Medieval Merchant Venturers: Collected Studies

By E. M. Carus-Wilson | Go to book overview

III
THE ORIGINS AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF THE MERCHANT ADVENTURERS' ORGANIZATION IN LONDON AS SHOWN IN THEIR OWN MEDIEVAL RECORDS 1

The importance of the Merchant Adventurers' Company has been universally recognized, though variously interpreted. But its inner history remains curiously nebulous. Its evolution and structure seem to have baffled all attempts at clear analysis. Many historians have exercised their ingenuity in unravelling its ultimate origins or expounding the intricacies of a constitution which was probably never static, endeavouring to analyse the life of the now extinct Society by meticulously dissecting a number of charters and letters patent. But these provide merely a bare skeleton, and, as Professor Lingelbach noted: "The one great hiatus in the sources for the history of the Society still exists, for nowhere has there been found a definite clue to the existence or the whereabouts of the private records of the Fellowship."2 Hence the actual activities of the Society have remained largely a matter for conjecture until now, when such records as Professor Lingelbach sought in vain have come to light and are elucidating the whole matter.

"Merchant Adventurer", a term often loosely used and misinterpreted, must be defined at the outset. It was applied generally in the later Middle Ages to any merchant engaged in trade overseas whose business was not that of the Staplers -- the old and carefully regulated export of raw wool -- but the newer trade in English cloth. The Adventurer, unlike the Stapler, who went regularly to and fro between England

____________________
1
Economic History Review, Vol. IV, No. 2, 1933.
2
W. E. Lingelbach, The Merchant Adventurers of England: their Laws and Ordinances, Univ. of Pennsylvania, Translations and Reprints, Second Series, II ( 1902), viii.

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