The Smugglers' City
Department of History, University of Bristol


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Parliamentary Debate: The Merchant Venturers, 1571

Source: Transcribed and annotated by: J. Latimer, The History of the Society of Merchant Venturers of the City of Bristol (Bristol, 1903), pp. 53-55.

p. 53

Articles of a Bill exhibited in Parliament against the incorporation of the Merchant Adventurers of the city of Bristol, and answers unto the same. [April 12, 1571.]

First Objection. The like corporation of general exemption has not been found to continue long anywhere. Answer. By their corporation, no man is exempted that ever occupied the seas, but such as voluntarily sequestered themselves from the same, for every retailer, leaving off his retailing, may be a merchant, so that he will content himself with the only trade of merchandise, whereas, in other corporations, they cannot be so admitted.

Second Objection. Prices of wares are enhanced, and are dearer in Bristol than in any place in England. Answer. Foreign wares of the countries to which we traffic are cheaper in Bristol than in London, as appears by our having of late brought great store to London, where we have sold them, notwith- standing the carriage, to a greater benefit than we could have done in Bristol; at present they are better and cheaper than anywhere else in England.

Third Objection. The Navy is supposed to be decayed. Answer. Our Navy cannot be decayed since the last Parliament, but much increased, for we have built nine or ten new ships and barks, bought divers, and suffered none to decay; and although we have lost divers, and have some embargoed in Spain, yet we have

p. 54

more than on the confirmation of our patent, and twice as many serviceable as before, as the Vice Admiral well knows.

Fourth Objection. The Customs are supposed to be decayed. Answer. They are much increased, as appears by a copy of the Customs books, which we can show.

Fifth Objection. The poor craftsmen are not set to work as they might be. Answer. On the year that the intercourse of trade was open to us, we adventured 400 more cloths, wrought to the full proof by the poor craftsmen, than in the two years before, and so they have had more work from the merchants than heretofore.

The Merchant Venturers' Case

The rich retailers, as the grocer, mercer, haberdasher, soapmaker, vintner, &c., adventuring themselves, must needs undo all the poorer sort who do not adventure, and eat out the meer merchants, who have but those to whom they may make their vent.

Unskilfulness in merchandize, and great numbers going over on

the seas, must greatly abase our English commodities and advance the price of foreign wares; for the more there are to sell there, the worse market they will make, and the more buyers of strange com- modities the dearer they must be.

When the Navy was best maintained in Bristol there were not above forty merchants, and now there are nearly 100, and less merchandize to be vented than at that time, for iron and alum, which were usually brought from thence, are now made better and cheaper in England than in Spain.

It is injurious to him who has served seven or eight years, and was apprenticed to a merchant, to have his living prejudiced by such : as are ignorant of the trade, wherein there is more skill than every man judges.

A merchant cannot be a retailer for want of skill and acquaintance of customers, which requires an apprenticeship to bring him to it; neither can he have a fit place to dwell in, for all the houses that stand in place of retail are already in the hands of retailers.

No retailer at any time has built any shipping, and one poor merchant has sustained more loss in the service of the Prince than all the retailers in Bristol.

All the benefits done by townsmen to the city of Bristol, as the erection of hospitals and freeholds, giving out money for clothmaking, and other provisions for the poor, has been done by the merchants only, and never by retailers, or any other sciences.

p. 55

The retailers were never in better state in Bristol; the meer merchants were never so many, and since the last Parliament very much impoverished by the restraint of the intercourse of trade.

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