Ferdinand Columbus

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Ferdinand Columbus
Hernando Colón.jpg
Born(1488-08-24)24 August 1488
Cordoba, Spain
Died12 July 1539(1539-07-12) (aged 50)
Seville, Spain
Parent(s)Christopher Columbus
Beatriz Enríquez de Arana

Ferdinand Columbus (Spanish: Fernando Colón also Hernando, Portuguese: Fernando Colombo, Italian: Fernando Colombo; c. 24 August 1488 – 12 July 1539) was a Spanish bibliographer and cosmographer, the second son of Christopher Columbus. His mother was Beatriz Enriquez de Arana, whom his father never married, but who was Columbus' constant companion in later life.


Columbus was born in Córdoba, Spain, and spent his early years there.[1] After Columbus's return from his first voyage, Fernando was appointed a page to John, Prince of Asturias, but transferred to the service of Queen Isabella I following the young prince's death.

Between the ages of 13 and 15, Columbus was a crew member on his father' fourth voyage to the "New World". After their father's death, Ferdinand accompanied his older half-brother Diego to the New World in 1509 upon Diego's appointment as governor of Hispaniola. Ferdinand preferred a more settled life and returned to Spain a few months later.


Allegory of the Transience of Life (ca. 1480-90), 33.3 x 22.6 cm, engraving printed on vellum. In the collection of the British Museum. This print by the anonymous fifteenth century engraver Master I. A. M. of Zwolle is one example of the early prints collected by Columbus.[2]

As an adult, Columbus was known as a scholar. He had a generous income from his father's New World demesne and used a sizeable fraction of it to buy books. Columbus travelled extensively around Europe to gather books, eventually amassing a personal library of over 15,000 volumes.[3] This library was patronized by educated people in Spain and elsewhere, including the Dutch philosopher Erasmus.

The impressively large library was unique in several ways.

  • First, Columbus personally noted each and every book that he or his associates acquired by listing the date of purchase, the location and how much was paid. Columbus had his associates prepare summaries of each book in his collection and devised a hieroglyphic blueprint of his library.[3] In 2013, history professor Guy Lazure serendipitously stumbled upon the massive catalog, known as the Libro de los Epítomes, long thought lost and consisting of 973 leaves of paper, while conducting unrelated research.[4]
  • Secondly, he sought to take advantage of a recent technological development by devoting the bulk of his purchases to printed books instead of manuscripts. As a result, the library acquired a sizeable number (currently 1,194 titles) of incunabula, or books printed in the years 1453–1500.
  • Third, he employed full-time librarians who, as the scholar Klaus Wagner noted, were required to live on the premises to ensure that their top priority would be the library itself.

Ferdinand Columbus inherited his father' personal library. What remains of these volumes contains much valuable information on Christopher Columbus, his interests, and his explorations.

Provisions were made in Ferdinand Columbus's will to ensure that the library would be maintained after his death, specifically that the collection would not be sold and that more books would be purchased. However, his nephew who inherited the collection took no interest in it and left it abandoned for five years in Maria de Toledo.[5] Even once the collection was transferred from Maria de Toledo, first to San Pablo and then to the Seville Cathedral (Ferdinand's second choice for inheritance of the books), the collect fell victim to destruction during the Inquisition as well as poor storage conditions.[6].

During this time of disputed ownership, the library's size was reduced to about 7,000 titles. This gradually was reduced to fewer than 4,000 books, around a quarter of the initial library.[3] However, what remains of Ferdinand Columbus's library continues to be maintained at the Seville Cathedral.[7] Today, a part of the Biblioteca Colombina, it is accessible for consultation by scholars, students, and bibliophiles alike.[8]

Print collection[edit]

Ferdinand Columbus was also a large-scale collector of old master prints and popular prints. More remarkable than the size of his collection, though at some 3,200 prints it is large, is the catalogue with meticulous descriptions that he had his secretaries make. This survives, although the collection itself has long gone, presumably dispersed at an early date.[9] This manuscript catalogue was published by Mark P. McDonald in 2004, with a single volume monograph the next year (see References).

Father's biography[edit]

Columbus wrote a biography of his father (in Spanish and translated into Italian), Historie del S. D. Fernando Colombo; nelle quali s'ha particolare, & vera relatione della vita, & de fatti dell'Ammiraglio D. Cristoforo Colombo, suo padre: Et dello scoprimento ch'egli fece dell'Indie Occidentali, dette Mondo Nuovo (The life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his son Ferdinand).[10]

In the first paragraph of page 3 of Keen's translation, Columbus dismissed the fanciful story that his father descended from the Colonus mentioned by Tacitus. However, he refers to "those two illustrious Coloni, his relatives". According to Note 1, on page 287, these two "were corsairs not related to each other or to Christopher Columbus, one being Guillame de Casenove, nicknamed Colombo, Admiral of France in the reign of Louis XI". At the top of page 4, Columbus listed Nervi, Cugureo, Bugiasco, Savona, Genoa and Piacenza (all inside the former Republic of Genoa) as possible places of origin. He also stated:

Colombo ... was really the name of his ancestors. But he changed it in order to make it conform to the language of the country in which he came to reside and raise a new estate.

The publication of Historie has been used by historians as providing indirect evidence about the Genoese origin of his father. Columbus's manuscript was eventually inherited by his playboy nephew Luis. Luis was always short of money and sold the manuscript to Baliano de Fornari, "a wealthy and public-spirited Genoese physician". On page xv, Keen wrote, "In the depth of winter the aged Fornari set out for Venice, the publishing center of Italy, to supervise the translation and publication of the book."

On page xxiv, the 25 April 1571 dedication by Giuseppe Moleto states:

Your Lordship [Fornari], then, being an honorable and generous gentleman, desiring to make immortal the memory of this great man, heedless of your Lordship's seventy years, of the season of the year, and of the length of the journey, came from Genoa to Venice with the aim of publishing the aforementioned book ... that the exploits of this eminent man, the true glory of Italy and especially of your Lordship's native city, might be made known.


Fernando Colón died at Seville in 1539 and is buried in the Cathedral of Seville as is his father.


  1. ^ Irving, Washington (1828). A history of the life and voyages of Christopher Columbus, Volume 3. New York, New York: G. & C. Carvill. p. 232.
  2. ^ Master I. A. M. of Zwolle on the website of the British Museum
  3. ^ a b c Flood, Alison (2018-05-11). "How Christopher Columbus's son built 'the world's first search engine'". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-05-11.
  4. ^ Joseph Brean (12 April 2019). "Professor discovers centuries-old attempt by Christopher Columbus's son to summarize every book in existence". National Post.
  5. ^ Wilson-Lee, Edward (2019). The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books. Scribner. p. 326. ISBN 978-1-9821-1139-7.
  6. ^ Wilson-Lee, Edward (2019). The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books. Scribner. pp. 326-327. ISBN 978-1-9821-1139-7.
  7. ^ Wilson-Lee, Edward (2019). The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books. Scribner. p. 326. ISBN 978-1-9821-1139-7.
  8. ^ La Biblioteca , accessed 4 June 2007
  9. ^ Mark P. McDonald, “‘Extremely curious and important’!: reconstructing the print collection of Ferdinand Columbus”, in Christopher Baker, Caroline Elam, Genevieve Warwick (ed.), Collecting prints and drawings in Europe, c. 1500-1750. Ashgate, 2003.
  10. ^ Spanish version, Historia del almirante Don Cristobal Colon en la cual se da particular y verdadera relacion de su vida y de sus hechos, y del descubrimiento de las Indias Occidentales, llamadas Nuevo-mundo, 1892 edition, Madrid: Minnesa. 2 volumes, v.1, v.2; English translation: The life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his son Ferdinand, translated by Benjamin Keen, Greenwood Press (1978)


  • Cohen, J.M. (1969). The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters and Dispatches with Connecting Narrative Drawn from the Life of the Admiral by His Son Hernando Colon and Others. London UK: Penguin Classics. OCLC 60892
  • The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his Son Ferdinand. Translated and annotated by Benjamin Keen. Folio Society, London. 1960.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • Flood, Alison. 'Extraordinary' 500-year-old library catalogue reveals books lost to time." The Guardian
  • McDonald, Mark P. The print collection of Ferdinand Columbus 1488-1539: a Renaissance collector in Seville. 2 vols, London, British Museum Press, 2004.

Further reading[edit]

  • Wilson-Lee, Edward. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World's Greatest Library. New York: Scribner, 2018.
  • Mark McDonald, Ferdinand Columbus, Renaissance Collector, 2005, British Museum Press,ISBN 978-0-7141-2644-9

External links[edit]