Sovereign debt and private credit in Portugal (1668-1797)


This research project aims to analyse Portugal’s public debt in the early modern period and its impact on private credit. The central issue is the credibility of the commitment of the state in servicing the debt issued in the form of perpetuities. The conjecture is that the state's ability to borrow at decreasing interest rates was possible because colonial rents offered a credible collateral. Defaults could only have occurred at junctures of colonial empire economic contraction. Construction of the following sets of data would provide a confirmation of our conjecture: a) outstanding debt; b) tax revenue allocated to debt servicing; c) interest rates; d) debt management; e) creditors. To analyse the impact of the public credit on the private capital market, this project considers episodes of deferment of interest payments and of major changes in credit regulation conditioning investment decisions. The well-kept account books of Misericórdias (the one in Oporto, among others) provide a vantage point to jointly observe the dynamics of both credit markets.

By considering an uncharted historical case, this project contributes to the elaboration of a more comprehensive history of public debt in Europe, helping to corroborate or refute the state of the art based on the conventional case of success (England and Holland) or failure (Spain, Sweden or France) of the main territorial states.



Leonor Freire Costa

GHES/CSG – ISEG, Universidade de Lisboa


Isabel dos Guimarães Sá

CECS – Universidade do Minho


António Castro Henriques

FE – Universidade do Porto


Susana Münch Miranda

GHES/CSG – ISEG, Universidade de Lisboa



GHES/CSG – ISEG, Universidade de Lisboa



GHES/CSG – ISEG, Universidade de Lisboa





University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


ICS - Universidade de Lisboa

Rui Pedro Esteves

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva


ISEG - Universidade de Lisboa



The Shadow of the Sovereign - Public and Private Credit Markets in Early Modern Europe (II)


12-13 September 2022


ISEG, Quelhas 1, Room Santander


Download Programme

Most of the historical literature in early modern financial systems addresses private and public credit separately. There is still much to learn about the profound interaction between these markets, considering that they likely targeted the same investors, drew from the same pool of resources and were affected by the same public finance stresses and crises.

The research project Sovereign debt and private credit in Portugal – 1500-1797 [Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, PTDC/HAR-HIS/28809/2017] contributes to this discussion by taking Portugal as a showcase. In the present stage of research, three lines of research are carried out.

The first question addresses the modifications on debt instruments throughout different institutional contexts in early modern Europe. Long-term credit instruments had originally been developed in, and, for, the private sector. The transferability of public debt instruments provides a second research problem. While the primary market could be hurt by financial repression, the secondary market was less constrained and, thus, provides a clearer perspective on the credibility and liquidity of the credit instruments. The final issue is the sociological analysis of lenders and their different strategies according to the market in which they participate. The key question is whether governments and private borrowers did depend on the same social groups for funding.

The Shadow of the Sovereign II workshop, hosted by the GHES-CSG, brings together specialists on different national public and private credit markets to address the connections between the two markets. The research presented is expected to contribute to a fresh look on three key problems of financial history.

Workshop Programme

9.45 - 10.00

Opening Remarks

Clara Raposo
Dean of ISEG

10.00 - 11.00

Northwest by Southwest, Portuguese Sovereign Debt in a Comparative Perspective, c. 1500

António Henriques
ISEG-University of Lisbon

11.00 - 12.00

Sovereign Debt as Credit Matrix: Evidence from Northern Italian States (17th-18th Centuries)

Giuseppe Giuseppe De Luca and Marcella Lorenzini
University of Milan

12.00 - 14.00


14.00 - 15.00

The DEBT.PT Database and the Social Uses of Public Debt Instruments (Portugal, 1500-1800)

Lisbeth Rodrigues
GHES-CSG, University of Lisbon

15.00 - 16.00

The Political Economy of Public Debt in Sweden, c. 1700-1770

Patrik Winton
Örebro University, Sweden

16.00 - 16.30

Coffee break

16.30 - 17.30

Stock Market Development and Performance in the Middle East, 1870-1913

Ali Coşkun Tunçer
University College of London


Dinner at Terra Nova by Populi Restaurant

9.30 - 10.30

Public Debt in the Crown of Aragon (14th-18th Centuries): A Complex Institutional System

Pere Verdés Pijuan
IRCVM-University of Barcelona

10.30 - 11.30

The Anglo-Portuguese War Against the French: Costs and Financing (1790-1815)

Jaime Reis and Rita Martins de Sousa
ICS-University of Lisbon and ISEG-University of Lisbon

11.30 - 12.00

Coffee break

12.00 - 13.00

The Sovereign Debt and Private Credit in Portugal (1500-1800) Project: Hypotheses and Results

Leonor Freire Costa
ISEG-University of Lisbon

13.00 - 15.00


15.00 - 16.00

Toward a “Collateral” History of Portugal and its Finances

Larry Neal
Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Closing session



COSTA, Leonor Freire, MIRANDA, Susana Münch, NOGUES-MARCO, Pilar. Early Modern Financial Development in the Iberian Peninsula, Paul Bairoch Institute of Economic History, WP, 1/2021

Conference presentations


39th APHES Meeting, University of Faro
Session: Three puzzles from early Portuguese sovereign debt (1500- 1793)
Org. António Castro Henriques

HENRIQUES, António Castro. Merchant, Soldier, Borrower, King. The first Portuguese emissions of juros (1500) in a comparative perspective.

COSTA, Leonor Freire, MIRANDA, Susana Münch. Disguised defaults and puzzling moments in debt management: Portugal’s public credit, 1600- 1780.

RODRIGUES, Lisbeth, SÁ, Isabel dos Guimarães. Private and public credit in the Misericórdia of Porto, 1574- 1800.


Webinar: The shadow of the sovereign - Public and private credit markets in early modern Europe


RODRIGUES, Lisbeth. Between private and public credit: institutional creditors and investment patterns in eighteenth-century Portugal. European Social Science History Conference (online).


COSTA, Leonor Freire, RODRIGUES, Lisbeth. Indulgent creditors of kings. Dealing with sovereign default in eighteenth-century Portugal. Economic History Society Annual Conference (online).


40th APHES Meeting (online)
Session: The Shadow of the Sovereign I - Markets for public and private debt in early modern Europe (1400-1800)
Chairman: Álvaro Ferreira da Silva

FURIÓ, Antoni. Long-term credit and public and private debt in the Crown of Aragon in the late Middle Ages.

COSTA, Leonor Freire, MIRANDA, Susana Münch. Restoring credibility. How Portugal financed its political independence (1640-1682).

CHIARUTTINI, Maria Stella. Sovereign debt, private credit and early central banking in Italy, 1734-1894.

Session: The Shadow of the Sovereign II - Markets for public and private debt in early modern Europe (1400-1800)
Chairman: Jaime Reis

HENRIQUES, António Castro. Private and public interest rates in Portugal, 1500-1800.


RODRIGUES, Lisbeth, SÁ, Isabel dos Guimarães. Institutional investors and the private credit market in Portugal, 1656-1800.

Data Files

A – Debt
B – Fiscal coffers
C – Creditors
D – Interest payments (work in progress)

Attribution requirement:
When using these data cite the site, and assigned it to the project's designation: Sovereign debt and private credit in Portugal, 1640-1800 project (PTDC/ HARHIS/28809/2017).

This is a financed project by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) under the aforementioned designation.

In the file "Documentation" you find the information on this project's aim and the sources explored.

The database “Interest payments to the Misericórdia of Porto” is being updated.

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