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The Collation

Censorship and the Valladolid Folio

A few months before Henry Folger bought the Valladolid Folio (STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07) in 1928, he wrote to the dealer that “it was only a curiosity, with but little literary value.”1 This Second Folio, a second edition of Shakespeare’s plays published in 1632, that he bought once belonged to the St. Alban’s College Library in Valladolid, Spain. Inscribed within the book’s title page is a censor’s certificate, belonging to Guillermo Sánchez, for the Inquisition. Black ink shrouds phrases and entire lines of plays throughout the Valladolid Folio. You might also notice that Measure for Measure has been eliminated in its entirety.

Mr. Folger, beyond doubt, is correct in that the book inspires questions surrounding its history. In my research for this blog post, I asked: how did this book end up in Spain? Why was it censored by the Inquisition, and who was Guillermo Sánchez? And why was an entire play removed while some passages have minimal “corrections”?

It is unclear how the Valladolid Folio got to St. Alban’s, a Jesuit seminary. The seminary might have gotten the copy from a student’s personal belongings or perhaps from an English press. The latter is an interesting possibility, since the Spanish Inquisition prohibited the importing of foreign books. St. Alban’s, however, was granted a permit to import Protestant literature.

The Jesuit seminary was founded by Robert Persons in 1589. The English Jesuit Mission, established in 1580-1581, founded seminaries like St. Alban’s across continental Europe to train clergy who would return home and convert England and Wales to Catholicism. The young seminarians were trained to debate against Protestants, so books on religion, history, and literature were vital to their training.

No copies of Shakespeare, other than the Valladolid Folio, were thought to have existed in Spain before the eighteenth century.2 That is, until a 1634 edition of The Two Noble Kinsmen was found in the Royal Scots College of Salamanca in 2020.3 It is uncertain which book entered Spain first.4 John Stone, the researcher who found the quarto nested among philosophy books (and a 2021-22 Folger fellow), speculates that the book might have arrived at the college as part of a student’s personal library or at the request of the rector. Much like St. Alban’s, the Royal Scot’s College trained Scottish missionaries so they could evangelize their homeland, Scotland, upon return.

The title page of a Second Folio printing of Shakespeare's works with a portrait of Shakespeare and a handwritten inscription in latin
Valladolid Folio’s title page bearing the censor’s certificate. It reads: “Opus auctoritate Sancti officij permissum et expurgatum eadem auctoritate per Guilielmum Sanchæum e Socte Jesu.”

Guillermo Sánchez, the Valladolid Folio’s censor, was probably just the pen name of William Sankey, an English Catholic exile.5 Records of the English Province name a William Sankey born in 1609. He entered the religious order in 1628 in the Spanish Netherlands, eventually moving to Valladolid in 1641 to serve at St. Alban’s.

Before a book was available to read, it was inspected by the Valladolid tribunal. Without specific instructions, Sankey censored the Valladolid Folio as he sought fit. He generally removed sexual references, blasphemous language, and passages that painted Catholics in a poor light (though he was not consistent with his censorship). He probably did not inspect all of the plays since more than half are untouched. Below is one of the passages he censored. On leaf 5br, Sankey only censors the reference to a monk poisoning the king in The Life and Death of King John.

A page of a second folio printing of Shakespeare's plays showing scene 5, 6, and part of 7 of The Life and Death of King John, with several words blacked out using ink
On this page, Sankey only censors the references to a monk poisoning the king in The Life and Death of King John

Perhaps Sankey completely excised Measure for Measure because he viewed that the play charged the Catholic Church with wickedness to an unforgivable degree. And the reason why he censored the other plays lightly, in comparison, is because he possibly viewed Shakespeare’s plays as instructive for young seminarians to debate Protestant views. (After all, English colleges like St. Alban’s were founded for this reason!)

The Valladolid Folio is a reminder that the censorship process is not cut and dry; it is complex. This book is also an interesting entry point to the study of Anglo-Spanish connections, a counterintuitive idea considering the Black Legend of Spain. History, of course, is way more complicated than the ideas we use to frame it.


Cummings, Brian. “Shakespeare and the Inquisition,” Shakespeare Survey, 65:306–22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Revilla-Rivas, Marta. “Tools for the English Mission: English Books at St Alban’s College Library, Valladolid.” In Exile, Diplomacy and Texts, edited by Ana Sáez-Hidalgo and Berta Cano-Echevarría, 185–207. Exchanges between Iberia and the British Isles, 1500–1767. Brill, 2021.

  1. Henry Folger to Maggs Bros, 10 March 1928, Folger Library, STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07, provenance file, MS letter.
  2. Cummings, 310.
  3. For more information on this finding, read Alex Fox’s article “Rare Edition of Shakespeare’s Last Play Found in Spanish Library”.
  4. For an in-depth meditation into which copy is older, read John Stone’s article: The Two Noble Kinsmen and Eighteen other Newly Discovered Early Modern English Quartos in an Hispano-Scottish Collection, Notes and Queries, Volume 67, Issue 3, September 2020, Pages 367–374,
  5. See Cummings, 310.