6. Little Businesses
In late medieval Bristol, the prevailing ideology of urban life centered on the desire to maintain communal harmony in the face of increasing evidence of social differentiation and political division. When unity means holiness, the smallest sign of disagreement is a sign of disease, corruption, and sin. The higher the value placed on social unity, the greater the risks attendant on social conflict. For this reason the threshold of conflict was very high in the city, since once it had been crossed it would be difficult to limit its course. Strong factions, each convinced that their opponents were transgressing against the common good, each actively seeking the others’ destruction, would lead the social body away from the Kiss of Peace to bitter enmity and recurring political struggle. In consequence, both ceremony and politics were largely devoted to suppressing disagreement and disorder before they irreversibly disrupted community life. At the same time, the magistrates depended on their fellow townsmen’s acceptance of their moral authority in enforcing order. It was widely understood, as we have seen, that a man’s prior standing in the community led to office. Office, in turn, yielded power—power to shape and enforce the lawful practices and policies of the community. Service in government was a recognition of a person’s authority, not its source; and political power was understood to follow from authority rather than produce it.
The new vision of order that had emerged among the Bristol magistrates in the later sixteenth and the early seventeenth century altered this relationship between authority and power in the city. Even though older ideas of office could still be drawn upon after 1499, the changed context of relations with the Crown deeply affected their meaning. Now the source of authority in the civic community could be considered to lie outside its sworn membership. Power came to its governors not only through selection by their fellows for municipal office but also through their dependent relationship to the king or queen, whose servants they were. Or, to put this another way, the monarch, the fount of all governmental authority, could no longer be thought of as a distant, if benevolent, suzerain, someone who might occasionally visit the city as did Henry VII in 1486. Instead, he or she was now understood to be present within the community immanently or spiritually, giving form to its hierarchy of authority. In a sense, the monarch, acting in the everyday world of human affairs, came to play a role parallel to the one once played by the saints in heaven, whose mediations unified the earthly community under God; with the demise of the saints only the king or queen, representing the image of godly majesty and divine authority on earth, could fix the community within God’s ordering of the world. In this view, the possession of power, the capacity to enforce one’s will, yielded authority, the ability to command respect and deference. The former arose from royal sanction, the latter from the community’s acceptance of it.
This way of envisioning the civic world carried with it new openings for dissension and disorder, since there were now two sources of legitimacy in the city, the community of citizens and the Crown, which potentially could compete with one another. Although most of the time these two lines of authority flowed as the treble and bass of a mutually supportive harmony, after 1499 those who served as royal lieutenants might find themselves from time to time lacking the moral force necessary to command voluntary obedience from the citizenry, or at any rate from a significant portion of it. Of course, under the old dispensation as well as the new, the city’s governors could be challenged by some members of the community for failing to act on behalf of the commonweal. But now a new kind of politics became available when this happened, a politics that involved a complex interplay of local and national forces. Whereas, previously, political conflict tended to remain bottled within the confines of the civic community, antagonistic groups could now appeal for favor or support beyond the city’s boundaries, to the central institutions of the state. Local politics would sometimes become an exercise in calling on the royal court, the Privy Council, or Parliament to redress the balance of factions at home.
These considerations bring us to what we may call, following Conrad Russell, the “little businesses” of the localities. “Little businesses” in Russell’s usage are primarily administrative or economic issues concerning such matters as the provision of local justice or the regulation of local trade, which may have been troubling to the communities in which they arose but commonly were of small interest to the great men who ruled at the center of affairs, whence the interested parties turned for their remedy. But were these little businesses exclusively local in their significance? On their face they may seem to be, for the repair of bridges and the maintenance of lighthouses—to use Russell’s examples—or the erection by statute of a local trading monopoly—to follow the case of Bristol—hardly appear the “great matters” of grand politics. How can we find the foundations of dynastic marriages, the sources of aristocratic factionalism, or the origins of international war in them? Nor are they of much interest to legal or constitutional history, since the resolution of local problems had been the stock-in-trade of royal government from the Conquest, if not before. There is seemingly no story to tell. But from the viewpoint of the history of the state, “little businesses” suggest the local community’s inability to accomplish its goals or resolve its difficulties with its own resources. Seen in this perspective, they indicate the need of the local community to call upon the state to help to perform its necessary services and to cope with its own internal problems, including social rifts and political divisions. Here there may be somewhat more history.
In the present chapter we shall explore the interpenetration of national and local politics in order to show how changes in what we might call Bristol’s political economy heightened the interrelation between the community and the state. The approach will be somewhat different than the one we have used in most of the previous chapters. Modern social scientists conducting research on contemporary political choice normally rely on sophisticated statistical techniques to study the complex interplay of ideological and social forces that shape their subjects’ action. Lacking evidence of all the relevant variables, however, we must rely on a more old-fashioned method: the method of political narrative. This chapter will take us from the economic, social, and cultural analysis that has dominated the previous discussion to the telling of stories that emphasize specific events and detail the actions of particular individuals.
During the Elizabethan and early Stuart period, Bristol’s Society of Merchant Venturers stood at the center of the highly energized field of forces in which the city was situated. As we have already indicated, the Society was never a simple commercial organization. With its membership drawn from the city’s social elite and with many of its leaders also serving on the Common Council of the city, often as mayor and aldermen, it not only performed social functions but also regularly crossed from the realm of economic profit narrowly construed into the realm of political power and back again. For this reason, the Society should be seen metaphorically as the very heart of Bristol’s body politic in this era; it kept up the pressure and gave impetus to the fluid political forces that circulated through the community. Although in their communal relations most Bristolians no doubt found disharmony and dissension illegitimate and abhorrent, the Society’s receipt of royal letters patent in 1552 set in motion a recurring process of conflict, accommodation, and renewed conflict that was the defining feature of the city’s history in this period.
The privileges granted to the Merchant Venturers by Edward VI did not take long to erode. By early in Elizabeth I’s reign, some of the city’s artificers and retail shopkeepers were openly offering resistance to the Society’s newfound authority. In 1566, the Merchant Venturers responded by acquiring a royal confirmation of their letters patent and by obtaining a parliamentary statute to strengthen their corporate powers. The principal issue for the Merchant Venturers was that Edward VI’s grant had provided no penalties against nonmembers who engaged in overseas trade contrary to its terms. Hence, the Merchant Venturers said, many in the city, “being neither admitted into the saide Society” nor apprenticed “to the same Arte by the space of Seaven yeares,” continued to “exercise recourse of merchaundise beyond the Seas” contrary to “the good intention” and “expresse words” of the letters patent, “to the great hindraunce and decay of all the…Cittie.” In response, the statute granted the Society explicit enforcement authority against violators of its charter and strictly limited the membership to those engaged exclusively in wholesale trade. The Society was to be made up of mere merchants and mere merchants alone.
This parliamentary act had explosive effects in Bristol. Almost immediately, violent protests arose from various quarters about its terms. The Tuckers’ gild openly complained that they were the result of a “sutell fetch” by William Carr and Thomas Chester, the city’s two members of Parliament in 1566, who used petitions for the relief of poverty from the clothworkers of the city to persuade the Privy Council “that the cheffe decay of bristowe was for that the marchauntes and the navigacion of the Cytie and porte weare in decay by meanes of so many occupying unto the sea in the trade of marchaundise and did lade uppon Strayngers bottomes and having non experyence ne skyll therein” and thus “optayned to be a crafte.” This bitterness quickly turned into a determination to have the new statute quashed whenever the next parliament was convened.
Maneuverings began before the municipal elections on 15 September 1570, in expectation that there would soon be a new Parliament, which had been under consideration by Sir William Cecil and the Privy Council since the previous February. Three days before the annual city elections, a new ordinance on nominations to office was passed by the Bristol Common Council to assure that ordinary common councillors would have nominees they could support. This aim was to wrest control of the city elections from the previous mayor, the same Thomas Chester who as a member of Parliament in 1566 had helped to procure passage of the Merchant Venturers statute. With their own men in municipal office, the anti-monopolists hoped to control the upcoming elections for Parliament and assure a favorable representation for their position. The gambit worked. When the writs for the election of MPs were finally issued in February 1571, the mayor’s office belonged to William Tucker, clothier, and one of the two sheriffs’ places belonged to John Barnes, another clothier, whom Tucker had nominated. Of the leading elective offices, only the second sheriff’s post was held by a merchant, William Hickes, closely associated with the city’s leading Spanish traders, who had been nominated by Chester in his capacity as outgoing mayor.
Despite these preparations, the parliamentary elections themselves proved extremely divisive, “so that the Sheriffs were at great debate a long time after.” The two MPs from 1566, Chester and William Carr, both mere merchants, were opposed by John Popham, a prominent West Country lawyer who was also Bristol’s recorder, and Philip Langley, a grocer who lived by retail as well as wholesale. In the end, Popham and Langley were the victors. In addition, John Young, a client of the earl of Pembroke and a prominent gentleman resident in Bristol, sat for Old Sarum and stood ready to speak for the Bristol retailers. He and Popham could be counted on to hold their own with the Privy Council and in Parliament against any counterattack from the mere merchants. With the backing of the mayor speaking officially for the commonalty of the city, these three MPs therefore enjoyed a good chance of securing the repeal of the 1566 statute. But the Merchant Venturers were not without their own resources.
The “Bill for Bristowe,” as the Commons Journal refers to the repeal measure, was formally introduced into Parliament on 10 April, only eight days after the beginning of the session. In the estimation of John Hooker, chamberlain of Exeter and one of its members in this Parliament, “among the private bills” considered in this session “none was more important.” At the time of its introduction, Sir James Croft, recently appointed comptroller of the queen’s household and privy councillor, attempted to compromise the differences between the Bristol merchants and their rivals by asking that “both parties might bee heard and the controversie appeased.” This opened the door for the merchants, who showed immediately that they had taken pains on their own behalf. Since they had no voice among the Bristol MPs, they enlisted the aid of William Fleetwood, recorder of London and one of the more experienced and flamboyant parliamentary speakers, who did not let them down. In a characteristically loquacious and wide-ranging speech, he quickly “entred into a good discourse of the prerogative.” His argument, after it is stripped of its willful obfuscation and its citation of numerous precedents from the reigns of Edward I, Edward III, Henry IV, and the Irish Parliament, made the point that prerogative “might…bee touched, if they should enter to overthroughe her letters patentes, to whom by law there is power given to encorporat any towne,” and, he warned, perhaps from his own experience in the previous Parliament, “she is sworn to preserve her prerogative.”
Fleetwood’s principal opponent in debate was John Young, who, according to John Hooker, “very pithely” presented the case for repeal of the 1566 act,
first shewinge the losse which hath growne to the Queene of her customes; then the private monopoly wrought and occasioned by the Marchants, the controversies which have ensued by this means amonge them; then the subtill meanes whereby the statute was procured without the consent of the Maior and commons of the city.
After Young, the matter was debated in somewhat confusing fashion by a number of prominent Parliament men, during which it was alleged by Popham in answer to Fleetwood that through the Bristol company “the publick and free trading of others was restrained.” Although the queen by the due exercise of her prerogative could create a body with special privileges, Popham said, by “the Greate Charter of England” she could not, according to this argument, harm any of her subjects by her grant. Fleetwood, recognizing that his point had suffered a serious political setback, if not also a legal one, closed the day’s debate by obtaining a delay in the appointment of a committee to take up the bill. In the interval, however, he was not able to find support for quashing the measure, though his efforts did assure that when the committee was finally appointed it would hear “both parties” touching the bill and that he would be among its membership.
Thereafter the bill experienced extremely tough going. In committee, which included Young and Popham and an important group of interested members as well as Fleetwood, the merchants, represented by learned counsel, attacked it vigorously but could convince the MPs only to change some of its words, which were deemed “somewhat sharp,” not to amend it in “substance or matter.” Nevertheless, when it was read for the third time it was only “after many Arguments” that it finally passed “upon the Question.” Nor did this end the controversy, for the measure also met considerable resistance when it was sent up to the Lords, where it was immediately committed on its first reading without being engrossed. The presence on the committee of seven privy councillors, including Burleigh, Leicester, and the Lord High Admiral, indicates that it had caused a great stir among the queen’s leading advisers. This committee kept the bill for fifteen days without amending it in substance. During the interval the queen’s officers appear to have sought to calm the Bristol anti-monopolists in their passion for vengeance by binding their principal spokesman, Philip Langley, and others to obey orders of the Privy Council concerning, as we are told, “the trade of marchandize of Bristowe.” Once this had been done, the “Bill for Bristowe” received its final reading and was approved.
The terms of the act as they finally appear in the statute book indicate that John Young’s arguments in the Commons had been convincing. According to the preamble, the monopoly of the Merchant Venturers had enhanced the prices of “all maner of merchandize,” consumed the wealth of the city, and caused the customs to be reduced and the navy decayed,
In remedy, the act ordered full restoration of “the wonted libertye of the said citizens…to trafficke for merchaundize beyond the Seas.” But it left the original charters intact, “to have their validitie according to the lawe,” as Popham argued.
for that a great many of welthye inhabitantes and citizens of the said citie which before that tyme occupied greate stockes were thereby cut of[f] from the trade of the Seas. And thereof followith that the poore craftes men are not wrought as they might be to the great ruyn and decay of all the saide Cittye and theinhabitauntes of the same and to the great damage of the countrye envyroning the same.
In 1566 the issue between the Society and its opponents was cast as a rivalry between “Merchant Venturers” and “Artificers” who had not been trained in the art of merchandise. But it was not poor handicraftsmen but middlemen who were the primary target of the merchants’ monopoly. The tuckers, for example, became engaged in the debate not so much as manufacturers of finished cloth but as clothiers who organized production and interposed themselves between those who made the cloth and those who bought it in the market. We have already seen that as their new role evolved they had acquired a trading function which included the importation of such raw materials as oil and dyestuffs and the export of finished cloth. Soapmakers became enmeshed in the controversy because they too had developed an interest in trade, including the import of olive oil to supply their workshops. But given the new structure of Bristol’s trading economy, with its heavy emphasis on profits from imports, the main focus was on the retailing of these wares. When the Merchant Venturers fought for their monopoly their principal targets were grocers, mercers, haberdashers, vintners, and soapmakers, who dealt in imported wares. Dealers in domestic commodities, such as chandlers, victualers, and even drapers and clothiers, were not directly mentioned in the parliamentary debates.
In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the members of the Society had conceived of Bristol’s mercantile community as a great chain of being, with themselves mediating between the domestic and the international market. As John Browne wrote in his Marchants Avizo during Queen Elizabeth I’s great war with Spain,
…when the marchant was free, His ventures for to make: Then every art in his degree Some gaines thereof did take.
The merchant made the clothier rich By venting of his cloth: The Clothier then sets many at worke And helpeth every craft. ...... The Grocer and the Vintner The Mercer profit reape: When Spices, Silks and Wines, come store By Marchants ventures great.
At bottom, the merchant monopolists saw the art of merchandise as a craft “where in there is more skill than every man judges.” If handicraftsmen and shopkeepers were to overturn this order, economic chaos would ensue. “Unskilfullness in merchandies and great numbers going over the seas,” the Merchant Venturers argued, “must greatly abase our English commodities and advance the price of foreign wares; for the more there are to sell there, the worse market they will make, and the more buyers of strange commodities the dearer they must be.” “The rich retailers,” moreover, “must needs undo all the poorer sort who do not venture, and eat out the mere merchants, who have but those to whom they make their vent.” The inevitable results would be the decay of trade, the loss of shipping, the diminution of the navy, the decline of the royal customs, the unemployment of clothworkers and others, and the collapse of all charity. We can almost hear them say, “Take but degree away, untune that string, / And hark what discord follows.”
These views were especially attractive to those among the Merchant Venturers who focused their trade primarily on Bristol’s southern markets, where the drive to maximize profits from imports was especially strong. These traders, who numbered in their ranks the city’s richest and most powerful men, were the leaders of the Society. However, men who devoted the majority of their trade to the northern markets, where bulky items with low profit margins were preeminent, would not only have been rather less threatened by the trading activities of the so-called rich retailers but somewhat less inclined to see the economic world in terms of a rigid hierarchy of crafts. Trade in salt, canvas, naval stores, and other goods that came from the French coasts and the Baltic simply did not lend itself to systematic differentiation of the economic functions of merchant and retailer, since the primary market for many of these products was the merchant community itself. At the same time there were always Merchant Venturers who valued their relations in the city at large as much or more than their devotion to the Society’s ideals or their connections with particular members and who therefore were reluctant to press their demand for monopoly to the point of lasting conflict with their fellow Bristolians. But among the leadership of the Merchant Venturers, the dominating view in this period and for decades to follow was the one articulated by John Browne. Restricting each art and craft to its proper bounds alone would benefit Bristol’s commonweal.
Not all Englishmen, and certainly not all Bristolians, agreed with the view of the proper urban social and economic order that prevailed among the Merchant Venturers. Many of the retailers and artificers saw freedom to trade—their “wonted libertye”—as a natural concomitant of their status as burgesses, secured by their freeman’s oath. At the end of Elizabeth’s reign Thomas Dekker’s London comedy The Shoemaker’s Holiday presented in dramatic form just such a vision of urban life. There Dekker tells the story of Simon Eyre, the simple London shoemaker who rose to wealth and the lord mayoralty through his good fortune in the merchants’ trade. It is a fantasy of social mobility and urban achievement. Pretending to be of great standing and credit, Eyre bought at a bargain a rich cargo of sugar, almonds, and other luxuries imported to London by a debt-ridden merchant who needed a quick sale. Eyre’s progress to greatness depended on the special customs of London—still in force, though perhaps in modified form, at the time Dekker wrote his play—whereby every freeman of London enjoyed the right to buy and sell by wholesale any goods that came his way. Hence he could also change his occupation from craftsman to trader, even though he had not apprenticed in his new calling. Late medieval Bristol had operated by somewhat similar rules, at least as regards the right to engage in overseas commerce. All freemen could do so without hindrance. As we have seen, in the fifteenth century Bristol’s merchants still traded by retail as well as wholesale.
Those excluded from foreign trade saw the Merchant Venturers’ monopoly as usurping the ancient rights of citizenship and those who performed this act as violating the bonds of community. “O mercifull lorde god,” some of them had lamented after Thomas Chester had obtained the Society’s monopoly in 1566,
This language represents a very early expression of the arguments mounted time and time again by Elizabethan and early Stuart lawyers and parliamentary debaters in attacking monopolies. By granting an exclusive right to trade to particular individuals, it was said, a monopoly deprived free men of their livelihoods and thereby turned them into villeins or slaves. Even the merchants recognized the strength of this view and were obliged to accept its underlying premise. The existence of ancient rights was in no danger from their corporation, they alleged, because
who wolde have thought that Mr Chestre beyeng a free Citizen borne and sonne unto the naturaleste Cytizen that was in Bristol in our tyme…wee say who wolde have thought that Mr Thomas Chestre by name wolde consent to have the cytie of bristowe made bond.…[W]hat hath happened to thee o bristowe, bondayge bondaige and mysery for before Bristol withall for inhabitaintes were free and theyre lybertie alwayes to sende theyr goodes unto the sees.
But they would not yield the main point. For them, overseas trade was a separate craft.
no man is exempted that ever occupied the seas, but such as voluntarily sequestered themselves from the same, for every retailer, leaving off his retailing, may be a merchant, so that he will content himself with the only trade of merchandise.
In this way two rival concepts of the urban community found particular expression in 1571. The Merchant Venturers envisioned a society in which specialized economic functions were arranged in hierarchical order, with foreign commerce at the pinnacle. The retailers and manufacturing entrepreneurs saw all freemen of the city as members of the same undifferentiated legal and economic group, all possessed of an equal right to trade abroad. The struggle between these views, which had previously coexisted in the city’s culture of community and authority, remained the recurring theme of local politics for the next century or more.
Although the repeal of the 1566 act removed the Merchant Venturers from the parliamentary agenda for the time being, it did not end the turmoil in Bristol. Within twelve days of the dissolution of Parliament, the bitter rivalry between the merchants and their opponents surfaced again. On 10 June, Mayor William Tucker reported to the Common Council that Thomas Chester had been behind the appeal to the Privy Council “to have reasonable articles drawen as well for the Norishinge of Aymitie betweene the marchants of this Citie and other Inhabitants of the same As for the makinge and concludinge of good orders for the Comon Welthe and profit of the same citie.” It was this effort that resulted in Langley and Bristol’s other anti-monopolists becoming bound to the Privy Council for their obedience to its orders. Chester’s participation in that search for accommodation is significant. Despite his evident support for the Merchant Venturers’ monopoly, he was the son of a pointmaker and had close ties with the city’s clothworkers. He had also been associated in a business venture with John Young. Hence he was well placed to calm the political seas in Bristol. Nevertheless, his efforts were a failure; the Common Council majority seems to have had deep suspicions of his motives, as well as strong partisan feelings of their own. In response to Tucker’s announcement, a majority of twenty common councillors ordered the chamberlain to draw a bond “to save harmless” those who stood bound to the Privy Council.
We are fortunate in knowing the names and something of the connections of these twenty men, whom we may identify as Bristol’s anti-monopoly faction. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mayor Tucker headed the list with Sheriff John Barnes; as we know, both of these men were clothiers. In addition, three aldermen were in this group, all of them grocers. Of the remaining fifteen, the occupations of fourteen are known. Four were grocers, two were clothiers or drapers, two were mercers, two were coverlet makers and upholsterers; a tailor, a tanner, a skinner, and a soapmaker made up the rest. No one among this group could be identified as a “mere merchant” by the usual standards. This party of anti-monopolists was also a relatively tight-knit social group which had strong interlocking ties of business association, family, and friendship. But the anti-monopolist party in the city was not primarily a social clique isolated from the major overseas merchants by birth, marriage, and commercial connection. Although the ties of its members with the merchants were neither so numerous nor so strong, regular cross-cutting links bound Bristol’s retailers and industrial middlemen to the leading Merchant Venturers. But in 1571, political and economic circumstances drove these social bonds into the background and made connections with other retailers and manufacturing entrepreneurs more important. The key to the anti-monopolists is not the social relations of its members with each other, but their opposition to the Society of Merchant Venturers.
Because family connections and other social ties reinforced the economic interests of the Society’s opponents, the political wounds of 1571 went very deep. Bitterness lingered for more than a year following the dissolution of Parliament, with contentious debates marring a number of council sessions as merchants and their opponents angrily attacked each other with “contumelious words.” This was a period in which calling someone “knave in his ear,” as George Snygg, merchant, did to John Jones, skinner, or claiming “you belie me,” as Philip Langley said to Alderman Robert Saxey, one of the leading Merchant Venturers, could itself become the cause of violent hatred. Even levying fines against the wrongdoers, as the Common Council quickly did on each occasion, could not completely erase the dishonor associated with the public insult. Nor was the spirit of partisan rage limited to a few individuals. In April 1572 the Common Council majority sought to avenge itself in a fiscal way on their Merchant Venturer opponents by ordering a tax of eight pence in the pound on all inhabitants, to cover Philip Langley’s charges for repealing the 1566 statute. Had this extraordinary levy ever been enforced, it could have been used by the assessors to cripple those with cash reserves and well-stocked storerooms, that is to say, principally the merchants. But before the council majority executed the ordinance, calmer heads seem to have prevailed and the tax measure was repealed in favor of an award to Langley of just £50 for his expenses at the last Parliament.
But even this prudent backing away from further confrontation did not end the troubles. Within just five years new controversies were at work in the city. They came with the establishment of the Spanish Company in 1577. This new commercial organization was founded with powers greatly surpassing those that had belonged to its predecessor, the Andalusia Company of 1530. Like the Andalusia, however, the Spanish Company’s main purpose was to give England’s Spanish merchants a common policy and single voice with which to face the difficult conditions they found in the Iberian peninsula. Plans for establishing the Company were well underway as early as 1573, and although it was Londoners who primarily pressed the Privy Council for new letters patent, a party of Bristolians seems to have joined them. Recent experience had unfortunately made the latter all too aware of the need for a protective organization in Counter-Reformation Spain: the religious persecution and subsequent legal problems of their fellow townsman, John Frampton, a resident factor in Andalusia, had touched the goods many had left in his charge.
The new Spanish Company also filled an even more important need for the Bristol Merchant Venturers, since retailers and artificers were expressly excluded from membership. Bristol had its own branch of the Company, including resident assistants to enforce ordinances. Hence membership provided the mere merchants with a way to rebuild their monopolistic control of local trade, so heavily dependent in this period on Spain, without controlling the Common Council or electing supporters to Parliament. However, the participation of Bristol’s mere merchants in the new Spanish Company quickly reopened the battles of 1571 and 1572. The Bristol membership was headed by Alderman Robert Saxey and Thomas Chester, the latter being named among the three Bristol assistants to the Company. Many of the other members were also among the principal protagonists in the earlier dispute. It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that there would be trouble when in August 1577 the Privy Council ordered Chester and three other Bristol members “to require all such of that cittie as are retaylers and artificers trading Spaigne to forbeare any more traffique in that countrye.”
Since the queen’s councillors stood ready to use their extensive powers to back the new Company’s privileges and ordinances, open resistance was no longer a fruitful course for the city’s merchant retailers. For this reason Langley and the others ostensibly accepted restrictions on their retailing as the condition of their continued participation in the Spanish trade. But rather than giving up their retail activities, they took them underground. By December 1578, Langley and his supporters were again subject to the attentions of the Privy Council, which at the request of the Merchant Venturers commanded the mayor and sheriffs of Bristol, with the assistance of their brethren on the Common Council, to call the merchant retailers before them and advise them “to yeilde to suche order as by that Societie hath ben taken against that kynde of retailing.” If they refused, the mayor and sheriffs were to take bonds from them “to her Majesties use for…apparence fourthwith before their Lordships that such order may be taken…as shalbe thought convenient.” If they could not be persuaded to comply, they would be constrained.
Neither Langley nor his allies appear to have found the prospect of a visit to the Council Board very attractive. Faced with the Privy Council’s threat, they yielded. When a year or so later a similar dispute regarding the Spanish Company’s prohibitions against retailing opened in Chester and spread to Liverpool, the Bristolians refrained from using it as an occasion for renewed protests of their own. By the early 1580s the local branch of the Spanish Company was vigorously enforcing its rules, placing violators in the Bristol Newgate, and levying heavy fines against interlopers, without encountering the leading merchant retailers again. Although this fact does not necessarily mean that Langley and the others had entirely left off overseas trading or completely abandoned their retailing, it does suggest that by the 1580s retailing by merchants had been sharply curtailed and that an accommodation had been reached between the mere merchants and their rivals.
Dependent as the Bristol Merchant Venturers had become upon the privileges of the Spanish Company, however, their renewed local monopoly could not survive for long after war broke out between the English and the Spanish in 1585. Although trade with Spain did not cease during the war years, it took place illicitly through French ports and was so closely associated with privateering as to make the two almost indistinguishable. Since war made trading in Spain and Portugal more risky and more costly, there were also increased incentives to push commerce into the Mediterranean and in general to rely on non-Spanish and non-Portuguese markets for business. At the same time, the scarcity of Iberian goods in the market increased the pressure among merchants to indulge in retail enterprise; doing so helped make up lost profits. Even if the Spanish Company had continued to operate, its ability to discipline its members would have been all but destroyed. But the authority of the Company did not simply erode under the pressure of war; it collapsed. In May 1586 the Privy Council was already complaining of the Company’s failure to meet its obligations, and by February 1589 its general court had ceased to meet; thereafter no financial accounts were kept. With it went the effective existence of the Bristol branch. In whatever capacity the Merchant Venturers managed to stay together during the 1590s, and there is evidence that the Society did survive through the war years, their hard battles of the 1570s had been for naught.
With the succession of James I and the end of open hostilities with Spain that followed, the Spanish Company attempted a revival. Official meetings began in March 1604, and by mid-May assistants for the principal outports were named, including John Barker and John Hopkins for Bristol. But almost immediately a hitch occurred when a group of leading merchant retailers in London, perhaps joined by others from the outports, entered objections with the Privy Council against the Spanish Company’s old privileges, arguing that its charter had become “voyde by Non User, during the longe tyme of Contynuance of the warr, which doth therefore dissolve the said Corporation.” To quiet this rather technical complaint and to forestall difficulties from the outports to which it opened the door, new letters patent were issued in May 1605, granting provincial merchants a larger role in this Company than they had enjoyed in its predecessor. There were now to be sixty-one assistants, in place of the forty established in 1577, with thirty from the outports and thirty from London. Since the remaining place belonged to the Company’s secretary, who was also a Londoner, the merchants of the metropolis remained in control. But among the new Company’s five hundred and fifty-seven original members, only two hundred and thirty-seven were Londoners. The Bristolians fared especially well, with ninety-seven members, four of whom were appointed to the first Court of Assistants.
By early June 1605 the new Spanish Company was once again capable of filling the role it had played earlier for the Bristol Merchant Venturers. Not only had the new climate of relations between England and Spain resulted in the confirmation of the old English privileges in the Iberian peninsula, but the Company showed every intention of once again eliminating retailers from the Iberian trades. It instituted its own campaign to end the practice of partnership between mere merchants and retailers, and it secured from the earl of Dorset, Lord Treasurer, a broadly worded order to the Customers prohibiting them from taking
Former retailers were not permitted to join until they had been mere merchants for at least seven years, while all present members were to give over their retailing activities or leave the Company. But there is perhaps more here than meets the eye, for the initial enumeration of the membership seems to have been based on a rather more generous interpretation of mere merchant status than before, at least in the case of Bristol. In 1577 there had been but seventy-five Bristolians named to the Spanish Company; in 1618 there were but seventy-two Bristolians listed as Merchant Venturers in its first official membership roll. It is very likely, therefore, that the ninety-six men named in 1605 included among their number more than a few whom the Bristol mere merchants would have rejected as ineligible. Possibly the refounded Spanish Company was seeking to avoid the troubles with the larger merchant retailers that had punctuated the life of its predecessor in the later 1570s and early 1580s.
any entry of any merchaundizes to be transported into Spaine or Portugall, or make any agreement for Custome, but only with such as are or shalbe free of that Company, and thereby excluding all retaylours Artificers Inholders ffarmors Comon Marryners and handycrafts men, out of the said society.
Nevertheless, from the perspective of Bristol’s history in the early Jacobean age, it matters little whether the new Company was harshly exclusionary or generously welcoming, since only a minority of the city’s leading merchants were enthusiastic participants in its affairs. Of the four Bristol assistants, for example, only John Whitson, who was in London in 1605 as one of the city’s members of Parliament, ever attended meetings of the fellowship, perhaps because he found its new admissions policies to his liking. But even he did so just three times. The Bristolians’ indifference, if not caused by the liberal membership policies of the new Company, resulted from two other interrelated factors. First, the city’s trading interests were less heavily based in the Iberian peninsula than they had been before the war. It was no longer possible to control the city’s economy by controlling this one aspect of it. And, second, they were suspicious of the Londoners, in part because the Bristolians feared that the merchants of the capital would control the new trade between Newfoundland, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Mediterranean, in which Bristol and other western ports had a geographical advantage, and in part because it was still necessary to appeal to London many important Company matters vital to the Bristolians’ interests. With the Mediterranean and trans-Atlantic trades playing an ever greater role in Bristol’s economy, there simply was less reason to rely for help upon a London-dominated corporation.
Two months after the sealing of the Spanish Company’s new charter, the question of London’s role produced an incisive protest from the merchants of the outports, led by those from Exeter, Plymouth, and Barnstable, who wanted to elect their own officers, make their own ordinances, and admit their own freemen rather than going to the Company in London. In response the Company agreed that each branch could lay down its own bylaws, provided they were ratified by a general court in London before being put into execution. It also decided to send officers to the outports to enroll new apprentices and freemen and to swear in local officials rather than requiring them to come to London for the purpose. This seemingly conciliatory approach apparently encouraged Whitson to attend his last two London meetings, in hopes probably of keeping the Company alive in Bristol. But by now the majority of Bristol’s merchants were determined to take no further part in it. When the Company’s agents arrived in the city in September to swear in the local officers, the Bristolians, who had elected their own officers the previous May, refused to submit to the agents’ authority or the orders of the Company, pretending, as the Londoners said, “to stande and governe of themselves.”
After this action the dénouement was not long in coming. On 31 December 1605, the Bristol Common Council regularized the independent existence of the local merchant company with a remarkable ordinance requiring the “merchant adventurers” of the city to exempt themselves from the London-based company and establishing in its place a company of merchant adventurers
In place of membership in a chartered national company with large and secure powers, the Merchant Venturers had decided to reestablish themselves on a purely local basis.
to be ordered and governed amongest them selves by such Orders Constitutions and pollycyes as shalbe hereafter set downe and agreed on by the Mayor aldermen and Common Counsell…according to the Charters of the said Cytie and by the Master Wardens Communytee and Corporacon of merchaunts within the Cytie of Bristoll.
The Common Council ordinance of 1605 represents a remarkable turn of events in the history we have been following. For over a century, commercial organization in Bristol had oscillated between purely local institutions and participation in one or another national company. The first approach rooted Bristol’s trade in the civic polity; the second recognized the city’s connections to the wider world of commerce and industry in the realm. As the city’s trade networks expanded, the available forms of national organization, focused as they were on controlling particular markets, had become less and less useful to its mere merchants, but so too had reliance on civic authority. Nevertheless, the Merchant Venturers now had in essence been refounded by a Common Council ordinance; its powers to enforce its regulations rested on the city’s right to legislate for the well-being of its burgesses. The presence on the council of a powerful contingent of merchants made this arrangement eminently workable. But the Society’s new status was not much different now from that of an ordinary craft gild. In legal terms, Bristol’s merchants had returned to their position of a century before. They were once again dependent upon the Bristol Corporation for their regulatory powers.
If history had thus repeated itself, it was only to a very limited degree. The urban world into which the merchant company of 1500 had been introduced could still be represented in that period as a self-contained community of brothers in which the general welfare of the polity took precedence over the particular good of any of its members. Although even at this early date the city’s gates were already opening to commerce from southern Europe and the Atlantic, the effects of this revolution on social organization and mental outlook were only just becoming apparent. By 1605, however, Bristol was completely enmeshed in an open-ended commercial network, ramified throughout western Europe and the north Atlantic, and its inhabitants were therefore affected by events in places far from the control of their local government. Its merchants in particular were as much citizens of the world as freemen of Bristol. To reintroduce a local trading company into this new commercial context was not merely anachronistic, or even reactionary; it was also radical. In borrowing ideas from a past age to advance particular interests in the present one, the Common Council sought to grant the merchants effective control of these new trading networks and to place the new pattern of merchant domination in the social and political order of the city. Given the bitter antagonisms engendered by such monopolistic aspirations, it could not hope to succeed without a fight. Before long one was in the offing.
On the central question of requirements for admission to the refounded Society of Merchant Venturers, the ordinance of 1605 endorsed exclusionary principles similar to those laid down in 1566 and upheld in the Spanish Company of 1577. But with a difference. It ordered that every burgess not already free of the Society who desired to use the “trade of marchandyzes” was to be admitted during the next year for a modest entry fine of twenty shillings, “geving over the exercise of all other trades occupations and professions of getting his or thire Lyvinge.” John Whitson and two other aldermen were appointed to enroll any who sought entrance under this ordinance, apparently in hopes of drawing the merchant retailers and the overseas trading artisans into the Society without a fuss. After this first year of relatively easy admission to the Society, however, all others who were neither the sons nor apprentices of current members were to be admitted only as redemptioners, paying much larger entry fines. Whitson’s involvement in the enrollment of new members was intended to encourage compliance and tranquillity. From his recent experience in the Spanish Company and in James I’s first Parliament, where free trade had been such an important issue, Whitson accepted the principle that no Englishman could be deprived of entry into overseas trade so long as he would submit to its proper regulation. Indeed, Whitson was among the aldermen who approved Lawrence Hyde’s selection to the Bristol recordership in 1605, and Hyde, the scourge of monopolies in 1601, was the principal architect of the free-trade agitation in 1604.
Reliance on a local ordinance rather than royal letters patent, however, made these new rules exceptionally vulnerable to political challenge from the Merchant Venturers’ old rivals within the city. By as early as 1612, if not before, they were in question from those quarters, and the Common Council found it necessary to give its prior consent to the drafting of a new Merchant Venturer ordinance providing that no mem-ber of the Society should “vse or exercise any other trade but onlye the trade of a merchaunte adventurer” so long as he used “the trade of a merchante” and that all who would practice the merchant’s trade must be members of the Society. But this only stirred further controversy when economic conditions began to tighten at the end of the decade. By the summer of 1618 there were renewed difficulties in enforcing the Society’s ordinances, and the Merchant Venturers felt obliged to order that no inhabitant of Bristol should be considered a member of the Merchant Venturers unless he subscribed to its ordinances, was admitted in open court of the company and had his name entered into its register in the presence of the master, wardens, and assistants. In August the Society paid Nicholas Hyde, who had succeeded his brother as Bristol’s recorder in 1615, for his opinion regarding the “validity of the marchantes Charters,” further suggesting that the Society’s authority was under challenge. We have no record of his views, but given the repeal of the 1566 statute and the subsequent record of legal decisions and parliamentary actions against monopoly wherever they appeared, it is hard to believe that Hyde would have found legal support for the monopolistic implications of the 1605 and 1612 ordinances governing membership in the Society. In any case, the upshot in 1618 was the adoption of a new strategy on this issue among the Merchant Venturers.
The Society’s new ordinances, perhaps drafted on Hyde’s instructions, offered membership to three categories of candidates: the sons or apprentices of mere merchants or those who served their apprenticeships with lawfully admitted redemptioners and were “ymployed in the trade and recourse of marchandize onely” during their terms; redemptioners; and the sons of redemptioners. The first were to be admitted at their own request, paying only a modest fine; the second were to enter only by vote of the Hall, paying a substantial composition established at a special meeting; their sons “exerciseing the trade of marchandisinge onelie and haveinge served noe apprenticeshippe therevnto” were treated as a special class, paying a forty-shilling fee in addition to the regular fees paid by the sons of mere merchants. Once a family was established as having redemptioner status, moreover, all its future members were to be subjected successively to this regulation. These new ordinances also made room for the admission of retailers and artificers, since they provided that such individuals might be admitted “whilest they remaine Retailers or Artificers” for a fine at “a speciall Courte holden for that purpose.” These new procedures avoided the legal shortcomings of the old; under them the Merchant Venturers could no longer be accused of maintaining an unauthorized monopoly. But making it necessary for retailers and artificers to win the approval of the present membership before admission meant that only those few individuals who were found acceptable to the majority of the Merchant Venturers would be allowed to enter.
Two other ordinances of 1618 were designed to tighten this control. Brothers of the Society were forbidden to join in partnership with Bristolians who were not members for the sale of any goods within the city or its environs. Similarly, ships’ pursers, factors, and attorneys employed by Merchant Venturers were not to act as agents for nonmembers. Violators were subject to a fine of £20 for the first offense and disenfranchisement thereafter. A second measure explicitly forbade Merchant Venturers to deal in partnership with any retailer or artificer for any merchandise to be transported to or imported from “anie the partes beyond the Seas.” Violators here were to lose 25 percent of the value of all illicitly traded goods. These seemingly contradictory rules suggest that partnerships with retailers and artificers were the more common violation and could not be controlled effectively by the threat of disenfranchisement.
The same day these new ordinances were approved, the Merchant Venturers began, as we have just noted, a membership register, which listed seventy-two men who had been “legally admitted into the Societie.” In the following two years, eleven more Merchant Venturers were added, eight of them in the first year. This influx suggests that the new ordinances confining overseas trade to members of the Society had had some effect. Four of the new admissions were redemptioners, that is, men who lacked apprenticeship in the “art of merchandise.” One had been trained as a brewer; two others earned their livings in part as manufacturers of methaglin, a distilled brandy made from honey usually imported from Brittany. One, Christopher Whitson, was also sometimes identified as a sugar refiner. All three had been resident in Bristol for some time. Whitson, cousin of John Whitson, had been a member of the Common Council since 1611. Presumably these traders were admitted under the new rule governing retailers and artificers and were bound in obedience to the Society’s authority by their solemn oaths upon election. But it was not until 1647 that another redemptioner was permitted to enter.
The Merchant Venturers’ ordinances of 1618 attempted to establish a modus vivendi between Bristol’s mere merchants and its retailers and shopkeepers. By permitting a small number of the latter to enter the Society as redemptioners, they had removed the taint of monopoly that had shrouded the Merchant Venturers’ legal status and had thereby quieted the most serious complaints against their corporation. But they did not open the floodgate to newcomers. Participation in the most lucrative enterprises depended as much on what the structure of trade allowed as on the legal rights of the traders freely to pursue their interests. Hence, even though the concessions of 1618 could not completely end the overseas trading activities of nonmembers, by controlling relations among the Society’s membership and preventing partnerships with outsiders they could nonetheless limit the scope and scale of such activities. So long as Bristol’s commerce remained concentrated on the importation of exotic foreign wares from a small number of specialized markets, few merchant retailers or overseas trading artisans could successfully compete with the major wholesale merchants. Without the aid of the latter, they lacked the necessary shipping, the well-developed local connections, and the secure credit relations required to sustain large-scale commerce to those parts. In the aftermath of the loss of Bordeaux, the trade of Bristol naturally lent itself to oligopoly, whether or not the mere merchants could effectively maintain a monopoly through their exercise of political power.
Although after 1571 the Merchant Venturers’ letters patent still remained in their hands, available to be cited from time to time as a sanction for their corporate activities, the events of that fateful year put them in doubt, since the statute of 1566 contained a general confirmation of Edward VI’s patent. The repeal of the statute, accepted by the queen, left the original document in a curious state, vulnerable to various kinds of attack in the law courts. For this reason much effort was devoted by the Society, still committed to the need for a monopoly, to reversing the events of 1571. In 1606, for example, only two months after Bristol’s overseas traders had separated themselves from the Spanish Company, the Merchant Venturers were seeking an exemption for themselves from the terms of the parliamentary act for “free trade” into Spain, Portugal, and France, which had opened Iberian commerce to all who would engage in it. Had they been successful, they would have reestablished parliamentary sanction for their local monopoly. But even though the measure was read twice, it failed to receive approval. In the Parliaments of 1621 and 1624 the Society again attempted to secure itself, petitioning on these occasions for a confirmation of its charters and explicitly requesting the renewal of its earlier statutory monopoly.
On these occasions they bolstered their case by analogy to the Exeter merchants, who unlike the Bristolians had managed to save their monopoly in the free-trade debate of 1606 because of the alleged antiquity of their charter, their service to the Crown, and their maintenance of almsmen, teaching of children, and other charitable works. “[I]n all which respects…wee doe equallize if not exceed them,” the Bristolians claimed in 1621, citing their overseas explorations, their provision of ships for Crown service, and their maintenance of an almshouse and a free school for mariners’ children. They could no longer support these works, they said, “vnlesse wee may obteyne lawfull aucthoritie for the better ordering of their trade” to end the losses caused by untrained shipmasters, mariners, and sailors, dishonest Severn boatmen, and, above all, “the indisscrecion and excesse of vnexperienced enterlopers.” In support, the mayor and aldermen of Bristol provided a detailed certificate outlining the history of the merchants’ monopoly and arguing against the 1571 repeal act because it had been procured “by certeyne shopp keepers and tradesmen” when the mere merchants were weakened by great losses. Since the repeal of the statute and the opening of the Spanish trade at the beginning of James I’s reign, they alleged, many Bristol “shoppe keepers, and men of manuell occupacions, forsakeing their vsuall trades and exerciseing the traffique and recourse of marchandice being altogether vnexperienced therein, are fallen to decay.” By these means, and because the Merchant Venturers could not effectively regulate their own membership or seafarers who depended on overseas trade, the Society and the citizens of Bristol “are much prejudiced to the great hindrance of the weale and prosperitie of the same Citty, the Decrease of Navigation and the Diminucion of his Majesties Customes.” Hence, the mayor and aldermen heartily endorsed the Society’s petition for the renewal of its charters.
Despite this impressive local support, all efforts to reestablish the Merchant Venturers’ monopoly through parliamentary statute failed. Here the analogy with Exeter is instructive, for, unlike Bristol, that city’s mere merchants had been able to accommodate their differences with the other freemen within a year of acquiring their monopoly privileges, which henceforth remained in place. The monopoly survived without a defeat in the courts or in Parliament. When the Exeter merchants asked Parliament to exempt their charter from the provisions of the free-trade measure in 1606, they had history on their side, and no angry local voices to challenge their claims. In the national political climate of James I’s reign, during which the House of Commons placed monopolies of all types under the most intense scrutiny, an appeal by the Bristol Merchant Venturers, who lacked the advantages of their Exeter counterparts, for parliamentary restoration of their monopoly privileges was hardly likely to succeed.
So long as the Merchant Venturers’ authority remained a purely local issue, however, the support of the Common Council was sufficient to sustain it under most of the difficulties it might encounter. But in the 1630s the Merchant Venturers came under direct attack from the Crown, which threatened the very existence of the Society. The point of crisis was the so-called wharfage duty on imported goods, created by the Common Council in 1606 for the maintenance of the port facilities and collected after 1611 by the Merchant Venturers, who from that time expended the proceeds for their own purposes, as their principal source of revenue. From the start there was a question about the legality of this new levy, but during the 1620s the Privy Council had given its support to uphold it. In the mid-1630s, however, the Crown’s officers, searching for new sources of royal revenue, changed this policy in response to a complaint from the merchants of Barnstable. By November 1637 the matter had become the subject of a formal inquiry conducted by a commission headed by the marquis of Hamilton, in which the rapacious and violent Lord Mohun, together with Robert Pawlett, Esq., and Charles Fox, Esq., acted as principal investigators. The terms of their commission included authority to inquire under what warrant wharfage had been imposed. To the Merchant Venturers this was a frightening threat. Not only was their chief source of income under challenge, but their legal status was put in doubt as well, since inquiry into the warrant for the collection of wharfage duty called into question their authority to enforce their own ordinances. The marquis of Hamilton’s commission raised the possibility that the Merchant Venturers would not merely lose the wharfage duty, from which they could recover, but would be stripped of their enforcement authority and damaged beyond repair.
To guard against this prospect the Merchant Venturers and their supporters in the city government began a process of calculated delay. The commissioners’ primary interest was in the Society’s account books and other records. But the Society’s officers—with the aid of the town clerk, James Dyer, who was a well-connected barrister—contrived, by keeping these records from them, to provoke the commissioners, especially the notoriously ill-tempered Lord Mohun, into overstepping their authority. Dyer’s advice led to the arrest of the Society’s warden, while his own harsh words to the commissioners caused him to be placed under security to appear before the solicitor-general. But this “purposed opposition,” as Mohun called it, spurred the commissioners on to forcing entry into the Merchants’ Hall to seize the account books from their locked chest. And so the pot was stirred.
These proceedings resulted in a letter of outrage from Dyer to Sir Edward Nicholas, by now a prominent privy councillor, who was an old and influential friend of the city. Next came a petition to the king complaining of the excesses of the commissioners, carried to London by a party of leading merchants among the aldermen and common councillors. This in turn produced a hearing in the king’s presence at which Charles ordered the Bristolians and the commissioners each to present bills in Star Chamber detailing their grievances, in effect delaying further action. It was just the respite the Bristolians wanted. The litigation came before Star Chamber in April 1638. At about the same time the Society decided to petition the king for a confirmation of its charter. Nothing is known of the negotiations, but approval came quite quickly; new letters patent were sealed on 7 January 1639.
This new charter not only brought the intrusive commission on wharfage to an abrupt halt but granted the Merchant Venturers new powers of enforcement, focused on a new Court of Assistants named in the patent, that guaranteed the Society’s ability to impose its ordinances even on nonmembers. The membership of this initial Court of Assistants is especially important, since to it were named those leading merchants whose trade had long focused on the Iberian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic islands, where the pursuit of high-profit imports was of preeminent importance. Since this body would perpetuate itself by co-optation, the Society was now securely in the hands of men fully devoted to the ideals of monopoly that had first emerged in the sixteenth century. The Merchant Venturers’ efforts, and an expenditure of £400, according to their Hall Book, had brought an end to the uncertainty about their legal position that had haunted them since 1571.
With this authority, the Society set about drafting new bylaws, which were completed and approved on 4 April 1639. Many measures, such as the rules excluding retailers and craftsmen from membership without a special meeting of the Hall and forbidding members from acting in partnership with nonmembers, were repeated verbatim from the 1618 ordinances, though the Society’s new enforcement powers gave them added bite. In addition, all Merchant Venturers were required to refrain from selling any cloth or other goods or from buying any merchandise beyond the seas for the benefit of nonmembers, and all were forbidden to allow any but a fellow Merchant Venturer to freight ships with them. Finally, new inspection procedures were introduced to assure that shipmasters, mariners, and other seamen did not use their ancient privilege of lading their own trading goods aboard vessels in order to conduct illicit trade for retailers and manufacturers.
The acquisition of the charter and the passage of these new ordinances seemed to end an era in the history of the Merchant Venturers. Once again the Society enjoyed the secure legal position and effective enforcement authority it had achieved in 1566. Although technically it did not have a monopoly, by controlling its own membership it could now keep nearly all shopkeepers and artisans from conducting overseas trade. The effect was immediate. By June 1639 the Society’s Court of Assistants was meeting to recover outstanding debts owed the Society for wharfage and other duties. On two days, twenty-nine individuals were summoned to the Merchants’ Hall to arrange for early payment. Twelve of them were not members of the Society at the time. This new power in turn had an effect on the size of the Society’s membership, since it was now not only more difficult for nonmembers to engage in foreign commerce but also more beneficial to be a member. During the twenty-one years between the ordinances of 1618 and the charter of 1639, only sixty-three members had been added to the Society. But now, within three years, fifty-one overseas traders entered the fellowship, including five of the twelve men previously chastised for failing to pay their port duties.
The connection of the Merchant Venturers to the membership of the city government that had sustained their Society through its long sojourn in the institutional wilderness after 1571 also made possible their great success in 1639. Merchant domination of the city government resulted in such a close alliance that in the decade preceding the issuance of the 1639 charter the Society and the city government almost formed an interlocking directorate. During these years, for example, Alderman Humphrey Hooke held the office of master for six years, and Alderman Richard Long for two more. In the same period, Hooke and Long each served as mayor for one year, with Long’s term coinciding with one of his two years as master. Alderman Richard Holworthy also was simultaneously mayor and master during this period. Moreover, when Parliament was summoned, it was the same merchant leadership that was sent. In the early Stuart period, Merchant Venturers held both Bristol seats in every session, except in the 1625 Parliament and the Short Parliament, when the city’s recorder served along with a Merchant Venturer. Alderman Hooke sat in both the Short and the Long Parliament, and Richard Long sat in the Long Parliament with him.
Although there were certainly differences in outlook among the Merchant Venturers, with some more committed than others to the Society’s monopolistic policies, control of the city government gave their corporation enormous advantages both at home and in Westminster. As we have seen, not only could the Merchant Venturers count on the Common Council to sustain their Society’s activities, as it did in passing the ordinance of 1605 and again by granting the wharfage duty, but it also often acted on the Society’s behalf when favors were sought from the national authorities, as in 1621 and 1624, when the Society attempted to regain its monopoly through a parliamentary statute, and again in the 1630s, when its letters patent were under challenge. These efforts were supported to a considerable degree by the wider membership of the city’s elite, in part because many who were not members of the Merchant Venturers enjoyed close family and business ties to merchants of the fellowship. For example, among the nine aldermen who in 1621 signed the certificate sent to Bristol’s members of Parliament in support of the Merchant Venturers’ claims to monopoly, one was a soapmaker, one a mercer, one a brewer, and two, identified only as yeomen, were probably innkeepers. At least three of these men also had close family ties to leading Merchant Venturers. In other words, by the 1620s a measure of peace appears to have been achieved in relations between the Society and the elder statesmen among the shopkeepers and artisans. Nevertheless, resistance to the Merchant Venturers’ claims to monopoly survived down to the Civil War and beyond. As we have already seen, opposition arose after the Common Council’s attempt in 1612 to restrict overseas trade to mere merchants. Even the compromise of 1618 did not end the controversy. The aldermen’s certificates in support of the Society in 1621 and 1624 attest that some retailers and craftsmen continued to resist the Society by participating in overseas trade without joining its membership or submitting to the 1618 ordinances. Only with the Merchant Venturers’ victory of 1639 did the Society reacquire the necessary powers to end these challenges.
These controversies only rarely found their way into local electoral politics in Bristol. Because high city offices such as mayor or sheriff were costly to hold, a practice of rotation was commonly followed by which nearly every common councillor was selected as he became the most senior figure who had not yet served. Moreover, the council itself was so heavily dominated by the Merchant Venturers that their rivalry with the retailers and manufacturers rarely could surface there. Nevertheless, this rivalry did manifest itself occasionally in the period. The election of Christopher Whitson to the mayoralty in 1626 can serve as our illustration.
Whitson appears to have been among the leading protesters in 1612 against the Common Council’s ordinance excluding retailers and manufacturers from overseas trade; and, as we have already seen, he became one of the few redemptioners admitted to the Society after the Merchant Venturers had been forced to liberalize their admissions requirements in 1618. Not surprisingly, his place in the city government excited dissension from the mere merchants. When he was proposed for sheriff in 1613 a dozen votes were cast against him, an almost unheard-of occurrence in elections for this burdensome office. Although not all of this opposition came from Merchant Venturers, Whitson’s main adversaries were a closely linked group of great Spanish and Mediterranean traders, longtime proponents of the monopolistic ideals of the Society, who were led by Alderman Robert Aldworth, perhaps the richest and best-connected Bristol merchant of his generation. Whitson may also have been behind the resistance to the Merchant Venturers’ appeals for monopoly in the parliaments of 1621 and 1624 and the subsequent demand for the vote by all the freemen in the elections to the Parliament of 1625. In any case, by 1626 the leading Merchant Venturers thought of Whitson as an overly “puntuall” man, as was said by one of them, rigid in outlook, whom the leading Merchant Venturers could not trust to act in their interests.
Whitson’s main rival for the mayoralty in 1626 was Aldworth himself, who was nominated by the outgoing mayor, John Barker, a Merchant Venturer in Aldworth’s camp. Analysis of the final vote shows the leading Spanish and Mediterranean traders on the council pitted against the retailers and manufacturers. Aldworth received nineteen of the forty-two votes cast; seventeen of these came from Society members. Whitson received twenty-two votes, only eight of which were from Merchant Venturers. The division among the Merchant Venturers is revealing in its own right. The eight votes from Society members for Whitson came from lesser members, men who traded primarily in the bulky and less profitable wares of the Baltic, Normandy, Brittany, and the Bay of Biscay. They were in the following of Alderman John Whitson, Christopher’s powerful cousin. John Whitson’s own rivalry with Aldworth and his clique went back to the beginning of James I’s reign when, as we have noted, Whitson was the only Spanish merchant in Bristol willing to accept the newly refounded Spanish Company, including its apparent welcoming of retailers and craftsmen into the Bristol branch.
These rivalries between the mere merchants and their anti-monopoly opponents penetrated deeply into the structure of politics in Bristol in this period, becoming in the process a foundation for controversies seemingly very distant from the main arena of conflict. Take, for example, what happened in 1639 when the city needed to elect a new chamberlain. By letters patent of 1499, the Bristol chamberlain, with duties modeled on those of his London counterpart, was to be elected by the mayor and the Common Council and to hold office during their pleasure. Because of his central importance as comptroller of the city’s revenues, agent in its dealings with the Crown, and enforcer of its economic regulations, the Corporation took great pains not only to assure that he would be a man of known character but to control his activities when he was in office. Normally, the office was a source of strength in municipal affairs. In 1639, however, the death of Nicholas Meredith, who had been Bristol’s chamberlain for the previous thirty-six years, provoked a crisis with the Crown. At the election of his successor in October, eight candidates presented themselves, only four of whom received votes. The winner was William Chetwyn, a well-connected merchant, the choice of twenty-four of the forty-one councillors present. Among the disappointed, receiving no votes at all, was one Ralph Farmer, gentleman, a minor official of the Chancery and an associate of the earl of Berkshire in the monopoly of malt kilns. At the time of the election, however, Farmer, though the son of Thomas Farmer, brewer, late alderman of Bristol, had not yet sought admission to the freedom of the city, possession of which was required for the office according to the city’s charters. Nevertheless, before a month had passed the Common Council received an ominous letter directly from King Charles I, quashing the election on the grounds that Chetwyn was a man “out of this our realm” and that his election had been for private ends, “to the prejudice of common libertie.” In his place the king recommended “Ralph ffarmer a man not vnknowne vnto yorselves and by many of you much desired, of whose abilities & fitness we have receaved an ample testimony and assurance.” Just how the king became cognizant of this matter is unclear. The common councillors placed the blame on Ralph Farmer himself, whom they accused of casting “some aspersion” on them by some “vndue suggestions” to the king. But probably Farmer’s connection with the earl of Berkshire, recently sworn to the Privy Council, explains how he was able so quickly to obtain the ear of King Charles.
The Common Council’s reaction to the king’s letter showed prudence but determination. They immediately quashed Chetwyn’s election and replaced him with Farmer, who by now had become a sworn burgess of the city. But at the same time they appointed a committee to go forthwith to the court to insure that “the City…stand right in his Majesty’s opinion.” The upshot was a petition to the king describing what they had done in response to his letter, denying that the councillors had acted in any way out of faction, reminding him of the city’s charters, confirmed by him, which placed the right to elect the chamberlain in the hands of the mayor and the Common Council, and asking that he “ratify” the first election or permit them to proceed to a new election between Chetwyn and Farmer. When the king ordered a new election, Farmer received eighteen votes, including those of the mayor and two sheriffs, while Chetwyn again received twenty-four votes.
Curiously, the forces at work in this election show social and political cleavages similar to the ones we have seen at work between Aldworth and Whitson. In the first vote in October, no identifiable faction supported Chetwyn or any of his active opponents. But at the second election fifteen of Farmer’s eighteen votes came from leading Merchant Venturers, including four who had previously voted for Chetwyn. This shift made Farmer the candidate of the mere merchants, including the surviving members of the Aldworth clique, many of whom had been named to the Society’s powerful Court of Assistants in its recent charter. Chetwyn’s supporters came from a wider range of occupations, including, besides merchants, mercers, brewers, drapers, and grocers. Although fourteen of Chetwyn’s votes also came from Merchant Venturers, most of these were northern traders, and less influential in the Society than were Farmer’s supporters. Quite surprisingly, the latter had spent most of the 1630s fending off one royal commission after another in search of unpaid debts owed the Crown or its officials.
How can we explain this division? Unlike in the Whitson election case, the answer cannot be found primarily in the economic activities of the two candidates. Chetwyn himself was a well-connected merchant who had been a Merchant Venturer since before 1618; he had been apprenticed to one of Aldworth’s regular business partners. Farmer apparently did not engage in overseas trade at all. Rather, the deciding factor seems to have been the social horizons and aspirations of Farmer’s party. They were politically wary and politically adept men, dependent upon foreign trade and therefore upon the Crown and national policy for their economic positions. With the granting of the Merchant Venturers’ new charter in 1639, these individuals had received a great boon from Farmer’s nominator, King Charles I. To them it must have seemed only prudent to follow his leadership in filling the chamberlain’s office.
We have moved decisively from the realms of economic structure, social organization, and cultural form to the world of political choice and action. Although large-scale historical developments like the opening of the Atlantic to trade and the coming of the Reformation conditioned the course of political events in this period, they did not determine them. Rather, individuals, acting from motives that pulled them, sometimes at cross-purposes, to advance their personal or family interests and to uphold their communal obligations, were confronted by dilemmas of commitment that could be resolved in a variety of ways. Their decisions depended on how they weighed the efficacy and rectitude of the available courses of action and the importance and value of their various goals. In these circumstances, we can no more expect to find uniformity of choice within identifiable groups than between them. The patterns, instead, were probabilistic or statistical, with the members of a particular group mostly following the same line as their fellows but by no means always doing so. Nevertheless, the Merchant Venturers, particularly those specializing in trade with southern markets, had come to believe that only a form of monopoly could assure Bristol’s prosperity, whereas a wide group of retailers and artisan entrepreneurs saw such a monopoly as a threat to their ancient rights as freemen of the city and of England. These little businesses reveal a complex interplay of local issues and national policies, notable citizens and Crown officials, communal factions and central institutions. They were little only in scale, not in significance.
1. For a discussion of the persistence of these ideas into the post-Reformation era, see Mark A. Kishlansky, Parliamentary Selection: Social and Political Choice in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), chap. 1. For doubts about this interpretation, see David Harris Sacks, “Searching for ‘Culture’ in the English Renaissance,” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 486–88; David Harris Sacks, “Parliament, Liberty, and the Commonweal,” in J. H. Hexter, ed., Parliament and Liberty from the Reign of Elizabeth to the English Civil War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 85–121. [BACK]
2. Russell, Parliaments and English Politics, p. 37. [BACK]
3. Elizabeth I’s confirmation is dated 8 July 1566; a translation from the Latin original appears in SMV, Book of Charters, vol. 1, p. 27; and both the original and translation are printed in Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 46–47. The statute is 8 Eliz. I, c. 19, and is printed in ibid., pp. 47–50. [BACK]
4. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 49. [BACK]
5. Ibid., pp. 49–50. The sanctions against illicit trading were severe: all goods conveyed “to or from beyond the seas” contrary to the original letters patent were to be forfeited, with half going to the Crown and the other half to be divided equally between the Society and the city Chamber. [BACK]
6. Fox and Taylor, eds., Guild of Weavers, pp. 91–92. [BACK]
7. John Neale, Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments, 1559–1581 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1953), p. 177. Neale points out elsewhere that jockeying for a position in the Commons in the Elizabethan period ordinarily began at the first rumors of a new Parliament: John Neale, The Elizabethan House of Commons (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950), p. 52. [BACK]
8. BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 26r–v. At the same time it was ordered that, in the future, nominations were to take place on St. Giles’ Day (1 September), two weeks before the actual election, presumably to permit canvassing. But the provision for nominations on St. Giles’ Day was repealed in the following year; ibid., f. 29r. Otherwise the procedure laid down in this ordinance was the one followed thereafter. Nominations to office had previously been made by seniority, with each member of the Common Council, beginning with the mayor, nominating in turn. In most cases this meant that only the most senior members of the council ever made a nomination. The new arrangement provided for each rank in the council to have its own nominee: the outgoing mayor was to nominate one person for each post; the aldermen together with the sheriffs and those councillors who had previously been mayor were to name another slate; and the remainder of the council a third. [BACK]
9. See Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, p. 907n. 76. [BACK]
10. Seyer, Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 243; John Evans, A Chronological Outline of the History of Bristol (Bristol: John Evans, 1824), p. 149. See also Adams’s Chronicle, p. 112. [BACK]
11. See PRO, SP 12/77/35; Bath MSS, Dudley Papers, vol. 1, ff. 224r–225r. [BACK]
12. J. B. Davidson, “Hoker’s Journal of the House of Commons in 1571,” Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art 11 (1879): 478. The version of Hooker’s journal printed by T. E. Hartley omits this and several other passages relating to the Bristol bill printed by Davidson, presumably because the original document in the Devonshire Record Office had become even less legible than it was in the 1870s: see T. E. Hartley, ed., Proceedings in the Parliaments of Elizabeth I. Volume 1: 1558–1581 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1981), p. 243n. 1. G. R. Elton offers a somewhat confused and unreliable discussion of this debate in his The Parliament of England, 1559–1581 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 131–32. However, a subsequent remark on this same episode corrects the main error and provides the necessary citation: p. 257 and n. 201. [BACK]
13. Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 209; see also CJ, vol. 1, p. 84; Simonds D’Ewes, The Journals of all the Parliaments during the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, both of the House of Lords and the House of Commons (London, 1682), p. 160. [BACK]
14. Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 210; D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments, p. 160. Francis Alford, a civil lawyer who was usually cautious and conservative, answered Fleetwood’s point by saying that although “hee might not speak of the prerogative aptly for that hee was not learned in the lawe, but made some remembrance of what hee had there seene concerning the act of Parliament for Southampton [in 1562–63], whereby it appeared that without an act of Parliament her Majestie’s letters patentes were not sufficient.” [BACK]
15. Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 210; D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments, p. 160; Davidson, “Hoker’s Journal,” pp. 470–71. [BACK]
16. D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments, pp. 160–61; Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, pp. 210–11. The MPs who spoke included Francis Alford, Edward Cleer, Sir Francis Knollys, Sir Nicholas Arnold, Sir Henry Norris, Mr. Christopher Yelverton of Gray’s Inn, and John Popham: Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 211. For a discussion of the implications of Popham’s argument see Sacks, “Parliament, Liberty and the Commonweal,” pp. 93–100; David Harris Sacks, “Monopoly and Liberty in Elizabethan England,” in Dale Hoak, ed., Tudor Political Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). [BACK]
17. D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments, p. 161. [BACK]
18. CJ, vol. 1, p. 84; D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments, p. 162; Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 247. [BACK]
19. CJ, vol. 1, p. 84. The other members were Sir James Croft, Sir Nicholas Pointz, Sir John Thynne, Sir Nicholas Arnold, Sir John White of London, Mr. John Newton, Mr. Francis Alford, Mr. Thomas Norton, Mr. Hall of York, and Mr. John Hooker of Exeter. [BACK]
20. Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 247; Davidson, “Hoker’s Journal,” p. 478; CJ, vol. 1, pp. 85, 86. [BACK]
21. LJ, vol. 1, pp. 679, 689; BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 29r. Our source tells us only of the bond imposed on Langley, but perhaps a similar bond was imposed on the Merchant Venturers. Unfortunately, we have no evidence as to what the order actually was. [BACK]
22. LJ, vol. 1, p. 690. [BACK]
23. Stat. 13 Eliz. I, c. 14, printed in Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 57. [BACK]
24. Ibid. [BACK]
25. Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 211. [BACK]
26. PRO, SP 15/20/19. [BACK]
27. Marchants Avizo, p. 5. [BACK]
28. PRO, SP 15/20/19; a version is printed in Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 54. [BACK]
29. William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, ed. Kenneth Palmer, Arden Edition of William Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1982), p. 129, Act 1, scene 3, lines 109–10. [BACK]
30. Thomas Dekker, The Shoemaker’s Holiday, ed. J. P. Steane (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), esp. act 2, scene 3. See also Thomas Delony, The Gentle Craft, in The Works of Thomas Delony, ed. Francis Oscar Mann (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912), pp. 109–33. On the rules governing the occupations and trades of London freemen, see William Bohun, Privilegia Londini: or, The rights, liberties, privileges, laws, and customs of the city of London, 3d ed. (London: James Crokatt, 1723), pp. 178–82; Sylvia L. Thrupp, The Merchant Class of Medieval London (1300–1500) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962), pp. 5–6; Sylvia L. Thrupp, “The Grocers of London: A Study of Distributive Trade,” in Eileen Power and M. M. Postan, eds., Studies in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 261–72. The cases Bohun cites make clear that from the late sixteenth century, after the Statute of Artificers, the officials of London sought to narrow the freedom to trade so that only those apprenticed in an occupation that “useth buying and selling as Mercer, Grocer, may exercise another Trade of buying and selling.” Hence a shoemaker, trained in a “manual craft,” could not enter into trade. But in earlier days the custom seems to have been otherwise, and it is clear that craftsmen and others continued to claim the right to trade by wholesale throughout the seventeenth century. For a sketch of Simon Eyre’s actual career, see Thrupp, Merchant Class of London, p. 339. Thrupp gives Eyre’s original occupation as “upholder,” which might mean “upholsterer” or simply “shopkeeper.” [BACK]
31. Fox and Taylor, eds., Guild of Weavers, pp. 92–93. [BACK]
32. See Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 211. Popham’s argument in 1571 approaches the view later articulated by such lawyers as Lawrence Hyde, Nicholas Fuller, Edward Coke, and Francis Moore; see n. 16 above. [BACK]
33. PRO, SP 15/20/19. [BACK]
34. APC (1558–1570), pp. 193–94; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, p. 908n. 96. [BACK]
35. BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 29r–v. We do not know how many councillors were present at this meeting. The full membership of the council at this time was forty-three including the recorder (who appeared only occasionally, at the time of gaol delivery), but it was not unusual for there to be vacancies and absences at any given meeting. For example, on 12 September 1570 only thirty-seven members were present; there were even two absences among the aldermen. It is unlikely, however, that more than five members would be missing from the council at any one time. In other words, the twenty members who supported Langley on this occasion were just barely sufficient to carry the question. [BACK]
36. For details, see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, pp. 606–7. [BACK]
37. Latimer, Sixteenth-Century Bristol, p. 57. [BACK]
38. BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 30r; Latimer, Sixteenth-Century Bristol, p. 57. [BACK]
39. BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 30v. [BACK]
40. APC (1577–78), p. 354; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, p. xiii. [BACK]
41. PRO, SP 12/105/3. [BACK]
42. Wroth, “Elizabethan Merchant,” pp. 302–4; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, p. xi n. 4. [BACK]
43. PRO, C 66/1158/2256, mm. 1–12, esp. mm. 4–5. The new company’s jurisdiction also covered the entire Iberian peninsula, including Portugal, and it was granted wide powers to make binding ordinances for its membership and to punish interlopers. The charter is fully calendared in Cal. Pat. Rolls, Eliz. I (1575–1578), vol. 7, pp. 317–23, and extensive portions of the charter are printed in Shillington and Chapman, Commercial Relations of England and Portugal, pp. 313–26; see also Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. xii–xiii. [BACK]
44. The original membership of the Spanish Company numbered 396, of whom 223 were Londoners and only 75 Bristolians: PRO, C 66/1158/2256, m. 2; Cal. Pat. Rolls, Eliz. I, vol. 7, p. 318; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, xiii, xvii. For discussion of the relationship of the Spanish Company branch with the Merchant Venturers, see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 913–14n. 6. [BACK]
45. APC (1575–1577), p. 16. [BACK]
46. APC (1577–1578), pp. 408–9. [BACK]
47. On the dispute within Chester and between the Chester merchants and those of Liverpool, see Woodward, Trade of Elizabethan Chester, pp. 78–87; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. xviii–xxi. [BACK]
48. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 81–84. [BACK]
49. SMV, Book of Trade, p. 37; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. xxviii–xxix. [BACK]
50. Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. 1, 2, 4. [BACK]
51. PRO, SP 14/21/41; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 2–3; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. xxviii–xxix, 14, 15–16, 18, 95–113; Shillington and Chapman, Commercial Relations of England and Portugal, pp. 161–62. [BACK]
52. Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. 22–23. [BACK]
53. Ibid., pp. 23–24. [BACK]
54. Ibid., pp. 31, 47, 91–92. [BACK]
55. See n. 30 above; McGrath, ed., Records, p. 26. [BACK]
56. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 18, 43, 46; Croft, “Free Trade and the House of Commons,” p. 24. [BACK]
57. Croft, “Free Trade and the House of Commons,” pp. 21–22; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, p. 78. [BACK]
58. Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. 42, 44–45. [BACK]
59. Ibid., pp. 45–47. [BACK]
60. Ibid., pp. 43, 46. [BACK]
61. Ibid., pp. 55–56. [BACK]
62. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 1, pp. 112–13; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 3–5. [BACK]
63. Ibid. [BACK]
64. For the story of Hyde’s appointment to the recordership and the outcries it aroused among the Common Council and Bristol’s Merchant Venturers, see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, pp. 87–101; on the free-trade issue see T. K. Rabb, “Sir Edward Sandys and the Parliament of 1604,” AHR 69 (1963–64), pp. 661–69; Robert Ashton, “The Parliamentary Agitation for Free Trade in the Opening Years of James I,” Past and Present, no. 38 (December 1967); T. K. Rabb, “Free Trade and the Gentry in the Parliament of 1604,” Past and Present, no. 40 (July 1968), pp. 165–73; Robert Ashton, “Jacobean Free Trade Again,” Past and Present, no. 43 (May 1969), pp. 151–57; Croft, “Free Trade and the House of Commons,” pp. 17–27; Robert Ashton, The City and the Court, 1603–1643 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 84–98. [BACK]
65. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, f. 24r–v; see also ibid., f. 25r; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 6n. 3; McGrath, ed., Records, p. 8. [BACK]
66. McGrath, ed., Records, p. 8; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 67; Kramer, English Craft Gilds, p. 31n. 30. [BACK]
67. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 75–76. For an account of the procedures followed to assure the effectiveness of these rules, see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, p. 629. [BACK]
68. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 75. [BACK]
69. Ibid., pp. 78–79. [BACK]
70. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 26–27. [BACK]
71. Christopher Whitson was admitted to the freedom of the city of Bristol as a redemptioner in 1610, and a year later was selected to serve on the Common Council. His occupation at the time of his admission is not known, because when he was sworn to the burgess-ship he was listed only as a “yeoman,” a signification that in urban contexts often meant simply “not a servant” or “not a dependent”: BRO, Burgess Book (1607–1651), f. 79v; Anthony Salerno, “The Social Background of Seventeenth-Century Emigration to America,” Journal of British Studies 19 (1979): 37–38. [BACK]
72. In 1612 the Merchant Venturers claimed to draft their new membership rules “by vertue of their Charter.” They did so again in 1618, even after receiving Nicholas Hyde’s opinion: BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, f. 24r–v; McGrath, ed., Records, p. 8; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 68. Apparently they believed that the repeal of the 1566 statute affected only their exclusionary membership rules and the expanded enforcement powers granted to support them. Although their interpretation of the law may have been correct, since they were not forced to yield up the 1552 letters patent when they lost their case in Parliament in 1571, a prudent man would not lightly have risked testing this position, especially if it was challenged by the Crown: see Sacks, “The Corporate Town and the English State,” pp. 78–80. [BACK]
73. CJ, vol. 1, p. 275; See also Croft, “Free Trade and the House of Commons,” p. 26; McGrath, ed., Records, p. 6n. 2. [BACK]
74. SMV, Book of Trade, pp. 82–84, 85; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 9– 11, 14. [BACK]
75. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 9–12; on the Exeter merchants’ success in 1606, see Cotton, Elizabethan Guild, p. 177; Croft, “Free Trade and the House of Commons,” p. 26. [BACK]
76. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 12–14; for a similar certificate in 1624, see SMV, Book of Trade, p. 146. [BACK]
77. See MacCaffrey, Exeter, 1540–1640, pp. 136–59; HMC, Records of the City of Exeter, pp. 40–41; City of Exeter Record Office, MS Book 185, Merchant Venturers Dispute, 1558–59; Cotton, Elizabethan Guild. [BACK]
78. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 64–65; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 1, pp. 116, 132; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 84–88; see also McGrath, Merchant Venturers of Bristol, p. 71. The Society also collected duties called anchorage, crannage, and plankage by virtue of an eighty-year lease granted to twenty-four merchant feoffees in 1601: BRO, Deed 00352 (5). [BACK]
79. McGrath, ed., Records, p. 136; SMV, Book of Charters, vol. 1, pp. 95, 101; APC (1623–1625), p. 485. See also BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 1, p. 135; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 65; McGrath, Merchant Venturers of Bristol, p. 71. [BACK]
80. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 60v. [BACK]
81. PRO, SP 16/373/84. [BACK]
82. PRO, SP 16/373/84, 16/378/4, 16/379/1i, 2, 3, 34. [BACK]
83. PRO, SP 16/373/84, 16/379/1i, 34; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 81r–v. [BACK]
84. PRO, SP 16/373/1ii, 34; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, f. 83r–v; Adams’s Chronicle, p. 258. [BACK]
85. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 88–97; SMV, Hall Book, vol. 1, p. 24. For discussion of the terms of this charter, see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 647–48. [BACK]
86. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 100–101, 102, 104–5. [BACK]
87. SMV, Hall Book, vol. 1, p. 2. [BACK]
88. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 29, 261. [BACK]
89. Compiled from Beaven, Lists, and Return of the Name of Every Member of the Lower House of the Parliament of England, 1213–1874 (Parliamentary Papers, 1878), vol. 62, part 1. [BACK]
90. See, e.g., SMV, Book of Trade, pp. 104–13; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, f. 96r–v; Miller Christy, “Attempts towards Colonization: The Council of New England and the Merchant Venturers of Bristol,” AHR 4 (1899): pp. 678–702; Latimer, Annals, p. 70; MacInnes, Gateway of Empire, pp. 96–106; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 635–38; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 9–14. [BACK]
91. The other four were Merchant Venturers, including the mayor. The remaining aldermen were Whitson and Guy, who were in Parliament, and the recorder, who was rarely present at aldermanic meetings. [BACK]
92. The conclusion on the frequency of electoral contests is based on analysis of the mayoral elections recorded in BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vols. 1–3. Nominations and voting were by voice until 1642, when, significantly, a secret ballot was introduced. The town clerk or an assistant recorded each man’s vote after his name in the minute book with the initials of the candidate for whom he voted. Between 1599 and 1642, twenty-five mayoral elections were uncontested, and a further ten show five votes or fewer in opposition to the successful candidate: Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 708–9. The only other hotly contested mayoral election in our period occurred in 1633. This election pitted Alderman Robert Aldworth, one of the main protagonists in 1626, against Mathew Warren, clothier, Christopher Whitson’s brother-in-law. In 1633, Warren was the most senior common councillor who had not yet served as mayor: BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, ff. 44r–45v. [BACK]
93. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 134r. [BACK]
94. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, ff. 40r–41v; PRO, SP 16/41/80. For the Aldworth group’s leadership in opposing the membership of retailers and manufacturers in the Merchant Venturers, see McGrath, ed., Records, p. 7. [BACK]
95. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, ff. 142r–143v, compared to the register of Merchant Venturer members in McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 26–29. [BACK]
96. The overseas trading activities of Whitson’s supporters were established by comparing evidence derived from PRO, E 190/1134/10 and E 190/1135/6, to the votes registered in BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, 142r–143v. Evidence of Whitson’s rivalry with Aldworth can be found in Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. xliii, 18, 43, 46, 101; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 619–25; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, f. 55r–v. For the relationship between Christopher Whitson and John Whitson, see BRO, Great Orphan Book, vol. 3, f. 250v. [BACK]
97. Cronne, ed., Bristol Charters, 1378–1499, pp. 165–66, 175–77; BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 52r–v; BRO, MS 04273 (1), ff. 44r–v, 48r; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, ff. 38r–39v; Latham, ed., Bristol Charters, 1509–1899, pp. 11–13; D. M. Livock, ed., City Chamberlain’s Accounts in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (BRS 24, 1966), pp. xii–xiv; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, pp. 71–84. [BACK]
98. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 95r–v. The candidates were designated by initials only. The voting was as follows: “E” m 8, “ll” m 7, “T” m 2; “C” m 24. “E” may have been Giles Elbridge, a merchant and common councillor; “ll” may have been Thomas Lloyd, a brewer and common councillor; “T” was John Thruston, a soapmaker but not a common councillor; and of course “C” was William Chetwyn, a merchant but also not a common councillor. William Chetwyn was the son of Thomas Chetwyn of Rudgely, Staffordshire, gentleman, and had been apprenticed to John Barker of Bristol, merchant. He became a freeman of the city on 4 July 1617 by virtue of his apprenticeship: BRO, Apprentice Book (1593–1609), f. 277v; BRO, Burgess Book (1607–1651), f. 93v. [BACK]
99. Farmer became a burgess by patrimony on 19 October 1639, three days after this election: BRO, Burgess Book (1607–1651), f. 283v. For Farmer’s connection with the earl of Berkshire and subsequent career, see George Bishop, The Throne of Blood (London, 1656), p. 109. [BACK]
100. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 96r. The letter is dated Whitehall, 1 November 1639. [BACK]
101. Ibid., f. 96v. [BACK]
102. Ibid., ff. 96v–97v. [BACK]
103. Ibid., ff. 98r, 99r. The king’s letter is dated 20 November 1639. [BACK]
104. Ibid., f. 95r–v. Alderman Humphrey Hooke, for example, voted for “ll” whereas Thomas Hooke, his son, voted for “T.” In the second election both of these men voted for Farmer. It is clear that in the first election there was no consensus candidate, but there appears to have been no systematic effort to stop Chetwyn from obtaining the office. [BACK]
105. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 98r–v; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 91; see also PRO, E 134/12 Car I/East. 21, E 134/12 Car I/ Mich. 39, E 134/13 Car I/East. 132; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 238–39. See also Sacks, “The Corporate Town and the English State,” pp. 77–78. [BACK]