Don Iñigo Lopez de Mendoza, 1st Marquis of Santillana, Los Proverbios, 1532

November’s rare book of the month is Los Proverbios (also known as Proverbios de gloriosa doctrina e fructuosa enseñanza) printed in Seville in 1532 and written by Don Iñigo Lopez de Mendoza, 1st Marquis of Santillana.

Lopez de Mendoza was born into a noble and literary family in Carrión de los Condes, Palencia on the 19th of August, 1398. His father was High Admiral of Castile and a poet, and his mother was a wealthy noblewoman from Cantabria whose descendents include the eminent Spanish Golden Age poet Garcilaso de la Vega and the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, a chronicler and historian born in Cusco, Peru. His paternal lineage includes Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, a poet and diplomat who is the hypothesized author of the Spanish Golden Age picaresque masterpiece, Lazarillo de Tormes. Lopez de Mendoza followed in his father’s footsteps and became a politician in the court of King Juan II of Castille, where his loyalty and acumen in battle won him land and titles. He was also a man of letters and, influenced by his family’s literary tradition, produced a number of Pre-Renaissance Humanist works. He is celebrated as one of the most important poets of the fifteenth century in Spain, having met and been influenced by his contemporaries such as Ausiàs March, the renowned Valencian poet and knight. He was also an avid reader of the classical humanist authors such as Virgil and the great Italian writers of the late Middle Ages such as Dante Alighieri and Petrarch. From these influences, Lopez de Mendoza is credited for introducing the Italian sonnet into Spanish, hence known as the creator of the Castillian sonnet. His appreciation for the lyricism of the Provençal troubadour tradition led him to compose serranillas, short poems about pastoral love. He died in Guadalajara on the 25th of March 1458.

His Proverbios de gloriosa doctrina e fructuosa enseñanza, a book of didactic poems, was written at the request of Juan II for his son the prince Enrique IV. These ‘proverbs’ fall under the tradition of gnomic poetry, ethical wisdom and morals written in short prose sayings. These recommendations were composed for the moral education of the royal prince. Lopez de Mendoza finished writing in 1437 and these verses inserted themselves in the gnomic genre in Spain, following the writings of earlier authors such as Sem Tob, the fourteenth-century Spanish Hebrew poet, and other medieval texts comprising maxims inspired by Greek philosophers of antiquity. In the prologue, Lopez de Mendoza writes that the sayings are passed along as a ‘father speaking to his son, as did Solomon, because a son must receive counsel from his father before any other.’ The literary tradition of didactic poetry continued throughout the Renaissance and other famous Spanish writers of the genre include Pedro Pérez Ayala, Pedro Vallés, and Gonzalo Correas Íñigo.

Later editions of the Proverbios appeared in Zaragoza (1488), Sevilla (1499), Salamanca (1500), and Toledo (1510). An English translation was published in London in 1579 by Thomas Dawson for Richard Watkins. The translator is Barnabe Googe, a pastoral poet, who dedicated the work to William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, chief advisor to Elizabeth I during her reign and kinsman to Googe. The work was translated as: The proverbes with the paraphrase of D. Peter Diaz of Toledo: wherein is contained whatsoever is necessarie to the leading of an honest and virtuous life (ESTC S108829). A pithy reference to Googe and his translation of Lopez de Mendoza appears in The Poetical Decameron, Or, Ten Conversations on English Poets and Poetry, particularly of the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. In an exchange between Elliot and Morton, it is lamented that: “Such is our pride, our folly, or our fate, That few but such as cannot write translate!”

The copy in Middle Temple seems to be unique. As of October 2016, no other copy from 1532 has been recorded in COPAC, USTC or Worldcat. The book is bound with two other Spanish works, Historia del gran Tamorlan, by Ruy Gonçalez de Clavijo (1582); and Coronica de las Indias, by Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdés (1557). The latter has a list of all of the titles written on the title page in Robert Ashley’s (1565-1641) hand. A digitised copy of the book is available to download to the right.

Martine Gagnon (

Translator and PhD Student

November 2016