Friday, September 4, 2009

Bankers, pawnbrokers, actors, jugglers, acrobats, quacks, and brothel keepers...in 16th Century Holland

Posted on Credit Slips by Adam Levitin:

It's pretty amazing how the status of some professions has changed over time. I came across this astounding passage in Simon Schama's The Embarassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (now you know what I read for fun):

"Bankers were excluded from communion by an ordinance of 1581, joining a list of other shady occupations---pawnbrokers, actors, jugglers, acrobats, quacks, and brothel keepers---that were disqualified from receiving God's grace. Their wives were permitted to join the Lord's Supper, but only on condition that they publicly declared their repugnance for their husband's profession! Their families shared the taint and were only permitted to join communion after a public profession of distaste for dealing in money. It was not until 1658 that the States of Holland [the representatives of the estates of nobles and commoners to the court of Holland] persuaded the church to withdraw this humiliating prohibition on "lombards."

That's a remarkable shunning of those in finance by a culture that was absolutely obsessed with material goods of every sort (tulips, satin, brocade, damasks, gold, silver, pearls, etc.). There's a long history of religious discomfort with finance, but to see this in as commercial of an early modern culture as there was surprised me.

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