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See it Now: Columbus’s Book of Privileges

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Columbus's "Book of Privileges." 1502. Manuscript Division.
Columbus’s “Book of Privileges.” 1502. Manuscript Division.

On January 5, 1502, prior to his fourth and final voyage to America, Christopher Columbus gathered several judges and notaries in his home in Seville to authorize the authentic copies of his archival collection of original documents through which Queen Isabella of Castille and her husband, King Ferdinand of Aragon, had granted titles, revenues, powers and privileges to him and his descendants. These 36 documents are popularly called Columbus’s “Book of Privileges.” Four copies of this volume existed in 1502 – three written on vellum and one on paper.

John Herbert, former chief of the Library’s Geography and Maps Division, talks about the book in this video presented in partnership with the History Channel.

The Library’s copy of the “Book of Privileges” – one of the three on vellum – is the only one to contain the Papal Bull Dudum siquidem, the four-page letter that Pope Alexander VI composed on Sept. 26, 1493, which is thought by some scholars to contain the first written reference to a New World.

The papal letter is among the 91 full-size, full-color facsimile pages bound into the Library’s new book, “Christopher Columbus Book of Privileges: The Claiming of a New World,” which also contains the first authorized facsimile of the Library’s copy of the royal charters, writs and grants.

In addition, the pages of the letter have been printed on four loose sheets that are pocketed inside. A translation of the papal bull, which was authenticated in the 1930s, is included.

Levenger Press printed the book in the U.S. to rigorous production standards that include a Smythe-sewn binding and archival-quality paper, both to ensure the book’s longevity. The 184-page hardcover book is available for $89 from the Library of Congress Shop.

The Library debuted “Christopher Columbus Book of Privileges: The Claiming of a New World” at this year’s National Book Festival. A webcast of the presentation is forthcoming.

Comments (8)

  1. I’d love to read the book, can’t afford to buy a copy though. Is a copy available to local libraries, like Portland, OR?

    • Thank you for your interest! You’ll have to check with your local library to see if they carry or intend to carry the book.

  2. My ancestorial family also have a”Book of Privileges”,known as Los Fueros de Sepulveda,and are located in the Church of San Just y Pastor in Sepulveda,Spain…

  3. a very fine copy of this was made in 1893. How many were made, and are they costly?

  4. Thank you for your inquiry. The facsimile of the Paris copy of the Book of Privileges was compiled by B.F. Stevens and was a limited edition of only 20 copies. This is, however, a facsimile of the manuscript that still resides in the Paris Archives and is not a copy of the one found at the Library of Congress and pictured in the blog post. The Book of Privileges is known in three, more or less complete, manuscript copies, one in Genoa, one in Paris, and one at the Library of Congress, with a fragmentary copy also found at the Huntington Library. A facsimile of the Library of Congress copy of the Columbus cartulary, including the appended papal bulls, was edited by curator John Hessler and Renaissance scholar, Chet Van Duzer, and published by the Library of Congress in 2014. It is still available.

  5. This book substantiates the notion that the Spanish Crown wanted to renege on their promises to Columbus. False charges were brought against him, as false charges are once again circulating about him in the movement to drop Columbus day from the calendar.

    Las SOCIEDADES de Frontera




  7. The codex of the Papal Bulls creates domination in Manifest Destiny’s historic process of globalization that by the 16th century extended into Africa and Asia and constitutes, sustains and maintains neoliberal Washington Consensus Group capitalism. I assert that the codex based in domination created poverty and destroyed America’s decentralized functional governance of first nations peoples in genocidal behavior with a simple choice; do you want to die by a bible or by a gun. This fact in American History takes on a permanent form in the worst case in the US Supreme Court Johnson v. M’Intosh where the tribes in America were characterized as savages and incapable of commercial transactions, and the US created a monopoly as Trustee. The history of the Trustee behaviors is nothing short of RICO Criminal Conspiracy as decided recently in the Cobell Settlement August 17, 2018. Even more important is the relevance of increasing monopolies in the current globalization white or black swans increasing failures of the Neoliberal Washington Agenda built upon these Papal Bull codexes of Christopher Columbus asserting global sovereignty in law. The current fight for human freedom faces a new unregulated commercial power called “Surveillance Capitalism” where monopolistic globalization based on greed for power has turned humans into robotic transactional configurations by weaponizing the Internet. To recover our ancient primordial spirit-senses of human dignity the US Supreme Court needs to redress the ruling the Johnson v. M’Intosh decision and confront this crown jewel in American History.

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