Of Fuggers, Lombards and merchant bankers

“The city of Vlme, which belonged to the Fuckers”

Monro, His Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment called Mac-Keys Regiment, originally published in London in 1637, is the story of Colonel Robert Monro and his adventures with a bunch of Scottish mercenaries in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Apart from its value to military historians, it provides fascinating glimpses of early modern Europe, including mention of

the city of Vlme [Ulm, on the Danube halfway between Munich and Strasbourg], which belonged to the Fuckers of Ausburg, that were made Earles by the Emperour, from Marchants having turn’d Souldiers, to serve his Emperiall Majestie.

Fucker => fugger famously turned up in Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (“I was gonna shoot the mother-fugger but you were in the way”), leading Tallulah Bankhead or Dorothy Parker to say on meeting him (or not): “So you’re the man who can’t spell fuck.”

But what’s really strange about this is that Monro–a well-educated, upper-class, Scots Calvinist–uses Fuckers without embarrassment in a book designed to sell into respectable circles, this despite an alternate transliteration of the family name–Fugger–being available and more common. Maybe Monro’s source wrote Fucker and it didn’t occur to Monro to modify it, or maybe people who read military treatises are used to worse.

I’m not going to get into fuck tonight, but I’d be prepared to bet my miserable Google earnings for August that fucker/fugger as a term for a dishonest and domineering business partner is–as the OED suggests–a gift from the Fugger family to its fellow humans, and that the word has, for example, nothing to do with Lithuanian basketball players or Brazilian arts festivals. The happy couple made its way across Germany and the Low Countries, so that Florio can inform us of the following in his odd 1598 Italian-English dictionary, Worlde of Wordes:

Fottitore, a iaper, a sarder, a swiver, a fucker, an occupier

Strangely enough, there seem to be no fuckers in the Romance languages, despite the stranglehold achieved by German mineowners turned bankers and commodity monopolists and speculators–Jakob “Rich” Fucker was the most notorious of these proto-Rockefellers–over southern European polities seeking finance for Old World wars and New World expansion.

Although their reputation and wealth was also based on a willingness to get involved in high-risk loans, the Lombards never became quite as hated as did the fuckers. The pawnbroker set up in 1614 by the Amsterdam authorities to mitigate the effects of usury, De Stadsbank van Lening, is still known with something approaching affection as the lommerd, although people would now refer to Lombard eggs (from Een notabel boecxken van cokeryen, published by Thomas van der Noot in Brussels in 1514) as zabaglione. Like fuckFor Unlawful Carnal Knowledge–and shepherd’s pie, Lombard has a false etymology: Loads Of Money But A Right Dickhead.

Whereas lombard is used by Londoners to refer to well-paid City workers, merchant banker (“You fucking merchant banker!”) is no more a market-related term of abuse than was, for example, Ravi Shankar or Iraqi tanker, although merchant bankers of this kind are are said to espouse the typical lombard belief that charity and other forms of relief begin at home.

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Comments

  1. Nice try, but Flen flyys (pre-1500) tells us of a bunch of East Anglian Carmelites that Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk, which, once you’ve transposed the mystery words one letter back in the alphabet, explains that these gents are not in heaven because they’re fuccant the women of Ely.

  2. Fúcar.-Es un Fucar, ó és más rico que Fúcar.

    Dícese de aquella persona que posee inmensos caudales.

    Antonio Fugger, llamado Fúcar por los españoles, descendiente de una familia de tejedores de Ausburgo (Alemania), y cuyo nombre lleva una de las calles de Madrid, situada entre las de Atocha y San Juan, por haber existido allí las posesiones y oficinas que tenía en esta capital, era un banquero de los más opulentos que se han conocido, el cual floreció en el siglo XVI. Enséñase aún en su patria la casa donde vivió, parte de la cual está convertida hoy en una hostería intitulada de Los tres Moros, y especialmente el salon en que ofreció á Cárlos V aquel espléndido banquete á cuya conclusion quemó en la chimenea el recibo de un millon de florines(7) que el Emperador le había firmado para emprender su campaña contra Túnez. Habiendo manifestado no poca extrañeza el monarca á vista de tamaño desprendimiento, le dijo Fugger: -Señor, quedo suficientemente pagado con el honor que acaba de dispensarme V. M. al dignarse poner los piés en mi casa, y asi renuncio gustoso al reembolso de la suma prestada.

    Este banquero dejó á su muerte seis millones de escudos de oro en metálico, amén de una inmensa cantidad de alhajas y joyas preciosisimas, así como una infinidad de bienes en toda Europa, y hasta en las Indias. De él se asegura que dijo Cárlos V á Francisco I en ocasion de hallarse enseñándole éste en París el tesoro de la corona: «Tengo yo en Alemania un tejedor, que con sólo su dinero podría pagar sobradamente al contado todas estas joyas».

    En una de las plazas de Ausburgo se enhiesta la estatua de bronce dedicada á la memoria de este célebre capitalista.

    (Florilegio o Ramillete alfabético de refranes y modismos comparativos y ponderativos de la lengua castellana definidos razonadamente y en estilo ameno por D. José M. Sbarbi, Madrid, 1873)

  3. Well fugger me sideways, that’s a big door you’ve opened! Here are some more, including a Cervantes item. However los Fúcar are just like Croesus for the Brits–proverbially rich–and there’s no hint of hatred in there.

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