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Rutger Velpius and the first prints made in Mons

The educational institution "le collège de Houdain" was founded in Mons in 1545 and was the seat of the Sovereign Council of Hainaut. There was a great need for books at this time. That is why the city's magistrate sent an application to the central government for a print shop in Mons. The authorities were convinced due to political circumstances.
The first print shop in Mons was founded in 1580 in the midst of troubles. The previous year, the Arras Confederation and the Union of Utrecht were heavily focused on the separation of the Netherlands. While the north were ruled by the House of Orange-Nassau, the south remained under Spanish rule. Alexander Farnese, governor of the Netherlands from 1578, established his headquarters in Mons which then became a temporary political, military and religious authority since the Bishop of Cambrai, Louis de Berlaimont, had found refuge there. And so, a printing press in Mons became a necessity as Brussels and Antwerp, major printing cities, were, at that time, in the hands of insurgents and were reclaimed in 1585.
As evidenced by letters patent dated 14th January 1580, following a request of the magistrate and the rector of le collège de Houdain, Philip II authorised Mons to own a printing press. The first printer in Mons was Rutger Velpius, a bookseller from Leuven and also the son of a printer. He arrived in Mons in May 1580 and received financial aid from the municipal authority for opening a print shop in Nouveau Marché - the current Marché aux Herbes - which was transferred shortly after to Rue Neuve.
The first print bearing the address of Mons was the Kakogeitnia seu Mala vicinia libellus, vicinos malos velut catalogo recensens of Libert Houtem, professor at le collège de Houdain. However, it is likely that the print was made in Leuven with printing equipment belonging to Jan Maes which Velpius did not possess at that time. In Mons, Velpius published mainly circumstantial writings inspired by the political situation at that time. He remained in Mons for only a few years. When Brussels was reconquered by Farnese and once again became the capital of the Netherlands in 1585, Velpius followed the government there and continued his activities. He died in there in 1614.

Lettre intercepte du prince d’Orange au duc d’Alençon: Velpius' 8th print in Mons (August or September 1580).

Le Renart découvert, 2nd edition, Velpius' 9th print in Mons (towards the end of 1580). The first edition was printed in late August or early September 1580. The text is attributed to Jean Richardot (1540-1609), an opportunist who, having been close to the Calvinists, turned against them to regain favour with the royal power. The Renart refers to William of Orange who is presented as a cunning character, responsible for the misery that befell the Netherlands.

Le retour de la concorde aux Pays-Bas, 2nd edition, Velpius' 11th print in Mons (towards the end of 1580). The first edition dates back to August or September 1580.

Copie de certaine lettre close, Velpius' 12th print in Mons (September 1580).

Advertissement de la victoire obtenue par l’armée de sa majesté, Velpius' 13th print in Mons (October 1580).

Lettres de Monseigneur le prince de Parme, Velpius' 14th print in Mons (late October 1580).

Pointz et articles des charges proposées contre Guillaume de Hornes, seigneur de Héze, 2nd edition, Velpius' 17th print in Mons (November or December 1580). The first edition was also published in November or December 1580).

Diverses lettres tant du duc d’Anjou que d’aultres trouvées sur le sieur d’Anvain, Velpius' 19th print in Mons (December 1580). 

René Plisnier


Chr. PIÉRARD et P. RUELLE, Les premiers livres imprimés à Mons, Mons, 1966 ; R. PLISNIER, L’imprimerie à Mons XVIe-XIXe siècle, dans La Bibliothèque de l’Université de Mons-Hainaut 1797-1997, Mons, 1997, pp. 72-77.