The "Marrano" Mercantilist Theory of Duarte Gomes Solis

By Wachtel, Nathan | The Jewish Quarterly Review, April 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

The "Marrano" Mercantilist Theory of Duarte Gomes Solis


Wachtel, Nathan, The Jewish Quarterly Review


Some DATA ABOUT Duarte Gomes Solis 's biography are provided by himself in his works.1 He was born in Lisbon, in 1561, in a wealthy New Christian family of merchants and bankers. His parents left Portugal and he spent his childhood in Medina del Campo, Spain, famous at this time for its trade fairs. Maybe his parents emigrated because of some trouble with the Inquisition.2 Was Duarte Gomes Solis himself a Judaizer? It seems unlikely (or very well hidden) .

He began his career in 1585 as a merchant in East India. Sailing to Goa he suffered his first shipwreck and survived dramatic episodes on the Mozambique coast, where he was captured by African tribes.3 In Goa, he managed the important office of general administrator of the pepper trade, one of the most precious products exported from India and a monopoly of the Crown. He was a close collaborator of the governor, Manuel de Sousa Coutinho, but after vice-King Mathias de Albuquerque took up the office in 1592, Solis was arrested and sent back to Lisbon, accused of financial irregularities. In Lisbon he was cleared and he returned to Goa the following year (1593).4 He continued his career in East India until 1601, when he returned for good. Duarte Gomes Solis sailed four times around the Cape of Good Hope; the conditions of the ship travels (and Portuguese ship travel in particular) were so uncertain at this time that in four trips, he suffered two shipwrecks, and as for the other two journeys, he was once captured, with his ship, by English pirates.5

After his return to Lisbon, Solis married (in 1604) Violante Mendes, the daughter of one of the wealthiest banker in Portugal, Heitor Mendes Brito.6 Until around 1610 he lived in Madrid near the king's court, carrying out a new career, that oì arbitrata. The term is translated "projector"; the word arbitrio combined the various meanings of "advice" or "opinion," and "measure" or "expedient."7 At the beginning of the seventeenth century, hundreds of these "projectors" inundated the king and the government with proposals for cures of all the social and economic ills of Spain.

Duarte Gomes Solis wrote two important works on politics and economics (and other shorter pieces): in 1622 he published the Diocourde about the Trade of the two Indies, and in 1628 the Speech in favor of the Eaát India Company.9, A look at the respective title pages for the two books shows that while the author's name and the publication date are indicated, there is no mention of the place where they are printed. Further, between the first book and the second, the author has become "Noble Knight of the King's House." Theses details suggest some initial observations: the absence of the publication place likely means that the books (each one of more or less three hundred pages) were published at the author's expense, without authorization of the Inquisition. And the title of "Noble Knight of the King's House" means that even if Duarte Gomes Solis's advice was not always so influential, his personality was well regarded.9

As Solis's works are aimed at the king in Madrid (this was the time of the dynastic union between Spain and Portugal), he writes in Spanish, but in a confused, obscure style: he apologizes frequently for his clumsiness, the disorder of his discourse, repeating that he is a merchant, not a scholar. However, his reasoning gives evidence that he is quite cultivated: he frequently quotes the historians of the Portuguese conquests and colonizations, Joäo de Barros and Damiäo de Go is,10 and he mentions authors from Roman and Greek antiquity as well, such as Cicero, Aristotle, Plato, and Tacitus. In addition to book learning, Solis reflects an impressive geographical culture: all the four continents of the known world are present in his books in a detailed way: from an inventory of the countries, cities, or places mentioned in the Alegación alone, we can reckon fortynine geograpical names in Asia, forty-six in Europe, thirty-two in Africa, and sixteen in America. …

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