Within the complex field of political communication in early modern Europe, merchants were quick to grasp the crucial importance of accurate and up-to-date information for their own affairs, and some were keen to extrapolate their commercial acumen to the realm of the state. In maritime republics such as Venice and the Dutch Republic, trade and navigation had been on the political agenda for many years, often thanks to the efforts of officeholders with a mercantile background. From the late sixteenth century onwards, however, when international trade was increasingly viewed as crucial to the wealth and power of states, commercial knowledge became an object of desire and debate throughout Europe for merchants and rulers alike. As rulers’ decisions were increasingly driven by empirical political knowledge, studying their interaction with traders can throw light upon the nature and role of mercantile expertise in politics. Why did rulers heed and even implement the propositions of commercial experts? Which strategies did the latter use to get close to power? How important was their personal reputation? Although the fragmentary nature of the evidence precludes simple answers to these questions, studying the case of Willem Usselincx (1567-1647) may bring us closer to solving them. The chapter discusses how did this spiritual father of the Dutch West India Company and well-informed political outsider, become an advisor to the leaders of the Dutch Republic tried to trade his commercial expertise for power.
Original languageEnglish
Title of book/volumeInformation and power in history
Subtitle of book/volumeTowards a global approach
EditorsIda Nijenhuis, Marijke van Faassen, Ronald Sluijter, Joris Gijsenbergh, Wim de Jong
PublisherRoutledge
Pages54-68
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2020

ID: 12742717