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Even though Bristol’s trade in the early seventeenth century showed the same interest in southern wares as in Elizabeth’s reign, there were several important new developments. Markets in the Netherlands and Norway, in North Africa, and in the eastern Mediterranean grew, while in the Iberian peninsula itself there was a shift in Bristol’s trade away from the Bay of Biscay, Lisbon, and the Guadalquivir valley to new centers of trade on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. There were also important developments in exports as Bristol’s merchants sought to find new commodities to sell to their foreign customers. Calfskins, butter, lead, iron, and coal all played an increasingly significant role in the city’s trade, and textile shipments became much more varied as cheap “cottons” and friezes and expensive worsteds joined the older varieties of broadcloth in the holds of Bristol ships. The cheaper fabrics found a good market in the north, and the lighter-weight and finer-quality goods were in high demand on the southern routes.[68] At the same time, a whole new world of trade opened across the Atlantic. In general, then, the early Stuart period witnessed the emergence of a more widespread and complex system of commerce, knitting together a greater diversity of commodities and overseas ports than in the sixteenth century.

Amsterdam provides the key to understanding the changes in the northern trades. In the course of the later sixteenth century it had become the principal emporium of Baltic and Scandinavian wares. With the wealth accumulated by the city’s traders and the low freight charges on their shipping, the merchants of Amsterdam were able to enter the Mediterranean markets themselves, acting as carriers for its commerce and bringing wealth to their home city. Bristol’s trade with Amsterdam reflects the historic rise of the Dutch city in the early seventeenth century. The Bristolians shipped such goods as coal, lead, some iron, Welsh butter, Welsh cottons, and molasses, produced from imported Madeira sugar.[69] The return shipments were divided in origin. The bulk came from Scandinavia and the Baltic, but some Mediterranean goods were also purchased in Amsterdam. Grain from the Baltic was an especially important commodity in times of dearth.[70] Other northern wares shipped in this year included tar, pitch, Norway deal boards, cable yarn, rough hemp, battery, old iron, rod iron, steel, frying pans, hops, and shellfish. Occasional additions were made in the form of such southern items as madder and cinnamon.[71]

But the more interesting changes in the overall pattern of Bristol’s trade occurred in the southern markets. In 1575–76, southern commercial routes had focused on Lisbon and the Guadalquivir valley ports of San Lucar de Barrameda, Cádiz, and Puerta Santa Maria. During the late sixteenth century these together accounted for over 80 percent of the tonnage in the southern trades. The seventeenth century, however, saw a significant shift; trade with Lisbon remained strong, but Oporto was added as a stopping place for the Bristolians. Bristol’s contacts with southern Spain also moved eastward. San Lucar and Cádiz continued to claim a significant share of the trade, but Málaga became a major center of Bristol’s dealings in the Iberian peninsula, and Almería and Alicante, east of the Straits of Gibraltar, were also frequented upon occasion. Trade in Spain beyond Gibraltar was not entirely new to the seventeenth century,[72] of course, but it had been only intermittent in the mid-sixteenth century and, despite the English reentry into the Mediterranean after 1573, seems to have remained so down to 1600.[73] Hence the growth of commercial dealings inside the Pillars of Hercules in the early seventeenth century represents something of a new development in Bristol’s trade.

What attracted the Bristolians to this market? The customs evidence suggests that it was a fine outlet for exports, particularly lightweight worsteds, traditional broadcloths, and calfskins. But the heart of this commerce, as with all the southern trades, was the imports, which included sugar, white soap, olive oil, dried fruit, and wine, all highly profitable, high-priced wares. These were commodities that in the sixteenth century Bristolians had acquired almost exclusively in San Lucar and Cádiz, even though in many instances they were produced elsewhere in Spain. In this period, then, the Bristolians were content to deal in these wares through intermediary markets and middlemen. But after 1600 they were more anxious to buy “at the first hand,” as the saying went, where the goods were produced.[74]

One possible reason for the move to Málaga and Alicante was that these ports, serving a region new to market agriculture, offered better prices or better-quality commodities than were available in Guadalquivir ports.[75] But a more fundamental development was at work as well. Throughout the sixteenth century, commercial exchange with Spain had operated under the stimulus of the American trade. Although Bristolians participated to a degree in this colonial commerce through Seville, it was not so much the presence of American products such as tobacco that excited their interest as the buoyancy of the market created by Spanish involvement in the New World. The resulting inflation and generally high demand for consumer products encouraged trade in English wares. At the same time, Spanish wage levels ran well ahead of English in the sixteenth century, growing between 1520 and 1620 by more than 200 percent, whereas English wages rose only 44 percent; real wages fell in England during this period, but they remained high in Spain. This meant not only that English manufactures were relatively cheap in Spanish terms, but that there was a large Iberian market with cash to pay for these English wares.[76] The Spanish importation of New World gold and silver also encouraged trade, by helping to ease credit in the Iberian peninsula.[77] Since Seville, by virtue of its privileged position in the colonial trade, was the financial center through which Bristolians raised capital, made exchanges, and settled accounts, it kept Bristol’s trade focused on the Guadalquivir valley throughout the sixteenth century.[78]

But the boom in Spain’s American commerce ended early in the seventeenth century. Silver imports peaked in the decade between 1600 and 1610. At about the same time, real wages in Spain rose sharply, reflecting the movement of capital from overseas ventures to domestic production. Wages stayed high throughout most of the first forty years of the seventeenth century.[79] In the early 1620s, after a thirty-year period of stagnation, Spain’s economic relations with the New World entered a long period described by Pierre Chaunu as “la grande dépression.” This extended depression began in 1620–1622 with a sharp decline in traffic, particularly outbound traffic, from which Spain’s American trade never recovered. These troubles had a direct impact on the main Spanish centers of the colonial traffic. By 1624–1626, Andalusian prices were depressed, and investment in New World activities slowed in Seville and other Guadalquivir ports. The buoyancy of the Guadalquivir market was lost, and the Bristolians and their English compatriots were encouraged to seek further afield for trading partners.[80] The change in the southern trades, however, was not confined to the growth of new commercial relationships with Málaga and Alicante. There was also significant growth in Bristol’s dealings with Madeira and other Atlantic islands and with ports in southern France, Italy, and the eastern Mediterranean. By the mid-1630s, this non-Iberian portion of the southern commerce accounted for half the inbound and more than half the outbound traffic. Bristol, while continuing to maintain its firm foothold in Spain and Portugal, more and more was reaching beyond the Iberian peninsula in search of the high-valued commodities that they had long purchased only there.[81]

These developments conditioned Bristol’s activities in nearly every other part of its southern market. Commerce with North Africa illustrates the pattern. This trade, as we know, has a history dating to at least the 1480s,[82] but a regular English traffic along the Barbary Coast of Morocco probably did not begin until 1551.[83] Even then contacts remained intermittent and of very low volume until the 1590s, when the Spanish war helped deflect a portion of the Iberian commerce onto the North African coast. By the early seventeenth century Bristol’s dealings in Barbary both became more regular and increased in volume.[84] The Barbary trade proved to be exceptionally lucrative. Sugar, molasses, dates, oranges and lemons, figs, raisins, marmalade, candied fruit, almonds, capers, aniseed, cumin, indigo, saltpeter, gum arabic, raw silk, ostrich feathers, and even gold could be obtained there. In return, it was a brilliant market for fine English cloth, for lead and tin, for manufactured items, for European reexports, and for timber.[85]

Along with trading to Barbary, Bristolians also frequented other ports in the Mediterranean, although a large and steady traffic began only in the early seventeenth century. Between 1573 and 1593, for example, among the vessels recorded as arriving at Leghorn only three are specified as originating at Bristol. Still, Bristol’s interest was an early one; for example, the Swallow of Bristol sailed for the Mediterranean in 1576.[86] Leghorn and Marseilles were the keys to the traffic, but by the 1630s Toulon also played an important part. Leghorn was a well-established entrepôt for commerce with the entire eastern Mediterranean, a place where credit or coin might be found and from which it was possible to mount trading expeditions throughout the Mediterranean basin. It dominated Bristol’s interest in the Mediterranean during the later sixteenth century. Marseilles entered the picture only after 1600. As the chief port of Provence, through which the trade of much of southern France passed, it was a close cousin of Leghorn, linked to the Iberian peninsula by regular trade routes and serving as a center for commerce in North African and Levantine wares. In the 1630s Lewes Robertes called it “[t]he principall seate of Trade in Provence…famous for the great concourse of Merchants, and for the commerce that it maintaineth with Turkie, Barbarie, Spain, France, Italy, Flanders and England.” Its own commodities, as Robertes tells us, were only “Oyles, Wines, Wools, Almonds, and Verdigrace.” It was much the same with Toulon, which lay ten leagues from Marseilles. Toulon, according to Robertes, “aboundeth onely in Oyles, which hence is laden in great aboundance.” But, unlike Toulon, Marseilles was also an entrepôt for wares “from other Countries, such as Alexandria, Aleppo, Acria, Constantinople, Naples, Leghorne, or the coasts of Spaine doth yield.” Equally important, it was a financial capital where coin, particularly Spanish reals, could be acquired and licensed for exportation, which, as Robertes says, “is the onely meanes whereby the trade of Turkie is preserved.”[87] Marseilles, then, was a place, like Leghorn, for mounting ventures further to the east where currency was absolutely essential. When we examine Bristol’s trade with the Proven;accal ports, however, we observe little of these more exotic trades. In both exports and imports, Bristol’s commerce there resembled that with the Iberian peninsula. Lead and lead ore were the most important exports. Calfskins and tanned Irish hides came second. Other goods traded included “cottons,” short jersey stockings, linsey-woolsey, and some woolen cloths. Little distinguishes this list from that of the cargoes sent to the Iberian peninsula in the same year. In return for these wares, the goods the Bristolians brought back directly from Marseilles and Toulon consisted primarily of olive oil, though, in addition, there was white soap, similar to the well-known product of Castile, as well as capers from Marseilles and rice from Toulon. Nevertheless, trade in Levantine wares through these southern French ports was fairly common in the first forty years of the seventeenth century, primarily because the monopoly of the Levant Company made it necessary. In these years Bristolians regularly returned from the Mediterranean with substantial shipments of currants and muscadel wine, as well as Egyptian cottons, mohair, dyestuffs such as galles, and aniseed and wormseed, both Levantine drugs. Some of these goods undoubtedly were purchased in Marseilles or in Leghorn from local middlemen, but some probably came directly from the Levant Company’s privileged markets, within which Bristolians had a special license to buy currants.[88]


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