German Society at the Close of The Middle Ages. Belfort Bax

Appendix C.

The celebrated family of Fugger of Augsburg migrated to that city about the year 1370 from a village near Schwabmünchen. What their precise status was in their original home is not very clear; but they would seem to have been above the rank of ordinary peasants, and it is just possible that they may have been Freier or freeholders of land without nobility. At all events, they are said to have cultivated flax and hemp somewhat extensively. The two brothers, Ulrich and Johannes Fugger, on arriving in Augsburg, devoted themselves to weaving of wool and linen, and became master-wearers, possessing several looms. Through marriage they soon acquired the citizenship, and the family continued to rise and flourish during the fifteenth century. Some time before 1450, a Fugger became Grand Master of the Weavers’ Guild, and towards the close of that century Ulrich Fugger was one of the first to take advantage of the rising world-market and of the dislocated feudal conditions of the time. In 1473, he had to settle the financial affairs of Maximilian, who wished to lend money to Charles the Bold. For his services on this occasion he and his brothers were ennobled, and received “lily” as their armorial device. Ulrich was also a patron of Albrecht Dürer, and it was through him that Dürer’s pictures were sent into Italy.

Ulrich Fugger bought from Pope Alexaner VI. the patronage of a canonry near St. Moritz for a thousand ducats. In 1494 he and his brother inaugurated the trade syndicates spoken of in the preceding pages by a company for trading in spices. It is referred to in the Reichstag rescript given in Appendix A. Ulrich died in 1510, leaving seven daughters and three sons; his brother had already died in 1506. They had bought up all the houses on the Weinmarkt, and converted them into a palace, in which they lived conjointly.

Jacob Fugger, a younger son of Ulrich, raised the family to the zenith of its opulence and magnificence. Originally brought up for the Church, he became a canon; but later, on the wish of his father, he renounced the tonsure and devoted himself to commerce. He first went to reside in Venice, in order to get mercantile training in the family warehouse which the Fuggers had established in that city. Venice was then, and for long afterwards, a kind of training school for the merchants of the South German cities. Jacob also made further journeys to the principal commercial towns of Europe, the result of his studies and travels being the expansion of his family business to a degree previously unheard of in the annals of medieval trading. To such a point did he carry his success that soon his wool, silk and spinning business generally, became a mere subordinate matter with him, his chief occupations being mining and banking. Jacob Fugger was, in fact, the first great European capitalist, the Rothschild and Vanderbilt of his day.

In Spain, in the Tyrol, in Hungary and in Carinthia, he bought up lands rich in ore from derelict and impecunious nobles, and succeeded in opening up valuable silver, copper and lead mines. Paracelsus mentions having visited the Fugger mines at Schwatz in the Tyrol in connection with his alchemistic studies. The new route to India afforded by the discovery of the Cape Passage gave Fugger the opportunity of showing his ability to seize a timely advantage from changing conditions. In 1505, lie joined with the two other large commercial houses, those of Welser and Hochstetten, in an undertaking for shipping three cargoes of Indian wares. This class of goods had hitherto come over land by way of the Levant and Venice; but now, for the first time, they were shipped direct from the East Indies by the new Cape route.

The previous year, 1504, Jacob and his brothers had been ennobled by the Emperor Maximilian, Jacob himself being made Imperial Councillor. Leo X. further constituted him Count Palatine and Eques Aureatus. In 1509, Jacob advanced Maximilian as much as 170,000 ducats as a subsidy towards the cost of the Italian War. Subsequently, on the election of Charles V. to the Imperial dignity, he contributed 300,000 ducats to the expenses involved. On one occasion, when he entertained Charles V. as a guest in his palace on the Weinmarkt in Augsburg, he burnt the overdue “acceptances” of the Emperor on a large fire of cinnamon, at that time one of the most costly spices.

The Fuggers acquired in the shape of fallen-in mortgages several feudal territories, comprising numerous villages. In fact, by their financial operations alone, apart from their enormous mercantile transactions, the family amassed an immense fortune. Jacob enlarged the great Fugger palace already referred to, and added a sumptuous choir to the Augsburg church of St. Anna. He also founded the “Fuggerei,” an entire quarter of Augsburg still extant, to be used as almshouses for poor citizens. He died in 1525, leaving as his heirs his two nephews Raimond and Anton.

Residing together in the Fugger palace, they still further added to the renown of their family by their patronage of the new learning and the fine arts. They tool: a distinguished place as patricians in the Rath of their native city, and they were raised by Charles V. into the ranks of the higher nobility as hereditary counts of the Empire, being also granted lands with hereditary jurisdiction. By their operations in finance, they still further increased the territorial acquisitions of their family. All contemporary writers descant on the pomp and munificence of the Fugger establishment. The family continued to flourish up to the Thirty Years’ War, in which they played a considerable part on the Imperial Catholic side. The history of the Fuggers, of their enrichment by gigantic mercantile operations on the basis of the world-market, of the new developments they gave to the time-old practice of money lending, and of the fresh energy and improved methods employed in their mining enterprises, affords a typical instance of the birth and rapid growth of the new constructive principle of capitalism — a birth and growth taking place pari passu with the destructive processes of the disintegration of Feudalism.