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Printing in the Iberian Peninsula 1450-1800: Guide


This LibGuide includes information for printing the hand press era in Spain and Portugal.

Spanish Inquisition

The Crown and the Church had major influence on book production in Spain and Portugal. While the rest of Europe's book production began to flourish in the 16th century, Spain actually saw a decline in their quality and quantity of books produced. The 16th century marked a difficult time for Spain as the reformation movement attempted to rise while also being consistently tortured and squashed by the Catholic Church and its Inquisitors. 

Printers were interrogated and imprisoned while there were symbolic book burnings to show exactly what Spain expected of its people. in 1558 there was a royal decree published that included a list of illegal topics and authors. Protestantism wasn't seen as just a threat to Catholicism but as a threat to the potential unity of Spain as a while. Spain recognized the intellectual and political power of the book and made sure to do its best to regulate it.

While Spain and Portugal improved during the Enlightenment period, they stayed consistently behind the rest of Europe. While they attempted to pass legislature that could further commercialize book making but instead of sharply divided the book trade in Spanish (as opposed to unifying it). Spain's continued political instability affected, too, its transition into the machine press era. While most countries made this switch starting around 1800, Spain wasn't able to full commit to the transition until the 1840s.


General Trends

While printing began in Germany in 1454, it didn't reach the Iberian Peninsula until around 1476. According to Maria Luis Lopez-Vidriero, there are three principal reasons for why Spain didn't follow the pattern of the rest of Europe during the printing revolution: Spain being multiple kingdoms, there was no established capitol, and Spain having two languages, Castilian and Catalan. With the invention of printing, Spain decided to have a heavier hand over the production and dissemination of books in Spain. 

Spain begun passing decrees in order to control the book as an intellectual and commercial product. They recognized the influence of literacy and how having access to literature can affect people. Censorship was a big issue; from 1502-1566 laws were increasingly passed that gave the Crown (and the Church) heightened power over what could and couldn't be printed in Spain. The church and universities were the main producers of books in the country. Spain also, however, relied heavily on imports to keep up their book markets. This includes imports of supplies and presses, but also of printers to man the presses. Spanish printers worked in Seville and Valencia but anywhere else, presses were run by foreign printers until the beginning of the 16th century. 

Spain put efforts into increasing printing by allowing exemption from military service for printers and providing tax reductions on book imports, but Spain continued to have one of the smallest printing outputs in western Europe. While Spain may have had a lower output, however, they also had the highest percentage of books printed in the vernacular.


Jewish Printers

In Portugal, printing began with Jewish works, with the first Hebrew works printed around 1487. Nearby paper mills were also established, which helped increase the production of Hebraic works. Unfortunately, this was put in a halt after the decree to expel Jewish people form the Iberian peninsula in 1497. One interesting trend to come out of this, however, was a tenable partnership between Spanish and English printers. English printers would provide Jewish and Protestant texts for Spanish Jews and Protestants, and Spanish printers would provide Catholic works for English Catholics. While the Catholic Church and the Crown did their best to oppress other religions, they cannot ignore that their printing was begun and kept alive by Jewish printers.