Jardín de las nobles donzellas.

Medina del Campo: Juan de Espinosa, 1542 Stock Code: 139886
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A pro-feminist "mirror for princes", of great rarity

Rare second edition, effectively the only obtainable printing, of this book of advice for Queen Isabel of Spain, a pro-feminist treatise in the "mirror for princes" tradition, which instructed and entertained "with references to the popular contemporary controversy of the battle between the sexes" (Goldberg, p. 126).

Fray Martín taught at the University of Salamanca, as well as studying in France. The Jardín was composed in the wake of the power struggle between the factions of Isabel and her brother Alfonso (crowned King Henry IV) and their half-brother King Enrique IV and his supposedly illegitimate "daughter" Juana. Though dedicated to Isabel after Alfonso's death in 1468, it was not published until 1500 by Juan de Burgos at Vallodolid, at the height of Isabel's reign and after Fray Martín's death. This is the only later printing known, which Harriet Goldberg, author of the definitive critical edition, suggests may have been published by Juan de Espinosa in preparation for a commemoration of Isabel's birth.

Written at a time in history when the succession to the Spanish throne could only legitimately be claimed by two young princesses, the Jardín argues not just that women possess all the characteristics necessary to rule successfully, but that specific, naturally "feminine" traits compassion, piety, and generosity, for example are particularly applicable to the role.

Divided into three books, the text opens with a treatise on the creation of woman, based on patristic literature, combined with Aristotelian and pseudo-Aristotelian doctrine, and is succeeded by instruction on the cultivation of virtue in noble ladies and princesses. A series of exempla of famous and virtuous women, in the tradition of Boccaccio and Álvaro de Luna, concludes the work; those named range from the heroines of the Bible, like Judith, to historical and folkloric women, among them Semiramis, Penelope, and Portia. Five of the twenty-nine chapters deal directly with the pious qualities which a queen should display.

Emphasizing the relative simplicity of the Jardín's language, style, and structure, Goldberg notes that "the clarity of style coupled with the richness of allusions made the Jardín a book that was at once easy to read and at the same time sufficiently stimulating" for a general readership beyond Isabel (p. 94). This lucidity was integral to ensuring the moralist treatise's political message was heard and understood. "After a period of weakness shown by the last two monarchs and the expected dissention among the nobles, Fray Martín's plea for a strong, active monarchy is certainly a reflection of the specific problems suffered in Spain toward the end of the 15th century He made use of existing anti-feminist attitudes, which stemmed from a variety of sources in 15th-century Spain, in the preparation of an 'advice to princes' which happened to be directed to a princess. The Jardín appears to have had two purposes. It was not only necessary to encourage the young princess, Isabel, to develop her talents in a useful way; it was also important to convince the populace that they could expect to be ruled well by a woman" (Goldberg, pp. 105, 12526).

The second printing of the Jardín is notably rare, with WorldCat finding copies at three locations only: Biblioteca nacional de Espana, British Library, and Bibliotheque nationale de France. ISTC locates only a single copy of the first edition, at the Hispanic Society of America, which Goldberg refers to as essentially "unique" (p. 11). No copy of either edition appears in auction records.

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Small quarto (199 x 138 mm). Dark red calf by Lortic Frères, spine gilt in compartments, gilt-lettered direct and with gilt motifs in compartments, sides with blind frames, gilt tools at corners, gilt inner dentelles, marbled endpapers, gilt edges. Housed in a slipcase by the same binder.


48 unnumbered ff. inc. woodcut title page. Woodcut initials, woodcut device on last leaf verso. Gothic types.


Clean throughout, with good margins, retaining several uncut lower edges, an excellent copy.


Goldberg 11; Palau 61878. Harriet Goldberg, Jardín de nobles donzellas by Fray Martín de Córdoba: A Critical Edition and Study, 1974.


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