Merchants of the Staple

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Merchants of the Staple

Merchants of the Staple or Merchant Staplers, English trading company that controlled the export of English raw wool. The first wool staple (i.e., a place designated by royal ordinance as a special center of commerce) was established in 1294, and the first compulsory staple, where all wool exporters were required to trade, was set up in 1314. The staple was moved from place to place according to political needs, but in 1363 a group of 26 English merchants was incorporated as the Company of the Staple at Calais with a complete monopoly of wool exports. The staple thereafter remained almost continuously at Calais until 1558, and the company's resources contributed heavily to the defense of that city against the French. The company's wealth and importance diminished with the rise of the English cloth trade and the loss of Calais to the French in 1558. The staple was moved to Bruges, and the staplers retained their monopoly until 1617, when the export of raw wool was prohibited and home staples established. They then became domestic wool brokers. The staplers were the only trading company to be organized on a commodity rather than a regional basis.

See E. E. Power, The Wool Trade in English Medieval History (1941); E. M. Carus-Wilson, Medieval Merchant Venturers (2d ed. 1967).

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