- Response to Thomas Max Safley’s review of The Fuggers of Augsburg in GSR 36.3 (2013)
The following is a response by Mark Häberlein to a review of his book, The Fuggers of Augsburg, which was published in GSR 36.3 (2013). The reviewer, Thomas Max Safley, was given the opportunity to respond but declined to do so.
While authors have to accept that some readers don’t like their books, gross distortions should not remain unanswered. Thomas Max Safley’s destructive review of my book The Fuggers of Augsburg in the October 2013 issue of the German Studies Review is such a case.
The Fuggers of Augsburg is the English version of a book that came out in German in 2006 with Kohlhammer and was favorably reviewed in several leading German-language historical journals. It synthesizes more than a century of scholarship on the Fugger family from its arrival in Augsburg in 1367 to the end of the Thirty Years’ War. To my knowledge, it is to date the most comprehensive monograph on the topic in either English or German, and even a superficial comparison with older works like Götz von Pölnitz’ Die Fugger (1960) or Günter Ogger’s Kauf dir einen Kaiser (1978) will reveal huge differences in style and substance. Therefore Safley’s claim that the book uncritically copies the biases and errors of other scholars is highly misleading. Fortunately, other scholars have correctly grasped the book’s intention and scope in fair-minded and balanced reviews in the American Historical Review, Biography, and the Renaissance Quarterly. By contrast Safley, whose own work on Augsburg tends to be very narrowly focused, seems to think that a book cannot be called “meticulously researched” unless it is written from the primary sources. As everyone who knows the topic can affirm, however, to write such a history of the Fuggers over a period of 300 years would require several lifetimes of study in dozens of archives all over Europe.
When Safley gives examples for his characterization of the book as “not satisfying” and even “deeply frustrating,” they seem rather petty ones given the strong language which he uses. Thus he takes issue with my assessment that Hans Fugger’s widow Elisabeth Gefattermann “must have been a remarkably business-minded woman” (13). He correctly states that my judgment is based on Peter Geffcken’s calculations of the personal wealth of Augsburg’s economic elite, which show that Elisabeth’s taxable wealth more than doubled during the twenty-five years after the death of her husband. As Geffcken is a leading authority on the subject, and as many studies have shown that women in late medieval and early modern Germany faced considerable legal and social constraints when they engaged in commerce, I consider this a solid conclusion. Elisabeth’s success in business should also be emphasized because the Fuggers later excluded women from the management of the family firm.
What is most troubling about this review is that Safley knows perfectly well that my book is informed by two decades of original research on the merchant companies of [End Page 248] sixteenth-century Augsburg. Years ago, he published his article “Bankruptcy: Family and Finance in Early Modern Augsburg” (Journal of European Economic History 29, no. 1 : 53–72), which extensively quotes my book Brüder, Freunde und Betrüger. Soziale Beziehungen, Normen und Konflikte in der Augsburger Kaufmannschaft um die Mitte des 16. Jahrhunderts (1998) and rephrases some of the book’s arguments. In 2007, when the German version of The Fuggers of Augsburg was already on the market, Safley wrote to me, feigning interest in my work and suggesting cooperation. On his invitation, I participated in panels at two international conferences in 2008 and recently contributed an essay to a volume which he edited (“Merchants’ Bankruptcies, Economic Development, and Social Relations in German Towns during the Long Sixteenth Century,” in The History of Bankruptcy: Economic, Social and Cultural Implications in Early Modern Europe, ed. Thomas Max Safley [London: Routledge, 2013], 19–33). In an email, Safley thanked the contributors for their “excellent work” and added: “You produced a fine collection...