João Nunes Saraiva

Date of birth: Second half of the 17th century, Trancoso (Bahia)

Date of death: Unknown

Merchant, banker.

Link to BRASILHIS Database:

New Christian merchant of Portuguese origin. He conducted his business in several areas of the Hispanic Monarchy, such as Brazil, Castile and Asia, and the prosperity of his enterprises made him one of the main financiers of the Crown of Castile between 1626 and 1632.

João Nunes Saraiva, also known as Juan Núñez Saraiva, was born in Trancoso (present-day Bahia State) during the second half of the 16th century. He was the son of Antonio Rodrigues Ferrerin and brother of the merchant Henrique Nunes Saraiva, who operated from Bordeux. He entered the service of his uncle, João Nunes Correia in 1603, ‘coincidiendo con el arriendo de las rentas de la Avería y con el proceso que el tribunal del Santo Oficio de Toledo instruyó a su hermano Gabriel […] destinó [al mencionado João Nunes Saraiva] como su representante en Sanlúcar de Barrameda’ (Carrasco, 2002: 370). Saraiva settled in Seville in 1605, and would eventually become João Nunes Correia’s successor at the head of the family and its business.

Prior to this, he had been a contractor for the brazilwood since 1597. Once established in Castile, he promoted his commercial activities with Brazil, but also with Rouen and other markets in Northern Europe, such as Bordeaux, Amsterdam, and Hamburg. He also carried out multiple operations with Asia, many of them through the contacts inherited from his uncle. 

Due to the prosperity of his business he was consulted on several occasions on financial matters by the Crown of Castile. In 1625 he wrote a memorial to Philip IV on the delicate situation of the monarchy’s finances after the reduction of Genoese credit, the seizure of Bahia by the Dutch, and the sieges in Breda and Genoa. As a result of this memorial and his conversations with the Count-Duke of Olivares, the General Pardon of 1627 took place, as well as an agreement signed in 1628 and subscribed by Saraiva himself, Nuno Días Mendes de Brito, Lourenço and Simão Pereira, and Pais Rodrigues. (Almeida, 2009: 626). 

Thus, between 1626 and 1632, João Nunes Saraiva became an important banker of the Crown of Castile, with a fortune valued at more than 500,000 cruzados. In 1627, after the Count-Duke of Olivares announced his bankruptcy, he replaced the Genoese financiers with a group of Portuguese counterparts. Among them was Saraiva himself, but also other important commercial figures such as Manuel Rodrigues d’Elvas, Nuno Días Mendes de Brito, Duarte Fernandes, Manuel da Paz, or Simón Suarez (Hutz, 2014:78). 

This original consortium was joined by other businessmen in the following years: Simão and Lourenço Pereira and Duarte Dias Henriques in 1627; Marcos Fernandes Monsanto, Garcia d’Ilhão and Pedro de Baeça da Silveira in 1629 (Boyajian, 1983:24).

Together with Nuno Dias Mendes de Brito, Duarte Fernandes, Manuel da Paz, Simão Soares, Manuel Rodrigues de Elvas and João Rodrigues Ferrerin he assigned seats worth four hundred thousand ducats, all payable in Flanders. These seats had as payers Fernão Lopes Saraiva and Bento Rodrigues de Lisboa. He was also related to other great businessmen of the early 17th century, such as Bartolomeu Febo and Lopo Ramires (Almeida, 2009:625).

Unfortunately, in 1632 João Nunes Saraiva was imprisoned by the Inquisition. He was followed by his brother Henriques, who had come to his aid from Bordeaux. However, the favourable testimonies of other businessmen, such as Duarte Fernandes or Manuel da Paz, allowed both brothers to be released after the Auto de fe (inquisitorial public trial) of 1637, being declared penitent and having to pay a fine of twenty thousand ducats. As a consequence of his time in prison, Nunes Saraiva saw his economic position greatly weakened, he went into debt losing up to three hundred thousand ducats, and finally lost his position as a financier. (Ricardo, 2006:112)


Almeida, A.A. (dir.) (2009). Dicionário Histórico dos Sefarditas Portugueses. Mercadores e Gente de Trato. Lisboa: Campo da Comunicação.

Boyajian, J.C. (1983) Portuguese Bankers at the Court of Spain, 1626-1650. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Carrasco Vázquez, J. (2002). Comercio y finanzas de una familia sefardita portuguesa: Los Núñez Correa. En Contreras, J.; García García, B.J.; Pulido, I. (eds.). Familia, religión y negocio: El sefardismo en las relaciones entre el mundo ibérico y los Países Bajos en la Edad Moderna. Madrid: Fundación Carlos de Amberes y Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores.

Ricardo, S. (2006). As Redes Mercantis no final do Século XVI e a figura do Mercador João Nunes Correia (Tesis de Máster). Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo.

Hutz, A. (2014). Homens de Nação e de Negócio. Redes comerciais no mundo ibérico (1580-1640) (Tesis de Doctorado). Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo.


Pablo Cañón (European University Institute)

How to quote this entry:

Pablo Cañón García. “João Nunes Saraiva“. In: BRASILHIS Dictionary: Biographic and Thematic Dictionary of Brazil in the Spanish Monarch (1580-1640). Available in: Date of access: 13/04/2024.

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