Debt in Elizabethan England: the adventures of Dr Hector Nunez, physician and merchant

‘His means are in supposition. He hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the Indies. I understand moreover on the Rialto, he hath a third for Mexico, a fourth for England and other ventures he hath squandered aboard. But ships are but boards, sailors but men. There be land-rats and water-rats, water thieves and land thieves, I mean pirates, and then there is the peril of the waters, winds and rocks. The man is, notwithstanding, sufficient’ (The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene 3.)

Heitor or Hector Nunez was born in Evora in Portugal in about 1520. His parents were ‘New Christians’, that is Jews who had been baptized by force in 1497 on the orders of King Manoel I. He received his BA degree from the University of Coimbra in 1540, and his MB in 1543.1 In 1545 a Heitor Nunes, who may or may not have been

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