“All historians have accorded concurrent testimony to the patience and heroism which characterized the close of his wild and meteoric career”. With these words the English novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton closed the description of the noble end of the main character of his 1838’s novel Calderon, the Courtier (1838). Indeed, the death of the powerful confident and “right hand” of the Duke of Lerma, secretary of the Royal chamber and advisor of King Philipp III triggered at the time the writing of several histories and “Relazioni veriterie”. In particular, the story of his execution, in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor on 21 October 1621, was spread immediately by alleged eyewitnesses who reported all a similar circumstance: a socially various crowd had come to witness the death of a corrupted and greedy murderer. Yet during the execution Calderón had apparently shown a pride and at the same time a modesty in front of death, that his attitude provoked a swing in the opinion of the public, that finally sympathized with the dying Calderón much more than with the living one, making of him a symbol of stoicism rather than one of the corruption of the Spanish government. More than making this death exceptional for contemporaries, the circumstances detailed in the many printed reports, when compared with the crude handwritten avvisi newsletters of the execution preserved mainly in Florence, Rome, Madrid and Vienna, allow a reflection on the mobility of textuality and on the role played by different media in the transmission of the past and in the fabrication of “historical truths”.
Paola Molino is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Padua. She is interested in the history of early modern knowledge, the history of written cultures and libraries. She is the co-author of a book on the pre-modern information network of Europe, and of a book on the organization, uses and misuses of the Imperial Library of Vienna in the 16th and 17th century. In the last years she has worked on library catalogues in the 17th century and the reorganization of the sciences that followed the diffusion of the printing press and the enlargement of the European intellectual and geographical borders. Recently, as Member of Padua University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Mobility and the Humanities, she also worked on the mobility of textuality between handwritten and printed news.