The Lobkowicz Library is an outstanding example of the European aristocratic library. It comprises about 65,000 volumes – including 679 manuscripts (114 of them dating to the Middle Ages) and 730 incunabula (early books printed prior to 1501). It is the greatest castle library in the Czech Republic.
There are a great many first editions in subjects ranging from history, geography, medicine and the natural sciences, to architecture, literature, theology and law. Texts are predominantly French, German and Latin – but there are also books in Spanish, Italian, Czech, Greek, Hebrew and other languages. The collection of rare books printed in Spanish is the largest in the country. The oldest complete codex dates to the 10th century. A precious four-page fragment of the Gospel of Mark is even older, dating to the late 8th or early 9th century. The Music Archive alone contains more than 5,000 printed editions and manuscripts of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century scores, also performing parts, libretti, sheet music, and baroque tablatures (a form of musical notation) for plucked instruments.
The Library grew systematically over many centuries, incorporating the varied libraries of both close and distant relations; the acquisition of the libraries of other aristocrats who fell from favor in the various dynastic and religious wars that plagued Central Europe in the 17th century; the purchase of the working libraries of figures important in political, scientific and cultural spheres; as well as through a regular program of purchases and commissions.
Early History of The Library
The earliest section, and a very important element, is the library of Bohuslav Hassenstein of Lobkowicz (1461-1510), the most distinguished Latin Humanist in 15th-century Central Europe. With the help of friends and a network of agents, Hassenstein amassed a collection remarkable in its day for its size and scientific approach to collecting and cataloguing. This library was dominated by volumes of classical and humanist philosophy and literature, in Latin, the lingua franca of the scholar. Thirty volumes represent nearly half of the then entire European production of books printed in Greek characters. The reputation of the collection was such that Hassenstein’s heirs received requests for loans from Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon. About three-quarters of the huge Hassenstein library survives – the majority of it in The Lobkowicz Library.
An even more systematic development of the family collections was started in the 17th century by Zdeněk Vojtěch (1568-1628), 1st Prince Lobkowicz, who had acquired the Hassenstein library after its confiscation from his errant relation, Jiří of Lobkowicz (1551-1607) who was charged with plotting against the Emperor Rudolf II. After the uprising of the Protestant Estates in 1620, the 1st Prince and his influential wife, Polyxena (1566-1642) had already succeeded in purchasing entire libraries forfeited by various Protestant aristocratic houses. Other, more personal libraries were also acquired, including the rare collection of books printed in Spain that came to the country with Polyxena’s Spanish-born mother, Maria Manrique de Lara y Mendoza (1538-1608). At this period The Library was deposited in the Pernštejn (today, Lobkowicz) Palace at Prague Castle, and only later moved by the 2nd Prince, Václav Eusebius, to Roudnice Castle in 1657 – hence the name by which the collection is known to scholars today. Here The Library remained – added to by succeeding generations – until the Second World War.
Ferdinand August (1655-1715), 3rd Prince Lobkowicz, held prestigious offices at the Imperial Diet in Regensburg, and acquired books from the important printing centers in Germany. Documentation exists for hundreds of purchases each year as well as generous payments to bookbinders. His grandson, Ferdinand Philip (1724-1784), 6th Prince Lobkowicz, was a voracious collector of books during his travels throughout Europe. The Library was further augmented by collections acquired through inheritance, or marriage into other aristocratic families.
The earliest classification system applied to The Library was established under Václav Eusebius, the 2nd Prince. After 1777, a permanent librarian was always in residence. Ferdinand Josef, 8th Prince (1797-1868) and Mořic, 9th Prince (1831-1903), authorized a complete reorganization of The Library that classified items according to subject in a new 10-volume systematic catalogue and a 20-volume alphabetical catalogue. Imposing bookcases were also made to house The Library.
This magnificent library was confiscated by the Nazis in 1941. The great bookcases were broken up and the ruined spaces turned into the communal latrines for the SS training center that occupied the castle. The books themselves passed to the administrative care of the University Library of Prague. After the Communist takeover in 1948, the Collections remained in a State depository, from which, for nearly fifty years, the precious volumes and manuscripts were dispersed to different depositories and libraries throughout Bohemia. During this time only a very limited number of volumes were available to the public or working scholars.
In 1992, The Library was finally returned to the Lobkowicz family. Shortly thereafter, a major private donor made a charitable contribution to re-establish the collection as a working library, based on its original classification and composition, to enable the volumes to be used by scholars in accordance with internationally accepted standards of security and conservation. A new space to house The Library in its entirety was prepared at Nelahozeves Castle. The books were again organized according to the order established in the original 19th-century catalogue, a conservation plan for the collection was completed, and a research program was established. As a result, The Library is now open, by prior appointment, to students, scholars and special groups.