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Early Modern European lives: Daniel Wörner

Updated Tuesday 5th May 2015

Discover how Daniel Wörner came from humble beginnings to become the richest merchant in Nördlingen in the 1600s.  

Nordlingen town hall, seen from Daniel Creative commons image Icon Vid Pogacnik under CC-BY-3.0 licence under Creative-Commons license Noerdlingen town hall Daniel Wörner was born 1621 and raised in Nördlingen during the Thirty Years War. His father was a reasonably prosperous man and after he died from the plague, when Daniel was only thirteen, Daniel was left with a reasonable amount of his wealth. His inheritance wasn't large enough to let him mix with the elite, but it wasn't too little for him to identify with the more impoverished citizens.

Daniel followed in the same path as his ancestors and was initially a weaver in Nördlingen. Wool weavers were among the poorest citizens - yet Daniel's inherited fortune and ability to trade well and make investments in property made an aspirational man; thus, separating him from the other weavers. It is unclear whether Daniel was sat at the loom weaving the wool during the start of his career, or whether he employed men to do the task for him yet it is evident he had enough money to employ other people if he wished. 

He married Magdalena Wünch in 1647, the daughter of a successful hat maker. They went on to have twelve children together and would have a long marriage, eventually celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary together. Magdelena outlived her husband and lived till the age of 94 - an achievement in those days. 

Throughout the 1650s Daniel's fortune increased significantly due to his investments in property and by lending cash to weavers who in turn had to promise to repay the debt in cash or finished cloth (often they would have to pay 'interest' on this too). 

As a weaver his ability to know the ins and outs of the cloth business and also his shrewd business manner allowed him to progress to a textile merchant by 1668. 

By the 1680's one of Wörner's sons had gone in to partnership with him. Around this time the weavers they sold cloth to were in uproar about the mark-up of prices on cloth; they felt the merchants had been unfair to them. The Wörners were met with hostility from the poor weavers and also the governing elite and the prosperous merchant families. The Wörners, who were the leading exporters of Loden (a thick, water-resistant material), were accused of underselling on the Swiss market and thus making other Nördlingen cloth merchants reduce their prices. As a result, merchants were forced to pay weavers very badly for the finished goods (the reduction of sale price in cloth meant a reduction for the weavers' finished cloth).

The weavers were never paid outright for their cloths by the Wörners; instead the cloths had to be sold via means of commission. Therefore, weavers were only paid with wool or cash after the cloth was sold on the Swiss market. The weavers, who never knew in advance the price of their goods, had to rely on the Wörners - they were most displeased by this. 

By 1690, Daniel Wörner was the richest merchant and the fourth richest person to reside in Nördlingen. The weavers, by comparison, were some of the most impoverished people in the city. 

By 1693 he was appointed as the member of the city court; this wasn't because he was popular, in fact he was deeply unpopular. Magistrates in the council felt obliged to give him a position in civic dignity due to his substantial wealth. 

The weavers retaliated to injustice caused by the Wörners by submitting a petition to the council in 1698. Weavers and other merchants complained to magistrates about the capitalist enterprise the Wörners exercised and the fact the majority of the city had becpme dependant on them. Eventually the Wörners had to pay a hefty fine. 

He died in 1699, a rich but disliked man. His widow and son carried on the family business. 

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