Court Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England

By Linda Levy Peck | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Corruption and the economy

In a report on corrupt practices in purveyance during King James’s first progress in 1604, Robert Fietcher, yeoman of carriages, accused the carttakers (household officials whose duty it was to arrange transport) of making “a very shop of monopoly bribery… These grievous afflictions laid upon the poor subjects by prowling purveyors and unconscionable carttakers was a just cause of clamor in the Parliament…crying carttaker, carttaker.” 1 The carttakers of London “do some times steal upon an ignorant poor carter who having loaden his cart for Norwich, Yarmouth or place of like distance from London. He is taken by one of the Carttakers, commanded to unload and load a tun of drink and convey the same to the court…the poor man draweth his purse and payeth £6, £4, 5 marks, etc. to be freed of this carttaker and his broad seal, a naked sword were even as lawful.” Corruption had grown in the sixteenth century because of the expansion of administration under Henry VIII. “John Rousley who had been a mayor’s officer and that year’s carttaker for beer and ale being politick and his hands before polluted with bribes he gave a bribe in court, obtained licence to wear the king’s coat or livery and also commission to take up carts…and here is their first institution.”

The Tudor and early Stuart monarchs constructed a new framework for corrupt practices in three ways: firstly by increasing the state’s regulation of the economy, secondly by fostering the development of projects to diversify economic activities, and thirdly, as a result of the first two, by increasing the power in the hands of informal agents of the state. This chapter examines each of these in turn. It then turns to the impact of corrupt practices on different segments of the economy. It argues that corruption served to redistribute wealth especially from the merchant community to the gentry and, within the landed elite, to those who had strong court connections. It concludes by

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