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In a Worshipful State, 1450–1650
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2. In a Worshipful State, 1450–1650

4. The Navel of the World

The concept of social organization concerns the ways that human beings adjust means to ends in their collective lives. For sociologists and political scientists, this focus usually yields an analysis of self-perpetuating social institutions and bureaucratic systems in which each element supports the others as part of a larger mechanism. For historians, it commonly involves tracing in narrative the reasons why individuals and groups acted as they did. Either way, however, students of social organization generally consider the significance of an action to lie in its use rather than in its place in an already existing web of symbols and values. Our approach in the previous section, mixing the methods of the social scientist with the interests of the historian, followed this line of interpretation. It told the story of how Bristol’s overseas merchants built a new social order for themselves in response to the economic conditions confronting them after 1453. But these Bristolians also lived in a world of well-established cultural codes and social meanings with which they were obliged to come to terms in remaking their society. To move beyond the limited notion of functionalism and the narrow idea of rationality upon which we have so far relied, we now need to examine this social and political language and the changes it underwent.

In 1577 John Northbrooke, “preacher of the Word of God” at Bristol, published one of England’s earliest condemnations of stage plays, interludes, “jugglings and false sleyghts,” and other pastimes. Our duty, he says, requires us to “apply al and euery of our doings to ye glory of God,” but instead “we kepe ioly cheare one with another in banquetting, surfeiting and dronkennesse; also we vse all the night long in ranging from town to town, and from house to house, with mummeries and maskes, diceplaying, carding and dauncing.” Thus, “we leaue Christ alone at the aultar, and feed our eyes with vaine and vnhonest sights.” Festival and holy days contribute to this spirit of dissipation, for by them “halfe the yeare, and more,” is “ouerpassed…in loytering and vaine pastimes…restrayning men from their handy labours and occupations.”[1]

Northbrooke’s views represent a fundamental rejection of the cultural traditions that dominated English life until the sixteenth century. Nowhere had these traditions been better exemplified than in the town in which Northbrooke served his ministry. For example, on Corpus Christi in early sixteenth-century Bristol, we are told,

[t]he members of every guild…assembled with music, flags and banners to join in a splendid ecclesiastical procession through the streets, where the houses were decorated with tapestry, brilliant cloth, and garlands of flowers and the afternoon was spent in the performance in the open air of miracle plays, in which every craft claimed its special part, to the enjoyment of the whole community.[2]

And on Midsummer Eve, these same gildsmen “—who emulated each other in the display of gay dresses, banners, burning ‘cressets’ and torches, and in the supply of minstrels and musical instruments—marched through the streets, the proceedings terminating in morris dancing and various games, in which the populace participated.”[3] These celebrations, along with others in Advent and at Christmas, played an important part in the official civic calendar. The mayor and his brethren of the Common Council, far from being God’s ministers in punishing “dicers, mummers, ydellers, dronkerds, swearers, roges and dauncers,” as Northbrooke would have had them be,[4] participated in and even led most of the festivities. In the later fifteenth century, Robert Ricart, Bristol’s town clerk and lay brother of its Fraternity of Kalendars, exhorting his readers in nearly as hearty a manner as Northbrooke, set forth these “laudable” customs in a book of remembrance so that the city’s officers “may the better, sewrer, and more diligenter, execute, obserue, and minstre their seid Offices…to the honoure and comon wele of this worshipfull towne, and all thenhabitaunts of the same.”[5] Where Northbrooke saw the activities of “idle players and dauncers” leading only to their city’s moral downfall,[6] Ricart, writing a hundred years before, saw these same practices as intimately connected with Bristol’s welfare.

Curiously, many of the celebrations that Ricart praised and Northbrooke damned were already something of a dead letter in England by the 1570s. I do not mean, of course, that Christmas feasting and Shrove Tuesday cock-throwing were no more, or that church ales and Sabbath-day sports did not persist. But the great public celebrations led by the civic leaders of the towns, paid for out of the funds of the town treasuries, had largely ceased. Most had been stricken from the liturgical calendar in Henry VIII’s reign,[7] and although there had been an effort under Queen Mary to revive them, they never recovered their old vitality and had long been in abeyance when Northbrooke took up arms against dicing, dancing, and vain plays. Despite some massive demonstrations of nostalgia, their end had been peaceful. There was no St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in their defense. They had passed on not in fire but in ice.[8] This chapter attempts an explanation for their seemingly peaceable demise.

By choosing to examine this subject, however, we set forth into perhaps the most troubled waters of historical interpretation. It is not that the field has suffered from bitter debates, with scholars striking each other hip and thigh after the fashion of the Hebrews and Amalikites; there has been no “Storm over the Ceremonies.” Rather, the methodological and theoretical issues raised by the study of festival and ritual have produced so little consensus that many historians refuse to accept the subject as history; they see no way that it can be studied according to the canons of historical inquiry and reject it as a form of misplaced sociologizing or literary criticism gone astray. Past rituals, it is widely believed, had meanings for their participants that at this distance we cannot penetrate; hence all we can do is to reduce them in some sterile and arbitrary way to epiphenomena of the social order according to some Marxist theory of base and superstructure or some Durkheimian scheme of functionalism.[9] But the problem of understanding ritualistic action is not unique to students of lost religions. Historians of every type face it whether they are studying diplomatic negotiations, election stump oratory, or factory life. Interpreting ritual means making intelligible highly formalized actions that manifestly are intelligible to the actors themselves, and as such it is a problem of human understanding not confined only to one branch of history or, indeed, to historical study alone. It is a problem of everyday life.

A simple analogy drawn from one of Roger Edgeworth’s sermons may help to convey what I mean. In speaking of correct behavior, Edgeworth says:

[I]f a man woulde syng in the middle of the market, or in a court at the barre afore the iudge when ther be weighty matter in hand, he should offend against modestie, & against al good humanitie, so that he may be called modest or manerly that in al his behaviour vseth good maner and measure, and a mean.[10]

Why should singing in these circumstances amount to an offense? Nothing would be amiss if this same man sang a psalm in church or a tune in the alehouse: such behavior would be appropriate to the setting and thereby conform, in Edgeworth’s sense, to the Aristotelian mean. The answer lies in the relationship between meaning and context. The market and the law court are places intended for the conduct of particular kinds of business, solemnly undertaken. Those engaged in them are governed by tacitly accepted rules of conduct which not only dictate their behavior but make it understandable to their fellows. When in the marketplace, it is proper to cry out one’s wares and to bargain. Both situations dictate highly ritualized patterns, not amenable to hymn-singing or balladeering. In bargaining, for example, there are accepted procedures of offer and counteroffer the use of which helps the parties to come to agreement upon a price. Each side employs the common language of haggling to signal his wishes and to discover his opposite’s intentions. Each side tries to read the other’s situation in his offers and adjusts his actions accordingly. Should one of the bargainers break into song in the midst of such a negotiation, his tune would seem the raving of a madman, because it would defeat the common purpose of the exchange. Similarly, in a law court it is proper to make motions and to give arguments in the specialized language of the law. A lawyer who sings his pleas would be judged—quite rightly—as deranged. There would be no conventions against which to weigh his songs, and his actions would become unintelligible. In other words, it is by properly understanding the context in which we find ourselves and adjusting our behavior to it that we begin to make our meanings known and grasp the meanings of others.

We could hardly proceed in our lives if our social actions were not amenable in this way to interpretation by others. But to understand social action requires an understanding of the social setting in which the action takes place. This raises two important points, one regarding the way the action is viewed by outside observers and the other the way it is seen by the actors themselves. For the outsider, discovering the rules of intelligibility shared by those he observes demands an understanding not only of their gestures but of their frame of reference as well. This task, as has been pointed out by many theorists, is somewhat like translating from one language to another, a difficult enterprise when there are large differences between cultures. To do it effectively requires attention not only to grammar, syntax, and logical connections but to what is sometimes called the speaker’s “form of life.” As Hilary Putnam puts it, comprehension of the words or behavior of a stranger begins with assumptions about what he “wants or intends” and is relative to “the nature of the environment” in which he speaks or acts. In Putnam’s terms it is “interest-relative,” a concept he illustrates with the following example. “Willie Sutton (the famous bank robber),” he tells us, “is supposed to have been asked ‘Why do you rob banks?,’ to which Sutton gave the famous reply: ‘That’s where the money is.’ Now…imagine,” Putnam says,

(a) a priest asked the question; (b) a robber asked the question.…The priest’s question means: “Why do you rob banks—as opposed to not robbing at all?” The robber’s question means: “Why do you rob banks—as opposed to, say, gas stations?” And Sutton’s answer is an answer to the robber’s question, but not the priest’s.[11]

In interpreting language and other forms of social action, we need to know what issue is being raised in order to understand the response, and this means understanding the context—the environment—in which the actors find themselves. Is it a confessional, or a den of thieves?

When the social setting in which we live is changing rapidly, it is possible that some of us will move in a context that differs in significant ways from everyone else’s, and that as a result the same social behavior will be open to systematically different interpretations—in which one party, as it were, asks the priest’s question and the other answers the robber’s. In extreme circumstances, moreover, a traditional form of social behavior can completely lose its intelligibility if the social setting in which it previously made sense is sufficiently transformed. By ceasing to have social relevance, it ceases to be acceptable or useful behavior and fades from view. In a den of thieves the priest’s question is rarely in order.

This way of thinking about ritual and social change establishes the conditions under which the meaning of social action can be determined. It tells us that the performers and their audience belong to the same community of discourse. But this does not imply that all participants in this community will necessarily agree on every interpretation of meaning. Confusion, misunderstanding, disagreement, and conflict about troubling issues can be as much a part of community life as harmony and agreement. This approach neither reduces meaning to the way ritual symbolizes or expresses the social order nor subsumes meaning into social function. Instead, it views meaning and context in relation to one another without conflating the two. Let us see whether this formulation can aid us in understanding the strange death of civic ceremony in Reformation Bristol.

In the early Middle Ages, when Bristol’s Gild Merchant was transforming the borough into an effective corporate body, the principal line of tension in the city was between its sworn brotherhood of freemen and all non-freemen, that is, between those who enjoyed the liberty to trade freely by retail within the borough and those, whether inhabitant or stranger, who did not. Until the fourteenth century the freemen had a certain unity, despite differences in wealth and power among them, because they had to define themselves against dangers that came to the borough from outside, including threats from the Crown to Bristol’s political independence.[12] By the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, however, the fabric of social life had begun to alter, as various stages of cloth production migrated into the countryside, as the trade in woolens looked more and more to foreign markets, as a class of merchant entrepreneurs differentiated themselves from the other members of the old mercantile community, and as local governance fell into the hands of the borough’s “better and more worthy men” serving on a select council. Moreover, after Bristol had achieved a form of incorporation in 1373, relations between freemen and non-freemen became somewhat less problematic, and the principal focus of the city’s political life turned from protecting the independence of the borough to regulating relations among the freemen.[13] In this era, more than before, the burgesses of Bristol lived according to the ideals of social unity but the realities of social division.[14] They bound themselves in a compact body by oaths promising complete devotion to the city’s commonweal and thorough commitment of their wealth and power to its aid.[15] Yet they resided in a town whose topography segregated them into distinct neighborhoods and whose economy placed them in separate social groupings.

The celebrations of the Feast of St. Clement, patron of the mariners and merchants,[16] on 23 November, and of the Feast of St. Katherine of Alexandria, patroness of the weavers, two days later, were very much a product of this later period. Although there was a chapel dedicated to St. Katherine in Temple Church from 1299, and a gild of weavers from at least the 1340s—and probably a good deal earlier—the grant of the first indulgences to the gild for its chapel dates only from 1384, and the chapel itself became a permanent chantry only in 1392. It is in this same period, that is, the middle and late fourteenth century, that the city acquired its Common Council.[17] Thus it is unlikely that St. Katherine’s Day could have received an elaborate official celebration— gaging both the gild and the civic leadership—before the mid-fourteenth century. About St. Clement’s Day we can be somewhat more definite. The chapel and gild associated with him were founded only in 1445 or 1446.[18] Hence to grasp the significance of this pair of feast days, we must begin with the peculiarities of late medieval Bristol.

Bristol was first and foremost a river port, located at the confluence of the Avon and the Frome, which, in the words of John Leland, “dothe peninsulate the towne.”[19] In consequence, the urban territory in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was divided into three separate segments. In the center, between the two rivers, there were eight small and three large parishes, all completely built up. To the east and south of the Avon, across the bridge that had given Bristol its name, lay three relatively large and also well-inhabited parishes. By the fifteenth century, Bristol also extended to the west and north in an arc of important suburbs beyond its old medieval walls (Figure 3).[20] Jurisdictional considerations further increased this complexity. Until 1373 the river Avon divided the city legally, politically, and administratively, as well as geographically. On its western and northern bank, it lay in the county of Gloucester; on its eastern and southern bank, it lay in Somerset.[21] Moreover, even after Bristol became a county in its own right in 1373, it still stood in two different dioceses, with the fifteen parishes west and north of the Avon subject to the bishop of Worcester and the three parishes to its east and south under the authority of the bishop of Bath and Wells.

Fig. 3. Bristol’s Ecclesiastical Geography, ca. 1500.
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Finally, two ecclesiastical enclaves existed within the city: the liberty of the Augustinian Abbey in the parish of St. Augustine to the west, and the franchise of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, known as Temple Fee, in the parish of Temple to the south. The holders of both claimed for themselves wide immunity from the jurisdiction of Bristol’s government in such matters as payment of local tolls and taxes and freedom from suit in court; in addition, fugitive criminals, including murderers and men outlawed in civil cases, could claim sanctuary within the boundaries of each liberty.[22] These facts directly affect our story. When Ricart wrote, St. Clement’s Chapel was located at the Hospital of St. Batholomew in the College Green, within the enclave of St. Augustine’s Abbey. St. Katherine’s Chapel was located in Temple Church itself, and the weavers’ gildhall, also dedicated to St. Katherine, stood nearby in St. Thomas Street; both were situated in the heart of Temple Fee.[23]

Although mariners or merchants might seem from our modern viewpoint to have little in common with weavers, from the perspective of the late medieval urban polity they shared several important characteristics. In Bristol, the community of freemen was by definition a community of retailers.[24] But in the later Middle Ages, mariners and overseas merchants depended more on distant markets than on the local one, and many of them traded principally by wholesale, not retail. Their actions in the community, then, were not readily controlled by official disenfranchisement or discommoning, which merely deprived them of their right to trade legally by retail at a shop or market stall. A similar difficulty arose with the weavers, since they too depended for their economic activities primarily on markets outside the city proper. By the fourteenth century, as we know, Bristol was one of England’s leading cloth exporters, and every year thousands of fabrics made their way to the continent in return for such goods as wine and woad. In a very real sense, the whole life of the city centered on this trade. It not only supplied the necessary infusions of wealth to keep the city running but set a rhythm to city life, as wool gathered in the spring shearings was turned into cloth to ship in time to purchase French wine from the autumn harvest. This process reached its climax toward the end of November, as the great cloth fleet sailed for Bordeaux,[25] and the festive days of St. Clement and St. Katherine came at just the right moment in the year to bless the major events in the city’s annual economic cycle.

In popular celebration, St. Clement’s Day and St. Katherine’s were often treated as an interrelated pair. In many places, the former was a special day for boys and the latter for girls. In some, the two feasts were collapsed into one and celebrated on the same day.[26] For late medieval Bristol, the pairing seems focused especially on the structural tensions that characterized the community—those arising from the geographical divisions in the city, from the existence of large jurisdictional enclaves within its borders, and from the important but peculiar place of weavers and overseas traders in the social order.

Unfortunately, we know very little about how the city celebrated St. Clement’s Day. From Ricart’s Kalendar we can see that there was at least one procession, occurring on St. Clement’s Eve, in which the members of the Bristol Corporation, almost certainly coming from the Guildhall in the city center, crossed the river Frome into the heart of the sanctuary of St. Augustine’s Abbey. The following day, a mass with communion was celebrated.[27] The celebration, with its crossing of the boundaries and its taking of the sacrament, seems very much a ceremony of unification.

A similar pattern is to be observed in the Feast of St. Katherine, about which Ricart tells us somewhat more. The celebration divides into three parts, typical of rites of passage as they have been described and analyzed by Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner.[28] It began with a procession to evensong at Temple Church, passed through a long transition, and ended with a second procession and a mass.[29] To understand this sequence of events we need to study each of these stages in turn. In doing so, we can not only examine the particular significance of St. Katherine’s Day but perhaps also see something of the significance of St. Clement’s Feast as well.

Processions were a commonplace of urban life in the Middle Ages, and the members of the Bristol city government attended many public functions in this fashion, each man in his scarlet robe walking in the place appropriate to his rank and seniority.[30] In general, these processions had a double social meaning. Most obviously, they expressed in visible form the organization of the municipal government; the persons holding each of the principal offices were publicly advertised. Not only were observers made aware of the hierarchy of power within the city, they were reminded through this symbolic expression of political authority of their own proper position in the community and of the need to show deference to its leaders.[31] But in this particular case, the procession stood for something more. The presence of the magistrates in full regalia in the church asserted the legitimacy of their authority in a place where ordinarily they could not exercise control. Although technically they had power over the Bristol freemen—most of them weavers and other clothworkers—who lived within Temple Fee, they could not enforce that power directly should they meet resistance there. The procession, then, raised the problem of Temple Fee’s anomalous jurisdictional status and introduced in a dramatic way the theme of its underlying unity with the civic community as a whole. The same can be said for the procession on St. Clement’s Eve, two days earlier, to the College Green.

The transition stage of St. Katherine’s festivities shifts our attention from the status of Temple Fee to the relationship between the weavers’ gild and the municipal authorities, and from St. Katherine’s Chapel to St. Katherine’s Hall, where there were “drynkyngs” of “sondry wynes” and where “Spysid Cakebrede” was eaten by the assembled celebrants. At the Hall the mayor and his brethren became the guests of the weavers, which gave the latter the opportunity to display their wealth and manifest their importance.[32] Moreover, Ricart says, “the cuppes” were “merelly filled aboute the hous,” which signifies the drinking of “healths” among the participants; it is with the same or similar phrases that this time-honored social ritual is often identified in the late medieval and early modern period. By its nature this is a reciprocal process; healths are not merely given but exchanged. In this way the weavers secured the “amity and affection” of the city’s political leadership and, if need be, forgiveness for any wrongs. In the drinking of healths and the eating of spiced cake the sharply delineated hierarchy apparent in the processional breaks down, most probably in a degree of inebriation, a kind of licensed drunkenness. Drunkenness is the opposite of order. It wreaks havoc on both body and mind, and, as was commonly said, “nothing can be found stedfast” in it.[33]

Suitably inebriated after thus passing the cups, the membership of the city government found their way “euery man home” alone.[34] What had started as an ordered procession into Temple Fee now became a leaderless and unorganized—a disordered—movement away from it. Viewed in this fashion, the transition stage of the festival seems devoted primarily to the ceremonial stripping away of the hierarchical structure and pretensions of Bristol’s leadership.[35] This effect was only reinforced as events moved further into the night. When they reached home, the mayor, sheriff, bailiffs, and other worshipful men received “at theire dores Seynt Kateryns players, making them to drynk at their does, and rewardyng theym for theire playes.”[36] Unfortunately, Ricart tells us nothing about the nature of these plays or about the social makeup of the group of wandering performers. But we know enough to draw some tentative conclusions.

By tradition, St. Katherine was a special guardian of the Christian community against evil secular authority. The essential elements of her life concern her challenge and ultimate defeat of the emperor Maxentius, a cruel persecutor of Christians. In the end, her righteous authority triumphed over Maxentius’s injustice, fulfilling her prophecy that if he failed to correct his ways he would “be a servant.” In local festivities on her day, the figure of St. Katherine usually appeared with her assistants—sometimes children or, more commonly, lesser members of some gild—to demand tribute from the leading citizens, usually the civic authorities. The event was one of ritual submission which gave social inferiors an opportunity to exact symbolic homage from their betters. The treats they received from the leading men gave recognition that these notables were part of the same community as the players; they were a kind of toll or entry fee. By giving them, the city’s governors subordinated themselves symbolically to Katherine’s divinely inspired authority and, therefore, not only to the virtues she exemplified but to the community she represented.[37]

If this interpretation is correct, it leads us by a natural progression to the final stage of St. Katherine’s rite in Bristol: the unification of Temple Fee and its weavers with the borough community as a whole. Once again the event centers on a procession, but now the Corporation members, purged or purified by the proceedings of the previous night, join the parishioners of Temple to make a circuit of the town, ritually integrating the population of Temple Fee into the borough community. This union is sealed with a mass and offering, which combined, as John Bossy has emphasized, the principles of order and unity within social divisions. In their solemn communion, with its focus on the Kiss of Peace, the members of the Corporation were finally joined together with their fellow citizens from the parish of Temple, each in his legitimate place as members of the larger Christian commonwealth.[38] Again a similar point can be made about the celebration of St. Clement’s Day at College Green.

In this way the Feast of St. Katherine together with its companion Feast of St. Clement confirmed the principle of unity proclaimed by the late medieval borough community. According to theory, a saint was the representative in heaven of a community, ready to intercede for its members individually and collectively, so the community gained in solidarity from its veneration of his or her image or relics. In other words, a spiritual bond, mediated through sacred objects, tied together life in this world with life in the next and made the social body also a holy one, the symbol of godly order and harmony. The community represented by a saint necessarily was a microcosm of the world. It marked off within its boundaries a series of structured relationships that distinguished it from other communities and made it unique at the same time as it replicated the divine order.[39] The result in Bristol of celebrating such a saint’s day was a territorial unity that defined the boundaries of the community; a jurisdictional unity that linked its members together in a set of common rights and privileges; and a social, or even spiritual, unity that was the ideal of their common enterprise. Tension, dissent, and conflict there might well be, but not without resolution, at least in theory. These two festivals recognized the fact of territorial, jurisdictional, and social cohesion within the divided city and reaffirmed its ideals of harmony, uniformity, and solidarity.

The borough community of the high Middle Ages in theory was a bounded world, a communion of interests and purposes separating the townsmen and their life of trade from the agrarian existence of the rest of England. The feasts of St. Clement and St. Katherine confirmed these ideals of community in the face of social and economic tensions that by 1400 had begun to threaten their foundations. In symbolic form they integrated the weavers and mariners into the body politic of the city. Robert Ricart, in his map of the city at its foundation, also conveyed this vision of Bristol as an emblem of the cosmos (Figure 4).[40] This map, in which Bristol sits upon a little hill between four gates, portrays a nearly perfect example of what Werner Müller has identified as the Gothic town plan. It is a city built as “the navel of the world,” a cross within a circle, representing the heavenly Jerusalem, in which the four main streets divide the world into its four component parts.[41] It puts into visible form, then, the ordered community which found its highest expression on Corpus Christi, when the civic body, the crafts, and the other citizens proceeded through the town, each in his proper place, in veneration of the host.[42]

Fig. 4. Robert Ricart’s Plan of Bristol at Its Foundation. (Robert Ricart, The Maire of Bristowe Is Kalendar, Bristol Record Office, MS 04720 (1), f. 5. By permission of the City of Bristol Record Office.)
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In general, all of Bristol’s late medieval festive life encouraged its citizens to conceive of their city in this way, as a microcosm embedded in the larger order of God’s universe. It also yielded a subtle commentary on the nature and distribution of political authority. In ritual and festival the civic community appeared as a bounded world of reciprocal relations—of harmonies and correspondences—not of absolutes. For, taken together, events like the celebration of the feasts of St. Clement and St. Katherine emphasized the social limitations on authority, not the sovereignty of those who exercised it. They focused on the membership of the mayor and his brethren in the commonalty of burgesses and freemen, and on the need for communal acceptance of their earthly rule.

The ceremonial practices we have just analyzed survived intact until the middle of the sixteenth century, but long before they disappeared there were signs that many Bristolians had come to doubt their efficacy. By the early fifteenth century, for example, most townsfolk had become indifferent to the great Corpus Christi processions, which had once been among the most popular religious celebrations and the preeminent means of expressing the town’s hierarchical organization and spiritual kinship.[43] Even Ricart’s loving codification of the annual cycle of feast and ceremony may be a sign that some Bristolians—like Mayor William Spencer, who commissioned Ricart’s book—thought their ancient customs needed to be preserved and reinforced among the civic elite. By the 1530s, moreover, the city had begun welcoming organized troupes of players to the city to perform their entertainments indoors in the Guildhall for a small elite, competing with St. Katherine’s players in both substance and form.[44]

But the old ceremonies themselves persisted into the era of Reformation. With the combined attack on popish “superstitions,” religious orders, and chantries, however, the framework described by Ricart suffered permanent and irreversible change. In 1541 Henry VIII ordered the abolition of the “many superstitious and chyldysh obseruances…observed and kept…vpon Saint Nicholas, Saint Catherine, Saint Clement, the Holy Innocents and such like.”[45] Corpus Christi suffered a similar fate, disappearing from the church calendar with the publication of the Edwardian prayer books.[46] Of course, deep religious divisions persisted in the city in the mid-sixteenth century, as Roger Edgeworth made clear in the sermons he delivered during this period of upheaval.[47] At the same time, many tradition-minded laymen, including the great Spanish merchant Robert Thorne, and such clergymen as Edgeworth himself and Paul Bush, the Marian bishop in Bristol, still ardently upheld the old forms of piety.[48] But this cultural politics did not extend its defense of customary practices to the excesses associated with the old holidays and pastimes. Against the surge of Protestant reform, the defenders of tradition in Bristol advanced their sober new vision of devotion, which preserved the crosses and the images but condemned the “gluttony” and “lechery” of traditional culture.[49] By Elizabeth I’s and James I’s time, learned Protestant ministers such as Northbrooke, Thomas Thompson, and Edward Chetwyn were striking even more vigorous hammer blows against idle pastimes and drunkenness. Under these strictures, celebrations such as those that honored St. Katherine and St. Clement stood utterly condemned for their depravity.[50]

Although many of Bristol’s late medieval gilds, like St. Clement’s and St. Katherine’s, survived the dissolution of the chantries into the later sixteenth century and beyond, they did so as a result only of the reassignment of their properties for charitable purposes, not of the survival of their old religious spirit.[51] At the same time, the feasts of St. Clement and St. Katherine disappeared from the civic calendar. One reason for the quick and relatively painless demise of the two saints’ days is supplied by Henry VIII’s attack on the church. With the dissolution of the monasteries and the suppression of the religious orders in England, the liberty of St. Augustine’s Abbey, already under vigorous attack by the city and the Crown in the 1490s,[52] ended in December 1539, with the dissolution of the monastery. In 1541, when the Knights Hospitallers were disbanded, the liberty of Temple Fee was also quashed.[53] These changes transformed the spiritual geography of Bristol. No longer did the civic map contain hot spots of great religious power but temporal pollution, where debtors could dodge creditors, illicit traders could keep open shops, and outlaws could flaunt their disregard of all just authority.[54] Now the command of the mayor and his brethren was efficacious in every quarter of the city, and every inhabitant, burgess and stranger, was subject to their rule. The city was freed from the potential for lawlessness and violence always inherent in the existence of the religious enclaves. In consequence, crossing the Frome into St. Augustine’s or the Avon into Temple no longer had the political or social significance it once did. As these districts became legally integrated into the city’s body politic, they became in a sense demystified. At the same time, the city achieved a new kind of religious unity, for in 1542 the property of St. Augustine’s Abbey became the foundation of the diocese of Bristol, carved out of the old bishoprics of Worcester and Bath and Wells.[55] For the first time, Bristol was under one episcopal administration.

But along with these alterations in traditional church administration came deeper changes in the fabric of social life in Bristol, changes in the structure of authority and distribution of power that provide the wider context for the rituals we have been examining. These developments transformed the medieval community and robbed the ceremonies of their old efficacy. We have already studied the emergence of a new form of commercial community in Bristol as the city’s economy shifted decisively away from France to focus on southern Europe and the Atlantic. By the mid-sixteenth century, control of overseas trade had fallen into the hands of a small and exceedingly tight-knit group of dealers. As the scale and internal organization of the merchant community changed, so too did its relations with the larger English economy. The city was no longer a restricted market in which all citizens had an equal opportunity to buy the goods of strangers. As we know, the common practice now was for outside dealers to have fixed contracts with particular Bristolians, using the old fairs and market hall not as places for free buying and selling but to meet regular customers or agents, settle accounts, and strike new bargains. From 1546, even the collection of tolls at the city gates had been abandoned, and in consequence the ancient distinction between strangers and citizens lost much of its economic and cultural force.[56]

Accompanying these changes were shifts in the social geography of the city. From wills and deeds we know a good deal about where the leading men in Bristol resided in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. For some of the richest citizens, such as the great Canynges family, the favored places were great stone mansions in Redcliffe and other southern parishes where land was available for gardens and orchards. Others preferred locations on the city wall, where stone towers made imposing residences. And, of course, many lived in the city center, where they enjoyed maximum command of the urban market.[57] Hence the city’s “better and more worthy” men were rather evenly distributed through the neighborhoods. We can see this quite clearly by examining the residences of the city’s common councillors at this time. We know the names of the forty-two councillors in 1381 and of fourteen others added between that date and 1409; of these, the residences of thirty-eight can be established. Twenty lived in the central city, and eighteen in the three parishes east and south of the Avon.[58] On St. Katherine’s Eve in the late fourteenth century, therefore, the procession from the Guildhall to Temple Church would have taken many Corporation members back toward their homes and about equal numbers away from them. And when St. Katherine’s players went from door to door to perform for these men, they would have toured the whole town.

The same list of common councillors allows us to establish something of the occupational structure of the city’s governing elite. Nearly all its members, wherever they lived, engaged in overseas trade to some degree. Most identified themselves as “merchants and drapers,” and many had properties both in the center and in the southern parishes. They were entrepreneurs who organized the woolen industry and traded its products in foreign markets without any differentiation of retail shopkeeping from wholesale trading or from the financing of cloth production. At least two councillors seem to have been members of St. Katherine’s gild.[59] Given the close ties between mariners and merchants, we can assume that a number of councillors became members of St. Clement’s when it was founded in the 1440s. Hence intimate economic and social connections linked the members of Bristol’s corporation and the members of the gilds of St. Clement and St. Katherine. In this period, on the feast days of the two saints it was not a distant body of strangers who came to the gild chapels but men with whom the gildsmen dealt week in and week out.

By the early sixteenth century much of this had changed radically. Where the evidence for the late fourteenth century suggests an even distribution of wealth through the city, in the 1520s we find quite distinct differences. According to statistics derived from the records of the subsidy in 1524, the center and portside parishes possessed 72 percent of the city’s taxable wealth, although during the second quarter of the sixteenth century only about 48 percent of the city’s population resided there (Table 18).[60] In this district now dwelled Bristol’s richest inhabitants, as well as a large number of middling types. Although a number of wage earners also lived there, they were concentrated primarily in a few streets near the city’s wharfs and the butchers’ shambles. Not only did the suburban districts to the north of the Frome and to the east of the Castle and in the transpontine district to the south of the Avon contain fewer wealthy residents, but those who did live there possessed smaller holdings than their counterparts in the center, and in place of the middling men we find larger numbers of individuals living on wages.

18. Geographical Distribution of Wealth in Bristol, 1524
Parishes / Mean Assessment Assessments in £[a] No. Assessed % Total Assessed
Valuation (£-s-d)
Source: Public Record Office, E 179/113/192 (lay subsidy roll dated 10 January, 15 Hen. VIII). For purposes of analysis the city’s parishes have been divided as follows: Center: All Saints; Christ Church; St. Ewen; St. John; St. Lawrence; St. Leonard; St. Mary-le-Port; St. Peter; St. Werburgh. Portside: St. Nicholas; St. Stephen. Transpontine: St. Mary, Redcliffe; St. Thomas; Temple. Suburban: St. Augustine; St. James; St. Michael; SS. Philip and Jacob.
Center and Portside / £12-10-00 101+ 11 1.93 2,040-00-00 28.63
  21 to 100 60 10.53 2,950-00-00 41.40
  6 to 20 122 21.40 1,369-00-00 19.21
  2+ to 5 85 14.91 325-04-00 4.56
  2 96 16.84 192-00-00 2.69
  1 to 2 196 34.39 249-05-00 3.50
    Total   570   7,125-09-00  
Transpontine and Suburban / £5-13-04 101+ 3 0.62 430-00-00 15.56
  21 to 100 24 4.93 1,173-00-00 42.46
  6 to 20 48 9.86 475-13-04 17.22
  2+ to 5 52 10.68 193-13-04 7.01
  2 101 20.74 202-10-00 7.31
  1 to 2 259 53.18 288-10-00 10.44
    Total   487   2,762-16-08  
City Total / £9-07-02 101+ 14 1.32 2,470-00-00 24.98
  21 to 100 84 7.95 4,123-00-00 41.70
  6 to 20 170 16.08 1,844-13-04 18.66
  2+ to 5 137 12.96 518-17-04 5.25
  2 197 18.64 392-00-00 3.98
  1 to 2 455 43.05 539-15-00 5.44
      Total   1,057   9,888-05-08  

Evidence derived from the subsidy records from 1545 and other documents from this period gives us a more detailed view of the geographical distribution of occupations. The picture is of a city in which overseas merchants, rich retailers such as grocers, mercers, and drapers, and small shopkeepers such as shoemakers and tailors dominated the city’s center, while large-scale manufacturers such as clothiers, brewers, and tanners lived in the outdistricts, along with small artisans such as weavers and wiredrawers and servants and wage-earning employees; the leather and brewing industries were located to the north of the Frome and the cloth industry to the south of the Avon. Overseas trade accounted for the richest citizens, although the retailing of luxuries and the manufacture of leather also produced significant numbers of wealthy men (Table 19). Since the Corporation drew its membership only from among the city’s “better and more worthy men,” it was now made up primarily of figures drawn from these sectors of the economy, not from the textile industries. Patterns of residence among the Corporation members also changed. Nearly all of them now lived near the Guildhall in the city center or in the two immediately adjoining portside parishes. There was almost no participation by those dwelling in the clothmaking district across the Avon or in the other outparishes.

19. Social Geography of Bristol, 1545
Occupations Center Portside Transpontine Suburban City Total Mean Assessment in £
Source: Public Record Office, E 179/114/269 (lay subsidy roll dated 4 March, 37 Hen. VIII). The districts are defined as in Table 18.
Male householders
A. Leading entrepreneurs:
    Merchants 38 27 1 1 67 25.70
    Major retailers
         draper 5 14     19 19.47
         fishmonger 4       4 7.00
         grocer, apothecary 21 1 2   24 19.81
         haberdasher 2 1     3 16.67
         innkeeper, vintner 5 1 4   10 16.60
         mercer 9 2     11 27.75
          Subtotal 46 19 6   71 19.64
     Soapmakers 3 1 3   7 14.86
         Total A 87 47 10 1 145 22.21
B. Textile production:
     Clothier 1 1     2 5.50
     Dyer     5   5 9.80
     Sherman     8   8 6.25
     Tucker     8   8 11.17
     Weaver     5   5 6.40
         Total B 1 1 26   28 8.26
C. Leather production:
     Currier 1   2   3 9.33
     Skinner 5       5 12.20
     Tanner 2 1   10 13 25.62
     Whitawer 4   1 7 12 15.08
         Total C 12 1 3 17 33 18.27
D. Clothing production:
     Capper 2   3   5 9.00
     Glover, purser 4       4 9.25
     Hosier 2       2 6.50
     Pointmaker 1       1 12.00
     Saddler 1       1 5.00
     Shoemaker 5   3   8 6.75
     Tailor 11 6 3   20 9.43
     Upholsterer     1   1 17.00
         Total D 26 6 10   42 8.85
E. Metal crafts:
     Bellfounder       1 1 5.00
     Cardmaker 1   1   2 7.50
     Pewterer 1 2     3 19.67
     Smith 2     1 3 9.67
     Wiredrawer 1   2   3 11.33
         Total E 5 2 3 2 12 11.83
F. Food production:
     Baker 5 1 2 1 9 12.89
     Brewer 1 2 1 5 9 13.59
     Butcher 4     1 5 19.20
         Total F 10 3 3 7 23 14.54
G. Shipping industry:
     Hooper, cofferer 2 8     10 11.63
     Mariner, ship’s captain   2     2 11.50
     Ropemaker   4     4 13.58
     Ship’s carpenter   1     1 12.00
         Total G 2 15     17 12.10
H. Professional, etc.:
     Attorney, lawyer 2       2 12.00
     Barber     2   2 7.00
     Clerk     1   1 30.00
     Government official     1   1 19.33
     Scrivener   1 1   2 10.50
     Stationer 1       1 5.00
     Surgeon   1     1 7.00
         Total H 3 2 5   10 12.03
I. Miscellaneous: 3   3   6 6.17
         Total known A–I 149 77 63 27 316 16.66
         Total unknown A–I 22 8 13 6 49 13.09
         Total male householders 171 85 76 33 365 16.18
Female householders 13 4 4   21 25.18
Servants 3   1 2 6 2.69
           Grand Total 187 89 81 35 392 16.46
           Mean Assessment in £ 18.17 18.10 9.98 18.64 16.46  

In the midst of these developments Bristol’s civic constitution also changed, in a manner that reinforced the building relationship between the community and the wider world and further broke down the old fabric of self-enclosed communal life. In 1499, Henry VII confirmed Bristol’s liberties and immunities but altered the structure of its governing body, primarily by creating a bench of aldermen. The mayor and aldermen received designation as justices of the peace, which brought the city into conformity with the national system of administration then emerging in the counties. At the same time, the recorder—usually an up-and-coming London lawyer—became fully integrated into town government as one of the aldermen. His presence was required at gaol delivery, of which the mayor and aldermen were now to be justices. Since the mayor also served as one of the two justices of assize, the civic body was formally bound into the judicial and administrative structure of the nation. This meant that the status and power of the leading men in town government were increased, whether they were acting at any given moment as royal or as purely local officials. It also meant that the Crown, through the mayor and aldermen, now had a direct and continuous link to the city government upon which both the city and the Privy Council could rely.[61]

Occasionally the tensions inherent in these new political and social arrangements flared into open conflict. For example, in the disputes that arose in 1543 over the existence of the Candlemas fair in the parish of St. Mary, Redcliffe, the opposing parties reflect almost exactly the new geographical and sociological divisions we have been discussing. The supporters of the fair were primarily artisans resident in the city’s outdistricts, most from south of the Avon and a few from north of the Frome. Its critics, who supported the city government’s Star Chamber suit to quash the fair, came from the central district, and especially from the richest and most powerful groups living there, the great merchants and the major retailers.[62] As a result, the city’s social divisions, which the old festivals had sought to overcome in favor of unity and harmony in communal life, now seem to have become wounds in the body politic.

The development of Bristol’s economy in the later fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries had made it increasingly difficult for the old festivals to mark the community’s separation from the wider world and to reinforce its internal order. Mervyn James has sought to explain a similar transition by referring to the ways that the sixteenth century “progressively upset” the “social and political balance” of the late medieval urban community. “The degree of impoverishment of gild organizations,” he says,

the pauperization of town populations, the changing character and role of town societies, increasing government support of urban oligarchies were all factors tending toward urban authoritarianism. As a result urban ritual…no longer served a useful purpose; and [was] indeed increasingly seen as potentially disruptive of the kind of civil order which the magistracy existed to impose.[63]

This interpretation suggests that the members of a strident, secularized urban elite in the end forced their new views of the social world on their social inferiors. But it seems clear that in Bristol the ruled as well as the rulers no longer found the ancient ceremonies acceptable or efficacious, with the former perhaps preceding the latter to this conclusion.

Late medieval Bristol was one of England’s great centers of Lollardy, which anticipated many of the ideas of early Protestantism. Indeed, the presence of Lollards there in the early fifteenth century was sufficiently important that Robert Londe, schoolmaster at New Gate in Bristol, made them the subject of one of his vulgaria, designed to teach his young charges the finer points of Latin grammar and syntax through the use of socially and culturally relevant materials.[64] In its early years the movement in Bristol had a large clerical leadership headed by John Purvey, Wycliffe’s companion during his last days. The city even supplied six chaplains to Sir Thomas Oldcastle’s army on St. Giles Field in 1414. But from the outset the movement also enjoyed significant lay support in Bristol. Along with the six chaplains at St. Giles Field, for example, came forty other townsmen, the largest contingent of supporters from a single community in the Lollard army in this rebellion. Most of these men were weavers from the three southern parishes of the town. Moreover, despite the persecution of this group and of other Bristol Lollards in the fifteenth century, Lollardy had too strong a hold in the city to be eliminated. Throughout this century and into the next, ecclesiastical authorities continued to uncover groups of heretics professing Lollard beliefs. Like those who went to join Oldcastle, these men and women came primarily from the cloth industry, and from the city’s southern parishes; most were weavers.[65]

The connection between the cloth industry and Lollardy in Bristol draws us again into the world of the cloth gilds. In late medieval Bristol, these bodies were not only fraternities of craftsmen, organized in a fellowship of common interests for the protection and regulation of their mystery, but brotherhoods of the faithful, united in the name of their patron saint for prayer and for honoring the dead. Moreover, their seemingly distinct functions were inextricably intertwined. Gildsmen were expected to come to the general processions of their fellowship on Corpus Christi and on feast days, to support the gild’s chapel if it had one, and even to make payment of fines for violating the economic regulations of their craft in wax, for the maintenance of their saint’s candle.[66]

Under these conditions, resistance to the economic policies reinforced by the gilds could hardly help taking a religious form among many of the disaffected. Here the doctrines of Wycliffe and the Lollards offered an especially potent weapon. Wycliffe’s emphasis on the authority of the Bible, his rejection of transubstantiation, his stress on predestination, and his criticism of the doctrine of penance and its liturgy all were important elements in the beliefs of his followers.[67] But among the laity, especially after Oldcastle’s defeat, particular attention was paid to his rejection of the Real Presence and of the veneration of saints. In Bristol this focus was especially strong. Again and again its Lollards crudely attacked the main beliefs and practices of late medieval Catholic piety. They complained against worship in Latin, and they argued that “the sacrament of thalter is not the very body of our lorde but material brede.” But most of all they professed hostility to the saints, claiming that prayer should be made directly to God, not through holy intercessors, offerings to whose images were damnable.[68] But if religious observance was but the obverse of economic regulation in the life of the gilds, an attack on prayers for the dead, the veneration of saints, and the honoring of holy images such as the Bristol Lollards had mounted became at the same time an attack on the governing institutions of the domestic economy, the gild leadership, and the city government that supported it. Many of these Bristolians must have found Wycliffe’s harsh criticisms of the craft gilds congenial to their views.[69]

A series of ordinances of 1419 exemplify this combination of religion and economics. In that year, coming at the height of official reaction to Bristol Lollardy, the four Masters of the weavers’ gild petitioned the mayor and the Common Council for new ordinances. They complained that their own authority “had been greatly and grievously vexed” by violators of the weavers’ ordinances, “because they had not the same ordinances” under the common seal of the town. They desired, therefore, to have the old ordinances, with their mix of economic and religious precepts, confirmed under the city’s seal, a request to which the city government readily agreed.[70] Clearly a strong challenge to gild rule had been mounted. At the same time, two other ordinances, even more revealing in their nature, were also passed. These required, first, that all the masters and servants of the craft “come to the general processions and to the other precepts of the Mayor” and, second, that they “shall be contributors to all kinds of costs and expenses which shall be incurred…on their light and torches against the feasts of Corpus Christi” and the midsummer vigils.[71] The breakdown of gild authority in this period thus affected both its secular and its spiritual aspects.

Lollard rejection of gild practices was the most extreme form of opposition to the system of gild regulation in force in late medieval Bristol. However, because gild ordinances often advanced some economic interests against others, there were also many other reasons for criticism and resistance to them. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing for certain when we should attribute such troubles within the gilds primarily to the Lollards, although we know the names and beliefs of many of Wycliffe’s adherents in the city. But there can be no doubt that resistance to gild governance based on many of the same grievances the Lollards complained about persisted among the weavers until well into the fifteenth century. In 1463, for example, the “pore artificers” of the gild complained that the four Masters annually elected by the livery put the “poure Craftymen daily to grete iniuries wronges and importable fynes the which fynes…is not hadd to the sokour and Comyne weele of the seide crafte but only to a synguler avayle of the seid Maisters and their owne Purs.” The fines in question, of course, went not into the Masters’ own pockets but to the support of the gild’s activities: the hall, the chapel, the processions, the gild dinner on St. Katherine’s Eve, and the like. To resist the fines was to leave these gild traditions, spiritual as well as temporal, without proper enforcement, or possibly even to reject them outright. The main remedy the commons requested from the Bristol Corporation is also revealing, for they argued that the Masters were chosen “yerely notte by the will and assent of the hoole crafte but by the xii men” of the livery “sucche as they wolle call thayme self whereof we byseeke yow that they may be choszen by the hoole body of the crafte.”[72] They desired a restoration of the gild’s old constitution, under which all had united in common effort. A gulf had opened between the views of the gild elite and its commoners, a gulf characterized by the view that the elite no longer ruled for the common good but only for their own benefit.

These difficulties among the weavers are evidence of disaffection in their ranks in the mid-fifteenth century, not of heresy. They were not necessarily caused by the Lollards, although Lollard activity persisted among weavers and other clothworkers during this period and after.[73] Nevertheless, signs of resistance to gild practices reveal a general cultural or moral malaise in the cloth industry, a sense that the old ways no longer had significance for current problems. This mood may have resulted, in part at least, from the shifting nature of woolen manufacture in later fourteenth and early fifteenth-century Bristol. As country clothmaking grew, more and more of the cloth woven within the city seems to have been of much cheaper quality than had been the case a century before.[74] Probably the number of Bristol weavers also declined, though, judging from the frequent mention of weavers among the sixteenth-century burgesses, they seem to have declined more in wealth than in total numbers.[75] These changes would have made it increasingly difficult for the weavers to maintain their former gild practices, either in the vigorous supervision of ordinances or in the dutiful performance of rituals. But economic distress by itself cannot explain the weavers’ apparent indifference to or rejection of their gild’s traditional religious practices. One might expect that, if the gildsmen’s faith in their traditions had remained strong, under these troubled economic conditions they would seek solace, protection, and guidance from their processions, their vigils, and their lights. However, many of the weavers chose a different course. Rather than drawing together under the name and effigy of their patron saint, they strayed from the community and the discipline of their gild.

Thus, about the same time that St. Katherine’s festival had acquired the form that Ricart describes, or soon thereafter, a significant group of weavers, her earthly clients, not themselves a part of the gild leadership, had tired of its religious foundations. Some had even rejected them outright, though their masters and social betters still supported them. Similarly the town’s leaders remained faithful in the fifteenth century to the celebration of Corpus Christi, when lesser men not only among the weavers but in other gilds such as the shoemakers had lost their enthusiasm for it. Already in the 1420s punitive ordinances existed requiring participation in the great procession which once had been so overwhelmingly popular.[76]

By the 1530s this rejection of the cult of the saints was very general in Bristol. The theme was struck almost at the very outset of the Reformation by Hugh Latimer, who won the support of large numbers of leading townsmen, both in the Common Council and out, when he preached in Lent 1533. In these extremely popular sermons he lashed out particularly against the old Lollard target, the idolatrous worship of saints, which Latimer saw all around him:

I said this word “saints” is diversely taken of the vulgar people: images of saints are called saints and inhabitors of heaven are called saints. Now by honouring of saints is meant praying to saints. Take honouring so, and images so, saints are not to be honoured: that is to say, dead images are not to be prayed unto, for they have neither ears to hear withal, nor tongues to speak withal, nor heart to think withal &c. They can neither help me nor mine ox, neither my head nor my tooth, nor work any miracles for me more than another.[77]

Such views carry with them large social and political as well as philosophical and religious implications. Although they do not necessarily preclude adherence to some principles of Catholic belief or lead directly to radical Protestantism, they reject a regime as well as a liturgy. They show that many Bristolians, like the disaffected weavers of the fifteenth century, no longer found meaning in some of the most important rituals around which they had organized their public and private lives.

Within a few short years, moreover, these reformist views were put into action all over the city. “[A]t the dissolucion of Monasteries and of Freers houses,” we are told by Roger Edgeworth,

many Images haue bene caryed abrode, and gyuen to children to play wyth all. And when the chyldren haue theym in theyre handes, dauncynge theim after their childyshe maner, commeth the father or the mother and saythe: What nasse, what haste thou there? the child aunsweareth (as she is taught) I haue here myne ydoll, the father laugheth and maketh a gaye game at it. So saithe the mother to an other, Iugge, or Thommye, where haddest thou that pretye Idoll? John our parishe clarke gaue it me, saith the childe, and for that the clarke muste haue thankes, and shall lacke no good chere.[78]

Although Edgeworth greatly lamented this desecration of images and fought desperately against it, he could do little to restore the faith many Bristolians once had in them. The most solemn devotions had taken on the character of childish things.[79]

Among the possible explanations for this decline in the traditions of late medieval piety, the history we have been recounting suggests an association with two quite closely related changes in social setting: first, the rise of regional or national or international networks of trade and industry, which undermined an individual’s sense of participation in a self-enclosed economic world; and, second, the growth of social stratification in urban society, which by driving a wedge between the rich and powerful, on the one hand, and the mere craftsmen and small shopkeepers, on the other, made it difficult for many to think of themselves as brothers and sisters in a fellowship of common purposes and interests. The great civic ceremonies of the later Middle Ages emphasized the inherent unity of city life under its apparent diversity, but they could have meaning only within certain limits. As the horizons of economic activity opened and social distances grew, the members of the community must have found it increasingly difficult to conceive of Bristol as a world unto itself. For these citizens the town had opened to the larger world, which penetrated the community and reshaped it. Hence the ceremonies that once had marked the community’s separation from its surroundings and unified its structure became archaisms. Like antiquated words or phrases, they had lost their context and therefore passed from use.


1. John Northbrooke, Spiritus est Vicarius Christi in terra: A Treatise wherein Dicing, Dauncing, Vaine playes, or Enterluds, with other idle pastimes, &c, commonly vsed on the Sabboth day, are reproued by the Authoritie of the word of God and auntient writers (London, [1577]). The Shakespeare Society edition, ed. J. P. Collier (Shakespeare Society 16, 1843), has been used here; see pp. 15, 44, 52, 90. Northbrooke served as minister of St. Mary, Redcliffe, Bristol from 1568 and was an important figure in the city’s religious life in the 1570s: Thomas Tanner, Bibliotheca Brittanico-Hiberica (London: G. Bowyer, 1748), p. 550. The Company of Stationers of London records the license for printing on 2 December 1577: E. Arber, ed., A Transcript of the Register of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554–1640, 5 vols. (New York: P. Smith, 1949–1950), vol. 2, p. 321. I am grateful to Katherine Pantzer of the Houghton Library, Harvard University, for advice on the history of this text. [BACK]

2. John Latimer, Sixteenth-Century Bristol (Bristol: J. W. Arrowsmith, 1908), pp. 5–6. [BACK]

3. Ibid. [BACK]

4. Northbrooke, Treatise, p. 12. [BACK]

5. Robert Ricart, The Maire of Bristowe Is Kalendar, BRO, MS 04720 (1). The Camden Society edition has been used here; see p. 69. For Ricart’s background, see ibid., p. i. [BACK]

6. Northbrooke, Treatise, pp. 11–13. [BACK]

7. Paul Hughes and James Larkin, eds., Tudor Royal Proclamations, 3 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964–1969), vol. 1, pp. 301–2; see also David Wilkins, ed., Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae, a Synodo Verolamiensi A.D. CCCCXLVI. ad Londinensem A.D. MDCCXVII. Accedeunt constitutiones et alia ad historiam Ecclesiae Anglicanae spectantia, 4 vols. (London: Sumptibus R. Gosling, 1737), vol. 3, pp. 823–24, 857, 859–60. [BACK]

8. John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials Relating Chiefly to Religion and the Reformation of It, Shewing the Various Emergencies of the Church of England under King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and Queen Mary I, 3 vols. in 6 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1822), vol. 3, part 2, p. 506, and see also pp. 8–9, 14–15, 17, 18, 21, 22; J. G. Nichols, ed., The Diary of Henry Machyn, Citizen and Merchant-Taylor of London, from A.D. 1550 to A.D. 1563 (Camden Society, 1st ser., 42, 1848), p. 119. For the efforts of Catholic apologists in Bristol to revive the traditional forms of religious observation, see Paul Bush, A brefe exhortation set fourthe by the vnprofitable seruant of Jesu christ Paule Bushe, late bishop of Brystowe, to one Margarite Burges, wyfe of John Burges, clotheare of kyngeswode in the Countie of Wiltshire (London, 1556); Edgeworth, Sermons (London, 1557); see also K. G. Powell, The Marian Martyrs and the Reformation in Bristol (Historical Association, Bristol Branch, pamphlet 31, 1972). For the Elizabethan reaction to this effort at revival, see Wilkins, ed., Concilia Magnae Britanniae, vol. 4, pp. 182–91, 196–97, 211–14; F. E. Brightman, The English Rite being a Synopsis of the Sources and Revisions of the Book of Common Prayer, 2d rev. ed., 2 vols. (London: Rivingtons, 1921), vol. 1, pp. 98–101. J. J. Scarisbrick has argued that popular support for the traditional forms of lay piety persisted long into the sixteenth century: J. J. Scarisbrick, The Reformation and the English People (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984); see also Christopher Haigh, “Revisionism, the Reformation and the History of English Catholicism,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 36 (1985): 394–406; Christopher Haigh, ed., The English Reformation Revised (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). A. G. Dickens has responded to these criticisms of his views in “The Early Expansion of Protestantism in England, 1520–1558”, Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 73 (1987): 187–222. For a systematic consideration of this debate and a telling response to some of the claims of Scarisbrick and Haigh, see Patrick Collinson, The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), esp. chaps. 2, 4; see also Robert Whiting, The Blind Devotion of the People: Popular Religion and the English Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), esp. chap. 13. [BACK]

9. For criticisms along these lines see, e.g., Ozment, ed., Three Behaim Boys, pp. xi–xiii. [BACK]

10. Edgeworth, Sermons, f. 214r. [BACK]

11. Putnam, Meaning and the Moral Sciences, pp. 42, 43–44. I have given further attention to some of these issues in “The Hedgehog and the Fox Revisited,” pp. 267–80. [BACK]

12. See Cronne, ed., Bristol Charters, 1378–1499, pp. 64–69, 73–80; Gross, Gild Merchant, vol. 1, chaps. 2–4, and vol. 2, pp. 24–25, 353–55; Susan Reynolds, An Introduction to the History of English Medieval Towns (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), chaps. 4–5; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, chap. 1. [BACK]

13. See N. Dermott Harding, ed., Bristol Charters, 1155–1373 (BRS 1, 1930), pp. 120ff.; Cronne, ed., Bristol Charters, 1378–1499, pp. 40–56; Martin Weinbaum, The Incorporation of Boroughs (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1937), pp. 54–56; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, pp. 22ff. [BACK]

14. Carus-Wilson, Medieval Merchant Venturers, pp. 1–97; M. D. Lobel and E. M. Carus-Wilson, “Bristol,” in M. D. Lobel, ed., Historic Towns (London: Lovell Johns—Cook, Hammond and Kell Organization, 1975), pp. 1–16; Sherborne, Port of Bristol; C. D. Ross, “Bristol in the Middle Ages,” in C. M. MacInnes and W. E. Whitterd, eds., Bristol and the Adjoining Counties (Bristol: Bristol Association for the Advancement of Science, 1955), pp. 179–92; see also Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, chaps. 1–6. [BACK]

15. LRB, vol. 1, p. 51; for a later version of the oath preserving most of its original terms, see McGrath, ed., Merchants and Merchandise, pp. 26–27. [BACK]

16. Mariners were itinerant merchants, and their gild was closely associated from the earliest days with Bristol’s sedentary merchants; see above, p. 90; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 19–21. [BACK]

17. LRB, vol. 2, pp. 2–6; Fox and Taylor, eds., pp. 10–14. On the history of Bristol’s governing council, see Cronne, Bristol Charters, 1378–1499, pp. 50, 73–83. It was only in 1344 that Bristol acquired a council of forty-eight, broadly representative of the leading men in the textile trades: LRB, vol. 1, pp. 25ff. And only in 1373 did its council become a body consisting of mayor, sheriff, and forty of “the better and more worthy men” of the borough: Harding, ed., Bristol Charters, 1155–1373, pp. 136–37. An earlier attempt to set up a select council of fourteen in Bristol had led to a rebellion in the city: see E. A. Fuller, “The Tallage of Edward II and the Bristol Rebellion,” BGAS 19 (1894–1895): 171–278, esp. pp. 191ff.; Seyer, Memoirs, vol. 2, pp. 89ff.; John Latimer, ed., Calendar of the Charters &c. of the City and County of Bristol (Bristol: W. C. Hemmons, 1909), pp. 42ff. [BACK]

18. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 19n. [BACK]

19. John Leland, The Itinerary of John Leland in or about the Years 1535–1543, ed. Lucy Toulmin Smith, 5 vols. (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964), vol. 3, p. 101. [BACK]

20. See Lobel and Carus-Wilson, “Bristol”; for further discussion see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 482ff. [BACK]

21. Cronne, ed., Bristol Charters, 1378–1499, pp. 35–39. [BACK]

22. Ralph, ed., Great White Book, pp. 17–67; Latham, ed., Bristol Charters, 1509–1899, pp. 21–22, 27–29, 93–94; VCH Gloucestershire, vol. 2, p. 78; John Britton, The History and Antiquities of the Abbey and Cathedral Church of Bristol (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1830), pp. 21–22; PRO, STAC 2/6/93–94; Latimer, Sixteenth-Century Bristol, pp. 16–18. [BACK]

23. Ricart, Kalendar, p. 80; Fox and Taylor, Guild of Weavers, pp. 10–14. [BACK]

24. Gross, Gild Merchant, vol. 1, pp. 43–45; LRB, vol. 1, pp. 36–38. [BACK]

25. See above, pp. 20–21; Carus-Wilson, Medieval Merchant Venturers, pp. 28–49; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, chap. 6. [BACK]

26. John Brand, Observations on Popular Antiquities: Chiefly Illustrating the Origin of Our Vulgar Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions, ed. Henry Ellis, 5 vols. (London: C. Knight, 1841–1842), vol. 1, pp. 408–14, 461–66; A. R. Wright, British Calendar Customs: England, ed. T. E. Lones, 3 vols. (London: W. Glaisher, 1936–1940), vol. 3, pp. 167ff. [BACK]

27. Ricart, Kalendar, p. 80. [BACK]

28. Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, trans. Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960); Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969), esp. chaps. 3–5; Victor Turner, Dramas, Fields and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974), chaps. 1, 5–7; Victor Turner, The Forest of Symbols (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), chap. 4; Victor Turner, The Drums of Affliction: A Study of Religious Processes among the Ndembu of Zambia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), chap. 9. See also Edmund Leach, “Time and False Noses,” in Edmund Leach, Rethinking Anthropology (London: Athlone Press, 1961), pp. 132–38. [BACK]

29. Ricart, Kalendar, p. 80. [BACK]

30. Ibid., pp. 68ff. [BACK]

31. See Charles Phythian-Adams, “Ceremony and the Citizen: The Ceremonial Year at Coventry, 1450–1550,” in Peter Clark and Paul Slack, eds., Crisis and Order in English Towns, 1500–1700: Essays in Urban History (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), pp. 59, 62–63; Mervyn James, “Ritual, Drama and Social Body in the Late Medieval English Town,” Past and Present no. 98 (February 1983): 1–29. [BACK]

32. See Phythian-Adams, “Ceremony and the Citizen,” pp. 63–65; James, “Ritual, Drama and Social Body,” pp. 16–21. [BACK]

33. Ricart, Kalendar, p. 80; Richard Braithwait, The History of Moderation (London, 1669), pp. 10, 12, 15. See also John Wycliffe, On the Seven Deadly Sins, in John Wycliffe, Select English Works of John Wyclif, ed. Thomas Arnold, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1871), vol. 3, pp. 160–61; Edgeworth, Sermons, ff. 231v–232r; William Prynne, Healthes: Sicknesse or, a Compendious and Briefe Discourse, Prouing the Drinking and Pledging of Healthes to be Sinfull, and Vtterly Unloawfull unto Christians (London, 1628), p. 25; Samuel Ward, Woe to the Drunkard, in Samuel Ward, A Collection of Such Sermons as have beene written by S. Warde (London, 1636), p. 553; Brand, Popular Antiquities, vol. 2, pp. 338–39. [BACK]

34. Ricart, Kalendar, p. 80. [BACK]

35. Turner, Ritual Process, pp. 94–95 and chaps. 3–5. [BACK]

36. Ricart, Kalendar, p. 80. [BACK]

37. Jacobus Voraigne, The Golden Legend; or Lives of the Saints as Englished by William Caxton, ed. F. S. Ellis, 7 vols. (London: J. M. Dent, 1900), vol. 7, pp. 1–31; S. Baring-Gould, Lives of the Saints: November, 2d ed. (London: J. Hodges, 1877), part 2, pp. 540–43; E. K. Chambers, The Medieval Stage, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903), vol. 2, pp. 205–27, 393, 396–402; Joseph Strutt, Sports and Pastimes of the People of England from the Earliest Period, ed. J. Charles Cox (London: Methuen, 1903), pp. 201–3, 269; Brand, Popular Antiquities, vol. 1, pp. 411–14, 461–66; William Hone, The Every-Day Booke and Table Book, 3 vols. (London: T. Tegg, 1830), vol. 1, pp. 1501–8. See also Wright, British Calendar Customs, vol. 3, pp. 177, 179, 180–85; John Nurse Chadwick, “Rope makers’ procession at Catham,” Notes and Queries, 2d ser., 5, no. 107 (16 January 1858): 47; Charles Lamotte, Essay on Poetry and Painting (London: F. Fayram and J. Leare, 1730), p. 126; James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales (London: J. R. Smith, 1849), p. 238; John Noake, Notes and Queries for Worcestershire (Birmingham, Eng.: n.p., 1861), pp. 215–16; R. A[llies], “Worcestershire Folk-lore: Cathering and Clemening,” The Athenaeum 1001 (2 January 1847): 18. [BACK]

38. John Bossy, “The Mass as a Social Institution, 1200–1700,” Past and Present, no. 100 (August 1983): 29–61; John Bossy, Christianity in the West, 1400–1700 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 64–72; see also Susan Brigden, London and the Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), esp. chaps. 9, 14; Susan Brigden, “Religion and Social Obligation in Early Sixteenth-Century London,” Past and Present, no. 103 (May 1984): 67–112. [BACK]

39. See Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981); Bossy, Christianity in the West, pp. 11–13, 72–73; Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971), pp. 26–29, and cf. pp. 40–44; Scarisbrick, Reformation and the English People, pp. 12, 20, 39, 41, 54–55, 59, 170–71, 180; Collinson, Birthpangs of Protestant England, pp. 28–29, and cf. pp. 37–38, 50, 52–53; J. A. F. Thomson, “Piety and Charity in Late-Medieval London,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 16 (1965): 178–95; A. N. Galpern, The Religions of the People in Sixteenth-Century Champagne (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976), chap. 1; Alan Kreider, English Chantries: The Road to Dissolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979), chaps. 1–3. For the role of intercessory prayer in late medieval Bristol, see also Clive Burgess, “ ‘For the Increase of Divine Service’: Chantries in the Parishes of Late Medieval Bristol,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 36 (1985): 46–85; Clive Burgess, “A Service for the Dead: The Form and Function of the Anniversary in Late Medieval Bristol,” BGAS 105 (1987): 183–211; but compare Robert Whiting, “For the Health of My Soul: Prayers for the Dead in the Tudor South-West,” Southern History 5 (1983): 68–94; Whiting, Blind Devotion of the People, chaps. 3–4; Peter Heath, “Urban Piety in the Later Middle Ages: The Evidence of Hull Wills,” in Barrie Dobson, ed., The Church, Politics and Patronage in the Fifteenth Century (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), pp. 209–34. [BACK]

40. Lucy Toulmin Smith identifies this map as Bristol in 1479, but from the context it is clear that it is a view of Bristol as founded by the mythical Trojan “Brynne” or Brennus: see Ricart, Kalendar, pp. 10–11. [BACK]

41. Werner Müller, Die heilige Stadt: Roma quadrata, himmlische Jerusalem und die Mythe vom Weltnabel (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1961). [BACK]

42. Latimer, Sixteenth-Century Bristol, pp. 5–6; Robert Withington, English Pageantry: An Historical Outline, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1918–1920), vol. 1, pp. 21–22 and 22n.; E. O. James, Seasonal Feasts and Festivals (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1961), pp. 223–25; LRB, vol. 2, pp. 145–52; Veale, ed., Great Red Book, vol. 4, pp. 125–26; “A shorte and briefe memory by license and correcion of the first progress of our soueraigne lorde King Henry the VIIth,” printed in John Leland, De rebvs Brittanicus, Collecteanea, ed. Thomas Hearne, 3 vols. in 4 (London: Gvl. and J. Richardson, 1770), vol. 4, p. 202. See also Phythian-Adams, “Ceremony and the Citizen,” pp. 58ff.; James, “Ritual, Drama and Social Body,” pp. 5ff.; Bossy, “The Mass as a Social Institution,” pp. 50, 59. [BACK]

43. See, e.g., LRB, vol. 2, pp. 117–22, 147–50. [BACK]

44. John Tucker Murray, English Dramatic Companies, 1558–1642, 2 vols. (London: Constable, 1910), vol. 2, pp. 207–19. The first evidence of these companies of players appears in the earliest extant audit book of the city’s accounts, which dates from 1532. In all probability the practice of welcoming these traveling companies began somewhat earlier. The last entries in the audit books for payments to players before the closing of the theaters in 1642 is for the year 1634–1635, but the number of entries is much less frequent after 1603 than it was in the later sixteenth century. In part this may be due to the existence on Wine Street in Bristol of a regular playhouse for performances. It appears to have been opened sometime before 1605 and to have continued in operation into the later 1620s. See Kathleen M. D. Barker, “An Early Seventeenth Century Provincial Playhouse,” Theatre Notebook 29 (1975): 81–84; Mark C. Pilkington, “The Playhouse in Wine Street, Bristol,” Theatre Notebook 37 (1983): 14–21; Mark C. Pilkington, “New Information on the Playhouse in Wine Street, Bristol,” Theatre Notebook 42 (1988): 73–74; Kathleen M. D. Barker, Bristol at Play: Five Centuries of Live Entertainment (Bradford-on-Avon, Eng.: Moonraker Press, 1976), pp. 3–4. I thank Irven Matus for these references and for directing me to this subject. [BACK]

45. Hughes and Larkin, Tudor Royal Proclamations, vol. 1, pp. 301–2. [BACK]

46. Brightman, English Rite, vol. 1, pp. 98–101. [BACK]

47. Edgeworth, Sermons, esp. ff. 209v, 218v. [BACK]

48. Thorne’s will is printed in Veale, ed., Great Red Book, vol. 16, pp. 124–29. See Scarisbrick, Reformation and the English People, chaps. 1–2, 7; and n. 8 above. For Bush see J. H. Bettey, “Paul Bush, the First Bishop of Bristol,” BGAS 106 (1988): 169–72. [BACK]

49. Edgeworth, Sermons, ff. 40r, 84v–85r, 131v–132r, 157v–158r, 179v–180r, 214v, 235r–v, 273r–274r. [BACK]

50. See, along with Northbrooke’s Treatise against dicing, dancing, and vain plays, Thomas Thompson, A diet for a Drunkard, Deliuered in two Sermons at St Nicholas Church in Bristoll Anno Domini 1608 (London, 1612); Edward Chetwyn, The Strait Gate and the Narrow Way of Life opened and pointed out in certain sermons upon Luke 12, 23, 24 (London, 1612), esp. p. 4; Edward Chetwyn, Votitiae Lachrymae; A Vow of Teares for the losse of Prince Henry in a Sermon in the Citie of Bristol, December 7, 1612 being the Day of his funerall (London, 1612). For the effects of the Reformation and other sixteenth-century developments on popular festivities and practices, see Imogen Luxton, “The Reformation and Popular Culture,” in Felicity Heal and Rosemary O’Day, eds., Church and Society in England: Henry VIII to James I (London: Macmillan, 1977), pp. 57–77; W. J. Sheils, “Religion in Provincial Towns: Innovation and Tradition,” in Heal and O’Day, Church and Society, pp. 156–76; Phythian-Adams, “Ceremony and the Citizen,” pp. 70–80; Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (London: Temple Smith, 1978), chap. 8; James, “Ritual, Drama and Social Body,” pp. 3–29; Collinson, Birthpangs of Protestant England, chaps. 2, 4; Brigden, London and the Reformation, chap. 14 and pp. 633–39; Whiting, Blind Devotion of the People. Mervyn James, relying on the work of Charles Phythian-Adams, attributes many of the changes to the so-called urban crisis in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries; see Phythian-Adams, “Urban Decay,” Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City. I have expressed some reservations about Burke’s and James’s arguments in “Demise of the Martyrs,” pp. 143–44, 165–69, and about Phythian-Adams’s view of the relation of urban crisis to cultural change in my review of his book in Journal of Modern History 54 (1982): 105–7; see also A. R. Bridbury, “English Provincial Towns in the Later Middle Ages,” EcHR, 2d ser., 34 (1981): 1–24; Jennifer I. Kermode, “Urban Decline? The Flight from Office in Late Medieval York,” EcHR, 2d ser., 35 (1982): 179–98. [BACK]

51. Fox and Taylor, Guild of Weavers, pp. 18ff.; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 18–23; McGrath, Merchant Venturers of Bristol, pp. 17–18, and cf. pp. 18–20, 81–83, 203–4, 398–401, 521–25. [BACK]

52. See Ralph, ed., Great White Book, pp. 17–67. [BACK]

53. Latham, ed., Bristol Charters, 1509–1899, pp. 19ff., 94–111. [BACK]

54. See Natalie Zemon Davis, “The Sacred and the Social Body in Sixteenth-Century Lyon,” Past and Present, no. 90 (February 1981): 40–70. [BACK]

55. Latham, ed., Bristol Charters, 1509–1899, pp. 21–22, 93–94. [BACK]

56. See above, pp. 78–79. [BACK]

57. See Carus-Wilson, Medieval Merchant Venturers, pp. 75–78; Wadley, ed., Great Orphan Book. [BACK]

58. LRB, vol. 1, pp. 114–15 compared to Wadley, ed., Great Orphan Book. [BACK]

59. The procedure followed here was to compare the list of common councillors to the wills in the Great Orphan Book and to the surviving commercial records printed in Carus-Wilson, ed., Overseas Trade of Bristol. [BACK]

60. The figure of 48 percent is derived from PRO, E 301/22, Certificate of the Chantries in the County of Gloucester and the Cities of Bristol and Gloucester, 1548, printed in John MacLean, “Chantry Certificates, Gloucestershire (Roll 22),” BGAS 8 (1883): 232–51; see also Josiah Cox Russell, British Medieval Population (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1948), p. 295; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, pp. 208–13. Analysis of these chantry certificates yields an overall population for Bristol in 1548 of approximately 9,500, about the same figure as W. G. Hoskins established for Bristol ca. 1525, using data from PRO, E 179/113/192. There is no reason to think that the distribution of the city’s population by district would have changed between 1525 and 1548. See Hoskins, “English Provincial Towns,” p. 5. [BACK]

61. Cronne, ed., Bristol Charters, 1378–1499, pp. 163–204; Latham, ed., Bristol Charters, 1509–1899, pp. 1–19; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, chap. 2; Sacks, “The Corporate Town and the English State,” pp. 91–92, 93ff. [BACK]

62. Leadam, ed., Select Cases before the Star Chamber, pp. cii–cxxiv, 237–76; Vanes, ed., Overseas Trade of Bristol, pp. 31–32. [BACK]

63. James, “Drama, Ritual and Social Body,” p. 26. [BACK]

64. Oxford University, Lincoln College, MS lat. 129, cited in Nicholas Orme, Education in the West of England, 1066–1548: Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire (Exeter: University of Exeter, 1976), p. 40. [BACK]

65. K. B. McFarlane, The Origins of Religious Dissent in England (New York: Collier, 1966), pp. 187–89; J. A. F. Thomson, The Later Lollards, 1414–1520 (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 20–28, 33. Some of the names of these Bristol militants are available in PRO, K.B. 9/205/1, mm. 82–83. [BACK]

66. For regulations requiring gildsmen to support their fraternities’ religious functions, see, e.g., LRB, vol. 2, pp. 121–22 (weavers); for instances of fines paid in wax, see ibid., p. 59 (weavers) and Veale, ed., Great Red Book, vol. 18, pp. 82–84 (merchants). [BACK]

67. The ideas of Wycliffe and his early followers can be gleaned from Anne Hudson, ed., Selections from English Wycliffite Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978); Anne Hudson, The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), esp. chaps. 6–8; see also McFarlane, Origins of Religious Dissent, chap. 4; Herbert B. Workman, John Wycliffe: A Study of the English Medieval Church, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926), vol. 2, pp. 3–45, 149–55. [BACK]

68. For Bristol Lollardy, see Thomson, Later Lollards, pp. 20–28, 33–35, 37, 39–40, 44, 46–47, 54, 65–66, 68, 99, 109, 114, 155, 209, 221, 240, 246; Hudson, Premature Reformation, pp. 78, 81, 89–90, 122–23, 125, 131, 133, 140–42, 144, 154, 172, 183, 188, 233, 234n., 456–57, 459. For Lollard views on saints and images, see Hudson, Premature Reformation, pp. 301–9; Margaret Aston, England’s Iconoclasts, Volume 1: Laws against Images (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), chap. 4; Margaret Aston, “Lollards and Images,” in Margaret Aston, Lollards and Reformers: Images and Literacy in Late Medieval Religion (London: Hambledon Press, 1984), pp. 135–92. On the character of later Lollard belief see also A. G. Dickens, Lollards and Protestants in the Diocese of York, 1509–1558 (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), chaps. 1–2; A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation (London: B. T. Batsford, 1964), chap. 2; Thomson, Later Lollards, pp. 239–50; Margaret Aston, “Lollardy and Reformation: Survival or Revival?” in Aston, Lollards and Reformers, pp. 219–42; Hudson, Premature Reformation, pp. 456ff.; J. F. Davis, “Lollardy and the Reformation in England,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 73 (1982): 217–37. For the relation of Lollardy to political dissent, see Margaret Aston, “Lollardy and Sedition, 1381–1431,” in Aston, Lollards and Reformers, pp. 1–47; Hudson, Premature Reformation, chap. 8. [BACK]

69. See John Wycliffe, The Grete Sentence of the Curs Expounded, in Wycliffe, Select English Works, ed. Arnold, vol. 3, pp. 333–34. [BACK]

70. LRB, vol. 2, pp. 117–21. [BACK]

71. Ibid., pp. 121–22. [BACK]

72. Veale, ed., Great Red Book, text, vol. 8, pp. 67–69. [BACK]

73. Thomson, Later Lollards, pp. 34, 39–40, 44, 46–47, 109, 114, 155. [BACK]

77. LRB, vol. 2, pp. 40–41, 125; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 442–43. [BACK]

75. Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 478–79, 509, 752–63. [BACK]

76. LRB, vol. 2, pp. 117–22 (weavers), 147–50 (shoemakers). In the same period there is also a curious ordinance against those who “vilipend” the men of the Common Council: ibid., vol. 1, pp. 149–53. [BACK]

77. Hugh Latimer, “Articles untruly, unjustly, falsely, uncharitably imparted to me by Dr Powell of Salisbury,” in Hugh Latimer, Sermons and Remains of Hugh Latimer, Sometime Bishop of Worcester, Martyr 1555, ed. George Elwes Corrie (Parker Society 28, 1845), p. 233; see also “Letter of Hugh Latimer to Ralph Morrice, Mayor, June, 1533,” in ibid., pp. 357ff. Much additional material bearing upon Latimer’s preachings in Bristol and the controversies that followed is printed in John Foxe, Acts and Monuments of the Christian Martyrs, 8 vols. (New York: AMS Press, 1965), vol. 7, appendix 9. For a discussion of these events and a review of the religious issues raised, see Harold J. Darby, Hugh Latimer (London: Epworth Press, 1953), chap. 5; for analysis of official reaction to these disturbances, see G. R. Elton, Policy and Police: The Enforcement of the Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), pp. 110ff. Further discussion must await the publication of Martha Skeeters’s book on the history of the church in sixteenth-century Bristol. [BACK]

78. Edgeworth, Sermons, f. 40r. [BACK]

79. This was also the fate of the feasts of St. Clement and St. Katherine in the west of England; see R. A[llies], “Worcestershire Folklore,” p. 18. [BACK]

5. The Sanctification of Power

We have been arguing throughout this book that an early modern English town, unlike the great city-states of the ancient world or of Renaissance Italy, was not self-sufficient. It was, rather, a legal and political unit within the larger order of the realm, defined by privileges and immunities that granted it only a modicum of self-government under royal command and that enabled it only partially and intermittently to regulate and contain the social and economic processes upon which its way of life depended. Where Aristotle’s Athens or Dante’s Florence, with their independent governments, diverse social structures, and wide hinterlands, had plausible claims as autonomous communities capable of satisfying within their own boundaries most of the earthly hopes and wants of their members, Tudor and Stuart London or Bristol were but parts of an interlocking web of urban and rural places that no one believed could stand on their own. What held each of them together was its corporate existence and sense of community, which separated the freemen from their surroundings and gave them a unity and a capacity for collective action they otherwise would not have possessed. This capacity in turn depended on the ability of each city’s governors to convert their authority into actions in the interest of the urban community.

We know with some accuracy who among the Bristolians could claim authority in the city from the end of the fifteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century. At the head, of course, were the forty-three members of the civic body: the mayor, recorder, aldermen, sheriffs, and common councillors, all of whom had been co-opted into this duty by their predecessors. The governing group of the city also included the paid assistants of the Corporation, such as the chamberlain, the town clerk, and the sergeants-at-mace, as well as the officers of the gilds—the master, wardens, assistants, and so on—and of the parishes—the church-wardens, vestrymen, overseers of the poor, constables, and the like. Hence, in a city of ten to twelve thousand souls, of whom perhaps as many as a sixth or even a fifth were free burgesses, the proportion of citizens who shared in rule at one time or another during their lives was relatively high. At any given moment, something like 10 percent of them might have held one or another of these positions.[1] However, as with so much else in the history of this period, we know far more of the membership of the elite, who consistently left marks in the surviving municipal records, than about the lesser figures in the urban hierarchy. Nevertheless, the impression we derive from the existing sources is very much in keeping with Sir Thomas Smith’s depiction of urban political sociology in his De Republica Anglorum, first published in 1583. According to Smith, it was not only wealthy and independent citizens who exercised the authority of municipal office and bore its charges, but for default of sufficient numbers of them even “Taylors, Shoomakers, Carpenters, Brickmakers, Bricklayers, Masons” and other artificers might share in rule in the towns, sitting on “enquests and Juries” or being “Commonly made Churchwardens, alecunners, and manie times Constables.” [2] Bristol could not have conducted its daily affairs without such assistance.

Wide participation in local governance was an important feature of social and political life in Bristol, one that gave considerable substance to the ideals of communal fellowship and common duty that traditionally had been manifested in the city’s festivals and that still were conveyed in the oaths taken by every freeman. But here, as everywhere in English society, only a handful of individuals, in Bristol’s case primarily the members of the Bristol Corporation, exercised genuinely large powers in shouldering the burdens of service to the commonwealth. This elite, the very top of the city’s social hierarchy, not only occupied the principal municipal offices but held the leading posts in gild and parish as well. For example, the right fell to them, as members of the Common Council, to impose economic regulations on citizens and strangers, to administer those regulations, and to levy and collect taxes to pay for municipal government. With the Reformation, these same individuals took on added religious duties, among which were those of appointing the chaplain in the Mayor’s Chapel and the minister in Temple Church and arranging for and selecting weekly lecturers to provide theological edification and moral guidance to the populace.[3] This role became even more important after 1627, when Bristol’s government acquired the advowson of seven of its eighteen parishes.[4] To a degree perhaps not reached again until the creation of the welfare state, they oversaw the lives of the citizenry from the cradle to the grave. The governance of Bristol generally followed the pattern in the nation at large: the exercise of rule depended on the participation and tacit consent of the ruled, but the duty of government belonged to an exclusive group who alone enjoyed the legal authority to administer and judge. Fortunately, our evidence allows us to take a close look at the changing social makeup of this body under the Tudors and early Stuarts.

Throughout Bristol’s premodern history, the acquisition of public office by its citizens was a direct outgrowth of their economic and social success. If a man accumulated riches, he was expected to accept the burdens of borough government, bearing from his own funds, if necessary, a portion of the financial charges. Refusals to serve were met by heavy fines. The expenses of office could sometimes be very large, as William Dale discovered when he served as sheriff in 1518, but this made it all the more essential for wealthy men to undertake responsibility for local administration. By the charter, membership in the central governing body, the Common Council, was vested in “the better and more worthy men” of the town, who in 1635 were said to consist of those freemen possessed of at least £1,500 in goods and credit.[5]

This application of an economic standard for public office meant, however, that the composition of the Common Council tended to reflect the distribution of wealth in Bristol. Although some eligible freemen would inevitably fail to be elected, the leading occupations in the city were likely to be represented roughly in proportion to their socioeconomic weight in the community at large, for otherwise the political domination of a particular group might lead to the economic ruin of its members. Hence as the patterns of social mobility altered and the social organization became transformed, the structure of civic politics also tended to change. By the early sixteenth century, as we know, the economic changes Bristol had experienced in the wake of the loss of Bordeaux were already apparent in the new social geography of the city, with the common councillors now concentrated in the city center. We can develop this picture further by looking at municipal election results for the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

Bristol’s new charter of 1499 authorized the mayor then in office, Nicholas Browne, and two aldermen nominated by him to name the new group of Corporation members, which assured that the new body would be amenable to the spirit of hierarchy evident throughout the charter.[6] Thereafter, the system of election was co-optative. Vacancies in the Common Council were filled by vote of the remaining members of the body, who chose between two candidates for each position, one nominated by the mayor and one nominated at large. Because only a limited number of citizens were wealthy enough to serve, however, the same candidates tended to reappear from election to election until they eventually were chosen and sworn. They did not always do so willingly; some preferred to pay heavy fines rather than accept the time-consuming burdens and indeterminate expenses of municipal office. Occasionally coercion was used to dragoon a reluctant individual into service, as when Luke Hodges, grocer, was threatened with a £200 penalty for his refusal.[7] But Common Council membership also had its rewards, since this body exercised considerable power, especially in economic regulation. As a result there was always a tension in the electoral process as the councillors tried to insure that no one who could bear office would escape, but tended to seek friends and supporters for their own points of view. The outcome was a body that was never overwhelmed by a single faction but was always controlled by a majority who held common views on the key issues of the day.

The exact membership of the Common Council is unknown for most of the sixteenth century, but it can be reconstructed almost in its entirety by using the names of the sheriffs elected each year during the period. Because these officials were responsible for, among other duties, that of collecting and paying the city’s fee farm, the office was a very burdensome and costly one to hold. New members of the council usually were chosen as sheriff as a kind of entry fee or tax soon after joining the body; normally they held the post just once. A few refused to serve, and some were passed over, but in practice nearly all the common councillors held the office at one time or another during their municipal careers. By the terms of the 1499 charter, two sheriffs were elected each year, with vacancies created by death filled during the year. Between 1500 and 1600, two hundred and two Bristolians were elected to the office, which almost certainly represents more than 90 percent of the council’s membership during this period. What bias there is favors the wealthiest councillors, since these men would have been the least likely to have been passed over or to have refused to serve.[8]

The occupations of one hundred and eighty-three of Bristol’s sixteenth-century sheriffs are known. For the whole century, almost 80 percent were either overseas merchants or major retailers or soapmakers, and this proportion was on the increase—under 70 percent in the first fifty years, over 85 percent in the second. Among the grocers, drapers, mercers, and vintners, moreover, many would have abandoned their retail shops to deal exclusively by wholesale as “mere merchants.” After 1550, the cappers, tuckers, whitawers, glovers, pointmakers, tanners, pewterers, smiths, and other artisans contributed much smaller numbers or disappeared entirely from the list. In particular, the participation of the once preeminent textile industries was minimal—just over 5 percent (Table 20). In the late Middle Ages, as we know, councillors had come from a relatively undifferentiated body of shopkeeper-merchants, who bought and sold a great variety of wares by retail as well as wholesale. It is hard to escape the conclusion that after 1499 the Corporation, though apparently more diverse in the occupations represented among its membership, in fact was far more homogeneous in social makeup than it had been, and that it was becoming only more so in the course of the sixteenth century.

20. Occupations of Bristol Sheriffs, 1500-1600
  1500–1550 1550–1600 1500–1600
  No. %[a] No. %[a] No. %[a]
Source: William Adams, Adams’s Chronicle of Bristol, ed. F. F. Fox (Bristol: J. W. Arrowsmith, 1910); A. E. Hudd, “Two Bristol Calendars,” Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Transactions 19 (1894–95): 105–41.
A. Leading entrepreneurs:
  Merchants 30 33.71 39 41.49 69 37.70
  Major retailers
    apothecary, grocer 12 13.48 8 8.51 20 10.93
    draper 6 6.74 15 15.96 21 11.48
    fishmonger     1 1.06 1 0.55
    haberdasher 4 4.49     4 2.19
    mercer 7 7.87 9 9.57 16 8.74
Vintner     2 2.13 2 1.09
      Subtotal 29 32.58 35 37.23 64 34.97
Soapmakers, chandlers 2 2.25 7 7.45 9 4.92
      Total A 61 68.54 81 86.17 142 77.60
B. Textile industries:
  Capper 2 2.25     2 1.09
  Tailor     2 2.13 2 1.09
  Tucker, clothier 3 3.37 1 1.06 4 2.19
  Upholsterer     2 2.13 2 1.09
      Total B 5 5.62 5 5.32 10 5.46
C. Leather industries:
  Shoemaker     1 1.06 1 0.55
  Tanner 4 4.49 2 2.13 6 3.28
  Whitawer, glover, pointmaker 5 5.62 1 1.06 6 3.28
      Total C 9 10.11 4 4.26 13 7.10
D. Metal industries:
  Bellfounder 1 1.12     1 0.55
  Cardmaker 1 1.12 1 1.06 2 1.09
  Goldsmith     1 1.06 1 0.55
  Pewterer 1 1.12     1 0.55
  Smith 1 1.12     1 0.55
      Total D 4 4.49 2 2.13 6 3.28
E. Woodworking:
  Hooper, cooper     1 1.06 1 0.55
F. Food production:
  Baker 2 2.25     2 1.09
  Brewer 6 6.74 1 1.06 7 3.83
      Total F 8 8.99 1 1.06 9 4.92
G. Professional and service trades:
  Scrivener 1 1.12     1 0.55
  Tidewaiter 1 1.12     1 0.55
      Total G 2 2.25     2 1.09
      Total known A–G 89   94   183  
      Total unknown A–G 13   6   19  
      Grand Total 102   100   202  

For the early seventeenth century, the council membership is known directly from the town clerk’s minutes of its meetings. Between 1605 and 1642, when Civil War events disrupted the election procedures, one hundred and twenty-three Bristolians were chosen for service, including one who was elected, dismissed, and reelected. The occupation or status of one hundred and twenty of these men is known. The overall pattern is very similar to what we have just seen for the later sixteenth century. Over 80 percent came from among the city’s leading entrepreneurs, with a third being major retailers. There was a small increase in the percentage of merchants at the expense of retailers and soapmakers. For this period we are also able to establish the connection of the council members to the Society of Merchant Venturers, which gives us a more precise idea of their economic interests. Seventy-one councillors, or nearly 60 percent, were associated with the Society during their careers. Sixty-two served at one time or another as its master, treasurer, or warden, an indication that their connections were close. Moreover, the dominance of the Merchant Venturers in the government was strengthening during the early seventeenth century. From 1605 to 1623, 57 per cent of the new councillors were members of the Society; but from 1623 to the outbreak of the Civil War, the figure was 75 percent. These changes reflect the growing importance of the “mere merchants” in Bristol. As council vacancies fell open they were increasingly filled by Merchant Venturers (Table 21).[9]

21. Occupations of Members of the Common Council, 1605-1642
  No. %[a]
Source: A. B. Beaven, Bristol Lists: Municipal and Miscellaneous (Bristol: T. D. Taylor, Sons and Hawkins, 1899).
A. Leading entrepreneurs:
  Merchants 56 46.67
  Major retailers
    apothecary, grocer 7 5.83
    draper 11 9.17
    fishmonger 2 1.67
    haberdasher 1 0.83
    hardwareman 3 2.50
    mercer 13 10.83
    vintner, innholder 3 2.50
      Subtotal 40 33.33
  Soapmakers, chandlers 4 3.33
     Total A 100 83.33
B. Textile industries:
  Clothier 5 4.17
C. Leather industries:
  Pointmaker 1 0.83
D. Metal industries:
  Cardmaker 1 0.83
  Wiredrawer 1 0.83
     Total D 2 1.67
E. Food production:
  Brewer 7 5.83
F. Gentlemen, yeomen 5 4.17
       Total known A–F 120
      Total unknown A–F 3
        Grand Total 123

A similar pattern is apparent among the mayors and aldermen, who as Bristol’s justices of the peace were the dominant forces in local affairs. For the mayors a complete list of those holding the office is available from the high Middle Ages. Over the whole period from 1500 to 1642, between 70 and 80 percent of them were merchants, major retailers, or soapmakers, with the merchants once again representing the largest single share.[10] The figures are virtually the same for the aldermen in the early seventeenth century, when we can first establish an accurate list of their names. But since almost all of them eventually served as mayor, this similarity in proportion is only to be expected. For the early seventeenth century we can once again establish the affiliation of these men with the Merchant Venturers. Just over 60 percent of the mayors and just under 60 percent of the aldermen were members during their lifetimes. Again, the connection was strengthening in the early seventeenth century. Between 1605 and 1623, for example, just over half of the mayors were Merchant Venturers. In the following nineteen years the proportion rose to more than four out of five (Tables 22 and 23).

22. Occupations of Bristol Mayors, 1500-1642
  1500–1550 1550–1600 1600–1642
  No. %[a] No. %[a] No. %[a]
Source: William Adams, Adams’s Chronicle of Bristol, ed. F. F. Fox (Bristol: J. W. Arrowsmith, 1910); A. E. Hudd, “Two Bristol Calendars,” Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Transactions 19 (1894–95): 105–41; A. B. Beaven, Bristol Lists: Municipal and Miscellaneous (Bristol: T. D. Taylor, Sons, and Hawkins, 1899).
A. Leading entrepreneurs:
  Merchants 21 45.65 18 36.00 20 47.62
  Major retailers
    apothecary, grocer 2 4.35 5 10.00 2 4.76
    draper 4 8.70 7 14.00 2 4.76
    fishmonger     1 2.00    
    haberdasher 4 8.70        
    hardwareman         1 2.38
    mercer 2 4.35 4 8.00 7 16.67
    vintner     2 4.00    
      Subtotal 12 26.09 19 38.00 12 28.57
  Soapmakers, chandlers     2 4.00 2 4.76
     Total A 33 71.74 39 78.00 34 80.95
B. Textile industries:
  Tailor     1 2.00    
  Tucker, clothier 1 2.17     3 7.14
  Upholsterer     1 2.00    
     Total B 1 2.17 2 4.00 3 7.14
C. Leather industries:
  Tanner 4 8.70 3 6.00    
  Whitawer, glover, pointmaker 3 6.52 1 2.00    
     Total C 7 15.22 4 8.00    
D. Metal industries:
  Bellfounder 1 2.17        
  Cardmaker         1 2.38
  Pewterer     2 4.00    
     Total D 1 2.17 2 4.00 1 2.38
E. Food production:
  Baker 1 2.17        
  Brewer 1 2.17 3 6.00 2 4.76
     Total E 2 4.35 3 6.00 2 4.76
F. Gentlemen, yeomen 2 4.35     2 4.76
     Total known A–F 46   50   42  
     Total unknown A–F 7   0   1  
       Grand Total 53   50   43  
23. Occupations of Bristol Aldermen, 1605-1642
No. %[a]  
Source: A. B. Beaven, Bristol Lists: Municipal and Miscellaneous (Bristol: T. D. Taylor, Sons, and Hawkins, 1899).
A. Leading entrepreneurs:
  Merchants 19 45.29
  Major retailers    
    apothecary, grocer 2 4.76
    draper 3 7.14
    hardwareman 1 2.38
    mercer 6 14.29
    vintner 1 2.38
      Subtotal 13 30.95
  Soapmakers, chandlers 2 4.76
     Total A 34 80.95
B. Textile industries:
  Clothier 2 4.76
C. Metal industries:
  Cardmaker 1 2.38
D. Food production:
  Brewer 2 4.76
E. Yeomen 3 7.14
      Total known A–E 42  
      Total unknown A–E 1  
        Grand Total 43  

The Bristol Corporation was never intended to be a cross-section of civic society. Unlike the governing body of London, its membership was not even selected according to gild affiliation. It was, rather, an organization of the community’s social and economic leaders, chosen primarily because their personal fortunes could bear the costs of service. It should occasion no surprise, therefore, that only a small portion of the city’s trades and industries were represented among the mayors, aldermen, and common councillors and that the mercantile and industrial elite held the vast majority of the offices. Nor is it especially remarkable that this exclusivity was reinforced by a pattern of close personal relations among these men. Given the nature of trade and industry in this period, it is only to be expected that the richest citizens of Bristol would also have shared family ties, business associations, and close friendships. But for all the predictability of these facts, they are nonetheless important in understanding how Bristol was ruled in this period.

It is not possible to review all the significant personal connections that linked the members of the Common Council. There were undoubtedly many important ties that the extant evidence has not brought to light. Enough survives, however, to give a glimpse of the general pattern. During the early seventeenth century, almost 80 percent of the Corporation members were linked to at least one other councillor by a family tie or by personal dependency, and nearly 40 percent of this group were connected to more than one of their fellow councillors. The most common bonds were those of kinship, but apprenticeship also played a very large role. Between 1598 and 1642 almost 37 percent of the members of the Common Council were related to one another by blood or marriage and a further 30 percent were tied to one another as master and apprentice.[11] Many of the ties cut across occupational lines. George White, for example, was apprenticed to Rice Jones, grocer, was the brother-in-law of William Barnes, clothier, and was the close friend and business associate of Henry Hobson, hardwareman, and Mathew Warren, clothier.[12] But connections were most commonly related to the members’ economic positions. This meant that personal relationships among the councillors tended to reinforce the differences among the various occupational groups on the council, with many of the older generation of masters relying on their sons and former apprentices to support their points of view on key issues.

Hence the possibility of deep factional division existed within the Corporation and, as we shall see in the next chapter, it was made manifest in fierce disputes that erupted at various times in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. But despite the strong potential for political faction in the city, the proceedings of the Common Council were usually free of political strife. Most decisions were reached by consensus, not majority vote, with the more difficult matters referred to committees for preliminary discussion and possible resolution. Election to high city office also showed few signs of bitter division. Because the offices at stake were costly to hold, a practice of rotation was followed by which nearly every member was selected as he became eligible and few served more than once in any particular post. Even more important were the demands for political harmony imposed by the Corporation’s role as the ruling authority in the city. Without the collective efforts of its members to maintain order, enforce the laws, ameliorate the city’s economic and social ills, and exercise moral leadership over the general population, the fabric of urban community would have been rent by the same divisions that always lurked near the surface of politics in the Common Council. In other words, the fact that the Corporation held genuine authority within the city worked against the temptation for one group or another to use it to the detriment of some rival. Yet the advancement of particular interests and the pursuit of private benefits could never be entirely suppressed in a body so heavily dominated by one of them. This meant not only that conflict was inevitable but that the Corporation’s role as the upholder of the common welfare required periodic justification and regular reinforcement. Before examining the actual processes of political engagement in Bristol between the beginning of the sixteenth century and the middle of the seventeenth, we should first explore the methods used to legitimate them.

Although we are reasonably certain of who exercised authority in Bristol, we are less clear about what it meant for them to do so and how their understanding of their roles might have changed during the reigns of the Tudors and the first two Stuarts. By any standard, authority is a deeply ambiguous concept.[13] It can refer in a variety of ways to rights. Someone in authority has the right to act and to be obeyed within his jurisdiction. He is at liberty to act, but he need not do so every time the opportunity arises. In terms of rights, authority is a legalistic concept, and we often speak of those holding it as having “legal” or “constitutional” authority. But “authority” can also refer in a variety of ways to capacities or powers. Someone who is exceptionally competent in a given realm is an authority: he has the power to produce results. Through his reputation for expertise he also has the title to be believed and the capacity to influence the opinions and judgments of others. In this way he exercises power over their conduct or action, and he is said to have “moral” authority. His authority not only enables him to act within his areas of competence, but imposes upon him the duty to do so. As an authority he has an obligation to perform right actions; he is not morally free to use his skills on some occasions and to withhold them on others.

For some purposes these two ideas complement one another. He who authorizes an action has a right; he who is authorized has a duty. The former works autonomously to perform as he chooses in the realm in which he is entitled to act. The latter works for the good or the interest of those who have granted him his power, and he must perform this service if he is to meet his obligation to them. This formulation, however, assumes that the fundamental unit of analysis is the individual and that the fundamental question is how individuals come to accept authority. It neglects the way the very concept of authority presupposes the existence of community. It is not enough to claim authority for oneself; it is also necessary that it be recognized by others according to some mutually agreed-upon rules. Otherwise, one is applying force, not exercising authority.[14]

The problem of community proves just as troubling as the problem of authority, since communities are not all of the same type. We can speak with equal clarity of linguistic communities, where large numbers of people residing in different countries share the same tongue, and academic communities, where small numbers working in the same institution pursue common goals in their various disciplines. But to modern social scientists and historians the term has come to distinguish tight-knit collectivities of people living in close proximity in village or town, separated from the larger society and the state. In keeping with this kind of understanding, it is often assumed that authority in a community is what Max Weber called “traditional authority,” that is, authority that rests on “an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of the status of those exercising authority under them.” Here is where “moral authority” holds sway. Authority in a more broadly gauged modern society is what Weber called “legal authority,” that is, authority that rests on “a belief in the ‘legality’ of patterns of normative rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands.”[15] In this interpretive scheme, the early modern period is often treated as the time when the second type of authority first took hold. It is widely considered to be the era that saw the rise of the bureaucratic state and that consequently produced the inevitable collisions between society and the state. But this new rational form of authority, the interpretation goes, did not succeed all at once. Instead it made itself felt initially only in certain advanced political settings, namely, the great cities of Italy and the courts of the great northern monarchs. The provinces, and especially the provincial towns, remained centers of the older, sanctified forms of authority, subject to the predatory challenges of power-mongering state officials.[16]

But no one living in an early modern English town could have made the distinctions between community and society or traditional and legal authority upon which such an interpretation depends. As used in modern scholarship, these are terms of art. They may help us locate ourselves amid the complexities we study, but they do so by obscuring the uncertainties and ambiguities with which contemporaries lived. They make it difficult to see how those who experienced the changes understood them. If we are to grasp this reality, we must turn our attention to the ways that ideas of authority were represented at the time. In the provincial towns authority was present at every turn, but on certain festive occasions—at the annual election of the mayor, for example—it received particular notice by the townsmen. Here ideas, so difficult to come by in words, were revealed in gestures and actions.

In the late medieval era it was not possible to think of a community without also attending to the place of leadership within it. According to the common understanding, every social organism was a body politic in which head and members worked together for the common good. A community lacking a head was, like the human body on which it was modeled, either dead or an enormity. This theme was especially important in cities, since what held them together was their corporate existence, which in turn depended on the ability of their governors to act for the whole polity. Their governing powers required constant justification and continuous reinforcement. Not surprisingly, celebrations of authority became one of the great subjects of urban culture in the period. Embedded in them was a particular view of authority according to which the right to make decisions for the community depended on public recognition of the individual’s worthiness for the task. The activities of St. Katherine’s players in uniting the members of the city’s most important craft with the officials of the Corporation was only one among the many ceremonial means addressing this issue.

In the fifteenth century, Bristol’s government, established by Edward III’s charter of 1373, was a self-perpetuating, closed institution of forty-two citizens. Its members were chosen by co-optation, and its chief officers, the mayor and a single sheriff, were elected exclusively from among its own membership. As described by Ricart, election proceedings began on St. Giles Day, 1 September, when the mayor’s four sergeants officially warned the membership of the Common Council of the impending election. The election itself was held on 15 September, and failure to appear subjected each absent councillor to a fine of £10, very steep for the period. Candidates were nominated as well as chosen on 15 September, and each election was conceived to be a spontaneous judgment by the councillors about who was best suited to serve the city. The voting proper began with the current mayor “first by his reason” naming and giving “his voice to some whorshipfull man of the seide hows,” that is, nominating and voting in the same motion. “[A]fter hym the Shiref, and so all the house perusid in the same, euery man to gyve his voice as shall please him.” In theory, it was possible for each council member to nominate a new candidate, including himself, when his time came to give his voice. The victor was “hym that hathe moste voices.” In fact, contests appear to have been exceedingly rare. But participation by the entire membership in this way helped to bind them in obedience to the new regime, since the councillors were much less free to criticize or oppose the new officers at a later date if they had played a part in selecting them. The vote of every member was to be based on the principles of spontaneity and openness. An election was the free choice of the assembled civic leadership made according to the community’s highest ideals. Reason and good conscience were to be used to find the best person to serve the commonwealth for the coming year.[17]

Election to the mayoralty was a great honor in the city. In recognizing the worthiness of the man for this office of trust, it enhanced his social importance both by the deference that his fellow townsmen would now show him and by the opportunity his office gave to display his wealth to the city. The office was also a burden, requiring time away from personal business and the outlay of large sums to support the ceremonial requirements of officeholding. The mayor had little independent political power, however, since his freedom of action was restrained by the legal forms he was obliged to follow and by the council, which acted as a check upon his formulation of policy. Nevertheless, because the office brought enhanced status it carried political weight: status, especially when given official recognition, rewarded the recipient with greater influence in local affairs and brought his fellow townsmen to him for wise counsel.[18]

In the public presentation of the new mayor, all these considerations played a role. The process began at once. Having been in “due form electid,” the successful candidate was to “rise fro[m] the place he sat in, and come sytt a dextris by the olde maires side,” there to participate in subsequent deliberations. Once these “communications” had been completed, attention was turned to making the new mayor known to the town. With the adjournment of the election meeting, he was worshipfully accompanyed, with “. . . certein of the seid hous, home to his place,” in effect publicly announcing the election to all who observed this mayoral party pass through the streets.[19]

The official date for the new mayor’s installation into office was Michaelmas, 29 September, fully two weeks after the election. In the interval, Ricart tells us, “the seide persone so electid maire shalle haue his leysour to make his purveyaunce of his worshipfull householde, and the honourable apparailling of his mansion, in as plesaunt and goodly wise as kan be devised.” When his house was readied for the festivities to come, the new mayor was to come to the Guildhall in a full-scale procession in which he took his proper place as the head of the government, “accompanyd with the Shiref and all his brethern of the Counseill, to feche him at his hows and bring him to the seide hall, in as solempne and honourable wise as he can devise to do his oune worshippe.” Since the mayor was the head not only of the government but of the community, it was proper for him to enter office “to the honour, laude, and preysyng” of all Bristol, whose inhabitants perforce witnessed the procession as it made its way through the streets.[20]

Because of the preeminence of the mayor in the civic hierarchy, the ceremony at his inauguration was extremely rich in meaning and detail. His formal installation into the seat of authority was accomplished only after he had been reminded of his responsibilities to the borough community and sworn to his duties. Before administering the oath, the outgoing mayor made a speech to his brethren and the others assembled that stressed the commonweal of the city and the maintenance of unity among the citizens. According to Ricart, he apologized to his fellow townsmen for any offense he might have given and offered to make amends for his errors from his own goods or to “ask theym forgevenes in as herty wyse” as he could, “trusting verilly in God they shal haue no grete causes of ferther complaynts.” If he could not heal all the wounds that his government might have caused, the mayor continued, the “worshipfulle man” chosen to be the new mayor “of his grete wisedome, by goddes grace, shal refourme and amende alle such thinges as I of my sympileness haue not duely ne formably executed or fulfilled.” Finally, the outgoing mayor thanked his fellow citizens for their “godeness” according to their “due merits” in showing “trewe obedience to kepe the king our alther liege lorde is lawes, and my commaundment in his name, at all tymes,” and he prayed that God would reward them with “moche joy, prosperitie and peas, as evir had comens and true Cristen people.”[21]

After the speaking of these significant words came the swearing-in of the new mayor (Figure 5). The oath, as it was taken in Ricart’s time and with some small changes at least to the end of the sixteenth century, was preoccupied with the formal and specific tasks undertaken by the mayor that had been laid out in the city’s charters.[22] Ricart shows the incoming mayor swearing on a book, almost certainly the Bible, held by the outgoing mayor; the common councillors sit or stand around the council table. A number of citizens appear at the periphery. The town clerk reads the oath, the swordbearer holds the cap and sword of justice, and an assistant holds the seal mentioned by Ricart. On the council table we see a large pouch (probably containing monies to be received into the new mayor’s care), a scroll, and an account book. The room itself is decorated with the royal arms in the center, the Cross of St. George to the left, and the arms of the town of Bristol to the right. Standing at the “high deise” of the Guildhall, before his fellow common councillors and members of the “Comyns,” the inauguree swore allegiance to the monarch to “kepe and meyntene the peas of the same toune with all my power.” Under this authority he then promised to “reproue and chastice the misrewlers and mysdoers in the forsaid toune,” to maintain the “fraunchises and free custumes whiche beth gode,” to put away “all euell custumes and wronges,” to “defende, the Wydowes and Orphans,” and to “kepe, and meyntene all laudable ordinaunces.” Most important, he also swore “trewely, and with right,” to

trete the people of my bailly, and do every man right, as well to the poer as to the riche, in that that longeth to me to do. And nouther for ghifte nor for loue, affeccion, promesse, nor for hate, I shall do no man wronge, nor destourbe no mannes right.[23]

In these clauses the mayor is viewed largely in his capacity as a judge. The underlying theme, even where the enforcement of municipal ordinances is concerned, is one of judiciousness and evenhandedness.[24] By the formula of the oath, the mayor’s role within the city rests almost entirely on his position as the king’s vicegerent in the city. This same emphasis is apparent at the conclusion of the oath. After kissing the book held for him by the outgoing mayor, the new mayor received from the hands of his predecessor the essential symbols of his office: the king’s sword and the cap of justice, the casket containing the seal of his office as escheator, the seal of the Statute of the Staple, and the seal of the Statute Merchant, all signifying the judicial authority the mayor derived from the Crown.

The Swearing of the New Mayor at Michaelmass in the Late Fifteenth Century. (Robert Ricart, The Maire of Bristowe Is Kalendar, Bristol Record Office, MS 04270 (1), f. 152. By permission of the City of Bristol Record Office.)
[Full Size]

When taken together with the outgoing mayor’s speech, however, the inauguration conveys a more complex picture of the mayor’s role. Although his authority derived from a royal grant, its base was local. He was the king’s lieutenant in the city, but the borough’s servant. As head of the community he could act as a buffer between the Crown and the city, protecting it from corrosive outside interference and permitting it the maximum autonomy by carrying out the king’s business and maintaining peace in his name. The mayor’s duty was, with the aid of the Holy Trinity, to keep the city “in prosperouse peas and felicite” and to preserve its internal solidarity by maintaining the social fabric against all damage, especially that caused by misgovernment.[25]

Along with the formal oath-taking, which renewed the bonds of authority, there were also informal proceedings which were intended to promote the internal solidarity of the civic body. The first of these festive events occurred immediately after the mayor had taken his oath. Once the symbols of office had been handed over to him, he immediately changed places with his predecessor and “all the whole company” brought “home the new Maire to his place, with trompetts and clareners, in as joyful, honourable, and solempne wise as can be devised…there to leve the new Maire, and then to bring home the olde Maire.”[26] These honorific processions were followed by communal dinners, the majority of the council dining with the new mayor at his house and a smaller number, including all the officers, dining with the outgoing mayor. After they had eaten, “all the hole Counseille” assembled at the High Crosse, in the town center,

and from thens the new maire and the olde maire, with alle the hole company, to walke honourably to Seint Mighels churche, and there to offre. And then to retorne to the new Maires hous, there to take cakebrede and wyne. And then, evey man taking his leeve of the Maire, and to retray home to their evensong.[27]

This ceremony repeated in a symbolic way the transfer of authority from the outgoing to the incoming mayor. First the council was divided to honor, some one man, some the other, by being his guests. The two mayors then jointly led a slow and stately procession uphill to St. Michael’s Church. The mood seems to have been one of reluctant farewell to the outgoing mayor. But after the offering at St. Michael’s the tone would have changed. The return to the town center, downhill, undoubtedly conveyed a lively spirit of energetic and joyful new beginning. To conclude the celebration, all were united at the new mayor’s house, where they sealed the transition of power by sharing his cheerful hospitality.

The mayor’s role as both the king’s and the community’s servant received special emphasis when royalty visited the city. Between 1461 and 1509 there were five such visits to the city, of which only Henry VII’s in 1486 is documented in detail.[28] These rare events stressed Bristol’s dual character as a legal corporation and a moral community. Although in planning each of these celebrations the Bristolians must have paid great attention to the monarch’s tastes and views, they also had a chance to express their own outlook, since the arrangements were all made and financed by the citizenry themselves. Henry VII visited Bristol in 1486 on his progress through the realm to secure the loyalty and obedience of his kingdom’s major cities after his victory at Bosworth Field.[29] Hence much attention was bound to have been paid to Bristol’s subordination to royal authority. But the principal theme of the performances put on during his stay was, not the power of the king, but the corporate autonomy of the city.

The most important pageant took place amid “great Melodie and singing,” immediately as the king passed through the town gate. Henry was accompanied there by “the Maire, Shriffe, the Bailiffs, and ther Brethern, and great Nomber of other Burgesses al on Horseback,” who had ridden out of the town to greet him. “But the Mair of Bristow bar no mase, nor the Shrif…no rodde, unto the tyme they came to the gate…wher beginneth ther Fraunches.” Here the mayor and the sheriff took up the symbols of their offices as the representatives of royal justice in the borough, in the process accentuating the boundaries of the community and their own authority within it.[30]

When the king had passed the gate and entered Bristol proper, he was greeted at once by a figure representing the legendary British “King Bremmius,” according to tradition the founder of the city. Bremmius welcomed his “moost dere Cosine of England and Fraunce” to the town, thanking God highly on behalf of the Bristolians “for such a Soueraigne Lorde.” But his main purpose was to ask Henry for assistance. “This Towne lefte I in greate prosperitie,” he said,

By you, ther herts Hope and Comfort in this Distresse,
Havyng Riches and Welth many Folde;
The Merchaunt, the Artyficer, ev’ryche in his Degre,
Had great Plentye both of Silver and Golde,
And lifed in Joye as they desire wolde,
At my departing; but I have been so long away,
That Bristow is fallen into Decaye
Irrecuparable, withoute that a due Remedy
By you, ther herts Hope and Comfort in this Distresse,
Proveded bee, at your Leyser convenynetly,
To your Navy and Cloth-making, wherby I gesse
The Wele of this Town standeth in Sikerness,
May be mayteigned, as they have bee
In Days hertofore in Prosperitie.
Now farwell, dere Cosyn, my Leve I take
At you, that Wele of Bountie bee
To your saide Subjects for Maries Sake,
That bereth you ther Fidelitie.
In moost loving wise graunte ye
Some Remedye herin, and he wille quite your Mede,
That never unrewarded leveth good Dede.[31]

This may seem no more than a straightforward petition for aid from the Crown, but the speech has another, more subtle dimension.[32] According to Geoffrey of Monmouth and his followers, King Bremmius, or Brennius as he is more frequently called, was one of the noble race of Trojans who ruled Britain after Brutus had conquered and settled the land. In one version of the story, made prominent in Bristol by Ricart’s Kalendar, this Brennius is identified as the founder of Bristol, just as Brutus founded London and King Ebrancus founded York.[33] Since Henry Tudor himself claimed descent from the British kings,[34] King Bremmius gave Bristol a form of kinship tie to the new monarch which was of use in requesting assistance from him. At the same time, reference to the mythic founder helped avoid the worst implication of the petition—the apparent dependency of the borough community upon the royal will for its maintenance. Since Bristol was in existence from the first beginnings of the “British realm,” the Bristolians seem to have been saying, its status could hardly depend on a later royal patent. Any special exemptions or privileges it received were offered, not by the king’s mere motion and sovereign will, but as a moral obligation to preserve the noble work of his great and famous ancestor. As Bremmius says, he founded the city and “called it Bristow” after himself, “for a Memoriall,” so that the British would never forget him.[35]

Along with advancing Bristol’s claim on Henry for aid, this form of petition upheld Bristol’s independent honor. It was clear in law that each of the city’s liberties and franchises, including that of corporate status, required royal warrant. In this sense the borough community was founded by the royal will. But the existence of the borough, with its sworn membership and its reciprocal and interlocking social relationships, transcended this dependency, since its citizenry formed a moral community as well as a legal corporation. History was called upon to resolve this dilemma. Because the city was obviously the creation of men, it could not be thought a part of the natural landscape. It required a founder. But if the community was to preserve its independence, its foundation had to be set in the distant past. By stressing Bristol’s antiquity, King Bremmius pointed not only to the borough community’s continuity but also to its autonomy. Autonomy went hand in hand with unity. The city presented itself to the larger world as a single, integrated whole, existing independently of its surroundings.

As expressed in ceremony, the unity of late medieval Bristol was a living unity like that of the human body. The city was understood to be a highly structured organism whose parts worked together to preserve the well-being of its members. But to maintain this unity required constant vigilance, because there were always divisive interests, such as craft rivalries, ready to undermine the general welfare. Bristol’s social and political rituals were aimed at purging the disruptive forces from the community and reinforcing the moral and spiritual foundations of the community by direct confrontation with the most vulnerable points in the social body.[36] The ceremonies and festivities at the annual inauguration of the mayor addressed only the yearly transfer of authority from one individual to another, a threatening and dangerous moment in the life of any body politic. It was also necessary, however, to deal with the even greater source of potential trouble, the fact that Bristol’s public officials were also private men who might be tempted to put themselves or their families and friends above the common good. They needed to be reminded of their duties as servants to the community: hence the promises of fairness in the mayor’s oath, and the presence of the Commons in the Guildhall to hear it.

On St. Michael’s Day, however, the Commons played only a passive role, standing in the Guildhall outside the ring of councillors merely to witness the oath-taking, and thronging the streets to watch deferentially as the procession passed by. In other festivities they were more assertive, intervening to mock the civic authorities for their folly, to chastise them for their failures, and to instruct them in their duties. As we have already seen, this was probably the work of St. Katherine’s players on 25 November. Similarly, at Christmas a Lord of Misrule issued satiric proclamations and ordinances endorsing licentiousness, approving disorder, and encouraging drunkenness, idleness, and other misdemeanors, thereby standing authority on its head and criticizing its shortcomings.[37] But the most intriguing of these celebrations is the festival of the Boy-Bishop.

Much of what we know of this popular custom relates to its use in cathedral chapters, university colleges, and schools such as Eton. At Salisbury Cathedral, for example, a young chorister was elected to serve in this mock-episcopal capacity from 6 December, St. Nicholas’ Day, to Childermas, 28 December. According to the account given by a seventeenth-century antiquary, he was not only “to beare the name and hold up the state of a Bishop…habited with a Crozier…in his hand and a Mitre upon his head,” but to perform everything the “very Bishop himself” did, except the mass. And “his fellows,” a group of boy choristers, “were to take upon them the style and counterfeit of Prebends yielding to their Bishop…no less than canonical obedience.” The Sarum use also provided elaborate processionals and services for the mock bishop, including his giving the sermon and benediction on Holy Innocents’ Day.[38] But in Bristol the custom made the municipal authorities as much the focus of the occasion as the church hierarchy was. Ricart describes the festival as follows:

[O]n Seynt Nicholas Eve…the Maire, and Shiref, and their brethern to walke to Seynt Nicholas churche, there to hire theire even-song: and on the morrow to hire theire masse, and offre, and hire the bishop’s sermon, and have his blissyng; and after dyner, the seide Maire, Shiref and theire brethern, to assemble at the maires counter, there waytyng the Bishoppes comming; pleying the meane whiles at Dyce, the towne clerke to fynde theym Dyce, and to have I d. of every Raphill; and when the Bishop is come thedir, his chapell there to synge, and the bishope to geve them his blissyng, and then he and all his chapell to be serued there with brede and wyne. And so departe the Maire, Shiref, and theire brethern to hire the bishopes evesonge at Seynt Nicholas chirch.[39]

In most respects it appears that the authority of the Bristol Boy-Bishop corresponded quite closely to the usage at Salisbury. He had a chapter, gave sermons, offered benedictions, and sang evensong.[40] But his blessing of the civic body during its game of dice appears to be unique.

The role of the Boy-Bishop in this encounter is both satiric and didactic. Although the throwing of dice was a common pastime in the later Middle Ages, this form of gambling was also understood to be a pernicious vice, one that indicated the corruption of those who played at it. In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for example, dice-playing appears again and again as the symbol of folly and evil. The Pardoner speaks of it, together with drunkenness, as the “devels sacrifice”; the Franklin indicates that it is the very opposite of virtue and frugality; the Shipman shows it to be the negation of the merchant’s craft. In “The Cookes Tale” it is portrayed as a form of sin which, along with dancing, lechery, and drunkenness, leads to idleness and theft.[41] These views were commonplaces of the moral teaching not only of Chaucer’s time but for the three centuries following. According to Sir Thomas Elyot, writing in 1531, dice-playing was the devil’s invention:

For what better allective coulde Lucifer deuise to allure or bringe men pleasauntly in to damnable seruitude, than to purpose to them in fourme of a playe, his principall tresory; wherin the more parte of synne is contained, and all goodnesse and vertue confounded?[42]

The governor of the game of dice, of course, is Fortune, which by nature is changeable, alternately bringing good and bad to those who are at her mercy.[43] Accordingly, to play at dice is to abandon God’s will and moral purpose to go over to mere chance. At the same time, it is to deny one’s capacity to reason and to act. In the words of Elyot again,

there is nat a more playne figure of idleness…For besides that, that therin is no maner of exercise for the body or mynde, they which do playe herat must seme to haue no portion of witte or kunnyng, if they will be called faire plaiars.[44]

In the Bristol Common Council this understanding of dice-playing took on added significance. By the city’s charters, the principal duties of the councillors were, first, to establish competent ordinances “that shall be consonant with reason and useful for the commonalty,” and, second, to levy local tallages and rates for common purposes and oversee their proper expenditure.[45] To sit at the mayor’s counter throwing dice represents the absolute abandonment of these responsibilities. Where reason and prudence were supposed to prevail, we find chance and profligacy; where the councillors were supposed to act as the better and more worthy men of the community, we find them idly playing with no apparent regard to their standing. As Chaucer tells us,

Hasard is verray mooder of lesyngs
And of deceite and cursed forswearings
Blaspheme of Crist, manslaughtre, and wast also
Of catle and of tyme, and furthermo
It is repreeve and contrarie of honour
For to ben holde a common hasardour
And ever the hyer he is of estaat
The moore is he yholden desolaat
If that a prince useth hasardry
In all governaunce and policye
He is, by commune opinioun
Yholde the lasse in reputacioun[46]

The significance of the Boy-Bishop’s visit to the Guildhall may perhaps be better understood by looking briefly at a surviving sermon of a Boy-Bishop given at St. Paul’s, London, in the early 1490s. Beginning with the exhortation “Prayse ye childerne almyghty God,” this sermon likens man in childhood to animal kind:

A childe fyrste whan he is in his infant age is not contreyned unto no lawes; he is not corrected nother beten; and there is no defaute layde unto hym, but utterly he is lefte unto the lawe of kynde. Do he what somever he will no man doth blame hym. Morally the state of man immedyately after synne was verely the state of chilhode and infans hauinge no nouryce.

Adult life, of course, was to be just the opposite: under law, and subject to blame and punishment when it failed to obey. But if it fell under the control of the passions, it became childhood again. As the Boy-Bishop says,

whan that man was utterly without ony expressyd lawe, havynge no mayster to his owne naturall inclynacyon as to his lawe, there was no lawe of God newe put to hym.

The message is double-sided. Quoting St. Paul in Corinthians, the young preacher says,

Be not chylderne in your wyttes; but from all synne and malyce be ye childerne in clennesse. And in this fourme all maner of people and al maner of ages in clennese of lyf ought to be pure as childrine.[47]

Viewed in light of these remarks, the presence of the Boy-Bishop at the mayor’s counter offers a telling commentary upon the dice game. The city fathers are shown to act without a child’s cleanness but with his wit. They abandon themselves to the “lawe of kynde” and the whims of chance, being for the moment without a “nouryce or guyder.” To them comes a child bishop, exercising a supremely adult authority and signifying the high purposes for which they were elected. In this way the festivity not only criticized the mayor and his brethren for their inevitable failings but purged them of their official sins. It also emphasized that the civic authorities served the community and thus were subject to the chastisement and the approbation of those they governed. As we know from John Northbrooke, by the late sixteenth century the combined effects of religious revolution and economic change had already profoundly transformed the cultural forms that Ricart had so lovingly calendared. These same changes in outlook also took their toll on the conception of political authority in Bristol. No longer was the city conceived as a quasi-religious brotherhood, in which authority was celebrated and legitimized at feasts and on holy days. Rather, the ideals of godly rule, linking the authority of the local governors to the monarchy and from thence to God himself shaped the new conception of officeholding. Thomas Thompson, lecturing his Bristol congregation on the virtues requisite of a magistrate, best articulates this viewpoint. Government officials, he says, are to be

such as are most perfect in knowledge, hence in conscience, and expert in practice.…But since all the praise of vertue is in action, we cannot make knowledge only the Magistrates complement: and therefore with those Intellectual abilities they must adioyne those morall vertues of Fortitude and Iustice…both to endure the troubles, looses and dangers of gouernment…in warres, and…in peace.[48]

A magistrate was expected to be a Christian exemplum of civic virtue, not only living according to God’s law and with the blessing of his grace, but also endowed with a practical understanding of worldly affairs and the courage to use that understanding wisely and well.

There was no doubt that government service was considered a duty for such a man. As Thompson says,

it is not…for him to refuse it as either too base or troublesome, vnlesse hee will bee accounted either an idle, or a proud man…since hee is a member of that body politique which by all meanes hee must preserue, and since he must not hide what God hath giuen him for the benefit of the Common-wealth vnlesse he will partake of the punishment inflicted vpon the idle seruant, whose talent was given vnto another. For (as Chrysostome saith well) hee that receiveth the grace of learning for the profit of others, and doth not use it, doth wholly loose that grace.[49]

Thompson also makes clear that the principal responsibilities of city officers “were to keep order,” without which there is “Anarchie, wherein every man is kinge in his owne conceite, vndertaking what him list to doe as when there was no King in Isreal.” And, in proper fulfillment of their judicial duties, they were to “both scatter the wicked, and Iudge the poore in truth.[50] Their failure to accept these responsibilities or their neglect of them in their rule would only bring ruin to the commonwealth:

For I pray you shall not all the body bee troubled, when the head is shaken asunder? As shall not the tree be subiect to falling, when the root is bared? Some flatter the great men telling them, that they by reason of their wealth, and high estate neede not doe any thing else, but to live at ease, eat and drinke, and take their pastime, as the retchlesse rich glutton said to his secure soule. But the wisest king that euer liued said Wo bee to thee O Land when thy King is a child and thy Princes eate in the Morning.[51]

To a degree these are commonplaces of late medieval and early modern political culture; little about them would have been foreign to Ricart. But in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods, the mechanisms of communal control that the citizens had previously imposed upon their governors—for example, in the performances of St. Katherine’s players and of the Boy-Bishop—had been replaced by a different form of ritual, according to which the common councillors reminded themselves of their high calling. To open each council session, they prayed:

Especially (O Lord) wee beseech thee in they great and infinite mercyes to look uppon this Citye and uppon us nowe assembled and uppon all the corporacion and commons here that wee both for our selves and for them may consulte of those thinges which concern our dutyes towards thee our gratious God and towardes the Kinge under our gratious Lorde that both wee and all the people of this Citye may glorifie they name [and] may live in brotherly love, and charitye one toward another.[52]

Prayer, of course, could bind political actions as forcibly as could social obligation. But prayer involved a very different kind of ritual exchange from that which had regulated political authority in late medieval Bristol. It linked the prayer-giver to God, not to the community which, as a microcosm of the universe, mediated between the individual and his Maker.

Not surprisingly, these early modern magistrates set themselves in the wider world of the nation by the principle of hierarchy. Indeed, much of Bristol’s ceremonial life in the later sixteenth and the early seventeenth century conveyed precisely this quality. Its most characteristic form was the procession. Eleven major feast days were recognized. On them the mayor and his brethren were to wear the scarlet robes signifying their particular rank in the civic body—cloaks with fur and felt trimming for the mayor and former mayors, gowns alone for the rest. These so-called “Scarlett days” were Michaelmas, when the new mayor was installed—preceded and followed by solemn processions, as in the past—All Hallows Day, Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day, Twelfth Day, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, The Feast of the Ascension, Whitsunday, Trinity Sunday, and St. James Day, for the great summer fair. On every one of these important religious festivals, with the exception of St. James Day, there was a full-scale procession of the city government, wherein all could observe the civic hierarchy in its proper order making its way through the town. Except for the absence of the festivals of St. Clement, St. Katherine, St. Nicholas, Corpus Christi, St. John, and St. Peter, all of this would have been familiar enough to Ricart and his contemporaries. But there is one all-important difference. In the later sixteenth and the early seventeenth century, the Corporation members dressed themselves in their scarlet garments not to hear mass, still less to participate in a drunken revel, but to attend a lecture by one of the city’s preachers. Sitting together in church, the mayor and the councillors must have stood out as an honored elite among the congregation.[53]

Not only did these changes bring a new earnestness and sense of sobriety to officeholding, they also raised the magistrates above criticism from their inferiors. No longer was emphasis placed primarily upon their membership in the borough community. Instead, their role as the agents of royal authority was given special attention. Authority now meant sovereignty; it conveyed rights and yielded majesty and power. The magistrates revealed this viewpoint especially in the symbolism they chose for asserting their position. In 1606, for example, the Common Council agreed that a convenient place ought to be built in the Bristol Cathedral where they and their wives might “sytte…to heare the sermons on the Sabaothe and after festival dayes.”[54] After some discussion, the dean and the chapter agreed to the proposal, and a gallery was built “over against the pulpit.” William Adams, Bristol’s early seventeenth-century chronicler, who no doubt himself saw the finished work, gives the following description:

It was not only a fair and comely ornament to the church, but also a fit and convenient place for the council to sit and hear the word preached, leaving the room below for gentlemen and others. They placed there our King’s arms gilded, and under [it] reserved a fair seat for the King or any nobleman that should come to this city: and under the same [gallery] also fair seats for the council’s and clergy’s wives and other fit place also for the bishop, dean and others of the clergy.[55]

There could be no clearer hierarchical symbolism, nor a more revealing insight into how the Bristol Corporation viewed their place in God’s order. Seated in honor above the pulpit, with the bishop, the dean, and even the king himself perhaps among them, they were to hear the Holy Word. This self-image was a powerful one. Less than two years later, Bishop Thornborough, returning to Bristol from a long absence at York, where he was dean of the Cathedral Chapter, found its symbolism so much an affront to his own episcopal dignity that he ordered the gallery removed.[56]

These new attitudes were given added depth when royalty appeared in the city. Two such visits were made between 1558 and 1640: one by Queen Elizabeth I in 1574, and the second by Queen Anne of Denmark in 1613. Both occasioned magnificent displays of civic pomp. Since much honor accrued from these rare opportunities to entertain royalty, every effort was made to show the city at its best. But these two events reveal a very different profile than had appeared for the visit of Henry VII. In both instances the celebrations took the form of massive military displays in which the prowess of the city’s Trained Bands went hand in hand with their show of loyalty and obedience to royal rule. Instead of stressing the city’s antiquity and independence, the mayor and his brethren emphasized their city’s place in the larger organization of the state and their own subordination to the monarchy.[57] We can see this clearly in the description of Queen Elizabeth’s visit.

When Elizabeth came to Bristol in 1574, “the mayor and all the council riding upon good steeds, with footcloths, and pages by their sides” received Her Majesty within Lawford’s Gate, just outside the boundaries of the city. There an interesting series of exchanges took place, in marked contrast to the symbolism adopted in 1486. At the gate “the mayor delivered [his] mace unto her Grace,” thus relinquishing the sign of his authority as her lieutenant, “and she delivered it unto him again,” reinforcing her authority over the city and his dependence upon her for favor. After an oration by John Popham, the recorder, and the delivery of a gift of £100 in gold to her, the queen was escorted through the city in a procession in which “the mayor himself rode nigh before the Queene, betweene 2 serjeants at arms.”[58] This procession, with each rider holding his proper place in relation to the queen and the others in the order of march, set the tone for the military displays that occupied the queen’s time for the rest of her three-day stay.

To give the displays added meaning, the city hired the poet Thomas Churchyard to supply an allegory, which was presented to the queen in speeches and in a little book interpreting for her the actions of the armed bands.[59] The allegory pitted peace against war and put the city on the side of peace:

Dissenshion breeds the brawll,
     and that is Pomp and Pried:
The Fort on law and order stands,
     and still in peace would bied.
The Warrs is wicked world,
     as by his fruets is seen:
The Fortres representith peace,
     and takes thy part O Queen.[60]
Later we learn that the Fort stands for the “Citie.” The “Citie” resists war and shows “what follies and conflicts rise in Ciuill broyls, and what quietnesse coms by a mutual loue and agrement.”[61] “Our traed doth stand on Siuill lief / and thear our glory lies,” it says,
Wee Marchants keep a mean vnmixt,
     with any iarrying part:
And bryng boeth Treble and the Baess,
     in order still by art.[62]
However, it required human reason and will to tune the parts of a community into harmony with one another, for order in this allegory is conceived as an active principle; it must be created and not merely preserved. “Our orders maks the roister meek,” says the “Citie,”
and plucks the prowd on knees.
The stif and stubborne kno the yoek,
     and roets vp rotten trees
That may infect a fruetfull feeld,
     what can be sweet and sownd:
But in that soyl whear for offence,
     is due correction fownd.
Wee make the siuill laws to shien,
     and by example mield
Reform the rued, rebuek the bold,
     and tame the contrey wyeld.[63]

Nevertheless, vanity could undermine this harmony, by encouraging people “to prowl about for pens and piuish pealf” to the neglect of their fellows. Such selfishness was shortsighted, however; it bred dissension and blinded one to danger. To overcome this threat it was necessary for citizens to move beyond their petty, private interests into the service of the queen and the nation. All were members of her “staet,” and hence must be “a true and loyal stock…reddy…with losse of lief” to battle her foes.[64] Thus the “Citie” declares that “though our ioy be most in peace, and peace we do maintain…Yet haue we soldyars” that

…daer blade hit with the best,
     when cawse of contrey coms
And cals out of courage to the fight,
     by sound of warlike Droms.[65]

It was only from the monarch, however, that peace and order could come to the city. She was a “Prince in deed of princely minde…the toutchstoen…the Pillar, Prop and stay [o]f eury region far or neer.” She was the “noble Judge” who stood above the fray to decide great quarrels. Hence her “helpyng hand” was needed “to cord disorders” wherever they appeared:[66]

And blest be God we haue a Prince,
     by whom our peace is kept:
And vnder whom this Citie long,
     and land hath safly slept.
For whomliekwyse a thousand gifts,
     of grace enioy we do:
And feell from God in this her rayne
     ten thousand blessyngs to.
And mark how mad Dissension thriues,
     that would set warres abroetch:
Who sets to saell poer peoples liues,
     and gets but viell reproetch.
And endles shaem for all their sleights:
O England ioy with vs:
And kis the steps whear she doth tread,
that keeps her countrey thus.
In peace and rest, and perfait stay,
whearfore the god of peace:
In peace by peace our peace presarue,
and her long lief encrease.[67]

The dependence upon the queen so clearly articulated in these verses was repeated in the mock battle itself. The third and last day of the maneuvers ended with three assaults upon the fort, but the enemy, having been repulsed, agreed to a parley. The attackers offered the “good Citizens and Soldiors” of the fort a chance to surrender and “depart with bag and bagaeg,” honorably but in defeat. “To which the Fort maed answer, that the Cortaynes nor Bulwarks was not their defence, but the corrage of good peple, & the force of a mighty prince (who saet and beheld all these doyngs) was the thing they trusted to.” With this the enemy was defeated and peace was declared. “[A]t which pece boeth sides shot-of their Artillery, in sien of triumphe, and so crying God saue the Queen, these triumphs and warlik pastimes finished.”[68]

Throughout these three days the underlying theme was the city’s place in the royal chain of command. The queen came to town “with princely trayn and power,” and to honor her the city called out the Trained Bands to guard and wait upon her. The citizens thus fell “with all orders and marshall manner” into line with this princely train. Churchyard’s allegory, moreover, gave added stress to the queen’s position as commander. He arranged, for example, to have the gentlemen waiting upon the queen join with the citizens in defense of the fort. In addition, during one of the mock engagements, John Robartes, a common councillor, came to the queen to crave her aid “in their defence that peace desiers.” Later, on the third day, “nue suckors commyng from the Court to the Forts great comfort” turned the tide of battle. To cap this symbolism, the queen exercised the prerogative of commander in rewarding the Trained Bands with a gift of 200 crowns for a banquet.[69] Whereas Henry VII’s stay in Bristol had stressed the city’s independence from the ruling monarch, Elizabeth I’s emphasized just the reverse. Instead of arising from autonomy, as was claimed in the fifteenth century, civic unity now required the authority of the monarch.[70]

The spirit of this new urban order is captured in a sermon given in 1635 by Thomas Palmer, vicar of St. Thomas and St. Mary, Redcliffe, in Bristol. “This honorable City,” he says,

may be compared unto the sea-faring Tribe of Zebulon, that was a Haven for ships.…And so is this. The men of that Tribe were expert in warre: they could keepe ranke, they were skilfull at all the Instruments of warre.…And so may the men of the City.[71]

Warfare is understood to be the scourge of God upon the wicked; it “is sent into the world for our sinnes, to correct us for them, to deterre us from them.” In consequence, military service is a divine calling. “As warre is from the Lord,” Palmer says,

so let it be for the Lord. If Caesars honour was touched, his souldiers were so prodigall of their blood, so desperately furious, that they were invincible. They gave unto Caesar that which was Caesars: let us give unto God, that which is Gods; the expense of our dearest blood for the maintenance of his Cause.[72]

This militant Christianity was highly political, with the soldier viewed as the counterpart of the government official; each in his own realm battled in God’s name against iniquity and evil. As their roles were conceived by Palmer,

[t]he sword of the Warriour findes an honourable Parallel with the sword of the Magistrate. They are both drawn for the execution of Justice. Experience and skill are requisite to the managing of them both. Let the Magistrate countenance the souldier in time of Peace. And the souldier shall defend the Magistrate in the time of warre.[73]

The two coexisted under the Lord of Hosts,

[t]hat as that God of Peace hath taught us those things which belong unto our peace: so that Man of warre would teach our hands to warre, and our fingers to fight; that neither the sword of the Magistrate, nor of the warriour may bee drawne wrongfully, or in vaine. That the end of our temporall warfare may be a blessed peace upon earth: and of our spirituall, an eternall peace in the heavens. Unto which Peace the God of Peace brings us all.[74]

In contrast to the social vision of the late medieval community, whose hierarchical structure was mediated by a series of ritualized exchanges and mocking reversals of role, this new model of society was a military one, with sharply defined ranks, rigid organization, and harsh discipline. There is no room here for the carnival spirit of abandon that Mikhail Bakhtin argues offered “a second world and second life outside officialdom,” through which “all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions” are suspended, and people are permitted to enter “for a time…the utopian realm of community, freedom, equality, and abundance.”[75]

In this light, the history of Bristol’s midsummer watches on St. John’s Eve and St. Peter’s Eve, 24 and 29 June, is especially instructive. In the fifteenth century, these were convivial gild events involving candlelight processions through the town and gild drinkings, which were generally such bibulous and violent affairs that in 1450 the Common Council took to distributing wine to each gild in strictly limited quantities paid for out of the town coffers.[76] In 1572–73, however, Mayor John Browne ended the drunken revels and “the delightful shows” that traditionally had accompanied these festive occasions and, according to William Adams, “turned the same into a general muster in war-like sort; and all the burgesses being fully armed with all sorts of warlike weapons, every craft and science several by themselves with their drums and colours,” which, Adams says, “was well used and made a comely show.”[77] In making this change Browne was anticipating the view of John Northbrooke, who in his Treatise against dicing, dancing, and vain plays, published only five years later, argued that military exercises “trayning vp men in the knowledge of martiall and warrelike affaires and exercising” and imparting “knowledge to handle weapons” were acceptable forms of play.[78]

For Bristolians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the controlling social metaphor was the idea of the body politic. A body politic is a commonwealth; its component parts form an integrated whole and cannot exist separately from one another. In consequence, not only must there be a head to rule, but everything else must be proportionately organized and in its proper place. The vision is one of a hierarchical division of labor in which some parts have greater importance or value than others but each performs a function vital for the rest. If this body politic should fall into disorder, the ruling authority was to restore it to health by reestablishing the proper arrangement of organs and limbs.

This hierarchical image of society rested on two competing ideals. On the one hand, there was the ideal of reciprocity, by which the ruler and the ruled worked together for the common good, thereby creating a moral community. On the other, there was the ideal of rank or function, by which each member of the community contributed to the commonwealth according to his station, but only established rulers had responsibility for government. Implicit in the notion of a body politic was a connection between commonwealth and rule. The commonwealth involved the mutual relations of the members of society; rule involved the use of authority by governors to bring order and security to them. Proper coordination of the commonwealth with the exercise of such authority produced a harmonious polity. But at bottom these concepts offered alternative visions of order. In the former, every member of the polity had an obligation to uphold justice, the foundation of order; in the latter, the governors alone dispensed justice.

Authority in late medieval Bristol had arisen from within the community of burgesses, which as a microcosm of the world replicated the order of the universe and displayed in small its harmonies and correspondences. Those who ruled the borough did so by virtue of their moral leadership in it, which was sanctioned not only by the legalities of election but by rituals of recognition and acceptance which criticized and purified as well as exalted those in power. In Queen Elizabeth I’s time, authority arose in a much wider field. Those who held authority were no longer merely citizens of their borough. Their community could no longer be thought of as a microcosm of the world. It was instead part of a larger commonwealth; it did not stand alone. Those who governed the community were agents of royal rule, subject to the tutelage of the Crown and privileged to associate themselves with its majesty and power.


1. This estimate is based on BRO, Burgess Book (1607–51). During the years covered by this book of enrollments an average of 97.30 freemen were admitted each year, rising from a mean of 72.00 in the years 1607–1611 and reaching a height of 126.25 in 1627–1631; see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 752–58. In the absence of accurate knowledge of age-specific death rates, detailed figures for life expectancy, or a reliable age pyramid for the city, it is not possible to work out precisely how many freemen would have been alive in any one year. But, given our estimates of Bristol’s population, it seems plausible to think that the number might have been somewhere near two thousand in the early seventeenth century. On the number of Bristol burgesses, see ibid., vol. 2, pp. 468–69, 875n. 5. On the degree of participation in rule in urban settings, see Rappaport, Worlds within Worlds, chaps. 2, 6–8. [BACK]

2. Sir Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum: A Discourse of the Commonwealth of England, ed. L. Alston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1906), pp. 41–42, 46. [BACK]

3. Latham, ed., Bristol Charters, 1509–1899, pp. 26–30, 84–92, 94–111; W. R. Barker, St. Mark’s, or the Mayor’s Chapel Bristol, Formerly Called the Church of the Gaunts (Bristol: W. C. Hemmons, 1892); BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 54r–v; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 1, pp. 52, 82, 108, 125, 128, 140, 147; vol. 2, ff. 5r, 6v, 7r–v, 33r, 48r–v, 88r; Adams’s Chronicle, pp. 184–85; APC (1592–95), p. 120; Latimer, Sixteenth-Century Bristol, pp. 16–17, 98–99, 103–4; Latimer, Annals, pp. 29–31; Paul Seaver, The Puritan Lectureships: The Politics of Religious Dissent, 1560–1662 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970), pp. 99–100. [BACK]

4. BRO, Deed 01075 (1); Latimer, Annals, pp. 97–98. [BACK]

5. Cronne, ed., Bristol Charters, 1378–1499; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 122r; Latham, ed., Bristol Charters, 1509–1899, pp. 6–7; J. H. Thomas, Town Government in the Sixteenth Century, Based Chiefly on the Records of the Following Provincial Towns: Cambridge, Chester, Coventry, Ipswich, Leicester, Lincoln, Manchester, Northampton, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Shrewsbury (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1933), p. 34; see also Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, chap. 2; Sacks, “The Corporate Town and the English State,” pp. 87–88. [BACK]

6. Cronne, ed., Bristol Charters, 1378–1499, pp. 167, 183; Latham, ed., Bristol Charters, 1509–1899, p. 4. I. S. Leadam has argued that the force of this clause, and of the charter in general, was to purge the old corporation of its Yorkist sympathizers. But this view would appear to go beyond the surviving evidence; see Leadam, ed., Select Cases before the Star Chamber, p. cv. [BACK]

7. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 122r; see also Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 693–94. [BACK]

8. See Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, p. 694. [BACK]

9. Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 694–706. [BACK]

10. Curiously, the percentage of “merchants” among those who served as mayor fell from the first half of the sixteenth century to the second, and rose again in the early seventeenth century. Perhaps the relatively low figure for 1550–1600 conceals a number of grocers, drapers, and mercers who were in fact “mere merchants” and members of the Society of Merchant Venturers. [BACK]

11. Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 706–8. [BACK]

12. PRO, PROB 6/88 Seager. [BACK]

13. This paragraph and the following depend on the discussion in “Authority,” a debate between R. S. Peters and Peter Winch in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 32 (1958): supplement, pp. 207–40, reprinted in Anthony Quinton, ed., Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 83–111. See also Richard Tuck, “Why Authority Is Such a Problem,” in Peter Laslett, W. G. Runciman, and Quentin Skinner, eds., Philosophy, Politics and Society, 4th ser. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1972), pp. 194–207; Richard Flathman, The Practice of Authority: Authority and the Authoritative (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Joseph Raz, The Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), chaps. 2–4. [BACK]

14. Winch, “Authority,” p. 99; Tuck, “Why Authority Is Such a Problem,” pp. 200–207. [BACK]

15. Weber, Theory of Economic and Social Organization, p. 328; Peters, “Authority,” pp. 86–87. [BACK]

16. The classic expression in English of this view can be found in A. F. Pollard’s chapter “The New Monarchy,” in his Factors in Modern History (New York: G. Putnam’s Sons, 1907), chap. 3. Among contemporary historians, G. R. Elton has done the most to explore the bureaucratic character of the emergent English state in the sixteenth century: see especially his Tudor Revolution in Government: Administrative Change in the Reign of Henry VIII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953) and England under the Tudors, 2d ed. (London: Methuen, 1974), chap. 7. More generally, see H. R. Trevor-Roper, “The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century,” in Trevor Aston, ed., Crisis in Europe: 1560–1660 (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1967), pp. 63–102. The implications of this view of the state for the treatment of provincial or local history are summarized in Finberg, The Local Historian and His Theme, pp. 5–8; Alan Everitt, “The County Community,” in E. W. Ives, ed., The English Revolution, 1600–1660 (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), pp. 48–63; Everitt, “The Local Community and the Great Rebellion,” pp. 76–99; and Conrad Russell, Parliaments and English Politics, 1621–1629 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), pp. 5–26. [BACK]

17. Ricart, Kalendar, p. 70. See also LRB, vol. 2, pp. 46–47. [BACK]

18. See Phythian-Adams, “Ceremony and the Citizen,” pp. 57–85. On this point see also Edgeworth, Sermons, f. 282v, where priests are compared to aldermen, who have authority not because they are the eldest but “partely for their substaunce, and more for their honestye and sadnesse and wisdome.” [BACK]

19. Ricart, Kalendar, p. 70. [BACK]

20. Ricart, Kalendar, pp. 70–71; Phythian-Adams, “Ceremony and the Citizen,” p. 62. [BACK]

21. Ricart, Kalendar, p. 71. [BACK]

22. Ibid., p. 72n. For the much simpler oath used before 1373, see LRB, vol. 1, p. 46. [BACK]

23. Ricart, Kalendar, pp. 72–74. [BACK]

24. Ibid., p. 71. [BACK]

25. Ibid., p. 72. [BACK]

26. Ibid., p. 74. [BACK]

27. Ibid., pp. 74–75. [BACK]

28. See Adams’s Chronicle, pp. 69–80; Ricart, Kalendar, pp. 42–49; “A shorte and briefe memory of the first progress,” pp. 185–203. A somewhat sketchy account of King Edward IV’s visit to Bristol in 1461 also survives; see F. J. Furnival, ed., Political, Religious and Love Poems from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Ms. No 306 and Other Sources (Early English Text Society, orig. ser., 15, 1866), pp. 5–6. [BACK]

29. John C. Meagher, “The First Progress of Henry VII,” Renaissance Drama, n.s. 1 (1968): 45–73; Sydney Anglo, Spectacle, Pageantry and Drama and Early Tudor Policy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), pp. 21–45. [BACK]

30. Leland, De rebvs Britannicus, vol. 4, p. 199. [BACK]

31. Ibid., pp. 199–200. [BACK]

32. It should perhaps be noted that Bristol’s petition was not without effect. Two days after King Bremmius’s speech, the king summoned the mayor, the sheriff, and other burgesses to inquire about the city’s poverty and to offer various forms of aid. According to the herald who recorded these proceedings, “the Meyre of the Towne towlde me they hadde not this hundred yeres of noo King so good a Comfort. Wherfor they thanked Almighty God, that hath them soo good and gracious a Souveraige Lord”: ibid., p. 202. See also Anglo, Spectacle, p. 34; Meagher, “First Progress of Henry VII,” p. 72. [BACK]

33. Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Sebastian Evan, rev. ed. Charles W. Dunn, intro. Gwyn Jones, 2 vols. (London: Folio Society, 1958), vol. 1, pp. 46ff.; Acton Griscom, The Historiam Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth with Contributions to the Study of Its Place in Early British History, Together with a Literal Translation of the Welsh Manuscript No. LXI of Jesus College, Oxford by Robert Ellis Jones (London: Longmans, Green, 1929), pp. 276ff.; Helaine H. Newstead, Bran the Blessed in Arthurian Romance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1939), pp. 155–67; Frederich W. D. Brie, ed., The Brut, or, The Chronicles of England (Early English Text Society, orig. ser., 131, 1906), pp. 26–27; F. S. Haydon, ed., Eulogium (historiarum sive temporis): Chronicon ad orbe condito usque ad annum Domini MCCCLXVI., a monacho quodam Malmesbriensi exaratum. Accendunt continuationes duae, quarum una ad annum MCCCXIII., altera ad annum MCCCXC perducta est, 3 vols. (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1858–63), vol. 2, p. 242; Anglo, Spectacle, p. 33. Bremmius or Brennius is identified with the historical Brennus, who sacked Rome in 390 b.c. According to Ricart, after returning from his great victories abroad “Brynne first founded and billed this worshipfull Town of Bristut that nowe is Bristowe and set it vpon a litell hill, that is to say, bitweene Seint Nicholas yate, Seint Johnes yate, Seint Leonardes yate, and the Newe yate” (Ricart, Kalendar, p. 10). According to tradition, this Brennius first named the city he founded “Brenstou.” On the founding of London and York, see Geoffrey of Monmouth, Kings of Britain, vol. 1, p. 7; vol. 2, p.7; Brie, ed., Brut, pp. 11, 15. [BACK]

34. See Sydney Anglo, “The British History in Early Tudor Propaganda,” Bulletin John Rylands Library 44 (1961–62): 17–48. Henry VII’s “British” origins also played an important part in the pageants arranged for him at York and Worcester in 1486: ibid., pp. 27–28. [BACK]

35. Leland, De rebvs Britannicus, vol. 4, p. 199. [BACK]

36. See Sacks, “Demise of the Martyrs,” pp. 146–55; James, “Ritual, Drama and Social Body,” pp. 1–29. [BACK]

37. Ricart, Kalendar, pp. 80, 85–86. [BACK]

38. [ John Gregory], Episcopus Puerum in die Innocentium, Or, A Discovery of an Ancient Custom in the Church of Sarum Making an Anniversary Bishop among the Choristers (London, 1649), in John Gurgany, ed., Posthuma of John Gregory (London, 1671), pp. 113–16; Christopher Wordsworth, ed., Ceremonies and Processions of the Church of Salisbury (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1901), pp. 52–59; Daniel Rock, The Church of Our Fathers as Seen in St. Osmund’s Rite for the Cathedral of Salisbury, ed. G. W. Hart and Witt Frere, 4 vols. (London: J. Hodges, 1903–1904), vol. 4, pp. 250–55; Christopher Wordsworth and Douglas MacLean, Statutes and Customs of the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Salisbury (London: W. Clowes and Sons, 1915), pp. 264–65, esp. “Roger de Mortivale’s Code” (1319), p. 264. Gregory prints on the title page of his work and again on p. 117 a sketch of the Boy-Bishop statue found at Salisbury. It shows a youth in a bishop’s robes, with mitre and crozier, offering a benediction while standing atop a dragon. The Boy-Bishop ceremony was practiced not only in the church but also at schools and colleges. For a useful survey of St. Nicholas’s career as a saint from the days of the early Christians to the present, see Charles W. Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari and Manhattan: Biography of a Legend (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978). In general on the Boy-Bishop in England, see Brand, Popular Antiquities, vol. 1, pp. 421ff.; Strutt, Sports and Pastimes, pp. 272–73; G. L. Gomme, ed., The Gentleman’s Magazine Library: Manners and Customs (London: Stock, 1883), p. 89; Wright, British Calendar Customs, vol. 3, pp. 194–97; J. G. Nichols, ed., Two Sermons Preached by the Boy Bishop in St. Paul’s, Temp. Henry VIII [sic] and at Gloucester, Temp. Mary, intro. Edward F. Rimbault, Camden Miscellany 7 (Camden Society, new ser. 14, 1876), pp. v–xxxii; Chambers, Medieval Stage, vol. 1, chap. 15; R. T. Hampson, Medii aevi Kalendarium, or Dates, Charters and Customs of the Middle Ages, 2 vols. (London: H. K. Causton and Son, 1841), vol. 1, p. 80. See also Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975), pp. 97–123; Keith Thomas, Rule and Misrule in the Schools of Early Modern England: The Stenton Lecture, 1975 (Reading: University of Reading, 1976). [BACK]

39. Ricart, Kalendar, p. 46. It is not clear from which church or ecclesiastical house in Bristol this Boy-Bishop was selected. He might have been a chorister at St. Nicholas Church or have been attached to one of the monastic houses in the city. Bristol did not become a bishopric in its own right until 1542. [BACK]

40. Unfortunately, no Boy-Bishop sermon has survived for Bristol, but at least two, and possibly three, such sermons do exist. The two that are certain date from the 1490s and 1555, respectively, and are printed in Nichols, ed., Two Sermons, pp. 1–29; the third is Desiderius Erasmus, Concio de puero Iesu, written at John Colet’s request for St. Paul’s School, circa 1510, which survives in an English edition of 1536, Desiderius Erasmus, A Most Excellent Sermon and Full of Frute and Edificyon of the Childe Jesus (London, 1536?); Desiderius Erasmus, Erasmi Concio De Pvero Iesv: A Sermon on the Child Jesus by Desiderius Erasmus, in an Old English Version of Unknown Authorship, ed. J. H. Lupton (London: George Bell and Sons, 1901); see also Desiderius Erasmus, “Homily on the Child Jesus: Concio de piero Iesu,” ed. and trans. Emily Kearns, in Collected Works of Erasmus, ed. Alexander Dalzell et al., vol. 29 (Literary and Educational Writings), ed. Elaine Fantham and Erika Rummel (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), pp. 51–70. In this little work Erasmus appears to be using the convention of the Boy-Bishop sermon to meet the needs of Colet’s humanist program for St. Paul’s School. But there are sufficient differences in emphasis to leave open whether this homily was really intended for use in anything like its traditional Boy-Bishop setting. [BACK]

41. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson, 2d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), Canterbury Tales, “The Pardoner’s Tale,” lines 463–76, 621–28; “The Franklin’s Tale,” lines 682–91; “The Shipman’s Tale,” lines 1492–96; “The Cookes Tale,” lines 4365–422. [BACK]

42. Thomas Elyot, The Boke named The Gouernour, ed. H. H. S. Croft, 2 vols. (London: K. Paul, Trench, 1883), vol. 1, p. 275. See also Northbrooke, Treatise, pp. 130ff.; Philip Stubbes, The Anatomy of Abuses (London, 1583), pp. 172–77. [BACK]

43. Chaucer, Works. Troilus and Criseyde, Book 2, lines 1347–51; Book 4, lines 1093–99; Canterbury Tales, “The Knight’s Tale,” lines 1238–50. [BACK]

44. Elyot, The Boke named The Gouernour, vol. 1, pp. 272–73. [BACK]

45. Harding, ed., Bristol Charters, 1155–1373, pp. 136–37. [BACK]

46. Chaucer, Works. Canterbury Tales: “The Pardoner’s Tale,” lines 591–602. [BACK]

47. Nichols, ed. Two Sermons, pp. 5–6. [BACK]

48. Thompson, Diet for a Drunkard, pp. 74–75. [BACK]

49. Ibid., pp. 76–77. [BACK]

50. Ibid., pp. 59–60, 75. [BACK]

51. Ibid., p. 25. [BACK]

52. BRO, Seventeenth-Century Ordinance Book, unpaginated frontispiece. This prayer dates from early in James I’s reign, not later than 1612; it mentions prayers for Prince Henry. [BACK]

53. BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 20v (1563). After 1564, at regular meetings of the council, held on the first Tuesday of each month, proper dress was gowns “of the gravest sort” and caps: ibid., ff. 61v, 67r–v. Scarlet was reserved for formal occasions and was worn primarily to attend church services: BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 1, p. 139; Adams’s Chronicle, p. 185. [BACK]

54. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 1, p. 167; Latimer, Annals, p. 30. [BACK]

55. Adams’s Chronicle, p. 182. [BACK]

56. Ibid., pp. 183–84; Latimer, Annals, pp. 30–31. [BACK]

57. Adams’s Chronicle, pp. 113–14, 188–200; Churchyard, Chippes, ff. 100v–110v. Queen Anne of Denmark’s visit is recounted in a long poem written by Robert Naile and copied into his Chronicle by Adams, who describes its author as an apprentice in the city. [BACK]

58. Adams’s Chronicle, pp. 113–14; we are told that “the rest of the council rode next before the nobility and trumpeters.” [BACK]

59. Churchyard, Chippes, ff. 100v, 106v. Bristol paid Churchyard £6 13s. 4d. for his efforts, and in all the city laid out almost a thousand pounds on this three days of festivity: BRO, Mayor’s Audit (1570–1574), p. 290; David M. Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, 1558–1642 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1971), pp. 26–27. Churchyard reports that some of the speeches at the end of the celebration “could not be spoken, by means of a Scholemaister, who enuied that any stranger should set forth these shoes”: Churchyard, Chippes, f. 110v. But in most instances the speeches were given, and in any case all were contained in the book presented to the queen. [BACK]

60. Churchyard, Chippes, f. 102r. [BACK]

61. Ibid., ff. 103r, 107r. [BACK]

62. Ibid., ff. 108r [misnumbered in the text as f. 118]–109r. [BACK]

63. Ibid., f. 108v; the punctuation of this passage has been altered to clarify the meaning. [BACK]

64. Ibid., ff. 104r–v, 101v, 102v. [BACK]

65. Ibid., ff. 108v–109r. [BACK]

66. Ibid., ff. 101v, 102r, 102v, 103v. [BACK]

67. Ibid., f. 109r–v. [BACK]

68. Ibid., f. 109v. [BACK]

69. Ibid., ff. 101r, 103r, 105r, 106r–v, 109v–110r. [BACK]

70. On this theme, see Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, chap. 1; Roy Strong,Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 1450–1650 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984); Stephen Orgel, The Illusion of Power: Political Theory in the English Renaissance (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975); Francis Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), part 2; R. Malcolm Smuts, Court Culture and the Origins of a Royalist Tradition in Early Stuart England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987), pp. 1–50, 73–116, 191–213, 245–92. [BACK]

71. Thomas Palmer, Bristol’s Military Garden: A sermon Preached unto the worthy Company of Practitioners in the Military garden of the well Governed Citie of Bristoll (London, 1635), p. 31. [BACK]

72. Ibid., pp. 7–8. [BACK]

73. Ibid., pp. 31–32. [BACK]

74. Ibid., p. 32. [BACK]

75. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1968), pp. 6, 9, 10. See also Turner, Ritual Process, esp. chap. 3 and pp. 168–70, 177–78, 200–203; Davis, Society and Culture, pp. 122–23. [BACK]

76. Veale, ed., Great Red Book, vol. 4, pp. 125–26. [BACK]

77. Adams’s Chronicle, pp. 112–13. [BACK]

78. Northbrooke, Treatise, p. 107. [BACK]

6. Little Businesses

In late medieval Bristol, the prevailing ideology of urban life centered on the desire to maintain communal harmony in the face of increasing evidence of social differentiation and political division. When unity means holiness, the smallest sign of disagreement is a sign of disease, corruption, and sin. The higher the value placed on social unity, the greater the risks attendant on social conflict. For this reason the threshold of conflict was very high in the city, since once it had been crossed it would be difficult to limit its course. Strong factions, each convinced that their opponents were transgressing against the common good, each actively seeking the others’ destruction, would lead the social body away from the Kiss of Peace to bitter enmity and recurring political struggle. In consequence, both ceremony and politics were largely devoted to suppressing disagreement and disorder before they irreversibly disrupted community life. At the same time, the magistrates depended on their fellow townsmen’s acceptance of their moral authority in enforcing order. It was widely understood, as we have seen, that a man’s prior standing in the community led to office. Office, in turn, yielded power—power to shape and enforce the lawful practices and policies of the community. Service in government was a recognition of a person’s authority, not its source; and political power was understood to follow from authority rather than produce it.[1]

The new vision of order that had emerged among the Bristol magistrates in the later sixteenth and the early seventeenth century altered this relationship between authority and power in the city. Even though older ideas of office could still be drawn upon after 1499, the changed context of relations with the Crown deeply affected their meaning. Now the source of authority in the civic community could be considered to lie outside its sworn membership. Power came to its governors not only through selection by their fellows for municipal office but also through their dependent relationship to the king or queen, whose servants they were. Or, to put this another way, the monarch, the fount of all governmental authority, could no longer be thought of as a distant, if benevolent, suzerain, someone who might occasionally visit the city as did Henry VII in 1486. Instead, he or she was now understood to be present within the community immanently or spiritually, giving form to its hierarchy of authority. In a sense, the monarch, acting in the everyday world of human affairs, came to play a role parallel to the one once played by the saints in heaven, whose mediations unified the earthly community under God; with the demise of the saints only the king or queen, representing the image of godly majesty and divine authority on earth, could fix the community within God’s ordering of the world. In this view, the possession of power, the capacity to enforce one’s will, yielded authority, the ability to command respect and deference. The former arose from royal sanction, the latter from the community’s acceptance of it.

This way of envisioning the civic world carried with it new openings for dissension and disorder, since there were now two sources of legitimacy in the city, the community of citizens and the Crown, which potentially could compete with one another. Although most of the time these two lines of authority flowed as the treble and bass of a mutually supportive harmony, after 1499 those who served as royal lieutenants might find themselves from time to time lacking the moral force necessary to command voluntary obedience from the citizenry, or at any rate from a significant portion of it. Of course, under the old dispensation as well as the new, the city’s governors could be challenged by some members of the community for failing to act on behalf of the commonweal. But now a new kind of politics became available when this happened, a politics that involved a complex interplay of local and national forces. Whereas, previously, political conflict tended to remain bottled within the confines of the civic community, antagonistic groups could now appeal for favor or support beyond the city’s boundaries, to the central institutions of the state. Local politics would sometimes become an exercise in calling on the royal court, the Privy Council, or Parliament to redress the balance of factions at home.

These considerations bring us to what we may call, following Conrad Russell, the “little businesses” of the localities.[2] “Little businesses” in Russell’s usage are primarily administrative or economic issues concerning such matters as the provision of local justice or the regulation of local trade, which may have been troubling to the communities in which they arose but commonly were of small interest to the great men who ruled at the center of affairs, whence the interested parties turned for their remedy. But were these little businesses exclusively local in their significance? On their face they may seem to be, for the repair of bridges and the maintenance of lighthouses—to use Russell’s examples—or the erection by statute of a local trading monopoly—to follow the case of Bristol—hardly appear the “great matters” of grand politics. How can we find the foundations of dynastic marriages, the sources of aristocratic factionalism, or the origins of international war in them? Nor are they of much interest to legal or constitutional history, since the resolution of local problems had been the stock-in-trade of royal government from the Conquest, if not before. There is seemingly no story to tell. But from the viewpoint of the history of the state, “little businesses” suggest the local community’s inability to accomplish its goals or resolve its difficulties with its own resources. Seen in this perspective, they indicate the need of the local community to call upon the state to help to perform its necessary services and to cope with its own internal problems, including social rifts and political divisions. Here there may be somewhat more history.

In the present chapter we shall explore the interpenetration of national and local politics in order to show how changes in what we might call Bristol’s political economy heightened the interrelation between the community and the state. The approach will be somewhat different than the one we have used in most of the previous chapters. Modern social scientists conducting research on contemporary political choice normally rely on sophisticated statistical techniques to study the complex interplay of ideological and social forces that shape their subjects’ action. Lacking evidence of all the relevant variables, however, we must rely on a more old-fashioned method: the method of political narrative. This chapter will take us from the economic, social, and cultural analysis that has dominated the previous discussion to the telling of stories that emphasize specific events and detail the actions of particular individuals.

During the Elizabethan and early Stuart period, Bristol’s Society of Merchant Venturers stood at the center of the highly energized field of forces in which the city was situated. As we have already indicated, the Society was never a simple commercial organization. With its membership drawn from the city’s social elite and with many of its leaders also serving on the Common Council of the city, often as mayor and aldermen, it not only performed social functions but also regularly crossed from the realm of economic profit narrowly construed into the realm of political power and back again. For this reason, the Society should be seen metaphorically as the very heart of Bristol’s body politic in this era; it kept up the pressure and gave impetus to the fluid political forces that circulated through the community. Although in their communal relations most Bristolians no doubt found disharmony and dissension illegitimate and abhorrent, the Society’s receipt of royal letters patent in 1552 set in motion a recurring process of conflict, accommodation, and renewed conflict that was the defining feature of the city’s history in this period.

The privileges granted to the Merchant Venturers by Edward VI did not take long to erode. By early in Elizabeth I’s reign, some of the city’s artificers and retail shopkeepers were openly offering resistance to the Society’s newfound authority. In 1566, the Merchant Venturers responded by acquiring a royal confirmation of their letters patent and by obtaining a parliamentary statute to strengthen their corporate powers.[3] The principal issue for the Merchant Venturers was that Edward VI’s grant had provided no penalties against nonmembers who engaged in overseas trade contrary to its terms. Hence, the Merchant Venturers said, many in the city, “being neither admitted into the saide Society” nor apprenticed “to the same Arte by the space of Seaven yeares,” continued to “exercise recourse of merchaundise beyond the Seas” contrary to “the good intention” and “expresse words” of the letters patent, “to the great hindraunce and decay of all the…Cittie.”[4] In response, the statute granted the Society explicit enforcement authority against violators of its charter and strictly limited the membership to those engaged exclusively in wholesale trade. The Society was to be made up of mere merchants and mere merchants alone.[5]

This parliamentary act had explosive effects in Bristol. Almost immediately, violent protests arose from various quarters about its terms. The Tuckers’ gild openly complained that they were the result of a “sutell fetch” by William Carr and Thomas Chester, the city’s two members of Parliament in 1566, who used petitions for the relief of poverty from the clothworkers of the city to persuade the Privy Council “that the cheffe decay of bristowe was for that the marchauntes and the navigacion of the Cytie and porte weare in decay by meanes of so many occupying unto the sea in the trade of marchaundise and did lade uppon Strayngers bottomes and having non experyence ne skyll therein” and thus “optayned to be a crafte.”[6] This bitterness quickly turned into a determination to have the new statute quashed whenever the next parliament was convened.

Maneuverings began before the municipal elections on 15 September 1570, in expectation that there would soon be a new Parliament, which had been under consideration by Sir William Cecil and the Privy Council since the previous February.[7] Three days before the annual city elections, a new ordinance on nominations to office was passed by the Bristol Common Council to assure that ordinary common councillors would have nominees they could support.[8] This aim was to wrest control of the city elections from the previous mayor, the same Thomas Chester who as a member of Parliament in 1566 had helped to procure passage of the Merchant Venturers statute. With their own men in municipal office, the anti-monopolists hoped to control the upcoming elections for Parliament and assure a favorable representation for their position. The gambit worked. When the writs for the election of MPs were finally issued in February 1571, the mayor’s office belonged to William Tucker, clothier, and one of the two sheriffs’ places belonged to John Barnes, another clothier, whom Tucker had nominated. Of the leading elective offices, only the second sheriff’s post was held by a merchant, William Hickes, closely associated with the city’s leading Spanish traders, who had been nominated by Chester in his capacity as outgoing mayor.[9]

Despite these preparations, the parliamentary elections themselves proved extremely divisive, “so that the Sheriffs were at great debate a long time after.”[10] The two MPs from 1566, Chester and William Carr, both mere merchants, were opposed by John Popham, a prominent West Country lawyer who was also Bristol’s recorder, and Philip Langley, a grocer who lived by retail as well as wholesale. In the end, Popham and Langley were the victors. In addition, John Young, a client of the earl of Pembroke and a prominent gentleman resident in Bristol, sat for Old Sarum and stood ready to speak for the Bristol retailers. He and Popham could be counted on to hold their own with the Privy Council and in Parliament against any counterattack from the mere merchants. With the backing of the mayor speaking officially for the commonalty of the city,[11] these three MPs therefore enjoyed a good chance of securing the repeal of the 1566 statute. But the Merchant Venturers were not without their own resources.

The “Bill for Bristowe,” as the Commons Journal refers to the repeal measure, was formally introduced into Parliament on 10 April, only eight days after the beginning of the session. In the estimation of John Hooker, chamberlain of Exeter and one of its members in this Parliament, “among the private bills” considered in this session “none was more important.”[12] At the time of its introduction, Sir James Croft, recently appointed comptroller of the queen’s household and privy councillor, attempted to compromise the differences between the Bristol merchants and their rivals by asking that “both parties might bee heard and the controversie appeased.”[13] This opened the door for the merchants, who showed immediately that they had taken pains on their own behalf. Since they had no voice among the Bristol MPs, they enlisted the aid of William Fleetwood, recorder of London and one of the more experienced and flamboyant parliamentary speakers, who did not let them down. In a characteristically loquacious and wide-ranging speech, he quickly “entred into a good discourse of the prerogative.” His argument, after it is stripped of its willful obfuscation and its citation of numerous precedents from the reigns of Edward I, Edward III, Henry IV, and the Irish Parliament, made the point that prerogative “might…bee touched, if they should enter to overthroughe her letters patentes, to whom by law there is power given to encorporat any towne,” and, he warned, perhaps from his own experience in the previous Parliament, “she is sworn to preserve her prerogative.”[14]

Fleetwood’s principal opponent in debate was John Young, who, according to John Hooker, “very pithely” presented the case for repeal of the 1566 act,

first shewinge the losse which hath growne to the Queene of her customes; then the private monopoly wrought and occasioned by the Marchants, the controversies which have ensued by this means amonge them; then the subtill meanes whereby the statute was procured without the consent of the Maior and commons of the city.[15]

After Young, the matter was debated in somewhat confusing fashion by a number of prominent Parliament men, during which it was alleged by Popham in answer to Fleetwood that through the Bristol company “the publick and free trading of others was restrained.” Although the queen by the due exercise of her prerogative could create a body with special privileges, Popham said, by “the Greate Charter of England” she could not, according to this argument, harm any of her subjects by her grant.[16] Fleetwood, recognizing that his point had suffered a serious political setback, if not also a legal one, closed the day’s debate by obtaining a delay in the appointment of a committee to take up the bill.[17] In the interval, however, he was not able to find support for quashing the measure, though his efforts did assure that when the committee was finally appointed it would hear “both parties” touching the bill and that he would be among its membership.[18]

Thereafter the bill experienced extremely tough going. In committee, which included Young and Popham and an important group of interested members as well as Fleetwood,[19] the merchants, represented by learned counsel, attacked it vigorously but could convince the MPs only to change some of its words, which were deemed “somewhat sharp,” not to amend it in “substance or matter.” Nevertheless, when it was read for the third time it was only “after many Arguments” that it finally passed “upon the Question.”[20] Nor did this end the controversy, for the measure also met considerable resistance when it was sent up to the Lords, where it was immediately committed on its first reading without being engrossed. The presence on the committee of seven privy councillors, including Burleigh, Leicester, and the Lord High Admiral, indicates that it had caused a great stir among the queen’s leading advisers. This committee kept the bill for fifteen days without amending it in substance. During the interval the queen’s officers appear to have sought to calm the Bristol anti-monopolists in their passion for vengeance by binding their principal spokesman, Philip Langley, and others to obey orders of the Privy Council concerning, as we are told, “the trade of marchandize of Bristowe.”[21] Once this had been done, the “Bill for Bristowe” received its final reading and was approved.[22]

The terms of the act as they finally appear in the statute book indicate that John Young’s arguments in the Commons had been convincing. According to the preamble, the monopoly of the Merchant Venturers had enhanced the prices of “all maner of merchandize,” consumed the wealth of the city, and caused the customs to be reduced and the navy decayed,

for that a great many of welthye inhabitantes and citizens of the said citie which before that tyme occupied greate stockes were thereby cut of[f] from the trade of the Seas. And thereof followith that the poore craftes men are not wrought as they might be to the great ruyn and decay of all the saide Cittye and theinhabitauntes of the same and to the great damage of the countrye envyroning the same.[23]

In remedy, the act ordered full restoration of “the wonted libertye of the said citizens…to trafficke for merchaundize beyond the Seas.”[24] But it left the original charters intact, “to have their validitie according to the lawe,” as Popham argued.[25]

In 1566 the issue between the Society and its opponents was cast as a rivalry between “Merchant Venturers” and “Artificers” who had not been trained in the art of merchandise. But it was not poor handicraftsmen but middlemen who were the primary target of the merchants’ monopoly. The tuckers, for example, became engaged in the debate not so much as manufacturers of finished cloth but as clothiers who organized production and interposed themselves between those who made the cloth and those who bought it in the market. We have already seen that as their new role evolved they had acquired a trading function which included the importation of such raw materials as oil and dyestuffs and the export of finished cloth. Soapmakers became enmeshed in the controversy because they too had developed an interest in trade, including the import of olive oil to supply their workshops. But given the new structure of Bristol’s trading economy, with its heavy emphasis on profits from imports, the main focus was on the retailing of these wares. When the Merchant Venturers fought for their monopoly their principal targets were grocers, mercers, haberdashers, vintners, and soapmakers, who dealt in imported wares. Dealers in domestic commodities, such as chandlers, victualers, and even drapers and clothiers, were not directly mentioned in the parliamentary debates.[26]

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the members of the Society had conceived of Bristol’s mercantile community as a great chain of being, with themselves mediating between the domestic and the international market. As John Browne wrote in his Marchants Avizo during Queen Elizabeth I’s great war with Spain,

…when the marchant was free,
His ventures for to make:
Then every art in his degree
Some gaines thereof did take.
The merchant made the clothier rich
By venting of his cloth:
The Clothier then sets many at worke
And helpeth every craft.
The Grocer and the Vintner
The Mercer profit reape:
When Spices, Silks and Wines, come store
By Marchants ventures great.[27]

At bottom, the merchant monopolists saw the art of merchandise as a craft “where in there is more skill than every man judges.” If handicraftsmen and shopkeepers were to overturn this order, economic chaos would ensue. “Unskilfullness in merchandies and great numbers going over the seas,” the Merchant Venturers argued, “must greatly abase our English commodities and advance the price of foreign wares; for the more there are to sell there, the worse market they will make, and the more buyers of strange commodities the dearer they must be.” “The rich retailers,” moreover, “must needs undo all the poorer sort who do not venture, and eat out the mere merchants, who have but those to whom they make their vent.”[28] The inevitable results would be the decay of trade, the loss of shipping, the diminution of the navy, the decline of the royal customs, the unemployment of clothworkers and others, and the collapse of all charity. We can almost hear them say, “Take but degree away, untune that string, / And hark what discord follows.”[29]

These views were especially attractive to those among the Merchant Venturers who focused their trade primarily on Bristol’s southern markets, where the drive to maximize profits from imports was especially strong. These traders, who numbered in their ranks the city’s richest and most powerful men, were the leaders of the Society. However, men who devoted the majority of their trade to the northern markets, where bulky items with low profit margins were preeminent, would not only have been rather less threatened by the trading activities of the so-called rich retailers but somewhat less inclined to see the economic world in terms of a rigid hierarchy of crafts. Trade in salt, canvas, naval stores, and other goods that came from the French coasts and the Baltic simply did not lend itself to systematic differentiation of the economic functions of merchant and retailer, since the primary market for many of these products was the merchant community itself. At the same time there were always Merchant Venturers who valued their relations in the city at large as much or more than their devotion to the Society’s ideals or their connections with particular members and who therefore were reluctant to press their demand for monopoly to the point of lasting conflict with their fellow Bristolians. But among the leadership of the Merchant Venturers, the dominating view in this period and for decades to follow was the one articulated by John Browne. Restricting each art and craft to its proper bounds alone would benefit Bristol’s commonweal.

Not all Englishmen, and certainly not all Bristolians, agreed with the view of the proper urban social and economic order that prevailed among the Merchant Venturers. Many of the retailers and artificers saw freedom to trade—their “wonted libertye”—as a natural concomitant of their status as burgesses, secured by their freeman’s oath. At the end of Elizabeth’s reign Thomas Dekker’s London comedy The Shoemaker’s Holiday presented in dramatic form just such a vision of urban life. There Dekker tells the story of Simon Eyre, the simple London shoemaker who rose to wealth and the lord mayoralty through his good fortune in the merchants’ trade. It is a fantasy of social mobility and urban achievement. Pretending to be of great standing and credit, Eyre bought at a bargain a rich cargo of sugar, almonds, and other luxuries imported to London by a debt-ridden merchant who needed a quick sale. Eyre’s progress to greatness depended on the special customs of London—still in force, though perhaps in modified form, at the time Dekker wrote his play—whereby every freeman of London enjoyed the right to buy and sell by wholesale any goods that came his way. Hence he could also change his occupation from craftsman to trader, even though he had not apprenticed in his new calling.[30] Late medieval Bristol had operated by somewhat similar rules, at least as regards the right to engage in overseas commerce. All freemen could do so without hindrance. As we have seen, in the fifteenth century Bristol’s merchants still traded by retail as well as wholesale.

Those excluded from foreign trade saw the Merchant Venturers’ monopoly as usurping the ancient rights of citizenship and those who performed this act as violating the bonds of community. “O mercifull lorde god,” some of them had lamented after Thomas Chester had obtained the Society’s monopoly in 1566,

who wolde have thought that Mr Chestre beyeng a free Citizen borne and sonne unto the naturaleste Cytizen that was in Bristol in our tyme…wee say who wolde have thought that Mr Thomas Chestre by name wolde consent to have the cytie of bristowe made bond.…[W]hat hath happened to thee o bristowe, bondayge bondaige and mysery for before Bristol withall for inhabitaintes were free and theyre lybertie alwayes to sende theyr goodes unto the sees.[31]

This language represents a very early expression of the arguments mounted time and time again by Elizabethan and early Stuart lawyers and parliamentary debaters in attacking monopolies. By granting an exclusive right to trade to particular individuals, it was said, a monopoly deprived free men of their livelihoods and thereby turned them into villeins or slaves.[32] Even the merchants recognized the strength of this view and were obliged to accept its underlying premise. The existence of ancient rights was in no danger from their corporation, they alleged, because

no man is exempted that ever occupied the seas, but such as voluntarily sequestered themselves from the same, for every retailer, leaving off his retailing, may be a merchant, so that he will content himself with the only trade of merchandise.[33]

But they would not yield the main point. For them, overseas trade was a separate craft.

In this way two rival concepts of the urban community found particular expression in 1571. The Merchant Venturers envisioned a society in which specialized economic functions were arranged in hierarchical order, with foreign commerce at the pinnacle. The retailers and manufacturing entrepreneurs saw all freemen of the city as members of the same undifferentiated legal and economic group, all possessed of an equal right to trade abroad. The struggle between these views, which had previously coexisted in the city’s culture of community and authority, remained the recurring theme of local politics for the next century or more.

Although the repeal of the 1566 act removed the Merchant Venturers from the parliamentary agenda for the time being, it did not end the turmoil in Bristol. Within twelve days of the dissolution of Parliament, the bitter rivalry between the merchants and their opponents surfaced again. On 10 June, Mayor William Tucker reported to the Common Council that Thomas Chester had been behind the appeal to the Privy Council “to have reasonable articles drawen as well for the Norishinge of Aymitie betweene the marchants of this Citie and other Inhabitants of the same As for the makinge and concludinge of good orders for the Comon Welthe and profit of the same citie.” It was this effort that resulted in Langley and Bristol’s other anti-monopolists becoming bound to the Privy Council for their obedience to its orders. Chester’s participation in that search for accommodation is significant. Despite his evident support for the Merchant Venturers’ monopoly, he was the son of a pointmaker and had close ties with the city’s clothworkers. He had also been associated in a business venture with John Young.[34] Hence he was well placed to calm the political seas in Bristol. Nevertheless, his efforts were a failure; the Common Council majority seems to have had deep suspicions of his motives, as well as strong partisan feelings of their own. In response to Tucker’s announcement, a majority of twenty common councillors ordered the chamberlain to draw a bond “to save harmless” those who stood bound to the Privy Council.[35]

We are fortunate in knowing the names and something of the connections of these twenty men, whom we may identify as Bristol’s anti-monopoly faction. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mayor Tucker headed the list with Sheriff John Barnes; as we know, both of these men were clothiers. In addition, three aldermen were in this group, all of them grocers. Of the remaining fifteen, the occupations of fourteen are known. Four were grocers, two were clothiers or drapers, two were mercers, two were coverlet makers and upholsterers; a tailor, a tanner, a skinner, and a soapmaker made up the rest. No one among this group could be identified as a “mere merchant” by the usual standards. This party of anti-monopolists was also a relatively tight-knit social group which had strong interlocking ties of business association, family, and friendship. But the anti-monopolist party in the city was not primarily a social clique isolated from the major overseas merchants by birth, marriage, and commercial connection. Although the ties of its members with the merchants were neither so numerous nor so strong, regular cross-cutting links bound Bristol’s retailers and industrial middlemen to the leading Merchant Venturers.[36] But in 1571, political and economic circumstances drove these social bonds into the background and made connections with other retailers and manufacturing entrepreneurs more important. The key to the anti-monopolists is not the social relations of its members with each other, but their opposition to the Society of Merchant Venturers.

Because family connections and other social ties reinforced the economic interests of the Society’s opponents, the political wounds of 1571 went very deep. Bitterness lingered for more than a year following the dissolution of Parliament, with contentious debates marring a number of council sessions as merchants and their opponents angrily attacked each other with “contumelious words.” This was a period in which calling someone “knave in his ear,” as George Snygg, merchant, did to John Jones, skinner, or claiming “you belie me,” as Philip Langley said to Alderman Robert Saxey, one of the leading Merchant Venturers, could itself become the cause of violent hatred. Even levying fines against the wrongdoers, as the Common Council quickly did on each occasion, could not completely erase the dishonor associated with the public insult.[37] Nor was the spirit of partisan rage limited to a few individuals. In April 1572 the Common Council majority sought to avenge itself in a fiscal way on their Merchant Venturer opponents by ordering a tax of eight pence in the pound on all inhabitants, to cover Philip Langley’s charges for repealing the 1566 statute. Had this extraordinary levy ever been enforced, it could have been used by the assessors to cripple those with cash reserves and well-stocked storerooms, that is to say, principally the merchants.[38] But before the council majority executed the ordinance, calmer heads seem to have prevailed and the tax measure was repealed in favor of an award to Langley of just £50 for his expenses at the last Parliament.[39]

But even this prudent backing away from further confrontation did not end the troubles. Within just five years new controversies were at work in the city. They came with the establishment of the Spanish Company in 1577. This new commercial organization was founded with powers greatly surpassing those that had belonged to its predecessor, the Andalusia Company of 1530.[40] Like the Andalusia, however, the Spanish Company’s main purpose was to give England’s Spanish merchants a common policy and single voice with which to face the difficult conditions they found in the Iberian peninsula. Plans for establishing the Company were well underway as early as 1573, and although it was Londoners who primarily pressed the Privy Council for new letters patent, a party of Bristolians seems to have joined them.[41] Recent experience had unfortunately made the latter all too aware of the need for a protective organization in Counter-Reformation Spain: the religious persecution and subsequent legal problems of their fellow townsman, John Frampton, a resident factor in Andalusia, had touched the goods many had left in his charge.[42]

The new Spanish Company also filled an even more important need for the Bristol Merchant Venturers, since retailers and artificers were expressly excluded from membership.[43] Bristol had its own branch of the Company, including resident assistants to enforce ordinances. Hence membership provided the mere merchants with a way to rebuild their monopolistic control of local trade, so heavily dependent in this period on Spain, without controlling the Common Council or electing supporters to Parliament.[44] However, the participation of Bristol’s mere merchants in the new Spanish Company quickly reopened the battles of 1571 and 1572. The Bristol membership was headed by Alderman Robert Saxey and Thomas Chester, the latter being named among the three Bristol assistants to the Company. Many of the other members were also among the principal protagonists in the earlier dispute. It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that there would be trouble when in August 1577 the Privy Council ordered Chester and three other Bristol members “to require all such of that cittie as are retaylers and artificers trading Spaigne to forbeare any more traffique in that countrye.”[45]

Since the queen’s councillors stood ready to use their extensive powers to back the new Company’s privileges and ordinances, open resistance was no longer a fruitful course for the city’s merchant retailers. For this reason Langley and the others ostensibly accepted restrictions on their retailing as the condition of their continued participation in the Spanish trade. But rather than giving up their retail activities, they took them underground. By December 1578, Langley and his supporters were again subject to the attentions of the Privy Council, which at the request of the Merchant Venturers commanded the mayor and sheriffs of Bristol, with the assistance of their brethren on the Common Council, to call the merchant retailers before them and advise them “to yeilde to suche order as by that Societie hath ben taken against that kynde of retailing.” If they refused, the mayor and sheriffs were to take bonds from them “to her Majesties use for…apparence fourthwith before their Lordships that such order may be taken…as shalbe thought convenient.”[46] If they could not be persuaded to comply, they would be constrained.

Neither Langley nor his allies appear to have found the prospect of a visit to the Council Board very attractive. Faced with the Privy Council’s threat, they yielded. When a year or so later a similar dispute regarding the Spanish Company’s prohibitions against retailing opened in Chester and spread to Liverpool, the Bristolians refrained from using it as an occasion for renewed protests of their own.[47] By the early 1580s the local branch of the Spanish Company was vigorously enforcing its rules, placing violators in the Bristol Newgate, and levying heavy fines against interlopers, without encountering the leading merchant retailers again.[48] Although this fact does not necessarily mean that Langley and the others had entirely left off overseas trading or completely abandoned their retailing, it does suggest that by the 1580s retailing by merchants had been sharply curtailed and that an accommodation had been reached between the mere merchants and their rivals.

Dependent as the Bristol Merchant Venturers had become upon the privileges of the Spanish Company, however, their renewed local monopoly could not survive for long after war broke out between the English and the Spanish in 1585. Although trade with Spain did not cease during the war years, it took place illicitly through French ports and was so closely associated with privateering as to make the two almost indistinguishable. Since war made trading in Spain and Portugal more risky and more costly, there were also increased incentives to push commerce into the Mediterranean and in general to rely on non-Spanish and non-Portuguese markets for business. At the same time, the scarcity of Iberian goods in the market increased the pressure among merchants to indulge in retail enterprise; doing so helped make up lost profits. Even if the Spanish Company had continued to operate, its ability to discipline its members would have been all but destroyed. But the authority of the Company did not simply erode under the pressure of war; it collapsed. In May 1586 the Privy Council was already complaining of the Company’s failure to meet its obligations, and by February 1589 its general court had ceased to meet; thereafter no financial accounts were kept. With it went the effective existence of the Bristol branch. In whatever capacity the Merchant Venturers managed to stay together during the 1590s, and there is evidence that the Society did survive through the war years, their hard battles of the 1570s had been for naught.[49]

With the succession of James I and the end of open hostilities with Spain that followed, the Spanish Company attempted a revival. Official meetings began in March 1604, and by mid-May assistants for the principal outports were named, including John Barker and John Hopkins for Bristol.[50] But almost immediately a hitch occurred when a group of leading merchant retailers in London, perhaps joined by others from the outports, entered objections with the Privy Council against the Spanish Company’s old privileges, arguing that its charter had become “voyde by Non User, during the longe tyme of Contynuance of the warr, which doth therefore dissolve the said Corporation.” To quiet this rather technical complaint and to forestall difficulties from the outports to which it opened the door, new letters patent were issued in May 1605, granting provincial merchants a larger role in this Company than they had enjoyed in its predecessor. There were now to be sixty-one assistants, in place of the forty established in 1577, with thirty from the outports and thirty from London. Since the remaining place belonged to the Company’s secretary, who was also a Londoner, the merchants of the metropolis remained in control. But among the new Company’s five hundred and fifty-seven original members, only two hundred and thirty-seven were Londoners. The Bristolians fared especially well, with ninety-seven members, four of whom were appointed to the first Court of Assistants.[51]

By early June 1605 the new Spanish Company was once again capable of filling the role it had played earlier for the Bristol Merchant Venturers. Not only had the new climate of relations between England and Spain resulted in the confirmation of the old English privileges in the Iberian peninsula, but the Company showed every intention of once again eliminating retailers from the Iberian trades. It instituted its own campaign to end the practice of partnership between mere merchants and retailers,[52] and it secured from the earl of Dorset, Lord Treasurer, a broadly worded order to the Customers prohibiting them from taking

any entry of any merchaundizes to be transported into Spaine or Portugall, or make any agreement for Custome, but only with such as are or shalbe free of that Company, and thereby excluding all retaylours Artificers Inholders ffarmors Comon Marryners and handycrafts men, out of the said society.[53]

Former retailers were not permitted to join until they had been mere merchants for at least seven years, while all present members were to give over their retailing activities or leave the Company.[54] But there is perhaps more here than meets the eye, for the initial enumeration of the membership seems to have been based on a rather more generous interpretation of mere merchant status than before, at least in the case of Bristol. In 1577 there had been but seventy-five Bristolians named to the Spanish Company; in 1618 there were but seventy-two Bristolians listed as Merchant Venturers in its first official membership roll.[55] It is very likely, therefore, that the ninety-six men named in 1605 included among their number more than a few whom the Bristol mere merchants would have rejected as ineligible. Possibly the refounded Spanish Company was seeking to avoid the troubles with the larger merchant retailers that had punctuated the life of its predecessor in the later 1570s and early 1580s.

Nevertheless, from the perspective of Bristol’s history in the early Jacobean age, it matters little whether the new Company was harshly exclusionary or generously welcoming, since only a minority of the city’s leading merchants were enthusiastic participants in its affairs. Of the four Bristol assistants, for example, only John Whitson, who was in London in 1605 as one of the city’s members of Parliament, ever attended meetings of the fellowship, perhaps because he found its new admissions policies to his liking. But even he did so just three times.[56] The Bristolians’ indifference, if not caused by the liberal membership policies of the new Company, resulted from two other interrelated factors. First, the city’s trading interests were less heavily based in the Iberian peninsula than they had been before the war. It was no longer possible to control the city’s economy by controlling this one aspect of it. And, second, they were suspicious of the Londoners, in part because the Bristolians feared that the merchants of the capital would control the new trade between Newfoundland, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Mediterranean, in which Bristol and other western ports had a geographical advantage, and in part because it was still necessary to appeal to London many important Company matters vital to the Bristolians’ interests.[57] With the Mediterranean and trans-Atlantic trades playing an ever greater role in Bristol’s economy, there simply was less reason to rely for help upon a London-dominated corporation.

Two months after the sealing of the Spanish Company’s new charter, the question of London’s role produced an incisive protest from the merchants of the outports, led by those from Exeter, Plymouth, and Barnstable, who wanted to elect their own officers, make their own ordinances, and admit their own freemen rather than going to the Company in London.[58] In response the Company agreed that each branch could lay down its own bylaws, provided they were ratified by a general court in London before being put into execution. It also decided to send officers to the outports to enroll new apprentices and freemen and to swear in local officials rather than requiring them to come to London for the purpose.[59] This seemingly conciliatory approach apparently encouraged Whitson to attend his last two London meetings, in hopes probably of keeping the Company alive in Bristol.[60] But by now the majority of Bristol’s merchants were determined to take no further part in it. When the Company’s agents arrived in the city in September to swear in the local officers, the Bristolians, who had elected their own officers the previous May, refused to submit to the agents’ authority or the orders of the Company, pretending, as the Londoners said, “to stande and governe of themselves.”[61]

After this action the dénouement was not long in coming. On 31 December 1605, the Bristol Common Council regularized the independent existence of the local merchant company with a remarkable ordinance requiring the “merchant adventurers” of the city to exempt themselves from the London-based company and establishing in its place a company of merchant adventurers

to be ordered and governed amongest them selves by such Orders Constitutions and pollycyes as shalbe hereafter set downe and agreed on by the Mayor aldermen and Common Counsell…according to the Charters of the said Cytie and by the Master Wardens Communytee and Corporacon of merchaunts within the Cytie of Bristoll.[62]

In place of membership in a chartered national company with large and secure powers, the Merchant Venturers had decided to reestablish themselves on a purely local basis.

The Common Council ordinance of 1605 represents a remarkable turn of events in the history we have been following. For over a century, commercial organization in Bristol had oscillated between purely local institutions and participation in one or another national company. The first approach rooted Bristol’s trade in the civic polity; the second recognized the city’s connections to the wider world of commerce and industry in the realm. As the city’s trade networks expanded, the available forms of national organization, focused as they were on controlling particular markets, had become less and less useful to its mere merchants, but so too had reliance on civic authority. Nevertheless, the Merchant Venturers now had in essence been refounded by a Common Council ordinance; its powers to enforce its regulations rested on the city’s right to legislate for the well-being of its burgesses. The presence on the council of a powerful contingent of merchants made this arrangement eminently workable. But the Society’s new status was not much different now from that of an ordinary craft gild. In legal terms, Bristol’s merchants had returned to their position of a century before. They were once again dependent upon the Bristol Corporation for their regulatory powers.

If history had thus repeated itself, it was only to a very limited degree. The urban world into which the merchant company of 1500 had been introduced could still be represented in that period as a self-contained community of brothers in which the general welfare of the polity took precedence over the particular good of any of its members. Although even at this early date the city’s gates were already opening to commerce from southern Europe and the Atlantic, the effects of this revolution on social organization and mental outlook were only just becoming apparent. By 1605, however, Bristol was completely enmeshed in an open-ended commercial network, ramified throughout western Europe and the north Atlantic, and its inhabitants were therefore affected by events in places far from the control of their local government. Its merchants in particular were as much citizens of the world as freemen of Bristol. To reintroduce a local trading company into this new commercial context was not merely anachronistic, or even reactionary; it was also radical. In borrowing ideas from a past age to advance particular interests in the present one, the Common Council sought to grant the merchants effective control of these new trading networks and to place the new pattern of merchant domination in the social and political order of the city. Given the bitter antagonisms engendered by such monopolistic aspirations, it could not hope to succeed without a fight. Before long one was in the offing.

On the central question of requirements for admission to the refounded Society of Merchant Venturers, the ordinance of 1605 endorsed exclusionary principles similar to those laid down in 1566 and upheld in the Spanish Company of 1577. But with a difference. It ordered that every burgess not already free of the Society who desired to use the “trade of marchandyzes” was to be admitted during the next year for a modest entry fine of twenty shillings, “geving over the exercise of all other trades occupations and professions of getting his or thire Lyvinge.” John Whitson and two other aldermen were appointed to enroll any who sought entrance under this ordinance, apparently in hopes of drawing the merchant retailers and the overseas trading artisans into the Society without a fuss. After this first year of relatively easy admission to the Society, however, all others who were neither the sons nor apprentices of current members were to be admitted only as redemptioners, paying much larger entry fines.[63] Whitson’s involvement in the enrollment of new members was intended to encourage compliance and tranquillity. From his recent experience in the Spanish Company and in James I’s first Parliament, where free trade had been such an important issue, Whitson accepted the principle that no Englishman could be deprived of entry into overseas trade so long as he would submit to its proper regulation. Indeed, Whitson was among the aldermen who approved Lawrence Hyde’s selection to the Bristol recordership in 1605, and Hyde, the scourge of monopolies in 1601, was the principal architect of the free-trade agitation in 1604.[64]

Reliance on a local ordinance rather than royal letters patent, however, made these new rules exceptionally vulnerable to political challenge from the Merchant Venturers’ old rivals within the city. By as early as 1612, if not before, they were in question from those quarters, and the Common Council found it necessary to give its prior consent to the drafting of a new Merchant Venturer ordinance providing that no mem-ber of the Society should “vse or exercise any other trade but onlye the trade of a merchaunte adventurer” so long as he used “the trade of a merchante” and that all who would practice the merchant’s trade must be members of the Society.[65] But this only stirred further controversy when economic conditions began to tighten at the end of the decade. By the summer of 1618 there were renewed difficulties in enforcing the Society’s ordinances, and the Merchant Venturers felt obliged to order that no inhabitant of Bristol should be considered a member of the Merchant Venturers unless he subscribed to its ordinances, was admitted in open court of the company and had his name entered into its register in the presence of the master, wardens, and assistants. In August the Society paid Nicholas Hyde, who had succeeded his brother as Bristol’s recorder in 1615, for his opinion regarding the “validity of the marchantes Charters,” further suggesting that the Society’s authority was under challenge.[66] We have no record of his views, but given the repeal of the 1566 statute and the subsequent record of legal decisions and parliamentary actions against monopoly wherever they appeared, it is hard to believe that Hyde would have found legal support for the monopolistic implications of the 1605 and 1612 ordinances governing membership in the Society. In any case, the upshot in 1618 was the adoption of a new strategy on this issue among the Merchant Venturers.

The Society’s new ordinances, perhaps drafted on Hyde’s instructions, offered membership to three categories of candidates: the sons or apprentices of mere merchants or those who served their apprenticeships with lawfully admitted redemptioners and were “ymployed in the trade and recourse of marchandize onely” during their terms; redemptioners; and the sons of redemptioners. The first were to be admitted at their own request, paying only a modest fine; the second were to enter only by vote of the Hall, paying a substantial composition established at a special meeting; their sons “exerciseing the trade of marchandisinge onelie and haveinge served noe apprenticeshippe therevnto” were treated as a special class, paying a forty-shilling fee in addition to the regular fees paid by the sons of mere merchants. Once a family was established as having redemptioner status, moreover, all its future members were to be subjected successively to this regulation.[67] These new ordinances also made room for the admission of retailers and artificers, since they provided that such individuals might be admitted “whilest they remaine Retailers or Artificers” for a fine at “a speciall Courte holden for that purpose.”[68] These new procedures avoided the legal shortcomings of the old; under them the Merchant Venturers could no longer be accused of maintaining an unauthorized monopoly. But making it necessary for retailers and artificers to win the approval of the present membership before admission meant that only those few individuals who were found acceptable to the majority of the Merchant Venturers would be allowed to enter.

Two other ordinances of 1618 were designed to tighten this control. Brothers of the Society were forbidden to join in partnership with Bristolians who were not members for the sale of any goods within the city or its environs. Similarly, ships’ pursers, factors, and attorneys employed by Merchant Venturers were not to act as agents for nonmembers. Violators were subject to a fine of £20 for the first offense and disenfranchisement thereafter. A second measure explicitly forbade Merchant Venturers to deal in partnership with any retailer or artificer for any merchandise to be transported to or imported from “anie the partes beyond the Seas.” Violators here were to lose 25 percent of the value of all illicitly traded goods.[69] These seemingly contradictory rules suggest that partnerships with retailers and artificers were the more common violation and could not be controlled effectively by the threat of disenfranchisement.

The same day these new ordinances were approved, the Merchant Venturers began, as we have just noted, a membership register, which listed seventy-two men who had been “legally admitted into the Societie.” In the following two years, eleven more Merchant Venturers were added, eight of them in the first year.[70] This influx suggests that the new ordinances confining overseas trade to members of the Society had had some effect. Four of the new admissions were redemptioners, that is, men who lacked apprenticeship in the “art of merchandise.” One had been trained as a brewer; two others earned their livings in part as manufacturers of methaglin, a distilled brandy made from honey usually imported from Brittany. One, Christopher Whitson, was also sometimes identified as a sugar refiner. All three had been resident in Bristol for some time. Whitson, cousin of John Whitson, had been a member of the Common Council since 1611.[71] Presumably these traders were admitted under the new rule governing retailers and artificers and were bound in obedience to the Society’s authority by their solemn oaths upon election. But it was not until 1647 that another redemptioner was permitted to enter.

The Merchant Venturers’ ordinances of 1618 attempted to establish a modus vivendi between Bristol’s mere merchants and its retailers and shopkeepers. By permitting a small number of the latter to enter the Society as redemptioners, they had removed the taint of monopoly that had shrouded the Merchant Venturers’ legal status and had thereby quieted the most serious complaints against their corporation. But they did not open the floodgate to newcomers. Participation in the most lucrative enterprises depended as much on what the structure of trade allowed as on the legal rights of the traders freely to pursue their interests. Hence, even though the concessions of 1618 could not completely end the overseas trading activities of nonmembers, by controlling relations among the Society’s membership and preventing partnerships with outsiders they could nonetheless limit the scope and scale of such activities. So long as Bristol’s commerce remained concentrated on the importation of exotic foreign wares from a small number of specialized markets, few merchant retailers or overseas trading artisans could successfully compete with the major wholesale merchants. Without the aid of the latter, they lacked the necessary shipping, the well-developed local connections, and the secure credit relations required to sustain large-scale commerce to those parts. In the aftermath of the loss of Bordeaux, the trade of Bristol naturally lent itself to oligopoly, whether or not the mere merchants could effectively maintain a monopoly through their exercise of political power.

Although after 1571 the Merchant Venturers’ letters patent still remained in their hands, available to be cited from time to time as a sanction for their corporate activities, the events of that fateful year put them in doubt, since the statute of 1566 contained a general confirmation of Edward VI’s patent. The repeal of the statute, accepted by the queen, left the original document in a curious state, vulnerable to various kinds of attack in the law courts.[72] For this reason much effort was devoted by the Society, still committed to the need for a monopoly, to reversing the events of 1571. In 1606, for example, only two months after Bristol’s overseas traders had separated themselves from the Spanish Company, the Merchant Venturers were seeking an exemption for themselves from the terms of the parliamentary act for “free trade” into Spain, Portugal, and France, which had opened Iberian commerce to all who would engage in it. Had they been successful, they would have reestablished parliamentary sanction for their local monopoly. But even though the measure was read twice, it failed to receive approval.[73] In the Parliaments of 1621 and 1624 the Society again attempted to secure itself, petitioning on these occasions for a confirmation of its charters and explicitly requesting the renewal of its earlier statutory monopoly.[74]

On these occasions they bolstered their case by analogy to the Exeter merchants, who unlike the Bristolians had managed to save their monopoly in the free-trade debate of 1606 because of the alleged antiquity of their charter, their service to the Crown, and their maintenance of almsmen, teaching of children, and other charitable works. “[I]n all which respects…wee doe equallize if not exceed them,” the Bristolians claimed in 1621, citing their overseas explorations, their provision of ships for Crown service, and their maintenance of an almshouse and a free school for mariners’ children. They could no longer support these works, they said, “vnlesse wee may obteyne lawfull aucthoritie for the better ordering of their trade” to end the losses caused by untrained shipmasters, mariners, and sailors, dishonest Severn boatmen, and, above all, “the indisscrecion and excesse of vnexperienced enterlopers.”[75] In support, the mayor and aldermen of Bristol provided a detailed certificate outlining the history of the merchants’ monopoly and arguing against the 1571 repeal act because it had been procured “by certeyne shopp keepers and tradesmen” when the mere merchants were weakened by great losses. Since the repeal of the statute and the opening of the Spanish trade at the beginning of James I’s reign, they alleged, many Bristol “shoppe keepers, and men of manuell occupacions, forsakeing their vsuall trades and exerciseing the traffique and recourse of marchandice being altogether vnexperienced therein, are fallen to decay.” By these means, and because the Merchant Venturers could not effectively regulate their own membership or seafarers who depended on overseas trade, the Society and the citizens of Bristol “are much prejudiced to the great hindrance of the weale and prosperitie of the same Citty, the Decrease of Navigation and the Diminucion of his Majesties Customes.” Hence, the mayor and aldermen heartily endorsed the Society’s petition for the renewal of its charters.[76]

Despite this impressive local support, all efforts to reestablish the Merchant Venturers’ monopoly through parliamentary statute failed. Here the analogy with Exeter is instructive, for, unlike Bristol, that city’s mere merchants had been able to accommodate their differences with the other freemen within a year of acquiring their monopoly privileges, which henceforth remained in place. The monopoly survived without a defeat in the courts or in Parliament. When the Exeter merchants asked Parliament to exempt their charter from the provisions of the free-trade measure in 1606, they had history on their side, and no angry local voices to challenge their claims.[77] In the national political climate of James I’s reign, during which the House of Commons placed monopolies of all types under the most intense scrutiny, an appeal by the Bristol Merchant Venturers, who lacked the advantages of their Exeter counterparts, for parliamentary restoration of their monopoly privileges was hardly likely to succeed.

So long as the Merchant Venturers’ authority remained a purely local issue, however, the support of the Common Council was sufficient to sustain it under most of the difficulties it might encounter. But in the 1630s the Merchant Venturers came under direct attack from the Crown, which threatened the very existence of the Society. The point of crisis was the so-called wharfage duty on imported goods, created by the Common Council in 1606 for the maintenance of the port facilities and collected after 1611 by the Merchant Venturers, who from that time expended the proceeds for their own purposes, as their principal source of revenue.[78] From the start there was a question about the legality of this new levy, but during the 1620s the Privy Council had given its support to uphold it.[79] In the mid-1630s, however, the Crown’s officers, searching for new sources of royal revenue, changed this policy in response to a complaint from the merchants of Barnstable.[80] By November 1637 the matter had become the subject of a formal inquiry conducted by a commission headed by the marquis of Hamilton, in which the rapacious and violent Lord Mohun, together with Robert Pawlett, Esq., and Charles Fox, Esq., acted as principal investigators. The terms of their commission included authority to inquire under what warrant wharfage had been imposed.[81] To the Merchant Venturers this was a frightening threat. Not only was their chief source of income under challenge, but their legal status was put in doubt as well, since inquiry into the warrant for the collection of wharfage duty called into question their authority to enforce their own ordinances. The marquis of Hamilton’s commission raised the possibility that the Merchant Venturers would not merely lose the wharfage duty, from which they could recover, but would be stripped of their enforcement authority and damaged beyond repair.

To guard against this prospect the Merchant Venturers and their supporters in the city government began a process of calculated delay. The commissioners’ primary interest was in the Society’s account books and other records. But the Society’s officers—with the aid of the town clerk, James Dyer, who was a well-connected barrister—contrived, by keeping these records from them, to provoke the commissioners, especially the notoriously ill-tempered Lord Mohun, into overstepping their authority. Dyer’s advice led to the arrest of the Society’s warden, while his own harsh words to the commissioners caused him to be placed under security to appear before the solicitor-general. But this “purposed opposition,” as Mohun called it, spurred the commissioners on to forcing entry into the Merchants’ Hall to seize the account books from their locked chest. And so the pot was stirred.[82]

These proceedings resulted in a letter of outrage from Dyer to Sir Edward Nicholas, by now a prominent privy councillor, who was an old and influential friend of the city. Next came a petition to the king complaining of the excesses of the commissioners, carried to London by a party of leading merchants among the aldermen and common councillors.[83] This in turn produced a hearing in the king’s presence at which Charles ordered the Bristolians and the commissioners each to present bills in Star Chamber detailing their grievances, in effect delaying further action. It was just the respite the Bristolians wanted.[84] The litigation came before Star Chamber in April 1638. At about the same time the Society decided to petition the king for a confirmation of its charter. Nothing is known of the negotiations, but approval came quite quickly; new letters patent were sealed on 7 January 1639.

This new charter not only brought the intrusive commission on wharfage to an abrupt halt but granted the Merchant Venturers new powers of enforcement, focused on a new Court of Assistants named in the patent, that guaranteed the Society’s ability to impose its ordinances even on nonmembers. The membership of this initial Court of Assistants is especially important, since to it were named those leading merchants whose trade had long focused on the Iberian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic islands, where the pursuit of high-profit imports was of preeminent importance. Since this body would perpetuate itself by co-optation, the Society was now securely in the hands of men fully devoted to the ideals of monopoly that had first emerged in the sixteenth century. The Merchant Venturers’ efforts, and an expenditure of £400, according to their Hall Book, had brought an end to the uncertainty about their legal position that had haunted them since 1571.[85]

With this authority, the Society set about drafting new bylaws, which were completed and approved on 4 April 1639. Many measures, such as the rules excluding retailers and craftsmen from membership without a special meeting of the Hall and forbidding members from acting in partnership with nonmembers, were repeated verbatim from the 1618 ordinances, though the Society’s new enforcement powers gave them added bite. In addition, all Merchant Venturers were required to refrain from selling any cloth or other goods or from buying any merchandise beyond the seas for the benefit of nonmembers, and all were forbidden to allow any but a fellow Merchant Venturer to freight ships with them. Finally, new inspection procedures were introduced to assure that shipmasters, mariners, and other seamen did not use their ancient privilege of lading their own trading goods aboard vessels in order to conduct illicit trade for retailers and manufacturers.[86]

The acquisition of the charter and the passage of these new ordinances seemed to end an era in the history of the Merchant Venturers. Once again the Society enjoyed the secure legal position and effective enforcement authority it had achieved in 1566. Although technically it did not have a monopoly, by controlling its own membership it could now keep nearly all shopkeepers and artisans from conducting overseas trade. The effect was immediate. By June 1639 the Society’s Court of Assistants was meeting to recover outstanding debts owed the Society for wharfage and other duties. On two days, twenty-nine individuals were summoned to the Merchants’ Hall to arrange for early payment. Twelve of them were not members of the Society at the time.[87] This new power in turn had an effect on the size of the Society’s membership, since it was now not only more difficult for nonmembers to engage in foreign commerce but also more beneficial to be a member. During the twenty-one years between the ordinances of 1618 and the charter of 1639, only sixty-three members had been added to the Society. But now, within three years, fifty-one overseas traders entered the fellowship, including five of the twelve men previously chastised for failing to pay their port duties.[88]

The connection of the Merchant Venturers to the membership of the city government that had sustained their Society through its long sojourn in the institutional wilderness after 1571 also made possible their great success in 1639. Merchant domination of the city government resulted in such a close alliance that in the decade preceding the issuance of the 1639 charter the Society and the city government almost formed an interlocking directorate. During these years, for example, Alderman Humphrey Hooke held the office of master for six years, and Alderman Richard Long for two more. In the same period, Hooke and Long each served as mayor for one year, with Long’s term coinciding with one of his two years as master. Alderman Richard Holworthy also was simultaneously mayor and master during this period. Moreover, when Parliament was summoned, it was the same merchant leadership that was sent. In the early Stuart period, Merchant Venturers held both Bristol seats in every session, except in the 1625 Parliament and the Short Parliament, when the city’s recorder served along with a Merchant Venturer. Alderman Hooke sat in both the Short and the Long Parliament, and Richard Long sat in the Long Parliament with him.[89]

Although there were certainly differences in outlook among the Merchant Venturers, with some more committed than others to the Society’s monopolistic policies, control of the city government gave their corporation enormous advantages both at home and in Westminster. As we have seen, not only could the Merchant Venturers count on the Common Council to sustain their Society’s activities, as it did in passing the ordinance of 1605 and again by granting the wharfage duty, but it also often acted on the Society’s behalf when favors were sought from the national authorities, as in 1621 and 1624, when the Society attempted to regain its monopoly through a parliamentary statute, and again in the 1630s, when its letters patent were under challenge.[90] These efforts were supported to a considerable degree by the wider membership of the city’s elite, in part because many who were not members of the Merchant Venturers enjoyed close family and business ties to merchants of the fellowship. For example, among the nine aldermen who in 1621 signed the certificate sent to Bristol’s members of Parliament in support of the Merchant Venturers’ claims to monopoly, one was a soapmaker, one a mercer, one a brewer, and two, identified only as yeomen, were probably innkeepers.[91] At least three of these men also had close family ties to leading Merchant Venturers. In other words, by the 1620s a measure of peace appears to have been achieved in relations between the Society and the elder statesmen among the shopkeepers and artisans. Nevertheless, resistance to the Merchant Venturers’ claims to monopoly survived down to the Civil War and beyond. As we have already seen, opposition arose after the Common Council’s attempt in 1612 to restrict overseas trade to mere merchants. Even the compromise of 1618 did not end the controversy. The aldermen’s certificates in support of the Society in 1621 and 1624 attest that some retailers and craftsmen continued to resist the Society by participating in overseas trade without joining its membership or submitting to the 1618 ordinances. Only with the Merchant Venturers’ victory of 1639 did the Society reacquire the necessary powers to end these challenges.

These controversies only rarely found their way into local electoral politics in Bristol. Because high city offices such as mayor or sheriff were costly to hold, a practice of rotation was commonly followed by which nearly every common councillor was selected as he became the most senior figure who had not yet served. Moreover, the council itself was so heavily dominated by the Merchant Venturers that their rivalry with the retailers and manufacturers rarely could surface there. Nevertheless, this rivalry did manifest itself occasionally in the period. The election of Christopher Whitson to the mayoralty in 1626 can serve as our illustration.[92]

Whitson appears to have been among the leading protesters in 1612 against the Common Council’s ordinance excluding retailers and manufacturers from overseas trade; and, as we have already seen, he became one of the few redemptioners admitted to the Society after the Merchant Venturers had been forced to liberalize their admissions requirements in 1618. Not surprisingly, his place in the city government excited dissension from the mere merchants. When he was proposed for sheriff in 1613 a dozen votes were cast against him, an almost unheard-of occurrence in elections for this burdensome office. Although not all of this opposition came from Merchant Venturers, Whitson’s main adversaries were a closely linked group of great Spanish and Mediterranean traders, longtime proponents of the monopolistic ideals of the Society, who were led by Alderman Robert Aldworth, perhaps the richest and best-connected Bristol merchant of his generation. Whitson may also have been behind the resistance to the Merchant Venturers’ appeals for monopoly in the parliaments of 1621 and 1624 and the subsequent demand for the vote by all the freemen in the elections to the Parliament of 1625.[93] In any case, by 1626 the leading Merchant Venturers thought of Whitson as an overly “puntuall” man, as was said by one of them, rigid in outlook, whom the leading Merchant Venturers could not trust to act in their interests.[94]

Whitson’s main rival for the mayoralty in 1626 was Aldworth himself, who was nominated by the outgoing mayor, John Barker, a Merchant Venturer in Aldworth’s camp. Analysis of the final vote shows the leading Spanish and Mediterranean traders on the council pitted against the retailers and manufacturers. Aldworth received nineteen of the forty-two votes cast; seventeen of these came from Society members. Whitson received twenty-two votes, only eight of which were from Merchant Venturers.[95] The division among the Merchant Venturers is revealing in its own right. The eight votes from Society members for Whitson came from lesser members, men who traded primarily in the bulky and less profitable wares of the Baltic, Normandy, Brittany, and the Bay of Biscay. They were in the following of Alderman John Whitson, Christopher’s powerful cousin. John Whitson’s own rivalry with Aldworth and his clique went back to the beginning of James I’s reign when, as we have noted, Whitson was the only Spanish merchant in Bristol willing to accept the newly refounded Spanish Company, including its apparent welcoming of retailers and craftsmen into the Bristol branch.[96]

These rivalries between the mere merchants and their anti-monopoly opponents penetrated deeply into the structure of politics in Bristol in this period, becoming in the process a foundation for controversies seemingly very distant from the main arena of conflict. Take, for example, what happened in 1639 when the city needed to elect a new chamberlain. By letters patent of 1499, the Bristol chamberlain, with duties modeled on those of his London counterpart, was to be elected by the mayor and the Common Council and to hold office during their pleasure. Because of his central importance as comptroller of the city’s revenues, agent in its dealings with the Crown, and enforcer of its economic regulations, the Corporation took great pains not only to assure that he would be a man of known character but to control his activities when he was in office.[97] Normally, the office was a source of strength in municipal affairs. In 1639, however, the death of Nicholas Meredith, who had been Bristol’s chamberlain for the previous thirty-six years, provoked a crisis with the Crown. At the election of his successor in October, eight candidates presented themselves, only four of whom received votes. The winner was William Chetwyn, a well-connected merchant, the choice of twenty-four of the forty-one councillors present.[98] Among the disappointed, receiving no votes at all, was one Ralph Farmer, gentleman, a minor official of the Chancery and an associate of the earl of Berkshire in the monopoly of malt kilns. At the time of the election, however, Farmer, though the son of Thomas Farmer, brewer, late alderman of Bristol, had not yet sought admission to the freedom of the city, possession of which was required for the office according to the city’s charters.[99] Nevertheless, before a month had passed the Common Council received an ominous letter directly from King Charles I, quashing the election on the grounds that Chetwyn was a man “out of this our realm” and that his election had been for private ends, “to the prejudice of common libertie.” In his place the king recommended “Ralph ffarmer a man not vnknowne vnto yorselves and by many of you much desired, of whose abilities & fitness we have receaved an ample testimony and assurance.”[100] Just how the king became cognizant of this matter is unclear. The common councillors placed the blame on Ralph Farmer himself, whom they accused of casting “some aspersion” on them by some “vndue suggestions” to the king.[101] But probably Farmer’s connection with the earl of Berkshire, recently sworn to the Privy Council, explains how he was able so quickly to obtain the ear of King Charles.

The Common Council’s reaction to the king’s letter showed prudence but determination. They immediately quashed Chetwyn’s election and replaced him with Farmer, who by now had become a sworn burgess of the city. But at the same time they appointed a committee to go forthwith to the court to insure that “the City…stand right in his Majesty’s opinion.”[102] The upshot was a petition to the king describing what they had done in response to his letter, denying that the councillors had acted in any way out of faction, reminding him of the city’s charters, confirmed by him, which placed the right to elect the chamberlain in the hands of the mayor and the Common Council, and asking that he “ratify” the first election or permit them to proceed to a new election between Chetwyn and Farmer. When the king ordered a new election, Farmer received eighteen votes, including those of the mayor and two sheriffs, while Chetwyn again received twenty-four votes.[103]

Curiously, the forces at work in this election show social and political cleavages similar to the ones we have seen at work between Aldworth and Whitson. In the first vote in October, no identifiable faction supported Chetwyn or any of his active opponents.[104] But at the second election fifteen of Farmer’s eighteen votes came from leading Merchant Venturers, including four who had previously voted for Chetwyn. This shift made Farmer the candidate of the mere merchants, including the surviving members of the Aldworth clique, many of whom had been named to the Society’s powerful Court of Assistants in its recent charter. Chetwyn’s supporters came from a wider range of occupations, including, besides merchants, mercers, brewers, drapers, and grocers. Although fourteen of Chetwyn’s votes also came from Merchant Venturers, most of these were northern traders, and less influential in the Society than were Farmer’s supporters. Quite surprisingly, the latter had spent most of the 1630s fending off one royal commission after another in search of unpaid debts owed the Crown or its officials.[105]

How can we explain this division? Unlike in the Whitson election case, the answer cannot be found primarily in the economic activities of the two candidates. Chetwyn himself was a well-connected merchant who had been a Merchant Venturer since before 1618; he had been apprenticed to one of Aldworth’s regular business partners. Farmer apparently did not engage in overseas trade at all. Rather, the deciding factor seems to have been the social horizons and aspirations of Farmer’s party. They were politically wary and politically adept men, dependent upon foreign trade and therefore upon the Crown and national policy for their economic positions. With the granting of the Merchant Venturers’ new charter in 1639, these individuals had received a great boon from Farmer’s nominator, King Charles I. To them it must have seemed only prudent to follow his leadership in filling the chamberlain’s office.

We have moved decisively from the realms of economic structure, social organization, and cultural form to the world of political choice and action. Although large-scale historical developments like the opening of the Atlantic to trade and the coming of the Reformation conditioned the course of political events in this period, they did not determine them. Rather, individuals, acting from motives that pulled them, sometimes at cross-purposes, to advance their personal or family interests and to uphold their communal obligations, were confronted by dilemmas of commitment that could be resolved in a variety of ways. Their decisions depended on how they weighed the efficacy and rectitude of the available courses of action and the importance and value of their various goals. In these circumstances, we can no more expect to find uniformity of choice within identifiable groups than between them. The patterns, instead, were probabilistic or statistical, with the members of a particular group mostly following the same line as their fellows but by no means always doing so. Nevertheless, the Merchant Venturers, particularly those specializing in trade with southern markets, had come to believe that only a form of monopoly could assure Bristol’s prosperity, whereas a wide group of retailers and artisan entrepreneurs saw such a monopoly as a threat to their ancient rights as freemen of the city and of England. These little businesses reveal a complex interplay of local issues and national policies, notable citizens and Crown officials, communal factions and central institutions. They were little only in scale, not in significance.


1. For a discussion of the persistence of these ideas into the post-Reformation era, see Mark A. Kishlansky, Parliamentary Selection: Social and Political Choice in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), chap. 1. For doubts about this interpretation, see David Harris Sacks, “Searching for ‘Culture’ in the English Renaissance,” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 486–88; David Harris Sacks, “Parliament, Liberty, and the Commonweal,” in J. H. Hexter, ed., Parliament and Liberty from the Reign of Elizabeth to the English Civil War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 85–121. [BACK]

2. Russell, Parliaments and English Politics, p. 37. [BACK]

3. Elizabeth I’s confirmation is dated 8 July 1566; a translation from the Latin original appears in SMV, Book of Charters, vol. 1, p. 27; and both the original and translation are printed in Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 46–47. The statute is 8 Eliz. I, c. 19, and is printed in ibid., pp. 47–50. [BACK]

4. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 49. [BACK]

5. Ibid., pp. 49–50. The sanctions against illicit trading were severe: all goods conveyed “to or from beyond the seas” contrary to the original letters patent were to be forfeited, with half going to the Crown and the other half to be divided equally between the Society and the city Chamber. [BACK]

6. Fox and Taylor, eds., Guild of Weavers, pp. 91–92. [BACK]

7. John Neale, Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments, 1559–1581 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1953), p. 177. Neale points out elsewhere that jockeying for a position in the Commons in the Elizabethan period ordinarily began at the first rumors of a new Parliament: John Neale, The Elizabethan House of Commons (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950), p. 52. [BACK]

8. BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 26r–v. At the same time it was ordered that, in the future, nominations were to take place on St. Giles’ Day (1 September), two weeks before the actual election, presumably to permit canvassing. But the provision for nominations on St. Giles’ Day was repealed in the following year; ibid., f. 29r. Otherwise the procedure laid down in this ordinance was the one followed thereafter. Nominations to office had previously been made by seniority, with each member of the Common Council, beginning with the mayor, nominating in turn. In most cases this meant that only the most senior members of the council ever made a nomination. The new arrangement provided for each rank in the council to have its own nominee: the outgoing mayor was to nominate one person for each post; the aldermen together with the sheriffs and those councillors who had previously been mayor were to name another slate; and the remainder of the council a third. [BACK]

9. See Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, p. 907n. 76. [BACK]

10. Seyer, Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 243; John Evans, A Chronological Outline of the History of Bristol (Bristol: John Evans, 1824), p. 149. See also Adams’s Chronicle, p. 112. [BACK]

11. See PRO, SP 12/77/35; Bath MSS, Dudley Papers, vol. 1, ff. 224r–225r. [BACK]

12. J. B. Davidson, “Hoker’s Journal of the House of Commons in 1571,” Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art 11 (1879): 478. The version of Hooker’s journal printed by T. E. Hartley omits this and several other passages relating to the Bristol bill printed by Davidson, presumably because the original document in the Devonshire Record Office had become even less legible than it was in the 1870s: see T. E. Hartley, ed., Proceedings in the Parliaments of Elizabeth I. Volume 1: 1558–1581 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1981), p. 243n. 1. G. R. Elton offers a somewhat confused and unreliable discussion of this debate in his The Parliament of England, 1559–1581 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 131–32. However, a subsequent remark on this same episode corrects the main error and provides the necessary citation: p. 257 and n. 201. [BACK]

13. Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 209; see also CJ, vol. 1, p. 84; Simonds D’Ewes, The Journals of all the Parliaments during the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, both of the House of Lords and the House of Commons (London, 1682), p. 160. [BACK]

14. Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 210; D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments, p. 160. Francis Alford, a civil lawyer who was usually cautious and conservative, answered Fleetwood’s point by saying that although “hee might not speak of the prerogative aptly for that hee was not learned in the lawe, but made some remembrance of what hee had there seene concerning the act of Parliament for Southampton [in 1562–63], whereby it appeared that without an act of Parliament her Majestie’s letters patentes were not sufficient.” [BACK]

15. Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 210; D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments, p. 160; Davidson, “Hoker’s Journal,” pp. 470–71. [BACK]

16. D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments, pp. 160–61; Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, pp. 210–11. The MPs who spoke included Francis Alford, Edward Cleer, Sir Francis Knollys, Sir Nicholas Arnold, Sir Henry Norris, Mr. Christopher Yelverton of Gray’s Inn, and John Popham: Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 211. For a discussion of the implications of Popham’s argument see Sacks, “Parliament, Liberty and the Commonweal,” pp. 93–100; David Harris Sacks, “Monopoly and Liberty in Elizabethan England,” in Dale Hoak, ed., Tudor Political Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). [BACK]

17. D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments, p. 161. [BACK]

18. CJ, vol. 1, p. 84; D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments, p. 162; Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 247. [BACK]

19. CJ, vol. 1, p. 84. The other members were Sir James Croft, Sir Nicholas Pointz, Sir John Thynne, Sir Nicholas Arnold, Sir John White of London, Mr. John Newton, Mr. Francis Alford, Mr. Thomas Norton, Mr. Hall of York, and Mr. John Hooker of Exeter. [BACK]

20. Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 247; Davidson, “Hoker’s Journal,” p. 478; CJ, vol. 1, pp. 85, 86. [BACK]

21. LJ, vol. 1, pp. 679, 689; BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 29r. Our source tells us only of the bond imposed on Langley, but perhaps a similar bond was imposed on the Merchant Venturers. Unfortunately, we have no evidence as to what the order actually was. [BACK]

22. LJ, vol. 1, p. 690. [BACK]

23. Stat. 13 Eliz. I, c. 14, printed in Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 57. [BACK]

24. Ibid. [BACK]

25. Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 211. [BACK]

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

27. Marchants Avizo, p. 5. [BACK]

28. PRO, SP 15/20/19; a version is printed in Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 54. [BACK]

29. William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, ed. Kenneth Palmer, Arden Edition of William Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1982), p. 129, Act 1, scene 3, lines 109–10. [BACK]

30. Thomas Dekker, The Shoemaker’s Holiday, ed. J. P. Steane (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), esp. act 2, scene 3. See also Thomas Delony, The Gentle Craft, in The Works of Thomas Delony, ed. Francis Oscar Mann (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912), pp. 109–33. On the rules governing the occupations and trades of London freemen, see William Bohun, Privilegia Londini: or, The rights, liberties, privileges, laws, and customs of the city of London, 3d ed. (London: James Crokatt, 1723), pp. 178–82; Sylvia L. Thrupp, The Merchant Class of Medieval London (1300–1500) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962), pp. 5–6; Sylvia L. Thrupp, “The Grocers of London: A Study of Distributive Trade,” in Eileen Power and M. M. Postan, eds., Studies in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 261–72. The cases Bohun cites make clear that from the late sixteenth century, after the Statute of Artificers, the officials of London sought to narrow the freedom to trade so that only those apprenticed in an occupation that “useth buying and selling as Mercer, Grocer, may exercise another Trade of buying and selling.” Hence a shoemaker, trained in a “manual craft,” could not enter into trade. But in earlier days the custom seems to have been otherwise, and it is clear that craftsmen and others continued to claim the right to trade by wholesale throughout the seventeenth century. For a sketch of Simon Eyre’s actual career, see Thrupp, Merchant Class of London, p. 339. Thrupp gives Eyre’s original occupation as “upholder,” which might mean “upholsterer” or simply “shopkeeper.” [BACK]

31. Fox and Taylor, eds., Guild of Weavers, pp. 92–93. [BACK]

32. See Hartley, ed., Parliaments of Elizabeth I, p. 211. Popham’s argument in 1571 approaches the view later articulated by such lawyers as Lawrence Hyde, Nicholas Fuller, Edward Coke, and Francis Moore; see n. 16 above. [BACK]

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

34. APC (1558–1570), pp. 193–94; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, p. 908n. 96. [BACK]

35. BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 29r–v. We do not know how many councillors were present at this meeting. The full membership of the council at this time was forty-three including the recorder (who appeared only occasionally, at the time of gaol delivery), but it was not unusual for there to be vacancies and absences at any given meeting. For example, on 12 September 1570 only thirty-seven members were present; there were even two absences among the aldermen. It is unlikely, however, that more than five members would be missing from the council at any one time. In other words, the twenty members who supported Langley on this occasion were just barely sufficient to carry the question. [BACK]

36. For details, see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, pp. 606–7. [BACK]

37. Latimer, Sixteenth-Century Bristol, p. 57. [BACK]

38. BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 30r; Latimer, Sixteenth-Century Bristol, p. 57. [BACK]

39. BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 30v. [BACK]

40. APC (1577–78), p. 354; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, p. xiii. [BACK]

41. PRO, SP 12/105/3. [BACK]

42. Wroth, “Elizabethan Merchant,” pp. 302–4; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, p. xi n. 4. [BACK]

43. PRO, C 66/1158/2256, mm. 1–12, esp. mm. 4–5. The new company’s jurisdiction also covered the entire Iberian peninsula, including Portugal, and it was granted wide powers to make binding ordinances for its membership and to punish interlopers. The charter is fully calendared in Cal. Pat. Rolls, Eliz. I (1575–1578), vol. 7, pp. 317–23, and extensive portions of the charter are printed in Shillington and Chapman, Commercial Relations of England and Portugal, pp. 313–26; see also Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. xii–xiii. [BACK]

44. The original membership of the Spanish Company numbered 396, of whom 223 were Londoners and only 75 Bristolians: PRO, C 66/1158/2256, m. 2; Cal. Pat. Rolls, Eliz. I, vol. 7, p. 318; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, xiii, xvii. For discussion of the relationship of the Spanish Company branch with the Merchant Venturers, see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 913–14n. 6. [BACK]

45. APC (1575–1577), p. 16. [BACK]

46. APC (1577–1578), pp. 408–9. [BACK]

47. On the dispute within Chester and between the Chester merchants and those of Liverpool, see Woodward, Trade of Elizabethan Chester, pp. 78–87; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. xviii–xxi. [BACK]

48. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 81–84. [BACK]

49. SMV, Book of Trade, p. 37; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. xxviii–xxix. [BACK]

50. Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. 1, 2, 4. [BACK]

51. PRO, SP 14/21/41; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 2–3; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. xxviii–xxix, 14, 15–16, 18, 95–113; Shillington and Chapman, Commercial Relations of England and Portugal, pp. 161–62. [BACK]

52. Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. 22–23. [BACK]

53. Ibid., pp. 23–24. [BACK]

54. Ibid., pp. 31, 47, 91–92. [BACK]

55. See n. 30 above; McGrath, ed., Records, p. 26. [BACK]

56. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 18, 43, 46; Croft, “Free Trade and the House of Commons,” p. 24. [BACK]

57. Croft, “Free Trade and the House of Commons,” pp. 21–22; Croft, ed., Spanish Company, p. 78. [BACK]

58. Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. 42, 44–45. [BACK]

59. Ibid., pp. 45–47. [BACK]

60. Ibid., pp. 43, 46. [BACK]

61. Ibid., pp. 55–56. [BACK]

62. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 1, pp. 112–13; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 3–5. [BACK]

63. Ibid. [BACK]

64. For the story of Hyde’s appointment to the recordership and the outcries it aroused among the Common Council and Bristol’s Merchant Venturers, see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, pp. 87–101; on the free-trade issue see T. K. Rabb, “Sir Edward Sandys and the Parliament of 1604,” AHR 69 (1963–64), pp. 661–69; Robert Ashton, “The Parliamentary Agitation for Free Trade in the Opening Years of James I,” Past and Present, no. 38 (December 1967); T. K. Rabb, “Free Trade and the Gentry in the Parliament of 1604,” Past and Present, no. 40 (July 1968), pp. 165–73; Robert Ashton, “Jacobean Free Trade Again,” Past and Present, no. 43 (May 1969), pp. 151–57; Croft, “Free Trade and the House of Commons,” pp. 17–27; Robert Ashton, The City and the Court, 1603–1643 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 84–98. [BACK]

65. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, f. 24r–v; see also ibid., f. 25r; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 6n. 3; McGrath, ed., Records, p. 8. [BACK]

66. McGrath, ed., Records, p. 8; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 67; Kramer, English Craft Gilds, p. 31n. 30. [BACK]

67. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 75–76. For an account of the procedures followed to assure the effectiveness of these rules, see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, p. 629. [BACK]

68. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 75. [BACK]

69. Ibid., pp. 78–79. [BACK]

70. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 26–27. [BACK]

71. Christopher Whitson was admitted to the freedom of the city of Bristol as a redemptioner in 1610, and a year later was selected to serve on the Common Council. His occupation at the time of his admission is not known, because when he was sworn to the burgess-ship he was listed only as a “yeoman,” a signification that in urban contexts often meant simply “not a servant” or “not a dependent”: BRO, Burgess Book (1607–1651), f. 79v; Anthony Salerno, “The Social Background of Seventeenth-Century Emigration to America,” Journal of British Studies 19 (1979): 37–38. [BACK]

72. In 1612 the Merchant Venturers claimed to draft their new membership rules “by vertue of their Charter.” They did so again in 1618, even after receiving Nicholas Hyde’s opinion: BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, f. 24r–v; McGrath, ed., Records, p. 8; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 68. Apparently they believed that the repeal of the 1566 statute affected only their exclusionary membership rules and the expanded enforcement powers granted to support them. Although their interpretation of the law may have been correct, since they were not forced to yield up the 1552 letters patent when they lost their case in Parliament in 1571, a prudent man would not lightly have risked testing this position, especially if it was challenged by the Crown: see Sacks, “The Corporate Town and the English State,” pp. 78–80. [BACK]

73. CJ, vol. 1, p. 275; See also Croft, “Free Trade and the House of Commons,” p. 26; McGrath, ed., Records, p. 6n. 2. [BACK]

74. SMV, Book of Trade, pp. 82–84, 85; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 9– 11, 14. [BACK]

75. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 9–12; on the Exeter merchants’ success in 1606, see Cotton, Elizabethan Guild, p. 177; Croft, “Free Trade and the House of Commons,” p. 26. [BACK]

76. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 12–14; for a similar certificate in 1624, see SMV, Book of Trade, p. 146. [BACK]

77. See MacCaffrey, Exeter, 1540–1640, pp. 136–59; HMC, Records of the City of Exeter, pp. 40–41; City of Exeter Record Office, MS Book 185, Merchant Venturers Dispute, 1558–59; Cotton, Elizabethan Guild. [BACK]

78. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 64–65; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 1, pp. 116, 132; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 84–88; see also McGrath, Merchant Venturers of Bristol, p. 71. The Society also collected duties called anchorage, crannage, and plankage by virtue of an eighty-year lease granted to twenty-four merchant feoffees in 1601: BRO, Deed 00352 (5). [BACK]

79. McGrath, ed., Records, p. 136; SMV, Book of Charters, vol. 1, pp. 95, 101; APC (1623–1625), p. 485. See also BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 1, p. 135; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 65; McGrath, Merchant Venturers of Bristol, p. 71. [BACK]

80. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 60v. [BACK]

81. PRO, SP 16/373/84. [BACK]

82. PRO, SP 16/373/84, 16/378/4, 16/379/1i, 2, 3, 34. [BACK]

83. PRO, SP 16/373/84, 16/379/1i, 34; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 81r–v. [BACK]

84. PRO, SP 16/373/1ii, 34; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, f. 83r–v; Adams’s Chronicle, p. 258. [BACK]

85. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 88–97; SMV, Hall Book, vol. 1, p. 24. For discussion of the terms of this charter, see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 647–48. [BACK]

86. Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 100–101, 102, 104–5. [BACK]

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

88. McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 29, 261. [BACK]

89. Compiled from Beaven, Lists, and Return of the Name of Every Member of the Lower House of the Parliament of England, 1213–1874 (Parliamentary Papers, 1878), vol. 62, part 1. [BACK]

90. See, e.g., SMV, Book of Trade, pp. 104–13; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, f. 96r–v; Miller Christy, “Attempts towards Colonization: The Council of New England and the Merchant Venturers of Bristol,” AHR 4 (1899): pp. 678–702; Latimer, Annals, p. 70; MacInnes, Gateway of Empire, pp. 96–106; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 635–38; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 9–14. [BACK]

91. The other four were Merchant Venturers, including the mayor. The remaining aldermen were Whitson and Guy, who were in Parliament, and the recorder, who was rarely present at aldermanic meetings. [BACK]

92. The conclusion on the frequency of electoral contests is based on analysis of the mayoral elections recorded in BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vols. 1–3. Nominations and voting were by voice until 1642, when, significantly, a secret ballot was introduced. The town clerk or an assistant recorded each man’s vote after his name in the minute book with the initials of the candidate for whom he voted. Between 1599 and 1642, twenty-five mayoral elections were uncontested, and a further ten show five votes or fewer in opposition to the successful candidate: Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 708–9. The only other hotly contested mayoral election in our period occurred in 1633. This election pitted Alderman Robert Aldworth, one of the main protagonists in 1626, against Mathew Warren, clothier, Christopher Whitson’s brother-in-law. In 1633, Warren was the most senior common councillor who had not yet served as mayor: BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, ff. 44r–45v. [BACK]

93. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 134r. [BACK]

94. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, ff. 40r–41v; PRO, SP 16/41/80. For the Aldworth group’s leadership in opposing the membership of retailers and manufacturers in the Merchant Venturers, see McGrath, ed., Records, p. 7. [BACK]

95. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, ff. 142r–143v, compared to the register of Merchant Venturer members in McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 26–29. [BACK]

96. The overseas trading activities of Whitson’s supporters were established by comparing evidence derived from PRO, E 190/1134/10 and E 190/1135/6, to the votes registered in BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, 142r–143v. Evidence of Whitson’s rivalry with Aldworth can be found in Croft, ed., Spanish Company, pp. xliii, 18, 43, 46, 101; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 619–25; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, f. 55r–v. For the relationship between Christopher Whitson and John Whitson, see BRO, Great Orphan Book, vol. 3, f. 250v. [BACK]

97. Cronne, ed., Bristol Charters, 1378–1499, pp. 165–66, 175–77; BRO, Old Ordinance Book, f. 52r–v; BRO, MS 04273 (1), ff. 44r–v, 48r; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, ff. 38r–39v; Latham, ed., Bristol Charters, 1509–1899, pp. 11–13; D. M. Livock, ed., City Chamberlain’s Accounts in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (BRS 24, 1966), pp. xii–xiv; Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, pp. 71–84. [BACK]

98. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 95r–v. The candidates were designated by initials only. The voting was as follows: “E” m 8, “ll” m 7, “T” m 2; “C” m 24. “E” may have been Giles Elbridge, a merchant and common councillor; “ll” may have been Thomas Lloyd, a brewer and common councillor; “T” was John Thruston, a soapmaker but not a common councillor; and of course “C” was William Chetwyn, a merchant but also not a common councillor. William Chetwyn was the son of Thomas Chetwyn of Rudgely, Staffordshire, gentleman, and had been apprenticed to John Barker of Bristol, merchant. He became a freeman of the city on 4 July 1617 by virtue of his apprenticeship: BRO, Apprentice Book (1593–1609), f. 277v; BRO, Burgess Book (1607–1651), f. 93v. [BACK]

99. Farmer became a burgess by patrimony on 19 October 1639, three days after this election: BRO, Burgess Book (1607–1651), f. 283v. For Farmer’s connection with the earl of Berkshire and subsequent career, see George Bishop, The Throne of Blood (London, 1656), p. 109. [BACK]

100. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 96r. The letter is dated Whitehall, 1 November 1639. [BACK]

101. Ibid., f. 96v. [BACK]

102. Ibid., ff. 96v–97v. [BACK]

103. Ibid., ff. 98r, 99r. The king’s letter is dated 20 November 1639. [BACK]

104. Ibid., f. 95r–v. Alderman Humphrey Hooke, for example, voted for “ll” whereas Thomas Hooke, his son, voted for “T.” In the second election both of these men voted for Farmer. It is clear that in the first election there was no consensus candidate, but there appears to have been no systematic effort to stop Chetwyn from obtaining the office. [BACK]

105. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 98r–v; Latimer, Merchant Venturers, p. 91; see also PRO, E 134/12 Car I/East. 21, E 134/12 Car I/ Mich. 39, E 134/13 Car I/East. 132; McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 238–39. See also Sacks, “The Corporate Town and the English State,” pp. 77–78. [BACK]

7. Looking Backward

Politics is never just the effect of impersonal economic and social processes. It drives developments in society as well as responds to them; it transforms social facts into social forces. Social facts—facts about the varying distribution of wealth, the growth or decline of population, or the alteration of social structure—operate largely below the threshold of everyday awareness. They are usually discernible only to the trained eye looking in retrospect at the accumulated evidence of slow and steady processes of change. Present-day historians armed with the weapons of modern scholarship can often learn more about social facts than could those who lived through their various twists and turns. But the facts of social change can never be kept entirely below the surface of daily events. By showing the fault lines and rifts in society, they move individuals and groups to concerted action. They enter into consciousness and are transformed into ideology. Often this process involves assimilating the new into the old, first in order to find the right language by which to understand it, and later to try to contain it. In this respect the shaping of an ideology has a great affinity with the formation of ritual, especially of the kind that the Bristolians made for themselves in the later Middle Ages. There is both an inability to grasp the scale and significance of change and a hope of holding the community together as the pressures for change build within it. But as with those late medieval rituals, a backward-looking approach can only bottle up so much before its vocabulary of containment can no longer cope with the energies it tries to control.

Something of this process can be gathered if we look briefly to the Petition of Right. This document, justly famous in English history, also has a unique place in Bristol’s local history. In August 1628 the city’s two members of Parliament, John Doughty, an alderman, and John Barker, who had been mayor in 1625–26, brought into the Council House “six paper books containing the several arguments made in the Parliament house of the liberties of the subject,” which the council “thought fit” to be “entered into some of the register books of this citty there to remain of record forever.”[1] Why were the councillors so interested in these debates?

Much of the answer lies in the nature of the events that originally provoked the Petition of Right. Since war with Spain and France depended on sea power, Bristol, England’s second port, inevitably found itself in the thick of the action and thus bearing what its magistrates considered a disproportionate share of the burden. They were required to lay out money to supply the king’s ships and to offer him the services of their own, all without timely payment or clear purpose. Again and again they found themselves dutifully answering requests from the Privy Council for the pressing of sailors and staying of ships, only to be faced with countermanding orders and with seemingly inexplicable administrative confusion and delay.[2] As merchant shipowners deprived by the wars of the late 1620s of their principal markets, they could do little else with the ships, their main capital resources, except engage in privateering, which brought their enterprises into conflict with other naval activities and brought them into all too frequent dealings with the corruption of the Lord Admiral’s agents.[3]

Wartime frustrations had been building in Bristol from the inception of Charles I’s reign to the summoning of the 1628 Parliament, as the actions of naval commanders, press masters, Admiralty officials, and the like became increasingly intrusive. The climax came in the winter of 1628, when Captain William Buxton, under orders from the Admiralty, attempted to press into royal service seven of Bristol’s best ships and eight barques, totaling about eighteen hundred tons and carrying four hundred and forty-four men and one hundred and six pieces of valuable ordnance. The owners of two of the vessels refused to fit their ships, saying they would “not disburse any money in setting them forth.” The “stubbornnesse” of these two men, Giles Elbridge, son-in-law and partner of Robert Aldworth, and Humphrey Hooke, already a prominent councillor and leading Merchant Venturer, encouraged others to resist. Buxton found himself unable to complete his orders without paying “theise stiffnecked people” for everything in advance. “[F]or if possible,” he said, “I will not be behoulding to none of this towne for the smallest courtesie.”[4]

The crisis of 1628 hit the city’s merchants hardest. They wanted relief from the heavy fiscal burdens of the war,[5] and by the summer of 1628 all those who were owed large sums by the Crown had begun what can only be called a lenders’ strike. On 22 August, the very day the six paper books were registered in Bristol, the mayor wrote to the Privy Council that until the debts were repaid “noe man will contribute to any further charge.”[6] But the Bristol merchants were prepared to undertake some necessary burdens, such as guarding the coasts against piracy, provided they were guaranteed in advance that their costs would be met by the Crown. In June, for example, they had set forth two ships on condition that the expense would be covered by the Exchequer from the proceeds of the first two subsidies recently granted in Parliament. Indeed, the city’s two members of Parliament had brought this good news with them from Westminster, along with the arguments in Parliament that they wished preserved in the city’s records.[7] No wonder the leading common councillors found the issue of liberty as expressed in the Petition of Right so worthy of special treatment.

The Bristol magistrates’ concern for the “liberties of the subject” carries with it some important implications about their idea of the state. These men saw themselves in a coordinated relationship with the central government, with which they were jointly to preserve order and protect the subjects. They were willing to accept state power so long as it helped them perform these vital functions. Order to them meant the union of authority with property, a union expressed in their own leadership of their community, and they feared any use of state power that threatened this union. For this reason, no Bristol magistrate was anticipating an all-out breach with the monarch in defense of community against the encroachments of the king’s officers upon the city’s body politic. Many of the councillors, however, were concerned about the best way to distribute power between the local and the central authorities for the preservation of order and property, and in the later 1620s they feared that the unrestrained exercise of royal power might result in social chaos.

The same sense of danger to hierarchical order also troubled them in the 1630s, when a plague of royal commissions seeking concealed prizes and unpaid customs descended upon them in the aftermath of the Spanish and French wars. The commissioners, acting “as lords and judges over them, as if all law and justice lay in their hands,” threatened the networks of cooperation and deference in the city. They forced merchants to tell what they knew “of others their friends and partners…[w]hereby some are constrained (for discharging of their consciences) to accuse one another.” Even worse, they “tempted” the merchants’ factors, servants, and seamen “to accuse the Marchants and owners by whome they liue and are maintayned.”[8] Hence the Bristol magistrates faced the question of political choice by concentrating on what would best promote the maintenance of the national polity as they had come to understand it. For most of them, this was a polity in which men who had roots in the community, not strangers with few local ties and little comprehension of local conditions, properly exercised authority for the king. The Bristol magistrates envisioned a political world in which community and state were related to one another as parts to the whole, not as opponents. In this sense they measured the events of the early years of Charles I’s reign against the model of society made evident in Elizabeth I’s visit to Bristol in 1574 and confirmed in Queen Anne’s visit in 1613.[9]

The responses of the Bristol magistracy to the events of 1628, then, could not become the city’s first step along the “high road to civil war,” since the motives behind them were linked to ideals of hierarchical authority. Though these men were harshly critical of current policies, their grievances did not provide a firm footing for systematic opposition to the Crown. Even their experience in the 1630s of intrusions and usurpations by Charles I and his agents could not force them into rebellion against their king. When the Civil War finally came to Bristol in 1642 and 1643, the majority of the common councillors, and others of similar social and economic position, sided with the king against Parliament. Their long, if tumultuous, association with the Crown as its suitors and servants, culminating in the Merchant Venturers’ receipt of their new letters patent, seems to have anointed their loyalty with the chrism of self-interest. As Sir Ronald Syme tells us of another era of revolution, “liberty and the law are high-sounding words. They will often be rendered, on a cool estimate, as privilege and vested interest.”[10]

But words have a political efficacy of their own, since politics depends in part on how the parties express the issues. In this instance, the words used were corrosive of the very regime of privileges and immunities which those who uttered them sought to uphold. To secure for themselves the “liberties of the subject,” the Bristol common councillors adapted to their purpose a well-established procedure for registering the royal concessions and favorable judicial rulings affecting their corporate franchises.[11] By making the six paper books “of record” they showed their intention of using them as precedents in the law courts at Bristol and Westminster against future encroachments and usurpations by the Crown. But in doing so they transformed the nature of the issue from one of communal privileges and immunities to one of individual and collective legal rights. In a sense, they saw their particular problems as part of a larger dilemma of fundamental law affecting everyone, not as a series of separate challenges to them alone that were to be met one at a time using makeshift defenses.[12] Is it too much to say that these Bristolians—for a brief moment at least—conceived that their English liberties preceded their burghal rights? And that their civic franchises alone could not protect them against the arbitrary actions of the Crown or its officials? If most of these men saw their interests as allied with the king in 1642, that hardly diminishes the importance of this “declassification” of liberty, as J. H. Hexter has called it.[13] It represented a profound and irreversible shift in the conception of contemporary political problems that entered the general political culture, made it possible to juxtapose the claims of authority to those of rights, and—as we shall see—affected Bristol’s affairs in the ensuing period.

In Bristol, relations between the town authorities and the Crown had long worked at cross-purposes. They not only linked the local community to the English state but drove a wedge between the increasingly dominant faction in that leadership and the larger community over which it ruled. As we know, the roles of mayor, alderman, and common councillor served to separate the officeholders from the body politic at large and to give them advantages in dealing with the state on matters vital to their private interests. For members of this merchant elite, the later 1620s and the 1630s had been a period of conflict with the Crown that had ended in accommodation. Other groups in the city were not so fortunate, since they lacked the political resources of the Merchant Venturers. After 1634, for example, the city’s soapmakers had no one of their Company in the Bristol Corporation. Nevertheless, their difficulties with the Crown were just as great as those of the merchants. First, the royal patent granted to the Society of Soapmakers of Westminster resulted in a sharp cutback in legal soap production in Bristol; then the king’s impost on soap almost destroyed the industry in the city. By the late 1630s only four of eleven soap-houses survived in Bristol, and a full dozen of the soapmakers were lodged in Fleet Street prison for nonpayment of the impost. Yet no one from the Bristol Corporation came to the aid of the soapmakers. As a result, several prominent Bristol soapmakers struck private bargains with the Westminster company and the Crown, leaving their fellows to struggle to find a livelihood, a task made all the more difficult by the Merchant Venturers’ new charter, which deprived them of the right to trade overseas free of Merchant Venturer control. Such were the disadvantages of exclusion from civic office.[14]

The various Bristol responses to the summoning of the Long Parliament also show the existence of a divided community in pre–Civil War Bristol. When Parliament was summoned, the freeholders of the borough, namely the members of the Corporation and a few others of similar social rank, selected two Merchant Venturers, Alderman Hooke and Alderman Long, to sit for the city. In January 1641 these men were presented with the two grievances Bristol’s Common Council wished redressed in Parliament: the violation of Bristol’s rights as a staple town for trade in wool, and the actions of those persons who had given false or misleading information to the king about the merchants, causing them “to be Pursuivanted up and unjustly handled and ill dealt with.”[15] In other words, the grievances were the complaints of the narrow merchant group that dominated the city. But the excluded members of Bristol’s community did not go unheard at this time. In October 1640, as the Long Parliament was about to be elected, “a great number of burgesses of the Citie” petitioned the Common Council for the right to vote in the parliamentary elections. This renewed a request made as recently as 1625, which the council had denied. The result was the same in 1640. The Corporation preserved its hold over parliamentary elections.[16] In the absence of evidence naming the petitioners or information about whom they wished to elect, it would be a mistake to overinterpret this petition. Nevertheless, knowing what we do of the social and political structure of Bristol in the Elizabethan and early Stuart period, we can be reasonably certain that among the main beneficiaries of the requested change would have been precisely that excluded group of retailers and manufacturers whom the Merchant Venturers had sought to oust from foreign trade, since they vastly outnumbered the Merchant Venturers among the city’s freemen.[17] The petition called upon the same principles of freeman’s rights and community values that this group saw as being violated by the Society’s privileges. In 1571 their predecessors had responded to the Merchant Venturers’ monopoly with a similar de mand for the right to vote in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.[18] The redress they wanted involved gaining access to the one institution they might use to counter the wide political influence so long enjoyed by the Merchant Venturers.

For ordinary citizens as well as magistrates, the social and political changes of the previous century or more could not be completely covered by Bristol’s ancient traditions. The burghal rights of the former and the civic authority of the latter were now too deeply enmeshed in the institutions of the state and too dependent on events and developments occurring far from Bristol itself. Accommodation of differences would have to occur in a much wider field. The resulting division was deeply ideological. It touched the way various Bristolians understood their social and political world. What mattered was the distribution of authority, the capacity to rule. For one group the social order was arranged in a hierarchy headed by the monarch, with whom the local governors were associated as his lieutenants. In this view the requirements of justice provided that each rank receive its due according to its proper place in the hierarchy and that authority be concentrated at its head. On the other side, the principle of hierarchy, while hardly rejected, was subject to considerations of community and legal rights. Authority depended on recognition and acceptance by those over whom it was exercised, and justice demanded that the community’s governors act for the commonweal, which could override the claims of individuals or particular groups. Any claim for privileges and immunities at the expense of the rights of fellow citizens violated this rule. In consequence, what was necessary and proper in the first view might be a sore grievance in the second.

In the early modern period, political ideology normally was never far from religious outlook. Was there a religious dimension to the factional conflicts that had developed in Bristol from the middle of the sixteenth century? Although the prehistory of the Merchant Venturers is centered on a religious gild and its chapel, nothing we have learned about the earliest stages of the disputes between the monopolists and their shopkeeper and craftsman rivals suggests that differences about doctrine, liturgy, or church government might have colored the rivalry. There were certainly many in the city who desired further reform in the church and others who wished to return to the comforts of traditional practices, if not the authority of the bishop of Rome. For example, Roger Edgeworth, writing at the height of the Reformation, saw a city in which

som wil heare masse, some will heare none by theyr good wils, som wil be shriuen, som wil not, but for feare, or els for shame. some wyll pay tithes & offeringes, some wil not, in that wors then the Iewes which paid them truly, and fyrst frutes & many other duties besides. Som wil prai for the dead, som wil not, I heare of muche suche discention among you.[19]

But these differences did not play themselves out in controversies over the merchant monopoly in the second half of the sixteenth century. When Edgeworth lamented the dissension caused by the Merchant Venturers’ 1552 charter, it was not because he favored one side or the other for its religious views, but because he saw social and political conflict to be undermining the communal harmony he deemed essential to a proper religious life.[20] Moreover, the Common Council during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I seems to have been dominated by godly men of a moderate Calvinist outlook, who viewed the Anglican settlement as the exemplum of what Patrick Collinson has called “the religion of Protestants.”[21] The ministers they selected for town lecturerships, such as Thomas Thompson, Edward Chetwyn, and Thomas Palmer, certainly seem to fit this mold.[22]

But there was an important intellectual link between the desire to maintain the art of merchandise as a separate craft and some forms of religious conservatism. As Roger Edgeworth viewed the matter in the mid-sixteenth century, those in the priesthood, no less than in any other occupation, needed training and skills. Just as a tailor ought not to meddle in the work of a Merchant Venturer, and a shoemaker ought not to practice the grocery trade, the priesthood should be left to those called to it. “I have knowen many in this towne,” Edgeworth said, “that studienge diuinitie, hath kylled a marchaunt, and some other occupations by theyr busy labours in the scriptures, hath shut vp the shoppe windowes, faine to take Sanctuary.” What was needed instead was “a true instructour, not infected with wylful and newfangled hereseyes.”[23] Edgeworth’s reason for believing so was that Christ had distributed his gifts “as doth please his goodnes…to some more of them, to some fewer and not so many.” To some God had given “knowledge and cunning in spiritual causes, to some in temporall matters, to some learning in physicke, to some in surgerye, to some in handy craftes, to some in marchaundise or in such other occupying.”[24] In each craft, moreover, some were more fit to lead than others.

As if there should be a matter of the trade of marchaundise to be intreated of among the marchauntes of this citie, if there came in a marchaunte of graue and longe experience, all the others woulde geue eare and lysten to his talke, and would be gladde to followe his counsell.…Euen so it is in matters of higher learnynge pertaining to our soule[’s] health.[25]

Hence those in Bristol who believed in the priesthood of all believers were as wrong in their outlook as those who interloped on the trade of the Merchant Venturers.

For conservatives like Edgeworth there was a strong link between God-given skill and divinely ordained authority. Without authority, such figures were convinced, there would be nothing but disorder. “Experience teacheth,” Edgeworth argued,

that a great housholde wythout good officers is a troublous and vnruly busines. For where there is no quiet order of the subiectes among them selues, and of theym all in theyr degree toward theyr great mayster, soueraygne or ruler, euery man taketh his owne way, and so foloweth streife, brawling, and variaunce, and at the last destruction. The housholder must be fain to breake vp houshold if his folkes amende not. The great housholder almighty god hath a great & chargeable familie, that is the vniuersal multitude & company of al mankinde, which thoughe he could rule at his plesure accordinge to his own wil, yet it hath pleased him to put an order in this houshold, som head officers, som mean, som lower in auctoritie, som subiectes & seruantes.[26]

In such a social order everyone was “to do his office in his degree” and to cherish and help his fellows in safeguarding the whole. This view, of course, was but a commonplace of sixteenth-century social theory, as codified, for example, in the famous “Homily on Obedience.”[27] Most Bristolians, like most other Englishmen, would have accepted its general premises and its broad conclusions.

But could ardent Protestants make its details consistent with the doctrine of justification by faith or election, which focused on the individual Christian’s relationship to God, not on the special skills of the priesthood? If so, could they also make its claims on behalf of a strict division of labor among the crafts consistent with the principles of justice owed to all Bristol freemen according to the spirit of civic brotherhood? Unfortunately, nothing in the evidence for the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I tells us how Bristolians answered these questions or shows us that those who responded to the first of them in opposition to strong claims of clerical authority consistently answered the second in opposition to the Merchant Venturers’ monopolistic claims. Given the complexity of these issues, we can hardly expect a clear-cut pattern to have appeared. However, by the 1620s and 1630s the city’s sociopolitical factions may possibly have taken on some characteristics of a religious rivalry, although the evidence is extremely fragmentary and must be viewed with caution.

We can see such a rivalry surface, perhaps, in the election for mayor contested between Robert Aldworth and Christopher Whitson. Aldworth and some of this supporters seemed to have favored the Laudian or Arminian position in the church and would have found Edgeworth’s view of the world congenial to themselves. Aldworth himself was a distant kinsman of Archbishop Laud.[28] In the 1630s, he and some of his allies favored church beautification and church music in their wills.[29] Unfortunately, we know nothing directly about Christopher Whitson’s religious views, though the use of the word “puntuall” to describe him may hint that his enemies viewed him as a Puritan, overly precise in his morality and public observances.[30] It is also possible that his cousin, John Whitson, was favorably disposed toward Puritan views, at least at the end of his life. The moral and religious reflections he left behind at his death and his charitable bequests conform nicely in thought and action to many teachings of Puritan divines.[31]

A bit more is known about Christopher Whitson’s brother-in-law, Mathew Warren, clothier, whose election to the mayoralty in 1633 also was disputed by Robert Aldworth and thirteen other Merchant Venturers.[32] In Queen Elizabeth I’s reign Warren had been servant to William Tucker, clothier, who as mayor in 1571 led the fight against the Merchant Venturers’ monopoly.[33] Warren’s wife was probably active in Rev. William Yeamans’s circle of Puritans, which met regularly in his house in St. Philip’s parish to discuss sermons and difficult matters of Bible interpretation; she and many others from this group were important sectaries after 1640 and later became early Quakers. Mathew Warren was also tied to George Bishop, one of Bristol’s leading sectaries of the 1640s and 1650s.[34] Most of the members of Yeamans’s group were small shopkeepers and craftsmen, exactly those most likely to see injustice in the Merchant Venturers’ monopolistic pretensions. But since they were not common councillors, their role in disputed municipal elections was, at most, indirect.[35] Although we have no direct evidence of Warren’s own involvement in Yeamans’s meetings, we can see that in his relations with his family and with the city’s craftsmen in the cloth industry he lived in intimacy with some of its most faithful attenders.

This evidence suggests, but only very tentatively, the possibility that the different social visions of the rival parties in Bristol sometimes went together with membership in different religious camps. Some of the monopolists, with their strongly hierarchical views, tended toward Arminianism, while some of the anti-monopolists, with their strong sense of a brotherly fellowship of freemen, tended toward a community-minded Puritanism and even toward what Patrick Collinson has called “voluntary religion.”[36] However, we are looking here at the extremes in the religious spectrum. They illustrate the ideological and cultural forces at work in the city, not the actual distribution of religious opinion among the various groups. It would be wrong to think that the majority of leading overseas traders were likely to be high churchmen while the majority of their opponents tended to be sectaries. Instead, difference in outlook turned on the relative weight given in each quarter to the demands of order and of fellowship. Divergent views on these issues could be readily expressed within the bounds of orthodox Calvinist Protestantism. We can see this point in the 1639 chamberlain’s election, where the evidence of religious affiliation is ambiguous and confused.

William Chetwyn was the cousin of Edward Chetwyn, former city lecturer and late dean of the Bristol Cathedral chapter, who died only months before the October 1639 chamberlain’s election. As we have already noted, Dean Chetwyn was an old-fashioned Calvinist.[37] He possessed a good library of Puritan books, including a Geneva Bible and the works of William Perkins, and he had strong views on the limited authority of bishops. He was also the brother-in-law of Sir John Harington of Kelston, whose Christian humanist learning and moderate Puritanism are well known. Edward’s son, moreover, was an outspoken Presbyterian in the 1640s and 1650s.[38] Hence it is possible that some of the opposition to William Chetwyn arose from the city’s Arminians in disagreement either with him directly or with his cousin and his cousin’s family. He certainly seems to have received little support from the old Aldworth clique, even in the first of the two elections, despite his apprenticeship to one of its leading members.[39]

If it was Chetwyn’s religious affiliation that drove opposition to him, however, support for Ralph Farmer was a poor way to have shown it. His patron, the earl of Berkshire, was hardly a friend or ally of Archbishop Laud or his party; indeed, he was rather the opposite. In April 1639, Laud had written Viscount Wentworth describing Berkshire as one of the “miserable builders” in the king’s council, working “at Babel,” “a very thin tree in a storm, and he will soon be wet that shelter there.”[40] Farmer, for his part, seems to have been anything but a Laudian. He was an “Independent” in the 1640s and later a Presbyterian.[41] Finally, there seems nothing in William Chetwyn’s service in the chamberlain’s office from 1639 to his death in 1651 to show obvious religious partiality.[42] He was almost certainly no Arminian, or he probably would not have survived the parliamentary purge of Bristol’s government in 1645, but he also does not appear to have been an outspoken Puritan, since he remained in office during the Royalist occupation of Bristol from 1643 to 1645, when the crown removed the leading Puritans and parliamentary supporters from their civic offices. Overt doctrinal differences seem distant from the rivalry between Chetwyn and Farmer.

Nevertheless, we cannot dismiss the importance of religion even here, at least for some common councillors. It was Chetwyn who had well-known connections to a prominent clergyman whose orthodox Calvinist views would have been very familiar to the Bristolians from the days he had lectured to them on “The Strait Gate and the Narrow Way” and other subjects, and it was Farmer who had the backing of the king. For those leading Spanish and Mediterranean merchants who were emotionally and intellectually committed to hierarchical order in society and the beauty of holiness in liturgy and who understood their authority in the city to descend from God and the king, the choice between Farmer and Chetwyn would not have been a difficult one. They could vote but one way, even if they knew of Farmer’s dependence upon the earl of Berkshire and of Berkshire’s rivalry with Archbishop Laud. Laud and his followers, after all, were hardly likely to back Chetwyn even to thwart the patronage of the “thin tree” they so despised.

The choice would have been more difficult for the rest of the Common Council, whether they were content with the moderate Calvinism that had prevailed in the Anglican hierarchy before Charles I’s reign and that still engaged most Englishmen or whether they favored further reform in the church, since it required them to weigh their respect for the king’s nomination against their own commitment for or against Chetwyn. In the highly charged atmosphere of this election, the choice was likely to be made ideologically, depending on whether or not the voter honored the role of royal authority in overseeing the city more than the civic community’s liberty to decide the matter for itself. Yet no well-developed rules existed for making such a choice. The king and the community were understood to be joined in harmony in the body politic, not to be opponents or enemies. They were believed to receive mutual benefits from their union, not losses on one side to balance gains on the other. Ordinarily a choice between king and community never arose. Among the councillors who switched their votes in the second election—to Chetwyn from his previous opponents, and from Chetwyn to Farmer—the necessity of deciding between competing values, mixed with the need to make judgments regarding their own self-interest, must have posed a major dilemma. Out of such ethical ambiguity we cannot expect to find intellectual clarity.

We come away with a picture of Bristol in the 1630s as a city in which small but significant groups of high churchmen, many of whom where wealthy Spanish and Mediterranean merchants, and proto-sectaries, the vast majority of whom were shopkeepers and artisans, lived in a place populated by moderate Anglicans, for whom the potentially competing ideals of order and community remained in what at times became an uncomfortable equipoise, exemplified as much in the small disputes over local politics and commercial organization in the city as in the great controversies of church and state.

The force of events in the 1640s, during which Bristol found itself the focus of contention by opposing parties both within and without the city, gave its politics a new and harder edge. But in the face of continued uncertainty on the part of many Bristolians about the best course to follow, political necessity and the opportunity for material advantage took the place of intellectual clarity in the debates. Given the effect of the Merchant Venturers’ 1639 letters patent on the trading activities of nonmembers, it is no surprise to find that the old rivalry between the merchant monopolists and the retailers and craftsmen resurfaced with the calling of the Long Parliament. As we know, from the very moment of its foundation the Society of Merchant Venturers had engendered bitter conflict within the city whenever it triumphed in its battle for effective monopoly powers. The attempt by some of the freemen to win the vote in the October 1640 elections is only the first hint of the troubles. Signs of the character of the political alignments appear in the fate of Aldermen Long and Hooke, Bristol’s members in the Long Parliament. In 1642 both were ousted from their seats for participating, along with many other Merchant Venturers, in Alderman Abell’s wine license. In 1645 the Long Parliament removed them from the municipal office as delinquents.[43] Their replacements, elected in 1642 under the same franchise as Long and Hooke, had similar histories. Both John Glanville, the city recorder since August 1630, and John Taylor, an alderman since January 1640, were adherents of the same social, economic, and political view held by the conservative leaders of the Merchant Venturers. Taylor went to Oxford when the king set up a Parliament there, and in 1645 he died in Bristol defending the city against Fairfax and Cromwell. Glanville, who had been Speaker of the Commons in the Short Parliament, also joined the king in Oxford in 1643, was disabled from future service by the Long Parliament, and was imprisoned for a time in the Tower before compounding for his delinquency. Bristol purged him as its recorder in 1646.[44]

According to John Corbet, minister in the city of Gloucester and ardent supporter of the parliamentary cause in this period, with the outbreak of Civil War Bristol was “much distracted” between the “well-affected and malignant parties,” with the “basest and lowest sort” together with “the wealthy and powerful men” supporting the “King’s Cause and Party,” while “the middle rank, the true and best Citizens,” were on the parliamentary side. “[T]he present state of things,” he says, “had taught men to distinguish between the true Commons of the realm and dreggs of the people, the one the most vehement assertors of Publike Liberty, but the other the first rise of Tyrannical Government and the foot-stoole upon which Princes tread when they ascend the height of Monarchy.” The shortcomings of “the needy multitude” he attributed not only to “their natural hatred of good Order,” but also to the fact that they “were at the devotion of the rich men,” who, he tells us, were “des-affected to reformed Religion” and “conscious of delinquency” and therefore “did much distaste the wares of the Parliament.” By implication, he saw the virtue of the true Commons resulting from their support of “good Order” in civic affairs, their independence from the patronage of the powerful, and their affection for “reformed Religion.”[45]

In offering this analysis Corbet refers specifically to events in December 1642, when Bristol was garrisoned by parliamentary forces under the command of Colonel Essex. Fearful that a garrison would make Bristol the target of attack from the king’s forces, the city government, already committed to the Western Association in support of Parliament, sought to man the fortifications on its own. As Corbet tells the story, Essex found himself blocked “by the multitude” at one of the gates and had to force his way into the city at a less well-manned place to which he received direction “from a Party within.”[46] But Corbet may also have been thinking of the events of the following spring, when a band of Bristolians, including the two sheriffs for the year, organized a plot to reverse these events by opening the city’s gates to Prince Rupert. The attempt was thwarted when a considerable number of sailors and portside laborers, along with many of the leading merchants, were arrested by Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes and his soldiers. Although there were certainly men of “the middling sort” in this conspiracy, its leaders came from that same group of Merchant Venturers who had supported Robert Aldworth in his bids for a second term as mayor in 1626 and 1633.[47]

Many of these men had also been behind the effort in the spring and fall of 1642 to send petitions to both the king and Parliament urging an “accommodation” of their differences. At first glance this petition campaign appears to support the claim that a large number of Bristolians, if not most, preferred a form of neutrality to partisan commitment in the Civil War.[48] But a closer look shows that even neutrality had its partisan edge. Unfortunately, only the city’s petition to the king has survived. It is focused primarily on the grievances of its great merchants but openly follows the very similar petitions mounted in London in 1642 by a group of its prominent citizens, many of whom later became involved in Edmund Waller’s plot to turn the metropolis over to the king. Comparison of London’s petition to the Lords and Commons, which has survived in a copy printed by the king’s supporters in Oxford in 1642, with Bristol’s somewhat later petition to the king, also printed in Oxford, shows them to be very similar in their ideological outlook and political purpose, though somewhat different in their emphasis. There can be no doubt that each city’s petitions had an independent history, but in genesis and ideology Bristol’s shares a great deal with its London counterpart.[49]

The Londoners in their petition to Parliament stressed how “by a knowne Law” the realm had “setled and preserved our protestant Religion, our Liberties, and properties, with a right understanding betweene King and Subjects, which produced peace and plenty in our streets.” Continued civil war, they said, threatened “the destruction of Christians, the unnatural effusion of bloud; Fathers against Sons, brothers by brothers, friends by friends slaine, then famine and sicknesse, the followers of civill war, making way for a generall confusion, and invasion by a forraigne Nation, while our Treasure is exhausted, our Trade lost, and the kingdome dis-peopled.”[50] The emphasis was on the danger to true religion, public order, and social hierarchy engendered by the “divisions” between the king and Parliament. The Bristolians, too, were concerned about these matters. They lamented that the realm was now “as full of horror and wrath as any object which can incounter humane eye-sight, appearing meerly the Ghost of that England which it was so lately.” They complained that they were “overwhelmed with an increasing perpetuity of cares and troubles, such as not time nor history had scarce mentioned in this Kingdome, neither in the Barons nor any other civill warres: Your Majesty being, as it were divorced from those husbands of the Common-wealth, the honourable the high Court of Parliament.” And they spoke bitterly of the “strange and uncouth distractions that have lately broken forth into the Church of England.[51]

Somewhat more than the Londoners, however, they emphasized the disastrous toll on trade created by the outbreak of war. “[I]nstead of the continuall and gainful trade and commerce, which all maritime towns, in especial this City of Bristoll had into forraigne parts,” they said,

[o]ur ships lie now rotting in the Harbor without any Marriners or fraught or trade into forraigne parts, by reason of our home-bred distractions, being grown so contemptible and despised there, that our credits are of no value, wee being (through the misfortune of our nation) reputed abroad as men meerly undone at home; and what detriment this discontinuance of traffique with forrainge nations may beget and bring forth, both to your Majesties particular revenue, by decay of the emolument of customes, and to the Subject in generall by want of exportment and importment of commodities, cannot to your sacred wisdome be unknowne.[52]

As a result, “no man injoyes his wife, children, family or estate in safety this day…so that unspeakable is our misery, unutterable our grievances, fathers being ingaged enemies against sons; and sons against fathers; every good Towne and City, as this your City of Bristoll, being inforced to their great and infinite expence, to maintaine garrisons and courts of guards for their security.”[53] The debt to the Londoners’ language is apparent enough in these sentiments, but the differences suggest how much the Bristol petitioners saw a well-established trade as one of the principal sources of good order in their community.

The logic of the London petitions of 1642 had linked support of the Crown with the defense of liberty and the church. With the 1643 plot in Bristol to turn the city over to Prince Rupert, this same conjuncture of ideas became apparent among the conspirators, although again with something of a Bristol twist.[54] Their motives were heavily colored by the economic and financial burdens imposed upon the city by the war, the blame for which was placed by the conspirators squarely on the shoulders of the parliamentary forces resident within their walls. As an anonymous pamphleteer said in commenting on the martyrdom of Robert Yeamans and George Bowcher in the Royalist cause, “it is no wonder…that a city thus robbed of its wealth and libertie, groaning under the insupportable yoke of bondage and tyranny should endeavor by restoring the king to his rights, to restore themselves to their former freedome,” which could not be done but by casting off the bonds in which the parliamentary garrison had ensnared them.[55] According to one source, the plotters considered themselves as standing for “the King, the Protestant Religion, and the Liberties of this City.”[56] Yeamans said as much in his own defense. His commission from the king, he argued, was

for the mayntenance of the true Protestant Religion established in the Church of England, the King’s Prerogative and safety of his Person, Priviledges of Parliament, and the liberty and propriety of the Subject, and the defense of the City against all forces without the joynt consent of the Maior, Aldermen and Common Councell amongst whom there was some difference at that time concerning the admission of any Forces.[57]

Earlier, in their petition to the king, these same men had indicated that they were also pained by the “too much power of the Prelacie in forcing new Canons and unheard of doctrines upon us.” They saw them as “the immediate and efficient causes of the many dissentions and troubles now raigning in this Realm, no oppression being so forcible or oppressive to mens consciences, as that which is intruded on them concerning their Beliefe and the worship of God.”[58] They were neither Laudians nor sectaries in their religious beliefs. Their identification of local liberties of self-rule with the more general liberties of the subject, however, gives us an insight into the inherent royalism of their position. Serving as a member of the Corporation meant to Yeamans, Bowcher, and many of their colleagues on the Common Council being a royal officer, acting according to the city’s charters for the mutual benefit of the urban community and the kingdom at large. Among those committed to this vision, any action that threatened the political role of the mayor, aldermen, and Common Council as the proper agents of royal authority in the city would be met with resistance, whether it came from the king’s principal officers, as in the late 1620s and 1630s, or from the parliamentary army, as in 1642 and 1643. Since their own position in Bristol, and more generally in the English polity, depended in large measure on their relationship to the Crown, preserving the “liberties” of the city in the 1640s required restoring the king to his proper place at the head of the state.

Those who called for “accommodation” in 1642 and 1643 followed this same line of thinking. As we have seen, they spoke of the “strange and uncouth distractions that have lately broken forth into the Church of England,” the “many dissentions and troubles now raigning in this Realm,” and even of the king being “divorced from…the honourable the high Court of Parliament.”[59] This language carries with it a theory about what has gone wrong. “Distraction,” for example, refers to the physical rending asunder what organically belongs together; it is what happens when a traitor is beheaded, drawn, and quartered. “Divorce,” a relatively new word in the early modern period, refers to the separation of the head of a family from his helpmate.[60] From its earliest usage it carried a sense similar to “distract.” In the Third Book of Sir Philip Sidney’s New Arcadia, for example, Pamela’s executioner is said to have used his sword “to divorce the fair marriage of the head and body.”[61] “Dissent”—used especially in relation to religious matters—is the opposite of “consent” and implies a failure to apprehend and submit to the unifying truth. It depends on the existence of a natural union of parts that together form a harmonious whole. Taken together, the use of these terms to describe the disorder of the times gives us the image of a body politic—with head and members—torn apart. “Accommodation” was the proper remedy for this condition. In a strict sense it means bringing things into measure. In other words, it signifies putting back together in proper order that which belongs together. In the 1640s this could only mean restoring the king to his leadership, just as healing “divorce” in a family meant restoring the husband to its head. Bristolians who adopted this language were neutralists only in a tactical sense; their hierarchical vision of the social order, which made them desire peace within their community, also allied them with the king as the one force ultimately able in their vision of the world to bring harmony and proportion to the body politic.

For most of the Bristol magistrates this desire for unity was very strong in the early days of the Civil War.[62] In November 1642, when they decided to go ahead with the petitions that they had first discussed the previous May, they declared themselves “to be in love and amity one with another and doe desire a friendly assotiacion together in all mutuall accomodation.” At the same time, they ordered the parish clergy to meet with a committee for an “amiable accomodacon one with another throughout the whole Citty to the end the Ministers themselves and other of the inhabitants may be drawn” into discipline and order.[63] But it is clear that the possibility of preserving harmony was growing very dim. Not only had it taken them from May to July to agree on a first draft of their petitions and from November to January to redraft and send them,[64] but in the interval strong political forces were beginning to stir elsewhere in the city. By the end of November, the Common Council even found it necessary to forbid the wearing of colors and ribbons on hats to signify affiliation with the king’s party or the Parliament’s.[65] The aim was to prevent street violence as the political issues of the era diffused into the lower echelons of Bristol society and factionalism threatened to undermine authority in the city.

Despite its shortcomings, then, Corbet’s analysis of the politics of Bristol in the early 1640s has much to commend it. However, its efficacy depends precisely on avoiding a reductionist interpretation of his language.[66] Like the ancient writers from whom he derives his threefold system of categorization, Corbet’s understanding of the concept of class is never exclusively economic. It turns instead on understanding political power and wealth to be intertwined precisely because the possession of wealth typically carried with it the obligation of service and the capacity to command. It is true, of course, that no city’s politics can be made to fit neatly into a simple sociopolitical framework. It would be an oddly utopian world if all members of a given group, however defined, were found to conform their lives to a single formula. Nevertheless, Corbet was certainly right in seeing the majority of leading merchants taking sides with the king when events forced them, sometimes against their will, to decide where they stood. Their view of the world as well as their interests lay with him. And the king, for his part, knew well how to seal their allegiance to his cause. After his forces had seized Bristol in 1643, for example, he rewarded the Merchant Venturers for their “loyalty and fidelity” to him “in these late tymes of difficulty” by granting them the right to trade freely in the heretofore protected markets of the Company of the Merchant Adventurers of England and the Eastland, Russia, and Turkey Companies.[67] Although this patent had no more efficacy than Charles could give it, and his power in commercial matters was very limited in the mid-1640s, it was politically as well as legally the kind of grant that only a king could make. The leading Merchant Venturers lived according to a vision of public order that depended for its coherence on exactly this type of authority. They had spent decades in pursuit of favors of a similar sort. Hence Charles I’s generosity harmonized with their understanding as well as their self-interest.

Corbet was also right in thinking that many of the most ardent supporters of the parliamentary cause during the Civil War came from the ranks of the city’s shopkeepers and craftsmen. We can perhaps see this from the list of witnesses who appeared at Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes’s court-martial in December 1643 to support charges made by William Prynne and Clement Walker against Fiennes for his surrender of Bristol to Prince Rupert the previous July. These witnesses joined with Prynne and Walker in vigorously attacking Fiennes, the son of Lord Saye and Sele, for what they considered his lukewarm commitment to victory against the king and thoroughgoing reform in church and state. Where the leading Merchant Venturers had played the most important role as supporters of the Yeamans-Bowcher conspiracy, here we find on the parliamentary side precisely those middling men whom Corbet had argued were the greatest strength in Bristol. They were figures like Robert Bagnall, Henry Hassard, James Powell, William Deane, Abell Kelly, and John Batten, shopkeepers and artisans who later in the period would be prominent both as interlopers in overseas trade and as leaders in radical politics. Several came from William Yeamans’s circle in St. Philip’s, among them Dorothy Hassard, daughter of a prominent scrivener, sister or sister-in-law to other small dealers, and wife of Matthew Hassard, who had succeeded Yeamans as minister at St. Philip’s.[68] Given the links between the leading mere merchants and the Crown, it is hardly surprising that many men and women in the city’s middling ranks were filled with zeal for the good old cause. By the early 1640s, as we have already seen, a rich legacy of antagonism between figures from these groups and the Merchant Venturers had already been sustained for at least ninety years.

It would be a mistake to think that those who sided with Parliament in the Civil War did so primarily because of their grievances against the Merchant Venturers. No doubt most of them acted, as did the members of Yeamans’s circle, from deeply held religious and ideological convictions, not narrow self-interest. But for many Bristolians those convictions had taken shape in the context of long-standing grievances against the mere merchants’ claims of monopoly. The grievances themselves depended not only on the actual damage done by the Merchant Venturers to the social prospects or material welfare of their opponents but the aggrieved citizens’ beliefs about the requirements of justice owed to all of Bristol’s freemen. These views in turn helped define what it meant for them to live in a properly ordered and godly community. It is perhaps only to be expected that as a result of this process of ideological self-definition, men who opposed the Merchant Venturers’ monopolistic practices would be stirred into support for the parliamentary cause in the early 1640s, when politics continuously cut the middle ground from under the feet of those who might wish to stand upon it. The history of the Society was so deeply embedded in Bristol’s life and culture by this time that a person’s views about it could readily tip the balance one way or the other when large and difficult political decisions had to be made. The Merchant Venturers’ receipt of new letters patent in 1639 seems to have provided a number of the Society’s old opponents with a good reason to take the parliamentary side.

The careers of several leading supporters of the Long Parliament in Bristol can illustrate this connection between political radicalism and opposition to the Merchant Venturers’ monopoly. One of these supporters was Richard Vickris, trained as a fishmonger. He served on the commission appointed by the Long Parliament in 1645 to purge Bristol’s government of “delinquents” after Prince Rupert had been ousted from the city and to settle affairs in the interests of the parliamentary side. Although he had become a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers in the 1630s, he was among those resisting its authority to collect wharfage in 1638–39.[69] During the 1630s he had also regularly traded in partnership with nonmerchants, in violation of the Society’s strict ordinances forbidding this practice. So had another ardent parliamentary supporter, Richard Aldworth, cousin to Robert and a member of the Merchant Venturers, although he had been trained as a mercer. Aldworth was one of the Recruiter members of the Long Parliament added in 1646. Like Vickris, and perhaps John Whitson before him, Richard Aldworth seems to have held a view of the Merchant Venturers as a useful institution for commercial regulation but not as an exclusive organization for promoting the interests of a few. The other Recruiter member for Bristol was Luke Hodges, a grocer and sometime partner of Vickris, though never himself a member of the Merchant Venturers. In 1635 he had fallen afoul of the Bristol Corporation and was threatened with a heavy fine when he resisted election to the Common Council.[70] Although neither Aldworth nor Hodges was an extreme radical, both were politically committed members of the Long Parliament who conformed themselves to the revolution as it unfolded in the late 1640s and early 1650s. Hodges eventually became an excise commissioner for the Commonwealth in 1652.[71] For these three men, the shaping experience of opposition to the Merchant Venturers’ monopolistic claims and practices in the 1630s seems to help account, though by no means completely, for their alignment with Parliament in the 1640s.

Finally, we can also see something of the way the Merchant Venturers’ monopoly had entered into politics in the history of relations between the Society and its opponents in the aftermath of the New Model Army’s victorious siege in 1645. Parliament’s purge of the Common Council in 1645 removed ten men for their military service in the Royalist cause and for other forms of “delinquency.” Eight of them were Merchant Venturers, drawn from that same group of Spanish and Mediterranean traders who in the 1630s had looked to Robert Aldworth for leadership. In the years from 1645 to 1650, eighteen men were either restored to or newly elected to the Common Council. Only eight were Merchant Venturers. One of these members of the Society was Richard Vickris, who had been ousted from his council post by the Royalists in 1643. A second was his son Robert, who was probably an early sectary in his own right and who later married the daughter of George Bishop, one of the city’s leading radicals and a founding member of the Society of Friends in Bristol.[72] Two more were men who joined with the large throng of interlopers who entered the Merchant Venturers after the crackdown on illicit trade that followed the grant of new letters patent in 1639. A further two became members only after 1645, when the Society had markedly relaxed its old standards of admission.[73] In other words, not only did the proportion of Merchant Venturers added to the council drop from about 75 percent in the 1620s and 1630s to about 45 percent in this period, but even among the Merchant Venturers on the council there was no longer the same support for the old monopolistic policies and practices.

Because Bristol’s history in this era was so dominated by the relations of the Merchant Venturers to their fellow freemen, whether friends and associates or competitors and opponents, it is perhaps not surprising that the city should have faced the cataclysm of the Civil War by looking backward to this history. When victory came to the anti-monopolists in 1645, the remedy desired was the restoration of what they considered the rightful order of city life, an order in which the members of each trade or craft had their due place in the fabric of the community. Insofar as the reformed Common Council had a program in these years it was devoted to this end. Not only did the council seek to fill its ranks with a more even distribution of the wealthier occupational groupings in the city—mercers, grocers, soapmakers, and the like, as well as mere merchants—but it set out to put the city’s crafts on a footing equal to that enjoyed by the Merchant Venturers. In 1647, for example, the mercers and linendrapers organized themselves into a gild for regulating their trade; the turners did the same in 1649, the milleners in 1651, and the woolendrapers in 1658.[74] At the same time, several of the older gilds strengthened their enforcement powers by passing ordinances permitting them to recover fines by legal action before city courts rather than by the traditional but difficult and dangerous procedure of seizing goods directly from wrongdoers. The whitawers did so in 1646, the weavers in 1649, and the newly revived company of barber-surgeons in 1652.[75] In these various ways a concerted effort was made to use the old mechanisms of social and economic control, strengthened by new procedures, to bring balance and order to the civic community. The same principle was at work in 1647 when the Common Council ordered the city’s law courts, the Tolzey and the Mayor’s Court, to “be kept & continued as antiently.”[76] In 1652 it carried its purposes further when it made general the use of legal process to collect fines for violation of its own ordinances and regulations.[77]

This evidence also hints at another important feature of the period—its social and economic turmoil. The very fact that the gilds and the city government needed to revive or revise their old regulatory schemes suggests that enforcement had fallen into disarray. During a half-decade or more of strife, Bristol’s affairs had been marked by two full-scale sieges in 1643 and 1645, a major outbreak of plague, the garrisoning of the city by Parliament, by the king, and by Parliament again, and the corresponding turnover of power in the city from one local faction to another. It is no wonder that the traditional mechanisms of social and economic control required renovation. Moreover, the presence of a substantial parliamentary garrison at Bristol Castle after 1645 made the city something of an open market for strangers who might wish to come to the city to take advantage of the new, more fluid economic and political situation this created.[78] In response to these chaotic conditions, the reformed Common Council of Bristol was anxious to establish a social order in which each trade and craft received its due according to the council’s understanding of the ancient traditions of the city.

In a sense, the reformers had accepted the main premise behind the Merchant Venturers’ own desire for control of its trade. They saw a city composed of functionally interrelated economic specialties, each supporting the others through the proper management of its own affairs. To assure this outcome the council wanted all the crafts to have the necessary powers to protect themselves against encroachments from others, and it willingly granted them new privileges to assure that they could. Where a particular group could not defend itself on its own, or where economic disorder arose outside the bounds of craft organization, the city government was ready to assist in imposing its tradition-minded vision of order, employing its own new techniques to do so. This conception of policy implied that the Merchant Venturers would take their place—inevitably, an important one—within the prevailing division of labor. They would no longer be guaranteed superiority in rights and privileges, as they had long desired. Instead, they would become the first among equals in an economy of coordinated and mutually supportive parts.

No matter how fervently the Common Council sought to restore the old vision of order in this newly purified form, they were bound to have difficulty in doing so. Between the late 1630s and the early 1650s, the economic world in which they lived had undergone a profound and irreversible change. We can get a brief glimpse of that change in the preamble to the ordinances of yet one more new gild founded in 1652, the Company and Fellowship of Tobacco Pipemakers. According to this document, “the Art and Skill of makeing Tobacco Pipes” had now “become a Trade…very usefull and beneficial to the makers of them within this Citty,” one capable of supporting “many Inhabitants and Free Burgesses,” their wives, families, and apprentices. At its foundation there were already twenty-five active masters in the Company, who had “been bread and brought up Apprentices in the same Art.”[79] Tobacco had been a highly valued trading item for decades, of course, but this new industry could never have taken hold in Bristol on this scale during the 1620s or 1630s, when only tiny quantities of Spanish and Virginia tobacco found their way to the city. We have here the first hint that a major new market in American commodities had emerged in Bristol between the granting of the Merchant Venturers’ letters patent in 1639 and the founding of this Company of Tobacco Pipemakers in 1652. In the next section we shall examine the effects of the extraordinarily rapid growth of this market on Bristol’s life in the second half of the seventeenth century. Previously we explored the history of the city from William Smith’s double perspective, laying it in platform, if you will, in its changing landscape of socioeconomic practices and political and ideological structures. Now we shall use a microscope to study the new form of life that emerged in the city after 1650. When we have completed this task we will be in a position to evaluate Bristol’s transition from a medieval commercial center to an entrepôt of early modern capitalism.


1. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 6v, printed with an incorrect citation in McGrath, ed., Merchants and Merchandise, p. 144. The six paper books do not appear to have survived. Possibly they were a version of the so-called “Proceedings and Debates,” many copies of which were made and circulated after this Parliament: see Robert C. Johnson, Mary Frear Keeler, Maija Jansson Cole, and William B. Bidwell, eds., Proceedings in Parliament, 1628, 6 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977–1983), vol. 1, pp. 4–33; see also Wallace Notestein and Frances Helen Relf, eds., Commons Debates for 1629 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1921), introduction; R. Malcolm Smuts, “Parliament, the Petition of Right and Politics,” Journal of Modern History 50 (1978): pp. 714–15. [BACK]

2. See, e.g., PRO, SP 16/21/111, 16/23/105, 16/40/25, 16/42/84, 16/43/52, 16/47/37, 16/49/62, 16/51/31, 63, 66, 16/75/9, 16/77/10, 16/78/30, 34, 36, 16/79/6, 16/80/36, 42, 69, 16/82/24, 16/94/58, 58i, 63, 63i, 16/95/43, 46, 16/96/14, 16/100/42, 16/101/39, 16/109/28, 16/113/46, 16/119/50; APC (March 1625–May 1626), pp. 38, 272; APC (June–December 1626), pp. 47–49, 109–10, 129–30, 209, 415–16; APC (January–August 1627), pp. 33–34, 159–61, 398, 506, 508; APC (September 1627–June 1628), pp. 4, 55, 58, 75, 82–83, 105–6, 132–33; APC (July 1628–April 1629), pp. 57, 100. [BACK]

3. See, e.g., PRO, SP 16/1/12, 16/21/111, 16/22/22, 16/26/45, 16/29/17, 35, 16/32/33, 16/36/96, 16/37/54, 65, 86, 16/38/77, 90, 16/41/80, 16/42/8, 14, 70, 84, 16/47/20, 37, 16/48/2, 6, 7, 28, 16/49/62, 16/51/51, 66, 16/70/48, 52, 16/72/43, 16/73/11, 11i, 16/74/20, 16/82/52, 16/83/19, 23, 27, 16/87/25, 66, 16/91/75, 16/115/p. 19, 16/144/22, 16/177/12; APC (January–August 1627), pp. 353–54; APC (September 1627–June 1628), pp. 86–87, 186–87, 277, 287–88, 323–24, 342. See also J. W. Damer Powell, Bristol Privateers and Ships of War (Bristol: J. W. Arrowsmith, 1930), pp. 69–85. For a general account of Admiralty regulation of privateering, see Kenneth R. Andrews, Elizabethan Privateering: English Privateering during the Spanish War, 1585–1603 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), esp. pp. 22–31; Andrews, Trade, Plunder and Settlement, chap. 11. [BACK]

4. PRO, SP 16/94/58, 58i, 63, 63i, 16/95/43, 16/96/14, 16/100/42. By the spring of 1628 the resistance of the Bristolians to the Crown’s demands had become focused on the duke of Buckingham. One reason Buxton had such difficulty in the city was that his commission came from the Lord Admiral, not the Privy Council. As Buxton wrote to Edward Nicholas, many Bristolians “do think nay in a manner say that my Lords warrant will not be sufficient”: PRO, SP 16/95/46. [BACK]

5. See Livock, ed., City Chamberlain’s Accounts, p. xxv. [BACK]

6. PRO, SP 16/113/46. [BACK]

7. PRO, SP 16/108/11, 16/109/6, 28, 16/112/47, 48. [BACK]

8. Adams’s Chronicle, pp. 256, 258; PRO, SP 16/273/1. See also PRO, SP 16/373/84. [BACK]

9. Put another way, the Bristol magistrates appear to have been tending toward a form of “country ideology”: see J. G. A. Pocock, “Machiavelli, Harrington and English Political Ideologies in the Eighteenth Century,” in his Politics, Language and Time: Essays on Political Thought and History (New York: Atheneum, 1973), pp. 104–47, esp. pp. 123–24; Lawrence Stone, The Causes of the English Revolution, 1529–1642 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), pp. 105–8; Lawrence Stone, “Results of the English Revolutions of the Seventeenth Century,” in J. G. A. Pocock, ed., Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 32–37. [BACK]

10. Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), p. 59. [BACK]

11. For the materials collected in the city’s register books, see LRB; Veale, ed., Great Red Book; Ralph, ed., Great White Book. [BACK]

12. See J. H. Hexter, “Power, Parliament and Liberty in Early Stuart England,” in his Reappraisals in History: New Views on History and Society in Early Modern Europe, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 163–218. [BACK]

13. J. H. Hexter, “The Birth of Modern Freedom,” Times Literary Supplement, 21 January 1983, pp. 51–54. [BACK]

14. H. E. Mathews, ed., Proceedings of the Company of Soapmakers, 1562–1642 (BRS 10, 1939), pp. 6–8, 194ff.; PRO, SP 16/288/49, 16/289/94, 16/308/14, 16/328/33, 33i, 16/356/101, 16/377/46; Adams’s Chronicle, pp. 256–57; Latimer, Annals, pp. 121–22. [BACK]

15. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 110r. [BACK]

16. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, f. 134r; vol. 3, f. 198r. Derek Hirst argues that the freemen won a victory in 1640: Derek Hirst, The Representative of the People? Voters and Voting and the Early Stuarts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 195. But he misinterprets the evidence. The “allies” mentioned in the return for this election were the other freeholders, not the freemen. [BACK]

17. Based on analysis of BRO, Burgess Book (1607–51); see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 2, pp. 752–58. [BACK]

18. BRO, MS 04026 (9), f. 105r; Jean Vanes, “The Overseas Trade of Bristol in the Sixteenth Century,” Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1975, p. 167. [BACK]

19. Edgeworth, Sermons, f. 209v. [BACK]

20. Ibid., f. 211r–v. [BACK]

21. Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982). [BACK]

22. See above, pp. 145, 183–85, and 190–91. [BACK]

23. Edgeworth, Sermons, ff. 43v–44r. [BACK]

24. Ibid., f. 266r. [BACK]

25. Ibid., f. 279v. [BACK]

26. Ibid., f. 265v. [BACK]

27. Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to Be Read in the Churches in the Time of Queen Elizabeth I (1547–1571): A Facsimile Reproduction of the Edition of 1623, introduction by Mary Ellen Rickey and Thomas B. Stroup, 2 vols. in 1 (Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1968), part 1, pp. 69–77. See also ibid., part 2, pp. 271–310; Richard B. Bond, ed., Certain Sermons or Homilies (1547) and A Homily against Disobedience and Wilful Rebellion (1570): A Critical Edition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), pp. 161–73, 209–59. [BACK]

28. See William Laud, The Works of the Most Reverent Father in God, William Laud, D.D. Sometime Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, ed. W. Scott and J. Bliss, 7 vols. in 9 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1847–1860), vol. 7, p. 31; Edward Elbridge Salisbury, Family Memorials: A Series of Genealogical and Biographical Monographs on the Families of Salisbury, Aldworth-Elbridge, Sewall, Pyldren-Dummer, Walley, Quincy, Wendell, Breese, Chevalier-Anderson and Phillips, 1 vol. in 2 (New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse and Taylor, 1885), vol. 1, part 1, pp. 103–21, and “Pedigree of Aldworth-Elbridge,” facing p. 142. [BACK]

29. See, e.g., “Will of Alderman Robert Aldworth,” BRO, Great Orphan Book, vol. 2, ff. 16r–17r, and “Will of Alderman Henry Yate,” ff. 21r–24r. Aldworth’s own funeral monument is itself an example of the high baroque style favored by many of the followers of Laud in this period; for a photograph see Damer Powell, Bristol Privateers and Ships of War, facing p. 72. [BACK]

30. PRO, SP 16/41/80; Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (London: Secker and Warburg, 1964), pp. 13–29. [BACK]

31. See Whitson, Aged Christians Final Farewell; “Will of John Whitson,” BRO, Great Orphan Book, vol. 2, ff. 244v–250v; Jordan, Forming of the Charitable Institutions, pp. 23–24, 30, 33, 38, 39. But see also John Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed. Oliver Lawson Dick (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), pp. 366–67; McGrath, John Whitson, pp. 1–22. [BACK]

32. See above, pp. 220–21 and p. 408 n.92. [BACK]

33. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, ff. 44–45; “Will of William Tucker,” in Wadley, ed., Great Orphan Book, pp. 245–46; “Will of Christopher Whitson,” BRO, Great Orphan Book, vol. 2, ff. 100v–103v. [BACK]

34. “Will of William Yeamans, gent.,” PRO, PROB 6/17 Essex; “Will of Mathew Warren,” BRO, Great Orphan Book, vol. 2, ff. 36v–39v; George Bishop, A Relation of the Inhumane and Barbarous Sufferings of the People Called Quakers in the City of Bristol during the Mayoralty of John Knight commonly called Sir John Knight (London, 1665), p. 75; see also Mortimer, ed., Minute Book, p. 220. [BACK]

35. For the early history of the group see Hayden, ed., Records, pp. 13, 17, 19, 84, 88. [BACK]

36. See Collinson, Religion of Protestants, chap. 6. [BACK]

37. See above, pp. 145, 232. [BACK]

38. “Will of Edward Chetwyn,” PRO, PROB 6/115 Harvey; PRO, SP 16/35/92; Anthony à Wood, Athenae Oxonienses: An Exact History of all the Writers who have had their Education in the University of Oxford, 3d ed., with additions by Philip Bliss, 4 vols. (London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1813–1820), vol. 2, p. 641, and vol. 4, p. 375; DNB, “Edward Chetwynd,” “John Chetwynd”; Thomas G. Barnes, Somerset, 1625–1640: A County Government during the “Personal Rule” (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961), pp. 32, 34–35, 71; David Underdown, Somerset in the Civil War and Interregnum (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1973), pp. 22, 27, 143, 171. [BACK]

39. Many of them voted for “E” in the first election. If this indeed is the symbol for Giles Elbridge, it is perhaps understandable that the Aldworth faction should do so. [BACK]

40. Laud, Works, vol. 7, p. 568. For further evidence of poor relations between Berkshire and Laud, particularly involving their respective connections with the city of Oxford and the university, see ibid., vol. 4, pp. 174–75, and vol. 5, pp. 123–24, 244, 245, 274–80, 283–84. See also Edward Hyde, The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars of England, new ed., 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1843), vol. 1, p. 371. [BACK]

41. Bishop, Throne of Blood, p. 109. [BACK]

42. For the outlines of Chetwyn’s career in civic office see Beaven, Lists, p. 235. [BACK]

43. Mary F. Keeler, The Long Parliament, 1640–1641: A Biographical Study of Its Members (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1954), pp. 220–221, 255–56; CJ, vol. 2, pp. 415, 567; C. H. Firth and R. S. Rait, eds., Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642–1660, 3 vols. (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1911) vol. 1, pp. 797–98. [BACK]

44. Latimer, Annals, pp. 157, 158, 181, 189, 205, 210, 214; DNB, “Sir John Glanville, the younger.” [BACK]

45. John Corbet, An Historical Relation of the Military Government of Gloucester from the beginning of the Civill Warre betweene the King and Parliament to the removall of Colonell Massie from that Government to the Command of the Westerne Forces (London, 1645), p. 14. [BACK]

46. Corbet, Military Government of Gloucester. See also Latimer, Annals, pp. 164–65; Roger Howell, Jr., “The Structure of Urban Politics in the English Civil War,” Albion 11 (1979): 118. [BACK]

47. The participation of “the middling sort” has been emphasized by Howell, “Structure of Urban Politics,” p. 115. For notes on the interrogation of the leaders and others, see Bodleian Library, Portland MSS, Nalson Papers, N. XIII, 151, 155–71, 190; see also Historical Manuscripts Commission, The Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland Preserved at Welbeck Abbey, 10 vols. (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1891), vol. 1, p. 107. I am grateful to His Grace the Duke of Portland for permission to consult and photocopy this material. [BACK]

48. See Howell, “Structure of Urban Politics,” p. 118. [BACK]

49. In their petition to the king the Bristolians refer directly to the Londoners’ earlier petition, which the Bristolians say had invoked the king’s “Royall assistance and suffrage for the establishing an unanimous tranquillity throughout this Realme”: The Humble Petition of the Citie of Bristoll, for An Accommodation of Peace between His Majestie, and the Honourable the High Court of Parliament As it was presented to the Kings Most Excellent Majestie, at the Court at Oxford, by foure of the Aldermen of the said Citie; on Saturday the seventh of Januarie, with His Majesties gracious Answer therunto (Oxford, 1643), p. 3. See also The Petition of the Most Svbstantiall Inhabitants of the Citie of London, And the Liberties thereof, to the Lords and Commons for Peace Together with the Answer to the same And the Reply of the Petitioners (Oxford, 1642). For discussion of the campaign for “accommodation” in 1642, see Anthony Fletcher, The Outbreak of the English Civil War (London: Edward Arnold, 1981), pp. 264–82. For the link between accommodation and royalism, see John Pym, A Discoverie of the Great Plot for the Utter Ruine of the City of London and the Parliament. As it was at large made known…the eighth of June, 1643 (London, 1643); Edward Montague and John Pym, Two Speeches spoken by the Earl of Manchester and Jo: Pym; as a reply to his Maiesties answer to…Londons Petition (London, 1643); T. B. Howell, ed., Cobbett’s Complete Collection of State Trials, 33 vols. (London: R. Bagshaw, 1809–1826), vol. 4, pp. 626–53; Samuel R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, 1642–1649, 4 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, 1901–4), vol. 1, pp. 7–9, 74–75, 146–49; see also Warren L. Chernaik, The Poetry of Limitation: A Study of Edmund Waller (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), pp. 19–34; Jack G. Gilbert, Edmund Waller (Boston: Twayne, 1979), pp. 24–25; J. H. Hexter, The Reign of King Pym (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1941), pp. 9–10, 31–32, 104n. 2; Valerie Pearl, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution: City Government and National Politics, 1625–43 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), pp. 253–56, 265–66. [BACK]

50. The Petition of the Most Svbstantiall Inhabitants…of London, sig. A1b. [BACK]

51. The Humble Petition, pp. 4–5. [BACK]

52. Ibid. [BACK]

53. Ibid. [BACK]

54. For a somewhat different interpretation of this material see Howell, “Structure of Urban Politics,” p. 119. [BACK]

55. Two State Martyrs, in Seyer, Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 373. [BACK]

56. J. Toombes, Jehovah Jirah, or Gods Providence in Delivering the Godly (London, 1643), sig. A4b. [BACK]

57. Clement Walker, The Severall Examinations and Confessions of the Treacherous Conspirators against the Citie of Bristol (London, 1643), p. 12. See also Bodleian Library, Portland MSS, Nalson Papers, N. XIII, 151, 155–71, 190, 210; HMC, The Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland Preserved at Welbeck Abbey, 10 vols. (London, 1891), vol. 1, p. 107. [BACK]

58. The Humble Petition, p. 5. [BACK]

59. Ibid. [BACK]

60. The usage here seems to owe a debt to James I’s speech at the opening of Parliament in 1624, when he specifically referred to the king and Parliament as husband and wife: LJ, vol. 3, p. 209. [BACK]

61. Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (The New Arcadia), ed. Victor Skretkowicz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p. 426. The Oxford English Dictionary gives this instance as the first known usage of “divorce.” [BACK]

62. See Howell, “Structure of Urban Politics,” p. 118. [BACK]

63. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 4, pp. 5, 6. [BACK]

64. In July the Common Council decided to withhold the petitions thus agreed upon “in regards they have bin so long retarded”: BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 122r–v. The first reference to the petitions is to be found on f. 119v. [BACK]

65. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 4, p. 13. [BACK]

66. Brian Manning falls into this trap in his The English People and the English Revolution (London: Heinemann, 1976), which is criticized by Howell, “Structure of Urban Politics,” pp. 114–15. [BACK]

67. It is evidence of the short-term political character of this grant that the original letters patent of 1643 do not survive in the records of the Merchant Venturers. The Society retained only a copy of the original, made under the Great Seal in 1669: Latimer, Merchant Venturers, pp. 106–7. [BACK]

68. William Prynne and Clement Walker, A True and Full Relation of the Prosecution, Arraignment, Tryall, and Condemnation of Nathaniel Fiennes, late Colonel and Governor of the City of Bristoll, Before a Councell of War held at Saint Albans during Nine dayes space in December, 1643 (London, 1643), pp. 16, 17, 42, 44, and the appended Catalogue of Witnesses, pp. 21, 27, 28, 32, 33; Hayden, ed., Records, pp. 17–19. [BACK]

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

70. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, f. 122r. [BACK]

71. On the politics of these men in the 1640s see David Underdown, Pride’s Purge: Politics in the Puritan Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), pp. 366, 376, 393; John R. MacCormack, Revolutionary Politics in the Long Parliament (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), pp. 328, 335. [BACK]

72. See Hayden, ed., Records, p. 103; Mortimer, ed., Minute Book, pp. 58, 133, 218. [BACK]

73. These conclusions are based on analysis of McGrath, ed., Records, pp. 27–30, 261; Beaven, Lists, pp. 119 and 185–315. [BACK]

74. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, pp. 149, 165, and vol. 4, pp. 5, 18, 19, 178, 179; BRO, MS 04369 (1), pp. 69–70; BRO, MS 08157, pp. 37–46, 51–59; BRO, MS 01244; John Latimer, “The Mercers’ and Linen Drapers’ Company of Bristol,” BGAS 26 (1903): 288. The mercers’ and linendrapers’ act book beginning in 1647 has survived: Bristol Central Library, MS B 4939. [BACK]

75. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, pp. 160, 200; BRO, MS 04369 (1), pp. 61–67. This procedure was first adopted by the soapmakers in 1618 and later employed by the bakers in 1621, the wiredrawers in 1629, and the mechant taylors in 1640: BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 2, f. 78r–v; BRO, MS 04369 (1), pp. 125, 130; F. F. Fox, ed., Ancient Fraternity of Merchant Taylors, p. 90. For a discussion of the significance of this change in enforcement procedures see Sacks, Trade, Society and Politics, vol. 1, pp. 138–40. [BACK]

76. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, vol. 3, p. 163. [BACK]

77. BRO, MS 04273 (1), f. 72r. [BACK]

78. See, e.g., the Merchant Taylors’ ordinance of 4 December 1649 complaining of the intrusions of numerous strangers in their craft and ordering that for the future only men apprenticed in Bristol could receive protection from the Merchant Taylors’ Company: Bristol Central Library, MS B 4788, Ordinance. [BACK]

79. BRO, MS 04369 (1), p. 127; see also John E. Pritchard, “Tobacco Pipes of Bristol of the XVIIth Century and Their Makers,” BGAS 45 (1923): 165–91. [BACK]

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