The Finest Hour of Jakob Fugger

Statue of Jacob Fugger, Fuggerei, Augsburg. Photo: TES

The arrival of Hans Fugger (1348-1409) in Augsburg in 1367 marked the beginning of a dynasty that financed kings and emperors and owned many industries 150 years later. Fugger was a wealthy weaver from the small village of Graben in Lechfeld, south of Augsburg, known by the battle of Otto the Great (912-973) against the Hungarians in 955. The dynasty split into the branches “Fuggers of the Deer”, named after the coat of arms (a leaping golden bear on blue background) received from Frederic III (1415-1493) and the “ Fuggers of the Lily”, a lily in gold and blue as coat of arms, given by Maximilian I (1459-1519). The former branch sunk into oblivion, the latter grew to become the biggest multinational of its time. The Fuggers became magnates of (copper) mining, trade and financing. Jakob Fugger or Jakob the Rich (1459-1525) should lead this family business to the top, during the period of big changes, the rise of humanism, capitalism, discoveries of new overseas territories, technological innovation, religious unrest, including the Reformation.
The key to the success of Jakob Fugger was his relationship with Maximilian I. Fugger provided loans and received mining rights, trade advantages, land and other economic benefits and social privileges. Maximilian borrowed ever more money and granted ever more to Fugger and raised Jakob to the nobility as count in 1514. The Fuggers went also global, and invested in the New World, in particular in East India. Augsburg, the city of the Fugger dynasty and the famous Fugger House, also became one of the favourite cities of Maximilian, who visited this imperial city (under direct control of the emperor) rather often. As the Habsburg Empire grew, so did the Fugger company. The Augsburg firm became a multinational with many different businesses, such as mining, metal refining, trading of wine, salt, spices, precious metals (the Fuggers had the monopoly in (copper) mining and trade).

The finest hour of Jakob Fugger came in 1519, when the succession of the deceased Maximilian had to be resolved. The king of France, Francis I (1494-1547), was a serious pretender to the Holy Roman imperial crown, because he was supported by (reformed) German princes and above all by the Pope, who felt threatened by the Habsburgers and the emperor was chosen by these (seven) princes. The seven Prince-electors weren´t so much influenced by their religious conviction however, but rather by the financial resources and gifts of Jakob Fugger, who was able to outbid the French king. Jakob supported the candidacy of Charles I of Spain (1500-1558), the grandson of Maximilian I and sun of Philip the Handsome (1478-1506) and Joanna of Castile (1479-1555) and on June 28th 1519, in Frankfurt, the seven Prince-Electors unanimously elected the Habsburger to be Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The Jakob had become an emperor maker and he had changed the course of European History. Imagine, a French king als Holy Roman Emperor. The Fugger imperium was not immune for the Reformation and the subsequent European religious wars however, not to mention the threats by Turkish armies, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Fuggers disappeared as merchants and bankers of Europe´s rulers, but the dynasty continued as landowners, bishops, imperial nobility and politicians. (Source: F. Herre, The life and Times of the Fuggers, Augsburg 2009)