Birthday: March 6, 1459
Died At Age: 66
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: Jakob Fugger the Rich, Jakob II
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Augsburg, Germany
Famous as: Entrepreneur, Banker
Spouse/Ex-: Sibylle Fugger
father: Jakob Fugger the Elder
mother: Barbara Fugger
siblings: Ulrich Fugger the Elder
Died on: December 30, 1525
place of death: Augsburg
City: Augsburg, Germany
Who was Jakob Fugger?
Jakob Fugger, also known as Jakob Fugger the Rich, was a famous German mining entrepreneur, merchant, and banker who lived in the 15th century during the ‘Renaissance.’ He belonged to a merchant family from the ‘Free Imperial City of Augsburg’ and was elevated to the status of ‘Grand Burgher of Augsburg’ through marriage. His family business expanded and spread across the whole of Europe. He started with textile trade and grew rapidly to diversify into mining and banking. He gained monopoly over the copper industry in Europe and was a partner to the first and the only German trade expedition to India. Fugger influenced European politics through his hold on banking and was instrumental in making the Spanish king Charles V Holy Roman Emperor. He established ‘Fuggerei,’ which is the oldest social housing complex still in use. IN 1967, his bust was installed in the ‘Walhalla,’ near Regensburg, to honor his achievements and contribution.
Childhood & Early Life
Jakob Fugger was born into the established Fugger merchant family of Augsburg, on March 6, 1459, as the tenth of eleven siblings of Jakob Fugger the Elder and Barbara Basinger. His forefathers had become wealthy by trading in textiles with Italy and his elder brothers expanded the business to spread it over the rest of Europe.
Fugger was expected to join priesthood but his destiny took a turn when his father died. He was ten at the time of the death of his father; his mother headed the business, so Fugger was encouraged to follow her footsteps.
His family extended loans to Emperor Frederick III due to which the family was bestowed with the ‘coat of arms of the Lily’ in 1473. Jakob represented his family business in Venice at the age of 14, while he learnt about banking, bookkeeping, and the metal trade.
When he completed his studies, he was given the responsibility of running the family business in Austria. He was one of the first to gainfully use the double entry system of booking to maintain accounts of the business.
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Fugger consolidated his position in the mining business by giving loans to the silver miners of ‘Salzburg Slate Alps’ and becoming a shareholder in their business. He then bought their silver directly at a cheaper rate without going through middlemen.
In 1485, he came into contact with Archduke Sigismund who was the sole owner of Tyrol. The Archduke was always short of funds due to his lavish living and became dependent on Fugger for heavy loans. Fugger, in return, gained rights to silver and copper mining in Tyrol.
In 1490, the Archduke had to resign due to accusations of mismanagement and King Maximilian of the Holy Roman Empire took direct control of Tyrol. Fugger funded the king and was raised to join the nobility in 1511. He was given the title of Imperial Count in 1514 and became lord of more than 50 villages.
Fugger was instrumental in funding Maximilian’s grandson Charles V become Emperor after Maximilian. He thus maintained his hold over the mining industry and the metal trade.
Fugger made his company the first open trading company in Europe. Though his eldest brother, Ulrich, formally headed the company, Jakob dominated the company’s policies.
He gained monopoly over the copper trade in Central Europe by securing mining rights from the king of Hungary after giving him large sums of money as loans. He then expanded his business by operating smelting plants and constructing roads to export the copper overseas.
Fugger extended loans to the Pope Leo X to build the new ‘St. Peter’s Basilica’ to establish business with the Vatican. He also financed recruitment of the ‘Swiss Guard’ in 1505/1506, which is operational till today.
Though mining and banking were his main businesses, Fugger contributed to the Portuguese fleet for spice trade with India in 1505. When the king of Portugal declared spice trade to be a monopoly of the crown, he was still dependent on Fugger for copper, which was required for trade with India.
After the death of Maximilian, he gave financial support to Carlos I that ultimately resulted in Carlos being crowned as Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor on June 1, 1519. This further indebted the royalty and enhanced the monopoly of Fugger over trade.
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Personal Life & Legacy
Jakob was married to Sybille Arzt, the daughter of an eminent Augsburg Grand Burgher. He was 40 at the time of his marriage. . With this marriage, he was elevated to the status of ‘Grand Burgher’ and also helped him achieve his aim of becoming a city council member.
The couple had no children of their own. Fugger presented his wife with lots of jewelry, so that she could compare herself with the royalty.
Fugger outlived his brothers and became the sole owner of the family business. He created his own news service to keep himself updated with the market situation.
He was a staunch Roman Catholic and believed that only Catholics should be cared for. He played a major role in the ‘Counterreformation of Augsburg,’ which was predominantly Protestant.
After his death in December 1525, his wife married his business partner and converted to the Protestant faith. He left behind a huge legacy which was transferred to his nephews, Raymund and Anton Fugger, who further expanded the business.
Fugger’s grandfather was a peasant who came to Augsburg and started a business. He became rich by marrying the daughter of a leading townsman. When Fugger’s grandfather died, his grandmother ran the business for 20 odd years. Similarly, when his father died, the business was run by his mother for over two decades.
Fugger had to be bailed out of insolvency by Maximilian I when the Pope and various claimants demanded a payback of large sums of money invested by Cardinal Melchior without the knowledge of the Vatican. In return, he had to continue to support Maximilian and the house of Habsburg financially.
He founded the Fugger chapel in the Carmelite monastery’s St. Anna church in Augsburg, which ultimately became the burial place for the Fugger brothers. It was a way of elevating the Fugger’s to nobility. The church later turned into a Protestant place of worship.
He built the ‘Fuggerhauser’ as his private residence and administrative centre, where he lived with his wife. Most of the building was destroyed during the bombing of ‘World War II.’ However, parts of it are still standing and are occupied by the Fugger family.
He established a foundation in his local parish that was empowered by Pope Leo X to select its own priest. The foundation exists till this day.
In 1531, he funded the construction of a home for the underprivileged named ‘Fuggerei’ where the poor could reside at a nominal rent. The institution is functional till date and has become a tourist attraction.
Besides funding rulers, Fugger had the skill of convincing others to loan him money when he needed it to invest. Several cardinals, dukes, and bishops gave him large sums of money as loans to invest.
Fugger was accused of corruption and stealing from the poor during the German Peasant’s war that broke out in 1524. He supported the nobles and had to leave Augsburg for some time due to a threat to his life.