The Merchant Adventurers

MerchantThis early fifteenth century name was coined to cover English merchants engaged in the export/import trade. The first of these was made official in 1407. After this, internationally-based English companies flourished throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The idea derived from a haphazard collection of merchants in the major British ports, mostly selling wool and cloth to the continent of Europe, but specializing in business with Antwerp in the Netherlands. Some of these acquired royal charters in ports like Bristol (1467) and the Port of London (1505) as well as settlements (which would eventually transform themselves into Consulates) in the foreign ports, always concentrating on business.

With this kind of organization at full speed, the merchants became dominant in foreign trade, which did nothing to increase their popularity or that of England. Their rivals were ousted, especially merchants in the Hanseatic League (Cologne, Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen etc.). The Merchant Adventurers’ ships began arming themselves with cannon, and arming the sailors themselves. In the reign of monarchs such as Elizabeth I, some other European states started calling the Merchant Adventurers by a different name – pirates. It is certainly accepted that the Queen encouraged her Adventurers to be adventurous, and this sometimes involved armed attacks on foreign ports, especially Spanish ones.

In 1611 the Merchants made Hamburg their centre of operations, but their base had always been London. They were the forerunners of the great chartered companies, but declined in importance in the eighteenth century.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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