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Women in the Arts and Letters in Navarra (4). Printers and booksellers in Pamplona


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Diario de Navarra

Javier Itúrbide

D. in History. Chair de Patrimonio y Arte Navarro

Diario de Navarra, in partnership with the Chair of Heritage and Navarrese Art of the University of Navarra, addresses, monthly, with the help of specialists from various universities and institutions, aspects on the relationship of women with the arts and literature in Navarra.

During the Modern Age (XV-XVIII centuries) the official document of printer and bookseller is considered a "mechanical art", a necessary work guide , but without social relevance, far from the "liberal" professions, such as doctors, lawyers or teachers.

In this official document the whole family, in one way or another, participates in the business: the father is the head, the typographer; the children, from childhood, help in the workshop and the bookshop; and the wife, in addition to her many domestic duties, lends a hand in the business and preferably attends to the sales of the bookshop with the financial aid of an apprentice.

Women in printing

As is well known, during the Ancien Régime women could not exercise mechanical trades. For this reason, it is difficult to gauge their real contribution to the development of the printing works in general and in Navarre in particular.

In fact, when they inherited a business such as a printing press, either because of the death of the father and lack of siblings or the death of her husband, the solution consisted in the marriage of the owner with a professional from official document whose name would appear on the imprint. There are numerous examples of this.

To follow the trajectory of this business subject there is a reliable and permanent information source : the imprint. Since 1558, the name of the printer, the city and the year of publication must appear on the title page of all printed matter. The purpose of this measure was to identify those responsible for subversive printed matter. Well, thanks to this legal requirement it is possible to know the owner of a printing workshop and, in this case, to trace the presence of women linked to this business.

However, since it was impossible for them to be owners of printing businesses, they could temporarily sign their works as "heiress of" or "widow of", and only exceptionally included their name and surname. This was the case in Pamplona of Isabel de Labayen, who in 1669 and 1670 published her name when the ownership of the business was in dispute. It should be noted that this is the only known case in Navarre in which a woman appeared with her name as the owner of a printing press. And she did it because she was in a status limit: abandoned by her husband, Gaspar Martínez, and confronted in the courts with her firstborn, Martín Gregorio de Zabala, for the ownership of the business. Although she was soon reconciled with her husband and he became part of the imprint...

By the way, given this female singularity in the history of Pamplona, it would be worthwhile for the city council to name a street after her.


When the owner of a workshop dies without having offspring, the widow is the owner of the business. However, her name does not appear in the imprint and surname, and the accredited specialization is made, as we have indicated, to her condition of widow of the printer.

Thus, for example, María Ramona Echeverz was widowed by José Miguel Ezquerro in 1783, never remarried, had no children and, consequently, during the 25 years she lived, the imprint proclaimed her property "In the printing house of Ezquerro's widow". The workshop was run by a journeyman.

If the husband dies and leaves grown-up children, the widow is the usufructuary and the children the owners. She will appear as widow in the imprint, although accompanied by her son who has become position of the family business, whose name is not given either.

When, after some time, the son in charge of the business marries, he goes to live with his wife in the family home and often a agreement is established by which the mother cedes the property to the son in exchange for the son and daughter-in-law to take care of her until the end of their days.

If the widow does not have a son capable of assuming responsibility for the business and she is of marriageable age, she usually marries a printing officer as soon as possible and delegates the "government" to her second husband, whose name will appear on the imprint, but not as owner but as "printer".

This could be the case of Graciosa de Oroz, who in 1596 was widowed by Pedro Porralis de Saboya. She has two small children and a workshop that has never worked well. He is therefore not a good match and in his environment he does not find a candidate, which is why he has to extend his inquiries to Logroño, where a certain Matías Mares, a widower, owns a small printing press. The wedding is arranged immediately. Mares is fifty years old, one of his sons remains at position of the Logroño workshop, and he moves to Pamplona where he arrives empty-handed, to the point that Graciosa has to leave him the clothes of her deceased husband "because he is naked".

What if the widow is older, not old enough to marry and has no children? In this case, she cedes the business to a relative. Nicolás de Asiain, widower and childless, dies in 1622 and leaves the workshop to his mother Micaela Garrués, but since she is old and her children have died, she cedes it to a brother-in-law bookseller, Juan de Oteiza, to whom she probably owed some debt. In the imprint he states his work with a brief "By Juan de Oteiza".

The typographers established in Pamplona disputed to obtain the degree scroll of "Impresor del Reyno" because it brought with it professional prestige and, more importantly, a salary, as well as the monopoly of official printing. However, this official position could not be inherited by his widows: when Martín Gregorio de Zabala died in 1700, his wife María de Álava applied to the Diputación for the position of "Impresor del Reino" that her husband had enjoyed. submit This was denied and Francisco Antonio de Neira was appointed, although with the condition that he should give half of his salary to María de Álava. The same criterion was applied to the official positions of "Printer of the Regiment [City Hall] of Pamplona" and "Printer of the Royal Courts".


The printers usually take wives from their professional environment, which, at least in the case of Pamplona, is reduced and with ties of friendship if not family. They know the tasks that await them, know something of official document and have a certain cultural preparation. If a printer becomes a widow, he generally tries to get married as soon as possible in order to guarantee the normal functioning of the home and the business. It was not conceivable to have an artisan business supported by a bachelor. On the second occasion, the widower tended to marry a woman belonging to a well-to-do family, usually from the countryside, who guaranteed a dowry with which he could improve the workshop and the bookshop. Often it is a young widow with children. In this way, the marriage brings stability to her and to him.


Daughters take on a leading role in the workplace when the father dies, the mother is older, lacks a trained son, and has an unmarried daughter instead. The solution is usually her immediate marriage to a professional, preferably a journeyman in the workshop whose professional and personal qualities are known.

This status occurred at the death of Pascual Ibáñez in 1775: in the deadline of three months the wedding of his daughter Joaquina Ramona with Joaquín Domingo, a printing official, took place. In these cases the age difference was not an obstacle: she was 41 years old and he was ten years younger. As Joaquina had younger siblings and her mother was alive, the inheritance was in process for a couple of years and during this time the works were attributed to the "Heirs of Pascual Ibáñez". When the conflict was resolved in favor of the older sister, the ownership passed to her husband's name: "En la imprenta de Joaquín de Domingo".

In the event that the printer's death was imminent, a husband was quickly sought for the heiress. This is what Martín de Labayen did, who, showing symptoms of a degenerative disease, sent for a printer from Navarre whom he had good references and who was working in Madrid at the time. He returned to Pamplona and married Isabel, the heiress. The wedding was celebrated in 1643, when the father was still alive, although due to his illness he was section of the business that the son-in-law had taken over. For this reason, from the following year onwards, and in an unusual way, both the owner and the son-in-law appeared in the imprint: "By Martín de Labayen and Diego de Zavala".

Marrying a printer's daughter, even if she was not the heir, could facilitate a brilliant professional career. Miguel de Eguía from Estella, when he was an unknown young man, in 1518 married María, daughter of Arnao Guillén de Brocar, the first printer in the history of printing in Navarre. This was a prestigious French typographer and publisher who settled in Pamplona around 1490, where he worked for twelve years, from here he moved to Logroño and finally to Alcalá de Henares, in the shadow of the powerful Cardinal Cisneros. Thus Eguía, through this marriage, established a professional degree program that gave him prestige and wealth.

One step ahead: 1790

In 1790, as was to happen in the Age of Enlightenment, a royal order annulled "the library porter of any guild, art or official document that prohibits the exercise and conservation of their stores and workshops to widowed ladies who marry anyone who is not from the official document of their first husbands". This provision affected, of course, the "art" of printing, whose owners would henceforth no longer be obliged to marry a professional of official document in order to keep the "exercise and conservation" of their business.

This was in theory, since in the internship women, at least in Navarre, continued not to appear with their name and surname as owners of their businesses. For this reason, as we warned, it is difficult to value their contribution in this professional and business field.