A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.
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The Tudor Economy
Whatever the economic facts, York thought itself in an advanced state of decline at the accession of the first Tudor. As early as 1487 the corporation had petitioned the king for assistance in consideration of its great ruin and decay. (fn. 1) Early in 1492 the king pronounced himself credibly informed that his city of York had in divers places and parishes fallen into such extreme ruin that the poor and depleted population could not bear the charges due to him. (fn. 2) A year later he ordered the men of The Ainsty to help in the defence of York, which was in miserable ruin and decay and 'of very little power of people' what with deaths by plague and with the exodus to avoid it. (fn. 3) Similar cliches concerning ruin and decay become very prominent after 1520 and continue in tedious profusion throughout the following decades. (fn. 4) Self-interested as were most of these pleas, they demand to be taken seriously, not merely on account of the economic data about to be examined, but also because the Tudor monarchs, among whose virtues financial sentimentality would scarcely be judged pre-eminent, often remitted taxation (fn. 5) and tolerated subsidy-yields from York far lower than those from quite small towns. Back in 1334, York had stood second among the provincial towns in wealth, but in the lay subsidy of 1523-7 it stood fifteenth, its yield being £379 as compared with £1,704 for Norwich, £1,072 for Bristol, and £974 for Coventry. Thanks to small groups of extremely rich townsmen, even Bury St. Edmunds (£405) and Lavenham (£402) exceeded the York total. (fn. 6)
The struggle to pay, or to gain remission of the subsidies and the fee-farm became particularly acute during the mid-Tudor period. The fee-farm had been alienated by Edward II to William Roos, (fn. 7) whose descendant the Earl of Rutland was between 1527 and 1528 vigorously suing in the Exchequer for its full payment, (fn. 8) though for many years the city had been allowed to compound by a payment of only 20 marks. (fn. 9) The common clerk vainly approached Wolsey to obtain a remission of this and other charges, (fn. 10) while the desperate mayor spoke of surrendering the liberties of the city into the king's hands. (fn. 11) Already in 1526 the city chamber lay in great debt and the servants of the mace had been reduced to four, the mayor being forbidden to engage more without the consent of the whole council. (fn. 12) A memorandum of 1528 (fn. 13) blames the financial embarrassment of the corporation upon the fee-farm, the recorder's fees, the diminution of tolls, and the upkeep of chantries with decayed endowments. The writer asserts that the common chamber has an annual deficit of £85, of which £50 is due to these chantry payments. These latter the corporation restricted or stopped in 1530. (fn. 14) Two years later a citizen was urged to avoid public office for a year by lending the chamber £20, later reduced to £10, while at the same time one of the last year's sheriffs was gaoled pending the due settlement of his accounts. (fn. 15) Between 1533 and 1535 Cromwell found time to study the problem of increasing the wealth of the city. (fn. 16) In 1536 common council suggested a reduction of the mayor's household expenses from £50 to £20, this to be achieved by ceasing the banquets traditionally held for the judges and aldermen, omitting the official entertainment on Corpus Christi Day, and by reducing the common clerk's wages from £5 to £4. (fn. 17) Such were the natural suggestions of the unprivileged.
The relaxation of this particular crisis is marked by the parliamentary Act secured by York in 1536. (fn. 18) Its preamble provides a revealing account of the problem. Should the citizens be constrained to meet the full £100 demanded by Rutland, together with other charges, they would rather desert the city and leave it desolate in the king's hands. Besides the Rutland payment, they owed annuities of £35 14s. to the dean and canons of St. Stephen's Chapel, Westminster, of £7 12s. to Sir William Fairfax, and of £9 2s. to Lord Darcy; £15 yearly in Exchequer fees and £42 for the maintenance of nine chantries and three obits, originally of private foundation but now with endowments consumed and lost. (fn. 19) Besides all this, continues the Act, the city must maintain its officers, find 100 armed men in war-time and maintain four great stone bridges and the walls, amounting yearly to £400. On the credit side, the common lands yielded only £40 and other revenues not much over £100, leaving an annual deficit of at least £300. When Richard III had released the fee-farm, tolls worth between £140 and £160 had been rescinded; yet they had not been restored with the cancellation of his grant. By the mediation of Lord Chancellor Audley and Cromwell, the Earl of Rutland had now consented to remit £60 of his £100, the rest to be paid him in half-yearly portions. It was now enacted that the corporation should also be released from maintenance of the chantries and enjoy any of their properties remaining. The annuity of St. Stephen's was to be reduced by £5 14s. and that to Lord Darcy cancelled.
This legislation certainly eased the pressure, yet it again became apparent in the Edwardian and Marian years. The Privy Council issued a commission in 1553 to decide what York might be expected to pay in 15ths and 10ths. (fn. 20) Fifty pounds was then remitted. (fn. 21) When, on Mary's accession, the York M.P.s sought confirmation, the Government granted it on grounds of depopulation through pestilence and—a new point—the heavy charges incurred in educating a great number of poor children. (fn. 22) In 1563 the M.P.s were ordered in advance to sue for reduction if any tax should chance to be granted in a coming session. (fn. 23) On this occasion Elizabeth's government released £100 of two subsidies totalling £273, citing the poverty of the citizens, the great number of ruined and uninhabited houses, the recent pestilence, the good services of York in furnishing troops for the Scottish wars and the burden of educating orphans. (fn. 24) Similar remissions are recorded in 1571 (fn. 25) and 1587; the latter notes the foregoing problems together with the maintenance of six bridges and other decayed works. (fn. 26)
The state of the poorer parishes and the difficulties facing tax-collectors find most graphic description in a letter of 1555 from Mayor William Beckwith to the York M.P.s in London. The collectors of this last tax, he writes, have worked hard, but still lack a good part of the sum due, 'which for the great poverty and waste of divers parishes they could in no wise get; yea, it would have pitied a man's heart to see what hard shift many a poor man and woman made, for some were fain to sell their pot or their pan and other implements, some laid their apparel to pledge to pay with their tax; and of certain vacant houses in the decayed parishes the collectors had nothing to distrain but took off the doors and windows to make up stake with'. Beckwith continues to describe the depopulated parishes of All Saints, North Street, St. Lawrence, St. Andrew, St. Gregory, St. Mary, Castlegate, St. John-del-Pyke, and St. Helen-on-the-Walls, in which no man wished to dwell, since 'the payment of one year tax is double and treble more than their whole year rent'. (fn. 27) These lurid phrases were no doubt intended to be useful to the M.P.s, yet they may scarcely be dismissed as wholly untrue. At the same time there was some revision of assessment. A comparison between the subsidy rolls of 1523 and 1543 shows a tendency to transfer the burden to the richer citizens. (fn. 28) Whereas in the earlier roll the vast majority of payers have goods assessed between £1 and £3, in the later one almost all the much smaller number of payers are assessed at over £10; nearly half of them at £20 or more. Again when the Crown remitted taxation, part of the benefit was, sometimes at least, passed on to the taxpayers themselves. (fn. 29)
It would be unfair to convey the notion that York's effort to achieve municipal solvency lacked the elements of personal generosity and self-help. In 1537, for example, the seven late chamberlains subscribed no less than £70 to the chamber. (fn. 30) Subsequently, when the mayor and aldermen had contributed, some twenty others, now elected as chamberlains, offered 200 marks between them. The council also agreed that each future chamberlain should pay 20 nobles, unless he had previously served as bridge-master or mure-master, when the sum might be reduced to £4. (fn. 31) Amongst later efforts the sale of decayed corporation properties took an important place. In 1563 the mayor and commonalty reviewed the repair-costs of their tenements, and found that these exceeded the rents which they yielded. They therefore resolved upon a ruthless sale of them all to such persons as would agree to make speedy repairs, tenants being given the first option of purchase. (fn. 32) Remoter chances of raising funds were not neglected. In 1567 the corporation entered itself for the state lottery, under the appropriate motto In te, Domine, speravi. (fn. 33) The following year it resolved to construct a cock-pit, so that sporting gentlemen might 'spend their money here that they were wont to spend in other places'. (fn. 34)
These being the broad psychological and fiscal realities, what may be said of the causes and nature of the economic decline which underlay them? The once-dominant weaving industry had collapsed before Tudor times. The aulnage accounts become notoriously unreliable in the 15th century, but for what they are worth they support the suggestion that the amount of cloth manufactured in York had undergone a great decline by the third quarter of that century. (fn. 35) This diminished output forced the York weavers to sue for a diminution of their fee-farm in 1478, when they were pardoned £5 of the £10 due. (fn. 36) Henry VIII in 1511 exempted them during pleasure from the whole fee-farm; (fn. 37) Edward VI (fn. 38) and Mary repeated this act of clemency. (fn. 39) Finally, in 1561 the city council petitioned the Crown on behalf of the weavers (fn. 40) and Elizabeth I accepted a lump sum in cancellation of the weavers' fee, the city having to lend them £7 for this purpose. (fn. 41) As early as 1517 weaving failed to appear in a list of the thirteen most important crafts. In 1528 Brian Higdon, Dean of York, wrote to Wolsey that York might 'amend again' if by his favour the shipping of wool might continue; but clothmaking was 'sore decayed' as the merchants of the staple at Calais bought no cloth 'of this country'. (fn. 42) Mayor Percival Craforth informed the Council in the North in 1561 that there were not more than ten weavers in the city. These were able to work either linen or wool, but now made their living from the former. Only four woollen looms remained, and those stood mostly unused for lack of work. In addition, a merchant, Richard Marshall, had lately set up draping with one woollen loom, but had abandoned it owing to lack of profit. Craforth concludes his letter by pointing out why weaving had migrated to Halifax, Leeds, and Wakefield: not only was water-power available there, but the spinners, carders, and other workpeople could keep their own cows and buy fuel much more cheaply than in York. (fn. 43)
This problem of domestic fuel deserves more attention than it has hitherto received. Despite Henrican legislation, (fn. 44) the forests around York had greatly diminished and receded. Chiefly for this reason the malt kilns were in 1549 closed for two years and a survey of disforestation for eight miles around was instituted. (fn. 45) At this time, too, the commons included the dearness of fuel in their bill of grievances and the M.P.s were asked to seek a commission from the king to check disforestation. (fn. 46) Four years later the York M.P.s received instruction to sue for an Act against the 'great destruction of wood within 16 miles of this city'. (fn. 47) Coal was no doubt an expensive substitute. In 1572 York citizens suffered obstruction in attempting to bring it from Hull (fn. 48) and the corporation instituted a search for coal in the lordship of Brandsby near Easingwold (N.R.), with a view to leasing ground from Mr. Cholmeley if it could be mined. (fn. 49)
Altogether it can scarcely be denied that the decline of textiles at York came long before the Tudor period and that, whatever the actions of the city fathers and the central government, the natural advantages of the West Riding inexorably brought about a large measure of this decline. So far as economic policy is concerned, it presents a mixed spectacle. The city's appeal of 1561 on behalf of the weavers places part of the blame upon their fee-farm. (fn. 50) On the showing of the document itself, however, this burden merely aggravated an already advanced decline. York men found it fatally easy to blame their difficulties on the faults of outsiders rather than upon their own parochial exclusiveness: in 1568 the corporation reiterated its prohibition of freedom to strangers who failed to pay a minimum entrance fee of 5 marks or to serve a seven years' apprenticeship. The common council, in this matter least 'enlightened' of any, wanted the fee to be £10. (fn. 51) Youths whose fathers could not spend over 20s. a year might not be taken as apprentices, though liberal opinion in 1562 discussed the abrogation of this order. (fn. 52) In 1586 the corporation still affirmed that no person within five years of attaining mastership in a craft might take an apprentice who was not a freeman or freeman's son. (fn. 53) Some craft guilds continued to fine their members for teaching the craft to an alien. (fn. 54) No craft was more minutely regulated than that of weaving. The weights and dimensions of cloths were fixed and all pieces had to be sealed before they reached the shops. (fn. 55) Even while struggling for survival, the coverlet weavers (tapiters) were forbidden in 1551 to use more than one loom or to deal in unwrought yarn. (fn. 56) By the early 17th century the weavers' by-laws numbered over 70 clauses. (fn. 57) When all else failed, money could be spent to procure a monopoly by Act of Parliament. The classic example appears in the Coverlet Act obtained between 1542 and 1543 at great expense to the municipality and the weavers. (fn. 58) To prevent persons, said to be inexpert apprentices who had gone away from York, exercising their craft outside the city, powers of search in all fairs and markets north of the Trent were granted to the York guild. (fn. 59) They soon discovered malpractices among the York manufacturers themselves. (fn. 60) This monopoly appears to have had the effect of repressing the industry in the county without restoring it to any magnitude in York. A survey of 1595 reported that no coverlets were then being made elsewhere in Yorkshire, but that York itself was producing only two 14- or 15-stone packs of coverlets and carpets each month. (fn. 61)
It was said in 1563 that some crafts, awarded important electoral functions under the charter of 1517, had meanwhile fallen into such decay that their powers should now be transferred to others. (fn. 62) This shift in relative prosperity has been linked by modern writers with a tendency shown by certain guilds to unite in hard times, in order to pool their pageant expenses or to share the same team of searchers. It seems easily possible, however, to exaggerate this co-operative spirit. The union of the woollen weavers with the linen weavers in 1549 (fn. 63) must be regarded merely as a re-union, since only in 1518 had they severed their former connexion. (fn. 64) That of the carpenters and joiners in 1530 seems concerned purely with precedence and pageants; (fn. 65) the two went on quarrelling and were still maintaining separate searchers between 1554 and 1557. (fn. 66) While the blacksmiths and the bladesmiths arranged to share their pageant funds and to co-operate in searching, they also maintained separate searchers. (fn. 67) The painters and the pinners, two poor crafts, united in 1561 merely for pageant purposes. (fn. 68) And while the 'decayed' drapers appear as an integral part of the tailors' guild in 1551, (fn. 69) the arrangement was not a Tudor development, for they display a de facto unity before 1492. (fn. 70) As for the more important union of 1591 between the haberdashers, feltmakers, and cappers, this can scarcely be quoted as a union enforced by poverty, because the haberdashers and feltmakers were both flourishing trades at this date. (fn. 71) Again, some guilds show contrary and fissiparous tendencies, as with the weavers in 1528 and with the brickmakers, who in 1592 desired to break away from the tilemakers. (fn. 72) All these movements reveal very little concerning the rise and fall of the various crafts. A rough and ready index to their fluctuations emerges, however, from a study of the Freemen's Rolls. An informative comparison may be made between the decades 1509-18 and 1594-1603. (fn. 73) In the first of these decades the 529 new freemen represent 100 trades and crafts; in the last Elizabethan decade 737 represent only 80 trades and crafts. A good many trades in the first list have disappeared from the second for obvious reasons, such as those of the bellmakers, bowyers, carvers, fullers, printers, (fn. 74) text-writers, and vestment-makers. In both lists tailors are most numerous, followed by merchants. The continued decline of the textile group of trades finds striking confirmation. In 1509-18 the entries for this group —weavers, dyers, fullers, tapiters and the like—together number only 55. Yet by 1594 a further decline to 28 has taken place: of these, 10 are linen-weavers, 1 a woollenweaver, 2 fustian-weavers, and 2 silk-weavers. Most catastrophically the tapiters fall from 24 entries in 1509-18 to only 6 in 1594-1603.
Nevertheless the plight of the textile group does not typify the whole field of trades. Just as remarkable is the increase of entry into the garment group. Between the two decades tailors rise from 35 to 73, glovers from 11 to 24, haberdashers very strikingly from 2 to 29. While cappers and hatters almost vanish from the lists, feltmakers take their place, rising from nil to 18. Milliners and embroiderers, unrepresented in the first list, show 6 entries each in the second. As for the cordwainers, who may be numbered with this group, they increase markedly from 14 to 50. The total entry for the garment group numbers 85 in 1509-18 and no less than 224 in 1594-1603. This may indicate a major change in the city's pattern of employment; it also suggests that the garment industry had come to cater for a wider public than the relatively static population of York.
Apart from the spectacular increase in the number of inn-keepers, which will be noted in another context, (fn. 75) there occur no shifts so dramatic as those involving the textile and garment groups. Whatever the volume of trade, merchants may well have been more numerous in 1603 than in 1518, since the entry over the respective decades has increased from 35 to 68. The food and catering trades are naturally prominent in both periods, but the steep decline of fishers and fishmongers, 30 to 11, suggests the failure of Elizabethan legislation to check the decline of fish-eating occasioned by religious changes. At least one of York's most ancient industries continued to make a tolerable showing, since between these two decades, the entry of the tanners rose from 15 to 24. Altogether little seems left of the traditional spectacle of a general, continuous, and more or less uniform decline in the economic activities of York. Decline in some trades was counterbalanced, perhaps more than counter-balanced, by advances in others, and while the period 1509-58 may represent the continuance of an overall decline of economic life, the reign of Elizabeth I probably saw a measure of economic recovery, as well as some increase in population. It would indeed be a bold observer who felt able to assert that York was less wealthy and productive in 1603 than it had been in 1509.
At the same time the Freemen's Rolls confirm the evidence that York's exclusiveness and conservatism made her less and less attractive to outsiders. In 1509-18 only 85 of the 529 entrants took their freedom by patrimonial right, but by 1594-1603 no fewer than 278 out of 737 became freemen per patres. While the total number of freemen grew considerably under Elizabeth, the influx of new men, willing to 'buy their way in' remained static, while a larger sector of trade and industry came under the control of established York families. Elizabethan conditions apparently made it increasingly worth while for the son of a York freeman to stay at home and avail himself of the advantages of an easy entry to a trade. The greatly increased annual crop of these young men may also reflect in some degree that lower mortality amongst the inhabitants, which, on other grounds, has been attributed to the Elizabethan age.
That some measure of commercial decline had by the Tudor period supervened upon industrial decline can scarcely be doubted, yet the sources give a far clearer notion of its causes than of its extent. Something it owed to the process of silting which ruined many medieval ports. In 1546 the corporation ordered the merchants in each ward to send an able-bodied man 'to help for to clean the same, every ward one day'. (fn. 76) The next year the inhabitants of each ward received the command to clear the Ouse about the 'newarke' and elsewhere as needed, every person to send a labourer, or bear the charge of a labourer for a day. (fn. 77) Even if this last order was fulfilled, it can scarcely have accomplished more than a clearance of accretion along the banks. A more radical operation came under discussion in 1572 when James Cornyssh, shipwright, offered to 'cleanse' the Ouse at the necessary points and to make it 6 feet deep over the shoals (fn. 78) at low water. The corporation, moved to unwonted enthusiasm, promised him a £10 annuity for life and the freedom of the city, gratis, for himself and his three sons if he could do it. Cornyssh was sent along with a carpenter to find timber for making a 'gabard' (barge), a drag, and other 'instruments'. (fn. 79) This annuity does not appear to have been paid; the equipment envisaged seems unlikely to have clinched the issue.
Shipping had also long been hampered by fishgarths, often large structures of many 'rooms' and belonging to important magnates. In days of compulsory fish-eating and poor facilities for meat-preservation, river-fishing represented a powerful vested interest. The problem of fishgarths occupies a quite inordinate part of the Yorkist and Tudor records. (fn. 80) In 1530 York procured an Act of Parliament ordering the removal of these obstacles and appointing commissioners with power to levy a fine of £40 a month upon their maintainers. (fn. 81) The summer of 1533 saw a campaign against those owned by the archbishop, the Bishop of Durham, and other ecclesiastics, (fn. 82) but the corporation can scarcely have exerted its full powers under the Act, since proceedings against fishgarths were still being conducted in 1580. (fn. 83) In this same year the charter of the Merchant Adventurers adds that the collapse of Ouse Bridge had also left some permanent hazards. (fn. 84)
York's importance as an overseas port had in fact long since become slight. A crucial factor in the situation was the steadily increasing burthen of sea-going ships; even had efficient river-dredging lain within the technological resources of the period, York shipping must inevitably have been out-distanced by that of Hull. When in November 1544 the Earl of Shrewsbury upbraided the city for its failure to set forth ships for national defence, the mayor replied that they had no ships or mariners belonging to the city, but only 'lightners' which carried their merchandise daily between Hull and York; when they made 'adventure' overseas, they freighted ships of Hull, Newcastle, or some other port. (fn. 85) In the following February the corporation actually made a list of Yorkowned ships, and it did not substantially undermine the mayor's assertion since it included only three of 42, 38, and 36 tons respectively, none with any ordnance and one already commandeered to go to Boulogne. (fn. 86)
The city merchants, though so dependent upon the co-operation of the shipowners and civic authorities of Hull and Newcastle, proved slow to achieve a modus vivendi with them. With Hull in particular the struggle was long and sometimes bitter. In 1508 the Yorkers had already complained that they were being prevented from trading freely with other merchants in their lodgings and warehouses in Hull, and that heavy duties were being placed upon their cloth and lead in the port. (fn. 87) In 1532 they urged that the recent grant of 'foreign bought and foreign sold' to Hull would result in the 'bitter undoing' of York, since Hull 'is and evermore was but port town to the said City of York'. (fn. 88) In 1544 the York M.P.s were instructed to ask the Privy Council to get York traders exempted from this claim. (fn. 89) Hull traders were boycotted at York by order of the corporation in 1546, (fn. 90) while ten years later York wrote to enlist the support of the Lord President and the archbishop against Hull, where York merchants were prevented from weighing their lead on the common beam. (fn. 91) The Hull corporation did not invariably display tact. Requesting help to set forth ships for the navy in 1558, they required York 'to be forward in this our service . . . forsomuch as you are one of the chief members belonging unto the same port of Hull'. York understandably replied, 'that is not true, nor ever was so used nor taken . . . for it is a city of itself and no member'. (fn. 92) A few weeks later York sent a 'gentle letter' to Hull asking why the latter had wrongfully vexed its merchants by charging a toll on their grain coming into Hull by water. Hull blandly replied that its officer had charged only the duties that had been customary. (fn. 93) In 1572 York sought legal loopholes to avoid paying groundage and jettage at the port (fn. 94) and in 1577 the corporation and the Merchant Adventurers drafted a secret agreement governing their further policy against the 'sundry injuries and wrongs' attempted against them by Hull. (fn. 95) According to the Hull account, (fn. 96) York had been angered by Hull's purchase of the right of 'foreign bought and foreign sold' from the Crown; it hence deliberately sought to provoke strife between the municipality and the traders of Hull by prohibiting York merchants from freighting any ships belonging to a Hull burgess, by preventing York citizens from buying goods in Hull and by restraining York barge-men from carrying anyone's goods out of Hull. The latter had then boycotted the handling of all York merchandise. This deadlock achieved, Lord President Huntingdon mediated between the parties and secured the assent of both to a 'composition' of sixteen articles on 28 June 1578. Broadly speaking, this lengthy document restored free navigation and trading; York merchants were to be given all reasonable facilities in Hull, but to pay their legal duties and refrain from interference with Hull's right of 'foreign bought and foreign sold'. In addition, doubts and differences must now be referred to the Lord President or to some other arbitrator agreed upon by both sides. (fn. 97) This agreement did not, of course, end all contentions. Ten years later, for example, York was protesting against the activities of two agents who, armed with a commission from the mayor and aldermen of Hull, came to press local barge-men for naval service. (fn. 98) At the same time, Huntingdon had administered an important lesson and steered the two rancorous corporations away from sterile economic sanctions into the paths of arbitration, which on various later occasions of deadlock they did not fail to pursue. (fn. 99)
Faced by the apparent contrast between 'backward-looking' York and 'progressive' Hull, (fn. 100) one should avoid the temptation to minimize the wealth and mercantile enterprise of the former. For the fleet to oppose the Armada Hull received the order to provide various ships manned and victualled for two months. The Privy Council afterwards instructed the Lord President to urge York and other towns using Hull to contribute. York resisted longer than the rest, but the Privy Council, having heard the parties, ultimately decided that, since York's trade was at least thrice that of Hull and since its wealth and population were greater, it should pay £600 out of a total sum of £ 1,015. (fn. 101) Whatever the decline of its looms and its ocean-going ships, Tudor York remained a trading centre of considerable importance. It may prove hard to gauge from the surviving correspondence and from the port books the volume of goods actually handled or controlled by the York Merchant Adventurers, yet it is clear that they were still taking their share in the great world of North Sea and Baltic commerce, and that many of them remained substantial men. Moreover, they were well entrenched on the city council and resolutely used every municipal mechanism to further their business interests. During the period 1509-1603 the number of mayors who were merchants exceeded that of all other vocations combined. (fn. 102) In 1579 no fewer than six of the twelve aldermen were trading with the Baltic. (fn. 103)
The conflict with Hull differed only in degree and duration from many other episodes in a multilateral struggle against a whole array of both English and foreign interests. Toll-disputes occur with the Duchy of Lancaster in 1524, (fn. 104) with Richmond in 1528, (fn. 105) with Leeds in 1541, (fn. 106) with King's Lynn in 1542, (fn. 107) with Bradford in 1579, (fn. 108) and with Grimsby in 1587. (fn. 109) In 1519 and 1534 York lost two Star Chamber cases against London merchants, who were maintaining their right to deal in Yorkshire lead in York. (fn. 110) In March 1521 Alderman Norman was sent up to London to defend the York Merchant Adventurers against the Hanseatic merchants in a dispute before the King's Council. (fn. 111) In this last struggle the London Merchant Adventurers co-operated with those of York, (fn. 112) but rivalries from time to time betrayed themselves. As early as 1509 the merchants of Norwich were attempting to enlist the support of the York merchants against the Londoners, who schemed to exclude the provincials from their marts in the Netherlands. (fn. 113) Two years later the London merchants remonstrated with those of York for flooding the Netherlands marts with their goods, especially their lead, by shipping it earlier than the dates previously agreed. (fn. 114) A similar problem arose in 1560, when the Lord Treasurer forbade the mayors of York and Hull to ship lead or cloth in advance of their rivals. (fn. 115) In 1571 the Hamburg deputy of the London Adventurers complained of irregular trading between Hull and York on the one hand and Emden on the other. From the latter had come soap and hops to the Yorkshire ports, which in turn had shipped corn and cloth to Germany. (fn. 116) In this case the carriers against whom the complaint was made were Merchant Adventurers of England and not necessarily members of the York fraternity. Links nevertheless existed between the two companies. By the Elizabethan charter, the governor of the York Adventurers was compelled to be a member of the London Adventurers and a small number of his most important colleagues appear also to have enjoyed this dual membership. (fn. 117)
The merchants of Tudor York traded not merely with the Netherlands and with north Germany; they remained active, as in previous centuries, in the Baltic. When the Eastland Merchants were incorporated in 1579, they wrote to the mayor and aldermen of York, pointing out that merchants who for the past ten years had been trading with the Baltic were entitled to apply for membership. (fn. 118) The contemporary list shows that in 1579 at least 66 York merchants were traders through the Sound. (fn. 119) The important role of York in the subsequent development of the Eastland Company is well known. (fn. 120)
The fortunes of the York merchants depended very closely upon the control they exercised over their river transport, especially that along the Ouse and Humber to and from Hull. There has in fact survived an elaborate seven-year indenture made in 1555 between the Adventurers and twelve York owners of keels, boats, and lighters. It forbids these owners to accept cargoes from any save members of the company, and closely regulates their charges and conduct. Not the least interesting aspect of this document (fn. 121) is its list of commodities, which affords a vivid impression of the wide variety of goods handled by the Adventurers. It mentions iron, (fn. 122) flax, ashes, tar, pitch, red herrings, stockfish, coal, clapboard, wainscots, salt, 'other grayne', eels (by the vat), and packs of cloth. (fn. 123)
It has been customary to think too much about cloth in connexion with the York trade of this period. In 1511 the Adventurers wrote categorically that 'lead is our most principal commodity', (fn. 124) while the corporation itself mentioned in 1520 the enormous rise of lead prices and stated unequivocally that lead was the greatest commodity they had for the support of the 'poor city'. (fn. 125) Innumerable subsequent references in the civic archives and elsewhere (fn. 126) support this suggestion, and it would be unreasonable to assume that the dissolution of the monasteries exerted more than minor effects upon an already booming trade. When in 1552 the government rightly restrained the export of this vital commodity, the merchants of York and Hull had six ships ready to sail to Antwerp, three to Bordeaux, and one to Danzig. Altogether they carried 401 fothers of lead, valued at the then enormous sum of £3,809 10s. (fn. 127) This may have been an exceptional shipment calculated to beat the threatened embargo, yet it remains significant that such a large quantity could be assembled at one time. Relaxations were thereafter sparingly granted. The city was allowed in November 1556, for example, to export 200 fothers, provided the lead were 'of the growth' of Yorkshire and Hallamshire. (fn. 128) In 1559 a similar licence was obtained, only to be revoked by the Lord Treasurer in April 1560, 'because there is so little lead within the realm'. (fn. 129) Inside nearly two years, 21 January 1561 to 8 December 1562, only 204 fothers were shipped and, though references to the trade continue, its place in the structure of York commerce had greatly diminished.
Future researches might profitably pay more attention to York's role in internal commerce, since it clearly attracted even the wealthier merchants. In 1535 Sir George Lawson reported to Cromwell that Aldermen John North, William Holme, and John Lewes (all mayors in their time) had regrated a large quantity of corn in Lincolnshire and Holderness, enhancing the price at York. All three had assessed themselves at under £20 in goods for the subsidy, but Holme alone had bought corn to the value of £100. (fn. 130) Again in 1540 the numerous malt-kilns in York were supplied by barley bought by York merchants above the market price in Lincolnshire and transported to York by water. (fn. 131)
That the pauper problem occupies so much of the Tudor House Books may only in part be ascribed to the foregoing processes of economic decline. It is linked with the national and international causes of pauperism; it certainly involves not merely the indigenous unemployed, (fn. 132) but the immigration of vagrants, attracted to York as to other large towns by the prospect of alms and easy money.
The disappearance of the York religious houses cannot have greatly increased the number of paupers in the city. The number of persons employed as serving-men, gardeners, and the like by the monks of York can scarcely have exceeded a few scores and even they were not necessarily thrown into prolonged unemployment. St. Mary's apart, the York religious houses were small and poor; (fn. 133) even collectively they cannot have been large employers and spenders. Of the 17 hospitals and almshouses in medieval York (fn. 134) 11 had become extinct or converted to other uses before the Reformation, nearly all of them before 1500. Of the other six, St. Thomas's, St. Anthony's, and St. Catherine's were not dissolved, and are found vigorously functioning under the auspices of the corporation in the Elizabethan period. St. Mary's, Bootham, was converted to the uses of the re-founded cathedral school of St. Peter, (fn. 135) but at that date, 1557, two former masters and several chaplains could not remember the time when it had succoured any poor. (fn. 136) Little more may be attributed to the hospital of St. Nicholas, which had only six inmates at its demise. These, who, incidentally, had paid the Master (the prior of Holy Trinity) for their maintenance, received small pensions at the Dissolution. (fn. 137) St. Leonard's, although greatly fallen below its original numbers, was yet still far from negligible. In 1539 a dozen brethren and four sisters were adequately pensioned off. The number of 'cremets', aged and infirm persons, had sunk to about 44, and these received annual pensions of 26s. 8d., small enough, but corresponding exactly with the sum formerly paid them by St. Leonard's. (fn. 138) Altogether the grouping of this house with the monasteries reflects badly upon the humanity and common sense of Crown policy; it happened also before the city had formulated the enlightened procedure which later preserved the remaining effective hospitals. For all we know, the Dissolution period may indeed have imposed some degree of hardship on a number of individuals. Nevertheless, there is no evidence of the 500 paupers allegedly removed from the hospitals and thrown penniless upon the streets of York. (fn. 139)
York's attempts to solve the problems of pauperism precede the Elizabethan poor law by almost 50 years. As early as 1515 the corporation enjoined the wardens of the four wards to differentiate between the sturdy and the true beggar. The latter must be given a badge or token, worn 'upon his shoulder of his overmost garment'. (fn. 140) In 1518 it is reiterated that no one was to beg. (fn. 141) Already the problem was regarded as urgent and the remedies enforced. Parish constables were in 1528 ordered to list the beggars, distribute tokens to the legitimate, and command the rest to leave the city forthwith. (fn. 142) By 1530 master beggars had been appointed in each ward to report the advent of strange mendicants and see that they left within 24 hours on pain of scourging. (fn. 143) During the plague of 1538 the constables again compiled lists of the beggars within their several parishes, kept them in their houses, and forbade them to beg in the minster yard or elsewhere. This done, the master beggars and others assigned by the wardens went around their wards collecting money from 'well disposed people' and then distributed it to the beggars parish by parish. (fn. 144) The impending royal visit of 1541 occasioned a variety of regulations. The wardens must prevent street-begging during the visit, but ensure an adequate supply of money and victuals for the poor. The impotent poor might beg on Sundays and Fridays in the presence of the master beggars, (fn. 145) while the dignity of the latter was enhanced by the provision of gowns adorned by the city's badge and their authority reinforced by plentiful birch rods. (fn. 146) In 1543 new arrangements appear for expelling unqualified beggars, while those authorized were permitted to beg only through a committee of four in each ward. (fn. 147) Yet further steps against sturdy beggars followed in 1545, (fn. 148) while in the next year the wardens met and codified most of the foregoing regulations. (fn. 149) The next important advance sprang from the harsh experience of the plague in 1550 and 1551. On 16 February 1550 the corporation imposed a weekly poor-rate upon each parish, ranging from 10s. for St. Michael-le-Belfrey to 4d. for All Saints', Peaseholme. Though called a benevolence, it was collected in each parish by the constables and churchwardens, who received power to distrain. They transferred the money to their wardens every Sunday, and each week the constables, assisted by the master beggars, distributed sums agreed by the ward to recognized paupers. (fn. 150)
Thus inaugurated long before the institution of a national poor rate, these weekly contributions continued in normal times, though the ward totals and the city totals fluctuated over the years. (fn. 151) In February 1561 the constables and churchwardens were instructed 'gently to move' the contributors to extra contributions, but if these proved insufficient, to re-assess everyone compulsorily. (fn. 152) In May, obstinate refusers were threatened with imprisonment. (fn. 153) When the system was nationally adopted in 1572, collectors of the poor rate became, in York as elsewhere, a permanent addition to officialdom. In 1577 the parish of All Saints, Pavement, had in theory two collectors, but suddenly discovered that one was overseas and the other in prison. (fn. 154) In later Elizabethan civic records poor-rate collectors and defaulters both become familiar figures. (fn. 155) During the sixties and seventies may be witnessed the development of a system of special contributions to supplement the poor rates. The aldermen, the 'twenty-four', the chamberlains, and the bridge-masters were in 1566 given scales of weekly contributions (fn. 156) and in 1569 other substantial parishioners were added to the list. (fn. 157) In March 1567 the Lord President and Council in the North sent £6 14s. and promised to give no less quarterly. (fn. 158) Ten years later the Lord President was subscribing £13 6s. 8d. annually, the Archbishop £20, the Dean £8, and various other notables smaller sums. (fn. 159) Even this did not always suffice and the corporation, which had prohibited begging in September 1568, (fn. 160) nevertheless gave badges to 88 beggars in June 1569. (fn. 161)
Despite all discouragements, vagrants continued to infiltrate. In April 1574 unemployed labourers who had come into York within the last three years were expelled, having first been given passports to see them to the places where they could claim legal residence. (fn. 162) In 1577 several others followed. (fn. 163) In accordance with the Act of 1576, St. George's House was immediately established as a house of correction; ten years later part of St. Anthony's Hall was partitioned off as another. (fn. 164) Again several years in advance of national legislation, York inaugurated in 1567 a cloth-making enterprise for the poor at St. Anthony's Hall and subsequently also at St. George's. By 1570 the scheme achieved moderate success: considerable sums resulted from the sale of the city's cloth, while £40 was expended in Lincolnshire on new wool. (fn. 165) By 1574 unskilled poor are also found at work on hemp, linen, and tow, while porterage work was found for labourers. (fn. 166) In 1590 the corporation took a house in St. Saviourgate for use as a knitting school. (fn. 167)
The seventies show a transition-stage from the medieval hospital to the modern workhouse. The lord mayor and wardens, having surveyed the possibilities of St. Thomas's, St. Anthony's, and Trinity Hospitals together with 'St. John's Hall' (probably St. George's House) in February 1574, (fn. 168) began in the subsequent May a systematic scheme for settling some paupers in the three hospitals, while also using them as centres for the distribution of doles to a few others living at home. (fn. 169) The recipients of both charities were mainly aged, impotent, or widows, some of the latter with children. In 1587 it was stipulated that no poor should be admitted to the hospitals without the assent of the mayor and the wardens. (fn. 170) By this stage the creative and original role of York in the evolution of a poor law had passed, though codes suggesting various improvements might still be drawn up. (fn. 171)
Small sums of capital for deserving artisans arose from benefactions, the greatest of which was that of £104 by Thomas White, merchant tailor of London. (fn. 172) Forestalling and regrating were checked under orders from the Privy Council itself. (fn. 173) Sometimes, as in 1555, the city purchased corn and coal for distribution to the poor. (fn. 174) When in 1587 corn was scarce, the aldermen attended the market in relays to see that the poor were served before other citizens and strangers. (fn. 175) Needy visitors to the city were not left to the mercy of rapacious innkeepers: an order of 1561 compelled the latter to charge poor strangers a maximum of 4d. a meal and to provide bread, drink, herring, or salt fish, and some kind of pottage. (fn. 176) If Elizabethan commentators may be credited, sturdy beggars were a social and personal menace which left no room for sentiment. On the other hand, even York could be sentimental when a foreigner appeared with a romantic story of ill fortune. (fn. 177)