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ports by the instrumentality of the king's secret advisers " for their singular profit, to the great prejudice and damage of the king and realm, and the destruction of the town of Calais "1. Richard Lyons and Lord Latimer were impeached for their conduct, and a loan was only granted on the condition that no licences should be issued in the future 2. This practice of granting licences to merchants to take staple commodities "whithersoever they will," while the export trade was nominally diverted into fixed channels, was an old one 3.

At Richard II.'s accession Calais was still the staple Location of the staple town, although arrangements were made to remove the under staple to England in case Calais were attacked 4. A con- Richard II. cession was made to the merchants of the West-Genoa, Venice and Spain-who were allowed to buy staple merchandise in England after they had sold their merchandise here 5. They were not the only merchants, however, to exercise this privilege, and the burgesses of Calais complained that merchandise was taken from England to Flanders contrary to their charter. But Calais had not yet become the permanent home of the English staple. In 1384 the staple was at Middleburgh in Zeeland on account of the menace from France, and in 1385 the Chancellor, Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, advised parliament to re-establish the home staples in England. The burgesses of Calais and other towns beyond the sea, he contended, were being enriched while good towns at home decayed-so much for Compare also the petition of Calais: ibid. ii. 2 Ibid. ii. 325 a, 326 a.

1 Rot. Parl. ii. 323 a. 358 b.

3 (i.) Merchants of the Society of Bardi licensed in 1324 to export wool "whithersoever they will" notwithstanding the charter of the staple (Patent Rolls, 1324-1327, p. 6). (ii.) Similar licence granted to the Bardi on May 2-the very day after Edward III.'s publication of the Ordinance of the Staple in 1327 (ibid. 1327-1330, p. 102). (iii.) Licence to the bishop of Ely in 1334 (ibid. 1330-1334, p. 538). (iv.) Numerous licences in 1348 to export cloth abroad, notwithstanding the staple of cloth at Calais (ibid. 1348-1350, pp. 136, 137, 151, 193, 222, etc.). (v.) Licence granted by Richard II. in 1377 (ibid. 1377-1381, p. 75). The number of these licences raises the whole question how far the staple system was really effective in practice; they are a warning at any rate not to exaggerate the extent to which the system acted in restraint of mediaeval trade. See also infra, P. 487 (n. 7). 4 Rot. Parl. iii. 23 b. Rot. Parl. iii. 67 a (1379).

5 Statutes, ii. 8.

Patent Rolls, 1381-1385, p. 397; Rot. Parl. iii. 159.

the commons' profit; touching that of the king, he declared that the staple beyond the sea was prejudicial to the king's customs1. The Merciless Parliament (1388), which condemned Suffolk, did not favour his policy and removed the staple from Middleburgh to Calais. The change was not popular, and the Commons (1389) petitioned in vain for the return of the staple to England. But in 1390 they succeeded in making it the condition of their grant 4, and the Ordinance of 1353 was revived 5. Within a year the staple was restored to Calais, and here it would seem to have remained until Calais ceased to be an English possession. A large number of statutes confirmed the monopoly of Calais, but their very frequency suggests that they were not easily enforced. The act of 1449 recited: "Forasmuch as Edward III. by great deliberation ordained his whole staple of wools, woolfells and other merchandises to be at Calais, for the weal and profit of his realm and safeguard of the said town; and by the great liberties and franchises given to merchants thither repairing, after that many years came great revenues to him and to his successors, as it appeareth of record in the king's exchequer, that is to say, in every year of his reign sixtyeight thousand pounds and more, and so continued many years at which time great riches came into this realm by means of merchants of the staple . . . the said town of Calais and the Marches were well repaired, and soldiers paid of their wages"; whereas now, owing to the export of merchandise to other ports, "the customs and subsidies of the merchandises repairing to the said staple of Calais pass not yearly twelve thousand pounds. . . the commons of this land not enriched by their wool and wool-fells and other merchandises as they were wont to be .. the soldiers of Calais and the Marches there not paid of their wages, the town of Calais by default of reparation . . . likely to be destroyed". This complaint was renewed under Edward

1 Rot. Parl. iii. 203 a.

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It was ordered accordingly that the staple should be set up in England (ibid. iii. 204 b), but apparently no steps were taken. 2 Ibid. iii. 250 b; Statutes, ii. 60.

3 Rot. Parl. iii. 268 b.

Ibid. iii. 278 a; Statutes, ii. 76.

4 Ibid. iii. 279 b.
Rot. Parl. iii. 285 a.

7 Statutes, ii. 217, 253, 276, 287, 289, 311 (1423, 1429, 1432, 1433, 1435,


8 Ibid. ii. 346.

IV.1, and serves to show both the importance attached to the staple system and the difficulty of carrying it into operation.


The fixing of the staple at Calais was a landmark in ComEnglish economic history; for two centuries it remained the mercial chief centre of our oversea trade. The experiment of home of Calais. staples had proved a failure; and the claims of Calais as a continental town under English rule and garrisoned by English troops were incontestable. Its strategic importance made its prosperity a matter of deep concern to England, and in fact its garrison was paid out of the custom-revenues. This arrangement was devised during the Wars of the Roses, after the soldiers had been unpaid for three years 2. The establishment of a mint 3 where bullion was changed into coins of the realm served still further to increase the commercial significance of Calais, for it was a rooted principle of English policy to prevent the circulation of foreign money; and the staple system was always intended among its other functions to regulate the currency. It is also not unlikely that the presence of a staple at Calais restricted smuggling, for the Masters of the Calais Staple were expected to maintain a sharp watch upon the trade routes. The working of the The working of staple system may be illustrated from the negotiations, the staple which were carried on at Lille in 1478 between English system. envoys on one side and Flemish envoys on the other. The latter had serious ground for complaint in the conduct of trade by the wool-staplers, and the conditions of the agreement then drawn up afford an insight into the regulations by which the staple was governed in the fifteenth century. In the first place, provisions were made for the better recovery of debts, and English merchants were allowed to export bullion from Flanders. Secondly, the practice by which the English ordered their merchants to buy at Flemish fairs on the last day only, to compel the Flemings to sell their commodities at inferior prices, was now forbidden. On their part English traders objected that the Flemings carried appeals from their own courts to those of the French king,

1 Statutes, ii. 407 (1465); 437 (1472); 449 (1474).
2 Schanz, Englische Handelspolitik, ii. 566, No. 129.
3 A. L. Jenckes, The Staple of England (1908), 24.
Atton and Holland, The King's Customs, i. 39.



a system greatly to their disadvantage. The staplers also complained that wool was exported to Flanders without going through their hands or paying subsidy. The Flemings in their turn attacked the deceits in the packing of wool, and the false descriptions which were attached to it. A further grievance was raised that the English king sent fine wool to France, which did not pay subsidy or pass through the staple, and so the Flemish traders were not able to obtain good wool at cheap prices. Lastly, regulations were laid down as to the rates of exchange, a matter of vital consequence to both countries 1

The merchants in whose hands the control of the staple was placed were known as the Merchant Staplers. From the outset they appear as an organized and privileged society of merchants under the rule of their own mayor and council. Originally they comprised the whole body of merchants engaged in foreign trade; and the terms "merchants of the staple" and "commonalty of the merchants" were interchangeable. In the Ordinance of 1313 the choice of the staple was left to the decision of " the mayor and commonalty of the merchants". Now in 1313 the "mayor of the merchants of the realm" was Richard Stury, and he is also spoken of as the "mayor of the wool-staple" 2. His successor, John de Cherleton, is similarly styled alternately as "mayor of the merchants of the realm " and " mayor of the merchants of the staple". This proves that the organization of the Merchant Staplers with a mayor at their head was as old as the institution of the staple itself, and was already in Edward II.'s reign a public corporation armed with official sanction and powers of coercion. We can therefore scarcely identify the Company of Staplers with the officials


1 The Cely Papers, ed. H. E. Malden (1900), pp. xxii-xxv.

2 Patent Rolls, 1313-1317, p. 15.

3 Ibid. 1317-1321, PP. 239, 477, 489, 500.

4 The history of an organized body of merchants under the rule of a mayor can be carried back indeed to the reign of Edward I.: infra, p. 488. On the other hand, we can hardly speak of the Staplers as a corporation in the strict sense of the term, as they were, for example, in 1422, when they petitioned for their privileges to be confirmed: Rot. Parl. iv. 191 b. Thus in 1326 the election of the mayor of the staple was made by two of the richest burgesses from each town trading in wool, hides and wool-fells: Close Rolls, 1323-1327, P. 564.


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of the customs. In later times merchants were often farmers of the customs: for example, in 1347, certain merchants "who have of the king the custom and subsidy for a certain annual sum were charged with extorting two marks above the custom and subsidy for each sack of wool1. But in their origin the Merchant Staplers and the collectors Distinct of the custom-revenues were distinct. In 1313 Richard from the Stury, "mayor of the wool-staple" and "mayor of the of the merchants, native and foreign, buyers of wool for export", obtained "writs of aid " from the king, addressed to the collectors of the custom on wool and wool-fells in different ports, that they should co-operate with him, whenever requisitioned to do so, in enforcing the Ordinance 2. At this period the collectors were not under the control of the mayor of the staple, and it was necessary to seek their aid through the king's writ. On several occasions the Merchant Staplers were appointed to inquire into alleged malpractices on the part of those connected with the custom-revenues. In 1321 the mayor of the staple" and others received a commission" touching alleged embezzlements and fraudulent offences committed by the collectors of the custom on wool and wool-fells" in numerous specified places. It was said that the collectors of customs, "as well the present collectors as those who have been collectors from the date of the Statute of the Staple", that is, the year 1313, "and their controllers, have permitted divers merchants fraudulently to export wools and fells contrary to the king's prohibition, and have appropriated a great part of the money accruing from the half-mark on every sack of wool" and other dues; "that those who have held the office of the tronage in the same parts had taken money from divers merchants, natives and foreigners, to permit the passage out of the realm of their wool, some unweighed and some insufficiently weighed to the loss of the custom; that divers merchants . . . in other places in the said counties than those in which there is a cocket, have exported unweighed wools the custom being unpaid" 3. The fact that "merchants of the staple

1 Rot. Parl. ii. 169 a.


2 Patent Rolls, 1313-1317, PP. 15, 56.

3 Ibid. 1317-1321, PP. 539 (1320), 603 (1321); ibid. 1321-1324, p. 164


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