Colleges of Douai

Translating and Distributing Literature

A. Soetaert, ‘Translating and distributing Italian religious literature in the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai (late 16th, early 17th century)’, in: Incontri: Rivista Europea de studi Italiani, 30 (2015), 29–40.

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries hundreds of translations from Latin, Italian, Spanish and other languages were issued in the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai (the Francophone regions of the Habsburg Netherlands). This contribution focuses on the French translations of Italian religious literature (1563–1659). Since almost all of these editions dealt with religious themes, these translations must be seen in the context of Counter-Reformation and Catholic renewal. Rather than measuring the linguistic and literary impact of translations from the Italian, this contribution will search for the place of Italian literature within the religious developments in the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai. The central question is how these Italian books reached the Cambrai province and who took the initiative to translate and spread them. Three agents who contributed in bringing Italian Catholic literature into the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai will emerge. First, the cross-border relations linking the Cambrai book world with France explain how French Italianising tendencies spread into the Francophone provinces of the Habsburg Netherlands. Additionally, the personal connections of local translators with Italy, were a major advantage in transmitting Italian literature to the north. Finally, the role played by religious orders (especially the Jesuit and Capuchin orders) was crucial in spreading Italian literature in the Cambrai province. These three channels were by no means mutually exclusive, but often coincided and reinforced each other. In the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai printers, translators and religious orders and institutions all contributed to the same enterprise: transferring the literature, and hence the ideas, of Southern European Catholic reform in to the Habsburg Netherlands.

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British martyrs, Douai printers, German readers

A fieldwork update

By Alexander Soetaert

In the previous months I compiled a database of religious books printed in the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai between 1559 and 1659, which was the first aim of the doctoral project The making of transregional Catholicism. From the late 1560s this region, including towns such as Douai and Saint-Omer, became an important refuge for English, Scottish and Irish Catholic exiles. So, last week I had closer look into some of the printing offices involved in printing literature written or edited by these Catholic exiles.

Amongst others, the printing business of Laurence Kellam, an English exile himself, was involved in printing books that were to be shipped clandestinely to Catholic readers on the British Isles. After working in Leuven and Valenciennes for some years, Kellam arrived in Douai around 1603. Having studied in the late 1570s at the English College at Reims, he first focused on publishing books related to English Catholicism. [1] Gradually he broadened his scope by printing some French books and theses written by theology students of the University of Douai. [2] After his death c. 1613, the business was continued by his widow and sons until 1661, who continued to publish books on English Catholic matters, in English as well as in Latin and French.

In contrast to the numerous English editions spread on the British Isles – and still preserved in many British and American libraries – the Latin editions, mostly dealing with English and Scottish Catholic martyrs, must have been directed towards Catholic communities across Europe. Indeed, while searching for existing copies through online library catalogues, I found a lot of these editions in libraries in the southwest of present-day Germany (Munich, Augsburg, Dillingen, …). This may be no surprise, as in the Catholic south of the Holy Roman Empire (Bavaria, Austria) there certainly was an interest in these tales. Moreover, some Scottish cloisters and seminaries had been established there [3], as was also the case in the Habsburg Netherlands and especially in the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai.

Fascinated by this connection between Douai and Southern Germany, I continued my search in German, Austrian and Swiss library catalogues. After a while, I came across some books that were reissues of the Kellam editions, often printed within a year after the first edition. Some of these were still in Latin, while others had been translated from French into German. [4] The title pages of the editions from Mainz, Dillingen or Ingolstadt explicitly stated that these books had been printed in Douai before (‘Duaci primo excusum, nunc recusum’, or similar descriptions). No doubt the Kellam business was important in spreading Catholic books on the British Isles, but these findings made me realize that it was also crucial in spreading tales of British martyrs throughout Catholic Europe, thus contributing to the making of a transregional Catholicism.

Moreover, the Kellam editions were not the only ones to be found in the libraries of Southern Germany. One can also discover books by other Douai printers, such as Pierre Auroy and Martin Bogart, who both had clear connections with the exile community. Most likely the Douai editions also reached France, Spain, Italy and maybe, through the Dutch Mission, the Catholics living in the Dutch Republic. So, based on these preliminary searches, the presses in the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai did not only produce large amounts of books for Catholics on the British Isles, but also contributed in spreading and advocating the cause of English Catholicism on the continent. These martyr tales crossing borders however are but one example of the role played by the ecclesiastical province of Cambrai in assembling an transregional arsenal of Catholic stories in the first decades of the seventeenth century.

Alexander Soetaert


[1] Some biographical data on Kellam are provided by Anne Rouzet, Dictionnaire des imprimeurs, libraires et éditeurs des XVe et XVIe siècles dans les limites géographiques de la Belgique actuelle (Nieuwkoop: De Graaf 1975) 110.

[2] Besides the Kellam office also printed books commissioned by Balthazar Bellere, the most important printer in 17th-century Douai, as Anna Simoni has uncovered (see: Anna E.C. Simoni, ‘The hidden trade-mark of Laurence Kellam, printer at Douai’, Ons geestelijk erf 64 (1990) 130–143).

[3] These so-called Schottenkloster (Benedictine Order) were located in Regensburg, Erfurt and Würzburg.

[4] For instance the Warhaffter Bericht, welcher Gestalt der ehrwürdige Herr Johann von Mervinia, des weit berühmten Ordens S. Benedicti, den 20. Decembris nächst verschinens 1610. Jars zu Londern in Engelland wegen des catholischen Glaubens gemartert worden (Augsburg: Christoff Wang, 1611; VD17 12:118122F) of which the title page mentions ‘Auß dem zu Douay in Niderland getructen Französischen Exemplaren summarischer Weiß in das Teutsch gebracht‘. A digital copy of this German translation is available via the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. The original French edition was entitled Discours et traicté veritable du martire enduré a Londres en Angleterre par le R. Pere Jean de Mervinia, autrement dit Roberts, Religieux tres renommé de l’Ordre S. Benoist de la Congregation d’Espaigne executé le 20. de Decembre l’An 1610 (Douai: Laurence Kellam, 1611).


“Martinus Bas Fecit Duaci”

An early-seventeenth century engraver in the Southern Netherlands.

By Alexander Soaetaert

From the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I, English Catholics were forced to print their Catholic literature either abroad or at clandestine presses in England. English refugees and exiles used presses in Paris, London, Antwerp, but also in Douai and Saint-Omer, where the English Catholics had their own colleges and institutions. Nowadays, the latter towns are located in France. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, Douai and Saint-Omer belonged to the Habsburg Netherlands. English Catholic exiles on the continent could fall back on their own printers in exile and even their own presses, but more often they joined forces with local printers. While collaboration between English Catholics and continental printers is widely known, the appeal the English made to local engravers has faded into the background.

Martin Baes – also known as Bas, Basse or Bassius – is one of the engravers that collaborated with the English Catholics. For centuries now his name wanders through historical encyclopedias, even if almost nothing is known about his life and work. Albert Labarre, a French bibliographer, concluded that Baes must have been active between 1604 and 1637. According to Labarre, after that date there only appeared reissues of his older engravings. Most encyclopedias are convinced that the style of Martin Baes points to an Antwerp training. However, now and then he signed with “Martinus Bas [fe]cit Duaci”, which suggests that he had established himself in the university town of Douai. Most of Baes’s engravings were indeed printed at that place.[1]

Baes’s main activity was to make illustrations for religious literature. It seems likely that the English Catholics which gathered around the English College of Douai were familiar with his work. That they finally ended up with the Douai engraver is not too difficult to imagine. Possibly, the printer Charles Boscard arranged the actual contacts between Baes and the English refugee community. Boscard himself printed numerous books for the English and Baes worked with him at the very start of his career. Another possible relationship was with the English printer Laurence Kellam from Douai, who printed some of Baes’s engravings in the 1610’s. Sometimes, Martin Baes only supplied a decorated title-page or a portrait of the author. For example, he made a title-page for the press of the English Jesuit College of Saint-Omer, which was used in several editions.

Of course, Baes had more to offer than only some title-pages or portraits. In 1614 he illuminated the life story, arrest and execution of the English martyr John Gennings (1566–1591) with twelve engravings. For this assignment, he had to immerse himself in an English story and to imagine a London setting, even if he had never set foot ashore in England. Curiously enough, while the rest of the book was written in English, the captions, also engraved by Baes, were in Latin.[2] It seems that the Douai-engraver had little or no knowledge of the English language. So, even if he could not read the story of Gennings himself, he must have been informed on the fate of the English martyr through correspondence or other contacts with the English editors. Linguistic difficulties were apparently not an obstacle to make use of the services of local craftsmen. Baes’s engravings for the martyr story of Gennings were his first major contribution to the English Catholic editions. In 1632 he would be approached again to illustrate Jerome Porter’s compilation of the lives of English, Scottish and Irish saints.

Continental printers that worked with the English Catholics only had to print a completed manuscript. Engravers, on the other hand, were in the position to make a substantial contribution to the English-language books. A craftsman fixed in Douai, such as Martin Baes, had to appeal to an English Catholic public. As a matter of fact, it was the continental engraver that was asked to guide the imagination of the English readership. It was through his engravings that English readers would form a picture of the life, arrest and execution of John Gennings. The case of Martin Baes thus shows how a shared loyalty to the Catholic religion created transregional ties, that crossed (linguistic) borders.

See for further reading…

* Albert Labarre, ‘L’oeuvre de l’illustrateur de Martin Baes à Douai’, Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 57 (1982) 270–276.
* John Gennings, The life and death of Mr. Edmund Geninges priest, crowned with martyrdome at London (Saint-Omer: Charles Boscard 1614).
*  Christine J. Kelly, ‘Gennings, Edmund’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: University Press 2004).
* Jerome Porter, The flowers of the lives of the most renowned saincts of the three kingdoms England Scotland, and Ireland (Douai: s.n. 1632).

Alexander Soetaert

[1] Some of his engravings appeared in neighbouring towns as Saint-Omer, Arras and Lille. Albert Labarre supposed that there might have been prints of Baes’s illustrations in other towns of the region. A search through modern on-line catalogues quickly provides another twenty titles. The Short-Title Catalogue Flanders (stcv), for instance, associates his name with editions from Antwerp, Brussels and Louvain, which suggests that some of his engravings are still to be discovered.