The Fuggers

Jacob Fugger / redroom.com

Jacob Fugger / redroom.com

Now before the bloodhounds of Google get hot about the collar and assume I am using a form of Anglo-Saxon four-letter-word in the plural, give me time to assure them I am talking about a German family of bankers.

Several centuries before the first Rothschild began banking in Frankurt, the Fugger family first achieved prominence under Jacob who lived from 1410 to 69. He was chief of the weavers’ guild at Augsberg in southern Germany (pictured).  Then came Ulrich, who supplied Europe with fine cloth and lived from 1441 to 1510, becoming rich enough to lend money on the side of his weaving business to the Habsburgs (q.v.) This was just the beginning.

Jacob (pictured above, 1459 – 1525) was head of the family, (now a banking firm), from 1510 onwards until his death (which even comes to bankers) claimed him in 1525. Luckily for the Fuggers they were German, not Italian, because fifteenth and sixteenth century bankers in Italy cut throats  and poisoned each other. Germans are generally speaking too concerned with being industrious to get het up over human emotions like jealousy and hatred.

Jacob II lent colossal sums of money to Maximilian I and Charles V. Indeed Carlos V would not have become Holy Roman Emperor without Fugger money. But where did it come from, this apparently inexhaustible trickle of millions owned by the Fuggers?  Surely not from cloth? It came from family-owned silver and mercury mines in Germany, and gold from investments in Spanish America, viz. Carlos V again.

The family was involved deeply in papal finances, and the sale of indulgencies (cancelling by the Christian Church of temporary punishment still owed for sins, after they have been forgiven: indulgences could be granted, for example to those who had been on the Crusades, either because their consciences tortured them, or because they needed an indulgence in order to go on the Crusade!  Indulgences had to be paid for). Manufacture and sale of cloth, weaving, silver mines, banking, papal finances and indulgences made the Fuggers the richest family in sixteenth century Europe.

In 1546 the family received titles to add to their wealth and power. But after this peak of prosperity came the decline. Papal bankruptcies and the ravages of the Thirty Year’s War made vast inroads into the Fuggers’ wealth. Nevertheless, they, like the afore-mentioned Rothschilds, maintained an important position in the world of banking by shrewd investment and good management of their immense estates. The family is still banking – and not only in Augsberg.

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