Keywords: medieval law reforms merchants aliens xenophobia privileges commerce safety contracts weighing judicial administration customs wool cloth wine London
Subject: Royal protection for foreign merchants operating in England
Original source: 1. Corporation of London Records Office, Liber Custumarum, ff. 159b-161; 2. Public Record Office, Statute Roll, C74/3 m.24
Transcription in: 1. Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Munimenta Gildhallae Londoniensis: Liber Custumarum, Rolls Series, no.12, vol.2 (1860), 205-211 2. Owen Ruffhead, ed. The Statutes at Large, London, 1758, vol.1, 339-41.
Original language: 1. Latin 2. French
Location: generalized
Date: 14th century


1. The Statute of the New Custom [commonly known as the Carta Mercatoria, 1303]

Edward, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Aquitaine, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, justiciars, sheriffs, reeves, officers, and all other bailiffs and loyal subjects to whose attention this document shall come, greetings. Out of particular concern for looking after the well-being of merchants from the following kingdoms, regions, and provinces, viz. Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Navarre, Lombardy, Tuscany, Provence, Catalonia, Toulouse, Quercy, Flanders, Brabant, our duchy of Aquitaine, and any other foreign lands and places whose names have been omitted, who come to our kingdom of England and travel around there, insofar as this places them under our lordship, arrangements must be made to assure for these merchants a peaceable and completely safe experience in future. Accordingly, wishing them more readily to return to our kingdom and our employment, favourably assenting to their petitions, and to provide full security for their persons, we are persuaded to grant those merchants, on behalf of ourselves and our heirs, the following ordinances.

First, that all merchants of the aforementioned lands and kingdoms may, with whatever merchandize they have, come safely and securely into our kingdom of England or any other place under our dominion, under our patronage and protection, exempt from paying murage, pontage, or pavage. Each of them ought to be able to conduct commercial transactions, including wholesale, in cities, boroughs, and market towns within our kingdom and dominion, both with its denizens or residents and with foreigners from outside or the unenfranchised, in such a fashion that wares that are called mercery in the vernacular, or spicery, can be sold among them in the same way as was done in the past. Also that all these merchants who so wish should be able to take with them, or have transported, both within our kingdom and beyond it (except to countries evidently and notoriously enemies of ourself and our kingdom), such merchandize which they have brought into our kingdom and dominion or which they happen to have bought or otherwise acquired within our kingdom and dominion, after paying the customs due from them; an exception to this being wine, which, after having been brought into our kingdom and dominion is not allowed to be taken out of that kingdom and dominion again, by any means whatsoever, against our will and without our special licence. Also, that those merchants are able to obtain, if they want it, in those cities, boroughs, or towns, lodgings or a place to stay, for themselves and their goods, at the indulgence of those who own the guest-houses or homes.

Item, that every contract entered into by those merchants, with whichever person, wherever they may be, concerning whatever kind of merchandize, should be firm and immutable; so that neither merchant party to the contract can dispute it or back out of it, once God's penny has been given and received between the principals to the agreement. But if some contention of this kind should arise over a contract, let it be decided by proof or an inquisition, in accordance with the usage and customs of fairs and market towns where the contract happens to have been made.

Item, we grant and guarantee those merchants, on our behalf and that of our heirs in perpetuity, that henceforth their wares, merchandize, or other goods, shall not, against their will, be subject to any prise, seizure, or delay occasioned by prise, due to us or anyone else, for any need or reason, unless they are immediately paid the price for which they could otherwise sell those wares, or are otherwise satisfied in such a fashion that they consider themselves content; and that no appraisal or estimate of [the value] of those wares, merchandize, or goods be set by ourself or our officers.

Item, that all bailiffs and officers of fairs, cities, boroughs, and market towns, when the aforesaid merchants bring complaints before them, do not delay but provide speedy justice according to the law merchant, from day to day, in each and every case that can be decided through that law. Should any bailiff or officer be found to have failed in such a duty, so that the merchants, or any one of them, suffers a loss through the inconvenience of a delay, even though that merchant may recover his damages against the opposing party, the bailiff or officer will notwithstanding, as his failure requires, receive punishment from us, and that punishment is granted as a favour to the aforesaid merchants, in the interests of speeding up justice for them.

Item, that in all types of pleas (except criminal cases punishable by death) in which a merchant is the defendant or the plaintiff – no matter what the social status of the other party may be, whether outsider or resident – and an inquisition needs to be held, at fairs, cities, or boroughs where there are a sufficient number of merchants from the aforementioned countries half of the inquisition jury should be selected from those merchants and the other half from reputable and law-abiding men of the place where the lawsuit happens to takes place. If there cannot be found a sufficient number of merchants from those countries, those who can be found there and are suitable are to be put on the inquisition, and the remainder to be good and suitable men of the place where the lawsuit takes place.

Item, we wish, ordain, and enact that in each market town and fair of our kingdom, and elsewhere under our dominion, our weights be placed in a certain location and, before weighing takes place with scales, in the presence of buyer and seller, be seen as empty, and that the arms are levelly balanced; after which, the pesager may weigh on the balance. Once the scales have been placed in balance, he should at once remove his hands, to ensure they remain in balance. Throughout the whole kingdom and our dominions there should be one [standardized] weight and one measure; and they should be marked with the sign of our standard. Everyone may own scales [capable of weighing] one quarter or less, where this is not contrary to liberties granted by us or our predecessors or by the lord of the place. or contrary to customs formerly observed in towns or fairs.

Item, we wish and grant that some particular man who is loyal and judicious, and a resident of London, be specifically appointed as justice of the aforementioned merchants, before whom they are able to bring their lawsuits and recover their debts speedily, in the event the mayor and sheriffs do not provide them with full justice on a daily basis. Let there be assigned [to his jurisdiction], by right of this present charter granted to the aforesaid merchants, such actions as are tried between one merchant and another under the law merchant.

Item, we ordain and decree for ourself, and wish our heirs strictly to observe in perpetuity, that whatever liberty we, or our heirs, hereafter grant to the aforesaid merchants shall not result in the loss of any of those liberties recorded here.

In return for obtaining the aforesaid liberties and free customs, along with the remittance of our prises, those same merchants, individually and collectively, on behalf of themselves and all others of their countries, have unanimously agreed and undertaken that for every tun of wine that they import, or have imported, into our kingdom or dominions, for which they are obliged to pay maritime freight, they shall pay to us or our heirs, by way of customs, two shillings over and above the ancient custom due and which they are accustomed to pay us, within forty days after the said wine has been brought ashore from the ships.

Item, for every sack of wool that those merchants (or any others on their behalf) buy and export, or have exported, from our kingdom, they are to pay an increment of forty pence to the ancient custom of half a mark which was previously paid. And for a last of hides exported from our kingdom or dominions, half a mark additional to what was before now paid as ancient custom. Likewise, for 300 woolfells exported from our kingdom or dominions, 40d. additional to what was previously given for the ancient custom.

Also, 2s. per each scarlet cloth or cloth dyed in grain.

Also, 18d. per cloth which is a mixture, with part in grain.

Also, 12d. per other cloth not in grain.

Also, 12d. for each quintal of wax.

Since quite a few of the aforesaid merchants deal in other merchandize, as of avoirdupois and other fine goods, such as cloths of silk, of cendal, or of serge, and various other wares, as well as in horses and other livestock, grain and other things, many kinds of merchandize on which there cannot easily be set a specific customs duty, those merchants have agreed to give us and our heirs 3d. for every pound sterling estimated as the value of those wares and other things [brought] into our kingdom and dominions, within twenty days of them having been imported and unloaded or sold. And similarly, 3d. per pound sterling on things and merchandize bought in our kingdom and dominions for export. This is over and above the ancient custom given in the past to us or others, and based on the assessed value of such kinds of things and wares. In regard to which 3d. to be paid, as indicated, on each pound sterling, credit may be given to them for letters from their masters or associates which they can show. Should they not have letters, oaths will serve on the part of those merchants, if they are present, or (in their absence) their servants. Furthermore, it is permissible for members of this community of merchants to sell to, or likewise buy from, each other wool, within our kingdom and dominions, without paying custom. On condition that such wool does not pass into any hands whereby we might be defrauded of any custom due us.

Moreover, it should be known that once the said merchants have, at some place within our kingdom and dominions, paid on their merchandize the custom as specified above, and have a receipt for the same, that receipt assures they are acquitted and free from paying the same custom on the same merchandize or wares in any other location within our kingdom and dominions, no matter whether such merchandize remains within or is taken beyond our kingdom and dominions. With the exception of wine which [may not be removed] from our kingdom and dominions against our will or without licence, as already mentioned.

We also wish, and grant on behalf of ourself and our heirs, that no additional tax, prisage, or levy, or any other [financial] burden, be imposed on the persons, merchandize, or goods of the said merchants, contrary to the tenor of what has been granted above. These being witnesses: Robert Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of all England, Walter Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, Henry de Lascy Earl of Lincoln, Humphrey de Bohun Earl of Hereford and Essex and Constable of England, Aymer de Valentia, Geoffrey de Goneville, Hugh le Despenser, Walter de Bello Campo steward of our household, Robert de Burys and others. Given by our hand at Windsor, 1 February 1303.

[2. Provision for free trade in the statute of 1378]

In the past, in the time of King Edward, grandfather of the present king, at the parliaments held at York and Westminster, and also in this present parliament, strong complaints have been made that in many cities, boroughs, seaports, and other places within England, serious harms and outrageous harassments have been, and are still being, done to the king and his realm by the citizens, burgesses, and other residents of cities, boroughs, other towns, and aforesaid places, who have not allowed, and still do not allow, foreign merchants nor others who bring, transport, or convey, by land and by sea, wine, goods of avoirdupois, victuals, necessaries, and other things for sale, which are necessary and beneficial not only for the king, his prelates and lords, but also for all the community of this land ... [which has brought about] a high and excessive increase in prices, beyond what there would have been, if the foreign merchants and others who have such goods brought into the kingdom could have freely sold them to whomever they wished. Nor have they allowed, and still do not allow, the foreign merchants – who come, or might wish to come, into the kingdom to buy wool and other merchandize grown within the kingdom – to move about, transact business, or reside freely as they used to do, to the great damage of the king, prelates, lords and all the realm, and contrary to the common profit and statutes and ordinances made previously in the said two parliaments.

Our lord king, considering the coming of foreign merchants into the realm clearly to be, for many reasons, good and profitable to the whole kingdom, by the assent of the prelates, dukes, earls, barons, and the commons of his realm, has ordained and enacted that all foreign merchants – from whatever kingdoms, countries, or dominions they come, so long as friendly to the king and his kingdom – may henceforth come into England safe and secure, and may spend time, along with their goods and merchandize, at whichever cities, boroughs, seaports, fairs, markets, or other places in the realm (enfranchised or unenfranchised), for as long as they please, without hindrance or prevention from anyone, under the safeguard and protection of the king.

Also that each and every of those foreign merchants, just like denizens, who wish to buy or sell grain, meat, fish, and other kinds of victuals and necessaries, as well as all kinds of spices, fruit, furs, and petty goods or merceries such as silk, wire of gold or silver, coverchiefs, and other such petty wares, may henceforth freely buy and sell by wholesale and retail, from whom and to whom they please, foreigner or denizen (the king's enemies excepted), without prevention or hindrance from anyone, just as much in the city of London as in all the other cities, towns, boroughs, seaports, fairs, markets, and other places in the kingdom. With the exception that all kinds of wine, both sweet or other, are to be sold by those foreigners [only] by wholesale, in the full containers that are used to bring them into the kingdom; and not to be retailed by anyone in the cities, boroughs, and other good enfranchised towns, except by the inhabitants and freemen of the same.

As to other, great merceries, such as cloth of gold or silver, of silk, of cendal, naperies, linen, canvas cloth, and other such great merceries, as well as all other kinds whatsoever of wholesale merchandize not listed above, foreigners or denizens may henceforth freely, without prevention from anyone, sell them by wholesale in the city of London, other cities, boroughs, ports, towns, fairs, markets, and elsewhere throughout the kingdom, enfranchised and unenfranchised, to whatever person, foreigner or denizen, wishes to buy them (enemies of the king and the kingdom excepted), whether by the bale, cloth, or whole piece, as they please. But they may not sell it by retail to any other foreign merchant in that place, upon penalty of forfeiting that merchandize, but only to citizens or burgesses in their own cities, boroughs, and other good enfranchised towns.

And they may, without any prevention, cut up, divide, or parcel out, the great merceries and other great merchandize, as well as wines and whatever other merchandize, in those same cities and boroughs, to sell by wholesale or retail as they please (always upon payment of the customs and subsidies due), notwithstanding any statutes, ordinances, charters, judgements, allowances, customs or usages made or permitted to the contrary. Which charters and franchises, if any, are utterly repealed and annulled, as something made, used, or granted contrary to common profit, in oppression of the people.

Saving always and entirely to the prelates and lords of the realm their liberties and franchises for purveying and buying victuals and other necessaries, as they were accustomed to do since ancient times; and saving past ordinances made in regard to the staple at Calais, which are to remain in full force.

Nor is it the intention of the king that foreign or denizen merchants who wish to buy or sell wool, woolfells, mercery, cloths, iron, and other merchandize at fairs or markets in the countryside should be, on grounds of this statute, restrained or impeded from buying or selling freely by wholesale or by retail, as they were anciently accustomed to do.

Should it happen hereafter that any merchant, foreign or denizen, or other person, is disturbed in selling such things in cities, boroughs, towns, seaports, or other enfranchised places, against the tenor of this statute, and that the mayors, bailiffs, or others who administer that franchise, when requested by the said merchants or others, fail to provide them with a remedy, and are convicted thereof, the franchise is to be seized into the king's hand; notwithstanding which, those who have committed the disturbance in infringement of this statute will be obliged to pay the plaintiff double the damages he has suffered from the episode. Should such a disturbance be made to such merchants or others in an unenfranchised town or place, and its lord, if present, or in his absence his bailiff, constable, or other warden of such town or place being requested to do justice, fails to do so, and is convicted thereof, he shall pay double the damages, as indicated above. And the disturbers, in both the former and latter cases, within franchises or outside them, who are convicted shall be imprisoned for a year, or ransomed at the king's will.

It is also ordained and enacted that the Chancellor, Treasurer, and Justices Itinerant shall enquire into such disturbances and grievances and inflict punishments as required above. Notwithstanding which, the king may, where and when it suits him, assign certain persons to commissions to enquire into such disturbances and grievances, and punish offenders as indicated above.


It was part of the fundamental responsibilities of a king to ensure that his kingdom was well supplied with whatever it needed for the sustenance and well-being of its subjects. This by itself would have provided sufficient justification for the growth of an interventionist economic policy on the part of royal government in the Late Middle Ages. Yet the monarch – certainly by the time of Edward I – also had personal and political reasons for an interest in commercial matters, including that trade could be a tool in international diplomacy. At the same time we have to recognize that kings were often susceptible to pressure, and the policies they adopted shaped, by other interest groups; these included native merchants and foreign merchants, the former particularly through parliament, the mechanism kings used to consult with their subjects. National economic policy was thus the outcome of consultation and collaboration that involved some input from English towns – or at least representatives of the elites that governed those towns.

The Crown, always in need of boosting its traditional revenues, but particularly when foreign policy embroiled it in expensive military operations, was inventive in finding ways to obtain money from its subjects; direct taxation, customs duties, and loans (voluntary or forced) were some of these. Yet the king was reluctant to rely exclusively on his subjects – who constantly grumbled about, demanded concessions in return for, or actively resisted, new impositions – for his income, and was suspicious of London's ambitions to assert itself as a self-governing city along the lines of continental communes. Foreign merchants who wished to trade, and sometimes to live for extended periods while building up business, in England were an alternate source of revenues, willing, in return for commercial privileges and advantages, to pay a higher level of duties on their merchandize, while the Italians who developed money-lending into a banking science were at times indispensable to a monarchy which, ultimately, held the upper hand when it came to repaying or deferring debts. Consequently, royal policy on commerce had to be a balancing act, showing favour to foreign merchants without starving off native merchants from a meaningful role in exploiting overseas trade.

Even before becoming king, Edward I had been active in protecting the interests of foreign merchants. He recognized their importance not only for supplying his subjects and ensuring the abundance of supplies that would keep prices low, but also as an incentive to the exploitation of raw resources and growth of industry in England. He had a particular attachment to Gascony, a territory long ruled by the English Crown, a region whose loyalty it wished to ensure, England's main source of wine and an important source of salt, and one of the leading consumers of English grain, fish, and wool; Edward was much involved in building fortified towns there to strengthen England's hold on the region.

This is not to say that Edward showed a biased favouritism towards foreign merchants. Many of his reforms, such as the introduction of mechanisms for official registration of debt recognizances, and a redefinition of wreck to give owners a better chance of recovering their merchandize from a shipwreck, worked for the benefit of all merchants. But Edward's distaste for mercantile monopolistic privilege can be seen in his dealings with London, which may have been influenced not only by his desire to see his realm benefit from free trade, but a personal grudge against Londoners. London authorities' efforts to hamper foreign merchants with restrictions and disadvantages were partially overthrown when Edward I took the reins of city government into his own hands from 1285 to 1298 and instituted sweeping reforms that included giving foreigners more freedom to trade. Already by 1280 he had favoured the merchants of Gascony by extending the maximum length of stay from forty days to three months and quashing a regulation requiring them to trade only with Londoners. The 1285 reforms permitted them to live permanently in London and enjoy much the same privileges as citizens, such as the right to sell by retail, which gave rise to much resentment amongst local merchants, who were hard-pressed to compete. They responded by directing their ire at Cinque Ports merchants, who were also heavily involved in the wine trade; in 1298, for example, the city authorities prohibited Sandwich merchants from trading with foreigners in London.

Edward I's experiments of the 1280s and '90s paved the way for his grant in 1302, exclusively to Gascon vintners, of a greater number of trade freedoms; it may be that, having in the past unsuccessfully sought exemption from customary commercial restrictions in London, after the city liberties were restored in 1298 they aimed instead at obtaining new privileges that would override the restrictions [Lloyd, Alien Merchants in England, Brighton: Harvester Press, 1982, 26]. This document provided a model for subsequent negotiations with other foreigners, resulting in 1303 in the charter of commercial liberties, applicable throughout England, known as the Carta Mercatoria. The greater part of the 1302 document became, with some necessary minor revisions a few omissions, and some additions (notably the exemption from tolls), the first part of the charter; practically everything following the clause on inquisition jury composition was either new in the 1303 edition (except, notably, the duty on wine) or based on the London reforms of 1285. A fairly accurate version of the Carta Mercatoria was copied into the London book of memoranda, under a different name. In return for these liberties the foreign merchants agreed to pay the ancient customs on wine imports and exports of wool, fells, and hides, at a rate higher than that of English merchants – some now began to think of evading this by seeking denization – and to accept a new, or petty, custom on other goods; Edward had increased his own revenues at the expense of tolls that benefited urban communities, while at the same time fostering foreign competition for commerce taking place within England. Although Edward instructed his collectors at London that any English merchant willing to pay the new customs could be afforded the same privileges that foreign merchants now had, native merchants in fact already posessed most of them; not surprisingly then, when in June he consulted an assembly of merchants from 43 towns, they declined to pay the new customs.

The London authorities resisted elements of these new privileges of foreign merchants, with some success, a compromise being finally reached in 1309 whereby the London authorities agreed to respect the weighing method prescribed by the charter, in return for foreign merchants renouncing any claim of being able to engage in retailing. This conflict, however, had spurred on London merchants, individually and collectively (by organizing themselves into interest groups, such as the company of vintners), to capture a larger share of the overseas trade. Widespread unhappiness among English merchants to the Carta Mercatoria led to its revocation in 1311 by the baronial party (the Ordainers) that opposed Edward II and was then temporarily in control of London, but foreigners continued to assert their privileges, and their charter would be reinstituted in 1322 when Edward II regained his full power, and confirmed by Edward III in 1328. In 1335 the Statute of York abolished all restrictions on foreigners trading in England, notwithstanding any town customs or chartered rights to the contrary. Yet in 1337 the king perversely, but at the demand of parliament, reconfirmed the trading advantages of London citizens in despite of the freedoms granted to foreigners.

However, in 1351 he re-imposed the 1335 provisions on London, probably consequent to popular outcry against rising prices of food and wine – blamed largely on the middlemen role of English victuallers and vintners, although the Black Death, the war with France, and debasement of the coinage were also contributing factors. The provisions were reconfirmed two years later, despite petitions from London opposing the provisions. That same year, and for much the same cause, Edward restricted the involvement of English merchants in the Gascon wine trade, by prohibiting them, or their agents, from visiting Gascony prior to vintage season, in order to make advance purchase arrangements (considered a form of forestalling), and even in season limiting their activities to Bordeaux and Bayonne, although Gascons were free to import wine sourced from anywhere in Gascony. These measures did not help keep wine prices down, just made operating more difficult for English vintners, who passed along their problems to consumers in the form of higher retail prices.

With the retail price at an all-time high of eightpence per gallon in 1363, and consumers complaining, an effort was made to restore some advantage to major native wine-dealers by giving London's vintner's gild, a monopoly within the city on trade of any kind with Gascony and on retailing of wine, and similar privileges to vintners of other parts of England who had a history of trading in Gascony. Gascon merchants were reduced to wholesaling. This approach proved problematic and was abandoned little more than a year later, in favour of returning to the post-1353 situation, giving Gascons full freedom to trade in England. In 1367 the king was induced to once more exclude foreigners from retail, but the following year attempted to re-establish the free trade provisions. London was able to regain ground through the pro-English sentiment underlying the Good Parliament of 1376. Under Richard II the tension between London traders and foreign merchants would continue to be an issue, although factionalism distracted and weakened the mercantile leadership of the city. The problem was of course felt not only in London, though that city tended to be most vocal in complaining; Norwich too took the opportunity of Edward III's death to first request the new king's council, then petition the 1378 parliament, to reconfirm the customary monopoly of citizens on retailing, although this was discreetly disguised as being targeted residents who had not taken out citizenship, mention of outsiders was avoided.

The second item above is the opening chapter of the statute issued from that parliament, which was deliberately convened by John of Gaunt at Gloucester, to reduce the influence of Londoners, and he succeeded in overthrowing the monopoly London had regained since 1376, which reversal held until 1383. An unusually large number of towns sent representatives to that second parliament of the new regime, and a good deal of the business related to issues of direct or indirect concern to towns or urban merchants, individually or collectively. But London itself was caught up in the power-struggle between factions which, to an extent, represented different economic interests within the city.

Gwyn Williams [Medieval London: from Commune to Capital, London: Athlone Press, 1963, 191] believed that the Carta Mercatoria did not directly threaten burgesses' monopoly on retailing. The charter is in fact vague on this point (Lloyd suspects deliberately) and it is not clear what Edward's intent was, though most foreign merchants were likely more interested in disposing of their cargoes through large-volume sales. However, the 1378 statute – essentially an elaboration of the 1335 statute (which too failed to differentiate between wholesaling and retailing) – was very explicit in permitting retail transactions by foreigners and struck at the heart of borough privilege. That resistance was met is suggested by a reissue of the statue in 1387, with addition of the requirement that the statute be publicly proclaimed wherever appropriate, and an invitation to obstructed merchants to bring their complaints into the king's court. In 1392 a further statute reaffirmed free trade by wholesale and retail, but restricted the latter to victuals and prohibited foreign merchants from buy goods in England from other foreign merchants for purposes of resale in the same country; to which Henry IV added (1404) that nor could they buy imported goods for purposes of export.

Notwithstanding the back-and-forth shifting of the balance of royal policy as conflicting interest groups exererted influence, overall Edward III's ambition to expand his continental dominions led him to rely more on native merchants and so, while still trying to ensure that foreign merchants were not driven away from trading in England, he looked to tip the scales more on the side of protectionism when this did not jeopardize the Crown's financial interests. As the fourteenth century progressed, English merchants obtained a larger share of overseas trade, partly due to the advantages at least some of them gained from the new system of staple towns through which much commerce was channelled, the mercantile interest became more vocal and influential in parliaments.

The monarchy continued to try to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. Henry IV, needing the financial support of foreign merchants to keep him in power, was prepared to cater to them to a degree, confirming in the year of his accession their freedom to trade wholesale and retail in victuals.

But slowly a more anti-alien policy emerged in the fifteenth century, as English overseas trade was threatened by French naval dominance, and well-capitalized Italian importer-exporters were (it was alleged) adversely affecting the prices English merchants could obtain for their wares while at the same time draining England of bullion. Statutes of 1403 and 1404, the former declaring that foreign merchants would receive the same treatment that their countries afforded to English merchants (reflecting a popular sentiment in England), prohibited them from selling to one another, required them to sell a cargo within three months of its unloading, to use the money to buy English goods for export, and to reside only with English hosts assigned by borough authorities, though Italy's merchants won a repeal of the time limit the following year. Henry V confirmed restrictions on foreign merchants, but in Henry VI's reign there were repeated complaints that these restrictions were not being properly enforced.

Despite efforts to avoid entirely driving away foreign merchants, who remained a source of royal revenue and would continue to have bases in England up to the mid-sixteenth century, the monarchy had become more inclined to limit and control foreign involvement in the English marketplace, while at the same time providing almost monopolistic advantages to English merchants who organized themselves into associations with which it could negotiate, such as the cartels of customs farmers and the company of Merchant Staplers. Gradually foreign merchants were being squeezed out of English trade. Although Henry VI's reign would see a confirmation of their freedom of trade, in 1429 it was enacted that they could not insist on being paid in gold coin, and that for their own purchases they must pay immediately, in cash or goods, rather than receive credit, although the following year this was softened by allowing them a maximum of six months credit. 1435 saw a declaration that any goods belonging to merchants of friendly countries, if freighted in ships of enemy states, were if captured forfeit. The requirement that foreign merchants spend the money earned from sale of their imports on English goods was repeated in a statute of 1439, which added a policing mechanism: merchants were obliged to inform their hosts of their daily business activities – locations of deals made, names of buyers, prices obtained for goods – and a host in turn had to record the details in a register which was submitted periodically to the Exchequer. Hanse merchants were excluded from this control, the Genoese refused to comply, and the legislation only lasted for a few years. But it was a sign of which way the wind was blowing.



Certain officers of the king had the power to requisition goods for use of his household or armies, through prise and purveyance. The former was a kind of pre-emption, giving the king first pick of the best of any cargo, before others could bid for the wares, and not always paying market price for everything. Unsurprisingly, this right was unpopular with the merchants whose goods were either requisitioned or held in stasis until the official had made his selection. In the case of the wine prise, the king's rights to the best were modified slightly by the condition that he could have two tuns only, one to be chosen from those stored in front of the mast, and one stored to the rear of the mast, something that was made explicit in Edward III's confirmation of the charter, but which was a much older right. Prise, like purveyance, was subject to abuses, including delay or difficulty in obtaining payment.

"sufficient number"
The conspicuous omission of market towns from this list reflects doubt that there would be enough foreign merchants on hand to permit a mixed jury.

The specification of this procedure seems to have been targeted at a different method used in London (which favoured the buyer), and this was one of the provisions of the charter which the city resisted.

The implication being, free from tampering.

An official responsible for weighing goods; also known as pesour.

A scarlet dye that could also be combined with other dyes to produce a variety of rich colours.

The Latin is "cera", but since wax has already been mentioned, and locks would seem out of place in this context, the reference is probably to serge – not the worsted type later used for military uniforms, but a kind of silk much prized by monarchs.

"letters, oaths"
That is, guarantees of payment.

"statutes and ordinances"
These terms tended to be used without precision up until about mid-fourteenth century, when there was greater effort to restrict the latter to administrative provisions issued by King and Council as temporary solutions to short-term or localized problems, and the former to legislative enactments prompted by parliamentary discussion and intended to be permanent laws of national applicability (albeit not necessarily susceptible to effective universal implementation or enforcement) that could only be changed or revoked by parliament.

Household linens.

These were: that if gauging of a tun showed the wine to be over the standard amount, the buyer should pay a higher price, based on the value of the wine, just as the seller should make good any deficiency in volume; that any ship with a cargo of wine, as soon as it docked at an English port, was to have the wine checked, by a sworn committee that included local townsmen and Gascon wine-merchants, to ensure it was of drinkable quality; and that the custom of the wine-gauger receiving a fee of 1d. from both buyer and seller was reconfirmed.

The contemporary version from the Fine Rolls is transcribed in N.S.B. Gras, The Early English Customs System, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1918, 259-64. The translation of the Carta Mercatoria in Bland, Brown and Tawney's English Economic History: Select Documents is based on the confirmation (1328) by Edward III, given in Rymer's Foedera. Bland et al. also includes a translation of the 1302 grant to Gascons.

"financial interests"
These were: that if gauging of a tun showed the wine to be over the standard amount, the buyer should pay a higher price, based on the value of the wine, just as the seller should make good any deficiency in volume; that any ship with a cargo of wine, as soon as it docked at an English port, was to have the wine checked, by a sworn committee that included local townsmen and Gascon wine-merchants, to ensure it was of drinkable quality; and that the custom of the wine-gauger receiving a fee of 1d. from both buyer and seller was reconfirmed.

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Created: October 28, 2014. Last update: December 5, 2019 © Stephen Alsford, 2014-2019