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The First Performance of Calderòn's El sitio de Bredà*

  • Shirley B. Whitaker (a1)


At the expiration of the Twelve Years’ Truce in 1621, the renewal of hostilities between Spain and the United Provinces opened another phase in the long struggle for mastery of the Low Countries. From the Spanish viewpoint, one of the most heartening events in the years immediately following was the capitulation of the city of Breda, of great strategic importance by reason of its location on the main route to Utrecht and Amsterdam. The Dutch resistance was vigorous, for it was only after a siege lasting many months that the city yielded to Ambrosio Spinola, military commander of the Spanish Netherlands, on June 5, 1625. Ten days later the news reached Madrid.



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This article is a revision of a paper read at the Mountain Interstate Foreign Language Conference at Clemson University on October 11, 1974. I would like to express my appreciation to Professor J. H. Elliott, who furnished me with information concerning several members of the palace secretariat during the reign of Philip IV.



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1 ‘A 15 [de junio] llegó la nueva de haberse entregado la ciudad de Bredá, en Flandes, fuerza inexpugnable del Conde Mauricio, cuyó cerco duro once meses’ (Notirias de Madrid, 1621-1627, ed. Ángel González Palencia [Madrid: Artes Gráficas Municipales, 1942], p. 120).

2 Henri Mérimée, in ‘El ayo de su hijo, comedia de don Guillén de Castro’ (Bulletin Hispanique, 8 [1906], 379), shows that a Sitio de Bredá was one of the comedias in Amelia's repertory listed in a notarial document signed on June 14, 1628, in Valencia. Mérimée republished the Amelia list, with corrections, in Spectacles et comédiens à Valencia (1580-1630) (Toulouse: Privat, and Paris: Picard, 1913), pp. 174-178. See also Restori, Antonio, ‘Un elenco di comedias del 1628,’ in Scritti varii di erudizione e di critica in onore di Rodolfo Renier (Torino: Fratelli Bocca, 1912), pp. 827838 .

3 ‘Ensayo sobre la vida y obras de don Pedro Calderon de la Barca’ (Boletín de la Real Academia Española, 9 [1922], 40). Documentary evidence for Calderón's whereabouts is lacking for the period between April 30, 1623, when he attended the baptism of his nephew José in Madrid, and September 11, 1625, when he signed a legal document there (Cotarelo, p. 46).

4 A Chronology of the Plays of Don Pedro Calderón de la Barca (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1938), pp. 9, 12.

5 For Schrek's arguments that Calderón's knowledge of the siege came chiefly from Obsidio / Bredana / armis / Philippi IIII / avspiciis / Isabellae / dvctv / Ambr. Spinolae / perfecta / scribebat / Hermannvs Hvgo / societatis lesv / Antverpiae, ex officina plantiniana M.DC. XXVI, see the Introduction and Notes to her edition (El sitio de Bredá: Comedia de Don Pedro Calderón de la Barca ['s-Gravenhage: G. B. Van Goor Zonen's U.M. N. V., 1957]). A Spanish translation of Hugo's chronicle appeared in 1627; two English versions were published in 1627 also; and it appeared in French in 1631.

6 ‘De la chronique à la tragi-comédie: Le Siège de Bredá, par Calderón de la Barca,’ Actes des Journées Internationales d'Etude du Baroque, 2 (Montauban: Centre National de Recherches du Baroque, 1967), 75-84.

7 See La renditión de Bredá en la literatura y el arte de España (London: Tamesis Books Limited, 1973), ch. 2, pp. 8-47, where Vosters also discusses Calderón's use of an earlier play on a military subject, Lope de Vega's El asalto de Mastrique (published in 1614), and his debt to a chronicle by Alonso Vázquez, Los sucesos de Flandes y Francia del tiempo de Alejandro Farnese, for details about life in Flanders. The latter work, says Vosters (p. 12), was also one of Lope's sources.

8 Vosters, p. 14.

9 I follow Schrek's edition.

10 Cotarelo, p. 45.

11 Hesse, in ‘Calderón y Velázquez,’ Clavileño, 2, No. 10 (1951), 3, takes the position that the play was commissioned by Philip IV. For an English translation of the article, without the six reproductions of Velázquez’ paintings, see Hispania, 35 (1952), 74-82.

12 See Shergold, N. D. and Varey, J. E., ‘Some Early Calderón Dates,’ Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 38 (1961), 274286 . Shergold, and Varey, , in ‘Some Palace Performances of Seventeenth-Century Plays’ (excluding those by Calderon), BHS, 40 (1963), 214 , say that the account books span the years 1623 to 1637, with a few pages for 1653 and 1654. Those for 1629 cover January only; in 1630 they begin in July. Also missing are those for April 1624 and September 1630.

13 For the text of the loa, see Obras poéticas de don Antonio Hurtado de Mendoza, ed. Rafael Benítez Claros (Madrid: Gráficas Ultra, 1947), II, 10-14. It was printed earlier in two collections of Mendoza's works, El fénix castellano (Lisboa, 1690), pp. 78-80, and Obras líricas, y cómicas, divinas, y humanas (Madrid, n.d. [aprobación 1728, tasa November 1728]), pp. 78-80.

14 Cotarelo, p. 45.

15 Vosters’ evidence (p. 46) for the existence of another comedia on the siege is not convincing. His position is that another play, perhaps the same as the so-called lost comedia which Mendoza's loa introduced, was attributed to Lorenzo Vanderhammen y León. ‘Llevaría el título de Sitio y toma de Bredá,’ he says. In support of his view, he cites the entry on Vanderhammen in the Enciclopedia Universal (Espasa-Calpe). An examination of this entry discloses a Sitio y toma de Breda among the works attributed to Vanderhammen, but it is not identified as a comedia. It may well have been a relación or a poem. I have found nothing which would link Vanderhammen with such a comedia.

16 The uncertainty as to number arises from the fact that the text is printed without formal divisions into dialogue. In the reading I give to the lines, one of the actors (Granados) had at most a very brief speaking part. It seems entirely possible that he stood at the entrance to the place of performance and gestured but did not speak.

17 Pedro de Villegas played Beltrán in Alarcón's Las paredes oyen in 1617; he was still acting in 1638. He is the Pedro de Villegas of the affray with Calderón's brother in 1629 ( Rennert, Hugh A., The Spanish Stage in the Time of Lope de Vega [New York: Hispanic Society of America, 1909], pp. 632633 ).

18 Citations are to the Benítez Claros edition of Mendoza's works. In discussing the loa, I refer to the author, Mendoza, rather than to the actors who recited it.

19 ‘Presidente de Castilla'—President of the Council of Castile, i.e., a male.

20 y Piñuela, José Deleito, El rey se divierte (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1935), p. 56 . María Eugenia died July 21, 1627.

21 Deleito y Piñuela, p. 56.

22 The passage depends on the double meaning of ‘velas’ as the sails of the hostile fleet and as the candles illuminating the hall where the entertainment is taking place. The second meaning of'sol’ is of course the king's majesty.

23 ‘A 5 de noviembre, año de 1625, llegó nueva de haber llegado a Cádiz noventa velas inglesas; y aunque dispararon mucha artillería, no hicieron daño considerable, y por el mal tiempo y el mar no seguro, se levantaron de Cádiz’ (Notkias de Madrid, p. 126).

24 Granados (b. Madrid, 1580) was an actor-manager by 1602. In July 1626 his company played two comedias for the king. His will is dated June 8, 1641 (Rennert, p. 487)-

25 Marañón, Gregorio, in El conde-duque de Olivares: La pasión de mandar, 3rd ed., rev. (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1952), pp. 262263 , says that in 1621 Olivares was given apartments in the Alcázar Real formerly occupied by the Infante Carlos, next to those of the king. He moved to larger quarters when his wife became camarera de la reina, and in 1627 he acquired even larger quarters when the Alcázar was enlarged. Olivares became Duque de Sanlúcar la Mayor on January 5, 1625 (Grandezas y títulos del reino: Guía oficial [Madrid: Ministerio de Justicia, 1961-62], p. 40), but he continued to be known in court circles as ‘el conde.'

26 Shergold, N. D., A History of the Spanish Stage from Medieval Times until the End of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), p. 265 . For a description of the Salón Grande, later known as the Salón Dorado, see the informative article by J. E. Varey, ‘L'Auditoire du Salón dorado de l'Alcázar de Madrid au XVIIe siècle,’ in Dramaturgie et Société, ed. Jean Jacquot (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1968), 1, 77-91. The Salón Grande is treated at greater length in J. E. Varey and N. D. Shergold, eds., Los celos hacen estrellas, by Juan Vélez de Guevara, with a study of the music by Jack Sage (London: Tamesis Books, 1970), pp. lv-lxxi, 143-168.

27 Marañón, p. 264.

28 J. E. Varey, in his study of a cluster of entertainments presented some years later, makes a similar point about the role Olivares assumed in a tourney in which Philip IV also took part (‘Calderón, Cosme Lotti, Velázquez, and the Madrid Festivities of 1636-1637,’ Renaissance Drama, n.s. 1, ed. Samuel Schoenbaum [Evanston, III.: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1968], p. 273).

29 See Davies, Gareth A., A Poet at Court: Antonio Hurtado de Mendoza, 1586-1644 (Oxford: Dolphin, 1971), ch. 1, passim, for a discussion of Mendoza's position as Olivares’ confidant. In addition to holding a royal secretaryship, Mendoza enjoyed in 1623 the income from four accountancies, and he was invested the same year with the military order of Calatrava. In 1625 he became Secretario de la General Inquisición (Davies, pp. 31-32).

30 José Antonio Escudero, Los secretarios de estado y del despacho, 1474-1724 (Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Administrativos, 1969), III, 723. Concerning the direct dependence of the Secretario del Despacho on the favorite, see Escudero, n, 349.

31 For this date I am indebted to Professor J. H. Elliott, who has a letter from Olivares to the Marqués de Aytona, dated September 19, 1627, in which the chief minister laments that Contreras and Insauste had both died during the preceding month.

32 Marañón, p. 260, says that Don Diego was next to Olivares’ sisters in his affections.

33 Escudero, 1, 257.

34 See above, note 31.

35 Escudero, 1, 249. The close connection between Carnero and Olivares which existed in the popular mind is evident in the anecdote quoted by Marañón (p. 404) from the Cartas de jesuitas: ‘Los muchachos dicen que se pasea por el campo de Santa Bárbara en un coche de fuego el Conde-Duque, llevando a Carnero en el estribo. Es tal el miedo que si nose asegurandeque acabó también elcuerpo,aun no están segurosdeque resucite.’

36 In the two early printings of the loa the name is given as Roxas, which Benítez Claros modernizes to Rojas. The secretary's name usually appears as Roças in seventeenth-century documents.

37 Cartas de algunos padres de la Compañía de Jesús sobre los sucesos de la monarquía entre los años de 1634 y 1648, III, Memorial Histórico Español, Vol. 15 (Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia, 1862), [letter of May 17, 1639]. Asperilla is mentioned in Mendoza's ‘En un convite que hizo a los secretarios del conde-duque de Olivares’ ﹛Obras poéticas, 1, 242).

38 The secretary of the Tuscan legation reports in a letter of September 25, 1638: ‘E morto il segretario Asprilla, che doppo il protonotario [Jerónimo de Villaneuva] era il primo nella segretia di palazzo et di Olivares, il quale lo estimava assai et stando male fù a vederlo.’ I owe this reference to Professor J. H. Elliott.

39 Adolfo de Castro, ed., Poetas Uricos de los siglos XVI y XVII, 1, Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, Vol. 32 (Madrid: Sucesores de Hernando, 1921), xxv.

40 La Junta de Reformación, ed. Ángel González Palencia, Archivo Histórico Español, Vol. 5 (Madrid: Voluntad, 1932), p. 481.

41 ‘Este día [14 de abril de 1626] vino nueva de que a Don Francisco de Zapata (por otro nombre Zapatilla) le había hecho su Magestad merced de Conductor de Embaxadores, con dos mil ducados de renta; entrada a la Cámara a las Audiencias; y un título en Italia; y le comienzan a llamar Señoría (Noticias de Madrid, p. 134). The passage is of particular interest in that it shows the kinds of rewards that were within the reach of a successful bureaucrat.

42 Marañón, p. 267.

43 For Olivares’ sisters, see Marañón, p. 21.

44 The Conde de Monterrey received the appointment upon the death of Don Baltasar de Zúñiga (Cartas de Andrés de Almansa y Mendoza, Novedades de esta corte y avisos recibidos de otras partes, 1621-1626, Colección de Libros Españoles Raros y Curiosos, Vol. 17 [Madrid: M. Ginesta, 1886], p. 150).

45 Doña Maria died July 30, 1626 (Noticias de Madrid, p. 145).

46 Agustín G. de Amezúa y Mayo, Opúsculos histórico-literarios, II (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1951), 342. Another Marbán in court circles was Eugenio de Marbán, who had been named Comptroller of the Queen's Household in 1622 (Noticias de Madrid, p. 257). Juan de Marbán seems a likelier identification, since as ayuda de cámara he would have carried out his duties in the king's apartments, whereas Eugenio de Marbán was a member of the queen's official household.

47 Noticias de Madrid, p. 25.

48 The facts of his life are given in Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, ed., Historia de Felipe III, Documentos Inéditos para la Historia de España, Vol. 60 (Madrid: M. Ginesta, 1875), I, lxxiv-lxxv. The Historia de Felipe IV is Part II of his memoirs.

49 Calero's appointment dated from June 6, 1625 (Escudero, III, 708).

50 The Infante Carlos died in 1632. The Cardenal-Infante Fernando left Spain in 1633 to assume the governorship of the Spanish Netherlands; he died in Brussels in 1641.

51 The Infanta María left Spain in 1629 to marry Ferdinand, king of Hungary.

52 ‘Este día [3 de octubre de 1622] entró por Dama de la Reina nuestra Señora Doña Policena de Espínola, hija del Marqués de Espínola, que estaba en Flandes. Lleváronla a Palacio la Condesa de Olivares y la de Monterrey, con toda la nobleza de la Corte’ (Noticias de Madrid, p. 38).

53 It seems probable that the king, and perhaps others of his family, witnessed the performance from behind a jalousie (celosía). That Villegas was merely maintaining a fiction seems to be the most plausible explanation for the lines prefacing the address to the sovereign:

i Oh quien tuviera aquí el rey,

aunque fuera en celosía,

para decille admirando

tan altas partes divinas! (ll. 113-116)

The reason the king was concealed from the spectators’ view was very likely that the entertainment was offered by a subject. This was the case in December 1623, when members of the royal family were guests of the Marqués de Alcañizas: ‘Hizo un festín en su casa el Marqués de Alcañizas y convidó toda la Corte; y el Rey y sus hermanos estuvieron detrás de celosía. Hízose una comedia … (Noticias de Madrid, p. 86). J. E. Varey, ‘L'Auditoire du Salón dorado,’ p. 80, quotes from a description of a performance in the Alcázar in February 1637 which mentions that the Infante Baltasar Carlos made use of a celosía there.

54 The point is made in the comedia as well (ll. 1085-87) that the king of Spain has two hundred thousand men under arms.

55 Mendoza acknowledges the role of the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, in the gains already made against the Dutch (ll. 121-128). The Infanta, who was Philip IV's aunt, is mentioned in the comedia also; see especially ll. 198-200 for praise of her virtues as a ruler. She died in 1633.

56 See Yates, Frances, ‘Charles V and the Idea of Empire,’ in Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), pp. 128 . The study of the imperial theme in Spanish literature remains relatively undeveloped in Arco y Garay, Ricardo del, La idea de imperio en la político y la literatura españolas (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1944), despite its promising title. A good general study on the political significance of court entertainments is Strong, Roy, Splendor at Court: Renaissance Spectacle and the Theater of Power (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973), which is also useful for its annotated bibliography on fgtes (pp. 252-262). See further Orgel, Stephen, The Illusion of Power: Political Theater in the English Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), for observations which in large measure also apply to court theater on the Continent.

57 The Prince of Poland of the comedia is a historical figure, Wladyslaw Sigismund, who visited Spinola's camp during the siege. See Florian Smieja, ‘El príncipe de Polonia ante Bredá según un diario coetáneo,’ Revista de Literatura, 35 (1969 [1971]), 95-103. His inclusion in the comedia is, moreover, a compliment to Philip IV, for Philip's mother and Wladyslaw's mother were sisters. Wladyslaw became king of Poland as Wladyslaw IV Vasa in 1632.


… tiene el sitio

cosa en nuestros tienpos nueba,

pues no le bieron mayor

en los suyos Troya y Grezia—

tiene en torno treinta millas

que son castellanas leguas

diez… . (ll. 2015-2021)

59 Shergold, Spanish Stage, p. 264, points out that stage-directions in texts of seventeenth-century Spanish plays reflect the conditions of the public theaters rather than those of the court. This would appear to be the case in this play. It seems likely that the copyist Martýnez de Mora obtained his text from a theatrical manager who had made an adaptation for the public stage.

60 Villa, Antonio Rodrýguez, in Ambrosio Spinola (Madrid: Fortanet, 1904), pp. 7475 , quotes a letter to Philip III in which Spinola describes the siege works at Ostend in 1604 and refers to the ‘designio’ he is sending to the king.

61 Correspondance de la cour d'Espagne sur les affaires des Pays-Bays an XVIIe siècle, ed. Henri Lonchay and Joseph Cuvelier, II (Brussels: Kiessling, 1927), 221.

62 See the suggestive comments on ceremonial drama in Lindenberger, Herbert, Historical Drama: The Relation of Literature and Reality (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1975), pp. 7886 .

63 Contemporary sources mention other persons of high rank besides the Prince of Poland.

64 For a discussion of the parallels between the play and the painting from the viewpoint of a specialist in literature, see above, Hesse's article.

65 See Vosters, pp. 80-90, for a discussion of the maps of the siege and a refutation of Aron Borelius’ argument that Velázquez followed closely the siege plan in Hugo's Obsidio Bredana. Vosters concludes that the painter probably utilized maps commissioned by the Infanta Isabel Clara, including the famous battle-piece by Callot (1628). These were maps based on plans drawn by military engineers, that is, maps from the same source as those which must have been in Olivares’ possession when Calderón's play was produced at court.

66 The twelve paintings were commissioned for the Salón de Reinos in the Palace of the Buen Retiro. Velázquez’ painting was first exhibited publicly in April 1635 ( López-Rey, José, Velazquez’ Work and World [Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1968], p. 77 , note). For the Salon de Reinos, see Monzó, Elías Tormo y, ‘Velázquez, el Salón de los Reinos del Buen Retiro y el poeta del palacio y del pintor,’ in Pintura, escultura y arquitectura en España; Estudios dispersos (Madrid: Institute Diego Velázquez, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1949), pp. 127246 ; and Caturla, María Luisa, Pinturas, frondas yfuentes del Buen Retiro (Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1947), pp. 2735 . López-Rey, pp. 64-69, gives additional bibliography and reviews questions of identification and attribution of the paintings.

67 Vosters, pp. 35-37, gives a bibliography of relaciones on Breda.

68 E. M. Wilson, in ‘Un memorial perdido de don Pedro Calderón,’ in Homenaje a William L. Fichter (ed. A. David Kossoff and José Amor y Vázquez [Madrid: Castalia, 1971], p. 817), argues that if Calderon had in fact served in Flanders as his biographer Vera Tassis states, it would have been sufficiently important for him to mention in the record of service which he drew up for the memorial. Part of the critical history of El sitio de Bredá is that the play itself has sometimes been taken as lending support to the claim made by Vera Tassis. While it is conceivable that evidence of Calderón's presence at the siege will yet be discovered, there appears to be nothing in the comedia that cannot be explained by sources he would have had at his disposal in Spain in 1625.

69 Elliott, J. H., in his Preface and Appendix VI (Sources) to The Revolt of the Catalans: A Study in the Decline of Spain, 1598-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), discusses the implications the loss of many of Olivares’ papers has for the professional historian.

70 López-Rey, p. 68, finds in Maino's painting The Recapture of Bahia, painted for the Salón de Reinos in the Retiro, the earliest instance of Olivares’ being portrayed as the maker of the king's military victories. In the painting Olivares and an allegorical figure of Victory crown Philip IV with a laurel wreath. Since Maino's painting dates from 1635, the entertainment on Breda provides evidence that Olivares sought to be thus acknowledged some ten years earlier.

* This article is a revision of a paper read at the Mountain Interstate Foreign Language Conference at Clemson University on October 11, 1974. I would like to express my appreciation to Professor J. H. Elliott, who furnished me with information concerning several members of the palace secretariat during the reign of Philip IV.


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