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on the purview of this statute-indeed of the whole of the staple laws—is there wherewithal to draw any inference whatsoever, that there was at any time a company of merchants trading on their joint stock with exclusive privileges, called “ The Company of the Merchants of the Staple.” I say this alone with reference to the trade of wools, woolfels, &c., exported from this country, but I think it possible, yet not probable, that whilst the Staple was at Bruges, and at Antwerp, the natives of England, appointed, and sent there to collect the revenues of the Crown, might have been endowed with peculiar privileges by the Dukes of Burgundy and Brabant, as to the export into England of certain commodities from their respective dominions; but for this à priori there is no strong argument in its favour, neither is there proof of it, and the deficiency of proof does, in my opinion, negative the fact; for, although not an English Law, yet some reference would be found to such a Company in one of those two towns, or, at a later period, at Calais, if such there were, amongst the many statutes of the Staple. The town of Calais was taken by Edward, the Third, and, from its convenient propinquity to England, it quickly became the foreign staple town in lieu of Bruges, or Antwerp. In the 4 Edw. 4, Ch. 2, (1464,) Calais was confirmed as the foreign staple town, simultaneously with the existence of certain towns in England, where the duties were taken, and the wools, &c., then exported to the mart at Calais, but in previous instances
the Staple was usually confined to Calaisexclusively of English staple towns — or to the staple towns of England to the exclusion of that of Calais. When it was at Calais alone, the duties of the revenue officers, the mayor, and constables, of the Staple were most important, as the imposts arising from the exports of the whole realm were restricted to be taken at that place. The officers of the Staple at Calais were consequently natives of England, men of eminence, and affluence, and, as we may suppose, merchants. The office was biennial, and, whilst this year it may be held by an affluent merchant of York, the next it might be filled by an eminent merchant of London, Bristol, Southampton, or some other distant place, nor is there any reason to suppose, that the office was restricted to a merchant of a staple town. I beg to observe, that the very high importance of the office attaches to the mayor of the Staple of Calais alone, as when the office of mayor pertained at the same time to many English Towns, its honour, although great, was much diminished by its sub-division. In the year 1466, we learn, that, at the celebrated feast, given by Archbishop Nevil, on his enthronization, were seated
At the fifth table in the Halle “ The Maior of the Staple at Calice, and the Maior of Yorke with all the wor= shipfull men of the said citie.” I find, that the Mayor of the Staple of Calais at that time was Richard Yorke, Knight, and that he was also then one of the Sheriffs of the city of York. The fifth table appears to me to have been assigned to the Mayor, and Corporation of York, and Sir Richard Yorke took his seat at that table as a guest, probably, in his capacity as a member of the Corporation, yet, by the above extract from an old roll cited in Leland's Collectanea, “ The Maior of the Staple at Calice” seems to take precedence of “ The Maior of Yorke."
It appears also by Hargrave, that in 1442, John Thrusk, a great merchant, who dwelt in Hungate in that city, was both mayor, and treasurer of the Staple at Calais. We may well suppose, that the English Merchant, during his possession of the honourable distinction, and emolument, of this high office, took up his abode principally at the foreign town of Calais. The chief officers of the establishment at Calais, as well as at the other staple towns, were a mayor and two constables, or assistants; these latter were also, probably, selected from the more eminent merchants, and, having served the inferior office, were, as we may presume, in their turn raised to the higher office of mayor.
I trow, gentle reader, that you will regard the truth of my affirmation, that there was no exclusive trading company under the title of “The Merchants of the Staple,” to be fully established. I have drawn my arguments, not from a prejudiced mind, but from historic facts, obtained from the review of the statute laws in fact from the legislative “ History of England.” I hear you now ask me, “ What, then, was a mer
• Hargrave's History of York, Vol. 1, p. 317.
chant of the Staple? Aubrey, as you say, denominated John Halle as “ a merchant of the staple !” Yes ! many were such merchants, but yet they were not members of an exclusive trading Company. The distinction must be apparent on reflection. Every merchant, for instance, who under the 27 Edw. 3, Ch. 1, traded in the then export commodities of_wools—or leather-or woolfels-or lead-or in the whole
-or in some of them—was obliged to take an oath to maintain the staple laws, and thus, in contradistinction to other merchants, and traders, he was denominated-a merchant of the Staple. It was thus open to any man to become such a merchant. They were, as we may fairly infer, men of eminence in station-of affluence, and probity of character--men possessing capital to enable them to engage in these important commercial speculations — residing not merely in sea-ports, but also in the principal inland towns-men of great influence in their local districts-inhabiting mansions, and living in splendour, and whom even Kings deigned to visit. Such men were Greville—and Wenman—and Halle-and Webb. Oh! “
terque, quaterque beatus !” happy the man, who is, perchaunce, descended from the affluent woolstapler, or manufacturer, of the fifteenth century !
As we have not in our printed statutes the more early laws of the Staple, so neither have we, as before observed, those, which were passed in the decline of this commercial polity. I can obtain little information on the subject after the
4 of Edw. 4. We may suppose that, as our home manufacture increased, there was less wool to be exported; we may presume, that, as commerce more flourished, so also would the facilities increase for the surreptitious conveyance of impost goods beyond the sea ; we have seen, that licences were granted to merchants, free of duty, passing through the “streights of Marrock,” and that, by the aid of those merchants, many were withdrawn from attending the Staple of Calais, who would otherwise have gone thither to make their purchases--in finewe have long since seen, that it was declared, the duties were sunk in amount from upwards of £60,000 to less than £12,000 per annum, and we therefore cannot possibly wonder at the gradual, and, at last, total, extinction of the Staple, which we may probably attribute to the final loss of Calais.
It is said, that the Staple was, after that, re-established at Bruges, in the early part of the reign of Elizabeth ; but, if so, the removal, and the re-establishment, must have been under very discouraging prospects. The situation of Bruges was much less convenient, and all other circumstances, which operated to its injury, remained in full force, if not in increased vigour. As a system of trade, and finance, with its increasing impediments, it could not equally have flourished, when dependent on the will, and caprice, of a foreign power. The fall of Calais (“ Hæret lateri lethalis arundo.” Virg.) was doubtless its lingering, but fatal wound.
On the review of these many recited statutes,