Sébastien Mabre-Cramoisy

Histoire du grand schisme d'Occident

Sébastien Cramoisy (1584 – 1669) was the head of one of the famed printing dynasty families of France who excelled particularly during the Counter-Reformation. His grandfather, Sébastien Nivelle, had also been a successful printer [1]. In the beginning of his career, Sébastien Cramoisy mostly published the works of Jesuits and maintained a close relationship with them for much of his tenure. Cramoisy quickly became friends with Cardinal Richelieu in 1614 and began to publish the emerging statesman’s first works, including Richelieu’s first speech to the Estates General. He continued to serve as Richelieu’s personal publisher for the rest of his career, and kept him abreast of all the developments in the printing world in Paris. He won the coveted position of King’s Printer (Imprimeur du Roi) in 1633. Henri-Jean Martin characterizes Cramoisy as a “complete sycophant, losing no opportunity as King’s printer and Director of the Imprimerie Royale [Royal Printing House] to praise the royal family and the King’s Ministers [2].”

One of the reasons why Richelieu so favoured Cramoisy was owing to a family connection: his grandfather, Sébastien Nivelle, was considered one of the heroes of the Catholic League, and as such, his good reputation extended to Cramoisy. Though Sébastien had two sons, Jean and Louis, Jean became a clergyman and did not produce any children. Neither did Louis, which meant the printing business passed to a grandson, Sébastien Mabre-Cramoisy. The CRRS collection does not include any of the books that Cramoisy the elder printed, but it does feature a few of the books that the grandson, Mabre-Cramoisy, printed [3]. In addition, the collection features books printed by Edme Martin [4], the son-in-law of Claude Cramoisy, Sébastien Cramoisy’s brother, who is the printer of one of the books featured in this exhibition.

Cardinal Richelieu tasked Cramoisy with establishing the Imprimerie Royal [5], which he did along with his brothers Gabriel and Claude. He also worked on this with Sublet de Noyers. Sadly, Cardinal Richelieu did not enjoy the establishment of this Imprimerie as he passed away in 1642.

"When it [the Imprimerie Royale] was founded in 1640 Richelieu was at the height of his power and the trade in a critical state after complete disruption by the Thirty Years War and its ruinous effect on the export of big-scale publications which were so costly to produce. The great editions of the Fathers were a matter of pride to the government, not only as part of their Catholic heritage but as examples of French scholarship, and the crowning achievement was the Polyglot Bible, seen as a rival to Plantin’s. One way to establish national standards for such enterprises was by the creation of a Crown Printing and Publishing Office, and here the guiding spirit was Sublet de Noyers, Superintendent of Public Works, whose brief was to encourage new industry. If the highest standards of skill in book production could be combined with the finest scholarship, that would surely be the best way to restore France’s position as cultural leader of Europe, and at the same time the most efficient way to raise the standard of the printers’ art [6]."
Histoire du grand schisme d'Occident

Another notable incident during this era was the crisis of the Stationers’ Guild (1638 – 1643), which concerned disenchantment at the growing amount of rules that the Guild was placing upon printers across the country. One of the unpopular decisions of the Guild was their harsher rules for the admission of who could graduate from a printing apprentice to a master with his own shop. As Martin asserts, “There were too many competitors in the trade and many of the newly qualified printers or booksellers could not afford to open a proper bookshop or printing workshop and simply set up a stall anywhere in the city[7].”  Most printers from smaller towns revolted against the Guild by stoning some members. The news that Antoine Vitré was again up for consideration to be the Guild’s syndic did not sit well with most members in spite of his position as a competent and prominent printer. Other suggested names were Quesnel and Estienne, who were more popular. In the end, none of the printers mentioned won the coveted position. In 1643, two printers were selected as King's Printers: Jacques Dugast and Pierre Moreau.

Histoire du grand schisme d'Occident

Histoire du grand schisme d'Occident

Although the CRRS collection does not include any works printed by Sébastien Cramoisy the elder, the collection does feature a few texts in good condition printed by Sébastien Mabre-Cramoisy. This volume, a history of the Western Schism or Papal Schism of the Catholic Church that lasted from 1378 to 1417. The leather over boards, likely calfskin, is in good condition for its age, and as noted in the bibliographic record, the ridges on the spine appear to be authentic. Cramoisy used engravings for his header images, the elaborate title page compartment, and the decorated initial letters at the start of most sections, which was remarkable considering the expense at the time. While it is unclear whether he marbled the edges of the pages or if a future bookbinder did so, the book is aesthetically pleasing on many levels. 

This item is also notable not only for featuring the required privilège du Roi, but also permission du Réverend Pere Provincial as well as an indication of having been signed by another cleric (signé Estienne Dechamps), which meant it had to pass a few other tests and clear a few more permissions than most books of the era. 


[1] Henri-Jean Martin. Print, Power, and People in 17th-Century France, transl. David Gerard. (Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, 1993), 223.

[2] Ibid, 224-225.

[3] Ibid, 282, 491: “Sébastien Cramoisy was the ‘dominant force’ in Paris publishing for years “and in the period 1669-1687 the firm was controlled by Sébastien Mabre-Cramoisy from a magnificent residence in the Rue St. Jacques, on the very spot where his grandfather and Nivelle had hung out his sign, the Three Swans, many years before.”

[4] Henri-Jean Martin. Le livre français sous l'Ancien Régime. (Paris: Promodis, 1987), 62.

[5] Ibid, 137-138.

[6] Ibid, 314-315.

[7] Ibid, 383. 

Sébastien Mabre-Cramoisy