The estate of merchants, 1336-1365
II - 1341-48


Centre for Metropolitan History



George Unwin (editor)

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'The estate of merchants, 1336-1365: II - 1341-48', Finance and trade under Edward III: The London lay subsidy of 1332 (1918), pp. 205-221. URL: Date accessed: 16 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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This leads to another aspect of these transactions which invites careful study The piecemeal allocation of a wool monopoly amongst a number of groups or partnerships which remained the dominant method of crown finance from the summer of 1340 to the summer of 1342, and which had been coming gradually into use since the summer of 1338, after the breakdown of the second scheme of concentrated monopoly, had important effects on the development of opposing interests within the Estate of Merchants Many of those who individually, or in partnership, took part in the contracts of 1340 and 1341 had been involved in the financial operations of 1338 and 1339, and one of their chief motives for entering into the later transactions must have been a desire to recover their earlier advances to the King Some of them, it is true, had been amongst the leaders of the syndicate of 1337, and might be supposed to have a common interest with the less wealthy members in securing repayment for the wool seized at Dordrecht in 1338 But they had to a considerable extent transferred this debt to the smaller merchants who had acted as their agents, by handing over to these agents the King's licences of exemption from future customs Having thus lightened their earlier burdens they were enabled to make further loans, as other large merchants were doing, in the course of 1338 and 1339

Since the later loans were made upon the same security as the earlier-that of future customs-it might be supposed that they had an inferior claim to repayment But the King's financial rectitude never amounted to more than a lively sense of benefits to come The debt owed to the large body of Dordrecht creditors was much greater, and their power of lending was relatively exhausted If their licences of exemption were allowed to operate the wool customs would, for several years, almost cease to be either a source of revenue or a valid security for further loans The larger capitalists, on the other hand, if the repayment of their later and lesser loans were provided for in the bargain, might be induced to postpone their share in the Dordrecht claim and to make further advances as part of a fresh scheme of monopoly

These considerations furnish the main clue to the new contracts made with the merchants by the King in 1341, (fn. 1) after Parliament, in return for his concessions had authorised him to make purveyance of 20,000 sacks Somewhat less than half of this wool (8,631 sacks) was covered by twenty-three contracts made in July 1341 with native merchants, seven of them with individuals and sixteen with small partnerships (fn. 1)

There are three points to be specially noted in regard to these contracts The first is the emergence of individual capitalists as contractors with the King, and of two in particular-Walter de Chiriton and John de Wesenham-who were to play a prominent part in the finance of later years The second is that all the contracts with native merchants did not nearly cover one-half of the wool granted to the King, nor much more than a quarter of the normal output of the kingdom The rest of the grant was assigned to foreign merchants or to the King's allies, or used directly to meet military needs, and beyond the total grant of 20,000 sacks there must have been a great quantity of wool seeking a market This fact lends significance to the third point The prices at which the merchants contracted to pay for the wool were remarkably high In August 1340 the Government had been obliged to accept offers from the merchants at one mark per sack less than the "Nottingham prices" which the merchants paid to the growers In July 1341 many of the prices agreed to by the merchants were 100 per cent higher than the Nottingham prices It is true that the 1341 prices included the subsidy of fifty shillings per sack, which was not paid separately, and also covered the cost of insurance against risks of transit which the King undertook to meet, but even when these allowances are made the net amount of the King's monopoly profit must have been above 50 per cent Now, it is clear that so large a profit could not be realised on part of the nation's wool unless the exportation of the rest were restricted whilst the chief markets were being held, and this restriction involved a loss of subsidy which had to be set off against the gains of monopoly

The very serious difficulties encountered in the collection of the 20,000 sacks granted for 1341 and of the 10,000 sacks granted for 1342 have been elsewhere described (fn. 1) At one time all the merchants were under arrest for delay in payment, at another time the collectors were suspended for fraud and oppression, but in the end a considerable proportion of the grant seems to have been got in In the spring of 1342, as this source of revenue was approaching exhaustion, whilst the King was contemplating a renewal of the war by intervention in Brittany, the problem of finding an equivalent source became pressing It would have been vain to expect another grant of any kind from Parliament, even if the memory of Edward's shameless repudiation of the concessions by which he obtained the last had not still been fresh The exercise of preemption had been found extremely difficult even when authorised by Parliament Without that authorisation it would have been certain to have failed more completely in 1342 than in 1337 and 1338

A maletote, on the other hand, might be a very productive source of revenue if the consent of a sufficient number of exporting merchants were secured Now any such body must be composed very largely of Dordrecht creditors who might be willing to consent to the maletote as long as their own licenses of exemption were allowed to operate As this, however, would very seriously impair the revenue to be derived from the tax, some other inducement must be found To discover such an inducement was the object of the Assembly of Merchants summoned in June 1342, which, after that of 1337-8, is certainly the most interesting of the series

Its membership is practically identical with that of a later assembly, which met on the day before the opening of the Parliament of 1343 Neither of these two assemblies can be understood without reference to the other, and the proceedings of Parliament need interpreting in the light of both The majority of the one hundred and forty-two merchants summoned in June 1342 was composed of the King's Dordrecht creditors, whether within or without the syndicate of 1337, but along with these were many large merchants who had not taken part in the purveyance of 1337, though most had exported wool in subsequent years (fn. 1) The assembly was no doubt intended to be representative of the whole body of native exporters so that any export tax to which it consented would have a fair prospect of being collected But what motives could the Government furnish for such a consent? The answer must be sought in the agreement made between the King and the merchants at the close of the conference and communicated officially to all the sheriffs of England Apart from the business contract made with the syndicate in 1337, this is the first explicit record of the results of an assembly of merchants The essential points are only two The first is, that "all merchants, denizen and alien, and all others, may buy wool in the realm as they can settle with the vendors, but not at a price below that ordained at Nottingham, and may take the wool, etc, to Flanders to the staple, paying 40/a sack, etc, beyond the custom due thereon till midsummer next", and the second is, "that if anyone be convicted of taking wool, hides or fells out of the realm without paying the custom and subsidy, and elsewhere than to the staple, he shall, besides the forfeiture, be expelled from the communion of the merchants in the realm, so that no merchant, whether denizen or alien, shall communicate with him" (fn. 1)

The nature of the King's main concession to the community of merchants is sufficiently clear It consists in a promise of free and open trade and the withdrawal of the system of monopoly which, in one form or another, had dominated the wool trade, except for brief intervals, since 1337 But how are we to interpret the second clause in the agreement-the enforcement by "boycott" of the restriction of the wool export to the Bruges staple? Can we regard it as having been adopted partly in the interests of the community of merchants, or was it merely a concession to the diplomatic and fiscal interests of the King? In order to get light on this point we need to recall the history of the Staple in the immediate past (fn. 2)

During the revolution with which the reign opened the foreign staple established in 1312 had been abolished at the demand both of wool growers and merchants, and the home staples, by which the earlier system was then displaced, were themselves abandoned two years later The re-establishment of the home staples in 1333 was part of a scheme for raising an unconstitutional tax on wool A revival of the foreign staple in its most stringent form was the essential feature of the monopoly arrangements of 1337, but the syndicate broke down before the locality of the staple had been determined

The establishment of a staple at Antwerp in 1338 was, as we have seen, probably authorised by an assembly of merchants quite distinct in composition from the 1337 syndicate, and elected through the sheriffs ad hoc, but there is no reason for regarding this body as constituting a company of staplers (fn. 1) In 1340, on Wednesday after mid-Lent, the King made a formal promise to his Flemish allies that "with the assent of the present Parliament at Westminster," he would establish a staple at Bruges (fn. 2) It is therefore certain that the exceptionally large Assembly of Merchants which had been summoned at the request of Parliament and was sitting coincidentally with it was consulted on this matter, and it is highly probable that the three later assemblies of 1340 were concerned to some extent with the problem of organising a staple (fn. 3) The purveyance contracts of the autumn of 1340 imply a de facto staple at Bruges, since they provide for the delivery of all the King's wool there, but the breakdown of the contracts, and the crisis that ensued, delayed its formal establishment till August 1341, when the monopoly contracts for that year had been drawn up and the export of the King's wool might be expected to commence A charter was then issued, "on the mature advice of expert councillors and at the urgent request of the merchants of the realm," placing the government of the staple in the hands of the mayor and constables, nominated, in the first place, by the King, but removable on just cause by the merchants who received power to elect future officials All pre-existing liberties and charters of the staple merchants were confirmed, and they were authorised to hold their courts of law merchant to punish offenders, to share with the King forfeitures for breach of staple, to assemble once a year in England, and to lay reasonable impositions or tolls on all merchandise carried to the staple

Who were the staplers invested with these powers, and what was the significance of their new charter? The record of the working of the staple, which we can follow almost day by day for six months afterwards, justifies us in assuming that the company of staplers was practically identical with the forty-three merchants who, as individuals or in partnerships, had undertaken the twenty-three contracts in July 1341 One of their number, Hugh de Ulseby, was mayor of the staple. The significance of the charter depends upon the fact that, seven weeks after it was granted, if the King kept his plighted word, the monopoly of exportation would cease for that year, and the trade would be open to all on payment of the ordinary custom of half a mark per sack But as the collection of the King's wool was by no means completed the contractors would be ruined if the trade were opened at Michaelmas, whilst the King on his part was probably not minded in any case to relinquish the forty shilling tax which, since 1338, had been one of the main sources of his revenue

There can be little doubt therefore that the machinery of the staple was deliberately devised to prevent the resumption of open trade, especially as, by one of the clauses of the charter, a tax of sixty shillings per sack could be imposed upon any exporter seeking to evade the staple After Michaelmas, in spite of the King's promises, the forty shillings per sack continued to be exacted, though it was paid, not through the customs, but through the Exchequer, and nominally perhaps as a free-will offering This form of exportation went on side by side with the collection of the King's wool during the first half of 1342, and as the latter source of revenue began to get exhausted it became important to secure a broader basis of consent for the former Hence the Assembly of Merchants and the treaty of June 1342 The King conceded an open trade, the merchants on their part authorised the forty shilling tax They also engaged to enforce the staple at Bruges Was this a further concession on their part, or did they stand to gain by it? The answer is, apparently, that by virtue of the agreement they themselves became the company of staplers, and the enforcement of the staple would be of value to them in so far as the staple machinery enabled them to confine the export trade within their enlarged, but still limited, circle

The new arrangement therefore displaced a strict and narrow monopoly in the hands of forty-three merchants by an attenuated quasi-monopoly in the hands of a hundred and forty-two merchants It mitigated the grievances of the lesser exporters against the greater exporters, but it left comparatively untouched the grievances of the growers, of the home traders, and of those exporters who were still excluded, against those men included in the staple And it made no provision for paying off the Doidrecht debt

All these defects in the settlement came clearly to light at the next meeting of the assembly in April 1343 The King called the merchants together on the day before the opening of Parliament so that he might confront the Commons, who had come to petition against the maletote with the renewed consent of the assembly But in order to secure that consent he had to consider the grievances of the merchants and to make further concessions It would seem from their petitions that the majority of the merchants, whatever their views may have been at the previous assembly, did not now desire the con tinuance of the staple at Bruges The experience of the past year had shown them that the manufacturers who controlled the Flemish cities were not prepared to allow foreign buyers, or even the smaller Flemish towns, a free access to the wool market Moreover, the exemptions from staple restrictions granted by the King for fiscal reasons and the dislocation of the foreign exchanges owing to the recent debasement of the coinage made it difficult for the English trader to export at a profit Worst of all was the increasing mass of the unliquidated royal debt Two thirds of the Dordrecht wool and a considerable part of that more recently seized by the King's collectors from growers and traders and handed over to companies of contractors was still unpaid for If a substantial exemption from the payment of subsidy were granted to the King s creditors who formed at least two-thirds of the assembly of merchants, they were prepared to confirm its continuance at the rate of forty shillings per sack They would prefer to have the staple established in England, as that would give the majority of English merchants the freeest access to foreign buyers and would relieve them of the technical difficulties of the foreign exchange But if, for diplomatic reasons, it must remain at Bruges, they requested that the sea ought to be open to all-to foreigners as well as to natives-to private traders as well as to the King's merchants (fn. 1)

A committee of twelve was empowered by the Assembly of Merchants to negotiate with the King and come speedily to an agreement In return for their confirmation of his subsidy of forty shillings, the King would allow his creditors an exemption of twenty shillings per sack for the first year and of half a mark for the second and third years in part payment of his debts The staple was to remain at Bruges, and was to be organised in the form now known as a cartel "They will take it [the wool] to the staple, and there be at the orders of the mayor and company of merchants, saving to each one his freedom, so that all those who pass wool are of one condition and agreement to keep the wool at a high price and receive such payment as shall be agreed by the King and his council and by the said merchants" The "community of merchants" was to have a third part of the forfeitures of ships and wool which were found evading the staple, and, as a safe guard against the renewal of purveyance monopolies, the King grants "that if any one by his grant has permission to buy wool within the said time in any county then the community of merchants shall be of as free condition in such buying" (fn. 1)

On the strength of this agreement with the Assembly of Merchants the King was enabled to effect a compromise with the wool growers in the Commons Rather than have the tax imposed as an unconstitutional maletote, they gave an unwilling consent to its imposition for three years as a subsidy on condition that the minimum prices fixed at Nottingham shall be revised in accordance with the subsequent depreciation of the currency (fn. 2)

The constitutional problem was for the time being solved, but a difficult fiscal problem remained As between the King and the community of merchants the matter could not rest where it was A simple promise of exemption from subsidy was no adequate guarantee to the Dordrecht creditors During the past five years the customs had been transferred with bewildering rapidity from one of the King's creditors to another, and at that moment three quarters of the wool taxation was in the hands of Italian and German merchants The King might be glad enough of an excuse to resume the most productive branch of his revenue and yet be quite unwilling to see the greater part of it absorbed in the repayment of still older debts The customs must be entrusted to some inter mediary who would undertake to satisfy the demands of both claimants Such an intermediary was found in a body of thirty-four capitalists chosen out of the Assembly of Merchants who contracted, on July 8th, 1343, to furnish the King, out of the customs and the wool subsidy, with a monthly revenue of a thousand marks, and to account for the balance quarterly after allowing for the promised exemptions to the Dordrecht creditors (fn. 1)

The significance of the new arrangement is, however, mainly revealed in two other clauses of the contract Over and above the amount of the customs the syndicate engaged to pay the King 10,000 marks a year, and they were empowered to buy up and use any licenses of exemption held by Dordrecht creditors who could not take part in exportation. The first of these clauses exhibits the monopolist character of the new staple, since from no other source than monopoly profits could the additional 10,000 marks be derived, and the second clause shows that the minority, into whose hands the control of the staple had passed, would have the power of discounting the Dordrecht paper of the majority at a profit to themselves

Under these circumstances the unity of mercantile interests aimed at in the staple of June 1342, and still nominally maintained in the agreement of April 1343, could not be expected to last. A division of interests between the syndicate of capitalists and the other members-numbering about a hundred-of the Assembly of Merchants was certain to arise, and as the over-large syndicate narrowed, the division widened In March 1344 only thirteen of the thirty-four members appear to have remained in active exercise of their functions as King's merchants (fn. 2) It is not surprising, therefore, that complaints should be heard of the evasion of the staple, nor that the Parliament, which met in June 1344, should renew its demands for freedom of trade in wool at home and abroad The King, on his part, was ready to sell concessions The resources of the staple syndicate were beginning to dry up The main part of the wool revenue was secured by parliamentary grant for two more years, and by yielding for the moment to the demand for an open trade, he was able to obtain an additional grant of direct taxation for two years (fn. 1)

The arrangement of 1342-3 thus practically came to an end. The syndicate could no longer either fulfil the contract or profess to represent the Assembly of Merchants Two-thirds of its members formally withdrew from the contract, and the dozen who remained under the leadership of Thomas and William Melchbourn, of Lynn, could only attempt to carry it on with the support of the leading firm of foreign bankers For another year they held together under the style of the Associated Merchants of England till the renewal of the war and the stoppage of the wool trade forced them into bankruptcy The King released them from the third year of their contract, while holding them accountable for the farm of the two years that had elapsed Before this he had made an attempt to revive the syndicate in its larger form and to bargain with it on the basis of a renewal of the staple monopoly In July 1345 he had summoned not only the surviving thirteen of the Melchbourn company, but the twenty-one who had retired in the previous year and a score of other prominent members of the earlier assembly, and it was only after the refusal of this larger body to appear (fn. 2) or to negotiate that he handed over the farm of the customs and of the once more re-established wool monopoly to a private firm of English financiers headed by John de Wesenham (fn. 3)

From this time onwards through the constitutional and fiscal crisis aoccasioned by the Crécy campaign and the siege of Calais, these two departments of public finance which had come to be connected in the staple passed through the hands of a rapid succession of private firms The Wesenham Brothers were partially displaced in their farm of the customs by Henry Picard & Co (fn. 4) in January 1346, and displaced entirely in April 1346 by Chiriton and Swanland (fn. 5) In February 1347 the King negotiated a new loan upon the security of the customs with the new firm of Chiriton and Wendlingburgh, (fn. 6) and in the following April he handed over the purveyance of 20,000 sacks of wool granted by a council of magnates to Wesenham and Chiriton, who undertook to pay 100,000 marks (fn. 7)

The men who played the leading part in this rapid series of reconstructions-which clearly point to an extreme instability in the royal finances-were the wealthiest members of the class of purveyors to the King's armies and navies (fn. 1) But they were not able to carry out the contracts they undertook without the support of Italian and German financiers, and a leading feature in each of the successive arrangements-one of the many sources of their prospective profits-was the power vested in them of discounting the Dordrecht promissory notes of buying up the King's bad debts at the expense of the lesser merchants, whose wool had been seized in 1338

In the year 1347 the fiscal and constitutional history of the reign reached a climax Under strong pressure in 1346 Parliament had made a new grant of direct taxation and had protested in vain against the renewal of the forty shillings subsidy on wool, which it did not regard as having been constitutionally granted in 1343 On the top of this two-fold taxation, a council, which met on March 3, 1347, authorised the simultaneous requisition of a loan of 20,000 sacks of wool, and imposed other taxes on the export and import trade in aid of the fleet It has been generally supposed, on the basis of a conjecture in a footnote by Stubbs, (fn. 2) that an Assembly of Merchants consented to these impositions Strong evidence would be required to prove this The Assembly of Merchants had never presumed to make a loan of the nation's wool The King had, in the first instance, claimed to levy the wool by the prerogative of purveyance, and later on he had obtained the sanction of Parliament Even the forty shillings subsidy which the merchants themselves had to pay, was only granted by them under the influence of special motives, and those motives had ceased to operate since the collapse of the staple arrangement of 1342-3

There is, however, no evidence that the merchants as a body consented to the loan of wool or even to the other taxes. Ten leading merchants-five of whom belonged to firms of financiers holding contracts-were summoned for the 12th February, and on February 18th the council which actually authorised the loan, and which is once referred to later on as "the community of the realm," was summoned for March 3rd It was composed of six bishops, twenty-five abbots and priors, eight earls, six other lay magnates, and two merchants-John Pulteney and William de la Pole At any rate, William de la Pole was summoned by a separate writ carried by two special messengers, who were to inform him confidentially of the business to be transacted (fn. 1)

It is almost certain that the additional taxes imposed on foreign trade for the benefit of the navy were authorised by this council, as they were announced on March 15th, (fn. 2) and the first real Assembly of Merchants for this year was not summoned till March 20th, and did not meet till April 21st

The method of summoning the assembly was significant. Seventy-nine of the leading wool merchants of thirteen counties received separate writs, but the sheriff of each county was simultaneously instructed to see that these merchants attended the council, and to choose four or six other merchants to accompany them It is clear from subsequent events that the primary object, not only of these summonses but of those issued on May 28th, on June 30th, and on August 20th, was not consultation upon policy but the raising of a loan Of those summoned by name to the first assembly one-third refused the loan outright, another third made promises in the council chamber and withdrew them on their return home, and it is probable that a great many of the rest did not answer the summons From Lincolnshire, as the chief wool-producing county, no less than twenty merchants had been summoned by name Eight of these promised loans amounting to a total of £286 On May 28th writs were issued for the arrest of these eight for having broken their promise, and of another four who had refused, (fn. 3) whilst six others who had apparently not answered the first call, were summoned, along with four new merchants from Lincolnshire, to a second assembly of seventy-one merchants to be held on June 20th (fn. 1) Four of the six who had thus been twice summoned still failed to appear (fn. 2)

On June 30th a hundred and eighty writs were issued to individual merchants and others, who were required to come before the council in July, on half a dozen different days and therefore not for the purpose of a general meeting (fn. 3) The last of these efforts was made on August 20th, when a hundred and twenty-six persons were summoned for eleven different dates in August and September, whilst ninety-nine writs were issued for the arrest of earlier defaulters (fn. 4)

There is undoubtedly one object of policy apart from the mere levy of a forced loan which it might seem natural to connect with the writs of summons issued on August 20th Calais had fallen into English hands on August 3rd, and on August 12th a proclamation had been issued offering grants of houses and lands to merchants and others who were willing to settle there The staple of cloth, tin, lead and feathers, which was set up at Calais in the following April, may have been already in contemplation, (fn. 5) and in view of the uncertain political relations with Flanders it it not improbable that the Government was considering the desirability of removing the wool staple also to Calais But there is no ground for believing that such a project was discussed with any representative assembly of merchants, though it is quite likely that those who were called up in groups during August and September were pressed to take grants of allotments in Calais in return for loans The list of grants made on October 8th, 1347, reveals no connection between the general body of the settlers and the general body of any assembly of merchants On the other hand, the list does contain the names of almost all the greater capitalists who had been concerned in the farm of the customs and of the wool monopoly since 1344, i e. the two Melchbourns, Cheriton, Swanland, Wendlingburgh and Picard (fn. 6)

The Estate of Merchants, whether regarded as representa tive of class interests or as an instrument of royal policy, had been in process of disintegration since 1343 The events of 1347 exhibit it in a condition of complete collapse The records of the Parliament of 1348, especially when compared with those of the Parliament of 1343, explain and illustrate more fully both the disintegration and the collapse In 1343 the petitions of the merchants represent a separate body of interests consulted before the rest of the Commons, and a treaty with that body, in which the greater and the lesser exporters were combined, was used as a means of extracting concessions from Parliament In 1348 the petitions emanating from the merchants and representing a variety of different interests, are mingled with those of the Commons and the many petitions of the Commons express to a large extent the grievances of the merchants It is the Commons who now complain of the restrictions of the Bruges staple, both upon supply and upon demand, and of the dislocation of the exchanges due to the debasement of coinage (fn. 1) It is the Commons who declare that "certain merchants" who hold the farm of the customs and subsidy claim, and have also contracted to purchase the King's wool, and will not suffer any other merchant to export wool unless he pays an extra levy of two marks a sack (fn. 2) Most striking of all is the fact that the Commons, who in 1343, specially intervened in the discussion of the currency problem with the request that the merchants should be obliged to deposit two marks of silver plate before exporting each sack of wool, (fn. 3) are found in 1348 petitioning that this regulation should be no longer maintained as the merchants cannot comply with it and dare not buy wool while it is in force (fn. 4)

The counterpart of this new solidarity of the general body of merchants with the Commons is to be found in the incurable division of interest that has arisen between the handful of capitalists who now manage the royal finances and the great majority of those who once composed the Estate of Merchants This is fully explained by the petition in which the latter demand once more the long deferred payment for the wool seized at Dordrecht "The King," they say, "with the common assent of Parliament granted allowance for this debt in exemptions from the wool subsidy of twenty shillings per sack And a great part of the rich merchants have availed themselves of this mode of recovery, but the poor merchants are still unsatisfied because the rich merchants have acquired from the King the sole right of buying the debts of the poor merchants and pay for them whatever price they think fit" (fn. 1)

Looking back over the dozen years whose records have been traversed, we can distinguish primarily between two types of merchant assemblies One of these was summoned by writs to the mayors of cities and boroughs, or to sheriffs, and the other by writs to individual merchants The first of these methods was the one originally employed in 1336, but it failed, and the assembly, which was identical with the syndicate of 1337-8, was built up mainly by the method of individual writs The active members of this syndicate, together with their agents and clients form the greater part of most of the assemblies which were subsequently summoned by individual writs, and this element of continuity will perhaps justify the application to those assemblies of the term Estate of Merchants It was from the assemblies of this kind that the King in 1336-7 and in 1342-3 obtained authorisation of the subsidy on wool, and it was with them or with representatives chosen by them that he attempted, in 1337, and again in 1343, an arrangement of his customs revenue which, if it had proved successful, would have supplied a new starting-point for English fiscal and constitutional history The inherent causes of the instability and disintegration of this Estate of Merchants were two-fold-the existence of a wider body of mercantile interests outside the estate which found expression through the House of Commons or in the assemblies summoned through the mayors and sheriffs,-and the formation of smaller groups of financiers within or without the estate who were more fitted to handle the highly speculative operations of royal finance.


1 The great constitutional crisis of 1340-1 is here entirely passed over, as it is fully dealt with in article on "The Taxation of Wool," pp 155-65 above Cf also Mr Lapsley's articles in English Hist Rev on "Archbishop Stratford and the Parliamentary Crisis of 1341"
1 It would be possible to trace the earlier and subsequent history of most of the contractors in some detail, but it will perhaps be sufficient for our purpose to follow the previous fortunes of a dozen Yorkshire merchants who played a leading part in half the contracts Only two of them-Henry Goldbeter and Walter Kelsterne-had actually been members of the syndicate of 1337, but three others-John and William Lutrington and John Randman-had shared with them in the exportation to Dordrecht, and the King's total debt to these five merchants on that account amounted to 2,104 marks (C C R 1339-41, p 501) In the spring of 1339 another group of fourteen Yorkshire merchants who had made a loan were authorised to collect and export 1,000 sacks, and at the end of the year the customs of York were granted to the five leading members of this group-William de Shirebourn, Thomas Gra, William de Acastre, John Goldbeter and Thomas de Lyndsey-until they had recovered advances made to the King beyond seas In May 1340 the King took away from this group, whilst still in their debt, the customs of York and handed them over to a company of Hanseatic merchants as security for another loan (C C R 1339-41, p 417) In the meantime Henry Goldbeter and his four partners had come to the conclusion that they could only hope to recover their Dordrecht debt by undertaking more Government business Accordingly, in July 1340 they offered to advance an additional sum of 2,104 marks on the security of the ninth sheaf, fleece and lamb about to be collected in Lincolnshire if they might be allowed the 2,104 marks of Dordrecht debt from the same source At the same moment ministers were anxiously seeking for advances on account of the 20,000 sacks of wool which Parliament had granted on hearing the news of Sluys and were being obliged to accept very low offers (C C R 1339-41, p 501) This seemed a favourable moment to both the Yorkshire groups, and, in order to take advantage of it, they united their forces A new partnership, consisting of two members of the Dordrecht group-Henry Goldbeter and John Lutrington-and two members of the other group-Thomas Gra and William Acastre-offered a loan on account of 1,500 sacks of wool, on condition that the £1,000 still owing by the King to the second group should be deducted from the total amount at which the wool was valued (Rot Parl, II, 120) But the hopes of the Yorkshire merchants that their new operations would make good the loans upon the old were soon to be disappointed The Dordrecht group had advanced another 2,104 marks, but at the beginning of 1341 only 200 marks of the 4,208 had been recovered from the ninth The new partnership had made a fresh loan of £1,500, but the wool which was to cover this amount, and also the £1,000 already owed by the King, was only to be had in small and quite inadequate quantities This was the situation in July 1341 when the new contracts were made The ten Yorkshire merchants who composed the two groups are found participating in no less than eight of the twenty three contracts The five Dordrecht creditors, headed by Henry Goldbeter, contracted for 565 sacks of Lincolnshire wool The members of the other group, distributed in three partnerships, contracted for 822 sacks of the North East Riding wool and 156 sacks of the West Riding In all a total of 2,365 sacks was contracted for entirely by the Yorkshiremen, whilst Henry Goldbeter took part in another large contract for 1,177 sacks (C C R 1341-3, p 255) The rest of the contractors in 1341 belonged in about the same proportions to the two classes represented by the Yorkshiremen, i e about one third of them were amongst the Dordrecht creditors of the King, whilst the other two thirds had not shared in the operations of the syndicate of 1337 But almost all had advanced money or goods to the King since 1337 which they hoped to recover through the contracts of 1341
1 See article on "The Taxation of Wool," pp 161 et seq above
1 Lords' Report, IV, 540
1 C C R 1341-3, p 553
2 A full account of the earlier history of the Staple is given in Prof Tout's The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History, pp 241-66
1 Cf ante, p 199
2 C P R 1338-40, p 511
3 Cf ante, p 202
1 Rot Parl II 143
1 C C R 1343-6 p 217
2 Rot Parl II 17 138
1 C C R 1343-6, p 266
2 C P R 1343-45, p 225
1 Rot Parl, 8-12, 116-51, 148, 149-56
2 Lords' Report, IV, 555
3 C C R 1343-6, p 648
4 C C R 1346-9, p 40
5 Ib, p 72
6 Ib, pp 204, 249, 260
7 Ib, p 196
1 The varied activities of Thomas de Melchbourn are typical of this class He was one of the collectors of customs at Bishops Lynn and deputy butler there, purveyor of King's victuals, one of the takers of the moiety of the wool, receiver of wool, purveyor of hemp, iron and other necessaries for making anchors and cables for the King's use, purveyor of necessaries for building a galley and barge for him, and arrayer of men, mariners and arms for the said men, appointed to arrest all victuals passing to Norway and Sweden, and deputy of admirals of the fleets in the county of Norfolk" (C P R 1342, p 383)
2 Stubbs, II, 416, note 3
1 Lords' Report, IV, 562-3
2 C P R 1345-8, p 264
3 Foed, III, 121
1 Lords' Report, IV, 566
2 C C R 1346-9, p 375
3 Lords' Report, IV, 567
4 C C R 1346-9, pp 375-80
5 See article on "Calais under Edward III," p 321, below
6 C P R 1345-8, pp 563-5
1 Rot Parl, II, 110-65
2 Ib, 138-69
3 Ib, 116-38
4 Ib, 115-202
1 Rot Parl, II, 39-169