Merchant Adventurers

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Company of Merchant Adventurers was one of the most important English cloth trading companies of the late Middle Ages and, as a privileged English trading company in the Middle Ages and early modern times, a forerunner of the large, share- covered trading companies such as B. the British East India Company .


Distance merchants in England were referred to as merchant adventurers in the middle of the 13th century . This meant primarily those merchants who traveled to continental Europe to do business there. The term Merchant Adventurers , German for commercial adventurers , gives an indication of the uncertainty and adventurousness of a sea voyage at that time. As far as they approached the Baltic Sea , which was ruled by the Hanseatic League , around Jutland, they were perceived as intruders there and, due to the sea route, were referred to as bypassers .

History of origin

The genesis of Merchant Adventurers is largely in the dark. Maybe they are from the Guild of London cloth merchant, the Mercers' Company of London , emerged. In any case, these cloth merchants had a decisive influence on the adventurers in the middle of the 14th century. On the other hand, from the beginning of the 14th century the term merchant adventurer was mainly used for merchants who traded with the Netherlands . The first trading privileges in the Duchy of Brabant can be found between 1295 and 1315 .

Around 1350, individual, more solid associations of merchants who traded in the same goods formed. Around 1356 the Company of the staple at Calais , an association of 26 English cloth merchants, obtained a monopoly of the English crown on the export of cloth to Calais . This company was generally only called “Staple”, in German “ stack” or “storage place”, which is more like a trading place. This name also indicates a specific commercial practice: the joint sale of cloths for a region at a specified location. One reason for this will have been that internal price agreements could be better controlled by each other. The Company of the Staple was merged with the Company of Merchant Adventurers of England in the 17th century .

At the same time, similar associations will have formed in other Dutch cities. In 1359, in Bruges , the trading center of that time, privileges for English merchants can be proven. Probably from these individual organizations the Company of Merchant Adventurers of England was founded around 1407 . This London-based company is to be understood as a merchants' guild. She too was privileged by the English crown and was given the monopoly on the export of untreated cloth to the Netherlands. The Dutch region around Bruges was one of the centers of textile manufacturing and finishing , and the Company of Merchant Adventurers set up its first branch there. In 1446 she was offered better conditions by Duke Philip of Burgundy , and she moved her Dutch headquarters to Antwerp . The society prospered and became very important to the English crown, as taxes on cloth exports made up a substantial portion of the state's revenue. By 1550 the Company of Merchant Adventures in England and the Netherlands had about 7,200 members.

Public companies

English merchants were largely cut off from trade with the Baltic Sea region , and there were only few contacts with the colonies ; they were mainly in Spanish and Portuguese possession and not accessible to the English. A stock company was therefore founded from among the merchant adventurers in 1551 with the aim of exploring a separate trade route to China and India . This Mystery and Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places Unknown equipped an expedition with three ships in 1553, one of which reached Russia across the White Sea . As a result, trade contacts were established with Russia and the joint-stock company was renamed the Muscovy Company . In 1554 she received the lucrative privilege of exclusive trade with Russia. For example, ships of the Muscovy Company regularly sailed to Arkhangelsk over the next centuries . A similar principle was behind the charter for the Governors and Company of Merchants of London Trading to the East Indies .

Trade wars

In Northern Europe the trade wars for the Merchant Adventurers were determined by the clashes between the Hanseatic League, in particular the Wendish cities around Lübeck and Stralsund with the Danish kings . The Peace of Stralsund (1370) temporarily led to the complete exclusion of all drivers from the surrounding area from the Scandinavian fair . The Peace of Utrecht (1474) to end the pirate war of the Hanseatic League against England brought another severe setback for the merchant adventurer trade , as the Hanseatic League asserted its privileges across the board and monopolized the cloth trade for itself. But the Company of Merchant Adventurers also changed in its core business : in order to weaken the Hanseatic merchants, it was given a monopoly on cloth exports to the Netherlands and northern Germany in 1560.

When an Anglo-Dutch trade war broke out in 1563, the association moved its Dutch headquarters to Emden . There she received the offer to move her seat to Hamburg . In 1567, the Hamburg council signed a ten-year contract with the management of the Merchant Adventurers , after which the company's headquarters were relocated to Hamburg. This reflects the disagreement of the German cities loosely allied in the Hanseatic League, which for a time put their own local trade interests above the general or majority interests of the Hanseatic cities, as did Gdansk in the central Baltic Sea, so that the Merchant Adventurers also set foot there could grasp.

In 1577 the contract with Hamburg was not extended due to protests from the Evangelical Lutheran population and the Merchant Adventurers moved their headquarters back to Emden. In 1582 it was moved to Middelburg and in 1587 to Stade . When the German Emperor Rudolf was at war with England in 1597 , the Stader branch was officially closed, but business went on in secret. As a countermeasure, the Stalhof in London was confiscated by Elizabeth I. In 1604, the English were officially re-admitted to Stade.

Hamburg Company

In 1611 another contract was signed with the Merchant Adventurers , which meant that they were almost equal to the locals in terms of commercial law. They were assigned the Zevernsche Haus, a merchant's house built in 1418 on Gröningerstrasse, which the council had acquired in 1570. The Merchant Adventurers were exempt from certain duties, such as the admiralty duty; Their imports made up around 20 percent of Hamburg's imports at the beginning of the 17th century. The English goods were successfully sold via Hamburg to Frankfurt am Main , Leipzig , Nuremberg and Silesia as far as Vienna or Hungary .

Around 1620 the Hamburg Company comprised about 100 English merchants present in Hamburg; this number decreased continuously. In 1800 there were eleven. In Hamburg the British were known as Merchant Adventures , in Great Britain they were known as the Hamburgh Company .

The Hamburger Company was dissolved by the French in 1806 during the Hamburg French era. The activity was finally ended in 1826 with a contract with the British government. The so-called English House in Gröningerstraße remained the domicile of the Merchant Adventurers until 1806 .



  • David M. Smith: A guide to the archives of the Company of Merchant Adventurers of York. Borthwick Inst. Of Historical Research, York 1990 ( Borthwick texts and calendars 16, ISSN  0305-8506 ).


  • Anne F. Sutton: The Merchant Adventurers of England: their origins and the Mercers' Company of London. In: Historical Research. 75, 2002, ISSN  0950-3471 , pp. 25-46.
  • Nils Jörn: The disputes between the Hanseatic League and Merchant Adventurers before the highest imperial courts in the 16th and 17th centuries. In: Journal of the Association for Lübeck History and Archeology. 78, 1998, ISSN  0083-5609 , pp. 323-348.
  • Anne D. Petersen: The English in Hamburg, 1814 to 1914. A contribution to the history of Hamburg. von Bockel, Hamburg 1993, ISBN 3-928770-09-8 (also: Hamburg, Univ., Diss., 1992).
  • Heinrich Hitzigrath: The company of the Merchant Adventurers and the English parish in Hamburg 1611-1835. Kriebel, Hamburg 1904.
  • Jürgen Wiegandt: The Merchant Adventurers Company on the continent at the time of the Tudors and Stuarts. (= Contributions to social and economic history , 4) Kiel 1972.