The Fugger Newsletters: Renaissance Cables

What with all the Cablegate hysteria in the MSM right now, I took out my rather nice 1924 Bodley Head edition of the selection of archives from the Fugger Newsletters. They are, in style and content, the forerunners of what we find on the Web today: An idiosyncratic description of events around the world that are frequently illuminating.

Jacob Fugger by Albrecht Durer

The Fuggers were bankers to many of the Catholic monarchies – especially the Hapsburgs — in the 15th & 16th centuries. The Newsletters were started by Count Philip Eduard Fugger for an audience of one – himself. George T. Matthews explains it best:

“Even in the 2nd part of the 16th century, the Fugger interests were world-wide in scope. Partners, factors, clients and servants of the firm were located in nearly all the commercial and political capitals of Europe, Spanish America, Mediterranean Africa and the Orient. … It would seem when the Fugger representatives abroad learned of the Count’s extraordinary interest in the news, quite routine dispatches were fleshed out with whatever information on whatever subject the agents could obtain.”

The newsletters are filled with descriptions of events great and trivial, from coronations to street crimes.
Two that stand out are the description of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris 1572 & the opulent fifty-one day festival in Constantinople by the Sultan Morad, in honor of the circumcision of his 16-year-old son Mehemed in 1582.

This following paragraph describes Lisbon following the death of the Portuguese king in battle in 1578 & paints a wonderful picture of the surprisingly calm aftermath of the event:

“Otherwise business here continues as though nothing untoward has taken place. The ships that arrived from India are being unloaded, the merchants ply their trade and go to sea; it is the nobility and soldiers alone who have perished. No merchant has suffered thereby since they all stayed behind. The four regents whom the king appointed to rule the kingdom in his absence were ratified in their office by the Cardinal. The Government and Officials deal with the people in so friendly a manner that everyone is astounded thereat. In spite of these terrible tidings no riots have occurred and if a stranger, who had never been here before came to the city, he would swear by all that is holy that no ill-fortune has befallen this kingdom for a hundred years.”

There are some references to the Newsletters online – but the texts themselves don’t appear to be available. None of the descriptions on the web give a true feel for the vast richness of the archives.

The Fugger family was one of the most powerful banking firms in Germany in the Early Modern period. Agents to Emperors and Popes, it was important to stay on top of news regarding markets, social occurances, plagues, etc. Fugger agents reported all the news from the lands where money was lent.

Strangley, Wikipedia doesn’t even mention the news archive… much for online encyclopedias… can’t beat having your own library!

Some ‘Armada’ themed excerpts follow.

Madrid, 18 May 1588
The last courier from Lisbon brings news of there having arrived a letter from London. Therefrom one learns of the preparations which are being made here. The people are reported to be unwilling to embark, and it is presumed that the Catholics will join forces when the Armada arrives. It is also suspected that various lords will be their leaders.

There were many women on board the Armada. The Duke ordered the captains to make a list of how many of them each had in his ship, and he requested them to bring the list to him in three or four days. It was found that there were somewhat more than six hundred. They were then not only put ashore again, but also removed from Lisbon. This was done after the soldiery had already come on board the ships. They were far from pleased on this account, but were comforted with the report that there were comely wenches in England.

Hamburg, 23 June 1588
I simply must tell you that the skipper, Hans Limburger, has arrived here with his vessel from Cadiz. He broke through the embargo, and has a cargo of salt, wine, raisins, cinnamon, and a little sugar. The skipper met an English warship on his way and this brought him into Plymouth, to Drake’s Armada. He was entertained by Drake for three days and the English were rejoicing that the Spanish Armada was at sea. Afterwards Captain Drake gave the skipper a permit, so that he might be allowed to pass, and quickly formed in order and put to sea in spite of a contrary wind. If an action is fought, there will be terrible loss of life. On two consecutive days here the sun and moon have been quite bloody. What this signifies the merciful God alone knows. May he defend the Right!

Postscript. Letters have just come from Cologne reporting that the Prince of Parma has news that the Armada sailed from Lisbon on the 30th of May. God grant it all prosperity!

Antwerp, 2 July 1588
This afternoon news came from Bruges that His Highness the Prince of Parma has received information from Calais that the Spanish and English Armadas have met on the English coast and the Spanish Armada has been beaten. No details are reported.

Salzburg, 14 July 1588
There is war against England in the air, and nothing will come of attempts for peace, for His Holiness the Pope has had a Bull read publicly in the Chapel of the Vatican in the presence of my most gracious Lord of Salzburg. Therein the Queen of England is declared to be dispossessed of her kingdom, her lands and her subjects, being long since a condemned heretic. Her subjects, of whatever rank they be, are released from the vow whereby heretofore they had sworn her allegiance.

The Pope also deprives her of all the titles she had held up to now, divests her of all honors and transfers them all to the King of Spain. On this account the latter is now to declare himself the rightfully chosen and appointed King of England and Ireland, and Protector of the Catholic Faith in that country. He is to wage war upon the Queen and to endeavor to bring her lands and her people under his sway. His Holiness has publicly proclaimed His Majesty King of Spain, England and Ireland, and will bestow this title upon him for all time, on condition, however, that His Majesty when he obtain possession of these provinces pay tribute to the Holy Roman See with a certain yearly pension as is done on behalf of the Kingdom of Naples.

In order that His Majesty should be able to do this with the greater ease, His Holiness is granting him a million crowns for his assistance: half of it for the present putting to sea of the Armada, and the other half whenever His Majesty’s forces have set foot in England and captured an important harbor.

Middelburg, 22 July 1588
Five ships from Lisbon have reached Calais bringing salt and spices. I got this news after closing my last letter, and the rumor was then circulating that these ships had brought tidings that the Armada of the King of Spain had been utterly destroyed and annihilated. These ships would seem to have met a portion of the Armada which had got back to Lisbon. But, as the news reached here so quickly and unexpectedly, little credence was placed in it and I did not care to write anything to you about it. Since then, however, the English mail has come in bringing many letters, and in them it is stated that a vessel has arrived from Lisbon announcing that it twice met ships of the King’s Armada. The first time twelve, the second time seventeen very badly mauled. And when this vessel asked the Spaniards what had become of the rest of the Armada, it received the answer that they did not know, as they had parted company in a storm. The storm had come on so quickly and so unexpectedly that they had had no time to anchor. But what really happened is unknown.

The Fugger Newsletters: Renaissance Cables Part 2 HERE

18 thoughts on “The Fugger Newsletters: Renaissance Cables”

  1. What an amazing document. Your library is certainly a treasure trove.

    The analogy you draw with the Web is certainly fair – I can tell you how China has destroyed the Australian rock lobster industry overnight and you can tell me about the parlous state of fishing in the UK.

    Who would have guessed that the soldiers on the Armada were desperate to get to those comely wenches of your fair island. Poor buggers – lost out all round.

    Thanks so much for sharing this gem, it is appreciated.

  2. Strangley enough, there’s a certain strand in the Orcadian DNA that manifests it’self in ‘dark-skinned’ Orcadians, mainly in the Birsay & Sandwick parishes.

    The theory is that they’re the result of Spanish sailors -wrecked on the voyage around the British Isles- when trying to get back to the Iberian Peninsular.

    Ain’t integration wonderful?

  3. What fascinating documents. I must confess I had never heard of him/them. There are times I really wish I had done history.
    Maybe it’s not too late – I really should read more.

  4. Hi Admin

    Found this in Google Books about Fugger (News to Me)

    What is interesting is that after page 8 and some adverts there is a whole screed about data security which seems very relevant wrt WikiLeaks.

    Wonder what Fugger would have thought about Blogging?


  5. “The theory is that they’re the result of Spanish sailors -wrecked on the voyage around the British Isles- when trying to get back to the Iberian Peninsular.”

    That’s very interesting. I am half Norwegian, and am familiar with a very similar tale. While my appearance would probably be considered to be stereotypical Norwegian, I have a friend who is full-blooded, but whom one might swear was Mediterranean, to look at him. As the difference is quite striking, the topic had at one point or another come up, with the folk wisdom regarding the reason being none other than the identical explanation you relate above. Asking my grandfather, he also indicated the very same.

  6. I am known to you by another name elsewhere, Stu. :) For one reason or another though, I prefer to fly a bit more under the radar when posting anywhere on the wider network. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit……

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