‘C’était une vie d’aventures semblable à celle des chevaliers’: The Mercers’ Ascendancy among the Adventurers in the Low Countries, 1430s–85
In many ways the fifteenth century was the golden age for the mercer-adventurers trading with the Low Countries. This was not a matter of mere trade figures, for there were economic problems for everyone; it was rather that most of the company was now in overseas trade. The mercers’ percentage of the cloth exports leaving London was never less than thirty per cent and, most important of all, they continued to contol the native import of linen through the port. Above all, there was more to strive for: they had sufficient privileges, but they could work to secure more; individually they could hope to increase their exports and imports, and the trade was still open to all men except the poorest – the rich had not yet excluded smaller competitors. In this period the mercers were able to use their numerical superiority in the Low Countries, based on their linen trade, to dominate the ‘nation’ of Adventurers of England, that loose federation of merchants from all the towns of England who wished to take advantage of the privileges granted by the several states of the Low Countries, and the town of Middelburg remained their faithful friend.