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Tresoar: the treasury of Leeuwarden

Most items of the collection of medieval manuscripts at the Frisian Literary and Historical Centre Tresoar in Leeuwarden were previously part of the Franeker University Library. The university, founded in 1585, owned a collection that served as a consultation collection for the professors. Students had limited access and the books were secured with a chain to protect them from theft. Nevertheless, one student managed to steal as many as 100 books from the university library. In 1648, he stood trial, along with the professor who should have guarded the collection.

Franeker University existed for two and a half centuries and from this period we have eleven catalogues. The earliest catalogue, from 1601, mentions three hundred books; the last, published shortly before the university closed in 1843, lists fourteen thousand books (most of them printed). Almost all of them are now in Tresoar. The composition of the current collection reflects its origin from the university library and its original distribution among four faculties: theology, law, medicine and liberal arts. A special subset is a group of manuscripts with classical texts, originating from the estate of Johann Melchior Steinberg (1625-1670), professor of theology at Franeker University. Among this group of classical manuscripts is the oldest manuscript in the collection: Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights, produced around 836 (see this blog).

Another notable sub-collection is the Richthofenkolleksje, a collection of manuscripts on Frisian land law and Frisian history. This collection is not from the Franeker University Library, but was purchased after World War I from the estate of the nineteenth-century Germanist and legal historian Karl Freiherr von Richthofen (1811-1888), who in turn had bought it from a Leeuwarden jurist, Petrus Wierdsma (1729-1811), a collector of Frisian law manuscripts. The Richthofenkolleksje offers a unique source of information on Frisian history, law and language and has been included in the Unesco Memory of the World Register since 2022.

After its purchase in 1922, the Richthofenkolleksje initially ended up in the Provincial Library of Friesland, where books from the library of Franeker University had gone after its closure. The signature PBF (Provinciale Bibiotheek van Friesland) still witnesses its stay in the provincial library. In 2002, the Provincial Library merged with the Frysk Letterkundich Museum, the Dokumintaasjesintrum and the Frisian State Archives. Thus was formed Tresoar, Frysk Histoarysk en Letterkundich Sintrum. In this ‘Treasury of Friesland’, the medieval manuscripts of the former Franeker University Library and the Richthofenkolleksje have now found a home.

Irene van Renswoude
M.H.H. Engels, Aulus Gellius en zes andere klassieke handschriften door de Franeker universiteitsbibliotheek verworven uit de bibliotheek van professor Steinberg, Leeuwarden, mei 1987, MpaginaE * Aulus Gellius van prof. Steinberg

Jacob van Sluis, The Library of Franeker University in Context, 1585 – 1843, The Library of the Written World – The Handpress World 81, Leiden: Brill, 2020

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