Book Reviews -- Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550-1653 by Robert Brenner
Olson, Alison, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550-1653. By ROBERT BRENNER. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. xx, 734 pp. $59.50.
AT last! Robert Brenner's book on English commercial groups and politics, 1550 to 1653, preceded by a number of important articles by Brenner that only whetted our appetites, is now here.
The book has four parts, each one long enough to be a volume by itself. Part one discusses three commercial groups prominent in various periods between 1550 and 1650. First were the exporters of cloth to northern Europe (the merchant adventurers); later appeared other merchants who came to specialize in the import and reexport of long-distance goods (particularly in the Levant and East India companies); and finally, beginning in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, there emerged the independent interloper--colonial merchants who dealt mainly in tobacco, sugar, and slaves in the Americas. Part two takes these groups into the turbulence of English politics before 1640, in which the elite members of the established trading companies gave political support to the king in exchange for monopoly rights to markets that they themselves would defend. Independent merchants, on the other hand, sided with the opposition parliamentary aristocracy, who sought a national state strong enough itself to defend commerce and a government in which merchants along with commercial farmers had a voice. Part three describes how the independent merchants, joined by a few merchants from the companies, went to war with the king and built a power base against him in the Common Council of the City of London. They achieved their greatest power when they worked with the New Model Army and played a decisive role in shaping Cromwell's commercial, colonial, and foreign policy. …