Petition to the privy council, 1606

Pages 118-122

The Spanish Company. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1973.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by London Record Society. All rights reserved.


In this section

iv. Petition to the privy council, 1606

(P.R.O. S.P. 14/16 no. 118)

733. To the lords of the privy council. (fn. 1) We his majesty's dutiful and faithful subjects, the English merchants trading Spain and Portugal, do in all humbleness present to your good lordships' most honourable and grave considerations, divers injuries offered to us in Spain and Portugal the same being so grievous and intolerable that unless reformation be had therein we shall be driven to forsake the country and give over trading thither. And therefore we most humbly pray your lordships to recommend our petition in that behalf to the king's most excellent majesty; and we shall ever (as duty binds us) pray to almighty God to preserve his most excellent majesty and your good lordships.

734. First for matters of religion, upon false and slight accusations our servants and factors are threatened to the Inquisition, and also they practise to entrap our servants and factors by questioning with them upon points of religion, and thereby to draw them into the danger of their Inquisition. As namely about January last one William Watson, a young man and servant to Mr. Roger How a merchant of London, coming newly over into Spain to a town called Faro, (fn. 2) and passing in the street, a canonigo or churchman called him; and presently after a little conference a procession came by, to which the said Watson made the same reverence that the canonigo did. The procession being passed, the canonigo demanded of Watson, (being in a house, and only one or two present) whether we had that order in England et cetera. Watson asked what it was and what he meant; the canonigo said it was a procession and they prayed to saints for rain, and demanded what they in England thought; who answered in Latin, that no saint though never so holy was never able to save himself, much less another, without the mercy of Jesus Christ and so they pray directly to Jesus Christ and no other.

735. For these words he was the next day convented before a bishop and reproved for the same, and so far that time discharged. But about nine months after, namely in October last, for the same words so spoken he was committed to prison, into a loathsome dungeon with irons, and after set upon a mule and bound with irons and chains, and carried to Evora, and threatened to be burned; and was by them persuaded to change his religion and to be new christened, or else to be brought up in a monastery. And because he would not yield thereto, God knows in what misery he remains; and not so contented, they practise not only to confiscate all his goods, but also the goods of all others consigned to him. (fn. 3)

736. And one Nicholas Moone, servant to Francis Oliver, a merchant of London, seeing a procession coming along, did before it came near him, pass aside into a street with a purpose to have gone away. But one pursued him, using opprobrious words to him, and demanded the cause of his passing down the street; who answered that by the articles of the peace he might lawfully do so. And yet he was committed to prison for the same.

737. They will not permit any books of prayer to be used in private amongst ourselves, notwithstanding they are not so restrained here in England, but have their masses to common, (as is generally reported). And some of them dispute and maintain their opinions upon the Exchange, as merchants of good account will approve and witness.

738. They have got possession of a house in San Lucar which was built by the English nation and have there placed English fugitives, Jesuits and seminarians, enemies to our king and country. And for their maintenance have and do constrain our factors and servants to charge our account with a quarter per cent inward and a quarter per cent outward; and many other exactions they lay upon us, which we dare not deny to pay, for fear of the Inquisition, for if they be any way contradicted or denied their demands some wicked person or other will unjustly accuse us to the Inquisition whereby we are committed. (fn. 4) And when we are in prison none dare speak for us, neither shall we know our accuser nor know when to come to our answer.

739. By a charter granted by King Henry VIII to our company, and confirmed and allowed by Charles the emperor, we have authority to elect consuls; and by the twenty-fourth article of the late treaty, these privileges are revived. (fn. 5) And yet we have intelligence that the king of Spain will not admit any to be consuls there, but a continual dweller within his kingdom and one of their religion, which we may not by any means endure.

740. In the time of the wars between England and Spain there was a new imposition raised of three per cent by express words to defend the coast from the English ships, the which notwithstanding the peace they still continue and enforce us to pay the same. Also there is lately imposed in the Canaries a new exaction, amounting (besides the custom) for some goods to almost ten per cent, and divers other grievous exactions in other places.

741. We are exceedingly molested by several visitors; one sort coming aboard our ships for books and exact [? eight shillings] for every visitation; and in every port we put in we are soon visited [missing] called visitors of [missing] they be sued to come aboard, will defer their coming five [missing] to our great charges and hindrance. And for their [missing]. And if they find anything to their liking it may not be denied them; and our ships lying in the open road they put aboard a man to remain over us, under colour that there shall be no ballast or rubbish thrown overboard, to whom we give ryalls of plate, (fn. 6) and meat and drink every day.

742. And after they have thus visited us then may we bring our packs to land, yet the same shall not be opened but at their pleasure, and a familiar of the Inquisition must then be present to see that there be no books, neither can we be masters of our own goods but they are carried to the custom houses, where they are so cast up and down that there grows great loss in the sale thereof.

743. In Spain they do not admit us to reload our own ships if any of their own nation do demand the freight, pretending they have a proclamation from the king's father with preeminence not only to take away the freight from strangers' bottoms but also in discretion of the justice to force us to pay more freight in their Spanish ships, than we have agreed for with the masters of ships of our own nation. They knowing this advantage and the danger which we run in case the Hollanders should take our goods in their shipping, with many other inconveniences which they know would befall us, oftentimes they take advantage of his proclamation and thereby compel us to our great charge to compound with them, as by experience has been proved in San Sebastian in the province of Guipuzcoa and we fear every day more and more to be molested with the advance [missing]. The remedy of which would [missing]. (fn. 7)

744. If any of us bring any commodities from Barbary they will not suffer us to bring the same into Spain, without great rewards given to their officers, pretending that we ought not to trade into any the kingdoms conquered by the king of Spain, of which the said Barbary is parcel. (fn. 8)

745. In September last a mean fellow caused the justices to stay an English ship in San Sebastian upon a false suggestion that she had in her fourteen or fifteen thousand ducats to be brought for England, whereupon all the merchandise that was in her was unloaded, searched and no money found; the ship likewise searched and broken up in many places, wherein the merchants and owners received loss and damage, at the least £500, and know no way to be recompensed.

746. A western bark going directly from Newfoundland (where she took fish) and arriving at Lisbon, they did confiscate both ship and goods, and committed the mariners to the galleys without any offence by them given, where they still remain for anything we hear to the contrary.

747. A mean justice will command the master of a ship to shoot his ordnance and spend his powder; if the master refuse he is committed to prison. Also they will take away their ships' barks and use them at their pleasure; and if they be denied some complaint or other will be made to the Inquisition.

748. Our goods arriving in Spain, let us make never so good proof that they are not the goods of Holland and Zeeland, they will not be satisfied but seize upon them. (fn. 9) And one Mr. Bowyer of London, sending over commodities of the value of £160 made at Norwich, the same were seized as Flemish stuff, albeit divers in Spain affirmed that the same was made here. And albeit since then a certificate was sent over under the seal of London upon the oaths of them that made the same in England and certified from the custom house that the custom was paid here, and also a letter from the Spanish ambassador resident here, yet all this nothing prevailed but the goods are detained. And such exactions are there required for bonds and certificates of loading our goods in England, that it is not to be endured, and upon every slight suggestion they arrest us under colour of the eleventh article. And therefore we humbly pray his majesty and your good lordships to be a mean either for the annihilation of the said eleventh article, or for some better usage thereupon, otherwise we shall be continually molested without excuse, (fn. 10) and the rather because the Spaniards have of late given a toleration to Hollanders to bring corn into Spain; and the archdukes' own subjects and the Flemings, do daily carry the goods of Holland and Zeeland into Spain without molestation.

749. Also Mr. Edward Davenant a merchant of London, in May last having for his factor at Seville one Stephen Payne, and also his apprentice Henry Savill there at the same time, the tenth of May, the said Stephen fell sick and in his sickness sent for two notaries, one of the which made an inventory of all things being in his possession, and the other made a writing testifying that all in his possession were the goods of Edward Davenant (except some small things certainly named belonging to a friend or two of his). After which viz. the seventeenth day of May Stephen Payne died having before delivered both goods and account to Henry Savill the apprentice; within two days after his death the friars began a suite with Henry Savill claiming all the said goods to ransom prisoners, and the santa cruzada. (fn. 11) Later in July last imbarred [missing] of four, and for ought we can learn [missing] charge of Edward Davenant [missing].

750. Your lordships have heretofore had notice of the great cruelty offered in the city of Messina in Sicily to our ship and the people in the same. (fn. 12)

751. These and a number more, which would be tedious to lay down, are wrongs and injuries only offered to particular citizens of London, there being a number more such injuries offered to divers merchants of other cities and towns, to divers masters of ships and mariners which we have heard in general, but the particulars we have not enquired after, which we will do if your lordships command; and therefore are unwilling to trouble your lordships with the same, humbly craving pardon for this our boldness, because we are assured that [missing] lordships [missing] desirous of the same.


  • 1. The document is slightly damaged in places. The drawing up of the petition is mentioned at the final court of 2 Jan. 1606 (see above, 509). There is a similar list in S.P. 94/12 f. 199.
  • 2. Actually in the Portuguese Algarve.
  • 3. Further details concerning the case were set out in a letter to Roger How from John Watson the prisoner's brother (S.P. 94/12 f. 118).
  • 4. See above, pp. xxx–xxxi, and 713.
  • 5. See above, p. xxxiv and 431.
  • 6. The Spanish real.
  • 7. This paragraph replaces one which has been crossed through. It complains that English merchants loading English ships in Biscay are constrained to pay one real for every bag of wool, and that before the loading could begin a proclamation was made that if Spanish vessels were available they were to be loaded in preference to the English merchants' own ships. This in turn put English goods at risk since Dutch privateers often attacked Spanish shipping. In Galicia the English were restricted to La Coruna and Bayona, in contravention of article 16 of the treaty which allowed them to trade wherever they wished.
  • 8. See above, p. x and 716.
  • 9. See above, p. xxxiv and 81, 723–6.
  • 10. Among the complex regulations of the treaty of 1604 were provisions against both the import of Dutch goods and the export of Spanish goods to the rebel provinces. Certificates of origin had to be provided for imports, and securities given for exports that they would not be unloaded in Holland and Zeeland. The merchants were expected to obtain certificates of unloading from local magistrates and on the production of these in Spain, their securities were released; but the system was so intricate that the possibilities of error and corruption were endless.
  • 11. A tax originally levied under the papal bulla de la cruzada against the Moors, which became a permanent source of revenue (Merriman, The Catholic Kings, 132).
  • 12. This and other cases concerning English merchants in Sicily are set out in S.P. 94/13 ff. 144, 87 and S.P. 94/12 f. 9.