Olga Fejtová

Reformation literature in private burgher libraries in the 17th century Prague – a comparison

(The influence of Bullinger in burgher circles)


The article deals with the diffusion of the Reformation literature in Prague burgher circles in the Pre-White Mountain period, as well as the period of recatholization in the 17th century, with a special focus on the writings of Heinrich Bullinger.

Pre-White Mountain censorial records have shown that Reformation literature was regularly imported to Bohemia, esp. the Prague towns. The imports were facilitated by the so-called “tolerance out of neccessity” approach, typical for the Bohemian circles at that time. Interest in this kind of literature was also nurtured by the system of particular education connected to the Protestant University. In the recatholization period the influence of Protestantism on education of the burgher youth was interrupted, but the import of the Reformation literature continued through the 17th century.

In the burgher libraries in the Prague town of Nové Město a limited number of Reformation titles (8% of all identified religious writings) were available in the Pre-White Mountain period. Through the 17th century, these titles were continually available in 4% of all burgher libraries in the Nové Město (usually the libraries of more than average or extraordinary size). The most common were less important writings of Jean Calvin, Rudolf Gwalther, Theodor Bezy and Havel Žalanský. Almost no translations of this kind of literature were available.

A different picture is shown in the smaller towns of Bohemia where the Reformation literature was available almost exclusively in the libraries of local burgher intellectual elites.

Comparison with selected towns of a similar cultural background but a different religion (Nürnberg, Gdańsk, Kraków) indicated that the attitude of the burgher society to the Reformation literature was relative to the specific conditions of the local confessional development. With the exception of the Prague towns, these books were usually available in libraries of extraordinary size and read by burgher elites. Generally speaking, the interest in this kind of literature in the burgher circles declined in the 2nd half of the 17th century, not in the consequence of the recatholization process in some of the localities mentioned, but primarily in connection to the general trend in the development of readers’ interests.