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Smythe’s ledger is, unfortunately, a unique document in Bristol’s economic history. No record as detailed or comprehensive survives for the period following its terminal date in 1550. But The Marchants Avizo, issued as a guide to apprentices and young merchants in the Iberian trades, offers a starting point for comparison and analysis. Published in 1589 by John Browne, it contains the accounts and commercial papers of a single large venture to Portugal and Spain conducted on behalf of Thomas Aldworth of Bristol by Robert and John Aldworth of the same city, Thomas’s nephews and apprentices.[33]

The venture that provided Browne with his documentation was a complex one, conducted in the fall and winter of one of the years between 1577 and 1584, during which Robert Aldworth was in his uncle’s service. Probably it took place after February 1582, since the dates on documents sent from the Iberian peninsula appear to depend on the new-style, Gregorian calendar in use there from that time.[34] Five vessels, the Joseph, the Gabriel, the Minion, the Unicorne, and the Pleasure, were involved, all sailing together or associating with each other in the voyage. Robert Aldworth was aboard the Joseph, which was laden with both broadcloth and stammel, as well as wax and lead. The other vessels carried similar cargoes, including additional varieties of cloth such as “bayes” and “reading kersies.” At least three of these ships, the Joseph, the Minion, and the Gabriel, set sail from Bristol on 29 September, bound first for Portugal. After a brief setback caused by a storm that drove them into Milford Haven six days later, they arrived in Lisbon on 24 October, according to the letter Robert sent to his uncle on his arrival there. (The voyage actually took only nine days, not nineteen: there is a ten-day difference between the new-style calendar and the old.)

Thereafter, business proceeded relatively briskly. By 7 November, New Style, the first sales of Thomas Aldworth’s goods had been accomplished and six kintals, two roves of pepper and one kintal of cloves had been purchased and laden aboard the Gabriel; indeed, plans were already afoot “to go for Andalozia” to carry out further business. But this journey into Spain did not occur until the beginning of December, when the Joseph, unaccompanied by the Gabriel, made its way to San Lucar.[35] With ongoing activities in two ports, Robert Aldworth’s task became somewhat more complicated. During December and early January, cloth and wax continued to be sold in Lisbon, while lead and bayes were sold in San Lucar. At the same time, such wares as pepper, cloves, mace, and cinnamon were purchased in Lisbon and olive oil and sack were purchased in the Guadalquivir valley. All in all, Robert Aldworth handled the following goods in the course of this single voyage: broadcloth, stammels, bayes, kerseys, wax, and lead as exports, and pepper, cloves, mace, cinnamon, cochineal, olive oil, and sack as imports. And in doing so, he dealt with at least five different merchants in Lisbon and four in San Lucar.[36]

During this fall and winter, Robert Aldworth not only purchased goods for his master but carried out a variety of other items of business as well. To begin with, he undertook to buy and sell as agent or factor for a number of Bristol merchants other than his uncle Thomas. According to a bill of lading dated 20 January, for example, he bought three roves of cochineal and five butts of sack for John Barker and another eight butts of sack for Thomas James, all of which were placed aboard the Pleasure along with the pepper, olive oil, and sack that he had acquired for his master. He also relied on various other merchants to act as his factors in markets that he could not reach. While resident in Seville, for instance, he wrote a friend in Lisbon to receive 100 ducats from one P. R., draper of that city, “to imploie it all in good pepper,” and to lade the same aboard the Pleasure for shipment to Thomas Aldworth in Bristol. He wrote to another friend in San Lucar asking him to meet the Gabriel there and receive from it six tons of lead containing one hundred and five pieces “& to doe so much as make present sale of it, the best you can as time serueth.” With the money earned from this transaction, moreover, this same factor was ordered “to ride vnto Sheres and buy for me 8. Buts of very good Secke the best that possible can be gotten, though they cost a Ducket or two the more in a But.”[37]

Of equal importance was the financial business undertaken both in England and in the Iberian peninsula. In September, for example, Thomas Aldworth caused his ship the Gabriel to be insured in London by two resident merchants of that city and by one of his Bristol compatriots. Much additional activity concerned the settling of debts and accounts and the exchanging of monies. Inevitably, these procedures also involved dependence on associates and friends among overseas traders in the area. Before he set sail, Robert Aldworth authorized one T. M. “to recouer & receaue of G. H. marchant of the aforesaid City of Bristow the summe of 25. pounds, due vnto me as appeareth by this bill.” During the busy month of January, young Robert also served in this capacity for one of his Bristol principals, while later in the month he authorized yet another fellow townsman to collect a debt owed him in Lisbon. Bills of exchange also were issued. By their very nature these financial instruments required the services of friendly intermediaries who either lent the original sum, delivered the bill, or made the exchange.[38]

Just as in Smythe’s day, the factor remained key to the success of commercial enterprise. It was the factor’s activity that permitted the Bristol merchant to conduct his affairs from his countinghouse rather than the deck of a ship, and therefore to spread his interests over a wider and wider area. Often cargoes laded in Bristol were placed under the charge of a servant, such as Robert Aldworth, or a young merchant acting for a group of merchants. Commonly the ship carried a supercargo who was responsible for the welfare of the vessel and its freight and who usually also served as factor for the sale of the goods that were otherwise unaccompanied. But more and more, Bristol’s merchants were relying on resident factors in foreign ports who were independent professionals rather than servants to a particular merchant or group. Many of these “commission agents” were themselves Bristolians. In the 1520s, for example, Leonard Osborn agreed to act as factor in Bordeaux for Gerom Grene; and in the 1540s Robert Tyndall was resident in San Sebastian. Early in the next century, John Hopkins resided in Venice, where John Whitson used him; in the 1630s, William Colston, Junior, served the interests of his fellow Bristolians from his home in Lisbon. These factors were servants to their native merchant community as much as they were agents for individual traders. Bristolians turned to them, not only for their familiarity with local market conditions, but because they were known and trusted.[39]


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