The History of British Commerce/Volume 1/Chapter 4
FROM THE ACCESSION OF HENRY III. TO THE END OF THE REIGN OF RICHARD II. A.D. 1216 — 1399.
The history of English commerce during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries is in great part the record of a course of legislative attempts to resist or annul the laws of nature, such as probably never was outdone in any other country. A full detail would serve no useful purpose; but a few samples will be found both curious and instructive.
A term which makes a great figure in the commercial regulations of this period is that of the Staple. The word, in its primary acceptation, appears to have meant a particular port or other place to which certain commodities were obliged to be brought to be weighed or measured for the payment of the customs, before they could be sold, or in some cases exported or imported. Here the king's staple was said to be established. The articles of English produce upon which customs were anciently paid were wool, sheep-skins (or woolfels), and leather; and these were accordingly denominated the staples or staple goods of the kingdom. The persons who exported these goods were called the Merchants of the Staple: they were incorporated, or at least recognized as forming a society with certain privileges, in the reign of Edward II,, if not earlier. Hakluyt has printed a charter granted by Edward II., the 20th of May, 1313, to the mayor and council of the merchants of the staple, in which he ordains that all merchants, whether natives or foreigners, buying wool and woolfels in his dominions for exportation, should, instead of carrying them for sale, as they had been wont to do, to several places in Brabant, Flanders, and Artois, carry them in future only to one certain staple in one of those countries, to be appointed by the said mayor and council. It appears that, upon this, Antwerp was made the staple. But, although the power of naming the place, and also of changing it, was thus conferred upon the society, this part of the charter seems to have been very soon disregarded. In subsequent times the interferences of the king and the legislature with regard to the staple were incessant. In 1326 it was, by the royal order, removed altogether from the continent, and fixed at certain places within the kingdom. Cardiff, in Wales, a town belonging to Hugh Despenser, is the only one of these new English staples the name of which has been preserved. It may be noted, also, that tin is now mentioned as one of the staple commodities. In 1328 (by the statute 2 Edw. III. c. 9) it was enacted, "that the staples beyond the sea and on this side, ordained by kings in times past, and the pains thereupon provided, shall cease, and that all merchant strangers and privy (that is, foreigners and natives) may go and come with their merchandizes into England, after the tenor of the Great Charter." In 1332, however, we find the king ordaining, in the face of this act, that staples should be held in various places within the kingdom. Acts of parliament, indeed, on all kinds of subjects were as yet accustomed to be regarded by all degrees of people as little more than a sort of moral declarations or preachments on the part of the legislature—expressions of its sentiments—but scarcely as laws which were compulsory like the older laws of the kingdom. Most of them were habitually broken, until they had been repeated over and over again; and this repetition, rather than the exaction of the penalty, appears to have been the recognized mode of enforcing or establishing the law. In many cases, indeed, such a way of viewing the statute was justified by the principle on which it was evidently passed; it was often manifestly, if not avowedly, intended by its authors themselves as only a tentative or experimental enactment, the ultimate enforcement of which was to depend upon the manner in which it was found to work. The act of parliament was frequently entitled, not a statute, but an ordinance; and in that case it seems to have been merely proposed as an interim regulation. which was not to become a permanent law until some trial should have been had of it, and such amendments made in it as were found by experience to be necessary. In other cases, again, and those of no rare occurrence, the law was of such a nature that it could not be carried into execution; it was an attempt to accomplish what was impossible. These considerations may account for the numerous instances in which our old laws are merely confirmations, or in other words, repetitions of some preceding law, and also for the extraordinary multiplication which we find of fluctuating or contradictory laws. Of this latter description, those relating to the staple afford an eminent example. In 1334, all the lately established staples were again abolished by the king in a parliament held at York. In 1341, the staple was re-established by a royal act at Bruges, in Flanders. In 1348, again, after the capture of Calais, that town was made the staple for tin, lead, feathers, English-made woollen cloths and worsted stuffs, for seven years. All the former inhabitants of Calais, with the exception, it is said, of one priest and two lawyers, had been removed, and an English colony, of which thirty-six merchants from London were the principal members, had been settled in their room. In 1353, by the statute called the Ordinance of the Staples (27 Edw. III. st. 2, c. 1), the staple for wool, leather, woolfels, and lead, was once more removed from the continent by act of parliament, and ordered to be held for ever in the following places, and no others—namely, for England, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, York, Lincoln, Norwich, Westminster, Canterbury, Chichester, Exeter, and Bristol for Wales, at Carmarthen; and for Ireland, at Dublin, Waterford, Cork, and Drogheda. The " for ever" of this statute remained in force for ten years, and no longer. From the preamble of the statute 43 Edw. III., it appears that it had been ordained, for the profit of the realm, and ease of the merchants of England, that the staple of wools, woolfels, and leather, should be holden at Calais; and that there accordingly it had been holden since the 1st of March, 1363. By this last mentioned act, however, passed in 1369, it was again, in consequence of the renewal of the war with France, fixed at certain places within the kingdom—being for Ireland and Wales the same that have been just mentioned, but with the substitution, in the case of England, of Hull, Boston, Yarmouth, and Queenburgh, for Canterbury, York, Lincoln, and Norwich. In 1376 nevertheless, on the complaint of the inhabitants of Calais, that their city was declining, the staple was restored to that place; and it was now made to comprehend, not only the ancient commodities of wool, woolfels, and leather, and those more recently added of lead, tin, worsted stuffs, and feathers, but also cheese, butter, honey, tallow, peltry (or skins of all kinds), and what are called "gaulæ," which have been supposed to mean osiers for making baskets; these different articles probably comprehending all the ordinary exports from the kingdom. But this restriction of the whole export trade to one market was soon relaxed. In 1378 (by the 2nd Rich. II. Stat. 1, c. 3), it was enacted, that all merchants of Genoa, Venice, Catalonia, Arragon, and other countries toward the West, that would bring their vessels to Southampton, or elsewhere within the realm, might there freely sell their goods, and also recharge their vessels with wools, and the other merchandises of the staple, on paying the same customs or duties that would have been payable at Calais; and in 1382 (by the 5th Rich. II. Stat. 2, c. 2), all merchants, whether foreigners or natives, were permitted to carry wool, leather, and woolfels, to any country whatever, except France, on payment of the Calais duties beforehand. In 1384, we find the wool-staple altogether removed from Calais, and established at Middleburgh. In 1388 (by the statute 12 Rich. II. c. 16), it was ordered to be fixed once more at Calais; but in 1390 (by the 14th Rich. II. c. 1), it was brought back to the same English towns in which it had been fixed in 1353. The very next year, however, it was enacted that, instead of these towns, the staple should be held at such others upon the coast as the lords of the council should direct; and it would even appear (from the 15th Rich. II. c. 8), that, at least for a part of the year, the staple of wool and also of tin was still at Calais. "Staples and restraints in England, and a second staple and other restraints at the same time on the continent!" exclaims the historian of our commerce, in noting this fact: "the condition of the merchants who were obliged to deal in staple goods was truly pitiable in those days of perpetual changes." It is not quite clear, however, that the English staples were still continued; it is perhaps more probable that they had been abolished when the staple was restored to Calais. However this may be, it appears from the statute 21 Rich. II. c. 17, passed in 1398, that at that time Calais was the only staple; and such it continued to be from this time till it was recovered by the French in 1538, when the staple was established at Bruges. The old staple laws, however, had been considerably relaxed in the course of that long interval.
The history of the staple is an important part of the history of our early foreign commerce, of which it in some degree illustrates the growth and gradual extension from the progressive development of the resources of the country, as well as the artificial bonds and incumbrances against the pressure and entanglement of which the principle of that natural growth had to force its way. We now proceed to quote some further instances of the perplexities, the blunders, and the generally oppressive or annoying character of our ancient commercial legislation. One of the prerogatives assumed by the crown in those days, somewhat similar in its nature to that of fixing the staple of the foreign trade of the kingdom, was the right of restricting all mercantile dealings whatever, for a time, to a certain place. Thus, Matthew Paris tells us that, in the year 1245, Henry III. proclaimed a fair to be held at Westminster, on which occasion he ordered that all the traders of London should shut up their shops, and carry their goods to be sold at the fair, and that all other fairs throughout England should be suspended during the fifteen days it was appointed to last. The king's object, no doubt, was to obtain a supply of money from the tolls and other dues of the market. What made this interference be felt as a greater hardship was, that the weather, all the time of the fair, happened to be excessively bad; so that not only the goods were spoilt, exposed as they were to the rain in tents only covered with cloth, and that probably imperfectly enough; but the dealers themselves, who were obliged to eat their victuals with their feet in the mud, and the wind and wet about their ears, suffered intolerably. Four years afterwards the king repeated the same piece of tyranny, and was again seconded by the elements in a similar fashion. This time, too, the historian tells us, scarcely any buyers came to the fair; so that it is no wonder the unfortunate merchants were loud in expressing their dissatisfaction. But the king, he adds, did not mind the imprecations of the people.
There was nothing that more troubled and bewildered both the legislature and the popular understanding, during the whole of this period, than the new phenomena connected with the increasing foreign trade of the country. The advantages of this augmented intercourse with other parts of the world were sensibly enough felt, but very imperfectly comprehended; hence one scheme after another to retain the benefit upon terms wholly inconsistent with the necessary conditions of its existence. Of course, in all exchange of commodities between two countries, besides that supply of the respective wants of each which constitutes the foundation or sustaining element of the commerce, a certain portion of what the consumer pays must fall to the share of the persons by whose agency the commerce is carried on. It is this that properly forms the profits of the commerce, as distinguished from its mere advantages or conveniences. The general advantages of the commerce, apart from the profits of the agents, are alone the proper concern of the community: as for the mere profits of the agency the only interest of the community is, that they shall be as low as possible. From the course, however, that the popular feeling has at all times taken, it might be supposed that the very contrary was the case; for the cry has constantly been in favour of making this agency, as far as possible, a monopoly in the hands of the native merchants, although the effect of the exclusion of foreign competition, if it could be accomplished, really could be nothing else than an enhancement of the profits of the agency, and consequently of the charge upon the consumer. In fact, if the exclusion were not expected to produce this effect, it never would be sought for by the native merchants. That it should be sought for by them is natural enough, but that they should be supported in this demand by the community at large is only an instance of popular prejudice and delusion. In all commerce, and especially in all foreign commerce, a body of intermediate agents, to manage the exchange of the commodities, is indispensable; the goods must be brought from the one country to the other, which makes what is called the carrying trade; they must be collected in shops or warehouses for distribution by sale; even their original production, in many cases, cannot be efficiently accomplished without the regular assistance of a third class of persons,—namely, dealers in money or in credit. But to the public at large it is really a matter of perfect indifference whether these merchants, ship-owners, and bankers or other capitalists, be natives or foreigners. Not so, however, thought our ancestors in the infancy of our foreign commerce. The commerce itself was sufficiently acceptable; but the foreigners, by whose aid it was necessary in part carried on, were the objects of a most intense and restless jealousy. Whatever portion of the profits of the commerce fell to their share was looked upon as nothing better than so much plunder. This feeling was even in some degree extended to the whole of the foreign nation with which the commerce was carried on; and, in the notion that all trade was of the nature of a contest between two adverse parties, and that whatever the one country gained the other lost, the inflammation of the popular mind occasionally rose to such a height that nothing less would satisfy it than an abjuration of the foreign trade altogether. But it never was long before this precipitate resolution was repented of and revoked.
In the wars between Henry III. and his barons, the latter endeavoured to turn to account against the king the national jealousy of foreigners, which his partiality to his wife's French connexions had greatly exasperated. In 1261 they passed a law which may be regarded as the first attempt to establish what has been called, in modern times, the manufacturing system. It prohibited the exportation of wool, the chief staple of the country, and ordained that no woollen cloths should be worn except such as were manufactured at home. Whatever may be thought of the policy of nursing the infancy of domestic manufactures in certain circumstances by protections of this description, the present attempt was undoubtedly premature, and its authors confessed as much by appending to their prohibition against the importation of foreign cloth an injunction or recommendation that all persons should avoid every superfluity in dress. What were thus denounced as extravagant superfluities were evidently those finer fabrics which could not yet be produced in England. The effect of this law, in so far as it was enforced or obeyed, could only have been to add to the general distress, by embarrassing more or less all classes of persons that had been ever so remotely connected with the foreign trade, and above all others the chief body of producers in the kingdom. If the wool was not to go out of the country, much wealth both in money and in goods would be prevented from coming in, and all the branches of industry which that wealth had hitherto contributed to sustain and feed would suffer depression.
It would appear that, either from want of skill, or a scarcity of woad in consequence of the usual importations from the continent being checked, dyed cloths could not be obtained in sufficient quantity in England a few years after this time; for it is recorded that many people were now wont to dress themselves in cloth of the natural colour of the wool. Simon de Montford, it seems, professed to be an admirer of this plainness of apparel, and was accustomed to maintain that foreign commerce was unnecessary, the produce of the country being fully sufficient to supply all the wants of its inhabitants. And so no doubt it was, and would be still, on this principle of rigidly eschewing ail superfluities; but that is the principle of the stationary and savage state, not of civilization and progressive improvement.
The prohibition against the importation of foreign cloth, however, appears to have been soon repealed. In 1271, when disputes broke out between Henry and the Countess of Flanders, we find it renewed in terms which imply that the trade had for some time previous been carried on as usual. This second suspension, also, was of short duration; and on various subsequent occasions, on which the attempt was made to break off the natural commercial intercourse between the English producers and the Flemish manufacturers, the result was the same; the inconvenience was found to be so intolerable to both countries that it never was submitted to for more than a few months or weeks.
Absurd regulations, however, were from time to time imposed on the trade carried on by foreigners, the temper and principle of which would, if carried out, have led to its complete extinction, and which, half measures as they were, could only have had the effect of diminishing its natural advantages. In 1275, for instance, an order was issued by Edward I., obliging all foreign merchants to sell their goods within forty days after their arrival. If foreigners continued to resort to the country in the face of the additional risks created by this law,—risks of inadequate returns if they complied with it, of detection and punishment if they attempted to evade it,—we may be certain they exacted a full equivalent in the shape of higher prices for their goods; or, if they failed to do this, they must soon have been forced to give up the trade altogether, for there was no other way by which it could be made to yield its usual profits.
In the year 1290 the bigotry and rapacity of Edward I. inflicted what must have proved a severe blow upon the commerce of the kingdom by the sudden expulsion of the whole body of the Jews. The principal pretence for this proceeding appears to have been that the Jews had been the chief clippers of the coin. The principal motive, no doubt, was the replenishing of the royal exchequer by the spoil of the hated and helpless race; for the Jews had always been regarded, not only as foreigners and aliens, but as, in a manner, the absolute property of the crown, which, under that view, was restrained from pillaging and otherwise oppressing them to any extent it chose by neither law nor custom, nor by anything except a prudent calculation of how far it might go without injury to its own interests—without impairing the productiveness of the source from which it drew its iniquitous profits. In the present instance even this consideration gave way under the pressure of some strong excitement or urgent need, the popular feeling, we may be sure, eagerly seconding the royal passion or policy. The manner of the proceeding was as barbarous as the motive, whether fanaticism or thirst of plunder, might prepare us to expect. Only two months' warning was given before the fatal 1st of November, on which day it was ordered that every Jew should quit England, never to return, on pain of death. Not only all their houses and tenements, but also all their bonds for money owing them by Christians, were seized by the king, who afterwards exacted payment of the debts, as if the money had been lent by himself. The accounts difer as to whether they were allowed to carry their moveable property with them; as much, of course, was left them as might defray their charges in crossing the sea, and we may suppose they secretly conveyed away as much more as they could; it is affirmed that whole ship-loads of them were made away with by the sailors on their passage for the sake of what they had with them. The common account is that the exact number thus driven out was 16,511; and no Jew was ever after wards allowed to set foot in this country, till, without any change having been made in the law, they quietly began to reappear alter the Restoration, three hundred and seventy years subsequent to their general expulsion.
No foreign merchants were in those days allowed to reside in England except by special licence from the king; and even under this protection, they were subjected to various oppressive liabilities. It was not till 1303 that a general charter was granted by Edward I., permitting the merchants of Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Navarre, Lombardy, Tuscany, Provence, Catalonia, Aquitaine, Toulouse, Quercy, Flanders, Brabant, and all other foreign countries, to come safely to any of the dominions of the English crown with all kinds of merchandize, to sell their goods, and to reside under the protection of the laws. But even this general toleration was clogged with many restrictions. The goods imported, with the exception of spices and mercery, were only to be sold wholesale. No wine was to be carried out of the country without special licence. Above all, no relaxation was granted of the ancient grievous liability under which every resident stranger was placed of being answerable for the debts and even for the crimes of every other foreign resident. It appears from the records of the Exchequer that, in 1306, a number of foreign merchants were committed to the Tower, and there detained until they consented severally to give security that none of their number should leave the kingdom, or export anything from it, without the king's special licence. Each of them was at the same time obliged to give in an account of the whole amount of his property, both in money and goods. Security against being subjected to this kind of treatment had been accorded in a few particular instances; but it was not till the year 1353 that the law was formally altered by the Statute of the Staple already mentioned, and the ancient practice was not wholly discontinued till long afterwards.
The general charter of 1303 was followed within four years by a still more extraordinary attempt than any that had yet been made to control the natural course of commerce. In 1307, Edward issued an order prohibiting either coined money or bullion to be carried out of the country on any account. The merchants, therefore, who came from other countries were now reduced to the necessity of either directly bartering their commodities for the produce of the kingdom, or, if they sold them for money in the first instance, of investing the proceeds in other goods before they could be permitted to return home. This was a restriction so thoroughly opposed to every commercial principle that it could not be rigidly maintained; the very year following its promulgation, an exemption from it was accorded to the merchants of France by the new king, Edward II., and similar relaxations of it were afterwards permitted in other cases. But, although from its nature it did not admit of being strictly enforced, it long continued to be regarded as the law of the country, and repeated attempts were made to secure its observance. In 1335, by the 9th Edw. III. st. 2, it was enacted that no person should henceforth carry out of the kingdom either money or plate without special licence, upon pain of forfeiture of whatever he should so convey away. Sworn searchers were appointed to see that the law was observed at all the ports, and it was further ordered that the inn-keepers at every port should be sworn to search their guests: the fourth part of all forfeits was assigned as the reward of the searchers. In 1343, by the 17th Edw. III., nearly the same regulations were repeated, the principal variation being, that, to induce them to do their duty more diligently, the reward of the searchers was now raised to a third part of the forfeits, and penalties were provided for their neglect or connivance. We may gather from all this that the law had been extensively evaded. At length permission was given generally to foreign merchants to carry away one half of the money for which they sold their goods; the law is thus stated in the 14th Rich. II. c. 1, passed in 1390, and more explicitly in the 2nd Hen. IV. c. 5, passed in 1400; but it is still expressly ordered by the former of these statutes that every alien bringing any merchandize into England shall find sufficient sureties before the officers of the customs to expend the value of half of what he imports, at the least, in the purchase of wools, leather, woolfels, lead, tin, butter, cheese, cloths, or other commodities of the land.
The ignorance and misconception from which all this legislation proceeded, are exhibited in a striking point of view by the fact that the above-mentioned original order of Edward I,, prohibiting the exportation of money, expressly permits the amount of the money to be remitted abroad in bills of exchange. And at all times, while the exportation of money was forbidden, the remittance of bills seems to have been allowed. But a bill of exchange remitted abroad is merely an order that a certain party in the foreign country shall receive a sum of money which is due to the drawer of the bill, and which would otherwise have to be sent to the country where he resides; if no such money were due, the bill would not be negotiable; every such bill, therefore, if it did not carry money out of the country, produced precisely the same effect by preventing money from coming in. It was fit and natural enough, however, that this simple matter should fail to be perceived in times when it was thought that a great advantage was gained by compelling the foreign merchant to sell his goods for produce instead of for the money which the produce was worth; indeed it may be fairly said, instead of for less money than the produce was worth, for all restraints of this description inevitably operate to enhance the price of what is prevented from being openly bought and sold on the terms that would be naturally agreed upon between the parties themselves.
Another strange attempt of the English commercial legislation of those times was to impose a certain measure upon all foreign cloths brought to the country. By the Act 2 Edw. III. c. 14, passed in 1328, it was ordered that, from the Feast of St. Michael ensuing, all cloths that were importcd should be measured by the king's aulnagers, and that all those that were not found to be of a certain specified length and breadth should be forfeited to the king. The dimensions fixed by the statute were, for cloth of ray (supposed to mean striped cloth), 28 yards in length by 6 quarters in breadth; and for coloured cloth, 26 yards in length by 6½ quarters in breadth. The regulation of weights and measures within the kingdlom was a proper subject of legislation, and had necessarily engaged attention long before this date; although, at a period when science was unknown, the methods resorted to were necessarily very inartificial, and sometimes singular enough; Henry I., for example, soon after he came to the throne, in ordaining that the ell or yard should be of uniform length throughout the kingdom, could find no better standard for it than the length of his own arm. It might also have been found expedient, both for fiscal and other purposes, to direct that all cloth made for sale within the kingdom should be of certain specified dimensions; regulations to that effect have at least been usual down to our own day. But it was to stretch legislation on such matters beyond all reasonable limits to attempt to fix a measure for the cloth made in all foreign countries. Such a law, in so far as it was enforced, could only have the effect of diminishing the supply,—in other words, of raising the prices of foreign goods. But, like most of the other absurd restrictions of the same character, the maintenance of this regulation was soon found to be impracticable: if it had been rigorously insisted upon, it would have excluded the manufactured goods of certain foreign countries from the English market altogether; and accordingly, after giving a great deal of useless annoyance both to foreign merchants and their English customers, and after special exemptions from it had been granted to several nations, it was at last repealed by the 27 Edw. III. st. 1, c. 4, passed in 1353, which provided that, "whereas the great men and commons have showed to our lord the king how divers merchants, as well foreigners as denizens, have withdrawn them, and yet do withdraw them, to come with cloths into England, to the great damage of the king and of all his people, because that the king's aulnager surmiseth to merchant strangers that their cloths be not of assize," therefore no foreign cloths should in future be forfeited on that account, but, when any was found to be under assize, it should simply be marked by the aulnager, that a proportionate abatement might be made in the price.
This was also the era of various statutes against the supposed mischiefs of forestalling. The statute "De Pistoribus" (attributed by some to the 51st year of Hen. III., by others to the 13th of Edw. I.) contains the following empassioned description and denouncement of this offence: "But specially be it commanded, on the behalf of our lord the king, that no forestaller be suffered to dwell in any town, which is an open oppressor of poor people, and of all the commonalty, and an enemy of the whole shire and country; which for greediness of his private gains doth prevent others in buying grain, fish, herring, or any other thing to be sold coming by land or water, oppressing the poor and deceiving the rich; which carrieth away such things, intending to sell them more dear; the which come to merchant strangers that bring merchandize, offering them to buy, and informing them that their goods might be dearer sold than they intended to sell, and an whole town or a country is deceived by such craft and subtlety." It might be supposed from all this that the forestaller bought the commodity for the purpose of throwing it into the sea or otherwise destroying it; it seems to have been forgotten that, like all other dealers, he bought it only that he might sell it again for more than it cost him, that is to say, that he might preserve it for a time of still higher demand and greater necessity. But for him, when that time of greater scarcity came, there would be no provision for it; if the people were pinched now, they would be starved then. The forestaller is merely the economical distributor, who, by preventing waste at one time, prevents absolute want at another; he destroys nothing; on the contrary, whatever he reserves from present consumption, is sure to be reproduced by him in full at a future day, when it will be still more needed. Were it otherwise, forestalling would be the most losing of all trades, and no law would be required to put it down. The English laws against forestalling, regrating, and engrossing, however, cannot well be made a reproach to the thirteenth century, seeing that they were formally renewed and extended in the sixteenth, and were not finally removed from the Statute Book till towards the end of the eighteenth. And even yet forestalling is considered to be a misdemeanour at common law, and punishable by fine and imprisonment.
A still more direct attempt to derange the natural balance of supply and demand was made by parliament in 1315, when, with the view of relieving the people from the pressure of a severe famine, it was enacted that all articles of food should be sold at certain prescribed prices. It was strangely forgotten that the evil did not lie in the high prices, but the scarcity, of which they were the necessary consequence. That scarcity, of course, the act of parliament could not cure. In fact, food became more difficult to procure than ever; for even those who had any to sell, and would have brought it to market if they could have had a fair price for it, withheld it rather than dispose of it below its value. What was sold was for the most part sold at a price which violated the law, and which was made still higher than it would otherwise have been by the trouble and risk which the illegality of the transaction involved. Butcher-meat disappeared altogether; poultry, an article of large consumption in those times, became nearly as scarce; grain was only to be had at enormous prices. The result was, that the king and the parliament, after a few months, becoming convinced of their mistake, hastened to repeal the act.
The same thing in principle and effect, however, was repeated not many years after, by acts passed to fix the wages of labourers,—in other words, the price of the commodity called labour. In 1349 (the 23rd of Edw. III.), immediately after what is called the Great pestilence, there was issued (apparently by the authority of the king, although it is printed as a statute) "An Ordinance concerning Labourers and Servants;" which directed, first, that persons of the class of servants should be bound to serve when required; and secondly, that they should serve for the same wages that were accustomed to be given three years before. This ordinance, indeed, further proceeded to enjoin that all dealers in victual should be bound to sell the same "for a reasonable price," and inflicted a penalty upon persons offending against that enactment—although it did not presume expressly to fix a maximum of prices. The next year, by the 25 Edw. III., st. 2, after a preamble, declaring that servants had had no regard to the preceding ordinance, "but to their ease and singular covetise," the parliament established a set of new provisions for effecting its object: this act, however, contains nothing on the subject of the prices of provisions. The Statute of Labourers was confirmed by parliament in 1360 (by the 34 Edw. III. c. 9), and its principle was long obstinately clung to by the legislature, notwithstanding the constant experience of its inefficiency, and indeed of its positive mischief, and its direct tendency to defeat its own proposed object; for a law is rarely harmless because it is of impracticable execution; the unskilful surgery of the body politic, as of the body natural, tears and tortures when it does not cure, and fixes deeper and more firmly the barb which it fails to extract. By the 13 Rich. II. st. 1, c. 8 (passed in 1389-90), it is ordained that, "forasmuch as a man cannot put the price of corn and other victuals in certain," the justices of peace shall every year make proclamation "by their discretion, according to the dearth of victuals, how much every mason, carpenter, tiler, and other craftsmen, workmen, and other labourers by the day, as well in harvest as in other times of the year, after their degree, shall take by the day, with meat and drink, or without meat and drink, and that every man obey to such proclamations from time to time, as a thing done by statute." It is also ordered that victuallers "shall have reasonable gains, according to the discretion and limitation of the said justices, and no more, upon pain to be grievously punished, according to the discretion of the said justices." Finally, provision is made for the correct keeping of the assize (or assessment from time to time) of the prices of bread and ale. The earliest notice of an assize in England is found in the rolls of parliament for 1203, the 5th of John; but the first introduction of the practice is probably of older date. The most ancient law upon the subject that has been preserved is that entitled the Assisa Panis et Cerevisiæ, commonly assigned to the 51st Hen. III. (A.D. 1266). The assize of bread and ale, it is to be remembered, determined the prices of these commodities, not arbitrarily, but by a scale regulated according to the market-prices of wheat, barley, and oats, so that the prices that were really fixed were those of baking and of brewing. The assize of bread was re-enacted so lately as the beginning of the last century, and was only abolished in London and its neighbourhood about thirty years ago: in regard to other places, although it has fallen into disuse, the old law still remains unrepealed. But various other articles, such as wine, fish, tiles, cloths, wood, coal, billets, &c., have at different times been made subject to assize; and in the case of most of these the assize was a perfectly arbitrary determination of the price. The present period furnishes us with a curious example of the manner in which some of these attempts operated. By an ordinance issued in 1357 (commonly called the 31 Edw. III. st. 2), it was directed that no herrings should be sold for a higher price than forty shillings the last. But, in 1361, we find the king and his council, in a second ordinance (commonly called the statute 35 Edw. III.), frankly confessing that the effect of the attempt to fix prices in this case had been, "that the sale of herring is much decayed, and the people greatly endamaged, that is to say, that many merchants coming to the fair, as well labourers and servants as other, do bargain for herring, and every of them, by malice and envy, increase upon other, and, if one proffer forty shillings, another will proffer ten shillings more, and the third sixty shillings, and so every one surmounteth other in the bargain, and such proffers extend to more than the price of the herring upon which the fishers proffered it to sell at the beginning." The ordinance promulgated with the intention of keeping down the price of herrings, had actually raised it. Wherefore "we," concludes the new statute, "perceiving the mischiefs and grievances aforesaid, by the advice and assent of our parliament, will and grant, that it shall be lawful to every man, of what condition that he may be, merchant or other, to buy herring openly, and not privily, at such price as may be agreed betwixt him and the seller of the same herring." This failure, however, did not deter the parliament two years after from fixing a price for poultry (by the statute 37 Edw. III. c. 3); but the next year that also was repealed by the 38 Edw. III. St. 1, c. 2, which ordained that all people, in regard to buying and selling and the other matters treated of in the preceding statute, should be as free as they were before it passed, and as they were in the time of the king's grandfather and his other good progenitors.
Notwithstanding, however, the impediments and embarrassments occasioned by all this blind and contradictory legislation, English commerce undoubtedly made a very considerable progress in the course of the space of nearly two centuries included within the period now under review.
The directing property of the magnet, and its application in the mariner's compass, appear to have become known in Europe towards the end of the twelfth century, and the instrument was probably in common use among navigators soon after the middle of the thirteenth. Both Chaucer the English, and Barbour the Scottish poet, allude familiarly to the compass in the latter part of the fourteenth century. Barbour tells us that Robert Bruce and his companions, when crossing, during the night, from Arran to the coast of Carrick, in 1307, steered by the light of the fire they saw on the shore,—"for they na needle had nor stane:" the words seem to imply rather that they were by accident without a compass, than that the instrument was not then known. Chaucer, in his prose treatise on the Astrolabe, says that the sailors reckon thirty-two parts (or points) of the horizon; evidently referring to the present division of the card, of which the people of Bruges are said to have been the authors. Gioia, of Amalfi, who flourished in the beginning of this century, is supposed to have been the first who attached a divided card to the needle; but his card seems to have had only eight winds or points drawn upon it.
The contemporary chroniclers have not recorded the edfects produced by the introduction of the compass on navigation and commerce; but it must have given a great impulse to both. A few interesting facts, however, connected with English shipping during the present period have been preserved. Henry III. appears to have had some ships of his own. One of the entries in the Liberate Roll of the tenth year of his reign is as follows;—"Henry, by the grace of God, &c.—Pay out of our treasury to Reynold de Bernevall and Brother Thomas, of the Temple, twenty-two marks and a half, for repairs, &c. of our great ship; also pay to the six masters of our great ship, to wit, to Stephen le Vel, one mark; Germanus de la Rie, one mark; John, the son of Sampson, one mark; Colmo de Warham, one mark; Robert Gaillard, one mark; and Simon Westlegrei, one mark. Witness ourself at Westminster, the 17th day of May, in the tenth year of our reign. For the mariners of the great ship." The vessel here referred to is, we suppose, the large ship called the Queen, which, in 1232, Henry chartered to John Blancbally, for the life of the latter, for an annual payment of fifty marks. In an order of the same king to the barons of the Cinque Ports, in 1242, mention is made of the king's galley of Bristol, and of the king's galleys in Ireland. Edward I. probably had a much more numerous navy. When he was preparing for his war with France, in 1294, this king divided his navy into three fleets, over each of which he placed an admiral, this being the first time that that title is mentioned in English history. We are not, however, to suppose that all the ships forming these three fleets were the property of the king; the royal navy was still, as it had heretofore been, chiefly composed of vessels belonging to private merchants which were pressed for the public service. The names of the following king's ships are mentioned in an Issue Roll of the ninth of Edward II.:—the Peter, the Bernard, the Marion, the Mary, and the Catherine; all of Westminster. In the reign of Edward III. we find many ships belonging to Yarmouth, Bristol, Lynne, Hull, Ravensere, and other ports, distinguished as ships of war; but this designation does not seem to imply that they were royal or public property.
The dominion of the four seas appears to have been first distinctly claimed by Edward III. At this time the Cinque Ports were bound by their charter to have fifty-seven ships in readiness at all times for the king's service; and Edward also retained in his pay a fleet of galleys, supplied, according to contract, by the Genoese. By far the greater number, however, of the vessels employed in every considerable naval expedition of those times consisted, as we have said, of the private merchant-men. The English mercantile navy was now very considerable. When Henry III., in 1253, ordered all the vessels in the country to be seized and employed in an expedition against the rebel barons of Gascony, the number of them, Matthew Paris tells us, was found to be above a thousand, of which three hundred were large ships. The foreign as well as the English vessels, howver, are included in this enumeration; the former as well as the latter were subject to be thus pressed. According to an account given in one of the Cotton manuscripts of the fleet employed by Edward III. at the siege of Calais in 1346, it consisted of 25 ships belonging to the king, which carried 419 mariners; of 37 foreign ships (from Bayonne, Spain, Flanders, and Guelderland), manned by 780 mariners; of one vessel from Ireland, carrying 25 men; and of 710 vessels belonging to English ports, the crews of which amounted to 14,151 persons. These merchantmen were divided into the south and the north fleet, according as they belonged to the ports south or north of the Thames. The places that supplied the greatest numbers of ships and men were the following:—London, 25 ships with 662 men; Margate, 15 with 160; Sandwich, 22 with 504; Dover, 16 with 336; Winchelsea, 21 with 596; Weymouth, 20 with 264; Newcastle, 17 with 414; Hull, 16 with 466; Grimsby, 11 with 171; Exmouth, 10 with 193; Dartmouth, 31 with 757 ; Plymouth, 26 with 603 ; Looe, 20 with 325; Fowey, 47 with 170; Bristol, 24 with 608; Shoreham, 20 with 329; Southampton, 21 with 572; Lynne, 16 with 482; Yarmouth, 43 with 1095; Gosport, 13 with 403; Harwich, 14 with 283; Ipswich, 12 with 239; and Boston, 17 with 361. These, therefore, it may he assumed, were at this time the principal trading towns in the kingdom.
It will be perceived that the vessels, if we may judge from the numbers of the men, were of very various sizes; and none of them could have been of any considerable magnitude. A ship, manned by thirty seamen, which the people of Yarmouth fitted out, in 1254, to carry over Prince Edward, afterwards Edward I., to the Continent, is spoken of with admiration by the writers of the time for its size as well as its beauty. Some foreign ships, however, were considerably larger than any of the English at this period. Thus, one of the vessels which were lent by the Republic of Venice to St. Louis, in 1270, when he set out on his second crusade, measured 125 feet in length, and carried 110 men; but this was reckoned a vessel of extraordinary size even in the Mediterranean. In 1360, Edward III., in an order for arresting all the vessels in the kingdom for an expedition against France, directed that the largest ships should carry 40 mariners, 40 armed men, and 60 archers. A ship which was taken from the French in 1385 is said to have been, a short time before, built for the Norman merchants in the East Country at a cost of 5000 francs (above 830l. sterling), and to have been sold by them to Clisson, the constable of France, for 3000 francs. This was one of eighty vessels of various kinds—ships, galleys, cogs, carracks, barges, lines, ballingars, &c.—which were captured this same year by the governor of Calais and the seamen of the Cinque Ports, "There were taken," says the historian Walsingham, "and slain in those ships, 226 seamen and mercenaries. Blessed be God for all things." One ship taken by the Cinque Port vessels was valued (her cargo no doubt included) at 20,000 marks. But half a century before this we read of Genoese galleys, laden with wool, cloth, and other merchandize, which were reckoned to be worth 60,000l. and 70,000l. in the money of Genoa.
Some notices that have been preserved of the shipping of Scotland during this period prove its amount to have been more considerable than might be expected. Indeed, that country seems to have had some reputation for shipbuilding even on the Continent. Matthew Paris relates that one of the great ships in the fleet that accompanied St. Louis on his first crusade, in 1249, had been built at Inverness, for the Earl of St. Paul and Blois. The historian calls her "a wonderful ship," in allusion, apparently, to her magnitude. Mention is made in an ancient charter of one ship which belonged to the Scottish crown in the reign of Alexander III., who died in 1286; and Fordun states that, at this time, the King of Man was bound to furnish his liege lord, the King of Scots, when required, with five warlike galleys of twenty-four oars, and five of twelve oars; and that other maritime vassals contributed vessels in proportion to their lands. One of Alexander's commercial laws was of a singular character, if we may believe this historian. In consequence of several merchant-vessels belonging to his subjects having been taken by pirates or lost at sea, while voyaging to foreign parts, he prohibited the merchants of Scotland from exporting any goods in their own vessels for a certain time. The consequence, it is affirmed, was, that before the end of a year numerous foreign vessels arrived with goods of all kinds; and the kingdom obtained a cheaper and more abundant supply of the produce of other countries than it had ever before enjoyed. If any such effect as this was produced, the law, at the same time that it restrained the native ship-owners from importing goods, probably removed some restrictions that had previously been imposed on the entry into the kingdom of foreign merchants. In the wars between England and Scotland, in the reign of Edward III., the latter country frequently made considerable naval exertions, sometimes by itself, sometimes in conjunction with its allies. In 1335, a vessel belonging to Southampton, laden with wool and other merchandise, was taken by some Scottish and Norman privateers in the mouth of the Thames; and in the following year a numerous fleet of ships and galleys, equipped by the Scots, attacked and plundered Guernsey and Jersey, and captured several English vessels lying at anchor at the Isle of Wight. In the autumn of 1357, again, three Scottish ships of war, carrying 300 chosen armed men, are stated to have cruised on the east coast of England, and greatly annoyed the trade in that quarter, till the equinoctial gales drove them, along with a number of English vessels, into Yarmouth, where they were taken. These appear to have been unauthorised private adventurers, there being at this time a truce between the two countries. The bold enterprise of the Scottish captain, John Mercer, in 1378, till a stop was put to his career by the public spirit of a citizen of London, John Philpot, is famous in our annals. Mercer is said to have been the son of a burgess of Perth, one of the most opulent merchants of Scotland, who, the year before, when returning from abroad, had been driven by stress of weather upon the English coast, and there seized and confined for some time in the castle of Scarborough. It was to revenge this injury that the son fitted out his anmament. A few years after this, some privateers of Hull and Newcastle captured a Scottish ship, the cargo of which, according to Walsingham, was valued at 7000 marks.
The most ancient record which presents a general view of the foreign trade of England is an account, preserved in the Exchequer, of the exports and imports, together with the amount of the customs paid upon them, in the year 1354. The exports here mentioned are, 31,651½ sacks of wool at 6l. per sack; 8036 cwt. (120 lbs.) of wool at 40s. per cwt.; 65 woolfels, total value 21s. 8d.; hides to the value of 89l. 5s. ; 4774½ pieces of cloth at 40s. each; and 8061½ pieces of worsted stuff at 16s. 8d. each: total value of the exports, 212,338l. 5s., paying customs to the amount of 81,846l. 12s. 2d. Wool therefore would appear, by this account, to have constituted about thirteen-fourteenths of the whole exports of the kingdom. The customs would seem to have been almost entirely derived from wool: the amount paid by the hides and cloth exported amounts only to about 220l. The duty on the export of wool exceeded 40 per cent. on the value. The imports mentioned are, 1831 pieces of fine cloths at 6l. each ; 397¾ cwt. of wax at 40s. per cwt.; 1829½ tuns of wine at 40s. per tun; and linens, mercery, grocery, &c., to the value of 22,943l. 6s. 10d.:—making a total value of 38,383l. 16s. 10d. The great excess, according to this statement, of the exports over the imports, has been regarded as evincing the moderation and sobriety of our ancestors. "But when we look at the articles," it has been well observed, "and find that of raw materials for manufactures, which constitute so great a part of the modern imports, there was not one single article imported, and that, on the other hand, the exports consisted almost entirely of the most valuable raw materials, and of cloths in an unfinished state, which may therefore also be classed among raw materials, we must acknowledge that it affords only a proof of the low state of manufactures and of commercial knowledge among a people who were obliged to allow foreigners to have the profit of manufacturing their own wool, and finishing their own cloths, and afterwards to repurchase both from them in the form of finished goods."
This account is probably to be considered as comprehending only those articles from which the revenue of the customs was derived. We know that several other articles besides those mentioned were, at least occasionally, exported. A demand for the tin of Britain, for instance, appears to have always existed on the Continent. A Cornish miner, indeed, who had been banished from his native country, is said to have, in the year 1241, discovered some mines of tin in Germany, the produce of which was so abundant that the metal was even imported into England, by which the price in this country was considerably reduced; but this competition certainly did not permanently destroy either the domestic or the export trade in British tin. In 1338 we find Edward III. ordering all the tin in Cornwall and Devonshire, including even what might have been already sold to foreign merchants, to be seized and sent to the Continent, there to be sold on his account, the owners being obliged to accept of a promise of payment in two years. In 1348, it is recorded that the merchants and others complained to the parliament that all the tin of Cornwall was bought and exported by Tidman of Limburgh, so that no Englishman could get any of it; they therefore prayed that it might be freely sold to all merchants; but they received for answer that it was a profit belonging to the prince, and that every lord might make his profit of his own. Cornwall had in 1337 been erected into a duchy in favour of the Black Prince, and settled by act of parliament on the eldest son of the king, as it still remains. The export of tin is mentioned, in 1390, in the statute 14 Rich. II. c. 7, which declares Dartmouth the only port at which it shall be shipped; and also in the following year, in the 15th Rich. II. c. 8, which repeals the last-mentioned act, and allows the exportation of the commodity from any port, but provides that it shall be carried only to Calais, so long as wool shall be carried to that place. Lead, butter, and cheese are likewise as we have seen, enumerated among the "commodities of the land," in which foreign merchants were compelled, by the 14th Rich. II. c. 1, to invest half the money which they should receive for the commodities they imported. The exportation of lead in particular is repeatedly alluded to in the regulations respecting the staple, and other acts of parliament; and considerable quantities of that metal are supposed to have been now obtained from the Welsh mines. It may be presumed, also, that iron was occasionally exported during this period, from the statute 28 Edw. III. c. 5 (passed in 1354), which enacts that no iron, whether made in England or imported, shall be carried out of the country. Salted fish, and especially herrings, formed another article of export, at least from the commencement of the thirteenth century, and probably from a much earlier date. Corn appears to have been sometimes exported, sometimes imported, but apparently never without the special licence of the crown. Thus we find Edward III., in 1359, granting liberty to the Flemings to trade in England, and to export corn and other provisions from the country on obtaining his special licence and paying the customs. In 1376, on the other hand, a permission is recorded to have been granted to import 400 quarters of corn from Ireland to Kendal in Westmoreland. In 1382 a general proclamation was issued, prohibiting, under penalty of the confiscation of the vessel and cargo, the exportation of corn or malt to any foreign country, except to the king's territories in Gascony, Bayonne, Calais, Brest, Cherbourg, Berwick-upon-Tweed, and other places of strength belonging to the king. But twelve years afterwards, by the statute 17 Rich. II. c. 7, all English subjects were allowed to export corn to any country not hostile, on paying the due customs—a power, however, being still reserved to the king's council to stop the exportation if necessary. The introduction of the use of coal as an article both of foreign trade and of domestic consumption is probably to be assigned to this period, though some have been disposed to carry it farther back. The earliest authentic document in which coal is distinctly mentioned is an order of Henry III., in 1245, for an inquisition into trespasses committed in the royal forests, in which inquiry is directed to be made respecting sea-coal ("de carbone maris") found in the forests. This expression appears to imply that coals had before this time been brought to London by sea, probably from Newcastle. Sea-coal Lane (between Skinner Street and Farringdon Street) is mentioned by that name in a charter of the year 1253. Regulations are laid down for the sale of coals in the statutes of the guild of Berwick-upon-Tweed, which were established in 1284. There is extant a charter of William of Obervell, in 1291, granting liberty to the monks of Dunfermline, in Scotland, to dig coals for their own use in his lands of Pittencrief, but prohibiting them from selling any. It is probable, however, that this description of fuel was not as yet much used for domestic purposes; for the smoke, or smell, of a coal fire was at first thought to be highly noxious. "This same year (1306)," says Maitland, in his History of London, "sea-coals being very much used in the suburbs of London by brewers, dyers, and others requiring great fires, the nobility and gentry resorting thither complained thereof to the king as a public nuisance, whereby they said the air was infested with a noisome smell, and a thick cloud, to the great endangering of the health of the inhabitants; wherefore a proclamation was issued, strictly forbidding the use of that fuel. But, little regard being paid thereunto, the king appointed a commission of Oyer and Terminer to inquire after those who had contumaciously acted in open defiance to his proclamation, strictly conmanding all such to be punished by pecuniary mulcts; and for the second offence to have their kilns and furnaces destroyed." What would these sensitive alarmists of the fourteenth century have said if they could have been informed that the day would come when London should have constantly some ten or twelve tons of coal-dust suspended over it? The prejudice against coal fires, however, seems to have in no long time died away. In 1325 we find mention made of the exportation of coals from Newcastle to France; and the first leases of coal-works in the neighbourhood of that town of which there is any account are dated only a few years later. They were granted by the monks of Tynemouth to various persons at annual rents, varying from two to about five pounds. Ten shillings' worth of Newcastle coals are recorded to have been purchased for the coronation of Edward III. in 1327. Before the end of the fourteenth century there is reason to believe that an active trade was carried on in the conveyance of Newcastle coal by sea to London and elsewhere. Wool, however, was during the whole of this period, as for a long time afterwards, the great staple of the kingdom. In 1279, in a petition to Edward I., the nobles asserted that the wool produced in England, and mostly exported to Flanders, was nearly equal to half the land in value. English wool appears also to have been in great request in France, in which country, as well as in Flanders, the manufacture of woollen cloth was early established. Little cloth, as we have already had occasion to observe, was made in England, and that little only of the coarsest description, till the wise policy of Edward III., by a grant dated in 1331, invited weavers, dyers, and fullers, from Flanders, to come over and settle in the country, pronising them his protection and favour on condition that they should carry on their trades here, and communicate the knowledge of them to his subjects. The first person who accepted of this invitation was John Kempe, a weaver of woollen cloth: he came over with his goods and chattels, his servants and his apprentices. Many of his countrymen soon followed. A few years later other weavers came over from Brabant and Zealand; and thus was established certainly the first manufacture of fine woollen cloths in England. It was many years, however, as we have seen, before this infant manufacture was able even to supply the domestic demand, far less to maintain any export trade in woollens. The cloths of the Continent, in spite of various legislative attempts to exclude them, long continued to be imported in considerable quantities. The 4774½ pieces of cloth exported in 1354 were evidently, from their price, of the old coarse fabric of the country. Large quantities of the English wool also continued annually to go abroad. With the view of keeping up the price of the article, it was enacted by the statute 14 Rich. II. c. 4, passed in 1390, that no denizen of England should buy wool except of the owners of the sheep, and for his own use. In other words, the entire export trade in the commodity was made over to the foreign merchant, and he was at the same time confined to the export trade. The object obviously was to secure to the grower not only his proper profits, but in addition those of the wool-merchant and retailer, in so far as regarded the domestic consumption. But, besides the injury to the native merchant by his exclusion from the export trade, it was strangely forgotten that the monopoly of that trade secured to the foreigner must have deprived the grower of perhaps half his customers,—namely, of all the English dealers who would have purchased the article for exportation; and must thus, by diminishing competition, have tended to depress prices instead of raising them. Such, accordingly, is stated to have been the efFect produced. The contemporary historian Knyghton tells us that, in consequence of this prohibition of the export of wool by English merchants, the article lay unsold in many places for two and three years, and many of the growers were reduced to the greatest distress. In 1391, however, although the quantity of wool exported is affirmed to have been that year much less than formerly, the customs on it amounted to 160,000l. According to Robert of Avesbury, who is supposed to have died about 1356, the annual exportation of wool from England had, in his day, reached to above 100,000 sacks, the customs on which, at the duty of 50s. on the sack, would produce a revenue of above 250,000l, This estimate, however, is very inconsistent with the official account already quoted of the entire exports and imports for 1354, If it is to be at all received, it ought probably to be assigned to a date considerably later than that at which Avesbury is commonly assumed to have died.
The principal society of foreign merchants at this time established in England appears to have been that of the merchants of Cologne, They had a hall or factory in London called their Gildhall, for the saisine (or legal possession) of qhich they paid thirty marks to the crown in A.D. 1220. "It seems probable," says Macpherson, "that this Gildhall, by the association of the merchants of other cities with those of Cologne, became in time the general factory and residence of all the German merchants in London, and was the same that was afterwards known by the name of the German Gildhall (Gildhalla Teutonicorum). It appears that the merchants of Cologne were bound to make a payment of two shillings, probably a reserved annual rent (for we are not told upon what occasions it was payable) out of their Gildhall, besides other customs and demands, from all which they were exempted in the year 1235, by King Henry III., who moreover gave them permission to attend fairs in any part of England, and also to buy and sell in London, saving the liberties of the city." The principal part of the foreign trade, however, seems to have been in the hands of the Merchants of the Staple, otherwise called the Merchants of England, who, as noticed above, were incorporated at least as early as the year 1313. This society was composed of native merchants.
It has also been affirmed that there existed, so early as the middle of the thirteenth century, an association of English merchants for trading in foreign parts, called the Brotherhood of St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury, from which originated the afterwards celebrated company of the Merchant Adventurers of England; but this story does not rest on any sufficient authority.
The historian Walsingham has preserved the record of a remarkable proposal which was made in 1379 to Richard II. by an opulent merchant of Genoa. This foreigner, it is said, submitted to the English king a plan for raising the port of Southampton to a pre-eminence over every other in the west of Europe, by making it the deposit and mart of all the Oriental goods which the Genoese used to carry to Flanders, Normandy, and Bretagne, which countries would thenceforth be supplied with these commodities from England. All that the Genoese merchant asked, according to Walsingham, was, that he should be allowed to store his goods in the royal castle of Southampton. It is probable, however, that this was only one of the minor features of his plan, which must have been chiefly dependent for its success upon the resources and connexions of its author, the spirit with which it was taken up and supported by the English king, and the natural aptitude of the port of Southampton to serve as a reservoir of the Oriental trade. As yet, it is to be remembered, no direct trade existed between India and Europe; all the produce of the former that found its way to the latter was procured by the merchants of Venice, Genoa, and other cities of Italy, from the emporia in the eastern parts of the Mediterranean, of which the principal at this time were Acre, Constantinople, and Alexandria. It is not very obvious what advantage the Italian importers were to expect from bringing all their goods in the first instance to Southampton, instead of proceeding with them directly to the continental markets. Walsingham says it was expected, if the plan had been carried into execution, that pepper would have been sold in England at four pennies a pound, and other spices at a proportionably low rate. Silk was now manufactured, and the silk-worm reared, in Italy and other countries of the south of Europe, and little, if any, was brought from Asia; so that spiceries and fruits seem to have been the principal commodities which were received from the eastern trade. The cargo of a Genoese ship, which was driven ashore at Dunster, in Somersetshire, in 1380, consisted of green ginger cured with lemon-juice, one bale of arquinetta, dried grapes or raisins, sulphur, 172 bales of wadde (perhaps woad), 22 bales of writing-paper, white sugar (perhaps sugar-candy), 6 bales of empty boxes, dried prunes, 8 bales of risæ (probably rice), 5 bales of cinnamon, 1 pipe "pulveris salvistri," the meaning of which is unknown, and 5 bales of bussus (probably fine Egyptian flax). Some Genoese cogs and carracks, however, bound for Flanders, that were seized on the coast of Kent in 1386, are said to have been laden not only with spices, but with wines, stuffs of gold and silk, gold, silver, precious stones, &c. The scheme of the Genoese merchant with regard to Southampton was put an end to by its author being murdered in the streets of London by assassins, whom some English merchants are charged with having hired, in the apprehension that his proposal was calculated to be injurious to their interests. It seems to have been one of those bold designs which have more in their character of the prophetic than of the practical; it was a conception that shot ahead of the age, and the attempt to realise it at that time would probably, in the most favourable circumstances, have proved a failure; but this selection of Southampton for a great European emporium in the fourteenth century may be regarded as in some degree an anticipation of the project which has been accomplished in the nineteenth, of bringing that place within a few hours' distance of London by means of a railway, an improvement which in course of time may have the effect of turning the natural advantages of its position to full account by making it one of the ports of the metropolis.
A few facts remain to be added respecting the commerce of Scotland during this period, in addition to those that have already been incidentally noticed. The chief seat of the Scottish foreign trade continued to be at Berwick till the capture of that town by Edward I. in 1296. A society of Flemish merchants, similar, apparently, to the Teutonic Gildhall of London, was established in that place; they greatly distinguished themselves by the gallantry with which they defended a strong building, called the Red Hall, which was their factory, in the siege. Berwick, before this catastrophe, is described in the contemporary chronicle of Lanercost as a second Alexandria, for the number of its inhabitants and the extent of its commerce. The sea, it is added, was its wealth; the waters were its walls; and the opulent citizens were very liberal in their donations to religious houses. The customs of Berwick were rented from Alexander III. by a merchant of Gascony for 2197l. 8s., a sum which would in those days have bought about 16,000 quarters of wheat. "By the agency of the merchants of Berwick, the wool, hides, woolfels, and other wares, the produce of Roxburgh, Jedburgh, and all the adjacent country, were shipped for foreign countries, or sold upon the spot to the Flemish company. The exportation of salmon appears to have been also a considerable branch of their trade, as we find it some time after an object of attention to the legislature of England, and the regulation of it entrusted to the great officers of the government. When Edward III. wanted two thousand salmon for his own use in the year 1361, he sent orders to procure them for him at Berwick (then belonging to England) and Newcastle—no doubt the places most famous for them in his dominions." Berwick, however, never recovered from the blow given to its prosperity by the destructive sack of 1296. In the middle of the following century we find the Scottish pearls still exported to the continent. In the statutes of the goldsmiths of Paris, drawn up in 1355, it is ordered that no worker in gold or silver shall set any Scottish pearls along with oriental ones, except in large jewels (that is, figures adorned with jewellery) for churches. The Scottish greyhounds were also at this time in request in other countries." The trade of driving cattle from Scotland for sale in England, which has continued down to the present day," Mr. Macpherson observes, "is at least as old as the times now under our consideration; for we find a letter of safe conduct granted (12th January, 1359) to Andrew Moray and Alan Erskine, two Scottish drovers, with three horsemen and their servants, for travelling through England or the king's foreign dominions for a year, with horses, oxen, cows, and other goods and merchandise." An act of the Scottish parliament in 1367 orders the strict levying of the duties formerly imposed of forty pennies in the pound on the price of all horses, and twelve pennies on that of all oxen and cows carried out of the country. Both corn and malt were often imported into Scotland at this period from England and other countries. From Ireland there was now a considerable exportation both of raw produce and of manufactured goods. In the records of the Exchequer for the first year of Edward I. a notice occurs of some cloth of Ireland having been stolen at Winchester in the preceding reign, along with some cloth of Abingdon, and some cloth of London called burrel. Mention has been made above of the supplies of corn that appear to have been occasionally obtained from Ireland. It seems to have been exported to the continent as well as to England, till an ordinance was issued in 1288, prohibiting corn and other victuals and merchandise from being carried from Ireland anywhere except to England and Wales. Yet, in 1291, we find some Flemish merchants mentioned as being in the ports of Waterford, Youghall, and Cork. In 1300, while Edward I. was in Scotland, the people of Drogheda sent him a present of eighty tuns of wine to Kirkcudbright in a vessel belonging to their own port; and the same year several cargoes of Irish wheat, oats, malt, and ale were brought to him, and mostly by the merchants of Ireland and in Irish vessels. In 1322, we find Edward II., when preparing to march into Scotland, giving orders for 9000 quarters of wheat and other grain to be sent from Ireland. By the statute 34 Edward III. c. 17, passed in 1360, liberty was given to all merchants and others, whether aliens or natives, to trade freely to and from Ireland, on paying the ancient customs and duties. "At this time," says Macpherson, "there were some considerable manufactures in Ireland. The stuffs called sayes made in that country were in such request, that they were imitated by the manufacturers of Catalonia, who were in the practice of making the finest woollen goods of every kind; they were also esteemed in Italy, and were worn by the ladies of Florence, a city abounding with the richest manufactures, and in which the luxury of dress was carried to the greatest height. The annual revenue derived from Ireland, which amounted to nearly 10,000l., gives a very respectable idea of the balance drawn into that country by its commerce and manufactures, though we know next to nothing of the particular nature of them unless we suppose a great part of the money to have been drawn from the mines, for which, I believe, there is neither authority nor probability." This year King Edward understanding, as the record in the Fœdera says, that there were various mines of gold and silver in Ireland, which might be very beneficial to himself and the people of that country, had commissioned his ministers there to order a search for the mines, and to do what would be most for his advantage in the matter. The statute 50 Edw. III. c. 8 (A.D. 1376) makes mention of cloth called frise as being made in Ireland, and also of cloth manufactured in England from Irish wool.
The denominations and relative values of the different kinds of English Money continued the same in this as in the preceding period. The coinage had been greatly corrupted, partly by clipping, partly by the issue of counterfeits, in the early part of the reign of Henry III.; in consequence of which that king, in the year 1247, called in the old coin, and issued a new penny of a different stamp. In the exchange a deduction of thirteen pence in the pound was made from the nominal value of the old coin, which occasioned great complaints; but the new coin was not depreciated, or made of a less quantity of silver than formerly. The pennies of Henry III. are Very common, and there also exist silver halfpence and farthings of his coinage. All the money was now made round. It is also said that, in 1257, Henry issued a gold coin of the weight of two silver pennies, which was ordered to pass for twenty pennies of silver. It was however soon recalled, on the complaint of the citizens of London that gold was rated above its value, in being thus made equal to ten times its weight in silver; and no specimens of this earliest English coinage of gold are now known to exist.
Soon after the accession of Edward I. the country was again found to be inundated with base or light money, consisting chiefly of pieces fabricated on the continent, and known, from their impresses, by the names of mitres, lionines, pollards, crockards, rosaries, staldings, steepings, and eagles,—some being imitations of English money, others professing to be foreign coins. Various laws were made both against the importation of this counterfeit money, and against the clipping of the proper coinage of the realm. The severity with which these crimes were visited upon the Jews in particular has been already recorded. Edward himself, however, in the latter part of his reign began the pernicious practice of depreciating the coin by diminishing its legal weight. In 1301 he issued a coinage of pennies, of which 243 (instead of 240, as formerly) were coined out of the pound of silver. In 1279 Edward had issued a new silver coin in imitation of one which had been introduced in France, being of the value of four pennies, and called a gross or groat, that is, a great penny. This coinage of groats seems to have been a small one, but some specimens are still extant.
No coins of Edward II. are certainly known to exist, though it is possible that some of those that have been attributed to his father may be of his coinage; for it was still usual to omit on the legend the numerical distinction of the king's name.
Edward III., in 1344, issued no fewer than six different gold coins,—namely, by one coinage, pieces marked with two leopards to pass for six shillings, others of half that weight and value marked with one leopard, and others marked with a helmet of half the value of the last; and, by a second, nobles of the value of six shillings and eight pence, and halves and quarters of nobles. The second coinage was made necessary by the refusal of the people to take the coins first issued at the value placed upon them. This king also carried the depreciation of grandfather had done, by an issue this same year of silver pennies, of which 266 were made out of the pound. Two years after he coined 270 pennies out of the pound of silver; and in 1351 he issued a new groat to be current at the old rate of four- pence, although it scarcely weighed more than three pennies and a half even of his last diminished money. There are two groats of Edward III., one with the title of King of France, the other without. It is upon his coins also that we first read the motto Dieu et mon droit (God and my right), which was originally adopted in allusion to the claim to the French crown. He also coined half groats.
The coins of Richard II., which are nobles, half nobles, quarter nobles, groats, half-groats, pence, and halfpence, are of the same real values with those last coined by his grandfather. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish his silver money, from the want of the numerals, from that of Richard III.
The Scottish money was deteriorated in the course of this period to a still greater extent than the English; the parliament in 1367 having ordered that 352 pennies should be made out of the pound of silver. It is supposed that gold money was first coined in Scotland in the reign of Robert II. (A.D. 1371-1390). There were repeated coinages of money in Ireland; but in 1339 we find a species of coin of inferior quality, and apparently of foreign fabrication, authorised to pass current in that country, on the ground of the insufficient amount of good money. These base pieces were called turneys, or black-money, or sometimes black-mail, from the French word maille, anciently used for a piece of money.
Even the legal coins of this period are generally rude in workmanship, and by no means of uniform weight. The standard of weight at this time was scarcely more artificial than that which Henry I. established for measures of length, when he ordered that the ell should be as long as the royal arm. The statute called the Assize of Weights and Measures, which is attributed, in some copies, to the reign of Henry III., in others to that of Edward I., states that, "by consent of the whole realm, the king's measure was made so that an English penny, which is called the sterling, round without clipping, shall weigh thirty-two grains of wheat dry in the midst of the ear." This is the origin of the weight still called a pennyweight, though it now contains only twenty-four grains. The process of coining was equally rude. First, the metal, as appears from an entry in the Red Book of the Exchequer in the reign of Edward I., "was cast from the melting-pot into long bars; those bars were cut with shears into square pieces of exact weights; then with the tongs and hammer they were forged into a round shape; after which they were blanched, that is, made white or refulgent by nealing or, boiling, and afterwards stamped or impressed with a hammer, to make them perfect money. And this kind of hammered money continued through all the succeeding reigns, till the year 1663, when the milled money took place."
- See on this subject Hallam's Middle Ages, iii. 72-75.
- Macpherson, Annals of Com. i. 604.
- By the 5 and 6 Edward VI. c. 14 and 15.
- By the 12 Geo. III. c. 71.
- Commonly entitled Statute the First.
- Issues of the Exchequer from Henry III. to Henry VI, inclusive. By Frederick Devon. 4to. Lon. 1537
- Madox's Hist. of Excheq., c. 13, § 11.
- Issues of Excheq. ut supra. The editor adds—"The names of other ships are also mentioned."
- Macpherson, Ann. of Comm. i. 554.
- Per meutz garder le liaut pris des leyns.
- Annals of Com. i. 383.
- See Wheeler's Treatise of Commerce, pp. 10 and 14 and Macpherson, i. 397 and 560.
- Both Anderson and Macpherson quote this term from the original statement in the Fœdera (vii. 233), without either explanation or question. We have not been able to discover the meaning of the word.
- Macpherson, i. 446.
- Ibid., i. 561
- Macpherson, i. 562, where the authorities are quoted.
- Leake's Historical Account of English Money, 2nd edit. p. 77.