The Spanish Company London Record Society 9. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1973.
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ii. The revival of the Company, 1604–1606
As long as the war continued there was no hope of reviving the Spanish Company. Its members diversified their interests, some entering the Levant and other trades, some managing to keep in contact with the peninsula by devious means, sending their goods through the ports of France and Barbary or disguising their ships as neutral Scots or Irish vessels. Very many of them, probably the majority, were involved in the maritime war of reprisals against Spain, forming 'the weightiest element in the mass of merchant privateering promoters'. (fn. 1) Wilford himself seems to have been curiously inactive, although he was no more than middle-aged when war broke out. On two occasions he was asked by the privy council to arbitrate in commercial disputes, but otherwise his whereabouts and occupation are unknown. (fn. 2)
By 1600 however the prospects for a European settlement were growing brighter, and in February of that year the committee which had been deputed to confer with Verreyken, the envoy sent over by Archduke Albert, called before it some of the former members of the company. They were asked to furnish evidence of the privileges they had previously enjoyed in the peninsula and to indicate whether they had felt the need of further guarantees of security, or would need them in the light of any events which had occurred since their withdrawal. The merchants could recall all their old privileges but were hazy about the diplomatic arrangements which had provided the framework of their trade. 'Mr. Secretary Wilson when he was secretary', they informed the committee, 'was desirous to collect all the treaties and grants that had passed between the king of England, the king of Castile and the king of Portugal, which books if you can get the sight of will better satisfy you than we can'. (fn. 3) The talks held that summer came to nothing, but with the death of the queen in March 1603 the time seemed ripe for another attempt at a durable settlement. James I on his arrival in England took the initiative by ordering a suspension of hostilities, and to Philip III, his newly-inherited empire suffering from internal tensions, there seemed little reason to continue an expensive war against a nation now headed by a friendly monarch. In April 1603, English catholic merchants were granted free access to Spanish and Portuguese ports; a month later the religious proviso was abolished. (fn. 4) The war had come to an end, and slowly trade began to resume its normal course.
The first moves which were made towards re-establishing the company cannot be determined with precision, for by the time of the opening meeting at Wilford's London house on 16 March 1604 certain measures had already been taken. Apart from Wilford himself, several notable merchants were present, including the great privateer Sir John Watts, his brother-in-law Sir Robert Lee, Alderman Robert Cobb who had also been an active privateer, and Alderman Andrew Banning who had formerly acted as Spanish factor for his more powerful brother Paul, the Levant and East India merchant. The meeting began by electing the lawyer Richard Langley as secretary, after he had agreed to divest himself of some of his other responsibilities in order to undertake the task. Langley then outlined the progress that had been made so far, for the letters patent of 1577 were about to be presented to the lord chancellor for the engrossing of a charter of confirmation. A committee was appointed to attend the chancellor on the matter, and before departing those present agreed to a levy of 20s. each on themselves and a large number of absentees, presumably former members, to defray costs. (fn. 5)
The overall situation was not encouraging. A number of major problems confronted the merchants, each requiring a speedy solution if their incorporation was to continue on a firm basis. First, the company needed swift and forceful support for its legal position, not merely a confirmation of its old privileges which might easily be overlooked in the new postwar situation. It was expected that the coming session of parliament would see a renewed onslaught on all patents and private monopolies, which might well be broadened to include the joint-stock and regulated companies. In the previous debate on monopolies in 1601 the commons had agreed to exclude corporations, but the issues were so closely connected and the hostility towards the London merchants so deep-rooted that the question was almost bound to arise once more. The situation was rendered all the more precarious as the first legal judgment on a private monopoly, delivered at the end of Elizabeth's reign, had ruled against it, an event which had led James I on his accession to suspend all the others until the privy council was able to scrutinise them. (fn. 6) Secondly, although the war was over, no formal peace treaty had been concluded, and as yet the negotiations showed little sign of starting in earnest. When they did, it was vital that the company should receive safeguards and privileges sufficient for its members to undertake their trade without harassment. Above all, it might be possible by diplomatic means to undo the disaster that had occurred during the war, the loss of the brotherhood at San Lucar with all its property and influence.
Within a few years of the seizures of 1585, only a few catholic Englishmen were left of the once-thriving community in Andalusia. On St. George's day 1591, eight of these merchant factors had met together to announce on behalf of the whole brotherhood that in future their land, income and right to levy impositions would be devoted to the upkeep of a 'confraternity of English priests', ruled by the current superior of the Jesuits in Andalusia, to be called 'the chaplains of St. George'. The new confraternity would be a staging-post for the young seminarians returning secretly to England after their training abroad in the colleges of the counter-reformation. Moreover, the chaplains' future influence over the merchants would be great, for they were to vote in the election of the consul at San Lucar and in the event of his death they and not the traders would fix the date of the next election. (fn. 7) Giving their reasons for this drastic step of dubious legality, the factors instanced the heavy burden of maintenance and administration which they, as the remnant of the brotherhood, had borne since 1585. Their real reason however was concealed, and the chief mover in the affair was not mentioned in the official document handing over the property. Between 1589 and 1592, Father Robert Parsons had travelled the peninsula seeking support for his plans for the reconversion of England, and he had persuaded not only the factors but also the cardinal-archbishop of Seville and the duke of Medina Sidonia to agree to his scheme, whereby a new religious house would be established at San Lucar, already possessing considerable endowments and conveniently sited on a major sea-route. By the transfer, the brotherhood would be absorbed into the network of seminaries already established at Valladolid, Lisbon, Madrid and Seville. (fn. 8)
It was entirely predictable that these new arrangements would be furiously disputed by the absent protestant merchants, even before the advent of peace enabled them to return to Andalusia. Not only was the intention of the original founders of the brotherhood overriden and ignored; the new seminary outraged them by its very existence and by its power to levy taxes on trade at San Lucar for its support. In 1600 and again in 1603, the London merchants summoned before the council to give commercial information insisted on the return of their property and the restoration of the brotherhood to its original function. Without control over both it and the consulate, the position of the revived Spanish Company would be seriously undermined in the major Iberian market for English goods. (fn. 9)
As events turned out, parliament met before the diplomatic negotiations had even begun, and thus the first problem to be faced by the new Spanish Company was not the question of the brotherhood but the attack on commercial monopolies made by the commons. The debate on free trade proved to be the stormiest issue of the session, but by the time the two bills abolishing all trading companies were presented to the House in April, the charter of the company had already been confirmed by the lord chancellor. (fn. 10) The protagonists of free trade came mostly from the outports, whose representatives in the commons outnumbered those of London. In addition the M.P.s for the clothing towns could be relied on for support since their constituents had long suspected the Londoners of monopolising the profits of the cloth trade, returning little to the producers themselves. (fn. 11) Within the capital, the merchants were unable to unite in their own defence, for some of the lesser traders resented the great concentration of wealth and power that now lay in the hands of one small oligarchy which dominated all the major branches of commerce. (fn. 12) The opposition was not however composed solely of outport merchants and discontented Londoners. In these years the gentry themselves were deeply involved in the expansion of English trade. During the war, many of them had been active privateers; others had connived at the illicit shipment of surplus corn overseas, and in the west country they had been drawn into the new and thriving triangular trade whereby salted cod from the Newfoundland banks was sold in the Mediterranean in return for fruit and wines shipped back to England. All these motives were present as the first parliament of the new reign assembled, although they did not become fully apparent until the attack on the trading companies was renewed two years later. (fn. 13) Nevertheless it was already clear in 1604 that the outports and their supporters were even less amenable to corporate control than they had been before the war. If the peace was about to create a boom in European trade, as many hoped, the provinces intended to participate in it without suffering the restrictions of London-oriented company membership and regulations.
The recent re-emergence of the Spanish Company must have been known to at least some outport M.P.s, for one of the members for Exeter was present at a general court held on 14 May 1604. (fn. 14) It does not seem likely, however, that the commons' attack was specifically directed against the company, and the argument that there was no open mention of it in the debates merely because 'it was difficult to attack a company that had been suspended for about eighteen years' seems an odd one. (fn. 15) On the contrary, nothing could have been easier than to oppose a fledgling corporation which was only just beginning to re-assert itself. An assault on the revival of such a long-defunct monopoly would have had far more chance of success than did those mounted against much wealthier and more tenacious bodies such as the Merchant Adventurers and the Muscovy Company. It is more probable that as yet the Spanish merchants were too obscure to attract direct parliamentary attention.
If the commons did not hound the company, the latter for its part played a negligible role in the free trade debates. No courts were held between 29 March and 1 May, over the early weeks of the parliamentary session, and when the members reconvened at Pewterers' Hall they proceeded to hold elections for the offices of president, treasurer and assistants without any mention of the controversy raging at Westminster. The next general court on 8 June was equally untroubled. It is quite likely that some of the freemen had been called before Sandys' committee which was now hearing evidence, nor can anyone present have been unaware of the issues at stake, but again there was no reference to them in the proceedings. (fn. 16)
Meanwhile, impressed by the arguments formulated in the committee and presented by Sandys on 21 May, the commons sent the bill up to the lords after passing it almost unanimously. The lords called in their own witnesses so that they could give further consideration to the matter, and their initial hesitations were reinforced by the comments of Sir Edward Coke, the attorney-general, who praised the intention of the bill but criticised its drafting. (fn. 17) Before these differences between the two Houses could be ironed out, the session was abruptly terminated by James on 7 July.
The Spanish Company had survived its first threat although the victory was scarcely due to its members' efforts. Meanwhile a second set of problems had emerged with the beginning of negotiations for a formal peace treaty with Spain and the Spanish Netherlands. By May 1604, Archduke Albert had grown tired of the lethargy shown by James I and Philip III; seizing the initiative he sent three commissioners over to England to begin the talks without awaiting the arrival of the principal Spanish delegate, Velasco the constable of Castile. (fn. 18) The eighteen sessions held between 20 May and 6 July were crucial for the future of the company, which in contrast to its sluggish behaviour towards the commons made considerable efforts to put forward its viewpoint.
Wilford was the prime mover in this matter as he had been earlier in the re-establishment of the company itself. At the court of assistants on 24 May, he read out a series of articles which he had drawn up to offer to the privy council, setting out the trading conditions required from Spain if a durable peace was to be concluded. (fn. 19) They began by reviewing all the legal instruments already granted to the company, from the privileges accorded by the duke of Medina Sidonia in 1517 to the letters patent of Elizabeth. Then, they requested that all previous privileges enjoyed in Spain should be confirmed; that members should not be molested for offences committed against the king of Spain's subjects in wartime, nor prosecuted by any foreigner before a Spanish law-court for injuries arising over the same period; that the house and lands of the English brotherhood at San Lucar should be returned, and lastly, that the new taxes imposed since 1585, particularly the famous 'thirty per cent' should be abolished. (fn. 20)
Wilford's long memory also enabled him to recall all the disadvantages under which the English had laboured before 1585, and to ask for their removal. In an extremely comprehensive memorandum he dealt with such matters as the Spanish loading prohibitions and navigation laws, the trade to Barbary, the Inquisition, and the need for consuls with wide powers; in conclusion he envisaged an open period of six months after the outbreak of any future hostilities, for the purposes of transferring goods and winding up outstanding business. These articles represented the maximum claims of the English government and the Spanish Company, and were not intended as a realistic estimate of the gains the merchants might hope for from the treaty. They illustrate in a striking manner the extent to which the corporate memory of the company was vested in its elderly but still vigorous president, who had just been confirmed in office 'by full election of hands'. The memorandum provoked a lively discussion in court, but in the end, 'being several times read, and the conceits and opinions of every man heard', it was referred to a sub-committee which would present the case to the privy council. (fn. 21)
The company did not slacken in its efforts to influence the negotiations in every way available. At the next court, a gratuity was voted to Sir Daniel Dun and Sir Thomas Edmondes, 'employed by the lords about the articles of peace'. As the diplomatic sessions drew to a close in August, the company appointed a committee to attend on the privy council and on Velasco, who had finally arrived in England from Brussels. By this time Wilford had also drawn up a new charter, to be procured from Philip III in confirmation of the merchants' privileges in the peninsula; it was referred to the consideration of the committee already appointed to wait on Velasco, in the hope that his support might be forthcoming.
In mid-August 1604 the treaty of London was at last concluded. It restored all the rights and concessions enjoyed by the English in Spain before the war, but made no specific mention of either the brotherhood or the consulate. (fn. 22) If this was less than the company had hoped, at least it could look to the treaty for general support in making good its old claims. The merchants decided to publicise the terms and at the court held on 31 August it was decided that letters should be sent to the outports enclosing a copy of the treaty and a translation. A further committee was nominated, this time to consider what gifts should be bestowed on those who had laboured for the good of the company during the discussion and drafting of the articles of the peace. The names of the recipients are not noted but if they included members themselves, it would seem safe to assume that Wilford was one of them.
An issue which had already arisen even before the conclusion of the negotiations concerned the thorny question of certified cargoes. A wide variety of goods both English and foreign which were shipped to Spain could easily be confused with similar products manufactured in the rebel United Provinces and thus barred from the peninsula. To avoid clashes with the customs-officers the treaty had stipulated that such goods should be registered in their town of origin and sealed with the seal of their place of shipment. The company hoped that this procedure could be simplified, perhaps by the use of one universal seal instead of those of the various ports. On 23 August, the court of assistants set up a committee to consider 'what seal or certificate is required by the article to be for our goods to pass into Spain without danger or trouble'. A fortnight later, having formulated their plans, they wrote to Dorset the lord treasurer to enquire if a certificate from the president or deputy, sealed with the company seal, would be an acceptable substitute for the sealing envisaged in the articles of the peace. Dorset referred the question to Dun and Edmondes, commending the proposal, while in court Wilford exhibited the seal he had had made for the purpose. Despite these efforts the traders in Spain were to experience considerable difficulty in making the customs-officers accept these or any other certificates as clearance for dubious goods.
The company seemed well on the way to organising itself when a new and unexpected obstacle emerged. The attack on the charter which had failed to materialize during the last session of parliament was suddenly mounted from a different quarter. Like other trading bodies the company reserved its freedom for the 'mere merchants', excluding shopkeepers and retailers. The opening of the Spanish market had attracted a large number of speculative traders who ventured an occasional cargo while continuing their main line of business elsewhere. The company had already requested the government to forbid the customers to take entries for goods exported by such undesirables, but without much effect. (fn. 23) The retailers, shopkeepers and some others excluded from the company now banded together to 'disable and discredit the power of the charter' on the grounds that it was 'not sufficiently authorised and warranted by law, for that their charter granted by the late queen became void by non-user during the long time of the continuance of the war, which doth therefore dissolve the said corporation'. (fn. 24) The merchants, taken aback, were apparently too confused to respond; placing the matter before the government they ceased to hold their courts, and for four months between September 1604 and January 1605, the Spanish Company was once more in abeyance. Fortunately, the privy council was unsympathetic towards the opposition, holding 'the foresaid allegation of non-user in this case to be a strict interpretation, considering that there was no default in the merchants but that the wars were the occasion thereof.' Nevertheless, to clarify the position a distinguished committee was appointed to consider the legal problem. (fn. 25) Reassured by this, the company resumed its assemblies on 30 January, although the attendance was poor.
The lawyers completed their work with speed, reporting ten days later that they had found two defects in the charter. First, the title of incorporation, 'Per Nomen Presidentis Assistentium et Societatis Mercatorum Hispanie et Portugalie' was inadequate, since 'it should have been named of England or some part thereof, trading into Spain and Portugal'. Secondly, the company was obliged by the charter to hold an annual election for president, which they had neglected to do for some eighteen years. They also found fault with the charter of confirmation on the same grounds, for it had been granted to the president, assistants and society at a time when there was no legally-elected president. The committee recommended that a revised charter should be drawn up, omitting nothing that would facilitate a well-ordered trade. (fn. 26) On receiving this report, Salisbury immediately ordered the attorney-general to draw up a new charter, 'whereunto hereafter no just exception need be taken', since the king was well-disposed towards the Spanish Company. (fn. 27) At the next general court, the company appointed a committee headed by Wilford to consider what extra legal powers might be needed, at the same time authorising the treasurer to take up a loan of £100 to be disbursed if necessary in procuring the charter with all speed. A draft was read out at an assembly on 18 March, and two days later the company sent a deputation to wait on the attorney-general at his country home, hoping thereby to expedite matters. Finally, on 12 June, the new charter was exhibited to the members. Proudly and carefully described as 'containing five skins of vellum', it was read out in open court and the officers of the company sworn in afresh. (fn. 28)
The new constitution differed substantially from that of 1577. Memories of the commons' assault were still fresh, and in the hope of avoiding future conflicts with the outports no less than 310 merchants from fifteen manufacturing and trading centres were named as founder-members of the company. Despite the numerical preponderance of the provinces, administrative power was to remain firmly in the capital. It was decreed that out of the total number of sixty-one assistants at least thirty were to reside outside London, and although technically this was a minimum number which could be exceeded, in practice it became a maximum. The charter appointed as assistants thirty London merchants, thirty outport merchants, and the secretary Richard Langley, who as a Londoner himself would inevitably vote for the London interest. (fn. 29)
Elections for the posts of president and assistants would in future be held annually on the Monday before the feast of the Ascension or within twenty days after it, but the company was free to call courts for business at any time. It was granted all the usual powers of a commercial company in fining interlopers and other delinquents, and in addition a letter from its officers to the barons of the exchequer would cause the latter to send out writs to the customers forbidding them to accept any goods being shipped to Spain or Portugal by non-members. Stressing the value of ordered commerce and the danger that inexpert merchants would quickly antagonise the king of Spain, the charter empowered the president and assistants to appoint consuls abroad to govern all the subjects of James I, including the Scots and Irish, who traded to the peninsula. Still with an eye to placating the outports, the government had ensured that the rules governing membership would not become over-exclusive. In addition to the large numbers named in the charter, anyone listed in the grant of 1577 was eligible for the freedom as were his sons or apprentices and all those admitted after 1577.
The charter of 1605 serves to demonstrate the government's new approach to trading companies, which distinguishes those established in the early seventeenth century from those of Elizabeth's reign. Both the king and Salisbury retained a belief in the value of company organisation as the best method of advancing trade and safeguarding English interests. But the parliamentary attack on monopolies had made them wary of lending their support to exclusive oligarchies which could easily become bodies for the restriction of trade rather than its advancement. The Spanish Company was therefore to be open to all merchants with a legitimate interest in peninsular commerce. Exactly the same outlook can be discerned in the new charter received by the Levant Company in December 1605, which carefully described the company not as a monopoly but an association whose reasonable terms and conditions were intended solely for the good of the trade itself. (fn. 30)
By June 1605 the Spanish merchants at last seemed firmly established, and could continue their business without fear of being undermined by the opposition. They had not been idle while waiting for their new charter, although their courts had been less frequent than before. In March, they had acted on Salisbury's suggestion that they should make contact with Sir Charles Cornwallis, the newly-appointed ambassador to the court of Philip III. This was to be the beginning of a not entirely happy association, typified perhaps by the company's initial confusion of the ambassador with his elder brother the recusant Sir William Cornwallis. (fn. 31) Salisbury had originally asked the company to inform Cornwallis about the merchants' former legal position in Spain, and to notify him of any complaints sent home by the residents there. They decided to draw up, for the ambassador's benefit, a collection of the privileges granted to them previously, and on the initiative of John Dorrington, one of the assistants, steps were also taken to procure a copy of the grants made to the English by the former kings of Portugal. (fn. 32)
Cornwallis then left London as a member of the entourage accompanying the earl of Nottingham on his journey to Valladolid to ratify the treaty, and the company heard nothing from him until 6 July. His first letters caused so much anxiety that they were deferred for consultation until the next general court, when a committee was appointed to consider what form the reply should take. In the absence of any copy of the letters it is impossible to reconstruct the incident in full, but this much seems clear. The company received one letter from Cornwallis, together with another from Nicholas Ouseley, who as a former servant of the late Sir James Hawes had taken his freedom of the company on 23 August 1604. After a shady wartime career as a naval officer, illicit trader, spy and dealer in the exchanging of prisoners, Ouseley himself, originally a factor in Spain, had reappeared on the scene as the ambassador's 'Secretary for Merchants' causes'. (fn. 33) The tone of Cornwallis's own letter was apparently so unhelpful that the company debated if it would be worth while to disregard him and visit Tassis, the resident Spanish ambassador in London, 'to desire his favour for the confirmation and enlarging of our ancient liberties in Spain'. However, on 13 August the company agreed to make a bargain with Ouseley. From the terms of this letter it emerges that Cornwallis had condoned an attempt by his secretary to procure money from the merchants. He had written to the company in favour of Ouseley, who had then 'volunteered' his assistance in procuring a new grant which would confirm all the old liberties at San Lucar de Barrameda formerly enjoyed by the brotherhood. In the light of the implicit threat by the ambassador that he would do nothing of his own volition to help them, the merchants had little option but to accept Ouseley's offer. They agreed to give £50 to his wife, who resided in England, in addition to a grant of 1,200 ducats to Ouseley himself, a third of which would be paid at once and the rest after the promised confirmation of their privileges had been obtained. (fn. 34)
By applying pressure in this way, Cornwallis had probably hoped to pass on to the company most of the expense of retaining Ouseley in Spain to deal with commercial cases. There was after all no reason why he should bear all the costs of employing a secretary solely on the merchants' behalf especially at a time when the embassy was overwhelmed by such business. (fn. 35) Unfortunately the means employed had aroused so much distrust in London that from then on the attitude of the company to the embassy was one of undisguised hostility. A further clash occurred in August after the arrival of letters concerning the arrangements made by the ambassador with regard to Rowland Mailart, who was acting as English consul in Lisbon when Cornwallis arrived in Spain. At Mailart's request the ambassador had confirmed him in his post, on the understanding that he would resign should the Spanish Company ever object to his behaviour. Instead of the thanks he had expected for his tact, Cornwallis received a sharp rebuff. The merchants had already been pressured by others to accept strangers as their consuls, and they were anxious to discourage any further infringements of their powers in this sphere. They refused to accept Mailart, even though this meant leaving the English community in Lisbon without leadership until the company made its own elections. (fn. 36)
Goaded by Cornwallis's move, the merchants acted quickly to demonstrate their authority. A week after their rejection of Mailart, a general court met to consider the appointment of consuls. The successful candidate for the key post of San Lucar-Seville was Hugh Bourman, a member of the well-known Anglo-Spanish family, (fn. 37) and it was hoped that the presence of a reliable company official in Spain would provide more room for manoeuvre. Late in September a court of assistants decided that Bourman should take with him a duplicate of the charter under the great seal, together with two messages, one to Ouseley and the other to Cornwallis. Bourman was also to ascertain whether any progress had been made in obtaining the confirmation; if not, a letter 'signifying the company's dislike' would be delivered. Cornwallis too was entreated to procure the confirmation with the bait that the promised gratuity would be conferred 'where his lordship shall appoint'.
When the next general court assembled, however, some progress had been made in obtaining the support of James I. A deputation led by Wilford had waited on the king in the country, obtaining a royal letter to Cornwallis instructing him to press the king of Spain for 'allowance of our ancient privileges and liberties and enlargement thereof'. Thus armed, the merchants felt able to break the terms of the bargain made with Ouseley, on the grounds that his services had become 'needless and unnecessary'. During this time Cornwallis had been growing increasingly irate. He complained repeatedly that the company did not bother to inform him of important matters; he was angered by the treatment of Mailart, which had undermined his authority in Spain, while the dismissal of Ouseley roused him to fury. (fn. 38) In December, a letter from him was read out at a court of assistants, 'intimating that he expected better allowance to be made to Mr. Nicholas Ouseley'. Replies were formulated by the merchants but the matter was cut short when the charter once again came under fire in parliament. No confirmation of the pre-war privileges was ever obtained in Spain; Ouseley never received his money, and some three years later he and the ambassador parted company after an acrimonious quarrel, sharpened perhaps by the knowledge of each other's complicity in this previous episode. (fn. 39)
As soon as the company had received the new charter of 31 May, it had begun to consider another facet of its internal government, the question of oaths and ordinances. (fn. 40) The ones in use dated from Elizabeth's reign and some were no longer suitable or necessary. A committee including two outport deputies was asked in June to meet at Merchant Tailors' Hall—the only occasion on which the company strayed from Pewterers' Hall—to revise the oaths in accordance with the new charter, and after three meetings the members presented a report to the general court on 12 July. The committee recommended that most of the ordinances should continue in their present form, although some slightly emended versions were offered which were intensively discussed. They reveal a good deal about the internal organisation of the company. The members usually met in a general court, at which at least thirteen assistants had to be present to form a quorum. Courts of assistants, excluding the generality, were less common but fairly frequent; meetings held in the form of a general court but without the requisite thirteen assistants were known as assemblies, as were the gatherings during the periods in which the legal status of the company was uncertain. All these meetings were held in the presence of Wilford himself or of John Newton, who had been elected deputy in July 1605, perhaps in view of Wilford's advancing age.
Although courts were held regularly the merchants did not assemble at the same place and time every week. In consequence, some traders capable of the freedom complained to the privy council that they were unable to join the company since they did not know where to seek it out. It was decided to remedy this by holding a general court every Wednesday morning, from seven to eleven in summer and from eight to eleven in winter. Members who gathered at these bleak hours must have been glad that they had previously increased the comforts of Pewterers' Hall by buying for their own use a carpet and a dozen cushions. (fn. 41)
Every effort was made to ensure that courts were smooth and well ordered. Bad or offensive language was fined, as were talking after the president had commanded silence or interrupting another speaker. If a matter was debated which concerned an individual member, he, his relatives and partners left the court, but other members who did this without cause were fined for disrespect. Moreover, as company business was considered confidential, members who revealed any aspect of it outside court could lose their freedom. The seating of members was arranged in a careful hierarchy, with fines for presuming to sit in a more exalted position. General courts were publicised by the beadle, who contacted freemen and kept a note of absentees. The functions of other officials such as the president, the treasurer and the secretary were all carefully defined, and appropriate oaths were set out for them in the new ordinances.
Besides ordering the conduct of company administration, the acts and ordinances dealt with numerous miscellaneous problems. Clauses of the charter were expanded to allow greater precision, as in the act on retailing; the status and behaviour of non-members such as the factors and apprentices in Spain were closely regulated in the best interests of the company. Members were forbidden to enter into partnerships with those who were not free, and were ordered to notify the secretary if they had already linked themselves to outsiders in this way.
Both the acts and ordinances and the court book devote much space to the admission of freemen. During the short period of its existence the Spanish Company spent more time on this aspect of its business than on any other. Admissions, which took place at the beginning of each session after the reading of the minutes, were divided into the four main categories of patrimony, service, redemption, and 'ancient trade' for those who had participated in peninsular commerce before the incorporation. Applications were made in advance to the secretary, and at first were scrutinised by a special committee.
Some pleas for the freedom were of a more complex nature. Exchange memberships were on occasion arranged with the Merchant Adventurers and the Eastland Company. As members of other trading companies were admitted on slightly different terms, the Spanish Company was careful to check the aspirants' claims. In September 1605, a point was raised about the ambiguous position of the East India Company, which had wound up its joint stock after the first voyage and whose ships had not yet returned from the second. It was decided that in effect 'the said East India Company is dissolved and not to be any longer accounted a company'; former members must therefore be admitted under the oath for those without any other affiliation. (fn. 42)
Some petitioners offered their services in exchange for their freedom, rather than pay redemptioners' fees. Among the successful ones were John Sozar, who promised to translate any Spanish documents coming into the hands of the company, and Richard Candler, mercer, 'being the clerk for policies of assurance'. Candler's former master had served Sir Thomas Gresham, an honorary member of the pre-war company. In addition he offered the use of a room in his house at the Royal Exchange, in which the assistants could 'meet together at any convenient times upon any sudden business for the company'. He received his freedom gratis but it was limited to Candler alone, any future claims by his sons or servants being explicitly disallowed. (fn. 43)
There were also those who attempted to avoid paying fees by applying pressure from eminent patrons. This placed the company in difficulties since a refusal might entail the loss of support from powerful persons such as Dorset or Salisbury. Sir Thomas Flemying, chief baron of the exchequer, was particularly importunate. In June 1605 he wrote to ask that the freedom should be conferred without charge on several traders in Southampton, some of whom were also retailers and some officers of the customs. The company sent a deputation to inform Flemying 'how dangerous a precedent it were and how inconvenient for the company to yield to his lordship's request' but in October he renewed his efforts. This time John Long of Southampton was admitted at his behest, without paying the entrance fee of £10. (fn. 44) These aspects of the Jacobean system of patronage were a financial drawback and an interference in the internal regulations of the company.
Despite the attacks that had been made on the company during the early stages of its revival, there was no shortage of applicants for the freedom. Between March 1604 and January 1606, no less than 149 new members were admitted in addition to those named in the charter. Once more, however, the problem of 1604 was all too apparent, for only twenty-six of the newcomers were outport men. Support for the company was still essentially metropolitan, and the disastrous results of this imbalance soon became clear.
It has already been noted that although the outport merchants were amply represented in the charter the Londoners retained their constitutional control. As before, each of the privileged ports headed a section of the coastline, with the deputy and assistants handling all company business in the area. But from the beginning, the outports showed little interest in the attempt to re-establish the company. The letters sent out in March 1604 notifying them of its revival elicited only three replies, from Bristol, Exeter and Chester. Similarly, at the elections on 14 May 1604 assistants were chosen for Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Chester, but none of those elected were present in court. When during the following year the elections came round again, the same procedure was followed; assistants were nominated for twelve of the outports, then letters were sent out informing them of their election. (fn. 45) These arbitrary dealings did not please the merchants concerned, several of whom wrote back to indicate their unwillingness to fulfil the duties of their office. The company nevertheless proceeded to set up a committee of Londoners to consider what powers the deputies should have for the administration of their districts. Their report was read, considered and approved at a general court in August, where it was agreed that it should be entered as an act of the company and copies distributed to the outports. By this time, however, it was clear that some more positive action would have to be taken to encourage the outports to participate. One or two deputies had by now attended an occasional session of the court, but the majority had still made no reply to the earlier letters. Accordingly it was decided that John Newton, the deputy president, and Arthur Jaxon, one of the assistants, should ride round all the ports for which deputies had been elected, 'for the swearing of the several deputies and to settle government and give direction in every of the said places'. (fn. 46) Before Newton and Jaxon could begin their journey, the problem of the outports suddenly took on a much more ominous complexion.
The general court of 21 August was attended by no less than four outport deputies. Three of these—Richard Dochester of Exeter, James Bagg of Plymouth, and Nicholas Downe of Barnstaple—had come up to London to take their oaths of office. (fn. 47) In addition, they presented a strongly-worded petition, which after its initial hearing was referred to the committee formerly appointed to consider the deputies' powers, now revived and enlarged. On the afternoon of the same day, after the general court had ended, the committee convened to consider the petition. The demands of the western deputies, as they were later known, aimed to break the dominance of London. They began modestly enough by asking that Exeter and Plymouth might have as many assistants as they had had before—sixteen and twelve respectively—while those representing Barnstaple should be increased from six to eight. In addition they wanted a copy of the new charter to be kept at Exeter. They went on, however, to request that the outport courts over which the deputies presided might have power to pass regulations binding on the company, and that they should not be forced to come up to London either to be sworn in or to take their freedom, since it was 'so great a journey and needless charge'. Moreover all the fines collected should remain within the division instead of being handed over to the treasurer in London. Last and most explosive, they demanded that the regulations passed in London should not bind them, 'unless they may stand with the good of our country and the consent of our several courts there'.
The committee made no significant concessions. They agreed to increase the number of assistants and to send a copy of the new charter down to Exeter. In addition apprentices could from henceforth be indentured or granted their freedom by their local deputy, and the outports were to be allowed to make regulations for their own trade, provided they obtained prior consent from London. In all other matters, however, the old customs were to prevail. Deputies, assistants and redemptioners must continue to journey up to London, all cash collected was to be handed over to the London treasurer, and the acts made in the general court would be as binding as before.
The whole episode boded ill for the expedition of Newton and Jaxon which was about to begin. Their draft commission was ratified at the end of August and by mid-September they had left London for Bristol. The merchant community there had so far offered no opposition to the company; their members were well represented in the charter and their deputy, the well-known local philanthropist John Whitson, had been present at three courts. (fn. 48) Once in Bristol, however, it was revealed that this quiescence did not mean compliance. The merchants would have nothing to do with the company if membership entailed any limitations on their own freedom. The two envoys were compelled to report that 'the merchants of Bristol pretend to stand and govern themselves and refuse to submit to the orders and government of the society'. By 12 October, the two Londoners had returned, having achieved nothing apart from demonstrating the powerlessness of the company in the outports. Some business relating to the west country still came up before the court but the problem as a whole was shelved. There was nothing more to be done, and in December 1605 the Bristol merchants quietly seceded from the Spanish Company before embarking on their own programme of internal reform and corporate organisation. (fn. 49) With Bristol gone, the company could never have established any real degree of control over the outports, even if it had been able to assert itself more effectively in the ourports, even if it had been able to assert itself more effectively in the rest of them. The failure of Newton and Jaxon's mission was probably the most significant defeat suffered by the Spanish merchants, for it foretold all too clearly that revival of outport opposition which was ultimately to prove fatal to the company as a corporate body.
Before the extent of the collapse of its authority in the outports was fully known, the company embarked on its last and most ambitious venture, the establishment of a wide network of consuls around the coast of the Iberian peninsula. On Friday 6 September 1605 a general court was called specifically to elect suitable persons for the office. After some discussion it was agreed to set up nine consulships, one each for Biscay, Bayona in Galicia, Lisbon, San Lucar and Seville, Malaga, Valencia, the Canaries, the Azores, and 'Matheres', which may be Madeira. Most of these places had never had consuls before, and in the event the company was unable to fill more than the first five, deciding that for Valencia and the rest they would 'take further time to make enquiry and to inform themselves of fit and worthy men'. In the ensuing election, three names were proposed for each post and the successful candidate chosen by show of hands. James Wych, son of one of the assistants, was appointed for Biscay where he was already resident, Francis Lambert for Bayona, and Hugh Lea, defeated in the Bayona election, for Lisbon. Of the more important southern consulships, Hugh Bourman was chosen for the joint post of Seville-San Lucar and Humphrey Wootton for the expanding port of Malaga. The company at the same general court also set up a committee headed by the president, to meet four days later in order to confer with as many of the consuls 'as are now remaining about London' on the subject of emoluments.
Reporting back to the next general court on 13 September, the committee, which had taken two days to come to an agreement among its members, recommended a generous system of payment consisting of a declining scale of annual fees, related to the importance of the port served. Seville-San Lucar was rated at £200 a year, Lisbon at £150, whilst the rest were only to receive £40. In addition there was to be a levy of one or two ducats on each ship unloading within the consul's coastal division. Moreover, impositions were also to be collected in England, where the committee had decided on a rate of 3s. 4d. for every unit of cargo worth £100. After the reading of this comprehensive report the court found itself deeply divided. Some thought the scale of payment would prove an excessive burden on the finances of the company; others, less realistic, wished that the consuls' allowances might be 'as great in substance', but at the same time strongly opposed the proposal 'that the same should be made by such certain yearly fee from the body of the company'. The dispute raged for four more general courts, with 'much time spent and little concluded', until finally although no agreement had been reached it was decided to send Bourman to Seville with £50 as the first instalment of his annual fee. Swallowing its pride, the company also asked Cornwallis to obtain some confirmation of the consul's position. (fn. 50)
The unsettled dispute over emoluments did not prevent the company from pressing on with its scheme for the consulates. On 8 November the consuls' commissions were read out, together with an explanation of their precise territorial limits, and on 2 January 1606 an advance of £50 was also agreed for Hugh Lea the consul of Lisbon. By now however the very existence of the company was in doubt, and with its abolition the grandiose plan to re-establish the consular system came to an abrupt end, leaving those consuls who were already in Spain in a position of some difficulty. In vain they and Cornwallis struggled to establish their authority in the eyes of the Spanish court; without official backing from England it proved impossible to win acceptance from either the English residents in Spain or the native Spaniards. (fn. 51)
The renewed assault that took place in November 1605 came once more from parliament. The protagonists of free trade in 1604 had been robbed of success by the sudden ending of the session, but they were still determined to see the matter through. As soon as the lower house began its sittings on 5 November 1605, Sir George Somers the M.P. for Lyme Regis raised the issue. This time the Spanish Company was a more obvious target, for it was better known and had received its last charter at a time when the commons were unable to scrutinise it, a circumstance which they found highly suspicious. A committee was at once chosen to consider 'the inconveniences or mischiefs in trade and traffic growing by reason of the late patent of incorporation'. (fn. 52)
The members of the company, then in the midst of electing their consuls, were alarmed to hear that the committee was sitting in the hall of the Middle Temple with the explicit intention of drawing up a bill against their charter. Wilford, Newton and Langley went together to enquire 'in what points they did except against our charter', and received an uncompromising answer. The committee asked first if the company would allow complete free trade in fish, in order that 'all manner of persons that shall adventure to the sea to take fish, may carry their fish freely for those countries and there sell it at their will and pleasure'. Secondly they wished to know if the company would allow all gentlemen, yeomen, farmers 'and all others of what quality soever to carry corn into Spain and Portugal and to make their return in merchandise from thence at their will and pleasure'. Wilford at once called a general court to discuss these demands, but it was clear that to concede them would be tantamount to abandoning the charter. They decided not to give any consent to the committee's proposals, preferring instead to risk the decision of parliament on the validity of their incorporation.
The questions posed by the M.P.s reveal the roots of the renewed agitation. The triangular trade in Newfoundland fish was going from strength to strength, and the fishermen of towns such as Dartmouth had no desire to curb their booming commerce by submitting it to the regulations of the Spanish Company. (fn. 53) The M.P.s for the west country, in arguing for a free trade in fish, could point not only to their constituents' interests but also to the safety of the realm, for the Newfoundland trade was a powerful impetus to shipbuilding and to the training of seamen. (fn. 54) Furthermore, the areas in which the fishermen traded were the best market in Europe for corn, which despite numerous prohibitions was exported from the outports to the great profit of the farming gentry; the M.P.s were thus defending their own private commercial interests.
As November wore on, it became increasingly clear that there was little hope of saving the charter. The Spanish Company had had the misfortune to interpose its insecure monopoly in the path of two new and powerful economic interests which were now uniting against it in a parliament already hostile to all trading companies. In Somers himself, many of the strands of opposition were made visible; as a west-country gentleman sitting for an outport constituency, promoter of the Virginia Company and future rediscoverer of the Bermudas, the company must have been anathema to him on every count.
Although the instability of their position was apparent, the merchants continued their sessions, discussing the consulships and reviving the old dispute with the royal household over composition for wines and spices. They also drew up an account of the wrongs suffered by English merchants and factors in Spain, which was presented to the privy council in the form of a petition for redress. (fn. 55) Lastly they tried to gather support by a little judicious bribery. On 2 January 1606 the treasurer was authorised to purchase a piece of plate worth £30, to be presented as a new year gift to 'such a person as the company have in private acquainted Mr. President, Mr. Treasurer and Mr. Secretary they mean to confer and bestow the same upon'. The attempt to disguise the identity of the recipient rouses the suspicion that it was intended for James I himself. If the plate was ever presented it had no effect, for the court of assistants which discussed the gift was the last meeting which the company was to hold.
The bill for free trade into Spain, Portugal and France went through the lower house with little opposition and was specially commended by the commons to the lords. As in 1604, the lords showed less enthusiasm for the project than the commons had done. They summoned more merchants as witnesses and in April the committees reported that the draft was 'so general and imperfect' that a conference would be necessary. Some points such as the fishing trade were still causing difficulty. However, the amendments were read and the commons signified to the upper chamber that the bill had been received 'with great applause'. (fn. 56) It passed into law at the end of the session and although subsequently legislation was carried to safeguard the local monopoly of the Merchant Adventurers of Exeter, (fn. 57) the Spanish Company was henceforth abolished.
Several factors had contributed to its downfall. Pre-eminent among them was the hostility of the outports as expressed by M.P.s such as Somers. He and his fellows cared little for free trade as a theory; their real concern was with the prosperity of their local ports which faced increasing difficulties as the wealth and power of the London mercantile oligarchy increased. When a monopoly actively favoured the outport interest, the opposition of the commons faded away, as in 1607 with the act safeguarding the Exeter Merchant Adventurers; and in areas in which the outports could not in any case compete, such as the East India trade, the dominance of London was ignored. Outport merchants with their modest resources could participate only in those trades which posed no problems of distance and required relatively little capital, and of these the commerce with France, Spain and Portugal was at once the most lucrative and long-established. When London attempted to organise such a trade in its own interests, conflict was inevitable.
It would be inaccurate to assume that the outport merchants were unanimous in opposing the charter. Some were willing to seek the freedom of the company in order to continue their trade without infringing the monopoly. (fn. 58) Yet even those who were prepared to accept such regulation often found themselves genuinely unable to abide by the terms of their admission as mere merchants, for the amount of trade they undertook was not sufficient to support them. In the outports, very many merchants were also shopkeepers and retailers, and the exclusiveness of Londoners who had no need to supplement their income by such undertakings found little response in the provinces. Lastly, the natural inclination of the gentry M.P.s to fight against the dominance of London and defend their constituents' welfare was sharpened by their own private interests in the corn and fishing trades.
The outport attack was formidable, but its success might have been less overwhelming had the company been able to muster strong support within commercial circles. Despite the large number of its freemen, it was unable to do so. When suing for the new charter in March 1605 Wilford had found that the idea of re-incorporation did not appeal even to those who had been members of the pre-war company. 'I find not our people', he reported to Salisbury, 'much affected to pray any new charter, in respect they must give way to all that will adventure, alleging that they shall be at charges, and cannot tell how to raise the same, and shall be brought in question every parliament'. (fn. 59) These dissensions, notorious among the London merchants, were even discussed by the residents in Spain who watched anxiously to see what would befall. (fn. 60) Even as the new charter was being drawn up, a war of petitions continued to rage between the protagonists and the opponents of incorporation, each citing the hackneyed arguments always used to defend or attack trading monopolies. On the one hand it was claimed that a company would keep up the prices of English goods, promote order in the trade, and enable the merchants to defend themselves more effectively. The opposition insisted that on the contrary, monopolies led to a decline in trade and hence in customs revenue, enriched the few at the expense of many and conferred no benefits despite all the rules and regulations. (fn. 61)
The lack of widespread support also manifested itself in the low rate of attendance at company courts. Several could not be held for lack of a quorum of assistants; on two occasions, persistent non-attenders were discharged and replaced, but the complaints continued. Few of the leading merchants named in the charter as freemen played any part in administering the company, and too much work devolved on a small number of relatively undistinguished people, especially Wilford and Newton. Wilford, who died the year after the company was dissolved, (fn. 62) must have been an elderly man by 1607 although he was amazingly energetic in his attempts to restore the company to a stable position. Problems such as these were not of course unique to the Spanish merchants, for other, more durable bodies also suffered from them; (fn. 63) but in a struggling company under constant attack they assumed more serious proportions.
In comparing the Spanish Company with its contemporaries several other weaknesses become apparent. With its sixty-one assistants, or even the thirty-one Londoners, the governing body was significantly larger and less easily organised than were those of the Merchant Adventurers, Levant or Eastland Companies. (fn. 64) Its finances were unsound, and at the last of its courts the treasurer had to inform the assembly that the company was in debt and would need to resort to loans. This situation was largely due to the substantial fees voted to officers in September 1605 at a time when income was derived almost entirely from entry fines; in contrast, the Levant Company with its much greater resources made no regular payments for over a decade after the grant of its new charter in December 1605. (fn. 65)
Even more important than administrative matters such as these was the fact that the company had very little essential business to transact. Unlike the Merchant Adventurers, who defended their monopoly by stressing the need for skilled manipulation of their market, the Spanish Company did not stint its members or lay down the prices of commodities. Unlike the Levant and Eastland Companies, it did not regulate shipping, draw up charter-parties or deal with paperwork such as toll-bills. Perhaps most damaging of all, it had little to offer. As long as the brotherhood of St. George at San Lucar had functioned, together with its appended consular system, the London company had been able to provide some measure of protection in Spain. By 1604 the brotherhood had been taken over by the English priests, an event which the company was unable to undo, and it failed to turn its attention to the question of consuls until the autumn of 1605. During the course of its short existence it was apparent that its freemen received very little in return for their membership fees, although the rules of the company such as that prohibiting partnerships with nonmembers could seriously inconvenience their trade. Sir John Popham the lord chief justice had commented that whatever reasons merchants might give for incorporation, 'they ever have it in their private ends'. To many London merchants it seemed as if those private ends were little served by a Spanish company. (fn. 66)
One last question remains to be answered. All successful trading companies, whether regulated or joint-stock, were dependent on a nucleus of members whose interests were vitally identified with the continuing existence of the company, whatever other branches of trade they might pursue. It is not clear if the Spanish Company possessed such a nucleus; on the contrary it seems likely that many of its most influential freemen were principally interested in other areas of commerce. These included the Levant, Muscovy, the Eastland and the Low Countries. The connection with the Levant and Adriatic trades is both the most natural and most easily traceable of these links. It was to be expected that many Spanish merchants, following the example of Richard Staper, would enter the expanding Mediterranean trade. They soon found that its central feature, the purchase of currants from Zante, was dependent on trade with Spain for it was largely financed by the dollars and pieces of eight picked up en route at ports such as Lisbon, Cadiz, Malaga and Alicante. (fn. 67) A third of the charter members of the revived Levant Company of 1605 were also members of the Spanish Company, (fn. 68) and the proportion would probably have been higher had not the latter been abolished soon after the incorporation of the former.
The absence of other contemporary charters or complete lists of freemen makes it more difficult to assess with precision the contacts that existed with other areas. Nevertheless the evidence, although fragmentary, is highly suggestive. The re-export trade to Spain was flourishing in the first half of the seventeenth century, and before the conclusion of the peace in 1604 Wilford had listed the goods brought into London, 'returned in exchange of English cloth from Russia, Eastland, Stade, Hamburg and other parts of Germany as also out of France, most vendible in Spain and needful for the West Indies'. (fn. 69) They included wax, tallow, hemp, cordage, copper, flax, linen cloth and canvas 'of all sorts and in great quantity', German ironmongery, haberdashery and battery. When trade resumed in the last quarter of 1604 such goods formed over half of the total non-broadcloth export to Spain. (fn. 70)
Several Merchant Adventurers and Eastland men took their freedom of Spain and Portugal, and of the fifteen Eastland merchants trading to other areas in 1606 nine, including Sir Stephen Soame and the former assistants John Highlord and Arthur Jaxon, had been members of the Spanish Company. (fn. 71) The direct export trade, which left no records, may well have been even greater in its extent and involved more freemen. Wilford in 1605 expressed his dislike of this direct trade conducted by Merchant Adventurers, Eastland and Muscovy merchants, for it undercut the business of those who had formerly bought these commodities after their import into England, then re-shipped them for Spain and Portugal. He admitted with regret that some freemen had 'coloured' such goods, acting as agents for others. (fn. 72) These agents cannot be identified, but others took no trouble to conceal themselves and their trade. The powerful Wych family was deeply involved; Richard Wych the elder, an assistant of the company, shipped Muscovy and Eastland goods direct to San Sebastian and Pasages where they were received by his son James, elected as company consul for the area. The ships anchored in the Downs to take on letters but their cargoes were never customed in England. (fn. 73) All in all, there is every indication that many influential Spanish merchants were not solely committed to peninsular trade and could not be expected to give the company their fullest support. Many of them may secretly have welcomed its abolition, which freed their already complex commerce from at least one set of regulations.
Despite the widespread lack of enthusiasm which had contributed towards the demise of the company, a measure of support for incorporation continued to exist after 1606. Cornwallis, putting aside his irritation with the merchants, argued repeatedly that only the existence of a regulated company could prevent the constant confusions and inconveniences that arose in the early stages of re-establishing English trade in Spain. (fn. 74) His own attempts to build up a consular system in the peninsula convinced him that the task was impossible without organised backing in London. Such views were not confined to the ambassador. In 1617 and 1619, the Londoners complained of the 'abuses and notorious disorders' which hindered their commerce. Yelverton the attorney-general recommended that they alone should be incorporated, excluding the outport merchants who would be left free to carry on their business as before. (fn. 75) The privy council nevertheless felt obliged to notify the west-country towns of this proposal, whereupon a storm of protest arose; they considered that such an incorporation would be 'full of inconveniences and very prejudicial' although they did not trouble to spell out the problems involved. The dispute was referred to a committee consisting of Lake, Greville and Coke, who reported that they disagreed with Yelverton, preferring to let the act of 1606 stand unchanged. (fn. 76)
The London merchants, disregarding the rebuff, tried again in April 1619. On this occasion the councillors asked them to propose a solution to their own problems, whereupon six merchants of whom at least three had been active in the old company formed a deliberative committee. (fn. 77) Not unexpectedly they recommended that no better course of redress could be found than to revive the Spanish charter. The inconveniences of monopoly which had been stressed in 1606 were overshadowed by those which subsequently arose from the abolition of the company; 'the trade and the dependencies thereof', they argued, 'were then in happy condition in comparison of the later and present miserable estate of the same'. Incorporation would enable them to exclude the 'tobacco sellers, grocers, vintners, dyers and other engrossers of double trade that eat out the mere and orderly merchants'. (fn. 78) Again, the attempt failed; but the incident indicates that there were still some merchants anxious for the return of regulated trade, even though Wilford, largely responsible for the revival of 1604, was long since dead.
The chequered history of the Spanish Company is in many ways a commentary more on the fluctuations of economic opinion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than on the fortunes of the trade itself. Originally the members of the Andalusia Company had banded together in selfdefence when conditions in Spain grew difficult, only to fall apart quickly through lack of harmony. There was always a need for some form of united action by the English residents in the peninsula to ward off the varied harassments which threatened their position; if the central organisation of the Spanish merchants had been situated abroad, as was that of the Merchant Adventurers, much of the later friction might have been avoided. But there was little real desire for a London-based company and no useful role for it to fill. In the heyday of regulated companies under Elizabeth this anomaly was easily concealed, for it seemed natural that all the major trade-routes should be subject to some form of incorporation. When at the end of the century opinion turned against monopolies of every sort, the lack of support in London, the opposition of the outports, and the numerous inconveniences involved inevitably became more and more apparent. From then on, the days of the Spanish Company were numbered.