Kredit im deutschen Handel mit den Shetlandinseln im Spätmittelalter und in der Frühen Neuzeit

  • Bart Holterman (Autor/in)


In the late Middle Ages, hanseatic merchants in the town of Bergen in Norway developed a credit system for their trade with stockfish producers in which commodities were sold on credit, to be repaid in stockfish the next year. This system was adopted in Iceland and has been assumed to exist on the Shetland islands as well when German merchants started to trade there directly.

This article looks at the actual evidence for the use of credit in the German trade with Shetland, mainly based on hitherto unpublished sources from the 17th century that allow a detailed insight into the workings of trade. These sources show a picture quite different from the situation in Norway and Iceland: the use of credit was widespread, but there is only little evidence for the extension of small-scale credit by German merchants to fishermen. Rather, in most cases the Germans were indebted to the local landowners and tax collectors, usually for butter exports or custom pay­ments, which they had to repay with large sums of money.

Explanations for this difference in the use of credit can be found in the different trading conditions. Espe­cially the fishing season, which took place in Shetland in summer rather than in winter, meant that foreign merchants could control the production of dried fish, thereby reducing the need to bind fishermen to them by extending credit. The high demand for money on the islands was another important factor. Finally, the credit relations between German merchants and the local ruling class reflect the changes in the Shetland economy in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Keywords Hanse; North Atlantic Islands; Shetland; Scottish Trade; Credit System