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Investments of a south Bohemian ‘banker’ in the first half of the I 6th century The credit operations of Knight Petr Doudlebsky of Doudleby

Introduction

The boom of the lending business in the early modern Bohemian lands is inseparably connected with the activities of the lower nobility. Knights as lending investors represent an important phenomenon of the economic and political history of Bohemia and Moravia in a period between the middle of the 16th century and the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, as their activity considerably contributed to the transformation of the social elites of that time.

There are many documented cases when the aristocracy’s requirements for self-representation within the spontaneous reception of the new, Renaissance lifestyle led to far-reaching indebtedness and, in more than one case, even to the disintegration of large aristocratic dominions (Ledvinka 1985; Vorel 1998). Skilful knightly entrepreneurs were capable of using client relationships to their nobler patrons to develop lucrative financial deals. Some grew tremendously rich in this manner and used the means to build their own large land complexes, often through the purchase of immovable property from indebted aristocrats. As an illustrative example, we can name members of the knightly family of Malovec of Malovice, who acquired the extensive Hluboka domain in southern Bohemia from the lords of Hradec in the late 16th and early 17th centuries (Buzek 1989; Buzek 1996; Mata 2004).

Another remarkable personage connected with the southern Bohemian milieu is Knight Petr Doudlebsky of Doudleby, who developed his own systematic lending business as early as the first half of the 16th century. Doudlebsky’s activities heralded the behaviour of many later knightly financial entrepreneurs; at the same time, however, his lifestyle was specific or even atypical in many respects. Rather than as an isolated phenomenon, Petr’s lending investments need to be studied with regard to his origin, family ties, and personal life, as they conditioned his business to a considerable extent (Sterneck 2004).

Origin, inheritance, and first business activities

The father of Petr Doudlebsky of Doudleby, Divis (d. 1516), belonged to the large circle of South Bohemian lower nobility that found employment in the services of the leading South Bohemian magnate family, the lords of Rosenberg. He himself worked in the administrative apparatus of the Rosenberg dominion but his precise official function is unknown. Other members of Divis’s generation of the knights of Doudleby were also engaged as officials of the lords of Rosenberg - especially his brother Vilem, who is documented as the burgrave of Cesky Krumlov in 1479-1483 (SOA Trebon, rkp. A 22,1, historicky kvatern, pp. 169, 180).

Along with Vilem and his other brothers, Petr and Jan (i.e. uncles of our Petr Doudlebsky of Doudleby), Divis granted loans to his aristocratic employers in the 1460s and 1470s. A notary in Rosenberg services unflat-teringly describes the brothers as maledicti usurarii. When ticking off debt entries in Rosenberg Libri obligationum, however, the zealous clerk makes similar caustic glosses also about many other creditors whose behaviour cannot yet be regarded as a targeted lending strategy of later entrepreneurs (Pelikan 1953, pp. 153-4, no. 422).

Divis left four sons; after Petr, the eldest, came (in the order of birth) Jirik, Bohuslav, and Frantisek Doudlebsky of Doudleby. They preliminarily agreed on a property settlement on June 30, 1516; its definitive form was approved by parchment deeds of March 19, 1518. Petr, Bohuslav, and Frantisek split among themselves the father’s estates east of Sobeslav and north of Jindrichuv Hradec (the Budislav farmstead with a fortified house and nearby properties), while second-born Jirik kept the remnants of the family property near Ceske Budejovice including a part of the village of Doudleby, which gave name to the Doudlebsky family, and the village of Nedabyle (SOA Trebon, CR - listiny, z Doudleb 2, 2b, 2c, 3, kart. 6, no. 351-3,356-8).

A considerable shift in the property situation of Divis’s sons was in the offing, however. Jink Doudlebsky of Doudleby suddenly died late in 1521 or early in 1522. Even though his younger siblings Bohuslav and Frantisek also had inheritance rights to a part of the deceased’s property, they waived their claims in favour of their eldest brother. Petr Doudlebsky’s land possessions were thus suddenly increased by the addition of estates near Ceske Budejovice (SOA Trebon, CR - listiny, z Doudleb 5, kart. 6, no. 371).

The 1520s were a time of a revived interest in silver-bearing areas near Ceske Budejovice (Koran & Koutek 1947, p. 15). Petr Doudlebsky made use of the fact that land plots inherited from his brother stretched into these areas. Together with Knight Vaclav Metelsky of Feldorf, he asked King Louis Jagellon for a license for precious metal mining near Nedabyle. The sovereign confirmed his consent with the commencement of mining in a privilege of November 4, 1522. For a period of 15 years, the knights did not have to pay fees connected with mining activity to the royal chamber; moreover, they were granted the right of free sale of the yield (SOkA C. Budejovice, AM CB - chronologicka rada, no. 1522/9). Counting on the approval of their request, the two knights had started to mine silver in the new mine of St Anne before July 22, 1522 (Kalousek 1893, pp. 58-9, no. 1403 and 1405).

Still in the first half of the 1520s, before mining near Nedabyle got fully under way (regrettably, we have no information about its profitability), Petr Doudlebsky sold all his property from his brother Jifik to his partner in the mining business for 900 threescore of Meissen groschen. As he did not want the sale of the silver-bearing land to exclude him from participating in the possible proceeds of the mining, however, he conditioned the sale by retaining a claim to one-half of the prospective profits (SOkA C. Budejovice, AM CB - knihy, Kniha konceptu 1538-1550, f. 147r).

 
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