‘Le compaignie del mercerie que dieux veul garder de male et de perile et tutditz convoier a bon aventure’: The Move into Mercantile Status, 1290s–1430
The very nature of the mercery trade made the mercers of London focus on the Low Countries, through which passed the luxuries and textiles of France, Italy, Germany and beyond. From the mid-fourteenth century onwards the Low Countries’ own linen industry provided another lucrative and readily accessible cargo. Before 1350, comparatively few mercers had any share in the cross-channel trade, dominated by the export of English wool to the cloth manufacturing cities of the Low Countries, especially Flanders. Mercers were not natural wool traders, their expertise in mercery taught them nothing about wool. Yet, by the early fifteenth century, the London mercers had gained an almost complete ascendancy over English adventurers (overseas merchants) in the Low Countries, controlled the import of linen by denizens into England, could hold the linen industry of Flanders up to ransom in 1430-32, and by 1440 exported in one year a third of the total denizen export of English woollen cloth through the port of London. Their share of the wool exported through London had also increased, but that was almost incidental, however valuable.