, suggest that Ciaccone also inherited his uncle’s debts. Of the large number of Chacón’s unprinted manuscripts, Ciaccone published the less editorially complex ones and sold the others. Chacón, Alonso”,  Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Silvia Grassi Fiorentino, (1980).

Alonso [or Alfonso] Chacón (1530-1599). Born in Spain, Chacón studied architecture and theology and worked with Ambrosio de Morales on an Andalusian history which Morales used for the drafting of Las Antigüedades de las Ciudades de España. In 1566, he earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Seville and was called to Rome by Pius V to serve as a minor confessor, but was dismissed from this role when Pius V reformed the three colleges of the confessors.  In 1569 Chacón was named a master of the Order of the Preachers. An expert on ecclesiastical history and Christian antiquities, Chacón wrote several histories, the most famous of which is this volume on the Lives and Works of the Popes. Several of his works were unpublished at the time of his death in 1599, many of which were published posthumously by his nephew Alfonso Ciaccone. Alfonso Chacón”,  Treccani Enciclopedia Italiana, Pio Paschini, (1931); Chacón, Alonso”,  Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Silvia Grassi Fiorentino, (1980).

Francisco de Cabrera Morales (1564-1614) completed Chacón’s Lives of the Popes.  He was born in Brozas Spain and studied Greek and Latin at the University of Salamanca where he was ordained a priest. Following his studies, he left for Rome where he worked as a theologian for the Spanish Cardinal Pedro de Deza. Cabrera was renowned as a scholar in Greek, Latin, and Roman antiquities. Francisco de Cabrera Morales”, Diccionario Biogràfico Electronico de la Real Academia de la Historia.


Copyright History resource developed in partnership with:

Our Partners

Copyright statement

You may copy and distribute the translations and commentaries in this resource, or parts of such translations and commentaries, in any medium, for non-commercial purposes as long as the authorship of the commentaries and translations is acknowledged, and you indicate the source as Bently & Kretschmer (eds), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900) (

With the exception of commentaries that are available under a CC-BY licence (compliant with UKRI policy) you may not publish individual documents or parts of the database for any commercial purposes, including charging a fee for providing access to these documents via a network. This licence does not affect your statutory rights of fair dealing.

Although the original documents in this database are in the public domain, we are unable to grant you the right to reproduce or duplicate some of these documents in so far as the images or scans are protected by copyright or we have only been able to reproduce them here by giving contractual undertakings. For the status of any particular images, please consult the information relating to copyright in the bibliographic records.

Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900) is co-published by Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, 10 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DZ, UK and CREATe, School of Law, University of Glasgow, 10 The Square, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK