|The Eagle and the Stag. Habsburg state finance and the bankruptcy of Jobst Croy (1591)|
|On the 20th of October 1591 the merchant Jobst Croy and his wife Jacobina fled from Vienna over the border to Moravia, where they were arrested and imprisoned in Olomouc for three years on demand of two relatives of Jacobina, Reinier Volckart and Florian van der Bruck, goldsmiths in Nuremberg and bailsmen for several credits from Nuremberg merchants to the Croys,. In 1594 they were transferred to Nuremberg and sued for fraudulent bankruptcy. In 1597 Jacobina Croy, left as a kind of hostage in prison, whereas her husband was desperately seeking new sources of credit, appealed to the Imperial Chamber Court for her liberation. A copy of the minutes so far collected by the city of Nuremberg was handed over to the Court.
Apart from insights into the dramatic and tragic story of the life of a merchant’s couple these minutes provide a key to the business and financial activities of one of the most important, although hitherto completely ignored, financiers of the Austrian branch of the Habsburg dynasty in the last third of the 16th century. With this key in hand on can also unlock the vast treasury of the Imperial Chamber Archives.
Jobst Croy came from Antwerp via Nuremberg to Vienna in the course of the diaspora of the Flemish and Brabantine merchant class triggered by the revolt of the Netherlands. By marrying Jacobina de Schers in 1562 he inserted himself into the vast network of these merchants dispersed all over Europe. Based on his connections he quickly rose from a simple court purveyor to an important merchant-banker supplying the Viennese court with rising amounts of credit, goods (esp. textiles and food for the supply of the garrisons at the Hungarian-Ottoman frontier), and banking services in a period when the hegemony of South-German merchants in the trade and political finance of the Habsburg lands in East-Central Europe gave way to the predominance of merchants from Northern Italy. Therefore competition between these merchant groups for favours and trading privileges in exchange for the supply of credit to a government constantly haunted by financial distress due to the ongoing warfare with the Ottoman Empire.
The paper attempts to analyse the bankruptcy of Jobst Croy in the context of state finance and sovereign borrowing in the nascent Austro-Hungarian monarchy. This is a remarkably understudied area in the booming field of investigations into the mechanisms and institutional developments of state finance during the early modern period. There are strong indications that Croy’s bankruptcy was to some extent caused by the comparatively underdeveloped state of the financial administration, and that the court decided to let him perish in a moment when an alternative turned up in the person of Bartholomeus Castello. Religious preferences might also have had their share in these manoeuvres.