The Fugger family firm

The most important firm of its time

Master weaver Hans Fugger's immigration to the Free Imperial City of Augsburg in 1367 marked the beginning of the Fugger firm's history. In just three generations, the firm rose to be one of the leading mercantile operations in Europe. Hans Fugger came to Augsburg with seed capital. Shrewd business and prudent marriages allowed him to increase his influence and his wealth. With Hans, the Fugger talent for commerce was already at work. He did not personally sit at the loom. He provided cotton and flax for the weavers on credit, securing the finished fustian textiles for himself, which he then sold on at a profit.

Jakob Fugger the Elder and his sons

After Hans's death, the business is led successfully by his widow and his sons Andreas and Jakob, known as »the Elder«. Jakob the Elder founds the lineage of Fugger von der Lilie. In 1466, Jakob Fugger the Elder is already the seventh-richest taxpayer in Augsburg. After his death in 1469, his widow Barbara and his sons Ulrich, Georg and Jakob bring the firm further successes. Jakob is given the sobriquet »the Rich« and to this day is known as the epitome of late medieval merchants with legendary riches and wide-reaching political influence.

Financiers for popes and emperors

Between 1472 and 1486, the family's wealth is doubled. The Fugger firm owns trading bases, so-called "factoring companies" in Venice and Nuremberg, handles its first financing operations for the Roman Curia and already has business connections with the House of Habsburg. In 1473, Ulrich Fugger supported Emperor Frederick in brokering a marriage for his son Maximilian by providing textiles. This marked the beginning of a successful relationship between the Fuggers and the Habsburgs. Jakob Fugger the Rich had been in Venice since he was 14 years old for to be educated as a merchant. Around 1486, he returned to Augsburg, where he soon proved his commercial genius. Through transactions in precious metals, goods and financing, he became the leading merchant of his day. Jakob Fugger's centres of business were in Tyrol, Carinthia and Upper Hungary (modern-day Slovakia). By providing credit to the manorial lords, he was able to have almost monopolistic control of the copper and silver deposits in the region. The loans he provided for the imperial election of Karl V brought him leasing rights for quicksilver mines in Spain, which were a main source of income for the firm for many decades. Parallel to his commercial activities, Jakob the Rich invested in land and manorial properties. The firm was a bank for popes, emperors and kings, was granted the right to mint Roman coins, and traded across continents in goods ranging from copper to newspapers.

Increased investments in land and manorial properties

The heavy commitments in mining and steel, however, were always a source of risk. High levels of investment were required, which meant that capital had to be raised. The many loans to emperors and kings for military campaigns and court operations led to outstanding debts, which could not always be collected. After his death in 1525, Jakob Fugger's nephew and successor Anton moved more of the firm's business to Spain and invested in the purchase of lands and manorial estates. In the following decades, Anton's forward-looking business practices ensured the firm's economic viability. Despite it being wartime, the Fugger firm's assets reached a peak level in 1546. Anton Fugger also had special connections to the Habsburg Emperor Karl V.

End of the firm's activity

The withdrawal from trade in Hungary in 1548 and the losses from the first Spanish bankruptcy in 1557 were signs of change. After the death of his father in 1560, Anton Fugger's son Marx continued consolidating the firm by divesting business areas that had become unprofitable and, together with his brothers, increased land holdings, primarily in Swabia. In 1607, the Spanish crown suspended all payments; however, it wasn't until 1647 that the Fuggers ended all Spanish leasing engagements. In 1657, the Fugger firm also returned its holdings in Tyrolean mines to the manorial lords. In 1658, after almost 300 years, the Fugger family decided to dissolve the firm.