chapter  11
34 Pages

‘Give to every man that which is his’: The Mercers and the Merchant Adventurers, 1485–1520s

The reign of Henry VII was to see a renewal of a royal policy of ‘rigour’ and constant interference rather than ‘grace’ towards merchants and the city of London on all issues domestic and overseas – to use Ralph Lord Cromwell’s description of the policies of the council of Henry VI.2 This policy was to be continued by Henry VIII and his ministers. Londoners and merchants were more used to this than not: the exceptional periods had been the reign of Henry IV and the reigns of the Yorkist kings. Trade to the Low Countries had benefited, especially after the marriage of Margaret of York to the duke of Burgundy in 1468. London adventurers had become rather accustomed to this favourable state of affairs and the period of adjustment was to be painful. The overseas trade and treaty issues are the subject of this chapter as well as the changes in the daily conduct of trade and the administration of the Adventurers. They had to face, for example, a change in customs rates and stricter supervision under Henry VII, and their myopic concern to escape customs charges ensured that they incurred the ill will of Henry VIII from the very beginning of his reign. The effects of taxation and the London-oriented conflicts in which the Mercers’ Company were engaged are discussed in Chapter 12, Section i.