Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Welser, Bartholomeus

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WELSER, Bartholomeus, Prince, German banker, b. in Augsburg about 1475; d. there in 1559. He was the head of the banking-firm of Welser Brothers, who claimed descent from the Byzantine general Belisarius. They possessed great riches, and Bartholomeus was created a prince of the empire and made privy councillor to the emperor, to whom he lent large sums, for the repayment of which he was granted, in 1527, the newly discovered province of Venezuela. He was to conquer the country at his own expense, enlist only Spanish and Flemish troops, fit out two expeditions of four vessels, and build two cities and three forts within two years after taking possession. As the country was reputed to contain gold-mines, he later obtained permission to send out 150 German miners. In virtue of this contract, Welser armed a fleet, which sailed from San Lucar de Barrameda early in 1528, under the command of Ambrosio Alfinger (q. v.), whom he appointed captain-general. After Alfinger's death in 1531, Georg von Speier (q. v.) became captain-general, and fitted out a new expedition, which sailed in 1534. After Speier's death in 1540 the crown of Spain claimed the right to appoint the governor, and finally, in 1546, Charles V. revoked Welser's charter. Welser did much to establish trade between the Low Countries, Germany, and South America. His enterprise has been commended by many writers, and is eulogized by Henry Ternaux-Compans in his collection, but it was detrimental to the interests of the banker, whose losses in his colonization schemes were estimated to reach the sum of 3,000,000 florins. Welser's banking-house still exists, as does also the old family mansion, which is one of the curiosities of the city of Augsburg.