On 24 June 1539, Robert I Estienne was named ‘Imprimeur & libraire ès lettres hébraïques & latine’ by François I (1494-1547). Robert I’s appointment as King’s Printer was part of François I’s humanist programme of reform. In 1530 the king had founded the Collège Royale (also called the Collège de Trois Langues), on the model of the Collegium Trilingue at Louvain. Its purpose was clear : it was to promote the study of Latin, Greek and Hebrew and the establishment of the king’s printers of Hebrew, Latin, and Greek was developed to facilitate this. It wasn’t long before Robert I was also appointed King’s Printer of Greek, succeeding the first King’s Printer of Greek, Conrad Neobar, who died in 1540.
[Tes Kaines Diathekes hapanta}: Nouum Testamentum. Ex bibliotheca Regia (Paris, 1546), Sig. a3r: an example of Garamond’s Royal Pica or Cicéro.
These appointments were crucial for a number of reasons. From an economic perspective the position of King’s Printer was an attractive one for each work published under the King’s name included a privilege which lasted five years. This privilege allowed the King’s Printer to be the only one allowed to publish the text for this period and the only one to receive money from its publication. In addition, of course, was the prestige attached to what must have been the highest distinction in the Parisian book world at that time. An added bonus was the fact that being King’s Printer ensured Robert I access to the royal manuscript collection. This access provided him with texts in Hebrew and Greek not otherwise available to him. Many of the texts in Worth’s collection were editions of Greek manuscripts such as these.
The decision to appoint Robert I as Royal Printer of Hebrew works seems odd for, unlike Christian Wechel (1495-1554), a printer who had been active in Paris since 1522 and who had actually produced some works in Hebrew prior to 1539, Robert I had not been active in the field of Hebrew printing. His credentials for Greek printing were better: Armstrong tells us that he had the means to print in Greek from early in his printing career.
The position of King’s Printer was by no means new – the first King’s Printer, Pierre le Rouge (d. 1493), had been appointed as early as 1487 – but the posts founded by François I focused more specifically on languages such as Greek, Hebrew and Latin and crucially were accompanied by royal investment in the creation of new types, necessary for the new publications. In 1539 the Regia Graeca Typographia was founded and by the early 1540s, the famous Greek types, known as the Grecs du Roy came into being. Robert I was the first King’s Printer in Greek to use them.
The Grecs du Roy had been commissioned by François I in 1540 and on 1 October 1541 the king issued an order for 225 livres to be paid, via Robert I, to Claude Garamond (d. 1561), who had designed them. As Updike notes, Garamond was ‘the first and perhaps most distinguished of French letter-cutters and type-founders’. His Grecs du Roy appeared, for the first time, in Robert I’s 1544 Eusebius and, in the Worth Library, they may first be seen in Robert I’s 1546 of the Greek New Testament. Garamond, a gifted type designer, is said to have modelled them on the handwriting of the Cretan scholar Angelo Vergecio (1505-69), who worked as a calligrapher at the royal library at Fontainebleau.
Worth’s collection of Estiennes highlights the importance of the Grecs du Roy for the Estienne brand. It also demonstrates the important role played by François I in the career of Robert I for without royal financial backing he might not have been in a position to pay for such costly types. The Grecs du Roy are famous in France for introducing accents and kerned letters. The beauty and delicacy of the various ligatures made Garamond famous. Today his fame continues in the type named after him.
[Tes kaines diathekes hapanta. Evangelion. Kata Matthaion. Kata Markon. Kata Loukan. Kata Ioannen. Praweis ton apostolon]: Nouum Iesu Christi D.N. Testamentum. Ex Bibliotheca Regia (Paris, 1550), an example of the Grecs du Roy.
Schreiber states that the Grecs du Roy ‘are universally acknowledged as the finest ever cut’. One of the high points of their use may be seen in Worth’s copy of the 1550 folio Greek New Testament. This beautiful volume included all three sizes of the Grecs du Roy: including the Royal Pica known as the Cicéro (which had been used in his 1546 New Testament) and the larger Royal Double Pica, known as the Gros-Paragon, which became available in 1550.
Under the name of ‘Regiis Typis’, those characters have become some of the most famous in French history. The reason for their fame is not only due to the beauty of their design but also reflects a debate that has intrigued historians since the sixteenth century. When Robert I left Paris in 1550, shortly after producing the 1550 New Testament in Greek, we are told that he ‘took away with him a series of matrices of […] royal characters, which he had struck for his particular use’. Did Robert I flee to Geneva with the Grecs du Roy ? We know that the types had been created for the institution of King’s Printer, not personally for Robert I. They therefore did not belong to him though as King’s Printer he was mandated to keep the moulds safe.
What do we mean when we say ‘Grecs du Roy’’? The term refers to a number of different objects which all play an important role in the printing process: punches, matrices and moulds. The punches are engraved and from them the matrices are formed and placed in a mould. Tin or lead is then poured into the mould to create a ‘sort’ (a character), which will then be used to print a book. Preserving the punches and matrices was essential because it was from them that the characters would be recast. Had Robert I fled with the punches of the Grecs du Roy it would have been a terrible insult to the French crown, given that François I had paid for them as part of his programme of making Greek texts more easily accessible. True, François I was no longer king, and had been suceeded by his son Henri II, who was considerably less engaged with the Estienne press, but even so, such an action would have been very controversial.
We know, however, that the punches never left France – until 1562 they were kept at Fontainebleau and then moved to Paris. We know also, from Estienne publications printed at Geneva, that the Estiennes had access to the Grecs du Roy and from this we can infer that that they brought a set of matrices with them. The matrices of the Grecs du Roy were immensely important to the Estiennes for ability to print in Greek was essential to their printing agenda, whether they were in Paris or Geneva. This was true not only of Robert I, who had led the way in this regard, but also (and even more so) of his son Henri II. During his forty-year career, Henri II Estienne produced no less than 170 volumes in several languages and of these Greek is one of the most prominent. Henri II’s Greek dictionaries and translations, with their scholarly commentaries, made his name.
His magnum opus, his Thesaurus Graecae linguae, was the high point of a career dedicated to Greek publishing. As Kecskeméti, Boudou and Cazes note, the creation and publication of this gigantic work, cost him a great deal. They suggest that it was the pressure of potential plagiarism which pushed him to publish this work without it being fully finished and polished. This publication, which was intended to be his masterpiece, proved a commercial failure.
The Thesaurus Gracecae Linguae certainly created major financial problems for Henri II but that does not mean it was a failure. Nowadays, this book, just like the Thesaurus Latinae Linguae, is regarded as one of the jewels of the Estienne press. In his Ciceronianum lexicon Grœcolatinum Henri II had announced his Thesaurus project as early as 1557: ‘Ce n’est pas un lexique gréco-latin, ramassis d’annotation les plus ineptes alignées les unes après les autres, […]. Non, c’est un trésor de la langue grecque’. This ‘treasure of the Greek language’ may have been a long time in preparation but when it did appear in 1572, it demonstrated all the gifts of the Estienne printers : their commitment to typography, philological research and scholarly commentary. It is for this reason that Schreiber states that ‘Had Henri Estienne produced nothing else, his name would be forever secure in the history of humanistic scholarship’.
Armstrong, Elizabeth, Robert Estienne, Royal printer (Cambridge, 1954).
Bernard, Auguste, Les Estienne et les types grecs de François Ier, compléments des Annales Stéphaniennes, renfermant l’histoire complète des types royaux, enrichie d’un spécimen de ces caractères et suivie d’une notice historique sur les premières impressions Grecques (Paris 1856).
Kecskeméti, Judith, Boudou, Bénédicte & Cazes, Hélène, La France des Humanistes: Henri II Estienne, éditeur et écrivain (Brepols, 2003).
Schreiber, Fred, The Estiennes. An annotated catalogue of 300 highlights of their various presses (New York, 1982).
Updike, Daniel B, Printing Types. Their history, forms and use 2 vols (Harvard, 1966).
Vallet de Viriville Auguste. ‘Quittance de Robert Estienne pour un à-compte en payement des caractères dits les Grecs du roi (1542)’, Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes, 13 (1852), 169-171.
Vervliet, Hendrik D. L., ‘Robert Estienne’s Printing Types’, The Library, 2, issue 2 (2004), 107-74.
‘King’s Printer and Bookseller of Hebrew and Latin works’ : Armstrong, Elizabeth, Robert Estienne, Royal printer (Cambridge, 1954), p. 117.
 Ibid., p. 122.
 Ibid., p. 51.
 Updike, Daniel B., Printing Types. Their History, Forms, and Use (Harvard, 1966), p. 233.
 Vallet de Viriville Auguste. ‘Quittance de Robert Estienne pour un à-compte en payement des caractères dits les Grecs du roi (1542)’, Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes, 13 (1852), 169-171.
 Updike, Printing Types, p. 234.
 Schreiber, The Estiennes. An annotated catalogue of 300 highlghts of their various presses (New York, 1982), p. 76.
 Vervliet, Hendrik D. L., ‘Robert Estienne’s Printing Types’ The Library, 2, issue 2 (2004), p. 174.
 This text is a personal translation of a sentence that can be found in Auguste Bernard’s study of the Estienne : «[Robert Estienne] emporta avec lui une série de matrices des […] caractères royaux, qu’il avait fait frapper pour son usage particulier». Bernard, Auguste, Les Estienne et les types grecs de François Ier, compléments des Annales stéphaniennes, renfermant l’histoire complète des types royaux, enrichie d’un spécimen de ces caractères et suivie d’une notice historique sur les premières impressions grecques, (Paris 1856), p. 26.
 Bernard, Auguste, Les Estienne et les types grecs de François Ier, compléments des Annales stéphaniennes, renfermant l’histoire complète des types royaux, enrichie d’un spécimen de ces caractères et suivie d’une notice historique sur les premières impressions grecques, (Paris 1856).
 Vervliet, Hendrik D. L., (ed.), The Palaeotypography of the French Renaissance. Selected papers on Sixteenth-century Typefaces, 2 vols (Brill, 2008), i. 387.
 Kecskeméti, Judith, Boudou, Bénédicte & Cazes, Hélène, La France des Humanistes: Henri II estienne, éditeur et écrivain (Brepols, 2003), p. xxii.
 Ibid., p. xxvii.
 This work is not in the Worth Library.
 Kecskeméti, Judith, Boudou, Bénédicte & Cazes, Hélène, La France des Humanistes: Henri II Estienne, éditeur et écrivain (Brepols, 2003), p. xxiii. Translation: ‘It is not a Greco-Latin lexicon, packed with the most inept annotation aligned one after the other, […]. No, it is a treasure of the Greek language’.
 Schreiber, Fred, The Estiennes. An annotated catalogue of 300 highlights of their various presses (New York, 1982), p. 159.