About the Fugger newsletters

The term Fuggerzeitungen often appears in studies on the history of media and communication, and is used in the German-speaking world as a general synonym for sixteenth-century handwritten newsletters. More precisely, however, the term refers to a body of such newsletters collected by the brothers Octavian Secundus (1549-1600) and Philipp Eduard  Fugger (1546-1618) . The documents gathered by Octavian Secundus were originally contained within thirty manuscript volumes, covering the period 1568 to 1600. It was Octavian himself who had the individual newsletters bound together chronologically. After his death the collection was inherited by Philipp Eduard, but the first eight volumes went missing. Philipp Eduard replaced these with two volumes from his personal collection (dating 1568-1575), and added further volumes covering the period 1601 to 1604.
When the library of the Fuggers was sold to the Imperial Library in 1656, the Fuggerzeitungen also came from Augsburg to Vienna. Today the Viennese collection of Fuggerzeitungen – preserved in the Austrian National Library’s Sammlung für Handschriften und alte Drucke – includes in twenty-seven manuscript volumes (Cod. 8949-8975) more than 15,000 individual newsletters and 1,000 other documents, covering the period 1568 to 1605.
The newsletters contain reports from various European cities, but also from America, North Africa and Asia. Each report normally bears a date and the place from which it was sent, and varies in length from a few lines to six pages (with an average, however, of two pages). A report can address a single or multiple topics, which are normally broken down into separate paragraphs. Newsletters from European centres, such as Venice or Antwerp, also often contain reports from elsewhere. So, for instance, those from Venice often brought news from Genoa, Milan, or Turin, but also from Istanbul or Poland.
As for the contents, the Fuggerzeitungen cover almost all topics found in present-day newspapers. Political and military reports are a focal point, but social events are also well represented: festivities, courtly ceremonies, religion and confession, crimes, economic reports.
Most of the Fuggerzeitungen preserved in Vienna were delivered from Rome, Venice, Antwerp, and Cologne – the most important trans-regional information centres of their time, each with a share of 13-15% of the surviving holdings. Newsletters from Vienna, Prague, and Lyon each make up about 6% of the holdings: as seats of the imperial court, Vienna and Prague were particularly important, whilst Lyon played a central role for reporting from France. About 82% of the newsletters are in German, followed by Italian with 17%, whereas French, Spanish and Latin are all below 1%.
Previous scholarship on the Fuggerzeitungen (for an overview see Katrin KELLER (2012) [see bibliography]) set the collection of the two Fugger brothers in a strongly commercial context. It was assumed that the newsletters were used by the famous entrepreneurs as an internal information sheet, which was primarily intended to facilitate economic decision making. Recent research (mainly Renate PIEPER (2000), Zsusza BARBARICS (2006), Cornel ZWIERLEIN (2006, 2011), Oswald BAUER (2011) [see bibliography]), however, has revealed the weakness of this hypothesis. The subjects dealt with in the Viennese Fuggerzeitungen do not imply that the primary function of the newsletters was economic. Moreover, it is hard to imagine that economic decisions could have been made on the basis of the newsletters. The focus of the coverage is more on general, political, military, and social events.
Another basic assumption of the existing literature is that the Fuggerzeitungen were primarily a private medium or instrument of the Fuggers. This hypothesis also requires revision following recent studies on the birth and development of handwritten newspapers (Zdeněk ŠIMEČEK (1987), Cornel ZWIERLEIN (2011), Zsuzsa BARBARICS (2006), Holger BÖNING (2008), Heiko DROSTE (2011) [see bibliography]). The Fugger trading company may have played a certain role in the diffusion of the newspapers, but this should not be overestimated. The Fuggerzeitungen can be better understood as a fragment of the sixteenth-century media landscape that survived thanks to the collecting interests particularly of Octavian Secundus Fugger. Contrary to what has often been said, the authors of the newsletters were only occasionally directly employed by the Fuggers. In most cases, they were professional writers or private persons more or less directly involved in the events of their time, such as secretaries of nuncios, courtiers at the imperial court, or participants in military expeditions.
The structure of the newsletters is also far from uniform. The Fuggerzeitungen preserved in Vienna cast light on a development that took place over around forty years, and are thus distinctly heterogeneous. In the early newspapers, the style of reporting remains less professionalised, and sometimes focuses on diverse events and curiosities alongside political and military news. However, particularly in the newsletters from the four most important information centres – Antwerp, Cologne, Rome, and Venice – there soon emerges a standardisation of form and a linguistic style characterised by brevity and conciseness, as well as a high degree of impartiality, whilst the contentual focus is on political and military (world) events. Newspapers of more unusual origins, by contrast, show a strong individuality in their reporting throughout the period of collection, but the above-mentioned “professional” newsletters were similar with the form and contents of the first printed newspapers (from c. 1605).