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Currency depreciation was still indulged in by princes. Merchants, however, had learned to protect themselves and accepted depreciated currencies only at discounts. (302) Princes, as an alternative source of funds, strove to exploit the superior credit of their own towns. As the power of princes now increased, such exploitation became possible, to the ultimate ruin of many towns, notably Antwerp. Princes also availed themselves of the doctrine against usury to default on loans, especially if creditors were foreigners. In France and England forced loans to the Crown were still common, usually without interest. All these expedients were insufficient for the costs of the wars. Princes had to supplement them by anticipations of future revenues. These were short-term loans in other words floating debt usually at high rates of interest. This floating debt, when it became overburdensome, was often refunded (sometimes forcibly, as in Spain) into perpetual annuities at lower interest rates. These annuities promised a fixed income until repaid at the convenience of the creditor; the income was secured on specific revenues. From early times recurrent expenses and income grants by princes had been secured by such pledges of specific revenues. Parliaments and towns had raised loans in this way, sometimes on behalf of princes. Now even the Popes began to raise money by the sale of perpetual annuities on the model of those of Venice and Florence. (303) In 1522 the city of Paris raised such a loan on behalf of the Crown, secured by royal revenues. Thus began the famous rentes. In England no funded national debt was issued until the last years of the seventeenth century. But in the Netherlands perpetual and life annuities, which had long been sold by towns, were now increasingly floated by towns on behalf of princes. Bankers now performed miracles of finance in support of their royal patrons. The German bankers, especially those of Augsburg, and more especially the firm of the Fuggers, came to the fore. They controlled the mining of metals in the Tyrol. Fugger bills at Antwerp were considered as safe as gold. (304) Anton Fugger and Nephews of Augsburg in 1546 had a capital of 5 million guilder, the largest, until then, ever held by one firm. In the seventeenth century much of this wealth was lost because of defaults by the Spanish Crown. In the early sixteenth century the Exchange at Antwerp had come to dominate European transactions in bills of exchange. It also dealt in other credit instruments, such as demand notes, deposit certificates, and the bonds of states and towns; these were all usually short-term debts. This Exchange at one time had 5000 members. (305) Sometimes 500 ships a day would enter the port of Antwerp. Commodities were exchanged in another part of town; the Exchange dealt largely in credit instruments. In 1570 Antwerp defaulted on its debts. It could no longer stand aloof from the financial vicissitudes of the Spanish Crown. In 1576 an unpaid Spanish army sacked Antwerp and ruined its commercial prosperity.
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Amsterdam, which was soon to gain its independence from Spain after a war of exhaustion, maintained a solid credit standing, which it retained. In the seventeenth century Amsterdam assumed the position of financial center enjoyed by Antwerp in the sixteenth century. SIXTEENTH CENTURY Interest Rates Loans to Princes. In 1547 Edward VI of England, 1547 1553, paid 14% in London for a loan, although the legal rate had recently been set at 10%. In 1558 Queen Mary, 1553 1558, borrowed in London at 12%. (306) In 1561 Queen Elizabeth I, 1558 1603, who was the first to enforce the legal maximum, borrowed 30,000 pounds in London at 10%. These rates are more moderate than some of the very high rates quoted in earlier centuries for loans to princes. Perhaps this decline was due to the active credit markets that had grown up at Antwerp and elsewhere. Bankers found it tempting to borrow on the Exchange on their own bills, which commanded relatively low rates, and relend to their royal patrons at a worthwhile differential without tying up their own capital. The English Crown now kept financial agents at Antwerp, the most famous of whom was Sir Thomas Gresham, 1519 1579. English Crown loans at Antwerp were reported (308) at the following rates: 1546, 13%; 1548, 12 13%; 1552, 12 14%; 1554, 14%; 1558, 14%. As a consequence of the wars of Charles V, the Spanish Crown became Europe s largest debtor. It was no longer feasible to make a sharp distinction between the credit of the Spanish Crown and the credit of the government of the Spanish Netherlands, or even of the city of Antwerp, because the Crown forced both to borrow for it. In practice much of this borrowing was done on the Antwerp Exchange. In addition, the great banking houses, especially the Fuggers, made direct loans to Charles and his family. Most of these Fugger loans were well secured by concessions, such as the lease of mining property. Others, however, were unsecured. Some were obtained by great pressure and were made largely to ensure collection of earlier debts. The following are examples of loans by the Fuggers to the Hapsburgs: (307) 1508 8000 florins to the Emperor Maximilian I, 1493 1519, secured by the right to farm salt in the Tyrol, and 128,750 florins secured by copper and silver production (no rate). A three-month loan to Charles V at an annual rate of 10%, endorsed by several receivers general (of taxes) in the Netherlands and by several towns. 275,000 florins to Ferdinand I, 1531 1564, brother of Charles V, to secure his election as king of Rome,
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