Hey, This isn't a Doubloon!

Greetings from Christ Church Library Special Collections in isolation! Our very best wishes to all, hoping that everyone is gracefully weathering their respective forms of solitude. From within my own seclusion, I will endeavour to bring to your laptops and tablets a story from our collections, as best as my limited home-office facilities and my lack of proximity to the books will allow.

In November of 1700, Charles the II, King of Spain, died without issue. He was the last of the Hapsburgs to wear the Spanish crown, and despite being pressed to sign a will, shortly before his death, that declared Philip of Anjou as his successor, he nevertheless departed this world, leaving a vacuum of power in his wake. And so began the War of Spanish Succession.

Immediately, England, Holland, Austria, France, and Spain began a contest of political influence and of military might, on both sea and land, that would stretch from the Spanish Netherlands to the West Indies and Americas, at the end of which the victors would see their favoured ruler placed on the Spanish Throne.

Meanwhile, news of the death of Charles II of Spain reached Mexico, halfway around the world, where, in 1701, a Franciscan priest named José de Vargas wrote and published a sermon:

"SERMON | FUNEBRE | CONQUE MANIFIESTA SU | dolor la muy Noble, y Leal Cuidad de | la Nueva Vera-Cruz, en la muerte, y | Excequias de Nuestro Rey, | y Señor CARLOS II."

It is unknown how many copies of this sermon were printed, but in the present day, there are only three extant copies that I have been able to locate, one of which is this copy at Christ Church. According to the Latin American Short Title Catalog (LASTC), there is one copy in a private collection in Mexico, and WorldCat cites but a single copy, held at the University of Indiana. There are a number of private collections into which I cannot delve from my desk at home, so that investigation will have to wait for a later date, but the subject matter, while relevant to such an important historical landmark as the War of Spanish Succession, is hardly the most interesting aspect of Christ Church's copy of this sermon.

What is immediately fascinating about any pamphlet, from my perspective, is their mere survival to the present day, pamphlets having largely been considered, even contemporaneously, to be ephemeral; vehicles for quickly disseminating thoughts and opinions. The Tweets of the Early Modern period, if you will. It is not uncommon for a pamphlet to have found its way forward in history as the lining of a trunk or as an integral component of a book's binding, and less so to have been dutifully preserved in a private library or collection.

Having now moved past the fact of its continued existence, one must then consider the content. Sermons were exceedingly numerous, and, in my own experience, a sermon, today, is one of the most likely of pamphlets to be found in a state with its leaves never trimmed or even found completely unopened, a clear sign of never having been read or used in any way resembling its original purpose.

This particular sermon, however, was read, and the evidence of its travels creates a further link between events and places not otherwise immediately connected in a historical context. It was possibly valued, at the very least as important news, to the extent that it found its way aboard a Spanish galleon bound for the Mediterranean. But its voyage did not stop there: a manuscript ink inscription in a yet unidentified hand adorns the recto side of the initial blank leaf:

"This Sermon was found on board the Galeon | El Toro one of those taken at Vigo, at the opening | thereof at Woolwich before some of the Lords of the | Councill & others 7. Dec[embe]r. 1702.”

The El Toro docked at Vigo in 1702, likely with other heavily laden galleons from the West Indies, just in time to be set upon and captured by the English and Dutch forces that had recently sailed up the coast to the Ria de Vigo from the Bay of Cadiz following a failed attempt to seize the port there. This sermon, aboard the galleon El Toro, was among the prizes taken in that battle.

That the sermon was possibly a source of news to Spanish forces in Mexico that their King had fallen ill and died is not difficult to imagine. Whether it was purposely kept as either a worthy text or as an opportune memento, or whether its journey back to Spain was entirely incidental, will, for now, remain a mystery. As well, exactly how and why it made its way from Woolwich, where it was introduced as a war prize for the crown of England, to a nondescript room full of pamphlets in the upper library at Christ Church will also leave us scratching our heads in the interim. When the right researcher comes along, though, and asks approximately those questions, this pamphlet is catalogued and ready to be found on Oxford's SOLO database.

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