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THE MERCHANT PRINCES OF ENGLAND.
EARLY ENGLISH COMMERCE.
than two thousand years ago. during the first few Christian cenThe Phænician and Carthaginian turies became most famous, there traders, visiting the Scilly Islands were, besides London, Canterbury and the coast of Cornwall in and Rochester, Richborough and quest of tin, laid the foundations of Dover, Exeter and Chester, York, that system of merchandise which has Aberdeen, and Dumbarton. done so much to make of our little British trade declined after the island of Britain a mighty nation, Anglo-Saxon settlement, but, under and to bring under its dominion English management, these same many of the fairest provinces in towns, with many others, prospered every quarter of the world. Com- more than ever. When Christianity ing to our shores as early, we are was introduced, and pious men told by antiquaries, as the fifth or betook themselves to monasteries, sixth century before Christ, and at they became the special patrons of first coming only for the tin that commerce and agriculture, being was found more plentifully, and labourers and mechanicians thembetter prepared, by the ancient Bri- selves, as well as instructors of their tons than by any other people, lay brethren in the various arts of these traders soon included lead civilized life. “We command,' runs and hides in their purchases, and one of Edgar's laws, that every brought in exchange various articles priest, to increase knowledge, diliof earthenware, brass manufacture, gently learn some handicraft;' while and salt. When the Tyrian race smiths and carpenters, fishermen died out, others carried on the trade, and millers, weavers and architects, the Cornish marts being replaced by are frequently mentioned in old others in the Isle of Wight and on chronicles as belonging to various the coast of Kent, whither the com- convents. The smith was the oldest modities were conveyed from the and most honoured of all workmen. inland districts of England, to be Whence,' he is made to ask, in a taken in Gallic ships for sale in curious collection of Anglo-Saxon various parts of the Continent. dialogues,' whence hath the ploughWith the growth of manufactories man his ploughshare and goad, and marts, increased the number save by my art? whence hath the and variety of articles to be sold. fisherman his rod, or the shoemaker Corn, gold, silver, iron, and precious his awl, or the sempstress her stones, as well as tin and lead, were needle, but from me?' In the same the chief commodities exported be- work, the merchant asserts his digfore and after the conquest of Julius nity and the nature of his calling. Cæsar,
It was the fame of the 'I am useful,' he says, 'to the king British pearls, according to one tra- and his nobles, to rich men and to dition, that first prompted Cæsar to common folk. I enter my ship with cross the Gallic Straits; and the my merchandise, and sail across the report of his soldiery speedily seas, and sell my wares, and buy opened up a thriving trade with the dear things that are not produced in Kentish towns for oysters to aug- this land, and bring them with great ment the luxuries of Roman feast- danger for your good; and someing, for bears to fill the Roman times I am shipwrecked, and loso circus, and for dogs to be used by all my wares, and hardly myself Roman sportsmen. The establish- escape. What is it you bring us ?' ment of Latin colonies in Britain, of one asks. 'I bring you,' he replies, course, gave a great encouragement skins, silks,
costly gems and gold VOL. V.-NO. XXVII.
various garments, pigments, wine, cestors, of buying men and women oil, ivory and brass, copper and tin, in all parts of England, and exportsilver, glass, and such like.' • Willing them to Ireland for the sake of you sell your things here,' inquires gain. You might have seen, with the other speaker, 'as you bought sorrow, long ranks of youths and them there? To which the mer- maidens, of the greatest beauty, tied chant answers, ‘Nay, in truth; else together with ropes, and daily exwhere would be the good of all my posed to sale; nor were these men labour ? I will sell them here ashamed-oh, horrid wickedness !dearer than I bought them there, to give up their nearest relations, that so I may get some profit, to feed even their own children, to slavery.' me and my wife and children.' It is to be hoped that dealings of
In those early days, and for many this sort were not very common; centuries after, the merchant was but it is clear that during these the captain of his own little ship, centuries the Irish, or rather, perand thus had the entire range of his haps, the Danes, who were masters business under his own supervision. of a large part of Ireland, carried on He was deservedly held in honour a considerable trade with England. by his countrymen. By a law of In very early times their merchants Athelstan, published near the mid- brought cloths to Cambridge, and dle of the tenth century, it was ap
exhibited them in the streets for pointed that every merchant, even sale; and Chester was filled during though he were by birth a serf, who the summer months by Irishmen, had made three journeys across the bringing marten-skins and other sea with his own ship and goods, articles to sell, and buying in exwas to have the rank of a thane. change the various commodities The ships were mere boats, rude most needed by their own people. constructions of wood, propelled by Yet English commerce was still in eight or ten oars, with the assistance its infancy. By one of the laws of of a single square sail suspended Lothair, of Kent, living in the from a single mast, and seldom large seventh century, no one was allowed enough to hold more than half a to buy anything worth more than dozen men, with two or three tons twenty pennies something like of cargo. Yet in these poor vessels, five pounds, according to the prehaving no other compass than the sent value of money-except within sun and stars, and no proper rudder the walls of a town, and in the preto direct their motions, our fearless sence of the chief magistrate, or two forefathers wandered wherever they or more witnesses. Another of would. The silks and pigments, Lothair's laws appoints that 'If any referred to in the dialogue just one of the people of Kent buy anycited, could hardly have come from thing in the city of London, he must a nearer part than Italy or Marseilles. have two or three honest men, or We know that trading voyages were the king's port-reeve, present at the often made to Rome, and that in bargain ;' and in a third it is written: the eighth century one Anglo-Saxon 'Let none exchange one thing for merchant, at any rate, was settled, another, except in the presence of and had influential position in Mar- the sheriff, the mass priest, the lord seilles.
of the manor, or some other person Some branches of Anglo-Saxon of undoubted veracity. If they do commerce, it must be admitted, were otherwise, they shall pay a fine of not altogether respectable. In a thirty shillings, besides forfeiting memoir of another Wulfstan, Bishop the goods so exchanged to the lord of Worcester at the time of the of the manor.' From such enactNorman Conquest, it is said: “There ments we infer, in the first place, is a seaport town called Bristol, op- that rogues were so numerous, and posite to Ireland, to which its in- false dealings so prevalent, even in habitants make frequent voyages of these early days, that it was not safe trade. Wulfstan cured the people for trade to be carried on in any but of this town of a most odious custom, the most public manner; and, in the which they derived from their an- second, that, from the beginning,
states and muncipalities obtained part tradesmen should bring their wares of their revenues from imposts upon for sale; and to the villagers articles of commerce. In Lewes, at spending most of their time quito the time of the Domesday Survey, a out of the reach of the scanty comtax of a farthing was levied by the merce of those ages, it was a great sheriff on the sale of every ox; and advantage to meet with merchants when a slave changed hands, the provided with large collections of payment due to the town exchequer useful and ornamental articles of was fourpence. In most parts of the home and foreign production, and kingdom, moreover, perhaps in all, willing to barter them for sheepa percentage on the price of every skins and agricultural produce, or article sold for more than twenty any of the rough and tough manupennies was divided between the factures of the local workmen. In king and the lord of the manor, this way fạirs became markets; and half being levied from the buyer markets, that never had been fairs, and half from the seller. The fairs came to be held at various intervals, or markets spread over the kingdom yearly, monthly, or weekly, in every also paid toll to the crown. We part of the land. read of one in Bedfordshire that English commerce was in a yielded seven pounds a year, and of healthier condition just before than another at Taunton which produced just after the Norman Conquest. about fifty shillings.
Under Edward the Confessor, mer' Fairs did the work of shops in chants were highly esteemed; they Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman travelled much in France and Gertimes, and in doing so they gradually many, and brought back foreign lost the religious character with goods of every description; while the which they were at first started. merchants of other countries not . In the beginning of holy church, only came to trade in England, but it is written in one of the old legends, had already begun to find the advan' it was so that people came at night tage of making it their home. But time to the church with candles trade was scorned by the Normans, burning; they would wake and and, although their habits, more come with light toward the church extravagant and ambitious than in their devotions; but after, they those of the Anglo-Saxons, in due fell to lechery and songs, dances, time led to its further extension, harping, piping, and also to gluttony their violent coming at first very and sin, and so turned the holiness greatly hindered its progress. "The to cursedness. Wherefore, holy English merchants,' says William of fathers ordained the people to leave Poictiers, William the Conqueror's that waking'-a term still retained own chaplain, and too stanch a in the Irish wakes—and to fast at hater of Anglo-Saxons to say more even.' The evening fasts, how- in their favour than he could help, ever, were as unprofitable, from a to the opulence of their country, religious point of view, as those rich in its own fertility, added still formerly held at night-time. The greater riches and more valuable people who assembled, generally in
treasures. The articles imported the churchyards, and often in the by them, notable both for their churches themselves, of the saints quantity and their quality, were whose merits they came to celebrate, either to have been hoarded up for soon turned their meetings into the gratification of their avarice, or opportunities for amusement, and to have been dissipated in the inlaid the foundation of those periodi- dulgence of their luxurious inclinacal fairs which, despite all the op- tions. But William seized them position of the clergy and other and bestowed part on his victorious lovers of good order, have held their army, and part on the churches and ground almost to the present day. monasteries, while to the Pope and But all the money was not spent in the Church of Rome he sent an feasting and sightseeing. Wherever incredible mass of money in gold numbers of people were gathered and silver, and many ornaments together, it was natural that that would have been admired even
in Constantinople.' It was not, how- any interest for their loans, there ever, until a curb had been put were no restrictions to the avarice upon royal extortion and injustice, of the Jewish capitalists. It was to that the English merchants were able the interest of the sovereigns that to pursue their ways with ease and the Jews should be rich men, as profit. For the half-century follow- then more gold could be forced from ing the Conquest we know little of them, for the quelling of enemies the history of commerce, and it is pro- abroad or of insurrections at home, bable that little progress was made whenever there was need of it. in it. In the charters granted by England itself also profited by this the two Williams and Henry I., no arrangement. The gathering up of reference is made to merchandise ; wealth, to be spent in large schemes and the public documents of these of traffic, is a great advantage to kings show only that they levied society; and in the main the Jews heavy tolls both on shipping and did this work honestly and well. In on inland trade.
no worse spirit than actuated their One beneficial measure, however, Christian contemporaries, they is to be set to the credit of Henry I. taught sound lessons of economy In 1110 he founded a settlement and prudence to the world, and of Flemings in the neighbourhood therefore are entitled to the hearty of Ross in Pembrokeshire. The praise of posterity. hardy colonists were invited chiefly During the first half of the twelfth with the view of checking the law- century, Scotland-undisturbed by lessness of the marauding Welsh, Norman invasion, but, on the conand this they did with excellent trary, greatly benefited by the disresult. But they did far more for asters which sent many peaceable England. Giraldus Cambrensis and enterprising southerners to try speaks of them as 'a people no- their fortunes in the north-was tably skilled both in the business commercially in advance of Engof making cloth and in merchandise, land. Under the wise guidance of ever ready with any labour or dan- the best of its kings, David the First, ger to seek for gain by sea or land.' who reigned from 1124 to 1153, it For centuries English sheepskins passed at once from what was very had been bought up by traders from sike barbarism to as much civilizathe Continent to be taken abroad tion as could be claimed for any and converted into woollen gar- nation in that time. Foreign merments. With the Flemish settlors, chants were invited by David to however, came to England the visit his ports, and every encouFlemish art of woollen manufacture, ragement was given to his own suband henceforth this trade, a most jects to cross the seas on errands important element in British com- of trade. One of his laws exempted merce, was naturalized among us. the property of all persons trading
Colonists of another and very dif- with foreign countries from seizure ferent class were also encouraged in on any claim whatever during their England at about the same time. absence, unless it could be shown These were the Jews, a fair sprink- that they had left their homes with ling of whom had been mixed with the purpose of evading justice. He the Anglo-Saxons from a period gave special encouragement to prior to Edward the Confessor's makers of woollen cloths; and we reign, and of whom great numbers are told by one contemporary writer began to cross the Channel imme- that at the end of his reign, and in diately after the coming of the that of his successor, the towns and Normans. By William Rufus they burghs of Scotland were chiefly filled
especially favoured, and with Englishmen, many of them Henry I. conferred on them a charter skilled in the art lately brought of privileges. They were enabled over by the Flemish colonists. to claim, in courts of law, the repay- A race of Stephens would soon ment of any money, lent by them, have depopulated England. Henry as easily as Christians, and, while II., however, did his utmost to reChristians were forbidden to chargemedy the evils caused by the civil wars which led to his being made of God in all things, we drink wine king, and his reign was one of com- very plentifully; for those countries mercial prosperity never before have abundance of vineyards.' Engequalled. London, containing at land had vineyards also in those this period between thirty and forty days; and Gloucester and Winthousand inhabitants, the most po- chester were noted for their trade palous town in the kingdom, and in excellent wines of native pronow, for the first time, the fixed duction. Exeter engrossed much abode of the king and his court, was of the trade of the south. It is of course the emporium of foreign described as a port full of wealthy and domestic trade. No city in the citizens and the resort of no less world, according to William Fitz- wealthy foreigners, who came for Stephen, the biographer of Becket, the minerals dug up in the sursent so far and to so many quarters rounding districts, and gave in exits wealth and merchandise; and change abundance of every foreign none was so largely the resort of luxury that could be desired. On foreign dealers. Gold, spice, and the eastern coast, Dunwich, now frankincense were brought to it more than half washed away by the from Arabia; precious stones from violence of the Suffolk seas, was a Egypt; purple cloths from India ; flourishing port, ' stored with every palm oil from Bagdad; furs and kind of riches,' while Yarmouth was ermines from Norway and Russia ; rapidly growing into importance as weapons from Scythia; and wines a fishing station. Lynn, the dwellfrom France. Let there,' wrote ing-place of many wealthy Jewish Henry II. to the Emperor Frederick families, had much trade with tho of Germany in 1957, ‘be between cities of Germany and northern ourselves and our subjects an in- France; and Lincoln-made accesdivisible unity of friendship and sible to foreign vessels by means of peace, and safe trade of merchan- a great canal, connecting the Trent dise;" and the Germans were not and the Witham, which had been slow in using the advantages offered constructed by Henry I.'s orders in them. ‘London,' says William of 1121—was now becoming one of the Malmesbury, ‘is filled with goods most extensive seats of commerce brought by the merchants of all in England. York had been so countries, but especially with those much devastated by war at the of Germany; and, when there is time of the Conquest, and by many scarcity of corn in other parts of dreadful fires in later years, that its England, it is a granary where the trade had been seriously impaired. article may be bought more cheaply It was still, however, visited by than anywhere else.' Its citizens, many vessels from Germany and called barons, to distinguish them Iceland, while Grimsby was a fafrom the dwellers in other towns, vourite resort of merchants from were separated from all others by Norway, Scotland, the Orkneys, and the elegance of their dress and bear- the Western Isles, and Whitby and ing, and the grandeur of their fes- Hartlepool were prosperous towns. tivities.
Berwick, the frequent cause of conAfter London the most thriving tention, during the middle ages, becity was Bristol, famons, as we have tween the northern and southern seen, in Anglo-Saxon times, and the kingdoms, was at this time the chief chief port for vessels trading with port of Scotland, one of its citizens, Ireland and Norway. From Henry a man of Danish origin, named II. its burgesses received a charter Cnut, being so wealthy that when exempting them from tolls and a vessel belonging to him, with his some other impositions throughout wife on board, was seized by a England, Wales, and Normandy. piratical earl of Orkney, he was Chester was another great receiv- able to 'spend a hundred marks in ing-place for the commodities of Ire- hiring fourteen stout ships, suitably land, while much was also imported equipped, with which to go out and from Gascony, Spain, and Germany; punish the offender.
Other growso that,' writes one, being comforted ing towns of Scotland were Perth,