This editorial introduces the 10 articles included in the special issue on ‘Noblemen-entrepreneurs in the Nineteenth Century. Investments, Innovation, Management and Networks’. The collected works focus on the business activities of noblemen in Europe and Asia, thus offering up opportunities for comparison in an age of economic expansion and globalisation. What was the contribution of the nobility to the economy? Can we consider noblemen to have been endowed with an entrepreneurial spirit? What differences or similarities can we draw between the European and Asian elites? In this introduction, we give a synthetic overview of the relevant issues in the broad topic of the collection and their importance to business history, and briefly present the accepted articles. As two of the articles deal with the Japanese case, while the others focus on Europe, we have dedicated specific sections to the European and Japanese nobilities.
For an overview of articles and research questions read guest editors’ Silvia A. Conca Messina and Takeshi Abe piece “Noblemen in Business in the Nineteenth Century: The Survival of an Economic Elite?” https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2021.1972974.
The article by Takeshi Abe (Special Issue guest editor), Izumi Shirai, and Takenobu Yuki (pages 405-33) focuses on the active role that daimyo (feudal lords) played in fueling business development during Japan’s early industrialization. Some important primary sources in this article are biographies and school records, showing how the elite’s investment in education was key to the country’s modernization. (“Socio-Economic Activities of Former Feudal Lords in Meiji Japan” in https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2020.1828354).
Far from static and passive, research shows that the nobility in Lombardy was involved in pushing forward key strategies and innovations toward modernizing land ownership and management during the nineteenth century. Silvia A. Conca Messina (also guest editor of this Special Issue) and Catia Brilli explain more in “Agriculture and Nobility in Lombardy. Land, Management and Innovation (1815-1861)” https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2019.1648435.
In “Far from the Passive Property. An Entrepreneurial Landowner in the Nineteenth Century Papal State” Daniela Felisini explores how Roman Prince Alessandro Torlonia positioned himself as a wealthy landowner in a region commonly labeled as backward. This article is fundamentally based on primary documents from Archivio Torlonia and other administrative sources about agricultural management (https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2019.1597853).
Although generational transitions may create limits for family businesses to thrive, the case of the Spanish firm Trenor y Cía shows that at least for up to three generations, innovation strategies were at the core of the company, hence making longevity an asset of this family enterprise. Read the article “Family Entrepreneurial Orientation as a Driver of Longevity in Family Firms: A Historic Analysis of the Ennobled Trenor Family and Trenor y Cía” by Begoña Giner and Amparo Ruiz here https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2020.1801645.
In “Nordic Noblemen in Business: The Ehrnrooth Family and the Modernisation of the Finnish Economy during the Late 19th Century” Niklas Jensen-Eriksen, Saara Hilpinen, and Annette Forsén explore the diversity of paths and strategies, some inherited through generations and other innovative and modern, though which Finland’s nobility participated in the country’s industrialization in the late nineteenth century (https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2020.1828868). This article is #OpenAccess.
Maria Eugenia Mata offers new findings that demonstrate the active participation and entrepreneurial drive of Portuguese aristocrats in leading enterprises to overseas operations in the article “Exemplifying Aristocratic Cross-Border Entrepreneurship before WWI, from a Portuguese Perspective” https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2020.1727447.
In “A Gateway to the Business World? The Analysis of Networks in Connecting the Modern Japanese Nobility to the Business Elite” Shunsuke Nakaoka shows the key role that personal connections and social networks played in business activities in 19th century Japan. This article argues that trust, at the heart of business activity and entrepreneurial opportunities, can be explored by looking at personal relationships and aristocratic marriages. https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2020.1828353.
Monika Poettinger presents new findings and documents regarding accounting practices, management of production and the implementation of inheritance norms within the Ginori Family and the manufacturing of porcelain in the eighteenth century that show how this aristocratic group pushed forward crucial financial and innovation startegies for the business to grow and modernize. The article is titled “An Aristocratic Enterprise: The Ginori Porcelain Manufactory (1735–1896)” and can be accessed herehttps://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2020.1801643.
“The Noble Entrepreneurs Coming from the Bourgeoisie: Counts Bettoni Cazzago during the Nineteenth Century” traces the history of the Bettoni-Cazzagos family in agriculture in the region of Lombardy. Rather than thinking of the noble group’s management and distribution methods as backward, Paolo Tedeschi demonstrates that the family’s strategies sought to advance, diversify, and modernize investment. https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2019.1653283.
Roberto Tolaini argues that Genoa’s modernization was the result of the collaboration between bourgeoise and aristocratic activities in finance, agricultural infrastructure, and management. “The Genoese Nobility: Land, Finance and Business from Restoration to the First World War” presents new fiscal sources and private records from aristocratic families to demonstrate the prevailing participation of the nobility throughout the nineteenth-century economic development of the region. https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2020.1801644.