Wow. I suppose this is news to me only (although I have probably come across brief mentions of it before when reading other historical stuff, but didn’t really realize how much more there was to it). But there it is. I find it fascinating.
A Rennaissance special ops force to go raid foreign libraries for their books. Not silver, not gold, but books.

And they had rules (international treaties) to regulate the particular circumstances that allowed the raider to then keep or not the booty! That’s funny. Modern version: OK, so if by 7 o’clock I have parked your stolen car in my garage, it’s mine, and I get to keep it.

Entire libraries were raided and stolen! They didn’t have the money to purchase the books, so, logically, RAIIIID!


War booty

Looting in Prague

In the early morning of 16th July 1648, during the very last stages of the Thirty Years War, a Swedish force one hundred strong, commanded by the Imperial renegade Ernst Odowalsky, scaled the city wall of Prague’s Kleinseite on the west bank of the Moldau. Overpowering the unsuspecting guard, the Swedes made their way through the Strahov gate. Soon afterwards 3,000 men flocked into the Kleinseite. The castle and a number of aristocratic palaces, in which both the Emperor and the Austro-Bohemian nobility had amassed great quantities of valuables, were at the troops’ mercy and were systematically looted. The haul was immense. Apart from a host of invaluable art objects, the Imperial Treasury contained a number of valuable illustrated works and rare manuscripts. The inventory drawn up at the time mentions 100 an allerhand Kunstbüchern (‘a hundred art books of different kinds’), among them two world-famous manuscripts: Codex Gigas and Codex Argenteus (the Silver Bible, now in Carolina Rediviva, Uppsala). The Emperor’s library, mainly from the time of Rudolph II was also looted, as was the princely Ursini-Rosenberg collection of books, one of the very finest at that time, which had been transferred to the castle only the year before. The Praemonstratensian monastery of Strahov, the Jesuit College and several aristocratic palaces were ransacked as well.

Codex Gigas is carried off to Sweden

All the booty was quickly inventoried. On Queen Christina’s instructions these were shipped down the Elbe to the Baltic coast during the autumn. Time was short, because in the Osnabrück peace talks it had been settled that all booty which had not been carried off when hostilities ended was to be returned. The peace treaty was signed in Münster in mid-October 1648. The booty was stored during the winter in the border fortress of Dömitz, Mecklenburg, and at the end of May 1649 it reached Stockholm by way of Wismar where the Queen waited impatiently. She had made plans to enlarge the royal castle to make room for the new treasures. Isaac Vossius, her librarian, was tasked with arranging the books captured in Prague. He finished the work in March 1651, having catalogued some of the books and all the manuscripts. His catalogue starts with Codex Gigas. Most of the books ended up in the royal castle library, but some became the private property of Swedish and foreign officers. Some were given to Christina’s favourites and some in lieu of salary to her librarians. Other books went to the Swedish university and grammar school libraries, and probably also to Dorpat (Tartu) University.

The Queen eventually took the most valuable books and manuscripts with her when she left the country. The majority of those items are now in the Vatican Library. Much of the booty that remained in Sweden later perished in a number of fires while some was sold at book auctions in the eighteenth century. But a portion has survived and is now mainly in the Royal Library, Stockholm, in Uppsala and in Lund University Library.

The archival records which Königsmarck, acting on the government’s special instructions, laid hands on was incorporated with Riksarkivet (the Swedish National Archives) in Stockholm in 1653. Only a fraction of it now remains, some of the documents having been returned and others destroyed in the Royal Castle fire of 1697.

War booty as a method of acquisition

Queen Christina was a passionate book collector who acquired large numbers of books by purchase but greatly enlarged her library by means of war booty. This was a recognised method of acquisition at the time and had been successfully tested by Christina’s father, Gustavus Adolphus, who made his campaigns between 1621 and 1632. These were excellent opportunities for enriching Swedish libraries and especially that of Uppsala University. Sweden did not have money to spend on new acquisitions and had limited access to newly published literature. This war-booty came as a substantial increment to the newly established university library. In addition, the looting of Jesuit book collections was regarded as fair play in the struggle against the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

During the regency administration, between 1632 and 1644, Axel Oxenstierna issued detailed instructions to Swedish military commanders for the confiscation of fine libraries. These were to be sent to Sweden, preferably in their entirety. He particularly urged the field chanceries to seize manuscripts. Charles X and Charles XII, Queen Christina’s successors to the throne of Sweden, both continued the taking of literary war booty on their campaigns.

All this was governed by political, denominational and crass pecuniary considerations. The books captured as war booty represented a wide spectrum of subjects from classical authors and legal literature, canon law included, to works on medicine. All this included many works of a purely Catholic nature, whereas works by Protestant authors were few and far between.

Poland, Germany, the Baltic States and Denmark were very hard hit by the Swedes’ depredations, but Bohemia and Moravia were robbed of perhaps the most exacting prizes.

From a fascinating (and very well done)  site on the Codex Gigas:


Actually this kind of raid is the opposite of the wholesale theft of works that should be in the public domain today, but aren’t, thanks to the greed of the Walt Disney Corporation (and publishing cartels).

During the mid-1990s, the giant Disney Corporation became concerned that its 1928 copyright on Mickey Mouse was close to expiration.  Deploying heavy lobbying efforts, it persuaded Congress to pass and President Bill Clinton to sign what was officially entitled the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, but more informally known as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.”  The result was to extend Mickey’s copyright for another twenty years, and perhaps indefinitely if future corporate lobbying efforts bore similar fruit.

… As a direct consequence, the continuous yearly expiration of old copyrights came to a screeching halt at the year 1922, and has moved no further in the last fifteen years.
more at: The Bitter Legacy of Mickey Mouse
By Ron Unz

Where’s the public mobilization against this? Americans are daft, I tell you. (In the UK, same problem, btw).

Get it into the public domain now.

(At last, one article at TAC which is not a liberal attacking social conservatives and is actually worth reading – I was banned at TAC by Rod Dreher recently by the way. I am waiting to have a little more time to blog to write about it. See my other blog in the comment exchange with ARt Deco for now).

But I wanted to note this book booty reference before it got lost in the shifting sands of my Internet surfing…