The Ximenez-da Vega Inventory: Introduction

The Ximenez-da Vega inventory is preserved in the notarial collections of the municipal archive of Antwerp. Comprising 31 folios, it records household goods found in Emmanuel Ximenez's house on the Meir in June of 1617, and in so doing provides a remarkable window onto the material surroundings, and by extension the interests, values, and outlook of a wealthy Portuguese merchant family in early seventeenth-century Antwerp.

In order to best understand the inventory we should first situate it in its specific historical context. The document was one of many that would have been drawn up soon after Isabel da Vega's death in order to settle the inheritance due to her children and her other heirs. Under the marriage and inheritance laws of the Low Countries, each marriage concerned three legally separate estates: the personal property of the husband, that of the wife, and the property that they held in common, the marital estate. The latter consisted of assets brought into the union as outlined in the marriage contract, as well as any income either spouse earned during the marriage. With few exceptions (discussed below) husband and wife were each free to will their own property to whomever they chose, but the devolution of the marital estate when one spouse died was dictated by law and varied by city and region. In Antwerp, marital property was considered to be of two types, which were dealt with somewhat differently. The financial assets, typically in the form of renten or annuities, were divided in half, with the surviving spouse keeping his or her own portion and that of the deceased spouse being distributed equally among all the couple's children, usually when they either turned twenty-five (the age of majority) or married. All real estate and movable goods held within the city, together termed the haeffdeyligh goods in the 1582 Rechten, ende Costumen van Antwerpen (Laws and Customs of Antwerp; Emmanuel Ximenez's library contained two copies of these statutes), were similarly divided, but only after the surviving spouse had been accorded a certain portion, or voordeel, which was outlined in the marriage contract. Legally incapacitated heirs, which included anyone who was not a male either over the age of twenty-five or himself already married, were assigned a guardian to act as trustee for their inheritance. If it was the mother who died, guardianship for the purposes of inheritance was outlined in her will and usually (but not necessarily) was assigned to the father; if the father died another adult male was appointed to the role.

Both in the preliminary text and at the end of the Ximenez-da Vega inventory, the notary Fabri states that the items listed constituted the couple's moveable haeffdeyligh goederen. Several details within the document confirm that it was drawn up in order to settle the inheritance of their estate on their children. First, the inventory was made between June 13 and 28, 1617, following the death of Isabel da Vega on May 18. This timeframe fits within dictums of Antwerp inheritance law, which states that within six weeks of the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse was required to provide an inventory of the haeffdeyligh goods to their heir(s) on request. Such a request might well have been made by Isabel and Emmanuel's son Ferdinando, who is mentioned as being over the age of majority and present at the taking of the inventory. Second, the inventory also refers back to Isabel's 1604 will, which has yet to be found in the archives, and mentions that she had there named Emmanuel as guardian of the children – a point only relevant if the inventory has to do with their inheritance. Moreover, the fact that property belonging to the Antwerp chapter of the Knights of Saint Stephen is mentioned as having been excluded from the 'estimate' confirms that the inventory's purpose was to ascertain the value of only the couple's property within the house.

The document that we have lists prices only for the books in Ximenez's library, another version (perhaps from which this was copied) would have been made by the oudkleerkopers Gerard Vrient and Peter van Halen, named within the preliminary text. The oudkleerkopers, who had their own guild, dealt in second-hand goods and were licensed to provide estimates of their worth. Together with Emmanuel, Ferdinando and Duarte Ximenez, Gaspar Massis, and the notary Peter Fabri, Vrient and Van Halen would have moved from room to room and noted down each item and its worth. In the pages following our version of the inventory Fabri writes that Vrient and van Halen, with the assistance of jewelers and booksellers, had arrived at a total estimated value of 39,805 guldens and 8 stuivers for the Meir house's contents. The document continues with 21 short, numbered descriptions of real estate holdings belonging to Ximenez; each entry is a summary that seems to refer to a separate, more detailed set of documents. These property holdings constituted the real estate components of the couple's haeffdeyligh goods, but we are not given a total value for them. The Meir house itself is not mentioned there, as it was in fact not part of the marital property but belonged to the majorat that Emmanuel had inherited from his uncle Fernão (discussed below).

We can presume that any items in the house that belonged to either spouse personally, and thus were not part of the marital estate (for example, inherited jewelry, clothing, or books) were excluded from the inventory. The same would be true for their children's personal belongings. We thus cannot say that the inventory shows us everything that was in the Meir house; however, it does provide a remarkably comprehensive view of the material surroundings of the Ximenez-da Vega family and thus offers numerous insights into their lives and identities. Its most striking aspect is probably the vast library assembled by Emmanuel, which included a rich array of subject matter, from astrology and alchemy to natural history, travel, and theology. We have many records of his purchase of and interest in books; if Isabel made contributions to the library they have gone untraced. The inventory also provides a valuable account of the clothing and jewelry worn by Isabel and Emmanuel, which are described with particular attention to style, adornment, and of course fabric. We also have descriptions, in varying levels of detail, of the furnishings of the home, including tables, chairs, beds, wall coverings, artworks, and a massive collection of silverware. Although we do not have enough information to fully reconstruct the arrangement of the mansion's rooms, the types of objects listed in each space offer insights onto how they were used by various household members. Especially intriguing is the chymical laboratory in the attic of the house that seems to have been used for the making of medicines and tonics. As a historical document, the Ximenez-da Vega inventory thus opens up a wealth of avenues of inquiry for researchers interested in the lived experiences as well as the intellectual worlds of early modern urbanites.

Two additional documents, in different handwriting and on differently sized paper, are bound into the inventory itself, and both likewise have to do with settling the inheritance of the children. The first is an account by Emmanuel Ximenez of his management (sales and acquisitions) of the majorat that he had acquired from his uncle Fernão. The establishment of a majorat, or entitled estate, was the means by which the Low Countries elite could circumvent the legal requisite of equal inheritance for all children. Such an estate was passed down according to the rules of primogeniture and thus aimed to avoid the disbursement of family patrimony; in Emmanuel's case the only heir would probably have been his son Ferdinando, who seems to have been the eldest child. The second document is in Portuguese, is dated to the end of June and 9 August of 1617, and is an accounting of the "estate of Isabel da Vega." Also written by Emmanuel Ximenez, a summary in Dutch added at the end explains that the information was taken from the latter's "books." This is in fact not Isabel's personal estate, but rather her portion of the financial assets of the marital estate. Each entry appears to be a loan owed to the couple, almost all made to private persons (including a number to Gonzalo and Duarte Ximenez). Each principle is divided by half, and then "her" (Isabel's) halves are added for a total of 58,541 guldens, two stuivers and fourteen pennies; the total value of the marriage's financial assets would have thus been twice that number, nearly 120,000 guldens. We also find in this document the names of the couple's six children, probably in the order of their births: Ferdinando, Duarte, Joanna, Nicolo, Jeronimo, and Maria Ximenez, who are listed as their mother's heirs.

The documents that we have here thus give us some idea of the scale of Emmanuel Ximenez's and Isabel da Vega's wealth, and the inheritance that their children eventually received, although many questions still remain. We can say that, in addition to each spouse's personal assets, their marital property was worth well over 160,000 guldens. This is a massive sum that certainly would put them in the top tier of wealth for Antwerp at that time; for perspective, the daily wage of a skilled laborer at this time was about one gulden and four stuivers, and an unskilled worker might make just twelve stuivers. In 1617 Isabel's half of the value of the financial assets of the marriage, nearly 60,000 guldens, would have been split six ways, with Emmanuel managing the funds and the children receiving their inheritances when they turned twenty-five or married, whichever happened first. They would likewise each have been assigned a sixth of the value of the haeffdeyligh goods, but despite our estimate for the Meir household goods it is unclear what that total value would have been, because not only would the real estate need to be added but without the marriage contract we do not know how much Emmanuel's voordeel was or whether it still had to be subtracted from the estate. We furthermore know nothing of Isabel's personal property, or how she allocated it in her will. When Emmanuel died in 1632, the children would have then each inherited an equal portion of his half of the marital property, with the entire majorat presumably going to Ferdinando. It is unclear whether Emmanuel had property outside of both the majorat and the marriage; this would also of course have been outlined in his own will. The discovery of either parent's will or their marriage contract could substantially round out our picture of the family's finances.

Sarah Joan Moran, University of Bern & University of Antwerp


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