Uncovering the Secrets of Leiden University Library: BPL 193 and its Owners

By Marjolein de Vos

Marjolein, a student of Leiden University’s MA in Book and Digital Media Studies, is currently an intern on the ‘Turning over a New Leaf’ project.

For my internship project “Cataloguing the Twelfth Century Western Medieval Manuscripts in Leiden’s University Library” I get the amazing opportunity to study around 250 manuscripts from the Bibliothecae Publicae Latini (BPL) collection. Every codex or fragment is, of course, very special and over 800 years old. For my project I focus on studying the script features in order to determine the age and the country in which the manuscript was produced. However, each manuscript holds a whole history of users that also opened the pages and learned from them. I find it fascinating to think about what roads this manuscript wandered before it came to rest in the vaults of Leiden’s University Library.

I believe that every manuscript deserves intensive studying to uncover all its secrets and provenance. Although I wish could carry out provenance research for every codex from the BPL collection that I study, there is simply not enough time. However, when I came across BPL 193 (12th century, Unknown origins [Germany?]) I decided to do a simple search for the ownership inscription on folio 1 verso since the secondary literature I am using for this project did not mention anything about it. BPL 193 is a composite manuscript, containing Sallust’s (86-35 BC) Bellum Catilinarium and Bellum Iugurthinum (in two separate parts by two hands). Furthermore, it has some nice mappae mundi on the first few folios.

Mappa Mundi with ownership inscription. Leiden University Library, BPL 193, f. 1r.

Mappa Mundi with ownership inscription. Leiden University Library, BPL 193, f. 1r.

Among these maps we find the ownership information. It turned out that BPL 193 was possibly owned by the Dutch writer and politician Philips of Marnix, Lord of St. Aldegonde (1540-1598). For some time, he was accredited with the authorship of the Dutch national anthem. His library held around 1600 volumes, including 28 medieval manuscripts. In July 1599 his library was auctioned and it appears that a certain “Helias Putschius” purchased BPL 193 in this period. This is the second inscription in this manuscript  (visible above) and could refer to Elias of Putschen (1580-1606), a Dutch historian, philologist and poet. In 1599 he was studying in Leiden and possibly bought the Sallust manuscript then.

Putschen’s later life reveals why he had an interest in BPL 193. In 1602 he published an edition of the collected works by Sallust, printed by Raphelengius and Plantin in Leiden. What role BPL 193 played exactly in the development of this printed edition, is something that remains a matter of speculation. Still, it is fascinating to think that this particular manuscript may have played a part in the creation of this print edition. It appears that after Putschen, the codex either was sold at an auction to Leiden University or donated to the library’s collection.

Leiden University Library BPL 193, initial detail.

Leiden University Library BPL 193, initial detail, f. 3r

BPL 193 is just one manuscript, and what I discussed here covers only a fraction of its lifespan. There are so many more incredible life stories of manuscripts to be told and not only from the Leiden collections. There is much to learn from these books about history and culture. It gives me much pleasure to be able to contribute to manuscript research with my internship project and I hope that the information that I collect will be used for further research.


Brouwer, Catalogue of the library of Philips van Marnix van Sint-Aldegonde (Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1964)

Molhuysen, Codices Bibliothecae Publicae Latini (1912)

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