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Warsaw. A member of the British royal family donated a 16th-century old print to the National Library

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An unusual old print has been added to the collection of the National Library. The book “L’histoire de Primaleon de Grece” by Francisco Vázquez, belonging to the first Polish National Library in the 18th century, was donated by George Windsor, Count St Andrews. A member of the royal family purchased the romance many years ago at the book market.

Director of the National Library Tomasz Makowski and George Windsor Count St Andrews signed an agreement on the transfer of the old print on Monday at the National Library in Warsaw.

– It was a historic moment, one of the scattered objects returned to its parent library. The Polish National Library was opened 276 years ago. It is one of the oldest national libraries in the world. In the 18th century, the book “L’histoire de Primaleon de Grece” belonged to one of the largest libraries in Europe at that time – said director Makowski.

– I convey to the hands of Earl George Windsor words of very deep gratitude, emotion – he added. He assured us that “we will forever remember this gift.”

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The director also reminded that “most of the library was destroyed – first by the Russians, who took the books from Warsaw to St. Petersburg after the third partition of Poland, and then, when some of them returned, they were set on fire by the Germans.” He said that “individual objects that we find in such noble collections make us think that maybe in some time we will be able to recover at least some of them.”

He bought it by chance at the market

The Count said in Polish that he was lucky enough to come across this first book of chivalric romance “L’histoire de Primaleon de Grece” during his student years at Cambridge.

– It was only after many years that I discovered its origin as a book belonging to the former collection of the great 18th-century bishop and bibliophile Józef Andrzej Załuski – he recalled. – Today, after this book has been with me on the shelf for many years, I am happy that I can contribute to its return to its home. Let it be my modest contribution to the reconstruction of Polish cultural heritage – he added.

Count George Windsor, when asked by PAP how he came into possession of the book, said that he came across it by accident over 30 years ago, when he was studying at Cambridge. He bought it at the book market because, as he recalled, he was then interested in chivalric romances and Renaissance literature. – I enjoyed it for a very long time, but many years later I looked at the seal and ex libris and noticed who the book belonged to. I also became interested in the history of the Załuskis and their collection, as well as the fate of the book. Over time, I discovered the importance of this book,’ he explained.

He also said that he owes his ties to Poland to his grandfather, Prince Jerzy, who was in Poland in the 1930s and made many friends, including with General Sikorski. He said that many years ago, due to his interest in languages, culture and literature, he learned Polish and that he can still read Polish.

A book from the first Polish national library

L’histoire de Primaleon de Grece by Francisco Vázquez, translated by François de Vernassal and Gabriel Chappuis, was published in Lyon in 1572. The work was first published in 1512 and is a continuation of “Palmerín de Oliva”, published in 1511. It deals with 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 researchers believe that the work may have been an inspiration for Miguel de Cervantes when creating “Don Quixote of La Mancha”. The French translation was published in four volumes. The National Library received the first of them.

According to the National Library, the donated copy comes from the collection of the Library of the Republic of Załuski, known as the first Polish national library. The Library of the Republic of Poland, founded in the 18th century by Andrzej and Józef Załuski, bishops of Kraków and Kiev, wealthy and well-educated bibliophiles, was one of the largest and most important European libraries. On the order of Empress Catherine II, the collections were transported from Warsaw to St. Petersburg, where they became the main collection of the Tsar’s library. A large part was returned at the request of Poland after regaining independence in 1918.

Great-grandson of King George V, diplomat, university chancellor

George Windsor Earl of St Andrews is a member of the British royal family, the great-grandson of King George V. He is the eldest son and heir to the title of Edward, Duke of Kent. He is a graduate of Eton College and history at the University of Cambridge. He worked for the British Diplomatic Service in New York and Budapest, and for the Christie’s auction house as an old book specialist. He is chancellor of the University of Bolton and a member of the boards of many charities.

Main photo source: PAP/Pawel Supernak

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