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By Cecil Roth

The famous historian Cecil Roth offers the 1st full-length biography of Dona Gracia within the English language.

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The first cargo was sold at so tremendous a profit that the famine feared in Portugal was averted. Others followed it at regular inter­ vals. Antwerp now became the center of the spice-trade in northern Europe, this and the English cloth-trade being the mainstay of its prosperity. A small quantity of these “spices” continued to be imported overland by the Venetian merchants, though not pepper, the monopoly of which remained in the hands of the king of Portugal. On one occasion, in 1525, a Spanish and Portuguese fleet of quite fifty sail arrived in Antwerp in a single convoy; and there was a period when vessels reached the harbor almost daily from Lisbon, whence, if the winds were fa­ 21 This Library PDF version is for the use on an institutional computer only.

To emigrate was indeed difficult, but it could be managed with some little exercise of resource and ingenuity. ) In Italy, the number of those who constantly arrived from Portugal now increased to such an extent that in 1540 a commission was set up at Milan, then under Spanish rule, to make a thorough investiga­ tion into the matter. The disclosures which resulted proved to be little less than sensational. In consequence, in those parts of the country which were under Spanish control or influence, wholesale arrests were now made of New Christians on their way to Ancona or Salonica, many of whom were suspected of having been furnished with funds for the journey by Diogo Mendes himself.

In the pepper-trade at least, in which there was hardly any outside competition, he exercised a virtual monopoly, however much jealous rivals might grumble. No man enjoyed a greater influence than he did on the Bourse. In effect he was now the Spice King of Europe. It was impossible for him to allow his accumulated profits to remain in his hands, and they were so vast that not more than a fraction of them could be employed in the firm’s normal mercantile business, Antwerp, howev­ er, was rapidly becoming at this time the financial as well as the commercial center of northern Europe, and Diogo Mendes proved to be a financial genius with few equals in his day.

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