The Smugglers' City
Department of History, University of Bristol


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A Petition from the Town of Bristol, c. 1530

Source:Transcribed by: Vanes, J. (ed.), Documents Illustrating the Overseas Trade of Bristol in the Sixteenth Century, (Bristol Record Society Publications, Vol. XXXI, Kendal, 1979), No. 1, pp. 28-31.
P.R.O. S.P. 1/236/344-56.

p. 28

Where the toun and porte of Bristowe...buildyng quykest in occupiyng of marchaunt men...and your subjettes thereaboutes dwellyng well sat awerk and had good...and weale of that quarter of your Highnes Realme, and that...lord, that by reason of certain abuses a large quarter of the...principall places and stretes to the nombre of nyne hundred houses and above is clerely fallen down, the grasse growyng in the streetes, beyng moche of the residue in great decaye and inhabited with poore people veray like in breve tyme and space...onles by your most gracious Highnes and your honourable Counsail some good order shuld be taken for reformacion of the same. Your most humble and obeydent subjettes the Maire, his breder, the Shirriffes and commynaltie of your said town of Bristowe have thought it their most bounder duetyes to declare and shewe unto your most gracious Highnes as nere as they can the veray occasions of the said ruyn and what thinges in thair myndes and opynyons is most necessary for them and leest cost to your Highnes, to make sute for unto the same your Majestye for restauracion of your said toun and relef of your subjettes ther as folowyth, most humbly and lowly besechyng your Majesty of your most gracious benignite and disposition to have gracious respect and regard unto the same, for surely onles your said orators shalbe releved in this behalf by your especiall and habundant grace, they shall not in any wise be hable for a small season to beir the charges of the offices ther auncyently used but rather shalbe constreyned utterly to abandon and forsake the same toune, not onely to the distruccion therof and desolacion of the contrey, but also to the utter undoyng of your said subjettes.

Occasions of the decaye.

Furst, as longe as the clothiers of the said toun made speciall good and true clothes and by reason of their great occupyyng did sett many folke of worke as carders, spynsters, weyvers, fullers, sheremen and other occupacions and by making of good clothe sold their clothes at reasonable prices and therby releved their neibours and grewe to be

p. 29

substanciall and wer chosen to be maires, shirriffes and bailliffes of the said toun and hable to beire the charges without beyng constreyned to take the extreme towle due unto the toun, but gave a great part therof, so that all maner straungers wer glad and desirous dailly to resorte thidder with thair shippes and otherwise to bye and sell their merchandise which was to the great proffit and avauntage of the occupyers there, than and so longe the said toun was in great welthe and prosperite. And when it was so that the husbondmen and other imperfict persons in the science of clothe making, dwellyng in villages in the contrey fell and begun to make clothe of the woolles of their own growyng and ingroced other wolles amongest thair neibours in soche wise as the clothiers of your said toun could gett no wolle but at unreasonable prices, the same clothiers wer compelled of necessitie to leave their occupyyng and to forsake the said toun seking worke abrod, which was oon of the greatest causes of desolacion of the said toun. And so the said toune yerely fallyng more and more into ruyn and decaye for want of the substanciall nombre of clothiers as afore ther wer, fewe hable to beire the charges of the offices of Maier or Shirriffes but marchaunt men, grocers, mercers, haberdashers, whittawers, brewers and tanners, by whose occupying the meane sorte of people, as dyers, spynsters, fullers, tukkers and suche other as afore, had no proffit or lyvyng. And at this day, by reason the marchaunt men daylly have and have had so great losse in the sale of their clothes beyond the see, which is onely by reason of the untrue and false making therof, having had great losses upon the see as well by pirattes as other mysfortunes; and by reason of the premisses and of the smale trade and occupying of merchandise of so longe tyme to the said toun and the importune charges belongyng to the same offices over and besides the fee ferme of your Highnes which is yerely a hundred, fifty and twoo pounces and ten shillinges, your said pore subjectes be not hable to sustene the same, the said shirreffes thereby beyng constrayned to take the uttermost tolles and customes belongyng to the toun, so that by reason therof and other great charges in customes and other demaundes taken of straungers and other, more ther than in other places nere adjoyning to the said toun, the marchauntes straungers do refuse thidder to reasort. Which inconveniences be like yerely to be worse and worse, except your Highnes most gracious favour, helpe and socour be mercifully shewed for the relief of yor said pore subjectes in this thair necessite, havyng no other refuge, ayde or helpe but onely of your Highnes.

In consideracion wherof, it may pleas your Roiall Majestye to graunt unto the Maier and cominaltie of the said toun of Bristowe and to their successors dwelling and resident within the said toun and libertie of the same and to all other free burgeses that shall hereafter dwell and be resident within the same toun and liberties therof for the tyme of their dwellyng and residence ther, to be fully, clerely and frely acquytted and discharged agaynst your Grace, your heires and successors, kinges of this Realme for ever, of yeldyng and payng of

p. 30

their wynes of prisage. That is to sey, of one tonne afore the mast and another tonne behynd the mast, and be discharged therof agaynst your Grace, your heires and successors for ever, as well within the porte of your said toun of Bristow as in all other portes, crekes and places of this your realme in as large, free and ample wise as the cityzens of your Citie of London and barons and freemen of your Fyve Portes and your toun of Southampton be in like case acquyted and discharged of like prisage; the said Maier and cominaltie of your said toun paying unto your Highnes, your heirs and successors, for their said wynes all other customes and subsidies like as the citizens of your Citie of London and barons and freemen of your Fyve Portes do pay for their wynes and non otherwise. And also they to yeld and paye for and in discharge of your Highnes, your heires and successors, all and every suche tonnes of wyne and other porcions of prisage wynes as your Highnes or your progenitors have gevyn and graunted yerely of the same wynes to any house of religion, place or other person.

Item, where ther is payed in fees out of the said toun yerely to the Constable of your Highnes Castell of Bristowe, which castell is at this present houre in uttermost ruyn and serveth for no purpose, hit is only used with dele persons at the bowles and other unlawful games, the som of...markes by the yere. It may pleas your Highnes to graunt unto your said subjectes, the Maier, cominaltie and thair successors the reversion of the said office which Sir John Seymour and Sir Edward Seymour, knightes, now have, with the nominacion of the porter and wachemen ther and suche fees and wages as therunto belongeth in as large and ample maner as the same Sir John and Sir Edward or any other person have had and enjoyed in and for the exersysyng of the same office. Which thing wolbe not only a great relef to your said subjettes but also shalbe a grease occasion for a remedy of the non usyng ther of the said unlawfull games.

And wher it is so that ther be diverse religious persons, gentlemen and other in the contrey inhabited nere to your Highnes said toun that for the zele and love that they have to the prosperite of the same be mynded charitably to geve certain of their landes and goodes towardes the purchasyng of so moche lande as shuld yerely pay your Highnes said fee ferme or a good parse therof, so that it myght like your Majestye of your most noble and habundant grace to graunt them facultie and licence to doo. Your said subjectes most humbly and lowly besecheth the same your Highnes to graunt unto them the same licence which wolf be a most speciall relefe and helpe of your said toun and subjectes. For which three your Graces grauntes your said orators shalbe contented to remitt all suche tolles, customes and other dueties as be used to be taken ther of any marchantes strangers, aswel denizen as other, of what nacion soever they be which wolbe the chefest and best way to cause them gladly to reasorte with their merchandise to the said toun. Wherby in fewe yeres your Highnes customes, subsidies

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and dueties wolbe right largely avaunced, the toun and commons largely amended, the fee ferme of your said toun well and truly payed without dymynyshing and also the said toun by Goddes grace repared and repopelated.

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