The Overseas Trade of London: Exchequer Customs Accounts, 1480-1. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1990.
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London Customs Records: 1461–1509
The documents which are calendared in this volume consist of a controller's account of petty custom recording particulars of general imports and exports (other than wine, wool and hides) by alien merchants, and of cloth exports by alien and denizen merchants, in the port of London (fn. 1) from Michaelmas 1480 to Michaelmas 1481; together with certain less detailed accounts for wool, wine and other commodities, which supplement the incomplete record of the trade of the port contained in the petty custom account. Particular Accounts (such as the 1480–81 Petty Custom account) were kept by royal officials in each customs port, who recorded in them each ship entering or leaving the port with customable goods, (fn. 2) frequently with its name and home-port, the name of the master, the date of arrival or departure, (fn. 3) the merchant in whose name goods were shipped (usually with the designation denizen, alien or Hanse), each item of customable cargo (with a valuation if it was subject to an ad valorem duty) and, in the case of collectors' accounts only, the amount of duty payable. The Particular Accounts were brought to the Upper Exchequer at the end of each financial year (or of a particular official's period of office) to be audited and entered, in summary form, on the Enrolled Customs Accounts.
The Enrolled Accounts (which were intended to be a permanent record) detail for each customs port the total quantities imported or exported annually of wool, cloth, wine, hides and wax, on which specific duties were paid, and the total value of miscellaneous goods on which ad valorem duties were paid, together with the amount of custom due in each case. Details of individual merchants and their goods only appear on the Enrolled Accounts in cases where the merchants enjoyed partial or complete exemption from the payment of particular duties. Economic historians have for long appreciated the value of the Enrolled Accounts of customs (which survive almost complete from 1279 to 1547) for the study of trends in English overseas trade in the later Middle Ages. (fn. 4) A large proportion of the annual totals of trade contained in the Enrolled Accounts has now been published. (fn. 5)
A considerable number of Particular Accounts, brought to the Exchequer for auditing (but of little official use thereafter), have survived for each port, although these are only a small proportion of the total originally compiled. (fn. 6) More than fifty years ago, N. S. B. Gras described the various types of Particular Accounts and printed examples of them in his study of the medieval English customs system. Since that time, however, few of the medieval Particular Accounts (and none of the longer London accounts) have been published. (fn. 7)
The customs duties which were levied in the fifteenth century comprised, firstly, the customs and subsidies on wool, woolfells and hides which combined (from 1353) the Ancient Custom, New Custom and Subsidies on these commodities. The Ancient Custom had been imposed in 1275, at specific rates, on all wool, woolfells and hides exported by denizen and alien merchants. This permanent duty was levied without interruption for the next three centuries. (fn. 8) The New Custom on alien exports of wool and hides was levied at specific rates from 1303 onwards. The Subsidies on denizen and alien exports of wool were levied at irregular intervals and varying specific rates from the late thirteenth century and from 1340 onwards they were granted to the sovereign by parliament. (fn. 9) The rates of the wool subsidies continued to fluctuate until they were finally fixed in 1471. (fn. 10) Secondly, there was the New (or Petty) Custom imposed in 1303 on all goods imported or exported by alien merchants, with specific duties on wool, hides, (fn. 11) cloth, wine, (fn. 12) and wax and an ad valorem duty of 3d in the £1 on all other wares. (fn. 13) An additional cloth custom was imposed in 1347 on denizen and alien merchants (other than the Hanse). Petty custom and cloth custom were levied without interruption, and at unchanged rates, from their original imposition until 1558 and they came to be recorded on the same, petty custom, accounts. (fn. 14) Thirdly, and lastly, there were the subsidies of Tunnage and Poundage. Poundage was a temporary ad valorem duty first imposed in the 1340s on all goods (except wool, hides and wine) exported or imported by denizen and alien (but not Hanse) merchants. (fn. 15) Tunnage was a temporary specific duty imposed from the 1340s on all denizen and alien wine imports. Both tunnage and poundage were granted intermittently by parliament in the fourteenth century and the first grant for life to a sovereign was not made until 1415. (fn. 16)
At first, separate accounts for each type of duty were rendered at the Exchequer by various port officials but in the mid-fourteenth century a process of consolidating the customs and subsidies began. As a result, by the early fifteenth century the customs administration had been simplified and, in most ports, one body of officials (usually two collectors and a controller) rendered one account (with a controlment) for all the duties (except butlerage) collected in that port. (fn. 17) The chief exception, however, to this trend towards consolidation was the port of London where separate accounts continued to be rendered by separate bodies of officials for each of the three main types of customs, presumably because London's trade was so much greater in volume than that of other ports. (fn. 18) Consequently, three series of London Particular Accounts (for wool custom and subsidy; for petty custom and cloth custom; and for tunnage and poundage) are to be found throughout the fifteenth century. Since each type of duty varied in its incidence, both as regards merchants and goods, it would obviously be necessary for all three accounts to have survived for anything approaching a completely detailed picture of London overseas trade in any one year to be obtained. Needless to say, the accidents of survival have seen to it that although some fifty London Particular Accounts (covering periods of from ten days to fourteen months) are extant for 1461–1509, there is not one year in this period for which all three accounts have survived. (fn. 19) A further complication is that separate accounts were rendered for each type of duty by the collectors, the controller and (from 1478) the surveyor, and in a number of cases parallel accounts for one type of custom have survived in a particular year. (fn. 20) Whilst such duplication may be regretted when there are so many gaps in the accounts, collation of the duplicates can provide additional information since it appears that the controllers' and surveyors' accounts were not simply copies of the collectors' accounts. (fn. 21)
The Particular Accounts thus constitute the main source for details of the ships, merchants and cargoes involved in English medieval overseas trade. (fn. 22) They may also, sometimes, as in the case of the surviving London petty custom and tunnage and poundage accounts between 1473 and 1495, substantially modify the picture of London trade which is presented by the Enrolled Accounts for those years. (fn. 23)
The Customs Officials
The normal establishment of officials in the London customs during the later fifteenth century was two collectors and a controller each for wool custom, petty custom, and tunnage and poundage, (from 1478) a surveyor of the other officials and of their accounts, a searcher, a tronager, the deputy of the chief butler and a number of clerks and other servants of these officials. (fn. 24) By 1490 there were some 42 officials in all. (fn. 25) The very frequent changes in the personnel of the London customs between 1461 and 1485 make generalisation for the period difficult but when compared with the personnel between 1485 and 1509 some general differences between the two periods emerge. Some one hundred and ten appointments of London collectors, controllers, surveyors, searchers and tronagers are recorded on the Patent and Fine Rolls between 1461 and 1485. Only about forty such appointments are recorded between 1485 and 1509. (fn. 26) It would appear that frequent changes in personnel were the general rule until the mid-1470s when a trend towards greater stability emerges. (fn. 27) In the earlier part of Edward IV's reign, however, some individuals occupied a succession of offices in the London customs and may thereby have acquired considerable experience in their duties. (fn. 28) Others had had previous experience of customs office in the outports, chiefly Sandwich. (fn. 29) After the political upheavals of Richard III's reign and in the early years of Henry VII, long tenure of office (20 years or more) became a regular feature throughout the London customs system and a number of Henry VII's officials had careers which extended well into Henry VIII's reign. (fn. 30)
The collectors and controllers appointed between 1461 and 1485 included a fairly large proportion of prominent merchants, most of whom rose to high civic office. These appointments were probably in part connected with loans to the Crown. (fn. 31) Important merchants are noticeably lacking amongst those appointed to customs posts between 1485 and 1509 but, instead, there would appear to have been a larger proportion of royal servants appointed in the later period. The increase in the proportion of royal servants, the longer periods of office and greater financial rewards (fn. 32) which are to be found in the London customs administration in the later years of Edward IV and under Henry VII suggest that the customs service was becoming more professional and less a part-time duty and source of additional profit, as it appears to have been in, at least, the early years of Edward IV.
In the reign of Richard II those responsible for the collection of the wool custom both in London and in the outports had been of a different calibre from the collectors of the other customs. During this time seven of the 15 collectors of wool custom became mayor whilst only one of the 12 collectors of petty custom and of the 14 collectors of tunnage and poundage did so. This difference between the collectors of wool custom and the other collectors does not, however, appear to have been maintained in the later fifteenth century. (fn. 33) Due to the pre-eminence of the wool customs and subsidies as a source of revenue the collectors of wool custom in the later fourteenth century handled much larger sums of money than their counterparts in other branches of the customs and, in London, were often responsible for arranging loans to the crown which were secured on the wool customs. (fn. 34)
Wool custom and subsidy were still by far the largest source of customs revenue in the later fifteenth century although their yield had declined considerably, both absolutely and in relation to that of the other customs duties, since the end of the fourteenth century. The potential annual revenue from London wool custom and subsidy (i.e. what was theoretically due on recorded exports before allowing for assignments from the customs and for special exemptions) averaged about £10,000 in the last full ten years of Edward IV's reign (1472–82). Over the same period the potential annual revenue from cloth custom was about £2,600, from poundage £4,000, from tunnage £500 and from petty custom nearly £400. (fn. 35) This did not mean, however, that the collectors of wool custom continued to handle much larger sums of money than did the other collectors. From the early fifteenth century groups of the wealthiest members of the Staplers' Company were making loans to the Crown and in return were allowed to retain a part or the whole of the custom and subsidy on wool shipped from certain ports. More particularly, under the terms of the 'Act of Retainer' of 1466 the Company was to collect all the custom and subsidy on wool shipped from England, with the exception of that going to Italy by the 'Straits of Marrock'. Out of this and other revenues, the Staplers were to recover the money which they had loaned to Edward IV, and to pay the wages of the garrison at Calais and the fees of the collectors and controller of wool custom in the port of London and of certain other officials. (fn. 36) The custom and subsidy on wool shipped to Calais were therefore collected at London or Calais by officers of the Staple (and not by the customs collectors) and the Company rendered account for them at the Exchequer. (fn. 37)
From 1466, the London Particular Accounts of wool custom, apart from recording custom collected on wool shipped through the Straits of Marrock, were chiefly a check on the accounts rendered by the Staplers. Prominent merchants were, under this system, less likely to be attracted to the office of collector of wool customs, but the presence of a number of royal servants amongst the collectors and controllers appointed after 1466 suggests some official concern to oversee the Staplers' activities. Of the nineteen collectors of wool custom appointed between 1461 and 1485, three attained civic office (fn. 38) and one was an important royal servant. (fn. 39) Five collectors of wool custom were appointed between 1485 and 1509, one of whom was a royal servant. (fn. 40) One of the eleven controllers of wool custom appointed during the reign of Edward IV may have been a royal servant. (fn. 41) The controller appointed at the beginning of Richard III's reign was a royal servant as were two of the three controllers who served under Henry VII. (fn. 42)
For tunnage and poundage, the duties whose collectors (after 1466) handled the largest receipts from the customs, twenty-one collectors were appointed between 1461 and 1485, making it the customs office which most frequently changed hands at this period. (fn. 43) Of the twentyone, five attained civic office, (fn. 44) and two, early in Edward IV's reign, were the nominees of magnates. (fn. 45) It is noticeable that four of the London collectors of tunnage and poundage were amongst the largest individual lenders to the Crown in the period 1462 to 1485. (fn. 46) These men may well have undertaken office partly as security for the repayment of their loans out of the customs receipts, and probably received an allowance for interest as well. (fn. 47) One of the seven collectors of tunnage and poundage appointed between 1485 and 1509 became a royal servant. (fn. 48) Of the seven controllers of tunnage and poundage appointed between 1461 and 1485 one attained civic office (fn. 49) and two were royal servants. (fn. 50). Both the controllers of tunnage and poundage in the reign of Henry VII were London mercers. (fn. 51)
For petty custom and cloth custom, the duties with the lowest yield at this time, sixteen collectors were appointed between 1461 and 1485, four of whom attained civic office. (fn. 52) There were ten collectors of petty custom between 1485 and 1509, one of whom was a royal servant. (fn. 53) Of the nine controllers of petty custom between 1461 and 1485, two were royal servants. (fn. 54) Two controllers of petty custom were appointed between 1485 and 1509, one of whom was a royal servant. (fn. 55)
Three surveyors were appointed between 1478 and 1485, one of whom had previously been a sheriff. (fn. 56) The two surveyors appointed under Henry VII were respectively a royal servant and a mercer. (fn. 57)
Seven searchers were appointed for the port of London between 1461 and 1485, the longest serving of whom was a merchant, and another was a royal servant. (fn. 58) Of the three searchers during Henry VII's reign, two held civic office (one of whom was a royal servant). (fn. 59) Two 'controllers of the search' were appointed in 1461 and 1462 (fn. 60) respectively and two 'surveyors of the search', successively, in 1461 (fn. 61) but both offices appear to have died out by the late 1460s. The searchers had one or more deputies at Gravesend and the occupants of the office appear to have been relatively humble in status. (fn. 62)
Apart from royal servants, the large majority of collectors, controllers, surveyors, searchers and tronagers were London merchants. (fn. 65) Each of the officials had a clerk and these, when they can be identified (since they were not appointed by the Crown but by the officials), appear to have been mostly lesser merchants. (fn. 66) References to 'waiters' (fn. 67) in the port of London appear in the late 1470s. In 1478 allowances were made by the collectors and controller of tunnage and poundage for payments to their three clerks and 'to diverse other persons waiting ('vigilant') and searching both by day and by night, by land and by water'. (fn. 68) The number and permanence of the waiters in the London customs system prior to 1490 are uncertain but from that time onwards there is evidence that there was a large and regular establishment of such officials both for tunnage and poundage and petty customs. From 1490 the collectors of tunnage and poundage were regularly allowed a sum for 'rewards' which as later accounts show, included payments to ten waiters. (fn. 69) Similarly, the collectors of petty custom were, from 1491, allowed a sum for 'rewards' which included payments to seven waiters. (fn. 70) The customs establishment in the port of London in the 1490s was closely similar to that to be found in 1552. (fn. 71)
The financial rewards for those serving in the London customs during the fifteenth century are a matter of some uncertainty but there is evidence that the Crown's direct payments to certain of the officials greatly increased in the latter part of the century, even if their opportunities to profit from the customs in other ways were diminishing. The commissions of appointment in Edward IV's reign of controllers, tronagers and deputy butlers state that they were to receive 'the accustomed fees' (amount not specified), but mention of fees is omitted from the collectors' commissions. It would appear, however, that the collectors were receiving fees and/or 'rewards' at this time.
At the beginning of the reign the two collectors of wool custom received a joint 'fee' of £40 per annum and the controller 'wages' of £10. (fn. 72) There was also an allowance of £4 per annum for rent of a house for tronage of wools, with other rooms and a solar to accommodate the collectors and controller and their clerks. (fn. 73) The rent of £4 continued as a regular allowance into the sixteenth century but the fees and wages of the collectors and controller ceased to be recorded on the Enrolled Customs Accounts as, under the terms of the 'Act of Retainer' of 1466, the Staplers' Company was made responsible for paying £100 a year for the fees of the London collectors and controller of wool custom. (fn. 74) A breakdown of this total shows that by 1466 each collector of wool custom was receiving a total of £40 per annum and each controller £20. (fn. 75)
At the beginning of Edward IV's reign the two collectors of petty custom were being allowed a joint fee of twenty-three marks (£15 6s.8d.) per annum, with a further £5 'pro misis et expensis' in collecting cloth custom. (fn. 76) They were also allowed 33s.4d. for the rent of the house used for collecting petty custom. (fn. 77) In some years, at least, of the 1460s the collectors and controllers of petty custom were receving a joint 'reward' of £50 per annum and in 1478 each collector received a 'reward' at an annual rate of some £40 and the controller £20. (fn. 78) By at least 1491 these rewards of £40 and £20 had become regular payments. Each of the three petty custom clerks was receiving £10 a year, whilst the seven waiters received £4 a year each. There was also an allowance of £9 6s.8d. per annum for boat-hire, which was divided between the two collectors. (fn. 79)
No fees for the collectors and controller of tunnage and poundage are recorded on the Enrolled Customs Account. However, as with the petty custom, there is evidence of large 'rewards' allowed to the collectors and controller of tunnage and poundage from at least the 1460s onwards. In 1467 the two collectors and controller received a joint 'reward' of £82, and in 1478 the two collectors £133 6s.8d. between them, and the controller £40. (fn. 80) By 1490 these latter had become regular payments, namely one hundred marks to each collector and £40 to the controller. Each of the three tunnage and poundage clerks was paid £10 a year and the ten waiters £4 each. There was an allowance of £10 for boat-hire and £1 for rent of a customs house for the subsidy. (fn. 81)
The surveyor of London customs, William Weston, was granted in 1480 a fee of 100 marks a year with £10 for his clerk. (fn. 82) The size of this fee (an indication of the importance originally attaching to this office) has been the subject of much comment, (fn. 83) but, as we have seen, two years earlier an equal sum was paid to each of the collectors of tunnage and poundage. Also, it appears that the surveyor's fee was reduced early in the sixteenth century, a sign, probably, of a decline in the status of the office at that time. (fn. 84)
Patents for the appointment of London searchers usually specified that they were to receive not fees but a 'moiety of the forfeitures' of uncustomed goods and prohibited exports which they had seized. (fn. 85) The searchers and their deputies also took certain fees from individual shipmasters and merchants. The London searcher levied a fee of from 20d. to 6s. for making out a bill of discharge for each ship leaving the port, which was delivered to the purser when the searcher was satisfied that all the goods for export had been customed. Each alien passenger on the ship paid 'headmoney' of 4d. to the searcher. (fn. 86) The searcher's deputies at Gravesend also levied charges of from 8d. to 2s.8d. on ships and 4d. on outgoing alien passengers. (fn. 87)
The tronager would appear to have been another official who was remunerated by fees levied on individual merchants and not by a fixed salary. (fn. 88)
The collectors and controllers also levied fees from individual merchants. Thus the collectors of wool custom accounted at the Exchequer for a fee of 2d. per cocket from each merchant exporting wool, hides or woolfells. (fn. 89) It appears that cocket money was paid on the export and import of other goods but this was not accounted for at the Exchequer. (fn. 90) A further source of revenue for the collectors of petty custom and tunnage and poundage was an allowance of £4 for each £100 collected in custom and subsidy on alien cloth, which was given from at least 1509 onwards. (fn. 91)
Although the fees paid to customs officials (particularly from the 1470s onwards) were thus quite considerable, it seems probable that customs posts in the later fifteenth century still also had their attractions from a commercial point of view as they had had in the fourteenth century. Thus it appears that collectors continued to make temporary use of customs money for their own profit. (fn. 92) Customs officials were favourably placed to engage in trade, to gather information concerning their fellow merchants and to pay their custom at their own convenience. (fn. 93) Between 1461 and 1509 several London customs officials, including collectors, controllers, searchers and even clerks, were pardoned for having engaged in trade contrary to the Statute of 1442, or were licensed so to trade in the future, but there was apparently a decline in the number so licensed later in the period. (fn. 94) The importance of the London collectors of tunnage and poundage as lenders in the Crown between 1462 and 1485 has already been noticed but this role vanished with the cessation of short-term loans to the Crown after 1490. (fn. 95) The financial attractions of London collectors' posts are shown by the large sums which certain men were prepared to pay to obtain them in the latter part of Henry VII's reign. (fn. 96)
The Compilation and Audit of the Particular Accounts
In 1428 it had been laid down in an ordinance of the Council that a sealed book should be sent out annually from the Exchequer to the customs collectors of each port, each book containing a specific number of folios of which a record was to be kept in the Exchequer. In this book, and no other, were to be entered the names of merchants entering and leaving the port, the quantity of their merchandise and its value. No erasures were to be made of any details entered, under pain of imprisonment and fine. (fn. 97) Judging from the surviving accounts, it would appear that this ordinance was largely observed in the port of London until the end of Henry VI's reign. Between 1461 and 1509, however, the only surviving London particular accounts in book form are those of the collectors of wool custom. (fn. 98) For this period the surviving accounts of the collectors of petty custom and of tunnage and poundage, as well as of all controllers and surveyors, are in roll form, consisting of long, narrow parchment membranes (some 20 cm. wide by 76 to 90 cm. long) tied at the head in Exchequer style. (fn. 99)
In these accounts each ship's cargo is (usually) consolidated under one heading and one date, although the loading or unloading of a ship might be spread over a period of days or even weeks. (fn. 100) It appears, therefore, that the collector or, more probably, his clerk (fn. 101) accumulated bundles of merchants' bills and cockets and entered them in the accounts from time to time.
The stages in the process of making entries in the particular accounts were, officially, that first, the master of any ship entering or leaving the port paid for the entering in the accounts of his name and the ship's name and homeport. For imports the master or the purser also made a declaration in writing of the goods on board. Then each merchant presented the clerk with a bill of content in which he gave details of the ship or ships in which his cargo had been or was to be carried, the type and number of containers and the amount and nature of the goods. (fn. 102) Wool, cloth and other goods for export were examined and packed by the official packers who were to see that the goods were entered in the custom books. (fn. 103) Then, goods were valued for the ad valorem duties of petty custom and poundage. Parliamentary grants of tunnage and poundage between 1439 and 1510 specified that the goods of denizen merchants were to be valued at the price which the merchant or his factor had paid for their purchase, the amount being certified on oath by the merchant or factor or by letter from a factor overseas. (fn. 104) There is evidence, however, that by the later fifteenth century the valuations of many commodities were becoming fixed for customs purposes. (fn. 105) The merchant then paid the custom which was due, or gave adequate assurance that it would be paid, (fn. 106) and the clerks made out cockets or sealed indentures in two parts, one sent to the searcher and the other retained by the collectors who delivered it up at the Exchequer when accounting. The cocket specified the name of the merchant and the nature, quantity and value of the goods which had been customed.
The collector's clerk, after making his entries, passed the bundles of bills of content and cockets to the controller's clerk who entered the details (with the exception of the amount of custom paid) on to his counter-roll. In like fashion, after 1478, the surveyor's clerk entered the details on his roll. That the controllers' and surveyors' rolls were not straight-forward copies of each other and of the collectors' accounts, but separate copies made from the bills of content, is shown by the fact that, where parallel accounts survive, the order of the entries varies although the details usually agree apart from small variations. (fn. 107)
The searcher checked the ship's cargo against the cockets and, if he found it correct, allowed incoming goods to be landed. For outwardbound ships, the searcher delivered the cockets cancelled and a bill of discharge to the purser, once he was satisfied that all the goods on board had been customed. (fn. 108)
At approximately half-way through the accounting year, often at Easter, a 'view of account' (visus compoti) was held at the Upper Exchequer. The King's Remembrancer ordered the sheriffs to summon the collectors to appear in person at the Upper Exchequer with their rolls of particulars and an estimate was made of how matters stood between the collectors and the Exchequer. The total amount which the collectors ought to have received was recorded and against this was set the total paid into the Exchequer, special assignments paid out of the customs, and the proportion of the collectors' fees and wages paid to that date. The 'view of account' concluded with the sum still owing or the surplus in the collectors' favour. (fn. 109)
Whilst the clerk appears to have discharged many, if not most, of the day-to-day duties of the London customs house in the later fifteenth century, (fn. 110) the collector remained officially responsible for all money collected and answered for it in person at the Exchequer. The procedure at the final audit of a customs account was the same as that for any other 'foreign account'. (fn. 111) First, a definite day was appointed for the audit and the sheriffs were instructed to distrain the collectors and controllers to appear at the Upper Exchequer on that day. It would appear that in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries the collectors, controller and surveyor usually appeared in person and that permission to appear by attorney was granted only in exceptional circumstances. Delivery of the particular accounts (when recorded) was usually said to have been made by the customs officials by their own hands. (fn. 112) Notes on the accounts also indicate that when the account ended at Michaelmas the London customs officials generally delivered the particulars into the Upper Exchequer in the November following. On entry into the court the collectors swore a solemn oath on the Black Book of the Exchequer of Receipt that they would render true accounts of their receipts and expenditure. Then they were assigned to a particular auditor in open court to prevent collusion with an auditor of their own choice. The auditor, 'worse than a demon unless propitiated with great gifts', was supposed to check each account in detail. (fn. 113) It was frequently noted that the collector's account had been checked against the accounts of the controller and surveyor. (fn. 114) When the details had been checked, the totals of the various customs and subsidies received were entered at the foot of the collector's account. (fn. 115) The totals were then declared before one of the Barons who, if satisfied, would signify his approval, which might be recorded on the account. (fn. 116)
Usually the controller's and surveyor's part in the audit finished with the completion of the checking of the account, although the controller might be called on to testify concerning some special item of expenditure. (fn. 117) Proof of expenditure, however, lay almost entirely with the collectors who produced tallies recording payments of cash receipts into the Exchequer of Receipt, royal writs for payments ordered to be made to individuals, and receipts in the form of indentures showing that the payments had been made. The collectors also claimed their allowances for wages and office expenses. When the auditing Baron was satisfied a summary 'account' (compotus) was drawn up comprising the 'head' of the particular account specifying the names of the collectors., the type of custom and the period covered by the account, and the 'foot' of the particulars giving the totals of customs received or due. The details of payments and allowances were then entered on the account and a balance was struck, a clerk writing 'et quietus est' or 'et debet' on the account. (fn. 118) The completed account was inspected by the two Remembrancers. (fn. 119) It was then forwarded to the Clerk and the Controller of the Pipe for enrolment on the Enrolled Customs Accounts. (fn. 120) Here the Clerk made a final check of tallies, writs, receipts and allowances before he entered the account on the Enrolled Customs Account under the eye of the Controller. Debts remaining on the account were entered on the Pipe Rolls as was the quietus of the collectors when the debt was finally discharged. (fn. 121) Payment of 'rewards' to the collectors, controller and surveyor appears usually to have been made at the completion of the audit (fn. 122) until the end of the fifteenth century when such payments became a fixed charge on the collectors' accounts.
The Reliability of the Particular Accounts
The two main factors which affected the reliability of the accounts were, firstly, the extent to which the customs officials discharged their duties conscientiously and honestly and, secondly, how far merchants considered it worthwhile to attempt to evade payment of customs. Both of these partly depended on the degree to which the Crown attempted to enforce the laws relating to the customs. As has been seen, the clerks appear to have discharged most of the day-to-day duties in the London customs system of the later fifteenth century, but the collectors retained the ultimate responsibility for collecting and accounting for the customs. (fn. 123) Prosecutions of London customs officials were not very numerous during the reign of Edward IV and there would appear to have been none for non-residence in their posts. (fn. 124) The most serious charges came in 1481 when the collectors of tunnage and poundage were accused of allowing a Genoese merchant to land 100 bales of woad not assessed for custom. They produced pardons but were dismissed from office. (fn. 125) There is evidence that at the beginning of Edward IV's reign, London customs officials were being bribed or 'entertained' by the mercers. (fn. 126)
Early in Henry VII's reign the controller of wool custom was fined £100 for non-residence and the deputy searcher was twice fined for engaging in trade, but there would appear to have been no subsequent prosecutions for such offences. (fn. 127) During the reign there were some nine prosecutions for deceits and concealments perpetrated by London customs officials. The most serious case was that of the collectors of petty custom, Robert Fitzherbert and Williame Galle, who failed to account for their receipts between 1494 and 1496. (fn. 128) In the latter part of the reign heavy fines were imposed on a number of customs officials for offences allegedly committed in office and these included William Curteis, one of the London collectors of tunnage and poundage, who, in March 1506, paid 500 marks for a pardon and was dismissed from office. (fn. 129) Altogether there were 12 prosecutions of London customs officials out of 125 for the whole kingdom during Henry VII's reign. (fn. 130) Since London was by far the busiest port and the one which could be most easily supervised by the Treasurer of the Chamber and his subordinates, (fn. 131) the evidence does not suggest an unusual degree of negligence or corruption on the part of London customs officials at this time.
The incentives for merchants to seek to evade payment of customs do not appear very great in the late fifteenth century. Poundage on imports and exports represented only five per cent on the (low) customs valuation of denizens' goods and six and a quarter per cent (including petty custom) on aliens' goods. The duty on cloth ranged from approximately two per cent for denizens to six per cent for aliens. Only the duties on wool represented a substantial burden of some 25 per cent for denizens and 33 per cent or more for aliens, but wool was a bulky commodity which was difficult to smuggle undetected. (fn. 132) In addition, the increase in the number of customs officials (particularly waiters) in the port of London at this time made detection more probable and wholesale bribery more expensive. Nevertheless, some merchants, particularly London mercers, appear to have attempted to evade the customs (or to make reduced payments) whenever they could. Some 312 actions for alleged customs evasion in the port of London were brought in the Exchequer Court during the reign of Edward IV. In more than a third of the cases (123) the informers can be identified as customs officials, mostly searchers, their deputies or servants. In 96 cases (all in the last five years of the reign) the information was brought by the King's Attorney and in the remaining cases by private individuals. (fn. 133) Between 1461 and 1470 there were 167 cases but in the year of the readeption of Henry VI and the seven years following (1470–78) there was a marked falling off with only 24 cases in all. A substantial increase occurred in the last five years of the reign (1478–83) with 121 cases of which 104 were concentrated in the period between Trinity 1478 and Easter 1480. It is, perhaps, significant that 1478 was the year of the appointment of the first surveyor of customs in the port of London, although similar officials had been appointed in other ports from 1471. (fn. 134)
In the Trinity Term of 1478, 36 actions were brought by the King's Attorney against merchants of several companies for importing a variety of goods (especially madder, but also linen, flax, furs, hops, nails, kettles, oars and wax) allegedly without payment of poundage. (fn. 135) A year later the King's Attorney laid 14 informations against a prominent mercer, John Marchall, for customs evasion on a great variety of imports to the value of £2,500. All the offences were said to have taken place between 1466 and 1471, which suggests, after such a lapse of time, that an example was being made of Marchall. (fn. 136)
Whilst the actions were in progress against Marchall, the Court of the Mercers' Company in July 1479 complained of harsh treatment from the customs officials but they were advised by one of their Wardens to comply quietly with the customers' demands. (fn. 137) In September the Merchant Adventurers recorded in the minutes of their Court, with an air of injured innocence, that the king had been 'straungely enformed how the Marchauntes of this his citie shulde embesell gretely his subsidie' and that consequently, on his orders, the Mayor had summoned the Wardens of the Adventurers and informed them that the king was determined that the merchants should pay the subsidy (of poundage) according to statute, and that every merchant should render upon oath a true bill of content of his goods. (fn. 138)
Fearing that they might be sued in the Exchequer for arrears of subsidy, the Adventurers sent deputations to treat with the king and the Council but, in December, it was reported that the king was adhering to his demand for £2,000 for the arrears although the envoys had been authorised to offer only 500 marks. (fn. 139) In the same month, nine mercers were charged with customs evasion, all the alleged offences involving small quantities of linen recently imported, apart from one cargo valued at £1,500 dating back to 1473. (fn. 140) At the same time the Merchant Adventurers were lobbying the queen, Lord Hastings, Earl Ryvers and the Marquess of Dorset amongst other notables, to intercede with the king on their behalf. In January 1480 the king informed a deputation that he was prepared at the instance of the queen to reduce the £2,000 fine by 500 marks and the Adventurers appointed a committee to devise ways for raising the money. (fn. 141) The fine was subsequently reduced further to 2,000 marks of which £1,000 was to be paid immediately, the Wardens being under bond to the king for payment of the remaining 500 marks. In return the king agreed to grant a pardon for all offences relating to the subsidy. (fn. 142)
Edward IV, however, continued to harbour suspicions of the Adventurers and in April 1480 it was reported at an assembly that he was greatly moved and displeased 'by straunge informacion' that the Company 'of symple and froward disposicion' would not appoint any ships to go to the Easter Market at Bergen-op-Zoom. The king was said to be threatening to withdraw his acceptance of 2,000 marks and insist on payment of the subsidy arrears in full. A delegation to the king apparently succeeded in satisfying him of the Adventurers' good intentions and at the same time took the opportunity to present complaints about Hanseatic privileges. (fn. 143) Later in the same month charges (in addi tion to those held over from the previous Michaelmas Term) were brought in the Exchequer Court against 28 mercers for offences involving, chiefly, the import of linen (with small quantities of other goods), allegedly without payment of poundage. All the offences were said to have taken place on 27 July 1479. (fn. 144) In May the Court of the Adventurers was informed that the Chancellor was displeased that the merchants had not sought to obtain their pardons and that he was threatening to return the bill which promised pardon to the king and to instruct the Chief Baron to proceed with sentencing the offenders. (fn. 145) All but seven of the mercers charged then produced pardons and in the remaining cases only one judgment (a fine of 8s.) is recorded, the others being adjourned without conclusion. (fn. 146) For the remainder of the reign the number of London customs cases dwindles, the highest recorded being seven in Hilary Term 1481. (fn. 147)
Some 230 actions for alleged customs evasion in the port of London were brought in the Exchequer Court during the reign of Henry VII. These amounted to about a fifth of the actions brought for the country as a whole. (fn. 148) The informers in almost all the cases relating to the port of London were customs officials, particularly the searchers, but there were also private informers operating under crown patronage. (fn. 149) Between 1485 and 1495 there were some 64 cases, but more than double that number (132) in the following decade with a marked falling off after 1505. Most notable were the ten cases prosecuted by the King's Attorney in 1497 against Hanse merchants for importing uncustomed goods (mostly silk) to the value of £1,657. (fn. 150) In most smuggling cases, however, the goods were valued at less than £10.
In addition to the straightforward cases of customs evasion, actions were brought (under specific statutes) alleging the illegal export or import of particular commodities. Most numerous of these in Edward IV's reign were the 40 actions for the export of staple goods (principally pewter and hides) to places other than Calais. (fn. 151) There were seven actions concerning thrums (pieces of waste thread or yarn) exported contrary to statute. (fn. 152) Fourteen actions were brought in Hilary Term 1463 alleging failure by merchants to give customs officials security that they would bring back silver plate in return for exported wool. (fn. 153) There were also five cases concerning the unlicensed export of coin. (fn. 154)
During Henry VII's reign further statutes were introduced prohibiting trade in specific commodities. A statute of 1489 banning the export of wool purchased in certain specified shires led to 19 actions in the port of London. (fn. 155) Three separate statutes banning the import of silk and sarcenet cloths, ribbons and laces led to at least 14 actions for the port of London, the goods involved being valued at from £20 to £300. (fn. 156) The statute of Richard III's parliament banning the import of diverse manufactured articles led to only one action (in 1508) concerning goods imported from Flanders and this was dismissed at the personal wish of the king. (fn. 157) Two 'navigation acts' of 1485 and 1489 which restricted the import of Gascon wines and Toulouse woad to English ships only, led to at least 24 actions in the port of London. (fn. 158) Some 20 actions concerning the port of London resulted from the statute of 1487 which required merchants to obtain certificates for goods customed in one port and then shipped to another English port, for production to the officials at the latter (to prevent smuggling under the guise of coastal trade) and also that goods should be entered in the customs books in the name of the owner (not the shipper or agent). (fn. 159)
Whilst the level of enforcement of general and specific customs laws thus varied considerably throughout the two reigns, it would seem clear that the peak period of customs prosecutions by the crown was between 1478 and 1480 with a considerable degree of enforcement also from 1461 to 1470 and 1495 to 1505. Even at its peak, however, the amount of customs evasion revealed would not appear to have been so great as to invalidate the evidence of Particular Accounts concerning general trends in overseas trade.
The overseas trade of London in the later years of Edward IV
Whilst stricter enforcement of the customs laws from 1478 onwards may have led to some increase in the proportion of trade recorded in the accounts, there are firm grounds for believing that there was a real boom in London's overseas trade in the later 1470s and early 1480s. Political factors undoubtedly played an important part in the boom, especially the Treaty of Utrecht of 1474 which brought to an end six years of conflict with the Hanseatic League during which time only Cologne merchants maintained trading relations with England. (fn. 160) After 1474 the enrolled petty custom figures for miscellaneous alien imports and exports distinguish between the trade of the Hanse and that of all other aliens, presumably because compensation of £10,000 conceded to the Hanse was to be remitted from their customs payments. From a total value of £7,908 in 1475–6, the Hanse miscellaneous trade in the port of London rose rapidly, especially after the re-admission of Cologne merchants to the Hanse and to the Steelyard in 1478, to reach a total value of £22,181 in 1480–1. (fn. 161) At the same time the value of the miscellaneous trade of other aliens which stood at £18,454 in 1475–6 rose to slightly less (£21,563) than the Hanse total in 1480–1. (fn. 162) There was a further small rise in Hanse miscellaneous trade in 1481–2 (£22,534) but then a small decline in the years immediately following with an even steeper decline in general alien trade after 1481. (fn. 163) The figure for denizen and non-Hanseatic alien merchandise valued for poundage also reached a record level (£124,000) in 1480–1, falling a little in the following year. (fn. 164)
The Treaty of Picquigny and its commercial counterpart, agreed in January 1476, which abolished certain dues paid by English merchants, appears to have given some stimulus to the Anglo-Gascon wine trade so that imports of non-sweet wine into London in 1480–1 reached 3,770 tons, the highest total for nearly thirty years (622n.). (fn. 165)
Monetary factors gave a boost to Anglo-Burgundian trade in the 1470s. The Burgundian mints, assisted by debasements of the coinage in 1467 and 1474, were attracting considerable quantities of silver to Antwerp from South Germany. As their main return cargo, the German merchants eagerly sought for the cloth which English merchants brought to the Brabant fairs since they were excluded from the Hanseatic territories and from Flanders. (fn. 166) London's annual broadcloth exports (thus heavily concentrated on Brabant) exceeded 40,000 for the first time in 1480–1. Out of a total of 40,074 cloths, 22,384 were exported by denizens, 14,079 by Hanseatic merchants and 3,611 by other aliens. London's share of total cloth exports appears to have been some 60 per cent in the years 1478–81, falling to about 55 per cent in the three following years. (fn. 167) The wool trade which had suffered from continual bans on credit sales and from bullionist regulations, until the late 1470s, revived a little when normal credit transactions were again allowed and London's exports reached 7,216 sacks (all denizens' wool) in 1480–1 (598–604). (fn. 168)
Woollen cloth was by far the most important commodity exported from London in the 1480s with raw wool occupying very much a secondary position, whilst other exports were in decline or of relatively small significance. (fn. 169) Thus, a London petty custom account of 1420–1 records exports of a great variety of manufactured articles: of metal such as daggers, knives, buckles, basins, plates, brass pots and pans, chafingdishes, fonts, holy water stoups, razors and shears, and of leather such as bags, purses, gloves, girdles, points and buckets, with comparatively few imports of such articles. (fn. 170) By 1480–1 the situation was almost completely reversed. Apart from cloth, the only manufactured items exported in significant quantities were pewter pots and other pewter vessels (243 passim) with some items of brass such as candlesticks (527) and kettles (446, 475, 487), whilst there were substantial imports of small manufactures. The most important raw materials exported, apart from wool, were tin and lead, the trade in which was mostly recorded in the name of Edward IV's licensee, Alan de Monteferrato (622n.). (fn. 171) The remaining exports were chiefly agricultural products such as butter, cheese, bacon, salt meat, grain (mainly wheat), tallow, candles, calfskins and rabbit skins.
In return, in the 1480s alien merchants imported into London vital raw materials such as iron, osmund, steel, copper, tar, resin, wax, hemp, flax and dyestuffs. Also imported were small quantities of calamine (30, 82), the zinc ore found in the valley of the Meuse, which was used in the making of brass. Imports of tin-glass or bismuth (178, 183) suggest that it was used a century earlier in pewter manufacture than had formerly been thought. (fn. 172)
The most conspicuous imported manufactured commodity in the 1480–1 account is linen of various origins and qualities including, from the Low Countries, Flemish, Ghentish, Hainault, Brabant, Holland and Zeeland linen and, from Germany, Osnabruck and Herford in Westphalia, Brunswick, Hanover and soultwich linen. It would appear that at least 420,000 ells (about half a million yards) of linen, together with other articles of linen such as sheets, table-cloths, napkins and towels, were imported by alien merchants in 1480–1. (fn. 173) There must also have been large imports of linen by denizen merchants in the same year. (fn. 174) Cologne, and other, linen thread was imported in considerable quantities. Fustian, the cloth from South Germany and Italy made of a mixture of cotton and flax, appears frequently in the 1480–1 account in the names of Hanseatic merchants, as does Cologne silk.
Battery, beaten plate made from a mixture of copper and lead or tin, and articles made from it such as basins, pots, kettles, candlesticks and frying pans, formed a substantial import via the Brabant fairs from the centres of its production at Dinant, Namur, Liège and Cologne. (fn. 175) Another conspicuous type of metal-ware imported was armour of all descriptions, from complete suits ('complete harness', 82, 89, 121, 129, 139) and horse armour (93, 114, 121) to separate pieces: habergeons (24, 58 passim), brigandines (15, 93 passim), sallets (93, 94 passim), bevors (114, 139), breastplates (58, 114, 187), corslets (94, 114), vambraces (85, 89, 93, 139), leg-harness (85, 89 passim) amongst others. References to imports of guns, gunstones and gunpowder (150, 173, 176, 181) illustrate the growth of newer forms of armaments.
The import of cloth-making tools such as distaffs (23, 178–9), woolcards and combs (4, 20 passim), spindles and spindle-whorls (23, 93, 183), shuttles (17, 20 passim), teazles (1, 20 passim) and cloth-shears (45, 178 passim) emphasises the vigour of the English cloth industry at this time and its decline in Flanders.
The 1480–1 account records a brisk trade in books, more than 900 being imported by alien merchants, unfortunately with a no more precise description than 'diverse histories', apart from five which are specifically called 'printed' (144). Nearly 400 of these were in the name of Peter Actoris, a native of Savoy, afterwards Stationer to Henry VII (1, 23 passim). For readers, alien merchants imported some 30 gross of spectacles and 26½ gross of spectacle cases (17, 26, 30 passim) which were probably the products of the, by then, well-developed spectacle industry in the Low Countries. (fn. 176)
The influx of large quantities of small manufactured wares from overseas was causing concern by the early years of Edward IV. An Act was passed in 1464 allegedly to satisfy the 'piteous complaints' of the artificers and handicraftmen and women of London and other towns con cerning the 'grete multitude of dyvers chafferes and wares, perteyning to their Craftes and occupations, beyng full wrought and redy made to the sale' which were being imported by denizens and aliens with the result that 'aswell housholders as journey men, Servauntes and Apprentizes in grete nombre, at this day be unoccupied, and lyve in grete ydelnes, poverte and ruyne'. For which reasons it was ordained that from the following Michaelmas no denizen or alien merchant should import, on pain of forfeiture, a wide range of manufactures including woollen bonnets, laces, ribbons, saddles, stirrups, spurs, locks, hammers, pincers, dice, tennis balls, points, purses, gloves, girdles, shoes, knives, daggers, shears for tailors, playing-cards, pins, rings, chafingdishes, sacring-bells, hats, brushes and wool-cards. (fn. 177)
A similar Act was passed in 1484, this time (it was said) at the petition of various crafts such as the girdlers, pointmakers, pinners, pursers, glovers, cutlers, goldbeaters, painters, saddlers, cardmakers and coppersmiths. The prohibited goods enumerated in this Act are much the same as in 1464, with the addition of such luxuries as painted glasses, painted images, beaten gold and silver 'wrought in papers for Payntours' and holy-water stoups. This time, at least, such frivolous items as dice, playing-cards and tennis balls escaped condemnation. (fn. 178) There is little evidence that the Crown was concerned to enforce the ban on these imported manufactures despite the damage they may have inflicted on English crafts. More serious attempts were made, however, during Henry VII's reign, to enforce the Acts banning imports of silk cloths, ribbons and laces. (fn. 179)
The Acts of 1464 and 1484 have been described as dealing with 'trivial matters', (fn. 180) but the petty custom account of 1480–1 and earlier accounts show that these Acts did not exaggerate the enormous variety of miscellaneous manufactures which were being imported. Native craftsmen appear to have had good reason to fear the scale of these imports: for example, in 1480–1, 28,600 leather, latten, wire, thread and silk girdles were imported into London by aliens, and more than 46,000 knives and daggers of various sorts (folding, pen, standing, pot, ivory, painted and paring knives). This supports the view that the profits of the expanding cloth trade were giving people in general more spending power and that the area where demand was growing most rapidly was that for cheaper goods for the mass market. What English industry could not supply (if the gilds did not allow the production of lower quality goods) was made up by low-grade foreign imports. (fn. 181) Whereas Dr. Thirsk's mid-sixteenth century yeomen, peasants, labourers and servants with cash to spend wanted 'a brass pot for the kitchen shelf, a colourful pair of striped stockings or a knitted Monmouth cap', (fn. 182) their late fifteenth counterparts sought imported straw hats or St. Omer hats (1, 24 passim), Nuremburg mirrors (23, 37 passim), imitation pearls (93) and chalcedony (27, 28 passim) and mistletoe beads (26, 27 passim).
Evidence for the routes taken by London overseas trade in the 1480s is largely indirect. Unfortunately, unlike many of the Bristol accounts, the London Particular Accounts do not specify the destination or provenance of ships in the port and one has therefore to rely on the evidence of the nature of the cargoes, the nationality of merchants (where this is given or can be deduced) and the home ports of the ships. Even this latter detail is frequently omitted from the accounts but the 1480–1 account specifies home ports more frequently than any other surviving London account of the period.
Of 224 ships (including three found only in the Butler's Account) recorded as entering the port of London in 1480–1, 82 were English, 28 of Brabant and 39 of Zeeland, 11 Dutch, 7 Flemish, 17 Hanseatic, 20 French, 7 Portuguese, 5 Spanish, 1 Venetian galley and 7 unidentified. This very much underestimates the number of Spanish ships since, as mentioned previously, Castilian merchants did not pay petty custom. (fn. 183) Ships importing wine and other goods belonging to denizen merchants only also are not recorded. (fn. 184)
Of 215 outgoing ships recorded in 1480–1, 74 were English, 17 of Brabant and 24 of Zeeland, 6 Dutch, 4 Flemish, 15 Hanseatic, 14 French, 8 Portuguese, 21 Spanish (in this case fully recorded because Castilian merchants paid cloth custom), 1 Venetian galley and 31 unidentified. (fn. 185) The fact that fewer outgoing ships are recorded than incoming is partly due to the omission from the Petty Custom account of the wool fleets which sailed in December 1480 and July and September 1481 with over 7,000 sacks of wool (598–604). (fn. 186) About 60 per cent of the English ships belonged to London, the remainder coming largely from the east coast (Boston, Lynn and Yarmouth) and the south and west (Weymouth, Fowey, Saltash and Dartmouth). The Brabant ships belonged to Antwerp and Bergen-op-Zoom and the Zeeland ships to Arnemuiden, Middelburg, Flushing and Reimerswaal. The proportion of Antwerp and Bergen ships appears to have increased since the midfifteenth century over those from ports nearer the mouth of the Scheldt. (fn. 187) English, Spanish and Portuguese ships bulk larger in the 1480–1 account than previously with fewer Dutch and Flemish ships. The Dutch ships belonged to Dordrecht, Holland, Leiden, Purmerend, Gouda and Leek, and the Flemish to Ostend and Sluis. The French ships were all from northern French ports: Calais, Dieppe, Guérand, Le Conquet, Harfleur, Caen, Rouen and Réville.
There can be no doubt from the evidence of the 1480–1 account and elsewhere that, by this time, trade was heavily concentrated on the London-Brabant (especially Antwerp) axis. The author of the 'Libelle of Englyshe Polycye' had boasted in the 1430s that English merchants bought more at the Brabant fairs than all other nations, exchanging their cloth for mercery, haberdashery and grocery. (fn. 188) Since that time, exclusion from other markets increasingly drew English merchants to Brabant. (fn. 189) In addition, by the middle of the fifteenth century, tidal surges had opened up the southerly channel of the Honte (western Scheldt) as far as Antwerp and the eastern Scheldt to Bergen-op-Zoom so that direct access to both ports became possible for larger ships. Bulk cargoes continued, however, frequently to be transhipped into barges at Arnemuiden (the 'quay' of Antwerp) as well as Middelburg which was also regarded as Antwerp's outport. (fn. 190) A branch from the great medieval road between Cologne and Bruges ran north-west to Antwerp, and this was the route taken by the Cologne merchants and the South Germans bringing their silver and copper from Central Europe and purchasing English cloth. (fn. 191) By the 1480s English cloth imports into the Brabant Fairs were being compared to an 'immense flood tide'. (fn. 192)
The four great Brabant Fairs were the Pask or Easter Mart of Bergenop-Zoom which opened on Maundy Thursday and was followed immediately by the Sinxten or Whitsun Mart at Antwerp, and the Bamis Mart at Antwerp (starting in late August) which was followed with scarcely a break by the Cold Mart at Bergen (starting in late October). In the fifteenth century each fair lasted at least six weeks and the four fairs covered (with overlap) a minimum of 22 weeks in the year. (fn. 193) Since the fairs occurred in two almost continuous periods and the two towns were only 30 miles apart, it is difficult to say precisely whether any ship or group of ships in the port of London was setting out to, or returning from, Antwerp as distinct from Bergen. However, some 20 English, Brabant, Zeeland and Dutch ships which left London between 16 November and 9 December (277–318 passim) with cloth, rabbit-skins, salt meat, tallow, candles, pewter and beer were probably bound for the Cold Mart. (fn. 194) Twenty ships which left between 9 and 30 April (442–83 passim) were probably bound for the Easter Mart (fn. 195) and 14 between 4 and 30 June for the Whitsun Mart (498–520 passim) but the largest concentration of outgoing shipping occurred between late July and late September (541–96 passim) when some 50 ships with the heaviest shipments of cloth by denizen merchants (as many as 70 consignments on one ship) left, probably for the Bamis Mart, thus emphasising Antwerp's greater importance than Bergen. The Hanse merchants in London had their own ship, the Mary of the Steelyard, which made six round trips (probably to Brabant) in the course of the year, exporting cloth and agricultural products and returning with a variety of miscellaneous goods in the names of Hanse and other alien merchants (1, 40, 88, 114, 150, 177, 243, 317, 398, 471, 503). Eight English and Brabant ships made three (in some cases four) round trips during the year. (fn. 196)
Of the incoming ships, 20 English, Brabant, Dutch and French vessels are recorded on 13 November 1480 with a great variety of Hanse and alien merchants' goods, coming probably from the Cold Mart (20–39). A special fleet of five ships from the Dutch port of Purmerend came in on 27 December with cargoes of fresh eels (49–53). Seventeen ships arrived on 7 March, seemingly between markets (82–98), 20 between 1 and 14 June probably from the Easter Mart (136–55) and 31 of all nationalities on 21 July with Hanseatic and miscellaneous wares, probably from the Whitsun Mart (167–96).
Apart from the 'Mary of the Steelyard', it seems probable that most of the cargoes of the Hanseatic ships (whose homeports were Hamburg and Danzig) were traded directly between the Baltic and England, and not through the fairs, since (apart from some miscellaneous wares picked up on the way) these ships brought in the Baltic goods (timber, pitch, tar, ashes, wax, furs, stockfish, osmund and flax) in the names of Hanse merchants only (10, 13, 32, 125–6, 168–70, 197, 199) and exported cloth, pewter and candles, again in Hanse names (290, 293, 425, 440, 502, 566–7, 574, 576). Dr. Veale has pointed out an interesting reversal in the Anglo-Hanseatic fur trade at this time in that a small group of Hanse merchants exported 138,000 rabbitskins in 1480–1, a trade which continued to increase until the end of the century, whilst the import of Baltic squirrel skins into England was in decline. (fn. 197) The names of 30 Hanse merchants appear regularly in the 1480–1 account, some of whom such as the Questenbergs, Greverodes and Blitterswicks of Col ogne and John Salmer of Dinant had been leading merchant families in London from at least the middle of the century. (fn. 198)
The French ships, apart from those of Calais which participated in the Brabant trade (17, 36, 90, 313, 571), were mostly from the Seine region (Harfleur, Rouen and Dieppe: 46, 67, 70, 80, 99, 104, 166) or Brittany (Guérande and Le Conquet: 29, 64, 193), importing wheat, apples, nuts, salt, millstones, fish and woad and exporting cloth, pewter, lead, brass, copper, tar, pitch and candles (237, 311, 360, 368, 392, 484–5, 492, 497, 544). The Gascon wine trade which, as has been mentioned, had enjoyed a limited revival since 1475, is not recorded in the Petty Customs Account. The Butler's Account of 1480–1, however, shows alien merchants' wine being brought in by ships of London, Plymouth, Holland, Brittany, the Seine, Spain, and Venice (605–22).
London, as Dr. Childs has demonstrated, was the centre of the growing English trade with Castile in the 1480s, encouraged by commercial privileges granted and maintained by Edward IV even when Castile was in alliance with France. The ships came mainly from San Sebastian in the province of Guipúzcoa and Bilbao, both on the north coast, and Cadiz in the south. Unfortunately, due to customs exemption, the iron, wine, Toulousan woad and oil which Spanish merchants imported are not recorded in the 1480–1 account but some 3,000 cloths which they exported in 20 of their own ships (262–3, 319–593 passim) and in 12 others (368, 428, 455–588 passim) and in carts to Southampton, are in the account. The Spaniards exported a greater proportion of cloth dyed in grain or half grain than did other alien merchants. Dr. Childs estimates that in 1480–1 Spanish imports into the whole kingdom were worth £6,880 and exports £6,274. In addition, at least 20–30 London merchants were actively engaged in trade with Spain at this time. (fn. 199)
Portuguese imports in ships of Viana (14, 101, 107) and Oporto (15, 16) are more fully recorded than the Spanish, with some 300,000 oranges and sugar and cork amongst other items. In return the Portuguese took cloth, pewter, calfskins and tallow (288, 303, 324, 327, 446, 464, 581).
The Italian trade, although in decline in the later fifteenth century, was still considerable in the 1480s. The sole Italian ship to visit the port of London in 1480–1, the Venetian galley of Bernard Bondymer, was one of a fleet of three which had arrived at Southampton in February 1481, the other two going on to Flanders. Bondymer's galley brought to London a cargo of spices, wine, soap, expensive cloths, carpets, silk, glasses and other luxuries to the value of over £6,000. More than half of this (in value) was in the names of three merchants, Maryn' Monsenego, Anthony Bavarino and Alewiso Contarini. The remaining importers were mostly crew members, from the patron or commander and his counsellors, to the mate, crossbowmen, purser, bow and stern oarsmen and other sailors, all detailed in the account (156, 619). Bondymer's galley exported some 550 cloths and £750 worth of pewter, calfskins, cotton russet and tin (588). In addition, some 150 carts left London for Southampton with 3,500 cloths in the names of Genoese, Venetian, Florentine, Luccan and other alien merchants and 500 cloths of denizen merchants, most of which were probably for export to Italy. (fn. 200)
Genoese merchants used ships of Cadiz (12, 200), Bilbao (43), Oporto (16) and Fowey (198, 201) to import £4,650 worth of woad, alum, Spanish grain, sugar, dates, raisins and paper. Florentine merchants used ships of Oporto (15) and London (47–8) to import £700 worth of sugar. Cloth in the names of Genoese and Florentine merchants went out in Spanish and Portuguese ships in return (262, 324, 327, 489, 556) and they are also to be found involved in the trade with Brabant (56, 130, 305, 498, 573, 577). Amongst the aliens, the Italian trade would appear to have ranked next in value to the Hanseatic at this time.
The boom of the late 1470s and early 1480s was short lived. Harvests in England were bad between 1481 and 1483 and then only average until the abundance of the 1490s and this almost certainly affected trading activities in general. (fn. 201) In Flanders and Brabant too there was a crushing famine in the years 1481–2. (fn. 202)
General unrest in the Burgundian territories between 1482 and 1492 and, in particular, the Flemish revolt against the Archduke Maximilian in 1484, with raids from Bruges and Sluis on shipping, made passage of the Scheldt and Honte towards Antwerp insecure. Armed convoys were provided for the cloth fleets bound for the Brabant Fairs but, at tunes, English merchants deserted Antwerp for Middelburg. (fn. 203) For a time the trade of the Brabant Fairs suffered and, after 1482, denizen cloth exports from London declined more conspicuously than those of the Hanse and other aliens. By the late 1480s, however, Antwerp (siding with Maximilian) had recovered its trading position, (fn. 204) but a further setback came with Henry VII's prohibition of trade with the Burgundian territories in 1493. Exceptionally, the Spanish trade with England continued to increase at this time even when Castilian merchants lost most of their commercial privileges under the treaty of Medina del Campo in 1489. (fn. 205) It was not, however, until 1496, with the conclusion of the Intercursus Magnus, that London's cloth trade again reached the level of the 1480s and it was in the first decade of the sixteenth century that the sustained increase began which reached its peak in the middle of the century. (fn. 206)
The early 1480s thus constituted a high point in London's overseas trade in the fifteenth century. The London Petty Customs Account of 1480–1, in recording much of this trade, provides detailed evidence of the developing consumer society of the time which contrasts with the general picture of urban decline and lack of population growth in the later fifteenth century.
The Controller's Account of Petty Custom, 1480–1
The account (P.R.O., E. 122/194/25) consists of 27 parchment membranes each some 20 cms. wide by 93 cms. long, except for membrane 11 which is 47 cms. long and membrane 27 which is 36 cms. long, all tied together at the head in Exchequer style. The bulk of the account appears to be written in one small, neat, bastard hand but some membranes (3, 11d, 27) are written in a similar but larger, more upright hand in which there are also insertions elsewhere (e.g. 208–10, 473). Since the controller had only one clerk it is impossible to say whose the second hand might have been unless it was that of the controller himself. At the foot of the face each membrane except the last are the initials T.F. (Thomas Fowler) indicating that the controller had checked the account. (fn. 207) The notes of audit are in other hands (215). The account was carefully compiled with a few alterations or corrections mainly to valuations (noted in round brackets in the edited text, 26, 61, 63 passim). It appears to have been written up in the usual manner from bundles of bills of content and cockets with each ship's cargo consolidated under one heading and one date. (fn. 208) In order to consolidate each ship's cargo and separate it from others the account must have been written up some days or even weeks in arrears of the actual loading and unloading. The greater part of the entry for the incoming Venetian galley (156) shows clear signs of having been copied from a bill of content provided by the purser since it lists the crew and merchants (from Andrew Caruse to Treviso de Luderyn') in alphabetical order by first name. The other merchants on the galley, including those with the most valuable cargoes, are not entered alphabetically, indicating that they made their own declarations to the clerk. The language of the account is what has been called 'the patois of the custom house', (fn. 209) dog Latin with many English and some French words used for commodities, when there was no common Latin equivalent.
Merchants in the account are described either as Denizen, Alien or Hanse with a few other categories of those with special exemptions such as Breton, of Veere and 'Spanish of Guipúzcoa'. (fn. 210) The name of the master and the name and homeport of incoming ships are recorded in the 1480–1 account and the latter detail appears more frequently in this account than in almost any other surviving later fifteenth century London customs account. The homeports of outgoing ships are not recorded in the account but, where known, have been added (in square brackets) in this edition.
The most distinctive feature of the 1480–1 account (as of the other surviving petty custom and tunnage and poundage Accounts between 1473 and 1495) is that it records a large number of carts leaving London laden with cloth for export from Southampton and other outports. This was in accordance with a provision of the Tunnage and Poundage Act of 1472 which laid down that, in order to prevent frauds in the packing of cloth for export, cloths were to be packed in the presence of the collectors of customs and that custom and subsidy were to be paid in the port where they were packed whether or not the cloths were to be taken to another port for shipment overseas. This provision remained in force until it was repealed by Act in 1495. The result is a unique record for this period of the traffic in cloth between London and its outports. (fn. 211)
The parallel Surveyor's Account of Petty Custom, 1480–1 (E. 122/1947 24) consisted of 29 membranes (one of which has been lost) each some 20 cms. wide by 75 cms. long. It is written in a rougher hand than that of the Controller's Account with corrections in a second hand. Ships' names and homeports are much less frequently given in the Surveyor's than in the Controller's Account. Each ship's cargo is less regularly consolidated under one heading and date than in the Controller's Account. The order of the entries varies between the Controller's and Surveyor's Accounts indicating that they were compiled independently. There are a number of small differences in detail between the accounts (the variations in the Surveyor's Account are shown in this edition preceded by an S and in square brackets) but these do not affect the overall picture of trade which each presents. In general the Surveyor's Account gives the impression of having been less carefully compiled than the Controller's.
Thomas Fowler or Fuller is recorded on the Enrolled Customs Accounts as controller of petty custom from Michaelmas 1472 to Michaelmas 1474 and from Easter 1477 to 22 August 1485. Between Michaelmas 1474 and 25 March 1475 there was stated to be no controller and from 26 March 1475 to Easter 1477 the controller was Thomas Stockton. (fn. 212) Fowler's appointment as controller is not recorded on the Patent Roll until 29 October 1476. (fn. 213) In 1478 Fowler was receiving a 'reward' of £20 per annum and this became the regular amount paid to the controller. (fn. 214) On 12th February 1482 Fowler, called 'king's servant' and controller, was licensed to buy and sell merchandise and on 1 March 1484, as Thomas Fuller, he was re-appointed controller. (fn. 215) On 17 September 1485 Thomas Fuller, almost certainly the same man, was appointed collector of the subsidy and aulnage of cloths for sale and of tunnage and poundage and on 23 November following he was licensed to buy and sell and import and export merchandise. (fn. 216) As a collector of tunnage and poundage Fuller would have received an annual reward of £66 13s.4d., considerably more than as controller of petty custom. (fn. 217) Fuller had ceased to be collector of tunnage and poundage by 29 June 1486. (fn. 218)
More than one Thomas Fowler or Fuller is referred to in records relating to London during this period. (fn. 219) The most likely candidate for the controller, since he is described as 'king's servant', is the Thomas Fowler named in 1472 as yeoman of the Crown. (fn. 220) In 1475, Thomas Fowler, one of the ushers of the king's chamber, led a contingent of one man-at-arms and 20 archers on Edward IV's expedition to France. (fn. 221) If this was the same man as the controller it would help to explain the gap in the latter's service as controller between Michaelmas 1474 and Easter 1477. In May 1476 Fowler, the usher of the chamber, received a pardon for all offences in which he is described as 'late of Buckingham and late escheator in the counties of Oxford and Berkshire and Bedford and Buckingham'. (fn. 222) Other pardons of 1484 and 1486 also call him 'late sheriff of Bedford and Buckingham'. (fn. 223) By 1484 Fowler was being described as an esquire of the body and was granted custody of the manor of Bekley, Oxon., and the office of Steward of the towns and lordships of Buckingham, Hakmersham, and Brikell, Bucks. (fn. 224) Thomas Fowler was sheriff of Bedford and Buckingham again in 1487–8 and M.P. for Buckingham in 1495. He is said to have died in 1496. (fn. 225)
William Weston was appointed surveyor of Petty Custom and Tunnage and Poundage on 19 November 1480 with a fee of 100 marks per annum for himself and £10 for his clerk and served until April 1483. (fn. 226) In 1477–8 Weston had been sheriff of Surrey and Sussex with a fee of £40. (fn. 227) He obtained a pardon for all offences in office in March 1484. (fn. 228) Weston was probably a mercer. (fn. 229)
Form of the Calendar. The Calendar is intended to reproduce all significant material from the original manuscript. The order of the heading for each ship or cart has been re-arranged so as to place the date first instead of last (as in the manuscript), otherwise the word order of the original has been preserved. The words 'de' before each merchant, 'pro' before commodities and 'prec(ium)' before each valuation have been omitted. Certain designations of merchants (e.g. alien) and certain weights and measures have been abbreviated, see List of Abbreviations. Each entry is given a serial number (in bold type) and the names of ships are in italics. Obscure words for which no translation can be offered are placed in inverted commas. Where a word is unusual or its meaning is open to more than one interpretation, the original spelling is given between inverted commas and in round brackets immediately after the translation offered. Significant variants taken from the parallel Surveyor's Account are placed, preceded by 5, in square brackets after the calendar version and (except for names) in inverted commas if the original spelling of the Surveyor's Account is reproduced. Details of merchants' trades, domicile or nationality, which have been obtained from sources other than the Petty Custom Account, have not been inserted in the Calendar but are in the General Index. Footnotes have, in general, been used to offer explanations of obscure commodities and other words where these occur once only but in other cases such explanations have usually been incorporated in the Glossary. Other footnotes are given for merchants and ships only in cases where the additional information is relevant to this particular Customs Account. The use of square brackets indicates editorial additions.
Names of persons, places and ships. The original spelling of surnames has been retained but marks of suspension have been given only when a final syllable is clearly missing. Christian names have been translated from the Latin and English forms have been standardised but unusual foreign spellings, e.g. 'Albright' (for Albert) have been retained. Place names are given in their modern form but unusual original spellings are given, in round brackets, immediately after the modernised versions and all manuscript forms are given in the General Index. The original spelling of ships' names has been preserved.
Weights and measures. These have been converted, where possible, into meaningful and recognizable units. The 1507 Book of Rates (printed in Gras) and the treatise 'the noumbre of weyghtes' throw light on the content of some of the weights and measures found in the manuscript. 'C.' and 'M.', the 'hundred' and 'thousand', may be measures of weight – either decimal or the hundred-weight of 112 lbs. — or of number, of varying quantity, e.g. a 'hundred' of stockfish contained 120. Valuations in the Account sometimes establish which type of weight or measure was being used, but since there is only a total valuation for each merchant's cargo it is frequently not possible to determine which 'hundred' or 'thousand' was intended in any particular case. Weights and measures have therefore been converted to decimal where the matter is not in doubt, but 'C.' and 'M.' have been retained in all other cases (with the most likely meaning given in the Glossary).