History of the Company
“Communitas Mercatorum Stapule Anglie”; also known as “The Mayor and Company of Merchants of the Staple of England”
The Company of Merchants of the Staple is one of the oldest mercantile corporations in England. It is rare, possibly unique, in being ‘of England‘ and not bounded by any city or municipality. It may trace its ancestry back as far as 1282 or even further. The Merchants were in Bruges in 1282, Dordrecht in 1285, Antwerp in 1296 and St Omer in 1313 with Charters from the Dukes of Burgundy and the Counts of Flanders. The Company controlled the export of wool to the continent from 1314 and its charter from King Edward III in 1347 gave it control of the export trade in staple commodities.
The Company's commercial significance was in Calais which was under English rule from 1347 and the main port for wool. Exports were restricted to the Freemen of the Company who, in return for their monopoly, paid a levy back to the Crown. With some two hundred merchants, in 1363 it was known as the “New Company of English Merchants dwelling nowe at Calais” and in 1369 as “The Mayor and Company of the Staple at Calais“. The Company later paid for and eventually managed the garrison in the city.
In January 1558 France (Henri II) regained control of Calais from England (Mary Tudor – “Calais engraved upon my heart”) and the Company moved to Bruges where it continued activity until 1569. It was awarded a grant to be a perpetual corporation, a legal unit with a common seal. In 1569 the English merchants were expelled from Netherlands (Elizabeth I in dispute with Phillip II) and moved to Hamburg until able to return to Bruges in 1573 where they stayed until 1614. Although in 1584 a principle established that the compulsory staple market was to be abandoned, only members of the Company were allowed to ship wools from England – to any continental port which did not lie in the hands of the Queen’s enemies.
From the early 17th century the Right Worshipful Company was based in London in the 'Leaden Hall'. King James I granted the Company a new charter in 1617 which gave it control of wool broking across England. King Charles II confirmed the privileges of the Company on 29th July 1669; this royal charter is in the Company’s archives.
The picture below shows the first entries in a new minute book starting with a meeting of 12 November 1619.
Staplers Through History
William Browne d 1489 “of Stamford, Merchant of the Staple at Calais“. [will dated 4 July 1488]. 1446 Appointed as ambassador for the merchants of Holland, Zeeland and Flanders to the Duke of Burgundy. Member of the Calais Staple at least from 1449. As member he engages in moneylending, in particular to successive Kings of England, namely Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III and Henry VII in return for forfeited properties, licenses to export wool free of tax, and at least five royal pardons. Most of his moneylending activities took place during the War of the Roses which took place between 1455 and 1485. He founded Domus Dei (Browne’s Hospital) in Stamford. Twice Sheriff of Rutland in the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V & Henry VII. http://www.lilfordhall.com/ElmesFamily/William-Browne.asp
Sir Andrew Judd, Knight d 1588 Mayor of the Staple
His Monument in St Helens Church, Bishopsgate, London reads:
“TO RUSSIA AND MUSCOVA. TO SPAYNE SUNNY WITHOUT FABLE TRAVELD HE BY LAND AND SEA. BOTHE MAYRE OF LONDON AND STAPLE THE COMMONWELTHE HE NORISHED SO WORTHELIE IN ALL HIS DATES THAT ECH STATE FULLWELL HIM LOVED TO HIS PERPETUALL PRAYES. THREE WYVES HE HAD. ONE WAS MARY FOWER SUNES ONE MAYDE HAD HE BY HER. ANNYS HAD NONE BY HIM. TRULY BY DAME MARY HAD ONE DOWGHTER. THUS IN THE MONTH OF SEPTEMBER A THOUSANDE FYVE HUNDRED FYFTEY AND EYGHT DIED THIS WORTHIE STAPLAR WORSHIPYNCE HIS POSTERYTE”
John Robinson died 1599.
[Monument in St Helens Church, Bishopsgate, London.]
Merchant of the Staple of England, free of the Company of Merchant Taylors and Alderman of London.