Between 1861 and 1865, the Royal Academy of History of Spain published a selection of letters in seven volumes included in the collection “Memorial Histórico Español”. These are more than 1000 letters from Jesuit to Jesuit in Spain during the last half of the Thirty
Years’ War, from 1634 to 1648.
The letters are an exceptional source of information, but as the letters are written in a Spanish of the 17th century and without orthographical conventions, it might be hard to refer to them whenever we are researching about a related topic. Also, there are questions like, why did the Jesuits write such letters? When were these letters written? How could we make the letters more accessible and easier to understand?
To answer these questions, it is necessary to know the historical frame that surrounds the correspondence. In the first part of this paper, we will explore the creation of the Society of Jesus and understand why the letters were so important for them. Then, we will delve into the historical context to situate the letters in time and space, the objective of this section is to have a general overview of the events that influence the letters.
The aim of this project is to facilitate the research of information throughout the letters.
The importance of the Society of Jesus in the history of the world is due to its vast expansion around the globe with missionary intentions. Furthermore, the constitution of the Company encourages the communication within the Jesuit community, this allied with the willingness of knowledge leads to an extensive collection of archives all over the world. Also, the historical and cultural relevance of the Society of Jesus has been emboldened, intentionally or unintentionally by controversies, myths, and various forms of anti-Jesuitism. In this section, we will talk about the creation of the Company of Jesus and their system of epistolary communication, these letters are the main interest of this project.
The founder of the Company of Jesus is Íñigo (Ignacio in Basque) de Loyola. At the end of the fifteen century, the world was experiencing drastic changes, the printing press was spreading, there were discoveries of new lands in the other side of the ocean and there was a new generation of bright minds that changed the world. When Ignace de Loyola was born, in 1491, Erasmo was twenty-five years old, Machiavelli twenty-two, Copernic eighteen, Michel-Ange sixteen, Thomas More eleven and Luther was eight years old.
Loyola was from a good family; he had a knightly and courtier education. In 1516, when he was 25 years old, Ignace had to quit the court and serve to the Viceroy of Navarra as a Gentleman. In 1521 the French army attacked Navarra and Ignace was badly injured in the legs, then, he moved with his brother back in Loyola and was there when he had his first conversion while reading the life of saints. In fact, “The Jesuit missionary vocation was rooted in the desire to ‘help souls’ (cura animarum) that Ignatius of Loyola pursued from the moment of his conversion in 1521”.
After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Loyola returned to Spain and he studied at the University of Alcalá, but he was accused by the Inquisition because of his way of thinking and incarcerated 42 days, so he decided to continue his studies in Salamanca, but there he was suspected of erasmiser and try to classify the sins according to their gravity.
Possibly escaping from the Spanish Inquisition, Ignace de Loyola went to Paris to study as an extern in the college of Montaigu, already frequented by Erasme, Ravelais and Calvin. By 1534, Ignace had reunited a group of students that shared the same principles, hence Ignace, Fabro, Javier, Laínez, Salmerón, Rodrigues and Bobadilla vowed poverty, chastity and peregrination to Jerusalem. It is important to note that there had been already seventeen years since Martin Luther had nailed the 95 theses against the current Catholic administration, therefore there was already a reformation atmosphere in the European society.
After peregrinations, and an exponential growth of adepts, Loyola finally said his first mass on Christmas Eve 1538 in a chapel adjacent to the basilica Sainte-Marie-Majeure. Then, on September 27th 1540, Pope Paul III signed the bull Regimini Militantis ecclesiae, this gave canonic life to the Company or Society of Jesus.The expansion of the Jesuit ideology increased immediately, hey were a thousand in 1556, when their founder died; in 1581 they are 5 000, 13 000 in 1615. The 12 noviciates and the 144 schools of the Society in 1580 will become 49 and 518 respectively in 1640.
The structure of the company was shown as an exalting image of an army advancing under the direction of their chief , they had a centralized organization to facilitate the control of the company. As the Catholic reformation was on its peak, they could take advantage of the necessity of renewal of the religion, one of their strategies was to build and manage schools for children, so they could influence in their way of thinking since early ages.
The society of Jesus played a major role in the effort of evangelization of the recently discovered American continent. By 1570 the main outlines of the colony had been defined; foreign competitors had been eliminated, the indigenous population had been pushed from the coast or brought under Jesuit control . The Jesuits rule with a discipline paternal and strict at the same time; the lazy ones are penalized with corporal punishments, but there are also parties with musique, dances and fireworks.
The influence of the Company of Jesus is remarkable even nowadays, their role in the reformation was pivotal because they acted directly against the protestant ideas. In the art field, the Jesuits are if not the initiators, the main propagators of the style correspondent to the modern Catholicism: The Baroque. On the other hand, the Jesuits knew how to gain the favour of the powerful, for example, during the Thirty Years’ War, when the influence of the Jesuit court confessors was on its highest point.
The exchange of correspondence was instantly seen as the main and most useful way of communication, it was primordial to maintain contact with the superiors from everywhere that the Company were. The correspondence works as a memorial and a propaganda device for the Jesuit image and ideology. The obligation of the epistolary communication is stipulated in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus as follows:
“ 9. Another very special help will be communication by letter between subjects and superiors [L], and their learning frequently about one another and hearing the news [M] and reports [N] which come from the various regions. The superiors, especially the general and the provincials, will take charge of this, making arrangements so that each region can learn from the others whatever promotes mutual consolation and edification in our Lord.”
They have also specified the frequency and receptors. In the following extract, we can observe a how the Company is composed and the organization of the hierarchy, there are local superiors o rectors, provincial superiors and generals:
“ L. The local superiors or rectors in a province, and those who are sent to bear fruit in the Lord s field, should write to their provincial superior once a week if facilities for this exist. The provincial and the others should likewise write to the general every week if he is near. If they are in a different kingdom where such facilities are lacking, both the said persons who have been sent to bear fruit as well as the local superiors and rectors will, like the provincials, write once a month to the general. The general will have a letter written to them ordinarily once a month, at least to the provincials; and the provincials once a month to the local superiors, rectors, and individuals where this is required; and more frequently from one side and the other as need for this may arise in our Lord.”
In the case of this project, the letters are addressed to the Father Rafael Pereyra in Sevilla mainly from the Father Sebastian Gonzalez in Madrid, but also there are letters from Andrés Mendo in Salamanca, and Juan Chacón in Valladolid. It is believed that Father Sebastián González lived in court and used to collect interesting narratives of events that occurred around them and other contemporary events, and he sent them to Father Rafael Pereyra, who collected materials to compose a History of Spain, that was not written at
About the Father Rafael Pereyra, we also know that he might have been Attorney General of the province of Andalusia in the Colegio of San Hermenegildo of Seville. , and that he might have written La vida de San Eustaquio, a 1620´s comedy. Additionally, judging for his last name, we could infer that he had Portuguese origins, just as the Jesuit philosopher Benito Pereyra.
The manuscript letters written between 1634 and 1648 are preserved in the National Historical Archive in Madrid. Thanks to previous investigations, we know that “the original manuscript collection, […], lacks order and is uncatalogued. […]” and that “a random check of original manuscripts was made, and the conclusion was that the printed version was reliable”.
The Jesuits acted as war correspondents, and even as spies that had firsthand information from reliable sources because they were confessors of crucial people and because they lived in strategic points.
The letters were sent during the second half of the Thirty Years’ War, from 1634 to 1648 there were many events that altered the evolution of history and the development of nations. To have a better conception of the situation of the Jesuits that wrote these letters, let us review the main factors that took part in the 17th century history of Spain: The Spanish internal problems, the Thirty Years’ War, the new world and the inquisition.
Spain was divided in kingdoms, that began to change in 1469 when Fernando of Aragon and Isabel of Castilla got married, thus the two Christian dynasties of the Spanish reign were united. After this union a new era started for what now is considered Spain, also during their reign, the “Spanish Golden Age” takes place, this term is used to refer to the prosperous economic and political years and begins with the encounter of the American Continent in 1492 and the subsequent conquest and exploitation of the New World.
The Spain of the 16th century is powerful, in the year 1519 their King Charles I is named Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire under the name of Charles V. In that same year, Hernán Cortés begins the conquest of the Aztec Empire in America, then they discover an enormous quantity of gold and silver mines. The phrase Plus ultra was taken by Charles V, at first meant the expansion without limits of their territory and power, then it changed its meaning to the idea of exploration and conquest of the New World. Charles V was then, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the King of Spain and the King of the New Spain.
Nevertheless, the 16th century for the Spanish was not that perfect, Charles V and Philip II had to face conflicts with the kingdom of Castilla, Aragón and Navarra; to stablish a complete new and urgent administration in America and to confront the appearing Protestantism. It is significant to remark that by 1519, Ignace de Loyola was 27 years old and was a gentleman for the Viceroy of Navarra. Please see the Timeline in Appendix for further detail.
During the 16th century, Spain was wealthy but not as flourishing because the gold from America was fulfilling the arcs of the sovereigns of Valladolid and paying for weapons and arms for their fleet. Therefore, the expenses of the reign were bigger than the income. Besides, there was a crisis of wheat; according to Braudel the amount of wheat is correlational to the demography, more men mean more wheat, also these kinds of crisis are a catastrophe for the general wealth.
All along the 17th century, “a good part of the peninsular territory lived under the sign of the depopulation, economical decadence, and social instability”. The kingdoms continued separated and the weakest link in the government of the Principality during the reigns of Felipe III and Felipe IV was don Alexos de Marimón, governor of Cataluña from 1613 to 1639. The government of Cataluña was pivotal for the development of the Thirty Years’ War. To see more about the distribution of Spain in the 17th century, please see the map in the Appendix.
When Felipe III died in 1621, there were new ministers: don Baltasar de Zúñiga Guzmán (who had a sudden death on October 1622) and Gaspar de Guzmán y Pimentel Rivera y Velasco de Tovar the count of Olivares. Along the years, Olivares reached a complete and undeniable supremacy in the Court. This supremacy was due to the king’s trust in him and Olivares’ passion for work. In 1625, Olivares was named duke, that is why he was called count-duke (conde-duque in Spanish and how the Jesuit letters refer to him).
The count-duke of Olivares was an essential character in the history of Spain and Europe, his French homologous was Armand Jean du Plessis, cardinal de Richelieu. Hernando de Salazar was a Jesuit and the confessor of Olivares
Meanwhile, all along Spain the sickness, the plague and famine destroyed the fields. In Cervera, after suffering poor harvests in 1627, 1628 and 1629, people were affected by an epidemy, probably related to the plague that was devastating the south of France . In Castilla and Andalucía, around 1632 the economical and demographical contraction hit rock bottom. And in Toledo, par example, went from 12 412 neighbours in 1571 to 10 933 in 1591, and to 4 889 in 1639, this represents a fall of 60 % .
The Jesuits correspondence of this project takes place during the second half of the Thirty Years’ War. This was a political and religious war fought between several countries of central Europe. It is important to note that this section will expand as the project continues in order to compare the official versions of the history with the content of the letters. Let us make a brief recapitulation.
In the 15th century, the invention and diffusion of the printing press was a milestone in the development of world history, one of the first and most evident consequence was the spread of the counter-reform movement led unintentionally by Martín Luther in the 16th century. On 1517, Luther’s 95 theses were just the beginning of a still-going discussion: How much power should the church have?
During the first half of the 16th century, the Catholic church used to grant indulgences for those who donated to the church, this was with the aim to reconstruct St. Peter’s Basilica. Meanwhile, Luther was an intellectual monk, who did not agree with the idea of “selling faith”, he believed that the communication with god does not need intermediaries and that there is absolutely no need to deal with money to be forgiven.
We can consider Luther as the counterpart of Ignace de Loyola, they were contemporaries, and each one embodied the reform and the counter-reform. At the end, both had a spiritual interest different than the rest and achieved that others follow their way of thinking, also both are still remembered and even venerated.
More than two decades after Luther’s excommunication, after the translation of the bible into German. Between 1545 and 1563, the Council of Trent was held in Italy, this is the epitome of the Catholic reformation, the Jesuits Laynez and Salmerón were the most influential consultants . The council responded to Luther’s thesis and institutionalized a new set of rules that the Catholic church had to follow, such as the authorized translation of the bible, the suppression of the commerce of indulgencies, the creation of new catholic art to renew the image of the church.
All along Europe, there was an ideological struggle about which way take, there were supporters of the Catholicism as there were Protestant followers; naturally, this had political implications shown in incidents such as the St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572 or the Prague defenestration in 1618. The latest is considered the symbol that started the Thirty Years’ War.
During the first half of the war, between 1618 to 1635, there were a series of interventions from the main kingdoms in central Europe. Spain was in war since 1621, Spanish troops had fought in Flanders, Italy, central Europe and the New World, the reserves of men and money were almost running out. Let us remember that during this time, the central kingdom of Spain had problems to control Cataluña,
Meanwhile in the Catholic France, Richelieu and Mazarin are the prime minister and cardinal, in spite of their religious beliefs, they decided to make an alliance with the Protestants of Hasbourg and to fight against the Catholics of Spain. Now the key for the security of Spain depended of the reaction of the Catalans while facing the French invasion.
On May 19th, 1635 a French herald arrived at the doors of Brussels to announce a feared an expected event: France was in war with Spain. Neither Richelieu nor Olivares had their hopes on the interior situation of their respective countries, both aimed for a long-lasting peace that allowed them put the interior in order, both had reached to the conclusion that the only prelude to such peace was war.
Simultaneously, the Company of Jesus continues spreading around Europe and the world and gaining adepts and respect. The Jesuits are sensitive to the problem of moral that the troupes had, this was a decisive factor in the battles of the Thirty years’ war . According to the letters, Jesuits are confessors of main characters of the war, and they share the information because of it its vows is obedience.
On December 4th, 1642, Richelieu dies in Paris and in January 1643 Olivares falls into disgrace. The Thirty Years’ War ends with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 but the conflict between France and Spain continued in Cataluña until 1659.
The New World
During the reign of the Spanish Catholic kings, “sailing under Castilian auspices in 1492, but with the support of Aragonese courtiers and Genoese investors, Columbus’ small fleet, seeking a sea route to Asia, made a landfall in the Bahamas and proceeded to further exploration of the Caribbean”. This was the first contact with the American continent, a “discovery” that changed the configuration of both sides of the world.
In 1519 a Spanish fleet arrived at the port of Veracruz under the command of Hernan Cortés. There, he was welcomed by Jerónimo de Aguilar, a Spanish that was already there because of the previous expeditions, he worked as a translator along side with La Malinche, a princess that was held captive. The new land, that is now Mexico, was strongly divided in several kingdoms, the most powerful was the Aztec Empire (now Mexico City).
On Cortes’ way from Veracruz to Mexico City, he made alliances with other kingdoms to defeat the Aztecs together. Demographic collapse, caused by disease, labour exploitation, and the disruption of indigenous society and economy, became widespread . This war lasted until 1521 when the alliance defeated Cuauhtemoc, the last Tlatoani. Immediately, Cortés also subjugated the rest of the kingdoms and the exploitation began.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the King had to stablish an effective management to control the new lands, that is why Antonio de Mendoza y Pacheco was named Viceroy of the New Spain. One of the biggest problems of the Spanish Crown was the prevention of rebellions and separatist movements, the Europeans “employed medieval precedents; concessions of lands, forms of lordship, grants of nobility or knighthoods, and monetary rewards or exemptions to encourage private initiative”.
A direct consequence of the exploitation of the New World was the arriving of precious metals from America to Europe. At the end of the 16th century the stock of gold available in Europe was the double than in the beginning of the century, meanwhile the stocks of silver were triple or even quadruple . The send point in the European side of the transatlantic web was Sevilla and the port of Sanlúcar had the monopoly of the American commerce .
From 1561, the relations between Sevilla and the New World were organized according to a fixed system. Every year, two fleet depart: one in January and one in August. They were divided into two convoys; one goes to the New Spain and the other to South America.
The Hispano-American commercial system based in the port of Sevilla collapsed, this was indubitably one of the most important components of the 1640’s crisis . By this time, Spain was already in war with France during the Thirty Years’ War and the Jesuit letters were still going on.
The Spanish Inquisition was stablished by the Catholic kings Fernando of Aragon and Isabel of Castilla; thus, in the second half of the 15th century, on September 17, 1480, “the momentous step was taken which was to exercise so sinister an influence on the destinies of Spain”.
At first, the Inquisition was planned to identify the heretics among the recently converted from Islam and Judaism, this as strategy to completely expel the moros that still lived in Castilla. Then, all the population, even the Catholic born people were also affected.
In Spain, the Inquisition worked as an effective resource to face the counter-reform because of the threat of dying burned alive and because of the book censorship that prevented the readers from read them.
For example, in Barcelona by 1560 the inquisitors assigned a Jesuit Father to be their censor. “With the Index by his side, he advised worried librarians of religious houses ‘what books they can keep and which they have to tear up and burn’”. This is the main reason that caused the slow development of printing press in Spain.
Even Ignace de Loyola was accused of being heretic; however, the action of the new orders, notably the Jesuits, and the repression brought by the Holy Office and the courts of the inquisition, let the Roman Church regain, in the second part of the 16th century, a little bit of the territory lost because of the counter-reform .
“By the late seventeenth century, Jesuits had become influential in the Inquisition”, nevertheless in their correspondence we can observe how they were constantly accused of heresy. As Lea says, “in Spain the immunities and privileges of the Church were less than elsewhere throughout Christendom”. In the letters, we can also see the case of the Mother Luisa, a nun accused of events related to miracles.
During this work, we have discussed about the Society of Jesus and its system of communication by letters, also we have an overview of its historical reality. The Jesuits were founded in the 16th century by Ignace de Loyola, during this era there was a necessity of religious change, Luther had already pronounced his thesis against the Catholic institution and the reform Protestant and Catholic were touching central Europe. Besides, the other side of the world had been recently discovered the demand of missionaries increased abruptly.
The Constitution of the Society of Jesus establishes a centralized organization, in this way, the superiors are always up to date with all kinds of information; furthermore, the Jesuits are obligated to send periodically letters to their superiors with relevant data about their surroundings, even if the information came from the confessionary, this makes the letters a firsthand source of the history of the Thirty Year War.
It is essential to have an overview of the historical context to understand the topics of the letters, in this paper we divided the historical frame into four aspects: The internal problems of Spain in the 17th century, the Thirty Years’ War, the New World and
The Spanish 16th century is also known as the Golden Age, Spain was the most powerful kingdom in the world because of the King Charles I was also named king if the Holy Roman Empire and because of the importation of precious metals from America; nevertheless, the wealthiness was not granted and the population diminished.
Thirty Years’ War, originally, was a product of the Catholic and Protestant reformation. Latter, it was not a religious war, but a political one, this can be seen when the Catholic French invade Cataluña and declares the war to the Catholic Spanish.
The communication with the New World was mainly trough the port of Sevilla, but it collapsed due to the war and the internal problems, specially with Cataluña. On the other side, the Inquisition played an important role to stop the counter-reformation take place
To conclude, the 17th century letters from the Jesuits of the Memorial Histórico Español, are an exceptional primary resource to deepen in the history and society of that time. This project is intended to help researchers to discover the information that might be still hidden on the letters.
Alain Guillermou. St Ignace de Loyola et la Compagnie de Jésus, Bourges, Seuil, 1960.
Altabella Hernandez, Jose. Fuentes crítico-bibliográficas para la historia de la prensa provincial española, Ph.D., Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, 1983.
Astrain, Antonio. Historia de la Compañía de Jesús en la asistencia de España, Madrid : Razón y Fe, 1912.
Bergman, Hannah E. « A Court Entertainment of 1638, Hispanic Review, 1974, 42, 1, 67‑81.
Bireley, Robert. « Les jésuites et la conduite de l’Etat baroque » , in : , Les Jésuites à l’âge baroque, 1540-1640 , 1996.
—. The Jesuits And The Thirty Years War Kings, Courts, And Confessors Bireley, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Braudel, Fernand. La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II., 9e éditionParis, A. Colin, 1990.
Bruter, Annie. « Entre rhétorique et politique : l’histoire dans les collèges jésuites au XVIIe siècle, Histoire de l’éducation, 1997, 74, 1, 59‑88.
Châtellier Louis. « Les jésuites et l’ordre social » , in : , Les Jésuites à l’âge baroque, 1540-1640 , 1996.
Cohen, Thomas M. et Emanuele, Colombo. « Jesuit Missions, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History 1350-1750, 2015.
Covarrubias, Sebastián de. « Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española » , in : , Reproducido a partir del ejemplar de la Biblioteca de la Real Academia Española , 1611.
Covarrubias, Sebastián de. Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española., Madrid, , 1611.
Crétineau-Joly, Jacques. Histoire religieuse, politique et littéraire de la Compagnie de Jésus : composé sur les documents inédits, Paris, , 1851.
Egido, Teófanes, Burrieza et Revuelta. Los Jesuitas en España y en el mundo hispánico, Madrid, Marcial Pons Historia, 2004.
Elliott, John H. España y su mundo 1500 – 1700, Madrid, Alianza Editorial, 1991.
—. La rebelion de los Catalanes: un estudio sobre la decadencia de España (1598 – 1640), Historia de los movimientos sociales, Mexico, Siglo Veintiuno, 1998.
Giard, Luce et Romano, Antonella. « L’usage jésuite de la correspondance : Sa mise en pratique par le mathématicien Christoph Clavius (1570-1611)1 » , in : , Rome et la science moderne : Entre Renaissance et Lumières , 2013, p. 65‑119.
Jouffroy, Olivier. « El Maquiavelismo degollado » (1636-37) de Claude Clément, édition et étude : l’évolution d’une pensée politique entre mondes ancien et moderne, thesis, Bourgogne Franche-Comté, 2017.
Kamen, Henry. The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, London, Yale University Press, 2014.
Lacouture, Jean. Jésuites: une multibiographie. 1, Les conquérants., Paris, Seuil, 1991.
—. Jésuites: une multibiographie. 2, Les revenants., Paris, Seuil, 1992.
Lea, Henry Charles. A history of the Inquisition of Spain, New York : Macmillan, 1906.
Lebrun, François. L’Europe et le monde : XVIe-XVIIIe Siècle, 3e éditionParis, Armand Colin, 1990.
Marcos Martín, Alberto. España en los siglos XVI, XVII y XVIII: economía y sociedad, Crítica/Historia del mundo moderno, Barcelona, Editorial Crítica, Caja Duero, 2000.
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Morales, Martín. « Las cartas de los jesuítas, los pliegues de un género., Historia y grafía, 2014, n. 43, 51‑76.
Navarro Brotóns, Víctor. « Los Jesuítas y la renovación científica en la España del siglo XVII, Studia Historica: Historia Moderna, 2009, 14, 0.
Palomo, Federico. « De algunas cosas que sucedieron estando en misión: espiritualidad jesuita y escritura misionera en la península ibérica (siglos XVI y XVII), … de Jesus na Península Ibérica nos sécs. XVI e XVII: …, s. d.
Peña Díaz, Manuel. « La Inquisición y la memoria histórica de la revuelta catalana de 1640, Bulletin of Spanish Studies: Hispanic Studies and Research on Spain, Portugal and Latin America, 2015a, 92, 5, 747‑769.
—. « Inquisición, cultura y vida cotidiana en el mundo hispánico (siglos XVI–XVIII), Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 2015b, 92, 5, 651‑653.
Pietri, Luce et Venard, Marc. Le Monde et son histoire, tome 2 : La fin du Moyen Age et les débuts du monde moderne , du XIIIe siècle au XVIIe siècle, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1989.
Rodrigo, F. S., Esteban-Parra et Castro-Diez. « On the Use of the Jesuit Order Private Correspondence Records in Climate Reconstructions: A Case Study from Castille (Spain) for 1634–1648 A.D., Climatic Change, 1998, 40, 3, 625‑645.
Schwartz, Stuart B. « The Iberian Atlantic to 1650, The Oxford Handbook of the Atlantic World: 1450-1850, 2011.
Urzáiz Tortajada, Héctor. Catalogo de autores teatrales del siglo XVII, Madrid, Fundación Universitaria Española, 2002.
Memorial histórico español: colección de documentos, opúsculos y antigüedades que publica la Real Academia de la Historia. Cartas de algunos Padres de la Compañía de Jesús, Academia de la Historia, 1864.
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