The Librarius and Libraire as Witnesses to the Evolving Book Trade in Ducal Brittany

Medieval book

The Librarius and Libraire as Witnesses to the Evolving Book Trade in Ducal Brittany

Booton, Diane E.

Pecia, 13 (2010): 249-61


At the turn of the sixteenth century, the libraire Jean Macé opened a book-shop near the Porte St-Michel in Rennes, thereby expanding his family’s book business, which was rooted in Normandy. Not only did he sell books produced on the family presses in Caen and Rouen, but like a modern publisher, he also hired editors and printers while underwriting the costs of publication. Not all bookmen in ducal Brittany assumed such wide-ranging or long-lasting pursuits as Jean Macé, an entrepreneur able to influence the manufacture and promotion of a broad spectrum of literary interests. Macé represents one of the more successful participants in the book trade in late medieval Brittany.

This article reviews archival evidence gathered from ducal, ecclesiastical, and legal documents, as well as internal evidence in manuscripts and printed books, to chart the role of the librarius/libraire in the late-medieval duchy of Brittany from 1440 (the earliest mention thus far discovered) to 1532 (the formal assimilation of Brittany by France). The first section identifies Breton clerics and lay artisans involved in the production, sale, and care of manuscripts. The fragmentary nature of extant records shapes a modest and reticent narrative, based primarily on the account books from the fabriques of the Breton cathedrals at Nantes, Quimper, Tréguier, and Vannes. The second section considers commercial bookmen active in the production and marketing of printed books in Brittany, where the first book was printed in the duchy in 1484 at Bréhan-Loudéac. The title pages and colophons of printed books provide fundamental and sometimes the only information concerning printing in western France at this time, while some older secondary sources bear witness to early editions now lost.

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