When Amsterdam’s stock exchange was coming together in the 17th century, it became a place of business for people of different faiths and backgrounds. The Dutch East India Company (VOC ) and West India Company (WIC) had stockholders across religious lines – sometimes even across class lines. Some stockholders were Jewish merchants who’d built international networks and could put them to effective use on the Beurs.
What happens when a Jewish immigrant moves from Bordeaux to Amsterdam, plays the stock market, and becomes a Spanish baron? The King of England becomes a Dutchman, of course. Antonio Lopes Suasso was born in Bordeaux to a family that fled the Inquisition and were living as Christians. When Antonio was 40, he moved to Amsterdam, began practicing Judaism openly, and married into an established Sephardic Amsterdam family.
Over the next two decades, his international trade and investments – including in the VOC – brought him not only wealth but the attention of the Spanish King who ruled the Southern Netherlands (basically modern-day Belgium). When the Spanish King needed to raise an army to defend those lands from the French, Antonio provided loans to make it happen. (Antonio DID NOT like his birth country.) The Spanish King gave him the title of Baron d’Avernas-Le-Gras as a reward.
His son Francisco, who was also called Abraham Israel, took the family eminence even higher after Antonio’s death. Francisco used his father’s network and VOC shares to build upon both the family fortune and international influence. Like his father, he hemmed in France’s Louis XIV, this time by financing an anti-French candidate for the bishopric of Munster and making risky loans to prevent the Spanish cause from falling apart in the Nine Years’ War.
He may be most remembered today for the Glorious Revolution. William of Orange, head of the Dutch Republic and husband of the English heir, saw an opportunity to invade England and seize the throne. Francisco loaned him almost 2 million guilders and said, “If thou art victorious, I know thou wilt return them to me; art thou not victorious, I agree to having lost them.” William became William III of England, and Francisco got a strong royal ally who paid him in full.
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