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2. Mere Merchants

As Bristol moved from being a cloth exporter of the first rank to become a principal center for imports, a new and more complex system of commerce emerged. Export commodities were diversified to include significant quantities of metals and metal wares, fish, leather, butter, coal, and more varieties of textiles, while at the same time the city’s leading markets shifted away from Gascony to the Iberian peninsula, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic. In making this transformation Bristol was not alone. Similar changes took place in nearly the whole of English commerce of the Tudor and Stuart period. Bristol, however, was at the forefront of the development, under the pressure of a dismal level of cloth exports in Henry VIII’s reign, whereas for London and much of the rest of England similar changes came only in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, with the trade depressions of the 1550s and 1620s providing the stimulus.[1] In this chapter we shall explore the consequences of these new directions in commercial history for the structure of Bristol’s trading community, as the city became a home for the type of overseas traders whom sixteenth-century commentators called “mere merchants”—traders who lived exclusively by their large-scale dealings in foreign commerce.

New markets and new commodities inevitably called forth new strategies from traders for winning profit and new relationships within the trading community. In the fifteenth century, commercial practices had been quite simple. In the Iberian peninsula a form of “tramping” was followed, in which a vessel laden with export wares sailed from port to port with an itinerant merchant aboard looking for the best prices.[2] Even in Gascony, the most sophisticated sector of the city’s commerce, trade was a type of barter. Cloth, manufactured in or near Bristol, was carried annually in large fleets to Bordeaux to be exchanged for wine, with the French dealers usually paid directly in textiles for the vintage.[3] No elaborate system of credit or arrangement for the clearing of balances was necessary, although the use of loans and reliance on attorneys or factors were hardly unknown. Many merchants combined overseas operations with the maintenance of a workshop or retail establishment, making the merchant community both large and diverse. For example, between September 1479 and July 1480 over two hundred and fifty Bristolians engaged in overseas trade, a very considerable number in a town of only about ten thousand inhabitants. As a result, quite humble men found it possible to enter in significant numbers into the city’s merchant leadership.[4] In the sixteenth century much of this would change. Not surprisingly, the starting place is the connection between clothmaking and overseas trade.

Just as Bristol’s prosperity in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries depended on the cloth trade, the structure of the medieval trading community was founded on cloth manufacture. In the oldest legislation governing this industry, dating from the fourteenth century, we can catch a glimpse of its early organization as its members idealized it. Manufacture was to take place in small, domestic units located within the boundaries of the city, and each producer was to operate independently, not as the agent of an entrepreneur who put out work to him. Weavers not only were expected to keep the instruments of their craft “in halls and rooms next the road,” where only two or three looms could have been worked at one time, but also were forbidden to receive yarn “from anyone except…their husbands and wives.” Similarly, fullers were expected to work only their own cloths, presumably buying them from the weavers, then in turn selling their work to the drapers. Finally, cloth was to be sold primarily in the weekly cloth market held in Tucker Street, which all the city’s merchant drapers were obliged to attend. Only if cloth failed to find a buyer there could it be offered privately.[5]

The wistful tone of these old ordinances makes clear, however, that even at this early date these arrangements survived solely as ideals from a distant past. We can identify two major lines of development in the cloth industry. First, by the 1340s Bristol’s boundaries no longer successfully contained its burgesses’ involvement in woolen manufacture. The combing of wool, spinning of yarn, and weaving, fulling, finishing, buying, and selling of cloth by Bristolians or their employees now took place in the countryside as well as the city.[6] Second, a distinct group of entrepreneurs operating on a large scale had emerged to dominate the industry. To be sure, the industry still sustained a relatively large number of independent producers in Bristol. In 1346, for example, eighty-eight fullers resided in the city, most presumably still using the old walking technique to treat their cloth. But even among these men significant signs of change abounded. Although various ordinances stipulate wages to be paid workers at the stocks and the perch, instruments associated with the older techniques for shrinking and thickening woolens, much of the actual fulling appears to have occurred at mills located in the Mendip and Cotswold hills, with only the “rekkyng, pleyting and amending” of the cloth taking place in Bristol itself. Some of the fullers, then, seem to have become clothiers responsible for organizing the finishing stages of production.[7] At the same time, weaving seems to have fallen under the control of a small group of entrepreneurs, who put out woolen yarn to weavers in both country and town. From other sources we know of the existence of individuals such as Thomas Blanket who maintained large workshops in their own houses, containing “divers instruments for weaving” operated by a number of “weavers and other workmen.” Many of these men participated actively as merchant drapers and as cloth exporters to the overseas markets. Some traded in a wide variety of goods, including dyestuffs, wine, and oil among imports; leather and wool as well as cloth among exports. Thus in place of the antique ideal upheld by the city’s ordinances, we have an industry organized along distinctly proto-capitalist lines.[8]

Unfortunately, it is impossible to reconstruct in detail the pattern of occupations in Bristol during this period. Our best guess is that 20 percent of the city’s population, and probably more, were employed at least part of the time in the various stages of textile production.[9] But we can do somewhat better in establishing an economic profile for the city’s elite, the members of its Common Council. Almost all the fifty-six known councillors from the late fourteenth and the early fifteenth century engaged in overseas trade to some degree, but there was as yet no differentiation of retail shopkeeping from wholesale trading or from the financing of cloth production. Many held properties, usually in the form of tenements and workshops, in the clothmaking districts. They seem very much a group of general entrepreneurs dependent on commerce in cloth, but not yet committed exclusively to overseas trade.[10] Where specialization occurred in this period, it was less in commerce than in real estate and shipping. According to E. M. Carus-Wilson, William Canynges the Younger, one of Bristol’s, and indeed England’s, richest men in the fifteenth century, held “fourteen shops, at least seventeen tenements, a close and two gardens in Bristol, and lands in Wells, the hundred of Wells and Westbury on Trym.” He also owned at least ten ships, which William Worcester tells us directly employed about eight hundred men. Nevertheless, Canynges, once a merchant in his own right, had ceased to trade. Trade in this period, focused as it was narrowly on cloth and wine, exchanged among only a small network of traders in a handful of ports, did not readily lend itself to great concentrations of wealth. For the Bristol entrepreneurs, the only avenues for long-term investment were property and ships, and many of the leading men in the fifteenth century put their hard-earned profits into these ventures as they drew back from the risks of everyday dealings. But for most of the others, trade remained centered on cloth, until the great changes of the second half of the fifteenth century altered this pattern forever.[11]

By the early sixteenth century the social effects of the decline in Bristol’s cloth trade were already quite clear. Judging from apprenticeship records, which give us a rough idea of the demand for labor in particular industries, the proportion of those directly engaged in making cloth during the 1530s and 1540s had fallen to something less than 15 percent (Table 8).[12] About a third of these men were weavers, but they produced mainly cheap cloths, such as friezes, that were a far cry from the fine-quality “Broadmeads” that had made the city’s looms so famous in the fourteenth century. Most of the remainder of the textile manufacturers were engaged in the dyeing and finishing trades. Since the work of several weavers normally was required to employ a single dyer, fuller, and shearman, this imbalance implies that Bristol was receiving the fabrics not only of its own weavers but of country producers as well. Bristol, in other words, had become something of a center for cloth finishers. Many of these individuals used their position at the end of the production process to command the market and to finance and manage manufacture through its various stages. The fullers or, as they were called in sixteenth-century Bristol, tuckers, were especially active entrepreneurs, successfully outmaneuvering the shearmen during a nearly century-long battle for control of the industry. The catastrophic fall in Bristol’s cloth exports and the heavy emphasis upon the manufacture of coarse and cheap fabrics, however, made this victory somewhat pyrrhic. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the place of textile manufacture in the city had fallen even a bit further, despite efforts to build up the industry through production of new, lighter-weight fabrics such as worsteds, fustians, and serges.[13]

8. Distribution of Occupations Among
Bristol Apprentices, 1532-1542 and 1626-1636
  1532–1542 1626–1636
  No. %[a] No. %[a]
Source: 1532–1542: D. Hollis, ed., Calendar of the Bristol Apprentice Book, 1532–1565. Part 1: 1532–1542 (Bristol Record Society 14, 1949). 1626–1636: Bristol Record Office, Apprentice Book, 1626–1640, ff. 1r–333r.
 Leading entrepreneurs
   Merchants 119 8.51 142 5.22
  Major retailers 145 10.37 317 11.65
  Soapmakers and chandlers 18 1.29 89 3.27
   Total 282 20.17 548 20.13
 Textile production 196 14.02 369 13.56
 Leather production 150 10.73 103 3.78
 Clothing production and other secondary users of cloth and leather 287 20.53 393 14.44
 Metal crafts 121 8.66 317 11.65
 Building trades 35 2.50 197 7.24
 Shipping and related trading and port activities 155 11.09 521 19.14
 Food production and related industries 91 6.51 171 6.28
 Woodworking 18 1.29 20 0.73
 Professional and service industries 42 3.00 68 2.50
 Miscellaneous 21 1.50 15 0.55
  Total known 1,398   2,722  
  Total unknown 7   12  
     Total 1,405 96.43 [b] 2,734 95.86 [b]
Women[c] 52 3.57 [b] 118 4.14 [b]
     Total Men and Women 1,457   2,852  

There is more here than merely a dismal tale of dwindling trade. Beneath the statistics also lie signs of renewal. In the early sixteenth century the city was already characterized by a new and distinctive distribution of occupations. Just as Coventry, Worcester, and Norwich possessed occupational structures typical of textile towns, and Northampton of a leather-producing one, Bristol now had an occupational structure typical of commercial towns, with a heavy emphasis on trade-related crafts. In the 1530s over a third of all apprentices in the city specialized in overseas trade and retailing or in serving the port; the figure would be even higher if we included among the retailing shopkeepers such small craftsmen as shoemakers, tailors, and other clothing manufacturers, many of whom ordinarily sold at retail what they produced. By the 1620s, this pattern had developed further, with almost half of the apprentices employed in commerce, merchandising, and shipping. In this same period, a similar proportion of the city’s freemen came from this sector of Bristol’s economy. Again, these already large percentages would be still more striking if we also counted the small craftsmen engaged in clothing manufacture. Where once Bristol had itself been primarily a center of cloth production and its trade, it had now become a center of more general overseas commerce and regional distribution.[14]

The driving force in these processes of social and economic change was the growth of the Iberian trade, which, with its emphasis on valuable, exotic, and highly profitable import goods such as spices, dyestuffs, silks, sugar, and tobacco, ended the domination of the cloth traders and turned Bristol into a city of “merchantmen, grocers, mercers, haberdashers,” dealing largely in the wares of southern Europe.[15] This same transformation of Bristol’s commerce brought into being a more complicated trading network that became evident by the early seventeenth century. In order to acquire the riches of the Iberian peninsula and the Mediterranean, for example, fish were transported from the Grand Banks, which in turn demanded purchases of ships’ timber in Amsterdam, sailcloth in France, and salt in Spain and Portugal. To accomplish this, a variety of export wares were necessary, most of them far different from the English goods demanded in Marseilles, Leghorn, or Madeira. At the same time, a more integrated system emerged that demanded sophisticated financial and managerial techniques. Few traders operating entirely on their own were able successfully to marshal the capital or the managerial skill to conduct enterprises linking Welsh butter and calfskins; Mendip lead; Kingswood coal; Dean’s Wood iron; western, northern, and Welsh cloth; Newfoundland fish; French, Spanish, and Portuguese salt; and American, Mediterranean, Iberian, and French specialties into one system of commerce.

One of the first consequences of this new demand for coordination was a contraction in the size of the trading community, even though Bristol’s population remained remarkably constant, at ninety-five hundred to ten thousand inhabitants, until about 1575.[16] Around 1550, for example, a leading Bristolian, probably himself a merchant, thought that only about one hundred and twenty-five of his fellow citizens then had the wherewithal or credit to be merchants in the city, compared to the two hundred and fifty who had traded fifty or seventy-five years earlier.[17] By the mid-1570s the number of active overseas merchants had fallen to fewer than one hundred; from Michaelmas 1575 to Michaelmas 1576, for example, only ninety-five Bristolians shipped goods to or from foreign markets, and this figure seems to have remained fairly constant into the early seventeenth century, when Bristol’s population had grown by at least 25 percent.[18]

These quantitative changes not only show a contraction in the number of traders engaged in foreign commerce but suggest a concentration of their activities. They signal the emergence of a new commercial order in Bristol. Entrepreneurs whose businesses encompassed a full range of undertakings from the Grand Banks to the Levant required the assistance of their fellows both at home and abroad to achieve their goals even more than did those who had less far-flung or ambitious businesses. Sitting in their countinghouses with their ledgers and journals, they necessarily conducted their affairs through agents and colleagues. The new forms of commercial organization that emerged in Bristol during the sixteenth century depended first upon the existence of these close personal ties and the mutual trust they engendered among overseas merchants.

No matter how cautious or wealthy the entrepreneur, a great variety of events, often of the most prosaic kind, stood ready to disrupt his affairs and threaten his businesses. John Browne, merchant of Bristol and the author of The Marchants Avizo, saw this as a basic fact of a trader’s life. “Let not thy expenses be equall with they gaines,” he warned, “for either sicknes, naughtie debtors, let of trade and misfortune at sea or land, may soone ouerthrow thee.”[19] Merchants were men who might encounter danger at every turn of their professional existence, by placing their goods and sometimes their lives in jeopardy in hopes of returning a profit.[20] According to Alderman John Whitson, this made for an exceptionally “burthensome kind of Life.” “Abundance of Riches…rob a Man of his Quiet,” he said,

and take away his Time either in the account of ’em or in the Disposing of ’em. For what Care is there to be had of Rents? What Caution and Wariness to be had of bad Debtors? What Fear of Losses and Casualties? What Distrust and Suspicion of our best Friends? What Vigilance and Diligence, that we be not over-charged in our Bargains? What Grief, if we be overthrown in our Suits, and vex’d with Fines and Amercements? To be brief, what Toil and Weriness throughout our whole lives? Eithere we are troubled with getting or cumber’d with keeping, or afflicted and heart-broken with losing, and never at Rest, paying and receiving.[21]

Whitson knew whereof he spoke. The inventory of his estate at his death showed him to be owed £3,000 in “desparate debts” in addition to the more than £5,400 in moneys, bonds, leases, merchandise, household stuff, and other movables for which his executors acknowledged responsibility. His “goods debts” and his “hopeful debts” came only to about £1,400.[22] To other Bristolians the truth of Whitson’s remarks was confirmed by numerous examples of fellow citizens brought low by accident or circumstance—of multiple mishaps destroying men “heretofore of some wealth and nobility,” or poor judgment and bad practice bringing calamity down upon men’s heads.[23]

Whitson’s lament envisions the mercantile profession as composed of isolated individuals, each single-handedly confronting the pitfalls of the marketplace, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Rather than plying their trades alone, Bristol’s merchants habitually aided one another by dealing in partnership, by serving as factors and agents, by acting as intermediaries in the delivery or receipt of coin or goods, and by jointly transporting merchandise. Precisely because trade was such a precarious form of endeavor, it was essential for everyone to be certain of his fellows’ trustworthiness. Only those who were known to be competent and honest in their trade could be relied on to pay their just debts or to handle another’s wares and monies safely. A close community of merchants was a necessary precondition to the conduct of business. Signs of its existence appear nearly everywhere, making it—somewhat paradoxically—difficult to study. Nevertheless, a convenient method can be employed to study its operating principles in the mid-sixteenth century.

We have already mentioned a document dating from about 1550 naming those men who were deemed worthy of membership in the merchant community. It lists one hundred and twenty-seven individuals.[24] Not all were exclusively overseas traders; several, such as “Smythe the boke bynder,” must have maintained retail shops. Unfortunately, the author’s hand is unknown, but since the list is found inserted in the ledger of John Smythe, one of Bristol’s most important merchants in this period, we can assume it came from one of his circle and that the names in it represent the vast majority of those in Bristol for whom long-distance wholesale trade was the foundation of business. It was just such men who became known as “mere merchants.”[25] Smythe, in his capacity as an exporter of cloth, lead, and leather, an importer of wine, iron, oil, woad, fruit, and the like, and a shipowner, had economic ties with fifty-seven of the men named in the list. He depended on them to aid in his business dealings from time to time, to freight his ship the Trinity Smythe, and to serve him either as suppliers of export goods or as a subsidiary market for imports. A survey of his dealings with them can help us see something of the socioeconomic bonds that held together the Bristol merchants of his day.

Smythe’s overseas trade was centered in the Iberian peninsula. There he often relied on his fellow Bristolians for help in conducting business. Cash loans were sometimes necessary to complete transactions. Edward Pryn, for example, acting as the “taker” on a bill of exchange, lent Smythe £25 to be received in Andalusia through Hugh Tipton, Pryn’s agent there. On other occasions Smythe himself lent money in Spain to facilitate the trade of fellow citizens, for which he was repaid at home, sometimes in goods. Merchant colleagues were also frequently entrusted with valuables for Smythe, as when 100 ducats were left for safekeeping with Thomas Harris in Seville, or when Francis Codrington carried a large sum of money overland to Smythe’s resident servant in San Sebastian. But in most instances these duties were left in the hands of Smythe’s own servants who traveled overseas with his goods.[26]

More important were the partnerships and other joint ventures in which Smythe engaged with his Bristol colleagues. In 1539, for example, Smythe joined with John Cutt and Giles White, who was Smythe’s servant at the time, for the sale of Málaga raisins. But unlike some of his colleagues, Smythe participated in few such short-term partnerships as this. Joint export licenses were more important to his business. He combined with Edward Pryn and Robert Poole of Gloucester in a license for the export of leather in 1539, and he sold shares in his licenses for grain exports to a number of fellow Bristolians. Several of these ventures were conducted as true partnerships, with the participants buying, shipping, and selling the goods together under the terms of the license. Such an agreement seems to have been in force with Francis Codrington and William Carr, with whom Smythe participated in several licenses between 1538 and 1540. Edward Pryn, too, was a frequent partner in the shipment of restricted commodities. But more often the licensees were merely shareholders, lading their goods independently.[27]

Usually partnership agreements among merchants were for a single voyage. They came into being to combine capital or spread risk in only one enterprise and ended with the clearing of accounts several months later, after the venture had been completed. However, longer-term associations occasionally existed in which a number of individuals combined for mutual benefit, either to trade generally for a period of time or, less commonly, to trade jointly in one commodity over several years. Smythe belonged to one “firm” of the latter type in the early 1540s. Its purpose was to “Adventure in company” to the Azores for woad for six years. Eleven merchants participated in it, including seven of those mentioned in our list of merchants. The total capital was 5,200 Portuguese ducats, worth £1,300, divided into eight shares. Nicholas Thorne, William Spratt, and Smythe himself each held one full share. Single shares were also held by three partnerships, with one possessed by Edward Pryn and Robert Butler, another by Francis Codrington and William Carr, and a third by William Ballard and Francis Fowlar. The final two shares were jointly in the hands of the partnership of Francis Blanckley and Pedro Goncalez. To manage the firm’s interests a simple administrative structure was established, with Edward Pryn “admytted for mynester here in Ynglande & the seid Frances Blanckelley & Pedro Goncalez for mynesters beyond the see.” Thus, the Azorean woad enterprise reveals the existence not only of the main partnership but of several smaller merchant firms of sufficient permanence to hold shares in it.[28]

Shipping is another way that Smythe was bound with the membership of the Bristol merchant community in mutual endeavor. Of the fifty-seven merchants on the 1550 list with whom Smythe dealt, twenty-six used his ship at one time or another to conduct their trade. The vessel was occasionally chartered for long voyages, as by Francis Codrington and William Carr in 1538. More usually, however, merchants merely laded their goods aboard Smythe’s vessel either in Bristol or abroad when it was in his own charge. As an overseas merchant, however, Smythe’s own shipping needs could not be satisfied by his Trinity. Given the risks involved in all seaborne traffic, he would in any case have often sought to ship a portion of his exports and imports on vessels belonging to others. Frequently he laded his goods aboard vessels owned by fellow Bristolians. At one time or another, charter parties for ships owned by Thomas Tison, John Gorney, and Thomas Harris were recorded in Smythe’s accounts. Occasionally Smythe chartered vessels jointly with merchant colleagues, as when he and Edward Pryn together hired the Primrose of Bristol to carry beans and wheat for them to Spain. Sometimes these ties were renewed several times over a relatively short period, reflecting the common business interests of the parties. For example, the Harry of Bristol, owned by Thomas Hickes, Francis Codrington, and William Carr, frequently carried Smythe’s cargoes from 1538 through 1540, when all four men were engaged in other enterprises together.[29]

Foreign trade was not the only realm in which Smythe’s ties to the Bristol merchant community proved significant. His activities in the domestic market also depended heavily upon his economic relations with his fellow merchants. Perhaps most important, these merchants provided a major outlet for his imported goods. Although they traded overseas in their own right, Smythe supplied many of them with commodities to supplement their businesses. Thirty-two of the fifty-seven merchants on the 1550 list with whom he dealt were his customers at one time or another. Spanish iron was the most frequently purchased item, perhaps reflecting Smythe’s special command of this market, but he also sold wine, olive oil, woad, and raisins to other Bristol merchants. In return, Smythe sometimes received goods for his own stock from his fellow merchants. John Gorney and Thomas Harris both sold him wine, and Harris also sold him prunes; Thomas Tison, raisins and alum; William Appowell, cork and spices; John Cutt, cordovan, the red or purple dye known as orchil, and oakum; John Capes, salmon; James Bailey, orchil; William Cary, Walter Roberts, and Robert Saxy, various fabrics. In many of these instances the goods were exchanged to clear debts owed Smythe. Tison and Cutt, for example, paid their freight charges on the Trinity in the goods mentioned; Roberts paid for iron and wine, and Appowell for iron, wine, and woad. John Capes provided the salmon in return for an advance payment for the fish and the sale of wine and vinegar to him for his enterprises.[30]

Along with buying and selling with each other, Smythe and his colleagues also indirectly facilitated trade by acting as intermediaries for one another in domestic transactions. Often merchants well known to Smythe stood surety for lesser tradesmen who bought on credit from him. Usually the bonds were issued to strangers with no long-term ties to Smythe. Richard Pryor, for example, stood surety for William Bemer of Langford on a bond for the payment of £24 for a butt of sack; similarly, William Ballard provided the security on a bond for Richard Apris of Hereford for £10 worth of wine. Sometimes Bristolians whose credit was unknown or suspect also found it necessary to have surety for their bonds, as Richard Browne of Bristol, grocer, did for £6 worth of iron bought in 1540. A more common action was for merchants to pay the debts of their own business associates. This was particularly convenient when the debtor was a stranger, resident at a distance from Bristol. For example, the money owed by William Nowle of Bromwich for iron was paid for him by William Spratt, who in turn probably owed Nowle money. Smythe himself had such an arrangement with William North of Bruton, vintner, who often purchased wine from Smythe. In January 1543, Smythe paid a debt of £8 owed by North to John Gorney, in return for which North paid John Yerberry of Bruton, clothier, for cloths that Smythe had bought. The Bristol merchants also cleared their debts with each other in this fashion, as when Francis Codrington paid Smythe for freight charges owed by Thomas Hickes and Hickes paid Codrington for debts owed by Smythe.[31]

Behind the multifaceted ties connecting Smythe and his fellow merchants stands the credit relationship. Nearly all the fifty-seven merchants whose associations with Smythe have been traced were indebted to him at least once in the years 1538 to 1550. In some cases the form of the debt was a direct loan of cash, as when John Gorney received 20s from him in London in 1546 or when Thomas Harris received £10 in 1547–48. More often, however, it represented shop credit carried on the sale of goods or for the payment of freight charges. The terms were usually “3 monthes and 3 monthes” or “half in hand” and half at a stated date in the future, usually three months or six months hence. Rarely was the full amount paid on the spot for anything. No mention is made of interest charges, but higher prices on credit sales probably concealed them. Just what was done when payments were late, as often occurred, is not revealed. Just as credit helped sustain ties between a merchant and his suppliers or clientele, a network of close personal relationships grew as indebtedness was spread throughout the merchant community. At any given moment Smythe, or any of his contemporaries, not only owed large sums to his fellows for freight or goods or both, but also carried substantial “accounts receivable” on his books. Only those without sufficient credit or reputation were required to find formal security for their obligations. In most cases the evidence of the account book alone was sufficient to prove the debt. Indebtedness created recurring, even nearly permanent, links among close business associates. Often merchants became newly obligated to their creditors as their old accounts were cleared, reinforcing and perpetuating their relationship.[32]

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]

The institution of partnership reflects the same reliance on the community of merchants as does the use of factors. Most partnerships existed for short periods and for strictly limited purposes; they were more like trading fellowships than business firms. Frequently, they were no more than convenient arrangements that grew out of extremely short-term market conditions and were typically designed to fill only the most immediate trading needs of the members. In John Whitson’s letter book, for example, we note that one of the alderman’s factors in France, complaining of the high current price of salt, offered to “goe in partabell” terms with his principal if he “canne fynde anny that will goe upon reasonable termes.” Even the long-term trading relations of kinsmen, such as the “cumpany” that was formed between the brothers William and Robert Tyndale in the mid-1540s, had something of this informal and intermittent character, as the surviving records of their accounts reveal.[40] Customs records reinforce this view of fluid relations among merchants and of their small reliance upon permanent companies or firms. In 1636–37, only about 2 percent of the cockets issued by the Bristol customs officers for exports were in the name of a partnership. Trading in company was somewhat more common in inward traffic. For example, about 14 percent of the import cockets in 1637–38 were in the name of more than one merchant or of an association, with wine shipments almost always being made in this fashion. In nearly all of these cases, however, the parties traded independently as well as with co-partners. Indeed, there was nothing to prevent them from combining with more than one group of partners at the same time.[41]

The primary economic function of a partnership was the pooling of liquid resources, not the concentrated exploitation of the market through rational organization and the division of labor.[42] According to the classic seventeenth-century definition, a partnership exists

where one man doth aduenture a thousand pounds, another fiue hundred pounds, another three hundred pounds, and another four hundred pounds, more or lesse as they agree amongst themselves to make a stock, euery man to haue his profit, or to beare losses and aduenture according to their seuerall stocks in one or many voyages, for one or more years…to be diuided into so many parts as they agree.[43]

Yet few commercial enterprises had the permanence of the woad partnership in which John Smythe participated, and almost none had a comparable organization. At the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century, for example, Hugh Eliot and Robert Thorne traded jointly at home and abroad for two decades, but they reckoned their books and settled accounts after each voyage rather than maintaining their profits and losses in a joint account from year to year. Half a century later, William Gittens and John Carr managed their joint ownership in the same way, each paying his share of expenses at the end of a venture. Those long-lived partnerships that did exist usually were family affairs. For almost twenty years in the 1620s and 1630s, for instance, Robert Aldworth and Giles Elbridge, his nephew, former apprentice, and adoptive heir, regularly traded together and engaged in other joint activities such as the plantation on the Pemaquid peninsula in New England. But they also maintained independent commercial establishments, taking apprentices and conducting business on their own. The pattern was the same for the brothers Erasmus and Thomas Wright in the 1630s. Although such arrangements necessarily required joint records and orderly procedures in settling accounts, there was little to differentiate them from partnerships for a single voyage. As with the partnership of the Tyndales in the early sixteenth century, their purpose was preservation of family interests by concentrating capital resources into a single stock, not the creation of specialized firms with highly structured internal organizations. Moreover, long-term partnerships that lacked a strong family character seem to have been especially vulnerable to dispute and litigation when accounts could not be balanced, as happened in turn to Eliot and Thorne and to Gittens and Carr, among others.[44] Only extraordinary investments requiring lengthy and systematic joint endeavor to turn a profit, such as Smythe’s woad partnership or the early seventeenth-century colony at Bristol’s Hope, Newfoundland, seem to have required more highly structured business organizations.

Even among shipowners, economic associations lacked the character of the modern business firm. Although sailing vessels were typically the property of small and apparently close-knit groups of merchants, individual members were continually divesting themselves of their interests, and, just as in commerce, partnerships were in a constant state of flux. Comparison of two lists of Bristol ships and shipowners, compiled in November 1626 and March 1629, respectively, shows an extraordinarily high turnover in both equipment and personnel. In 1626, Bristolians owned forty-two vessels; two and a half years later, they owned forty-eight vessels. However, only nineteen ships are common to both lists. In 1626, 50 percent of the vessels were individually owned: four by Robert Aldworth, four by John Brooke, three by Thomas Wright, two by Edward Ballash, and one each by Nathaniel Butcher, George Gibson, William Haskins, Richard Woodward, Thomas Rogers, John Came, William Owfield, and Edward Peters. With war increasing the risks of shipowning, only 25 percent of the vessels were in the possession of a single merchant in March 1629: three owned by Thomas Wright, two each by Giles Elbridge and Edward Peters, and one each by Robert Aldworth, William Owfield, Thomas Heathcott, Charles Driver, and John Brooke. Most merchants, however, preferred to own shares, often in several vessels. In 1626, for example, Humphrey Browne, John Gonning, and Nathaniel Butcher each held an interest in four ships, while John Barker, Richard Long, and William Wyatt were concerned in three and Francis Creswick, Richard Holworthy, and Humphrey Hooke in two. Between fall 1626 and spring 1629, moreover, the ownership of thirteen of the nineteen ships which appear on both lists was significantly altered. Either new shareholders had been added, or shares had changed hands. Twenty of the fifty individuals named as owners on the first list do not appear on the second, and seventeen of the forty-seven names on the second list do not appear on the first. A portion of this turnover is no doubt due to the maritime warfare that plagued these years, but not all the vessels were used for such purposes. Wartime conditions merely exaggerated what was already commonplace in more settled times.[45]

In the commercial economy of Elizabethan and early Stuart Bristol, the role played by rationalized firms, joint enterprises, and highly organized, permanent partnership was small. The social foundations of trade were provided, rather, by the existence of networks of regular mercantile contacts among Bristolians. Capital was extremely mobile, not only permitting the diversification of a merchant’s interests into many markets and many commodities but also encouraging the formation of a variety of commercial ties with numerous overseas traders. To a remarkable degree, the conduct of most individual merchant businesses showed little difference in principle from the pattern revealed by partnerships. Judging from John Smythe’s ledger, merchants usually considered each investment as a separate enterprise, accounting profits and losses in compartments. Smythe practiced a form of “venture accounting” in which individual enterprises and dealings with particular persons were kept in separate entries. This method permitted him to distinguish his many interests from one another and to keep a close watch on the balances in each one. He grouped his exports under the markets to which they were sent, and a profit-and-loss account was kept by voyages to a particular region for a stated period, usually a year. Import items were each given a separate profit-and-loss account. Hence for most undertakings individual and joint ventures were treated the same in the accounts.[46]

The highly fluid character of partnerships and of shipowning arrangements was a manifestation of the social principle on which trade was based. The commodities market also reveals that principle at work. When large stocks of merchandise were brought into Bristol, their first market frequently was not a retailer but a fellow merchant, whose business contacts could help distribute the goods. Early in James I’s reign, for example, Thomas Aldworth and Francis Doughty imported substantial quantities of sugar, Canary wine, sumac, and perhaps also currants aboard the White Stag of Bristol from Madeira. Aldworth sold a portion of his goods to Walter Williams, merchant, and Doughty conveyed his share to Humphrey Fitzherbert, Peter Miller, and William Barker, merchants. This helped spread the risk among a number of individuals, who for their part were happy to have the supplies. In place of a world of established business firms anxious to exploit a specialized market for the utmost profit to the exclusion of all competition, there existed a community of merchants, men personally known to one another by reputation and credit, who cooperated as well as competed in the marketplace.[47]

As in John Smythe’s day, credit was the binding force in this community in the early seventeenth century. Usually a merchant was both creditor and debtor, waiting on the payments of one tradesman in order to clear his accounts with another. To Alderman John Guy this was an inevitable consequence of the calling. “Neither the borrower nor the lender have any money,” he said, “and only he that neither borrows nor lends; for the borrower commonly as he receives with one hand he pays with the other, and for the lender it is ever out of his hands, he will borrow a small sum to make up a greater to put it out.”[48] Merchant inventories reveal something of this ubiquity of indebtedness. At Richard Pley’s death in 1639, for instance, over 55 percent of his total assets were in thirty-eight separate debts owed him by forty-one different individuals. Thirteen of these debtors were fellow Bristol merchants. Among them was Walter Stephens, who owed a total of over £2,100, of which £675 was exclusively in his own name and the remainder in conjunction with four others. John Gonning, Junior, was responsible for another £130 or thereabouts, and Richard Aldworth was personally indebted for almost £150 and joined with Stephens and three others in a further sum of nearly £900. With these men Pley conducted business “on Accompte,” suggesting either commodity sales or partnerships. But there were also a number of bonds, including one for £104 in the names of Thomas and Erasmus Wright, who perhaps purchased property or capital equipment from Pley.[49] The inventory does not record Pley’s own debts, since those were not assets for which the executors of his estate were liable. But Pley’s account book, had it survived, probably would reveal sums owed others from whom he bought goods or with whom he jointly traded. As Sir Arthur Ingram said in 1624, “if the trade of the kingdom were divided into 4 parts, 3 of them at least are carried on credit.”[50]

The Marchants Avizo indicates that this hard-won credit was to be directed primarily toward obtaining the scarce luxuries carrying high profit margins that came from the import trade. According to John Browne, a young merchant was to have an expert knowledge of such wares as pepper, cloves, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, sugar, calicos, cochineal, olive oil, white soap, and wine.[51] To this list we should add alum, woad, madder, indigo, tobacco, dried and fresh fruit, sweet wines, and such items of mercery and haberdashery as silks, velvets, laces, ribbons, linens, hats, handkerchiefs, fancy gloves, and other finery. The motives for purchasing such wares is suggested in the “caueat” Thomas Aldworth gave to his young nephew John:

[N]euer think the same ware which is best cheape and is most bought vp, that it will be best to bestowe your money theron, for ordinarily it falleth out, that the best cheape wares that is brought home, hath smaller vtterance and lesse profite, than such deare wares as there commeth but verie little quantitie of.[52]

The scarce, the exotic, and the small and easy to transport were the ideal wares. They might carry the highest prices abroad, but they yielded the greatest profits at home.

In consequence, overseas trade was essentially a well-orchestrated effort on the part of the city’s merchants to maximize imports. Monies received abroad were immediately paid out again to purchase spices, wine, oil, or some other scarce commodity. Restrictions on carrying coin or bullion out of Spain and other markets made this procedure essential for returning home with the proceeds of one’s sales. “And if after you haue bought al these wares,” Thomas Aldworth wrote to his factor, “there may be any surplus money remaining: do you bestow it in good cochenele, so far as it will rise.” The attraction of the import market was so strong that Bristolians were also willing to borrow or to use ready cash in order to participate in it. John Smythe in the 1540s not only transferred funds to the Iberian peninsula by bill of exchange but also shipped coin to Bordeaux and northern Spain to acquire commodities there. Thirty years later Robert Aldworth, acting for his uncle Thomas, borrowed money in England on bills of exchange to make his purchases in Spain. For the Levant trade, paying in cash was essential. Currants, it was said, “haue such an attractive power that noe discouragement can withhould the marchants of England from sending readie money and shippes to buy and lade the same” and “noe Commodities of this Kingdome (worthy the mentioning)” could be vented to purchase them “according to the vsual course of commerce.”[53]

A good picture of commerce conducted on these principles is offered by Smythe’s ledger. Despite his preference for venture accounting, periodically Smythe cast up his total profits from his export-import tallies. A look at his summary for the period January 1540 to November 1543 shows a gross profit of about £1,540, of which sales of exports accounted for about 38 percent and sales of imports for about 62 percent. Against these gains was almost £112 in losses, making a net profit of nearly £1,428, of which about 40 percent came from exports and about 60 percent from imports (Table 9). When Smythe’s exports are closely examined, his difficulties in turning a profit on them become clear. The English commodities upon which his outward trade relied in 1540–1543 were cloth, leather and skins, and beans and wheat. Later in the 1540s he also traded in lead, either newly smelted from the Mendips or old lead from the roofs and furnishings of the local monasteries. Cloth was his major trading item, but his profits on its sale were very meager. In August 1540, he laded thirty-eight of John Yerberry’s better fabrics aboard two vessels bound for Lisbon and Andalusia. Their value “clere abord” was £4 per cloth, or £152. When sold in Lisbon they earned net just about 8 percent profit. In several instances cloth was sold at no profit. For example, fabrics worth £150 were taken to Biscay aboard the Trinity in December 1539. When their sales were complete in June 1540, they had earned Smythe only about £145, a loss of over 3 percent. Two voyages to Lisbon and Andalusia in 1539–40 and one to Bordeaux in 1541 showed net losses as a result of similarly poor sales of cloth. In one case, sixteen trunkers were left unsold in Spain and were finally disposed of six months later for £6 less than they had cost. Profits were earned, however, on wheat and leather.[54]

9. John Smythe’s Trading Profits,
19 January 1540 to 27 September 1543
Exports £-s-d Imports £-s-d Total £-s-d
Source: Jean Vanes, ed., The Ledger of John Smythe, 1538–1550 (Bristol Record Society 28, 1974), pp. 132–33.
  Bordeaux 7-06-08 Oils 117-16-03  
  Biscay 301-15-01 Iron 481-12-07  
   and Andalusia
282-18-03 Woad
  Leather license 1-04-08 Salmon 15-00-00  
    Wine[a] 289-12-01  
    Total 588-04-08   951-04-05 1,539-09-01
  Bordeaux 1-14-04 Salt 6-18-03  
   and Andalousia
20-07-02 Sack
Bad debts
    Total 22-01-06   89-11-07 111-13-01
    Grand Total 566-03-02   861-12-10 1,427-16-00

Smythe’s ledger suggests that mid-sixteenth-century Bristol merchants were assembling their outbound cargoes largely as a means to transfer capital to foreign markets. Exports produced only uncertain profits, with cloth sometimes showing losses, leather and wheat requiring licenses for legal shipment, and the demand for grains depending upon fluctuating harvests both in England and abroad. Imports, however, consistently produced handsome returns, with salmon and wine leading (Table 10). Through the inward-bound commodities traffic not only were Smythe’s foreign earnings brought home, but gains were regularly made on domestic sales.

10. John Smythe’s Profits and Losses on Sales, 24 march 1540 to 27 September 1543
Exports Gains (%) Imports Gains (%)
Source: Jean Vanes, ed., The Ledger of John Smythe, 1538–1550 (Bristol Record Society 28, 1974), pp. 132–33. The table does not include bad debts or losses at sea that do not reveal profit margin.
Bordeaux 3.10 Oils 16.51
Biscay 11.06 Iron 14.88
and Andalusia
Leather license 3.84 Salmon 31.25
    Wine[a] 21.11
    Salt -10.63
   Average 12.55   16.40

The experiences of John Smythe and his fellow merchants in the 1540s were conditioned by English currency devaluations, ending in 1551, which drove up domestic prices while stimulating cloth exports. Smythe also relied more heavily upon the Biscayan trade than merchants did in the second half of the sixteenth century. Nevertheless, Bristol’s merchants of Elizabeth’s reign conducted their business affairs on much the same basis as Smythe had. As is revealed by the Aldworth papers in The Marchants Avizo, imports remained the foundation of commerce. The particular remembrance which Thomas Aldworth supplied his apprentice gives the prices at which fine broadcloths, stammel, and wax had been purchased; Robert Aldworth’s accounts show the prices at which these goods were sold in Lisbon. The broadcloths, for example, cost “clear on board” £12 per piece and were bargained for 53 ducats 4 reals each in Portugal, or approximately £13 7s; the stammel cost £17 and was sold for 75 ducats, or about £18 15s. Together these transactions provided a gross profit of almost 9 percent. But deducted from the final sale prices were charges for “barking,” “landing,” “Marco customs,” “measuring,” “wyndage,” “brokerage,” and “auerage,” plus a 2.5 percent factor’s fee. This reduced the net profit to a bit less than 5 percent. The sale of wax was even less lucrative. It had cost Thomas Aldworth £5 12s per hundredweight and was sold for 23 ducats 5 reals per hundredweight in Lisbon, or just under £6 the hundredweight. The gross profit here was about 5 percent, and the additional charges and fees reduced this already meager sum to only a bit over 1 percent.

For Aldworth’s imports there are no equivalent figures; only the prices paid in the Iberian peninsula have survived. But we can estimate the profit margins. According to merchant custom, sale of pepper by the dozen pounds was considered a wholesale transaction. Aldworth paid 52 ducats per kintal of one hundred twelve pounds in Lisbon, or just over 27s per dozen pounds. Between 1575 and 1584 the average price of a dozen pounds of pepper in England was around 36s, which suggests a profit margin of about 23 percent, less freight charges and customs in England. For other commodities it is necessary to rely on English retail prices as a guide. Sack was bought by Aldworth for about £5 per butt, or 9.5d per gallon. In the years 1575–1584, a gallon of sack usually sold for 2s 8d, for an estimated gain of just over 70 percent between original purchase and final sale, less freight, customs, and other charges in England, which were steep. Still, this suggests a merchant’s profit in the same range as that achieved by Smythe in the 1540s. The picture we get is of an import-driven trade, in which a merchant could expect to make a substantial profit on the goods he brought from abroad, but little, if any, gain from his exports.

The forms of overseas commercial enterprise prevalent in sixteenthand early seventeenth-century Bristol would have been quite familiar to the city’s late medieval merchants. The factor, the partnership, the existence of shares in ships, and the dependence on credit that characterized the businesses of Smythe, Aldworth, and Whitson were already well-known in the fifteenth century. What was new was the degree to which the forms had become elaborated over a wide network of trade in a variety of different markets. Because of their relatively unstructured character, these older institutions had proven admirably adaptable to new commercial conditions. For Bristol’s overseas trade, the early modern era had been born without revolutionary changes in accepted practices. But the same cannot be said for the organization of the domestic economy. Here shifts in business arrangements redefined the relationship of trade to the economy and recast the social structure of the city.

We can see the clearest signs of these changes in the ways that the merchants’ relations with the domestic market altered in the sixteenth century. The city’s ancient rules for dealing with strangers required them to bring their goods to a central place to be weighed, to have toll paid, and to be sold only to burgesses, by wholesale, not retail. After 1459, the place settled upon was Spicer’s Hall, named after Richard Spicer, who had given it to the city; later it was called the Backhall. There all persons not burgesses were to bring their woad, woolen cloth, wine, and grocery wares. Sales of livestock and goods were also subject to toll and were to be conducted only in the established open markets and at fixed hours. Private dealings between strangers and burgesses were forbidden; instead, every citizen was to have an equal opportunity to view and purchase the goods. But by the mid-sixteenth century these rules were no more than an ideal continually appealed to but regularly violated. In the 1530s and 1540s, for example, John Smythe maintained close ties with a number of country cloth manufacturers who sold exclusively to him in return for the oil, alum, woad, madder, and other dyestuffs he provided them. His chief supplier, John Yerberry of Bruton, clothier, was even paid directly in woad for his fabrics. Smythe also undertook to finish cloth himself, taking unfinished fabrics from country clothiers and employing Bristol shearmen, tuckers, and dyers to ready it for market. As a result of practices like these, the Backhall was moribund in the sixteenth century, used more for weighing and warehousing goods than for regulating their sale.[55]

The history of the Bristol fairs reveals the same story. The fairs of medieval Bristol, of which there were as many as eight at one time or another, were great open marketplaces. Tolls and customs were suspended to encourage strangers and foreigners to bring their “goodes cattell and merchandiszes” to them. Merchants set up stalls in the Marsh, St. James churchyard, Spicer’s Hall, or the city streets to display wares. Negotiations took place on the spot, without guarantee that every item brought to market would be sold. Goods were examined, prices debated, and agreements reached in full publicity. Private dealings with foreigners may also have taken place, but the essence of the fair was sale in “market overt,” primarily between Bristolians and strangers, made in the presence of other marketgoers and subject to regulations imposed by the city and enforced in the market court. By the mid-sixteenth century, however, this had changed. Although there were certainly still booths and stalls around which buyers gathered to bargain in the manner of an Oriental bazaar, and the market court still survived, a fair was no longer primarily such an open marketplace. It had become, rather, an occasion at which “seller &…byer do appoynt to mete…& there do bargayne.” The great annual St. James Fair took place at Whitsuntide, seven weeks after Easter. After 1529 a winter fair was added, first at Candlemas, in early February, and then, from 1548 on, at the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul at the end of January. Together these fairs gave a distinct seasonal rhythm to inland trade. They provided two established periods, some six months apart, during which merchants from all over southern and western England congregated to place orders, pay debts, and settle accounts. In consequence, the fairs became financial as well as mercantile institutions, used as convenient clearinghouses not only by Bristolians but by merchants of the Midlands, the West Country, South Wales, Ireland, and London, who maintained continuous ties with each other year in and year out.[56]

The Backhall and the fairs, two institutions designed to insure open trading between burgess and “foreigner,” were either circumvented or transformed to serve a new economic order in which private contractual arrangements between townsmen and outsiders were the common pattern. As if to mark this change, the collection of tolls at the city gates was abandoned in 1546; the income from newly purchased monastic properties made up for the lost revenue. Medieval restrictions against strangers trading freely with the city remained in force, but Bristol’s leading men no longer relied on them to protect their interests. They did not usually buy and sell in the city markets, either the Backhall or the fairs, but maintained steady working relationships with individual dealers and customers, with whom they were linked by credit.[57]

Credit again dictated the structure of social relations, this time in a distinctly asymmetrical pattern. Dealings in cloth were almost invariably conducted on account by the city’s merchants. John Smythe, for example, usually deferred payments to his country suppliers for three or, more often, six months. Only for such relatively low-priced goods as “lether corne buttar chese tallow calveskyns” and the like did he and his brethren pay in ready cash. In effect, the merchant received his cloths out of the “clothier’s stok” usually for “halff year and halff year,” which permitted the overseas trader not only to sell his fabrics abroad but to pay his debts with the proceeds of the import trade. The trade depended on a clear division of labor from which each side normally benefited. The clothier was relieved of managing his affairs, with all the attendant risks, in foreign as well as domestic markets. The merchant was saved the difficult task of coordinating the various stages of cloth production at home, leaving him free to worry about the state of sales in distant places. Since the merchant controlled access to the final market abroad, he had the advantage over the clothier, even though he was in the clothier’s debt. However, if accounts were to be cleared and new ventures undertaken, rapid, secure, and profitable marketing of imports was absolutely essential to the merchant.[58] For this reason merchants felt an intense interest in their outlet for foreign wares, the domestic retail trade.

The relationship between merchant and retailer ideally was also a symbiotic one. As the merchants themselves said,

A merchant cannot be a retailer for want of skill and acquaintance of customers, which requires an apprenticeship to bring him to it; neither can he have a fit place to dwell in, for all the houses that stand in place of retail are already in the hands of retailers.[59]

A legal dispute between Daniel Bishop, vintner, Edward Coxe, merchant, et al. reveals these close ties.[60] In October 1618, Bishop, together with one James Glover of Bristol, had leased a tavern called the King’s Head and Merchant’s Arms, in which wine was to be sold. Over a period of three years these two men, acting as partners, had become indebted to divers persons for upwards of £300, which they were unable to pay on time. On a thorough examination of their joint estates, Glover decided it was wise to leave the partnership and was willing to grant to Bishop all his rights in the tavern as well as all the personal property of the partnership, if Bishop in turn would dispose of all their outstanding debts. At first Bishop was unwilling to agree to this, but two of his creditors, Edward Coxe, merchant of Bristol, and John Gibbens, baker, encouraged him and promised to stand surety for the debts of the partnership and to use their credit to provide Bishop with the wine he needed to continue his trade. This is a most revealing act on their part. In their efforts to save their debtor from bankruptcy they were not only hoping to recover the money owed them but were also preserving the access to the market that Bishop provided. Moreover, as Bishop was paying his old debts he was becoming further obligated to these benefactors for additional extensions of credit. Had this arrangement been successful the result would have been a tavern tied to the wholesalers who supplied it.

As the relationship between debtor and creditors developed, Coxe and Gibbens required Bishop to sign over to them his rights to the tavern as well as all of the debts owed him—a sum of £200 or so—with the understanding that the conveyance of the tavern would be null and void if Bishop should pay off all his creditors within fifteen months. Bishop paid the first installment on this plan, but found it impossible to meet the second one. Still, the tavern held out a powerful attraction to merchant capital. Even in the depths of Bishop’s financial difficulties, Edward Peters, merchant, was willing to replace Gibbens as coguarantor of Bishop’s debts. Unfortunately for Bishop, this intervention came too late. By March 1623, Coxe and Gibbens had already sued process in the Bristol Tolzey, where the Sheriffs’ Court was located, and, as a result, a capias had been issued and Bishop’s property had been attached. Fearful of the outcome of his case in the Tolzey, Bishop fled the city—over the rooftops, according to one story—taking with him all the plate and other valuables he could manage to transport. He thereby made himself not only a bankrupt but a thief and outlaw to boot. Undaunted, Coxe and Gibbens pursued him with legal process into Gloucestershire and from there across the country to London, where he was found and arrested a year later. Soon thereafter they joined with Robert Aldworth and John Gonning, merchants, and sued a commission of bankruptcy out of the Chancery, which put a final end to Bishop’s career.

Despite the sad end of this ill-starred association of merchant and tavernkeeper, merchant interest in such domestic enterprises was not an unusual phenomenon in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. During this long period, a number of overseas traders maintained their own inns or taverns or informally linked themselves to others. William Pepwell, for example, owned The Starr in the 1560s; and in the 1580s his son-in-law, Philip Langley, was proprietor of the George in High Street. During the early seventeenth century, such important figures as Thomas Wright and Richard Vickris leased other Bristol taverns, while several leading merchants, including Thomas James, John Barker, and Richard Aldworth, had rights to country inns near Bristol.[61] A review of Bristol wills and other surviving family papers reveals at least twelve hostelries in the hands of overseas merchants in the years from 1550 to 1640. Most of these investors were either specialists in grocery wares, such as Pepwell, Langley, and Vickris, or large-scale dealers in wines, such as Barker, James, and Wright. Like Edward Coxe and Edward Peters, they no doubt looked upon their inns and taverns primarily as ready markets for their imports.

This evidence of merchant investment in taverns and inns reveals Bristol’s overseas traders to have been dependent, if only in small degree, upon their customers among the city’s retailers. This dependency was mutual. So long as it was possible to turn a profit of as much as 25 to 35 percent on retail sales, as some shopkeepers were said to do,[62] it was to the advantage of the grocer, mercer, and vintner to maintain good relations with their sources of supply. Merchants, moreover, usually sold their wares to shopkeepers on credit, thereby supplying them with the necessary capital to renew their retail trading stocks.[63] This meant that the merchant ordinarily enjoyed a double hold on his customers among the retailers. Not only were they in his debt, but without him they would have lacked the necessary stocks to run their businesses.

What Bristol’s merchants wanted from the import trade was a quick turnover of their investments. Keeping full storehouses was not a typical pattern; it only idled capital and blocked credit. When stocks built up, merchants sometimes retailed their wares, either openly or illicitly, especially if perishable goods were involved.[64] At times the Privy Council was even enlisted to stimulate sales, as when the Bristol merchants petitioned “to haue the vyntners of this Citty to take from the Marchant yeerly a competent quantity of wines…for that they haue great quantities of wines vpon their Hands which are not taken of as formerly haue ben don.”[65] But because many of the imports were expensive, scarce commodities, their markets were highly elastic and volatile; a small oversupply could dramatically drop prices and cut profits. It was thus necessary for merchants also to control import prices through a form of “ingrossing,” which, according to theory, kept

commodities in reputation to maintain a trade thereby: as when men of meanes do ingrosse and by vp a commoditie, and for a reasonable gaine they sell the same again to shop keepers and retailers. This is much vsed amongst Merchants of all nations, otherwise when aboundance of a commodity doth so much abate the price of it, that Merchants do become losers and discouraged, then the traffique and trade is thereby ouerthrowne, to the generall hurt of the Commonwealth: in which respect it is better to pay somewhat more for Commodities, than to haue them altogether ouercheape.[66]

Such a procedure introduced a degree of predictability into the import trade without which commerce in all but staple items would have been too risky to undertake.

These conditions meant that the relationship between merchants and retailers was always in delicate balance. There was an inherent rivalry between the wholesale trader and the shopkeeper. When the latter invested in overseas commerce on his own account, not only did he keep the merchant’s share of the profits, but he could afford to buy at a somewhat higher price and to sell at a somewhat lower price than his competition. It was not even necessary for the shopkeeper to travel overseas to undertake this business. The services of a factor could be used to carry out his orders. These men, usually young merchants traveling abroad on their own business or resident in some foreign city, regularly acted as commission agents for merchants living at home. Their charges were moderate, typically only 2.5 percent for each transaction, far cheaper than the rates received by merchant middlemen, so that the shopkeeper’s final price was lower even though he now had to pay the freight charges and customs. The incentive for retailers to become their own suppliers thus was large.[67]

Wholesale merchants were especially concerned about this form of competition, for it threatened their control of the market. “The rich retailers,” the merchants warned, “as the grocer, mercer, haberdasher, soapmaker, vintner, &c., adventuring themselves, must needs undo all the poorer sort who do not adventure, and eat out the meer merchants, who have but those to whom they make their vent.”[68] The fear was rooted in economic reality. Provided the shopkeeper conducted his overseas ventures on a cash-and-carry basis and not on credit, he was free to buy when prices were at their lowest, at the peak of supply, and to hold his purchases from the market until consumer demand was at its highest.[69] For many of the items in which he traded, these periods were readily predictable; they came at fair times and festivals in the winter, spring, and summer. If grocers, vintners, and other retailers maintained their own stocks of foreign commodities, however, the market became difficult for the wholesale merchant to judge, since there was no telling when a hitherto unknown supply of a particular commodity would appear for sale. But unless the true state of local supplies could be estimated, the decision to purchase additional imports as prices rose was extremely risky. Buying the remains of the previous fall’s vintage, for example, might be a worthwhile investment if local supplies were nearly exhausted, but it could prove disastrous if the vintners were maintaining an independent stock. The entrance of retailers into foreign trade significantly increased the uncertainties of commercial dealing for the wholesaler.

On the whole, however, the relations between individual overseas traders and retailers were not troubled by competition. Only the very richest shopkeeping grocers, drapers, mercers, or vintners were likely to engage frequently in foreign commerce. For most of the rest, as Smythe’s ledger suggests, ties with merchant suppliers typically were extremely stable, with the shopkeeper dependent on the wholesaler for the continued conduct of his business. Yet relations between wholesale merchants and retail shopkeepers deeply affected the underlying social order of sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Bristol. As those Bristolians who engaged in overseas trade became an increasingly tight-knit community exclusively engaged in wholesale enterprise, separate from other crafts and trades of the city, a reorganization of society occurred that touched nearly every aspect of social life in the city, as we shall see in the following chapters.

Judged on the basis of the foregoing evidence, Bristol’s trading society in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was composed of two contrasting types of social order, the one a fluid fellowship, the other focused more sharply on precisely defined relationships between particular individuals. The difference is largely a consequence of the credit system. Where merchants were often both creditors and debtors in their dealings with fellow overseas traders, dealings with domestic dealers usually were restricted to one mode or the other. Clothiers, for example, tended to be creditors, while vintners and grocers tended to be debtors. To assure payment of these debts, heavy reliance was placed upon continually trading with known, trusted, and credit-worthy individuals. Under these conditions, transactions in the open market became more and more rare as each domestic dealer became dependent upon particular merchants for his business.

Those credit arrangements gave life to the city’s social order and formed its characteristic shape. At the pinnacle stood a cohesive group of overseas merchants, whose relationships with one another defined the framework within which commerce was conducted. Among the membership of this elite the institution of the firm, relying upon highly specialized skills or equipment and exploiting a single market, was present only in primitive form. Stability and order were provided, rather, by the network of economic ties that bound the commercial community together. The links between these overseas merchants and their principal domestic suppliers and customers, however, were dramatically different. Instead of a regime in which co-equals freely associated with one another according to circumstances, fixed business arrangements, even contracts, tied individual merchants to particular suppliers and retailers.


1. For general discussion see B. E. Supple, Commercial Crisis and Change, 1600–1642: A Study in the Instability of a Commercial Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), chap. 7; Clay, Economic Expansion, vol. 2, pp. 108–41. [BACK]

2. See, e.g., Reddaway and Ruddock, Accounts of John Balsall, pp. 1–29; for an early sixteenth-century example of this form of trading see Vanes, ed., Overseas Trade of Bristol, pp. 58–59. [BACK]

3. Malvezin, Histoire du Commerce de Bordeaux, vol. 2, p. 199. [BACK]

4. Carus-Wilson, ed., Overseas Trade of Bristol, pp. 218–89; see also Sherborne, Port of Bristol, p. 27; David Harris Sacks, “The Demise of the Martyrs: The Feasts of St. Clement and St. Katherine in Bristol, 1400–1600,” Social History 11 (1986): 157. [BACK]

5. LRB, vol. 2, pp. 1–22, 29–30, 38–41, 51–55, 59–61; Ephraim Lipson, The History of the Woollen and Worsted Industries (London: A. and C. Black, 1921), p. 79; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, pp. 121–23. [BACK]

6. LRB, vol. 2, pp. 5, 7–9, 15–16, 29–30, 39, 53. [BACK]

7. LRB, vol. 2, pp. 7–16; cf. pp. 51–53. [BACK]

8. Ibid., pp. 7–8, and compare the names there to T. P. Wadley, ed., Notes or Abstracts of the Wills Contained in the Volume Entitled The Great Orphan Book and Book of Wills in the Council House at Bristol (Bristol: Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 1886), pp. 12, 18, 26, 28, 32, 35, 52, 55, 75, 78, 103–4, 110; compare LRB, vol. 2, pp. 10–12 to pp. 51–53; see also Carus-Wilson, ed., Overseas Trade of Bristol, pp. 180–89; Calendar of the Patent Rolls (1330–1334), p. 29; Calendar of the Patent Rolls (1334–1338), p. 268; for fifteenth-century developments in the organization of the textile industry, see Veale, ed., Great Red Book, vol. 4, pp. 27, 29, 30, 126, 157–62; vol. 8, pp. 53, 66–69; vol. 16, pp. 121–24. [BACK]

9. Lipson, History of the Woollen and Worsted Industries, p. 221. [BACK]

10. LRB, vol. 1, pp. 114–15; compare to Wadley, ed., Great Orphan Book, passim, and the surviving commercial records printed in Carus-Wilson, ed., Overseas Trade of Bristol; see also Sacks, “Demise of the Martyrs,” pp. 159–60. [BACK]

11. Carus-Wilson, Medieval Merchant Venturers, pp. 73–97; Worcestre, Itineraries, pp. 130–33. [BACK]

12. Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, p. 759. [BACK]

13. BRO, Old Ordinance Book, ff. 1r, 33r; F. F. Fox and John Taylor, eds., Some Account of the Guild of Weavers in Bristol, Chiefly from MSS. (Bristol: William George’s Sons, 1889), pp. 69, 70–71, 97–99; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, pp. 134–36, 433–45, and vol. 2, pp. 478–79, 506. [BACK]

14. Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 469–78, 496, 507–9; for discussion of differing occupational structures, see W. G. Hoskins, “English Provincial Towns in the Early Sixteenth Century,” TRHS, 5th ser., 6 (1956): 13–14; Hoskins, The Age of Plunder, chap. 4; John Patten, English Towns, 1500–1700 (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1978), chap. 4; Palliser, The Age of Elizabeth, pp. 205, 238, 242–46, 251, 392–93; J. F. Pound, “The Social and Trade Structure of Norwich, 1525–1575,” Past and Present, no. 34 (July 1966): 49–69; A. D. Dyer, The City of Worcester in the Sixteenth Century (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1973), esp. pp. 81–92; L. A. Clarkson, The Pre-Industrial Economy in England, 1500–1750 (London: B. T. Batsford, 1971), pp. 80–81, 88–92; D. M. Palliser, Tudor York (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), chap. 6. [BACK]

15. L. and P., Addendum, part 1, p. 238. [BACK]

16. For the course of Bristol’s population history in the medieval and early modern periods see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, p. 205 and chap. 5 passim. [BACK]

17. Vanes, ed., Ledger of John Smythe, pp. 315–17. [BACK]

18. PRO, E 190/1129/11, 1129/12, 1135/6. [BACK]

19. Marchants Avizo, p. 55; for a similar view see Gerard Malynes, Consvetvdo, vel, Lex Mercatoria, or The Antient Law-Merchant, Diuided into three parts; According to the Essentiall parts of Traffike. Necessarie for All Statesmen, Iudges, Magistrates, Temporall and Ciuile, Lawyers, Mintmen, Merchants, Mariners and all others negotiating in all places of the World (London, 1636), p. 156. [BACK]

20. On the etymology of merchant “venturer” and merchant “adventurer,” see Carus-Wilson, Medieval Merchant Venturers, pp. xv–xvi. [BACK]

21. John Whitson, The Aged Christians Final Farewell to the World and Its Vanities, ed. George Symmes Calcott (Bristol, 1729), pp. 31–32. Internal evidence suggests that this work was written in the summer or fall of 1626; see Patrick V. McGrath, John Whitson and the Merchant Community of Bristol (Historical Association, Bristol Branch, Pamphlet 25, 1970), pp. 4, 16–17. [BACK]

22. McGrath, ed., Merchants and Merchandise, pp. 80–89; W. K. Jordan, The Forming of the Charitable Institutions of the West of England, 1480–1660 (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s. 1, part 8, 1960), p. 24n.43. [BACK]

23. See, e.g., PRO, SP 14/97/96; PRO, STAC 8/49/15, 174/15. [BACK]

24. See above, p. 60; Vanes, ed., Ledger of John Smythe, pp. 315–17. There are one hundred twenty-six entries on the list, but one is “the Wilsones,” making the total at least one hundred twenty-seven. [BACK]

25. More is said about the political background and significance of this list below, pp. 97–99. [BACK]

26. Vanes, ed., Ledger of John Smythe, pp. 14–15, 20, 89, 127–28, 169, 177, 235, 254, 280, 295. [BACK]

27. Ibid., pp. 58, 96–97, 108, 128–29, 256, 270. [BACK]

28. Ibid., pp. 9, 191. [BACK]

29. Ibid., pp. 67–68, 95, 96, 105–6, 127, 128–29, 139, 196, 217, 225. [BACK]

30. Ibid., pp. 46, 52–53, 58, 60–61, 95–96, 127–28, 137–38, 147–48, 227–29, 263–64, 301. [BACK]

31. Ibid., pp. 34–35, 125, 141, 151, 181–82, 251, 252. [BACK]

32. Ibid., pp. 19–20, 67–69, 127–29, 228–29, 253. [BACK]

33. For reason to believe that the documents printed by Browne derive from an actual trading venture see the introductory remarks by Patrick McGrath in Marchants Avizo, pp. xiv–xvi. [BACK]

34. See C. R. Cheney, ed., Handbook of Dates for Students of English History (London: Offices of the Royal Historical Society, 1961), pp. 10–11. [BACK]

35. Marchants Avizo, pp. xiv–xvi, xxv, 13, 14–16, 34, 53–54. [BACK]

36. Ibid., pp. 18–19, 28–43. [BACK]

37. Ibid., pp. 16–19, 47. [BACK]

38. Ibid., pp. 16–18, 49–53. For an account of the working of bills of exchange see Raymond de Roover, L’Evolution de la Lettre de Change, XIVe–XVIIIe Siècles (Paris: A. Colin, 1953); Raymond de Roover, Gresham on Foreign Exchange: an essay on early English mercantilism with the text of Sir Thomas Gresham’s memorandum for the understanding of the exchange (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949), pp. 94–172. [BACK]

39. Willan, Elizabethan Foreign Trade, pp. 3–4; Vanes, ed., Overseas Trade of Bristol, pp. 98–99, 128–29; L. C. Wroth, “An Elizabethan Merchant and Man of Letters: John Frampton,” Huntington Library Quarterly 17 (1953–54): 302–3; McGrath, ed., Merchants and Merchandise, pp. xvi–xvii, 175–76; High Court of Admiralty Examinations (MS Volume 53), 1637–1638, ed. Dorothy O. Shilton and Richard Holworthy, with an introduction by Eric G. M. Fletcher, Anglo-American Records Foundation Publications, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Frome, 1932), pp. 15, 186, 276. [BACK]

40. Vanes, ed., Overseas Trade of Bristol, pp. 117–22. [BACK]

41. See PRO, E 190/1136/8, 1136/10; McGrath, ed., Merchants and Merchandise, p. 175. [BACK]

42. McGrath, ed., Merchants and Merchandise, p. xix; Malynes, Lex Mercatoria, p. 145. [BACK]

43. Malynes, Lex Mercatoria, p. 151. [BACK]

44. PRO, C 1/406/5, 3/210/87; McGrath, ed., Merchants and Merchandise, pp. 5, 6; PRO, E 190/1136/8, 1136/10; PRO, REQ 2/167/27, REQ 2/286/52, among others. [BACK]

45. PRO, SP 16/39/50 ii, 137/4; Patrick V. McGrath, “Merchant Venturers and Bristol Shipping in the Early Seventeenth Century,” Mariner’s Mirror 36 (1950): 69–80; Patrick V. McGrath, “Merchant Shipping in the Seventeenth Century: The Evidence of the Bristol Deposition Books,” Mariner’s Mirror 40 (1954): 282–93; 41 (1955): 23–27; McGrath, ed., Merchants and Merchandise, pp. xix, 207–14. [BACK]

46. For discussion of this method of accounting, see Jean Vanes, “Sixteenth-Century Accounting,” The Accountant 155 (1967): 357–67; Vanes, ed., Ledger of John Smythe, pp. 16–22; F. C. Lane, Andrea Barbarigo, Merchant of Venice, 1419–1449 (Johns Hopkins Studies in Historical and Political Science, ser. 62, 1, 1944), pp. 153–81; F. C. Lane, “Venture Accounting in Medieval Business Management,” Bulletin of the Business History Society 19 (1945): 168, 173; A. H. Woolf, A Short History of Accountants and Accountancy (London: Gee, 1912), pp. 117–18; B. S. Yamey, “Scientific Bookkeeping and the Rise of Capitalism,” EcHR, 2d ser., 1 (1949): 111–12. [BACK]

47. PRO, E 134/12 Jac. I/Mich. 42; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 735–37. [BACK]

48. The Parliamentary Diary of John Holles, 1624, BL, Harl. MS 6383, f. 91v; I have used the Yale University Center for Parliamentary History transcript, pp. 38–39. See also the Parliamentary Diary of John Pym, 1624, Northampton Record Office, Finch-Hatton MS 50, f. 22, Yale University Center for Parliamentary History transcript, p. 79. [BACK]

49. McGrath, ed., Merchants and Merchandise, pp. 90–92. [BACK]

50. The Parliamentary Diary of John Holles, 1624, BL Harl. MS 6383, f.92r, Yale University Center for Parliamentary History transcript, p. 39. [BACK]

51. Marchants Avizo, pp. 22–25. [BACK]

52. Ibid., p. 10. [BACK]

53. Ibid., pp. xi–xiii, 18–19, 48; Vanes, ed., Ledger of John Smythe, pp. 4, 13, 20, 89–90, 168–69, 279–80, 287, 295–96; SMV, Book of Trade, pp. 53–54, 207. [BACK]

54. Vanes, ed., Ledger of John Smythe, pp. 90–92, 105–6, 131–32, 144–46, 211–12; on the sources for lead exports see Ian Blanchard, “English Lead and the International Bullion Crisis of the 1550’s,” in D. C. Coleman and A. H. John, eds., Trade, Government and Economy in Pre-Industrial England: Essays Presented to F. J. Fisher (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976), p. 22. [BACK]

55. Veale, ed., Great Red Book, vol. 8, pp. 50–52, 58–60; vol. 16, pp. 80–82; BRO, Old Ordinance Book, ff. 5r–v, 6r–v, 8r, 25r–v, 39r, 57v, 63v, and loose paper dated 19 Eliz. I; Elizabeth Ralph, ed., Great White Book of Bristol (BRS, vol. 32, 1979), pp. 112–16; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, pp. 112ff., and vol. 2, pp. 520–26. [BACK]

56. Veale, ed., Great Red Book, vol. 16, pp. 60–61; Robert Latham, ed., Bristol Charters, 1509–1899 (BRS, vol. 12, 1947), pp. 58, 83–84, 116–18; L. and P., Addendum 1, pp. 238–39; Leadam, ed., Select Cases before the Star Chamber, vol. 2, pp. 248ff.; Vanes, ed., Overseas Trade of Bristol, pp. 31–32. On the economic and financial functions of the fairs and their persistence, see Vanes, ed., Ledger of John Smythe, pp. 4–5; Johnson, Drapers of London, vol. 2, pp. 251ff.; Connell-Smith, “Ledger of Thomas Howell,” pp. 363–70; G. D. Ramsay, ed., John Isham, Mercer and Merchant Adventurer: Two Account Books of a London Merchant in the Reign of Elizabeth I (Northamptonshire Record Society 21, 1962), p. xxiv; PRO, SP 16/343/25, 343/25i; Corporation of London, Analytical Index to the Series of Records Known as the Remembrancia Preserved among the Archives of the City of London (London: E. J. Francis, 1878), pp. 345–46; Minchinton, “Bristol,” p. 80; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 513–20. [BACK]

57. Henry Bush, ed., Bristol Town Duties: A Collection of Original and Interesting Documents, Intended to Explain and Elucidate the Above Important Subject (Bristol: J. M. Gutch, 1828), pp. 57–60; Vanes, ed., Ledger of John Smythe, pp. 33–34, 81–82, 293, 308; Fox and Taylor, eds., Guild of Weavers, p. 93. [BACK]

58. Fox and Taylor, eds., Guild of Weavers, p. 93; Vanes, ed., Ledger of John Smythe, pp. 80–81. [BACK]

59. PRO, SP 15/20/19. [BACK]

60. PRO, STAC 8/49/15. [BACK]

61. Wadley, ed., Great Orphan Book, pp. 243, 263; BRO, Great Orphan Book, vol. 2, ff. 2v–3v 143r–144v, and vol. 3, 188r–89v; BRO, MS 09467 (13a); Gloucester Record Office, Dyrham Park MSS, D. 1799 T. 36. [BACK]

62. Malynes, Lex Mercatoria, p. 226; T. S. Willan, The Inland Trade: Studies in English Internal Trade in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1976), pp. 68–91, 93. [BACK]

63. See Vanes, ed., Ledger of John Smythe, pp. 34, 59, 103, 123, 151, 162, 198, 214, 234, 296; Willan, Inland Trade, pp. 67, 93–94, 124–26. [BACK]

64. PRO, SP 12/131/87. [BACK]

65. SMV, Hall Book, vol. 1, p. 2. [BACK]

66. Malynes, Lex Mercatoria, p. 152. [BACK]

67. Marchants Avizo, pp. 28, 36, 63nn. 51 and 54. [BACK]

68. PRO, SP 15/20/19. [BACK]

69. See J. W. Burgon, The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Gresham, 2 vols. (London: R. Jennings, 1839), vol. 1, p. 493. [BACK]

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