British Earl returns 16th century literary treasure to National Library
A member of the British royal family has travelled to Poland to personally hand over one of his books to the National Library after discovering that it had once graced the hallowed shelves of the institution's precursor in the 18th century.
Speaking in Polish at the National Library, George Windsor, the Earl of St Andrews, explained that he bought the 1523 French literary treasure ‘L’histoire de Primaleon de Grece’ by Francisco Vázquez thirty years ago at a street market in Cambridge while he was a history student in the city.
He said that he bought it because he was interested in chivalric romances and Renaissance literature at the time.
In a remarkable revelation, the great grandson of King George V said: “[...] many years later I looked at the seal and exlibris and noticed to whom the book belonged. I also began to take an interest in the history of the Załuski family and their collection, as well as the fate of the book. Over time, I discovered the importance of it."
Continuing, he said: "Today, after the book has accompanied me on my bookshelf for many years, I am happy to contribute to its return home. Let it be my modest contribution to the restoration of Polish cultural heritage.”
Upon signing the agreement for the transfer of the folio, National Library director Tomasz Makowski described it as a historic moment that marked the return of one of the dispersed items to its original home.
The book had initially sat on the shelves of the Załuski Library - the first Polish national library. Founded in the 18th century by Andrzej and Józef Załuski, these bishops of Kraków and Kyiv were wealthy and well-educated bibliophiles.
The library was one of the largest and most important libraries in Europe. However, after the Third Partition in 1795, on the orders of Tsarina Catherine II, the collection was taken from Warsaw to St. Petersburg where it became the main collection of the Tsarist library.
A large part was returned to Poland under the Treaty of Riga in 1922 only for many of the returned books to perish during the Warsaw Uprising.
It is unknown how the book returned yesterday came to be in the United Kingdom in the 1990s.
George Windsor, the son of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, revealed he can still read quite well in Polish after studying the language many years ago.
His connections to Poland come from his grandfather, Prince George Duke of Kent, who was in Poland in the 1930s and made many friends, including General Władysław Sikorski.
‘L’histoire de Primaleon de Grece’ Francisco Vázqueza was first published in 1512 and describes the adventures of the Spanish knight Primaleón and his beloved Gridonia, the adventures of his brother Polendos, and the love story of his sister Flérida and the English Prince don Duardos.
Some scholars believe that the work may have inspired Miguel de Cervantes when he wrote Don Quixote of La Mancha. The French translation was published in four volumes and the National Library received the first of these.