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ArribaAbajoThe Magnificent Fountain: Literary Patronage in the Court of Philip III

Harry Sieber

The Johns Hopkins University

Con el reinado de Felipe III y la transformación de la austera corte del Rey «Prudente» en una sociedad cortesana, caracterizada por nuevas estructuras de poder y por nuevas formas de influencia, se observa una correspondiente y dramática redefinición del mecenazgo literario. En un período de muy pocos años, una tierra «tan seca que no hay hoja ni fruta en los árboles», como dijera Alonso de Barros, se vio convertida en «una primavera de abundancia» por «la fuente de... magnificencias» del Rey y de su favorito, el Duque de Lerma, que sirviera de «canal» para repartir los frutos del favor real. Algunos, como Lope de Vega y Luis Vélez de Guevara, supieron aprovecharse de la protección de nobles bien colocados en la corte. El hecho de que Cervantes no consiguiera disfrutar de los beneficios y favores de un poderoso mecenas puede ser la causa, o incluso el efecto, de su visible ambivalencia hacia el mecenazgo.

«... el día de hoy no se lisonjea a quien no tiene con qué cebar el pico del adulador que, aunque afectuosa y falsamente dice de burlas, pretende ser remunerado de veras»

Licenciado Márquez Torres,
Don Quijote de la Mancha, 1615

In 1605, Miguel de Cervantes dedicated the first part of Don Quijote to the Duke of Béjar, Don Alonzo Diego López de Zúñiga y Sotomayor, «marqués de Gibraleón, conde de Benalcázar y Bañares, vizconde de la Puebla de Alcocer, señor de las villas de Capilla, Curiel y Burguillos»42. The words of this dedication, which are generally ignored or dismissed as an empty rhetorical gesture, mask the conceits of an   —86→   elaborate discourse of patronage, familiar to all early modern readers of the novel43. In oblique and formulaic language, Cervantes suggests that Béjar consider becoming his literary patron. Such appeals were commonplace prior to the nineteenth century, in the era before writers achieved independent status as members of a recognized «profession»44. The writer offered his work -and the possibility of his continuing service- to a personage who might wish to protect him -perhaps even to support him. The complex system of patronage which sustained literary production in early modern Europe has been the subject of numerous studies, but in Spain writers and their patrons have only recently attracted similar attention45.

What we know about Spain is that literary culture flourished in a number of regional centers -Seville, Toledo, Valladolid and Valencia, for example- in the second half of the sixteenth century, encouraged and supported by a variety of sponsors. In dozens of lesser Castilian cities and towns, local magnates, church officials and municipal governments commissioned histories and treatises, honorific genealogies and dramas for special occasions46. During the reign of Philip II (1556-1598), a literate man could support himself as an itinerant writer and even hope to find a permanent post, perhaps serve as secretary or chronicler or librarian to a great noble household or a powerful cleric47. Spanish literary culture changed after Philip III   —87→   ascended to the throne in 1598. The court became a «magnificent fountain» of patronage, available to those who understood its politics and protocol and language. In the early seventeenth century, poets, dramatists, novelists and historians began to gather around the new monarch, refashioning themselves to meet the demands of a new courtly society. Francisco de Quevedo, Mateo Alemán, Luis Vélez de Guevara and Prudencio de Sandoval (among untold others), took up residence or spent considerable time at court, searching for powerful noblemen who might act as brokers or conduits or sponsors, paving their way to honors and rewards.

This was the courtly world which Cervantes encountered when he moved to Valladolid at the turn of the century. He offered his «humilde servicio» to the Duke of Béjar, reminding his potential patron of the «buen acogimiento y honra que hace Vuestra Excelencia a toda suerte de libros, como príncipe tan inclinado a favorecer las buenas artes, mayormente las que por su nobleza no se abaten al servicio y granjerías del vulgo...» (I: 49). The polite and convoluted discourse of patronage reveals the author's intent. Cervantes's dedication suggests an exchange which will allow him to secure his identity and reputation under the protective «sombra» of the Béjar titles and social position.

Despite the rhetorical nature of dedicatory prose in Spanish Golden Age literature in general, and the probable irony -if not disingenuousness- of Cervantes's dedication in particular48, the relationship between writer and patron was based on an exchange of   —88→   benefits: the author and his work profited from the prestige of a wealthy and powerful arbiter of good taste, and the patron enjoyed the propagation of his image as patron of the arts. The utilitarian nature of this exchange, always implicit in the rhetorical tropes of dedicatory prose, is often hidden, according to Alain Viala (55)49. The writer is not compelled to serve his protector in any practical sense; he rarely mentions a salary or stipend. When an author begins his work with a dedication, he offers it to his patron as the fruit of his labor. Nor is the recipient obligated to pay anything of material value in return. Nonetheless, literary patronage functioned within a structured social hierarchy. «At once symbiotic and symbolic», in Linda Levy Peck's analysis, «these private, dependent, deferential alliances were designed to bring reward to the client and continuing proof of power and standing to the patron» (3)50. Relationships between patrons and their dependents were often based on mutual interests among friends, on family connections, and on shared political, religious and economic goals. With certain frequency, courtiers, officials and writers served as go-betweens or brokers, arranging patronage transactions as well as pensions, court positions and honorific titles51. Levy Peck points out that the discourse of patronage,   —89→   «situated in a theory of mutual, indeed, social benefits, and the practice of gift-giving, strongly marked political and social behavior» (3)52. The «gift» offered by a literary aspirant might be as modest as the dedication itself, the public and / or private reading of his work, or some other unspecified service; the compensation, nothing more than the good company of a powerful nobleman or a pair of gloves53. But the author could also hope to find permanent employment.

We do not know if Cervantes obtained protection from the Duke of Béjar or even if he was able to acquire the «abrigo» and «sombra» of the family's numerous titles and «clarísimo nombre», but Cervantes never dedicated another of his works to the Duke. Was the Duke a miserly and unrewarding patron, as Rodríguez Marín and many other editors have maintained?54 That seems unlikely according to Robert Jammes in the «Introducción» to his edition of Góngora's Soledades, where he presents evidence that the Duke was a «magnánimo» nobleman. It is probable that Cervantes, like his contemporary Góngora, however, sought more than symbolic support or a «puñado de reales» from their shared patron, in Jammes's words   —90→   (75-76). Cervantes hoped to find a patron or intermediary who had the money and political influence to place him close to the king, the primary source of patronage in early seventeenth-century Spain.

At first glance Cervantes's choice seems appropriate. The Duke of Béjar figured prominently as the literary patron for Pedro de Espinosa's anthology, Las flores de poetas ilustres (Valladolid, 1603, but published two years later), which included the work of the most celebrated poets of the time55. Moreover, he was young and had recently inherited a considerable fortune. Contemporary documents estimate the Béjar income at 100.000 ducats per year56. However, it appears that he did not possess a more important currency: the symbolic wealth of power, of a place near the king, within a court where the king's favorite minister, the Duke of Lerma, was all powerful. Luis Cabrera de Córdoba, author of the Relaciones de las cosas sucedidas en la Corte, desde 1599-1614, reports that the Ducal House of Béjar did not enjoy close ties with the Lerma faction at court and thus never shared in the wealth controlled by the Duke of Lerma and his friends, nor did the Béjar family obtain the honorific positions and titles they sought in the king's service57. In 1599, for example, when the grandees were invited to accompany Lerma on his trip to Valencia for the wedding of Philip III and Margaret of Austria, neither the old Duke of Béjar nor his eldest son, whom Cervantes would approach five years later, was included. The father appeared in Madrid in May of 1600 for an audience with the king to remind him, according to   —91→   Cabrera, that his «casa tiene preeminencia de mandar S. M. cubrir al hijo primogénito de ella, y habiéndose denegado con la consecuencia que habría para los demás, pretende probar su intención por escrituras y testigos, cosa que se cree no saldrá con ella» (68). The chronicler of the Relaciones was correct. The father died in 1601, apparently without obtaining the king's favor.

Cabrera makes no reference to the new Duke of Béjar until 1609, when the young magnate visited Madrid to request appointment as the king's Cazador Mayor. His plea, according to Cabrera, is because the «conde de Alba [who then occupied the royal office] está muy enfermo y viejo». Cabrera observes that such a request is a «recia cosa» because no one's position should be removed during his lifetime, and, in any case, he continues, «se había dicho que después de ella se lo darían al duque de Alba, que no tiene cosa alguna sino solamente Gentilhombre de la Cámara» (387). It seems that Cervantes's patron -to continue the metaphor- had squandered whatever symbolic capital he may have enjoyed in the past: as long as the Count of Alba was alive, Béjar's effort to become the Grand Huntsman was more than ill-advised; it revealed his profound ignorance of how the new court of Philip III functioned. Cabrera points out that two years later -after the Count of Alba's death- the Duke of Béjar continued his unsuccessful quest but that a protegé of the Duke of Lerma (Pedro de Zúñiga) was appointed Grand Huntsman and also nominated as Corregidor of Madrid after the Court's return to the city in 160658. In the new court, traditional titles and grandee status did not assure royal favor. For his part, Cervantes, apparently aware of changing politics, subsequently approached the Count of Lemos, nephew and son-in-law of the Duke of Lerma, Gentleman of the Royal Chamber from 1598, president of the Council of the Indies in 1603, and viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples in 1609. Almost all of the rest of Cervantes's literary works were dedicated to the Count of Lemos.

The elaborate ceremonial rituals and the day-to-day politics of the early seventeenth-century Spanish Habsburg Court conditioned the behavior of Cervantes and his contemporaries. A process of fundamental change had begun when Philip III replaced his father, a   —92→   transition from Renaissance court to court society, prototype of the model defined by Norbert Elias to explain the court of Louis XIV of France59. The nature of that change altered the literary landscape. Between 1556 and 1598, Spain had been ruled by a monarch renowned for his love of solitude, his suspicion of the aristocracy and his austerity in dispensing royal favors. According to Fernando Bouza, only «los más grandes, que iban a servir los oficios principales en la casa real» (53) gained access to the king. Court life was regulated by the strict ceremonial of the Burgundian protocol, a rigid system of palace control which enhanced the mystery and power of the king but which also served to distance the monarch from his subjects. A burlesque poem attributed to Diego Hurtado de Mendoza in the mid-sixteenth century reflects the would-be courtiers' anger and frustration with elaborate Burgundian court etiquette:

¡Oh Borgoña, oh Borgoña
por mi mal fuiste engendrada!
Siete años te serví
sin jamás alcanzar nada,
sino verme sin hacienda,
pues que la tengo empeñada,
y en libros de mercaderes
mi persona atrapazada.
Nunca merced me hicieron,
ni jamás tuve posada,
con haberla hecho a muchos,
por venir a esta jornada.
Que tienes más ceremonias
que toda la ley pasada.
¡Siete higas a el bastón,
cuatro a la llave dorada!
Todos se llaman privados
y los más no privan nada:
los unos tienen bureo,
los otros tienen entrada
y en consultas y mercedes
no más que el rey de Granada60.

In the Filosofía cortesana moralizada (Madrid, 1587), Alonso de Barros invented a board game to entertain idle, frustrated courtiers awaiting responses to their petitions61. According to Barros, the purpose of his game was to teach «los que por elección, o por necessidad, pretenden ser acrecentados, sepan los principios, los medios y los fines por do caminar,...» (fol. 8v). It was played on a large sheet of paper, divided into sixty-three «casas» or squares, a board similar in some ways to the game of Monopoly. Two or more players were required, taking turns throwing dice and moving special tokens, such as colored beans or coins. If one landed on Square 46, «la muerte del valedor», the player had to return to the beginning and start again. Square 43, «mudanza de ministros», forced the player to return to Square 15 («la adulación»), where he was required to «hacer reverencia al que sucediese en aquel lugar» (fol. 23v). And Square 26 («la casa del privado») is where the player paid a certain quantity into the pot for the favors he expected to gain.

The game elucidates the fundamental mechanisms of a patronage system which Philip II controlled personally and rigorously.   —94→   Barros explains the relation between «labor» («trabajo») and the «desired fruits» of that labor («el fruto [del] deseo»). He refers to several «casas» or squares related to «trabajo», all of them accompanied by moral proverbs such as «Frutos del trabajo justo / son honra, provecho y gusto» (fol. 16v), or «El fruto de la esperanza / por el trabajo se alcanza» (fol. 17r), and which facilitate the player's progress. However, the reality is that flattery, deception, forgetfulness, feigned friendship and death -all governed by fortune- raise almost insurmountable barriers. Barros recalls Hurtado de Mendoza's criticism when he points out that it is «tiempo, engaño y dilaciones» which transform the court into «una tierra tan seca que no hay hoja ni fruta en los árboles» (fol. 29v). For Barros, the «primavera de abundancia» contrasts with the wintry climate created by those in favor, and behind them, the king who leaves the petitioner without protection against the absence of gifts or pensions, «fruto de la obligación que nos tenemos unos a otros» (fol. 30r).

The abundance of springtime, produced through the liberality of royal favor which Alonso de Barros had imagined, materialized in the reign of Philip III with the rise to power of the Duke of Lerma, grandee of Spain and sole favorite of the king. In 1602, the Venetian ambassador to the Spanish Court, Francesco Soranzo contrasted the reigns of Philip II and his son:

Il re passato era ristretto e parco nel donare e premiare; il re presente si mostra cortese e liberale, e gode assai nel far mercedi. Il re passato era assai tardo nel risolvere le cose importanti, perche voleva dar gran parte al tempo. Il presente mostra d'essere per se stesso di mente assai risoluta, ma e poi trattenuta questa sua prontezza dalla lunghezza delle consultazioni di tanti consiglieri, e di umori anco fra loro molto differente. Il re passato non voleva che i suoi ministri accettassero presenti da chi si sia, ma li premiava egli stesso, come gli pareva, che convenisse; il presente invece li dona, li premia larghissimamente, e si contenta appresso che siano presentati, pero s'e introdotto in corte l'uso del donare e si fa molto grossamente.


A very different court emerged after the death of Philip II in 1598, a court where luxury, ostentation, spectacle, and public festival were funded by extraordinary expenditures from the royal treasury. Royal liberality, dispensed from the hands of a powerful favorite minister, had a profound impact on literary culture. The most prestigious novelists, poets and dramatists in Golden Age Spain took up residence in Madrid.


We should recall that for Norbert Elias the concept of a court was «nothing other than the vastly extended house and household of the French kings and their dependents, with all the people belonging to them» (41). In the context of this definition, as Martínez Millán reminds us, the courtier «no era llamado a ocupar un cargo (al menos, exclusivamente) por su capacidad o aptitud para desempeñarlo, sino -en última instancia- por su identidad como cliente, su pertenencia o integración en el grupo dirigente» (17). Moreover, a quick glance at seventeenth-century European courts reveals that «la mayor parte de los nobles influyentes gastaron su vida en ellas, abandonando sus residencias locales» (14), creating an intense competition for royal favors, and in turn -through their powerful positions as intermediaries and brokers- a competition at all levels of society to share in royal bounty. The monarch, the principle source of patronage, functioned both as a symbol of social cohesion and as fixed point in the hierarchical structure. Proximity to the king, according to some memorable verses of the sixteenth-century poet Garcilaso -and repeated almost a hundred years later by the minor poet Gabriel Bocángel- established an author's identity in court society: «Quien más cerca se halla del gran hombre / piensa que crece el nombre» (Égloga II, vv. 1543-44)62.

Royal patronage, which had been controlled and distributed, carefully and infrequently, by the «prudent» king, as Philip II had been known to his contemporaries, now fell into the hands of the new king's favorite. During his privanza, Lerma would function as a «canal» for royal favors, according to the patronage metaphor used by Francisco Fernández de Caso, one of Lerma's personal chroniclers:

La satisfación y consuelo que ha tenido siempre esta Monarquía Católica con la elección que el santo zelo de Su Magestad hizo (desde el primer día que con tan feliz pie entró a governarla) en el Exc[elentísi]mo Duque de Lerma, para el despacho y distribución de las cosas, haziéndole como un canal, por cuyo medio se comunicasse a todos el caudal de la fuente de sus magnificencias, llegará a ser justamente encarecido, quando llegare a conocerse63.


The speed with which Lerma consolidated his new power impressed the entire court. By 1600, the old king's chief ministers and advisors had been exiled from the court or assigned to posts within the imperial administration which would keep them far from the center of power. The Duke of Lerma assumed a series of offices and titles within both the royal household and the government. Lerma's father-in-law became president of Castile's primary governing council, and his uncle was appointed Archbishop of Toledo, head of the Church in Spain. The Duke of Lerma favored his relatives and thus enhanced the authority of his lineage, following the model of the perfect courtier as described by the Neapolitan Giullio Brancalasso: «... el fin de los cortesanos es privar para mandar, y con las dádivas y dones engrandecer sus linages... [y acompañar] su casa con parentezcos y amistades firmes y estables,...» (204 and 228).

Within months after the beginning of Philip III's reign, the Duke of Lerma was the closest person to the new king both inside and outside the palace, and thus was able to profit fully from the unmediated access which his new positions provided. To consolidate and maintain his power, Lerma adopted a new «courtly style», characterized by Bernardo García as a «discurso político basado en la pertenencia al más alto grado de la nobleza castellana y en la exaltación de los servicios prestados a la corona por sus antepasados» (5). «[D]e un estilo cortesano austero y casi monacal [of Philip II]», in Francesco Benigno's words, «se pasaba a una atmósfera muy distinta [of Philip III], a la que imprimían un sello la afición a lo maravilloso, lo disparatado, lo insólito...» (43). The Duke of Lerma's dazzling showpiece of the royal wedding of Philip III and Margaret of Austria in Valencia (1599) was a clear sign of things to come. He later financed masques, dances, plays and courtly jousts in his new pleasure palaces in Valladolid, Madrid, Lerma, La Ribera and Ventosilla and extended symbolic and fiscal protection to churches, convents, monasteries and universities. The new courtly style would be accompanied -according to Francisco Trenado in a letter written to the future Count of Gondomar in 1599- by a new aesthetic, namely, the renewal of a «petrarquista renacimiento poético» (Bouza 40). But the Duke had more in mind than the advancement of aesthetics. Lerma's audacious policy of cultural, architectural, and literary   —97→   patronage was meant to legitimate and reinforce his position as alter ego to the young king.

The Duke of Lerma began to practice his daring and aggressive strategy soon after the death of Philip II. By the end of 1599, for example, Hernando de Soto, one of Duke's partisans, dedicated to him a book of emblems «solo por el generoso estylo de ofrecérsele, para que defendido con la interposición de semejante favor, quede en su ofensa para siempre eclypsado el vulgo mordaz»64. Requesting the protection of one's patron, as I have already noted, was a commonplace of Spanish Golden Age dedications, but the final emblem included in de Soto's book compares the Duke to the sun, a political symbol normally reserved for the king. The Duke of Lerma «... tanto por sus méritos quanto por la privanza, es con mucho prosperidad, comparado al Sol: cuyos efectos son: vivificar, engendrar, resplandecer, y estar en lugar alto y eminente» (fol. 128r). Another of de Soto's comparisons focusses on the close personal friendship between Lerma and Philip III: the king's minister is «tan amable que desde el menor hasta el mayor se gozan y alegran de la merced y favor que el rey [...] le haze, pudiendo decir por él lo que Dios por el real profeta: 'Hallé a David hijo de Jese, hombre, según mi corazón'» (fol. 128r). In addition to being the king's most favored advisor, the Duke of Lerma is his best friend, a relationship consecrated by Biblical authority and by the language of divine love. The elevation of the Duke of Lerma to the same level as the king through the use of royal and religious symbolism was a daring strategy which would be repeated in the future.

The Duke's dependents and friends also began a propaganda campaign designed to legitimate the new leadership by discrediting the old regime. Cabrera reports early in 1600 that «algunos días a esta parte anda en esta Corte un papel intitulado El confuso y ignorante govierno del Rey pasado, con aprobación del [gobierno] que agora hay...» (55). Even though Cabrera was unable to identify the   —98→   anonymous author at the time, he later discovered that it came from the pen of Íñigo Ibáñez de Santa Cruz, Lerma's former secretary, and since 1599, secretary to the king himself65. Ibáñez attacks Philip II for having governed like a housewife and his ministers for behaving like ignorant servants. According to Ibáñez's argument, Philip II was born under the astrological sign of Venus, which

da un entendimiento afeminado [que] haze capaz a una mujer para que embíe por recado a la plaza a una criada, por arrebol, y solimán y las demás niñerías, y trae errada su cuenta o le ha sisado un ochavo, echará de ver aquella menudencia, pero totalmente ignorada las más serias sustanciales, y cambios y recambios que corren [...] de casa. Y esto le sucedió en suma a S. M. del rey Nuestro Señor en todo el discurso de su vida66.

By contrast, the new king is influenced by Mars and Saturn, who for Ibáñez represent war and prudence: «... Saturno con su prudencia y profunda consideración saldrá templando esta furia honrosa de Marte, y le dirá: 'Teneos Marte, que sois un loquillo furioso, que no valéis nada para consejos...'» (788). At first glance, Ibáñez seems to combine the furious Mars with the prudent Saturn, but in reality he refers to two people as if they were one. Mars is Philip III, whose impetuous behavior and inclination for war were noted by the Venetian ambassador Simon Contarini67. Saturn is the Duke of Lerma, a wise and faithful advisor who moderates Philip's behavior. Ibáñez joins the public and private (advisor+friend) not only in the confluence of astrological signs but also in the historical coincidence of two persons occupying virtually the same level of power and authority68.

The comparison Ibáñez draws between Philip III and Mars illustrates another element in the Duke of Lerma's campaign to manipulate public opinion through control of the system of literary patronage. There is little doubt that Ibáñez's association of the young king with Mars was intended as a reference to the military glory of Philip III's grandfather, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Lerma's   —99→   ancestors had held offices at court during the reign of Charles V (1519-1556), but his family fell from favor in the reign of Philip II. Now the Duke intended to remind both the court and his aristocratic opponents of the Lerma family's past, of the favors they had received from the Holy Roman Emperor. Shortly after he came to power, Lerma enlisted a distant cousin, Fray Prudencio de Sandoval, to write a history of the Emperor. It was a matter of some urgency, and Sandoval was a trusted ally who had served Lerma well in the past. In November of 1598, Sandoval had dedicated his first historical work to the Duke of Lerma, his Crónica del ínclito emperador de España don Alfonso VII. Seco Serrano has noted that it «constituía una exaltación no sólo del monarca -lejano antecesor castellano de Felipe III- [...] sino también de los más ilustres linages del reino, entre los cuales figura en puesto destacado el de los Sandoval [that is, of the family of the Duke of Lerma]» (xvii).

Sandoval was well remunerated for his services, and his case offers insight into the rewards available to writers who found favor with the Lerma circle. One year after the cleric-historian dedicated his first history to the Duke, he was enjoying a pension of 200 ducats, taken from the bishopric of Cuenca, and had been appointed as a royal chronicler, with a salary of 80.000 maravedíes. He had also been commissioned to continue the great Historia de España begun by Florián de Ocampo and Ambrosio de Morales. A flood of benefits followed. In 1600, the Duke of Lerma nominated him as the Prior of the Royal Monastery of San Juan del Naranco, and in January of 1602, he accompanied Philip III and his wife, Queen Margaret of Austria, on their pilgrimage to the city of León. A few years later, in August of 1611, he was offered three bishoprics in a single month but felt compelled to accept the bishopric of Pamplona, «viendo ser ésta la voluntad de S. M. y del señor duque de Lerma, por cuya mano recibía tantas mercedes...» (Seco Serrano xxiii).

Sandoval may have been rewarded, in part, because he had fulfilled his part of the bargain so well. The two parts of his Historia de la vida y hechos del emperador Carlos V, Máximo, Fortísimo, Rey Cathólico de España, printed in Valladolid in 1604 and 1606, respectively, catalogue the Lerma family's courtly careers and their service to the king. The chronicler demonstrates that serving competently as an officer in the palace merited as much favor and compensation as did heroic military exploits in the imperial army. Fray Prudencio describes details of the service which the Duke of Lerma's grandfather rendered when he attended the swearing of allegiance to Charles V in 1518 and when he was appointed Gentilhombre de la Boca de Su   —100→   Magestad one year later. If by chance Fray Prudencio's readers glossed over his assertions of the Emperor's faith and confidence in the loyalty of the family and -by inference, of its descendant, the Duke of Lerma- the chronicler reminds them by transcribing court documents. He quotes, for example, from the official charge issued by the Emperor when he appointed a Lerma ancestor as head of the queen's household:

Confiando, pues, el rey, como digo, tanto del marqués de Denia [...] dice: «que confiando de la fidelidad y buenos y leales servicios que don Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas, marqués de Denia y conde de Lerma, y del su Consejo, había hecho a los Reyes Católicos, sus padres y abuelos, y los que a ellos hacía cada día y esperaban haría de allí adelante, porque estaban ciertos [los reyes] de todo ello y de la buena manera, cuidado y diligencia con que siempre había servido [...] le dan cargo de la administración y gobierno de la casa de la reina [...] para que la pudiese regir y gobernar y a todas las personas de ella;...»

(I, 133; my emphasis).                

The message could not have been more clear at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The Duke of Lerma and his relatives were descended from an illustrious family which had displayed love and fidelity in service to the monarchy, a family which had in the past been called upon to administer and govern the royal household, as well as «todas las personas de ella». It should not surprise us that Fray Prudencio's Historia de Carlos V was one of Philip III's favorite books, nor that years later, when the Duke of Lerma received the privilege of setting up a printing press in his town of Lerma, he included it in a list of the seven fundamental history books he intended to reprint69.

The Duke of Lerma enhanced his family's past by commissioning histories, emblem books and political pamphlets written in praise of his ancestors. He passed this burnished family legacy to his children and also taught them the uses of court titles and literary patronage. One daughter was married to the Count of Niebla, whom the poet Luis de Góngora would praise as his patron in the Polifemo and describe as a superb hunter. The King seemed to agree. He named Niebla as both Cazador Mayor del Rey and Gentilhombre de la Cámara, «aunque sin obligación de servir en ella» (Cabrera 52). Another daughter married Cervantes's patron, the Count of Lemos, who simultaneously held a title at court as Gentilhombre de la Cámara   —101→   and a position within royal government as President of the Indies Council. The Duke's elder son, the Duke of Uceda, pursued a career in politics and eventually replaced his father as chief minister to the king, but Lerma's second son, the Count of Saldaña, became a patron of arts and letters, drawing on funds which his father had set aside for his use. Once more the Duke played his role as the «canal» of royal bounty and revenue. His son's inheritance was funded with money which came directly from the royal treasury, «rentas, gabelas y otros derechos del reino de Nápoles», conceded by Philip III to Lerma in September of 160370.

The Count of Saldaña, like other relatives, dependents and servants of the Duke of Lerma, received the king's favors and then acted as conduit to and broker for his own clients. The Count sponsored a literary academy «adonde asistían los más floridos y sutiles ingenios de España», in the words of Diego Duque de Estrada, including Vélez de Guevara, Lope de Vega, Cervantes, Soto de Rojas, Salas Barbadillo, Antonio de Mendoza and Coronel y Salcedo71. In 1605, Lope hoped to solidify his relationship with Saldaña and use him as an intermediary to the king. Toward the end of the year, Lope was finishing his epic poem, Jerusalén conquistada. When it was finally published in 1609, Lope dedicated it to Philip III, who counted among his numerous titles that of King of Jerusalem. But Lope took the opportunity to further ingratiate himself with the Count, writing a dense and lengthy prologue in which he attempted to justify the participation of Alphonse VIII and other illustrious families in the victorious crusade. Conforming perfectly to the Duke of Lerma's strategy of patronage for the sake of politics, Lope explains to the Count of Saldaña that he composed his poem «con ánimo de servir a mi patria tan ofendida siempre de los historiadores estranjeros,...»72. He uses the tired rhetoric reflected in most prologues of the time, invoking his patron's liberality and protection, but, on this occasion, as if it were an involuntary act, noting that: «La afición que Vuestra Excelencia tiene a las letras, [...], el amparo que haze a los que las professan, siendo su Mecenas, y bienhechor, me obliga, y si lo puedo decir me fuerza, a dirigirle este Prólogo de mi Jerusalén, que como fundamento suyo, tiene necesidad de mayor protección» (I 20). By   —102→   «fundamento» Lope alluded -in the style of Fray Prudencio de Sandoval in his Historia de Alfonso VII- to the antiquity of the Lerma family, a lineage related to the most illustrious and noble families in Castile: «Estúñigas, Girones, [...] Alencastros, / Guzmanes, [y] Sandovales, [...], / dignos que jaspes, bronces, y alabastros / la fama los escriua, y que sus hechos / no los sepulten embidiosos pechos» (I 165).

In a letter written to the Count in 1608, Lope himself acts as an intermediary between Saldaña and his Gentleman of the Chamber, dramatist and poet Luis Vélez de Guevara. Lope, who was Vélez's friend and fellow member of the Saldaña academy, asks the Count to end his «enojos, [...] y déme desde aquí sus manos para besárselas en nombre de Luis Vélez, mientras él va a humillarse a esos pies que han dado más de algun paso en su remedio» (Epistolario, III: 72). In his attempt to minimize the impact of some unknown act of Vélez's disrespect toward their patron, Lope assures the Count that Vélez «ama su virtud, su entendimiento y su vida extraordinariamente» (III: 72). Lope reminds the Count of the well-known «benevolencia» of the Sandoval family: «La de Vuestra Excelencia, señor, es de sus padres y agüelos; [...] su condición, dulcísima; su ansia, hacer bien a todos; su mayor deseo, honrar...» (III: 72). Forgiving his servant would be another example of his family's greatness and of his power as protector and patron. Lope ends the letter with some daring if not ironic verses in which the Count is called Salicio, and playwright Vélez, Lauro: «Salicio a Lauro enamora, / Lauro a Salicio recrea, / Salicio a Lauro desea / y Lauro a Salicio adora» (III: 73). In difficult times, Lope advises, the private relationship between a patron and his dependent is like that of two lovers: love makes them equal in the private world of their house, and at the same time, the language of love reflects their friendship in the court, the world in which both as allies should continue to seek royal patronage73.

We do not know if Lope's intervention ended in the way he expected, but one year later, when Vélez's son Juan was baptized in 1609, the Count presided as godfather74. The Count of Saldaña had helped to arrange an appropriate marriage for Vélez, supplying a gift of 400 ducats «en parte de remuneración de muchos y buenos servicios que el dicho Luis Vélez de Guevara me ha hecho»,   —103→   according to the power of attorney which the Count signed (C. Pérez Pastor, III: 500a). Vélez's wife had been lady-in-waiting in the household of the Marchioness of Alcañices, whose titled family was related by blood, by marriage and by political alliance to the Duke of Lerma75. Thus the dramatist Luis Vélez de Guevara was linked to his literary patron, the Count of Saldaña, and to the Duke of Lerma by a complex web of overlapping social, economic and familial ties.

The demands of these multiple dependencies can be seen in Vélez's poetry and in his dramas76. In the play El espejo del mundo, written before 1606 and published in 1612, Vélez treats the subject of royal favorites and ministers77. The play's action is based on fifteenth-century territorial conflicts between the kings of Castile and of Portugal. In the Vélez drama, each king has a favorite minister. Don Álvaro de Luna, an historical figure whom Castilians perceived as the epitome of evil, serves the King of Castile. Vélez compares the relationship between the king and the corrupt minister to that of the sun and the moon (Luna=moon), though by the end of the play Luna's moon is fading. The King of Portugal is aided by an unknown -and fictional- Portuguese soldier, Don Basco, who serves honestly and loyally after being elevated to the position of royal favorite, only to be imprisoned when the king decides to ignore his wise counsel.

Don Basco is the perfect royal minister. The story of his rise to power could easily be a description of Duke of Lerma's ascent:

Creció la fama con esto
de su privanza y estado,
lo que priva con el Rey
-que es locura imaginarlo-,
diciendo a voces el vulgo
que era el más digno privado
que los reyes han tenido
ni tendrán en muchos años.

(vs. 980-95)                

Don Basco -like the Duke of Lerma, Vélez implies- is a kind and generous patron, sensitive to the needs of those who are less fortunate, one who:

En particular procura
hacer gran bien a soldados,
a viudas y monasterios,
a hospitales y hombres sabios.
Premia las armas y letras,
porque está todo en su mano,
que es el sí y el no del Rey
y del Consejo de Estado;
y ha hecho muy grande bien
a parientes y a crïados,
y el Rey le ve cada día
mercedes acrecentando.

(vs. 996-1007; my emphasis)                

Just as contemporary texts alleged had happened when Lerma rose to power, the King of Portugal invited Don Basco to become his best friend: «Sed mi Amigo Mayor, que en tales casos / es el mayor que pueden dar los reyes» (vs. 891-92). However, such special friendship had its obligations, according to Juan Fernández de Medrano's República mixta (Madrid, 1602), a book dedicated to the Duke of Lerma: «un amigo fiel ha de moderar las pasiones del príncipe, servirle a sostener el peso de gobierno y decirle la verdad»78.

Don Basco is truthful to a fault, but the King of Portugal, imprudent and choleric, does not wish to hear truth, even when it is spoken by a «friend». The monarch refuses to respect treaties made with the King of Castile, despite contrary advice from his loyal minister, and Don Basco falls from power. When the inevitable moment of disfavor arrives, Don Basco suffers attacks of melancholy like those of the Duke of Lerma, which seventeenth-century chroniclers carefully   —105→   recorded79. In El espejo del mundo, Vélez presents two alternative models for the conduct of kingship. The good King of Castile suffers insult and betrayal at the hands of an evil favorite, whose history Vélez's audience recognized, while the ungrateful King of Portugal inflicts insult and injury on an honest and loyal minister, a minister who seemed familiar to those who attended or read Vélez's play and followed events at court.

Luis Vélez de Guevara also wrote poetry in service to his patron. His Elogio del juramento del sereníssimo príncipe don Felipe Domingo, quarto deste nombre celebrates ceremonies conducted in 1608 when the nobility of Spain gathered to swear allegiance to the Crown Prince, who would later rule as King Philip IV. Vélez transforms the event into poetry to praise his patron along with the future king and to celebrate the grandeur and ostentation of the court. The Count of Saldaña, who was a relatively minor participant, plays a major role in Vélez's poem. His presence fills ten stanzas of audaciously complex verse, competing with descriptions of the ceremony itself. Saldaña's grave appearance bespeaks the nobility of his lineage, «dando muestras de Mendoza Godo / aventajó la costa del bordado, / que antes que vistiesse estaua dado. / [...] / Era la capa una estrellada esfera, / sin los planetas que prestó al cintillo, / que la noche, que huyendo al mar, se esconde / negándosela al Sol, se la dio al Conde» (126-27). The Duke of Lerma is resplendent because of his illustrious lineage and his status as the Count's father: «De Sando el generoso descendiente / embidia de Bernardos y de Cides, / de Lerma y Denia Sol resplandeciente, / por los claros Austríacos Cenides; / Imitando el retrato del prudente / Filipo Atlante, el valeroso Alcides / de blanco y lobos viene honrando a España, / y le retrata el Conde de Saldaña» (139). Noblemen appear in ceremonial processions to magnify the majesty of the king's person, but Vélez   —106→   perhaps exaggerates the degree to which the Count enhances Philip III's grandeur: «El mayor Rey del mundo es el de España / Pues a pie lleua al Conde de Saldaña» (165).

This excessive adulation reflects the language of patronage, a completely acceptable and even obligatory form of discourse for writers who sought favors at court80. Fellow poets from the Saldaña academy wrote introductory verses to Vélez's poem, seeking to join his quest by association. They proclaimed the poem elegant, daring, heroic, ingenious, strange, and a bit risky. According to Lope, Vélez sings verses rather than writes them, «pintando plumas, telas y diamantes» (115). For Quevedo, Vélez's pen is «dichosa [... y] osada» (116), and, in Francisco Coronel de Salcedo's words, the poet is an «ingenio celebrado» who writes with an «altiva pluma»: «Con verso heroico, con heroica suma, / del monarca español sonoramente / cantáis Apolo, Anfión esclarecido» (121). Juan Portocarrero applauded Vélez's celebration of Saldaña's grandeur and the honor they all enjoy in their proximity to the king: «Honrarte es justo el rey mayor del mundo, / que empuña cetro y ciñe real corona, / y en su lugar el Conde Saldaña» (120). Pedro de Soto concludes that Vélez will be successful because of his relationship to Saldaña, which guarantees him future royal favor: «De un poderoso rey tienes ayuda / Lauro, sube a las salas de la vida / sin temor de fortuna, tiempo, o muerte» (121).

Vélez de Guevara used his connections and the discourse of patronage to secure the Count of Saldaña's continuing protection. He proved himself to be equally successful after the fall of his patron(s) at the death of Philip III in the service of the Count-Duke of Olivares, actively participating in the royal visit of the Prince of Wales in 1623. In sum, Saldaña was a conduit to the Duke of Lerma and to the «fountain» of the royal treasury: political and material benefits acquired by Vélez were the result of his faithful service to his patron. Within very few years a land «tan sec[o] que no hay hoja ni fruta en los árboles», to recall a poetic phrase used by Alonso de Barros to describe the court of Philip II, had become the «primavera de abundancia» of Philip III. For poets, novelists and playwrights, a new cultural space existed, a court society where they could write and   —107→   dedicate their works with the possibility of gaining something more than a «puñado de reales».

Cervantes never seems to have encountered that prestigious and powerful friend at court who could provide rewards and honors enjoyed by his contemporaries. Except for his brief service as camarero to Aquaviva many years before, there is no record of Cervantes having served in any noble household as gentilhombre de la cámara (as did Vélez de Guevara to the Count of Saldaña) or as secretario (as did Lope de Vega to the Marquis of Sarria). After returning from captivity, Cervantes received a commission to Orán («a ciertas cosas del servicio de Su Magestad»), arranged most likely through the intercession of Mateo Vázquez, but it led to no permanent position81. His stay in Lisbon met with no further success. In early 1582, after his return to Madrid, his expectations seem to be dashed for good by the inability (or unwillingness) of royal secretario Antonio de Eraso (Council of the Indies) and escribano de la cámara Francisco de Valmaseda to produce a government post Cervantes had requested, an experience, according to Canavaggio, that left him discouraged and embittered (125)82. Life at court without powerful friends and proper connections was a game of chance which Cervantes consistently lost. It is not surprising that five years later, he wrote a prefatory poem to Alonso de Barros's Filosofía cortesana moralizada. Whether or not Cervantes read Barros's commentary or played his board game is unknown, but he pointedly defined life at court as a «golfo insano», in which one needed an «hilo» to navigate the courtly «laberinto»:

El que navega por el golfo insano
del mar de pretensiones verá el punto
del cortesano laberinto el hilo:
felice ingenio y venturosa mano
que el deleite y provecho puso junto
en juego alegre, en dulce y claro estilo.

(fol. 6r)83.                

Barros's game may have been an amusing way to pass the time, but Cervantes's attempts to find a patron were not. While the rules and regulations to succeed at court could easily be organized in book form, the fictional nature of such treatises (moralized or not) conflicted with the political reality of royal favoritism. Merit went unrewarded without a privado to lead the way84. Cervantes's lack of family connections with easy access to the crown85, his failure to find someone important enough to place him on lists of potential patrons86, and perhaps most importantly, his inability to attend a university where crucial alliances for the future were often forged87, all   —109→   conspired against his efforts to find a place in the social and political world of Philip II. After years of failure, Cervantes turned to his readers and to those powerful nobleman who seemed to have expressed interest in culture, and who actively participated in the politics of an emerging urban court, centered around the patronage of Philip III and his favorite, the Duke of Lerma. It is thus no coincidence that after 1605 to the end of his life Cervantes's dedications focussed on Lerma's relatives and hechuras88.

If we are to speculate, as does Canavaggio (50), that Tomás Rodaja (the «licenciado Vidriera») reflects Cervantes's thinking on the matter of service at court, we can simply conclude that Cervantes refused to do what was required at the time of all would be clients: «-Vuesa merced me excuse con ese señor, que yo no soy bueno para palacio, porque tengo vergüenza y no sé lisonjear-» (II: 56). This is said, of course, when Tomás is made of glass. When he regains his sanity at the end of the story, he is not as self-effacing as he launches into a bitter attack on the destructive nature of the patronage system:

-¡Oh Corte, que alargas las esperanzas de los atrevidos pretendientes y acortas las de los virtuosos encogidos, sustentas abundantemente a los truhanes desvergonzados y matas de hambre a los discretos vergonzosos!-

(II: 74)                

Cervantes may have wanted to have it both ways: on the one hand he consistently sought to associate and to publicize his own name and talent by invoking the names and titles of those in power in furtherance of his career: on the other, because of his rejection over the years, he grew to resent the very rules that would have placed him in a position to receive benefits and honors. As we have seen, Vélez   —110→   de Guevara's and Lope's unabashed flattering of their various patrons characterized the discourse of literary patronage of the time. Cervantes's ambiguous attitude toward such language is well known, «lying somewhere between acceptance and abhorrence» (Lokos 41). Whatever favors and protection he may have received from the Count of Lemos and the Archbishop of Toledo, Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas, in the end he may have found himself captured in a system which was -at least metaphorically- as constraining and frustrating as his imprisonment at Algiers89. Freedom would come only in a marketplace in which readers -not patrons- provided the necessary ransom.

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