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at first none other than the general body of "merchants the realm", together with the appointment of Merchan Staplers to examine into the financial shortcomings of the royal officials, seems to show conclusively that the two bodies were originally distinct.
It is often assumed that English foreign commerce was merchants almost completely, if not altogether, in the hands of aliens and foreign at any rate until the fourteenth century was far advanced But there are grounds for believing that the extent to which English merchants carried on foreign trade, and competed with aliens in earlier times, has been greatly under-estimated. They were by no means excluded from the export trade and they had a greater share in the beginnings of English commerce than is usually recognized. As early as Stephen's reign the men of Newcastle had their own ships, and one rich burgess engaged in trading ventures with his own merchant vessels 1. In the thirteenth century English shippers traded to Norway, and a treaty of commercial intercourse was made (1216) between the two countries. "We, for our part", promised Henry III., "both now and hereafter shall be well contented that . . . the merchants and people of your dominions may freely and without hindrance resort unto our land, and our people and merchants may likewise have recourse unto your territories" 2. In the last year of his reign Henry granted licences to merchants for the export of wool to all foreign parts except Flanders; and it is significant that while some were French, Italian and German, others were merchants of London, Shrewsbury, Lynn, Winchester, Bristol, Beverley and York. In 1273 Edward I. renewed these licences, and a large number of the recipients appear to be natives 4. This bears out the statement made in the Hundred Rolls that wool was exported by many merchants, tam de regno Angliae quam de aliis regnis 5. A few years later disputes arose between the traders of England and Flanders. The count of Flanders agreed to pay com
1 Proceedings of the Archæol. Institute, Newcastle (1852), i. 29-30.
5 Rot. Hund. i. 405. Patent Rolls, 1272-1281, p. 68-Commission to
inquire into the export of wool by certain native and foreign merchants.
-pensation to the merchants of England, Ireland and the : Marches of Wales for the arrest of their goods in his territory, worth over ten thousand pounds, a very considerable sum for those days1. In the next reign sixteen "merchants of the realm " loaded a ship with wool and other merchandise to the amount of twelve hundred pounds 2. Edward's Ordinance of the Staple (1313) speaks of "as well natives as foreigners" engaged in foreign trade 3; and there are traces of their activities not only in Flanders, but also in France 4, Norway and Brabant. Indeed, the occasional efforts of the government to restrict the enterprise of native shippers, in order to encourage alien merchants to repair to this country, indicates that their competition was not regarded as insignificant. In 1364 native merchants were allowed to import wine from Gascony; the following year they were forbidden to do so. In 1369 the privilege was restored to them, and the reason advanced serves to show how important they had already become in this branch of the import trade. Complaints were made by the Black Prince that the customs levied on wine in Aquitaine had fallen off, " because that Englishmen do not come there to buy wines as they were wont", and therefore a great part of the wines remained unsold 8. The navigation policy of Richard II. afforded English merchants an opportunity of competing more successfully with their rivals in foreign trade, and in the next reign they were even entrusted for a period with the safeguard of the seas. Their history and progress can best be traced in the various steps which were taken to increase their importance and perfect their organization.
Among the different groups of English merchants who carried native wares to foreign countries the most prominent 1 Patent Rolls, 1281-1292, pp. 36, 223, 276.
2 Ibid. 1313-1317, p. 545.
4 Patent Rolls, 1317-1321, p. 390.
3 Supra, p. 473.
Rymer, ii. part i. 207; Hakluyt, i. 339, 344 (1313).
• For English merchants at Antwerp, see supra, p. 472, and infra, p. 488. The Ordinance of the Staple in 1353 forbade natives to export wool, yet English merchants were exporting wool to Bruges in 1360 (infra, p. 488). In 1390 the prohibition was repeated: Statutes, ii. 77.
8 Ibid. i. 384 (1364), 389 (1365), 391 (1369). In 1343 English merchants complained that Florentine merchants engrossed the export trade in their own hands: Rot. Parl. ii. 143 a.
were the Merchant Adventurers, who rose to great commercial importance. Originally they were known as the fraternity of St. Thomas of Canterbury 1; and at an early period they acquired a privileged position. They claimed that, as early as 1216, liberties were conferred on English traders freely to come and return to and from those parts and to choose a governor, "with many other beneficial articles necessary for merchants to enjoy " 2. In 1296 a charter was granted to the English merchants of Antwerp by the duke of Brabant, and was supplemented by another charter in 1305. Together they show that "merchants of the realm of England were organized under their own " mayor, captain or consul", and held an assembly and court 3. The wording of the charters would seem to indicate that in their origin the Merchant Staplers and the Merchant Adventurers were one and the same body, comprising all "the merchants of the realm" engaged in oversea traffic. According to Wheeler, the secretary and historian of the Merchant Adventurers, Edward III. confirmed the liberties granted by foreign rulers; and in 1360, at any rate, they were an organized company under the rule of John Walewayn, who is described as "governor of our merchants in Flanders" 5. We meet with them again in 1407, when Henry IV. granted a charter to English merchants dwelling in Holland, Zeeland, Brabant and Flanders. But at first there were two other groups of Merchant Adventurers, each with its own sphere of influence, namely, Germany and Scandinavia. At the end of the 1 Wheeler, Treatise of Commerce, 10.
2 Schanz, Englische Handelspolitik, ii. 583, No. 134. Wheeler (op. cit. 10) gives the year 1248 as the date when they obtained privileges from the duke of Brabant.
3 The charters are printed in H. Obreen, "Une charte brabançonne inédite de 1296," in Bulletin de la commission royale d'histoire de Belgique, t. lxxx. pp. 548-549. In 1547 the Merchant Adventurers claimed to have in their possession an authentic copy of privileges granted unto the merchants of England by the duke of Brabant dated 1286 and 1315 (Schanz, ii. 577, No. 133). These may be the charters of 1296 and 1305, and the difference in the dates may be due to a lapsus calami. Gresham refers to the charter of 1296 in his letter of 1553: Sends copy of their privileges granted in 1296, whereby the falsity of the new Hanse company will appear" Cal. of State Papers Domestic, 1547-1580, p. 51.
4 Wheeler, op. cit. 10.
fourteenth century strife and dissensions were said to have arisen among English merchants dwelling in “Prussia, Scone, Sound and the Hanse", owing to lack of governance I and sound rule. Accordingly in 1391 Richard II. ratified the election of John Bebys, a citizen of London, as their governor; and gave them licence to choose an annual governor to settle disputes and deal justice among all who frequented those parts1. Henry IV. confirmed this charter in 14042, and in 1408 granted a similar charter to English merchants in Norway, Sweden and Denmark 3. In one sense the charters granted by Richard II. and his successors to these various bodies of Adventurers marked no new departure, for it has been shown that an organization was already in existence among English traders in foreign lands. But they set the seal of public authority upon private associations, and strengthened their hands in coping with the interlopers who sought to infringe their monopoly.
Henry VII., whom Wheeler eulogizes as "the peaceful, Their politic and rich prince", showed the Merchant Adventurers organizamarked favour and extended their privileges. They had supported him in the struggle with Burgundy 4, and he rewarded them in 1505 5 with a charter by which they were to appoint a governor and twenty-four "of the most sad, discreet and honest persons" as assessors or "assistants”; they were empowered to determine all civil suits and controversies, and "look to the good ordering of the brethren of the company everywhere". This constitution established them as an organized corporation, and "so strengthened and enlarged the authority and privileges of the Fellowship that ever since the same hath flourished in great prosperity and wealth, and out of it . . . have sprung . . . almost all the principal merchants of this realm-at the least such companies, as have arisen since, have for the most part fetched their light, pattern, and form of policy and trade from the said society". The Merchant Adventurers were trading
1 Rymer, vii. 693.
2 Ibid. viii. 360. This is mainly a repetition of Richard's charter.
5 Schanz, Englische Handelspolitik, ii. 549, No. 121; Wheeler, op. cit.
capitalists; they were engaged in foreign trade and left the internal trade of the country in the hands of the livery companies. "No person of this fellowship", ran an ordinance, shall "sell . . . by retail . . . nor shall keep open shop". The government of the society appears to have been located not in London, but on the continent 2. It has been stated that the Mercers of London formed the nucleus of the company 3, but in any case the members were drawn from many towns: "The Company of the Merchant Adventurers consisteth of a great number of wealthy and well-experimented merchants dwelling in divers great cities, maritime towns and other parts of the realm, to wit, London, York, Norwich, Exeter, Ipswich, Newcastle, Hull, etc. These men of old time linked and bound themselves together in company for the exercise of merchandise and sea-fare, trading in cloth, kersey, and all other . . . commodities vendible abroad" 4. At the end of the sixteenth century the Merchant Adventurers were said to number three thousand five hundred persons, "inhabiting London and sundry cities and parts of the realm "5. The Merchant Adventurers of other towns were to all appearance distinct but affiliated bodies. The Merchants of Newcastle (1519) compounded with the London company for an annual sum of eight pounds in quittance of all charges from individual members. The Merchant Venturers of Bristol were also organized in the fifteenth century (1467) as a separate company with their master and wardens. They obtained a charter from Edward VI. (1552), which forbade "artificers and men of manual art " to engage in foreign trade" to the great scandal of the merchants" 7.
The Merchant Adventurers constituted a regulated company, that is, membership was open to all who were
1 W. E. Lingelbach, "Merchant Adventurers of England", in Trans. Royal Hist. Soc. N.S. xvi. 35. In 1553 Gresham complained of the injury done to the Merchant Adventurers by the retailer who ought to occupy his retail only Cal. of State Papers Foreign, 1547-1553, P. 264.
2 Lingelbach, op. cit. 51-61.
3 Gross, Gild Merchant, i. 149; J. G. Nichols, "Records of the Mercers' Company", in Lond. and Midd. Archæol. Soc. iv. 134. 5 Ibid. 57.
4 Wheeler, 19.
6 Newcastle Merchant Adventurers, ii. 3.
7 Latimer, Merchant Venturers of Bristol, 16, 42, 46.