Gold & Spices: The Rise of Commerce in the Middle Ages

By Jean Favier; Caroline Higgitt | Go to book overview
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We have come a long way from the "dusty-footed" merchant. There were still peddlers selling sewing thread and trinkets, knife sharpeners and water carriers, hénouars and dealers to provide salt or shallots to stay-at-home housewives. Along the roadside the blacksmiths' counters were still a common sight, selling the products of their glowing forges, along with glove makers and dressmakers offering the latest fashions, cloth merchants selling measures of cloth, and innkeepers selling wine by the jug.

The first dusty-footed traders bore little resemblance to the first merchants who emerged to satisfy the needs of the resurgent towns of the eleventh century. The small worlds of the peddler and shopkeeper had nothing in common with that of the big businessman, or the trader whose cargo, sailing between distant ports, was never simply the piece of cloth that one could rub between one's fingers; or the banker for whom transfers, reports, and accounts represented values and not objects; or the speculator who regarded the economic climate in Alexandria as a matter for European politics and considered the taxes on an industrial or commercial monopoly fit remuneration for loans extended to the papal state or the Habsburgs.

Cosimo the Elder, who died in 1464, was still involved in managing his wealth. Lorenzo, born in 1449, lived in another world, one in which his son and then his nephew would become popes. Grandson of a Bardi, son of a Tornabuoni—names that ring like florins in the world of business— Lorenzo the Magnificent married an Orsini, a name that in Rome evoked five hundred years of feudal lordship. His great-granddaughter Catherine would become queen of France as would, after her, Marie, granddaughter of Cosimo I, who had been crowned grand duke of Tuscany by Pius V.

By this time the grandnephews of Jacob the Rich were counts of the Holy Roman Empire. Their descendants would be the Fugger princes.

Their posterity was long-lasting, and included the Parisian financiers


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Gold & Spices: The Rise of Commerce in the Middle Ages


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