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Money and credit in the fifteenth century: some lessons from Yorkshire.

This article explores some of the methods used to raise

credit in an important trading region of late medieval

England during a decline in overseas trade and an

international bullion famine. It argues that, because

provincial credit arrangements depended on local as well as

national factors, a combination of demographic and regional

circumstances contributed to the commercial weakness of

Yorkshire merchants as they faced growing competition

from Londoners with access to more sophisticated financial


Within the continuing debate about the nature and causes of the economic recession that affected most of Europe from the 1390s, the demographers, led by the late Michael Postan, have come under attack from the monetarists, in particular John Day and John Munro. (1) They have argued that the demographic repercussions of the Black Death throughout Europe were not the main causes of decline, and that an acute shortage of coins and precious metals, which reduced the money supply, was of greater significance. (2) Harry Miskimin has offered a compromise to the pure bullionist model, suggesting that the hedonistic spending spree following the Black Death triggered the flow of luxury, oriental goods into Europe and precious metals out, hastening the depression of the fifteenth century. (3) Bullion shortages were severe from about 1395 until about 1415 and again in the 1440s, reaching acute proportions in the 1450s, until the injection of "new" silver began to increase the supply in the 1460s. (4) The most easily measurable impact was on international trade, which was also the mechanism that accelerated the flow of bullion out of northern Europe, through the Mediterranean, and out to the Middle and Far East.

The consequences for international trade may be relatively clear, but how were domestic economies affected by the bullion famines? (5) Might other factors, including short-term demographic crises, have had as profound an impact at a regional level? Even in the fifteenth century, few English regions were closed to the economic currents of national and international demographic and commercial events; those regions locked into long-distance trade through wool production or cloth manufacture should have been the most exposed to international financial crises.

The ways in which these crises may have been transferred into the domestic provincial economy constitute a complex topic. This article seeks to explore the changing situation in Yorkshire, an important wool- and cloth-producing English region, during a time of international commercial contraction. It argues that regional merchants weathered the fifteenth-century recession badly because the scarcity of bullion, together with other local considerations, made it difficult for merchants at the periphery to compete with London. Insufficient credit was an important element, both a symptom and a cause of the ascendancy of London at the expense of the provinces. (6) The regional significance of the bullion famines was that they gave Londoners the competitive edge over their provincial rivals at a time when financial networks were focusing international trade on fewer centers.

The decline of the periphery in England's overseas trade, in contrast to the buoyancy of the center, London, has been described elsewhere and with particular reference to Yorkshire. (7) Several factors affected trade out of that region, but the role of credit was probably one of the most crucial. Long-distance trade was itself a generator of credit opportunities, and as the Yorkshire-men's share in that trade contracted from the 1410s, so their access to viable partners, at home and overseas, was restricted. They were geographically distant from the superior credit resources of London just when bullion was becoming increasingly scarce. (8) English relations with the Hanseatic League degenerated in the fifteenth century, seriously affecting trade. The English East Coast ports were badly disadvantaged, since north German and Baltic markets had provided alternatives to those of the London-dominated Low Countries. The diminishing involvement of Yorkshire merchants in the wool trade and exclusion from the Baltic markets meant that they could no longer tap the credit networks of the Continent or exploit currency exchange rates as they had previously. But some merchants remained active: how did they raise capital for new ventures or to settle old accounts?

Credit in Medieval Commerce

Alternative means of raising credit, on which the regional economy became increasingly dependent, had long complemented international transactions. (9) The explanation of recession at the micro level may therefore be found in a series of financial networks, not solely in a shortage of coin. The ways in which this more localized credit was arranged show how different elements in the economy--trade, investment in land, demographic trends, and savings--were linked. But the types of local resources that they employed were both inadequate and vulnerable to other major events, such as demographic crises.

International commerce could somewhat mitigate the impact of a scarcity of bullion by increasing the money supply through credit. (10) The best-known instrument of credit was the bill of exchange, which had evolved by 1300 to meet the demand for greater flexibility and security than payments in bullion allowed. Although its use was similar to that of a modern traveler's check, its capacity was limited in a number of ways. A person could effect a transfer of cash or settle a debt in a distant town only by buying a bill of exchange drawn up by a "drawer" who had his own agent in the other center. Some major European capitals could provide this service, but most provincial centers could not; moreover, if the imbalance of trade between the two centers involved was too great, it could be temporarily cheaper to carry out the transaction in bullion. Finally, although bills of exchange became negotiable in the late fourteenth century, examples of the beneficiary's being changed were rare before the late sixteenth century. (11) What eventually became one of the most sophisticated of credit instruments was at this time geographically limited and, like all credit arrangements, most effective when two-way trade was flowing continuously. (12)

Postan's pioneering 1927 work uncovered cases pleaded before the Lord Chancellor concerning defaults on bills of exchange, so it is clear that their use had spread to denizens in the fifteenth century in spite of discouraging legislation. The Celys were using them as a regular component of their business in the 1480s. (13) The English government, like its Continental counterparts, legislated against the export of bullion and coins. It saw the bill of exchange as a device to disguise the movement of coins overseas, though in practice accounts settled using bills of exchange obviated the need to move cash physically. (14) Much of the Celys' business turned on the possibility of making over their receipts for wool sales abroad to other Englishmen, who used them to pay for imports and later repaid the Celys in London. (15) Yorkshire merchants employed and traded in bills of exchange from time to time as an ingredient of their international enterprises. (16) There were notaries public in York, who were qualified to draw up bills, but there is no way of knowing how many such bills were drawn locally. (17) A decline in overseas transactions would in any case obviate the need for such instruments, and, perhaps more important, that very decline would have had a negative effect on a merchant's credit rating unless he had other forms of security.

Other forms of international credit, such as deposit banking and book money, were not available in England or, indeed, universally throughout Europe. In any case, as Peter Spufford has reminded us, the "superstructure of international payments was only a superstructure and most transactions and monetary payments were extremely local in character." (18)

Credit Options in Yorkshire

It is with these "local" transactions that this article is concerned. It explores some of the alternative ways that credit was created within the domestic economy by the merchants of three major northern towns--York, Beverley, and Hull--between about 1400 and 1500. It is a preliminary evaluation of the evidence gathered, intended to survey credit and its function in a range of transactions out of and within the region.

With diminishing international credit, a greater proportion of an individual's cash would be socked into his business, so that at some point the use of other credit arrangements must have increased. Even barter was reverted to in some instances. (19) More rudimentary than bills of exchange, deferred payment, or sales credit, was still the most commonly used form of credit between merchants. As has been said of eighteenth-century England, "Trade credit was crucial to the functioning of exchange ... many firms had more of their assets tied up in credit than in capital." (20) One of the best reconstructions that we have of a merchant's business, that of Londoner Gilbert Maghfeld, reveals how fundamental sales credits were. Merchants with a long-standing business association rarely settled their accounts in cash, and then only for very small amounts. For a merchant like Maghfeld, operating within domestic and overseas trade, it was easier to keep the situation fluid and to pay off one supplier of goods with the unpaid balance owed to him from another. The art of commercial survival was to keep ventures and credit in a state of constant motion, and an overseas trader like Maghfeld could use his credit abroad to satisfy domestic debts by transferring them to a third party, or indeed by settling an overseas debt of one of his English creditors. (21)

Keeping things on the move was everything in trade, but unfortunately the evidence that most frequently survives of credit operations is static and piecemeal: that of debts called in. Virtually all the evidence for medieval credit comes from records of defaulting debtors. The degree to which indebtedness mirrored the scale of credit transactions or a contracting economy is not certain. Elizabeth Bennett suggests that the number of actions against defaulters on debts involving Londoners, which were registered under Statute Staple, fell as the bullion supply fell and as overseas trade declined between 1410 and 1450. But does this imply that tight money equals tight credit, or that less credit was required because there were fewer commercial transactions to service? The number of actions on Statute Staple certificates increased after 1461 and remained high between 1471 and 1480, a decade of low mint output in England. (22)

At the very least, the evidence of debts indicates the importance of credit, and in the Yorkshire economy it is quite extensive, if not always detailed. Although many wills recorded debts to be recovered or to be bequeathed, they did so only in general terms. By custom, the payment of debts had priority in the execution of wills. By Edward IV's reign (1461), debts of record took precedence over any others in the administration of a will. (23) It was quite common for testators to instruct their executors to settle debts before disposing of the residue. Some, like Robert Collinson of York in 1456, instructed that a house be sold to meet debts; others followed Edward Grenely of Hull, who specified in 1492 that goods were to be sold. Some creditors arrived too late for satisfaction. In 1419 Robert Gaunt of York took legal action in vain to recover goods worth 12[pounds sterling] from the estate of John Rydding, a dyer: other creditors had gotten there first. (24) Executors could be pursued by the deceased's creditors, so that debts could become an issue between two sets of creditors (and their heirs) long after the initiating parties were dead. (25) The more actively and widely an individual had "invested" his money in lending in whatever form, the more difficult the resultant debts would be to collect. (26) The administration of the will of William Alcock, a Hull merchant, was given to a court-appointed executor in 1435, a man not named in Alcock's will, because of the "multitude" of his debts. York merchant John Elwald realistically referred in his will of 1505 to all of his debts "which can be recovered," and inventories regularly distinguished between debita sperata and debita desperata (debts with and without hope of collection). (27) Conversely, some creditors when drawing up their wills charitably released their debtors. Not all did so wholeheartedly. Robert Louth of York released those who could not pay, whereas Thomas Holme released only those who could produce "reasonable proof" that they could not. (28)

However stale or small, debts were still assets to be recovered and managed, whatever the inconvenience and cost. (29) Considerable perseverance was sometimes necessary. Agnes Brightwell of London loaned her son-in-law 60 [pounds sterling] in 1406 and was eventually paid in a mixture of salt and cash in 1413. Delays in repayment must have been detrimental--hence the offer of a discount for early settlement made by William Skyrwyth of York to a debtor in 1427. (30) However difficult and discouraging the exercise, recovering debts was an essential part of business. Failure to do so could result in commercial disaster (as evidenced by Gilbert Maghfeld) or the disappointment of legatees. (31) Debts mentioned in probate records could be the result of deferred payments for goods or services, not always made clear in wills, though expressly stated in some inventories. (32) For instance, the inventory of Hugh Grantham, a mason of York, drawn up in 1410, itemized debts owed to him for the purchase of oats, barley, and cloth, as well as debts owed through obligations. A total of 85 [pounds sterling] 17s. 10d. was outstanding to him. In turn he owed 58 [pounds sterling] 13s. 5d., mainly for deliveries of stone from his suppliers and for loans through deferred payment or by negotiation. (33)

Unfortunately, that sort of balancing of debt accounts is not possible for the majority of testators. Rough calculations of the proportion of an individual's cash estate composed of debts due to him have been possible in only a handful of cases. For the majority of these, debts accounted for between one- and two-thirds of their cash estates. In 1421 Thomas Frost of Hull left about 76 [pounds sterling], of which debts owed to him constituted about 70 [pounds sterling]. At the other end of the range, Robert Preston, also of Hull, left about 210 [pounds sterling], of which only 30 [pounds sterling] represented debts owed to him. (34)

The majority of debts mentioned in wills were probably either mutually acknowledged informal arrangements--what Postan called bills obligatory--or they were in the form of legal instruments: recognizances, bonds, or obligations. (35) Recognizances could be enrolled (registered) in the borough courts of Hull and York, but no court rolls as such are extant. Enrollments survive in disappointingly small numbers in the memoranda books of York and the bench books of Hull. A fragment of a sheriff's court roll and precedent book for mid-fifteenth century York and miscellaneous deeds constitute the rest of the known local sources. (36) There is nothing like the plentiful series of borough court rolls to match the London Letter Books, whose equivalents George Unwin envisaged piled temptingly high in provincial town halls, or the 4,526 cases of debt heard in the mayor's court in Exeter between 1378 and 1388, which Maryanne Kowaleski has analyzed. (37) Substantial survivals of records in other towns imply that Yorkshire towns must once have had similarly extensive commercial transactions and that the extant evidence represents a very small fragment of the original total. (38)

What has survived in formal enrollments is sufficient to indicate some of the characteristics of credit agreements. Some were designed to raise capital for a particular need and were explicitly loans. Thus in June 1404, Richard Bawtre, a Scarborough merchant, and three York merchants enrolled a bond to John Craven, also a York merchant, for a loan of 79 [pounds sterling] 13s. 4d., which was to be repaid the following June. (39) No interest was recorded, but as usury, was illegal, this was scarcely surprising; loans were usually made for a fictitious sum that included both principal and interest. (40) Very likely registering a bond of this kind was also a way of registering the financial basis of a short-term partnership, with John Craven in this instance the active trader.

All the recognizances enrolled set a date or dates for settlements, most of them within twelve months, either in a single payment or in installments. (41) Sometimes one creditor would supply cash through several obligations to one person. Thus Cecily, widow of William Ferrour of Newcastle and daughter of a York painter, owed William Skyrwyth, a York clerk, six separate debts, each of 40s., to be repaid on 10 November in successive years from 1428. (42) Most of the recognizances enrolled in York and Hull dealt with rounded sums of money, indicating that they were probably instruments for loans rather than settlements of commercial transactions involving exact costs. (43)

Entering into agreements for loans was a useful mechanism for raising-capital and for making surplus capital work. The importance of keeping a record was obvious: John Stockdale of York had a debt book that was mentioned in his will in 1507, and others must have kept at least a loose file of bonds and deeds, as Richard Wartre of York had in the early fifteenth century. Better still of course were the four bonds and one acquittance that Walter Randolph delivered to John Middleton of York in 1394, together with 5s. in coins, assorted mercery (fabrics), and 34 lbs. of onion seed. (44) Lack of written evidence of a debt could prejudice its recovery and could result in nonpayment, even when the debt was recognized by the debtor. (45) Although a debt might be formally enrolled, the recovery of the acquittance or indeed of the record was not necessarily straightforward. What sort of chaos prompted the York council's decision in 1371 that the Statute Merchant Boll should be kept in the council chamber on Ousebridge, and that, since each mayor was responsible for the rolls of his year in office, his executors would inherit that responsibility after his death? (46)

Though it must have been better than nothing, enrollment did not guarantee repayment, and many creditors had to take their cases to the royal courts in London, King's Bench and Common Pleas in particular. The consequent legal trail left behind as much inferential evidence as the local enrollments of recognizances provide direct evidence. The Patent and Close Rolls are full of writs supersedeas to local sheriffs to prevent them from implementing judgments of outlawry brought against the absent party in actions of debt. They are also full of pardons to individuals for "not appearing to answer" pleas of debt in the royal courts. Usually these were bald statements that A owed B [pounds sterling]x, but they do indicate the geographical flow of credit.(47) The occasional surviving petitions to the chancellor are much more informative and can convey the aggrieved feelings of the parties and the complexities of their transactions.

There are hints that local pressure sometimes operated powerfully in favor of local men in debt disputes, and this may have been one reason for outsiders to use the royal courts. In the middle of the fifteenth century, a Nicholas Elerton was complaining that although he had brought a successful action for debt against John Northeby of Hull, he had been prevented from gaining satisfaction by "subtle and strange means" and could get no remedy in Hull. However, Chancery judgments were not invincible. John Spicer, possibly of Beverley, won an action aginst Thomas Etton of Hull, but when he went to Hull to deliver the writ, Etton took counter action against him in the local courts and had Spicer imprisoned. Spicer had to petition the Lord Chancellor for another writ to be released. (48))

Quite apart from the universal problem of enforcing payment of a debt or loan, recognizances, bonds, and bills of obligation were very difficult to transfer, and this limited their usefulness. The appointment of a third party, an attorney, was a legal requirement if one wanted effectively to assign an obligation to someone else; though the first transfer was fairly easy, transfer became increasingly difficult thereafter as a series of dependent documents became necessary. (49) The international bill of exchange had an equivalent in England--a sort of domestic co-op check card to the American Express card. The remedy was to register the debt or loan under Statute Merchant or Statute Staple. Under the statute of Acton Burnel of 1283, the debtor practically signed a judgment against himself in the event of defaulting on payment, and these provisions were strengthened by the Statute de Mercatoribus in 1285. Together, these statutes limited liability to the debtor, made all his assets available to his creditors, and speeded up the process of registering and recovering debts. In those towns, such as York and Hull, that were granted the right to hold the seal of Statute Merchant, there were supposed to be statutory registries wherein debts could be enrolled. After 1353, the Statute Staple extended to everyone the right to have debts registered in those towns where a Mayor of the Staple was appointed. Both York and Hull were granted that facility. (50)

Effectively, this legislation had created a debt of record, statutory recognizances acceptable nationwide, relatively easy to register and recover. Statute Merchant and Statute Staple bonds had the strength of bills of exchange within England and should have offered an attractive alternative to the less formal arrangements already described. They were not impregnable, however. As autonomous documents, they could be and were stolen, since possession alone was sufficient title unless challenged. Other difficulties (apart from sloppy archival practice as in York) also arose if the enrolling authority failed to cancel debts paid or if the debtor neglected to recover the bond from the creditor. Creditors were not obliged to cancel debts until the reign of James II. (51)

It is difficult to establish how popular these statutory, recognizances were. (52) They did not replace the traditional system of informal agreements enrolled in local courts, which perhaps were adequate for most debts, as Hubert Hall believed. (53) There is some patchy evidence of the use of the seal in York, which suggests that statutory bonds met a particular need and were accepted as superior to other bonds.

During the Peasants' Revolt, the "rebels" in Beverley extorted bonds from some of the town's establishment by force Statute Merchant bonds. The injured burgesses petitioned for redress, and from the tone of their petition, it is apparent that they regarded these bonds as irredeemable without the king's direct intervention. These were "rebels" with financial acumen. Statutory bonds seem to have been used for extra security in particularly large or complex transactions. For instance, one to the abbot of Furness in 1418 for 200 [pounds sterling] from Robert de Eare was enrolled in York; another in 1393 to the bishop of Durham for 200 marks from Adam Pund was enrolled in Hull. (54)

Mobilizing Capital: Land in Credit Transactions

Statute Merchant bonds, like other bonds, could be used in property transactions to convert a fixed asset, land, into working capital. This is a key area, which Postan described as "the mobilisation and de-mobilisation of capital." Others have described the investment in rents as fulfilling some of the functions of deposit banking.(55) Generally, discussions of the role of land in the economy have been focused on rural estates--their agricultural management, crop yields, and fluctuating rents. Lay urban estates can be harder to identify, and the difficulty of separating out the role of rent in capital formation remains. (56) Few merchants accumulated large urban estates, certainly not as permanent holdings, and where it has been possible to calculate, their income from urban rents was rarely very high. (57) Not many had significant rural holdings, either, yet merchants continued to acquire property in town and countryside throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. (58) Undoubtedly, an overriding motive for accumulating property for many was to ensure spiritual security for themselves, by investing in prayers and charity, and to provide temporal security for their children. (59)

Post mortem estates are difficult to evaluate, but the evidence of inter vivos speculation in property suggests that many merchants invested for short- as well as for long-term gains, reinvesting the cash or credit derived to generate more business. An unusually good collection of deeds for Hull reveals a high turnover in property during the fifteenth century, and there was such an active property, market in London that it supported specialist property brokers. (60) (Property is used here to include outright purchase, reversionary interests, rents, and rent-charges and annuities.) (61) The sort of exploitation of property, described in the following pages cannot he quantified; the evidence is patchy and conclusions impressionistic. Nonetheless, it can be claimed convincingly that property was an important component in the active merchant's commercial repertoire.

It must have been common practice to raise capital against the security of property: Londoners were doing it in the 1280s and, according to Sylvia Thrupp, a "great many" fourteenth-century London merchants were raising loans against "only small pieces of property, a few scattered holdings." (62) The attachment of rents from a property until a debt was settled was not new. Two Beverley merchants, Richard and Thomas Holmes, who purchased wool from Meaux Abbey in the mid-fourteenth century, accepted the profits from one of the abbey's manors until the contract was fulfilled. In about 1357 a debt of 80 [pounds sterling] was registered under Statute Staple in York, to be recovered from property in Thirsk and York. Property could he lost when used as security against a debt. For example, York draper Thomas de Kilburn got a lien on a property in 1381 against a debt of 10 marks, and in due course the debtor defaulted to Kilburn's gain. In another example, a Beverley merchant, William Lyndelawe, agreed to pay off his debts to one John de Bentley by settling Bentley's 120 [pounds sterling] debt to a third party. Lyndelawe used his estate in the vill of Escrick as his security but in the end defaulted, and Bentley got the land. (63)

Using statutory bonds put mortgaging property onto a firmer footing, though the risks remained. Simon Grimsby of Hull, for instance, owned land in Hull worth 40 marks per year, and he borrowed 40 marks from John Iwardby against the land under Statute Staple. But Grimsby over-reached himself, and enfeoffed (legally handed over to) a third party with the land. That person refused to re-enfeof him, and Grimsby, under pressure to settle the debt to Iwardby, petitioned the Lord Chancellor for repossession. A charge on a property was no impediment to its sale. For instance, Gilbert Maunby sold a property in Thirsk in 1358 with a charge of an 80 [pounds sterling] debt under Statute Merchant still on it. (64)

We need to know more about the level of return anticipated from property, to be able to assess the financial judgment of individuals, and we might wish that testamentary evidence provided a fuller picture of the balance among cash, debts, and property. (65) By including property as a dynamic rather than as a fixed asset within the context of commerce, we would come closer to understanding the range of financial options open to medieval merchants. Property values of course fluctuated. Both urban and rural rents fell in the fifteenth century, between the 1420s and 1480s, and although some merchants may have acquired sizable holdings (from defaulting debtors or as a calculated investment), others must have suffered as their credit capacity fell with falling rents. (66)

Financial Networks

Using credit was a risky but necessary part of most people's lives, but it was essential for commercial enterprise and led to a variety. of reciprocal arrangements. The most common was acting as a pledge for another merchant's loan. When a loan was negotiated, the borrower had to find mainpernors, or pledges, who would stand as surety against payment. A wealthy and successful businessman, with the confidence of his creditor, might not always need pledges, but a relative newcomer or someone with neither property nor reputation, or someone seeking an exceptionally large loan, would be dealt with according to the solvency of his pledges. In this way the choice of pledges could influence the size of the loan one could command as much as the viability of the venture did. (67) Yorkshire merchants often stood as pledges for each other and occasionally for merchants from distant parts of England and even from overseas. (68) The diminishing resources of the group could work against individuals in this respect, while their London rivals could command greater numbers of active financiers and trading partners. (69)

Mainperning was not without its risks. Pledges were legally liable for a loan, and their goods could be distrained if a debtor defaulted. In about 1455, a Hull merchant, John Green, stood as surety for a York merchant, Thomas Ward, for 225 [pounds sterling], the price of a cargo of wine purchased from four Bordeaux men. Payment was to be made only when the wine had been delivered to a third party, Richard Anson (a prominent Hull merchant), and the spoiled wine discounted. The wine duly arrived; 17 tuns 1 pipe were not good, but Green delivered the full 9.25 [pounds sterling] in a sealed packet to the common clerk of Hull to hold. When the wine was delivered to Ward, it was under by 6 tuns, and he paid only a percentage of the agreed price. The Bordeaux men sued for the full 225 [pounds sterling] against John Green in the court of Common Pleas, claiming that the obligation was made in London, not Hull: Green counter-petitioned, claiming that the transaction had been completed in Hull and that no one in London knew the whole truth of the matter. (70) Mainperning was not to be undertaken lightly.

From the pledges' point of view, a major advantage of registering a loan or debt under Statute Merchant was that the pledges were not liable if the debt could not be met from the debtor's goods and chattels. That alone should have encouraged greater use of statutory bonds, but perhaps arrangements were not quite so simple. From time to time in the York borough records, gifts of goods from one individual to another, or to a small group of trustees, were enrolled. The terms always referred to all the grantor's goods but rarely mentioned a consideration. (71) Was this a legal way of evading distraint upon one's goods for one's own or someone else's debts? In 1424 Peter Bukcy granted all his goods and the debts owed to him at home and abroad to his son John and another York merchant, Thomas Esingwold, Peter delivered 1d. to John and Thomas in the name of seisin (possession) for greater security. Was he planning a trip overseas and desirous of settling his affairs quickly? Was the gift permanent? Peter did not die for another eight years. Similarly, Richard Auncell of Hull granted all his goods and chattels to a London merchant, Thomas Rikes, in 1453, though he did not die until 1465. (72)

Such gifts of goods may have been pledges against the repayment of a loan, which, if repaid, meant that the goods never changed hands. Sometimes such grants were to other merchants, to act for the debtor in settling his debts. Thus John Bilton of Hull granted all his goods to two other Hull merchants, expressly for them to pay off his debts. Alternatively, he may have been dissolving a partnership with them. Grants were sometimes a straight exchange for an agreed sum: John Doddington of York granted all his goods to Henry Percy and others in 1421, "for a certain sum of money." In 1432 William Hovingham, a York butcher, granted all his goods to John Edmondon and two clerics on 10 October, and on 13 December he testified before the mayor that the grant had been without fraud or evil intent. (73) The implication that others might be dishonest was made explicit in a statute of 3 Henry VII, which claimed that such gifts were made "to thentent to defraude the creditors of their duties." (74)

One advantage of these gifts was that they gained essential time before the bailiffs pounced: time for another deal to be completed, for a ship to come in, or for other assets, including debts, to be recovered. (75) Gaining a breathing space could be even more important for the heir of an entrepreneur's estate, Death was a time of reckoning, when the flow of a business Stopped and creditors and partners wanted settlement. Perhaps this consideration lay behind Robert Louth of York's gift of all his goods to his son. Nicholas Louth was re-enfeoffed in 1439, after Robert's death, by the trustees chosen by his father: Guy Fairfax, esq., Thomas Cleveland, clerk, and John Bolton and William Bowes, aldermen. (76) Even though Louth's son would eventually have to accept liability for his father's debts as his executor, the delaying tactic would gain him time. A similar phenomenon was occurring in London, where increasing numbers of such gifts were enrolled in the mayor's court from 1413. (77)

That credit was used widely throughout English society is clear. Sales credit was common; real property and even gold and silver plate and precious goods might be used as security for loans. (78) The preceding survey would suggest that many local arrangements were possible, even during a bullion famine. (79) Given the propensity to register debts in some form and the greater likelihood of negotiating pledges in a busy market, towns can be seen as a focus for financial services. The addition of international commerce as in York, Beverley, and Hull enhanced that role; in theory, when trade was buoyant, credit should have flowed from urban purchaser to rural producer and vice versa. Unfortunately, there is as yet insufficient local evidence to provide a precise chronology of changes in volume or in the direction of the flow of credit. (80) However, although the evidence is patchy, it provides strong hints about the geographical distribution of debtors and creditors involved with the merchants from these three towns, and it was much as one might expect: they were scattered throughout the north of England from Cumberland to Lincolnshire, with the highest concentration in Yorkshire, confirming a regional rather than a purely local area of influence (81)

London's Ascendancy

The strongest discernible drift of debts was to the south, out of the region to London, confirming suspicions that both a symptom and a continuing cause of the failure of provincial merchants to sustain their dominance of the region was that they were financially outpaced by Londoners. (82) The Londoners' presence in the north was not new; Fountains Abbey was selling wool futures through a London agent in 1275. (83) Similarly, in the fourteenth century Londoners often bought Yorkshire wool and cloth and shipped it out through Hull. (84) Occasionally, Yorkshiremen collaborated with Londoners; for instance, Hull merchant John Fitling and London fishmonger William Holgryn were partners in a deal in 1417; collapsed partnerships may have been hidden in the increasingly frequent actions for debt brought by Londoners against Yorkshire merchants. Hindsight permits an appreciation of the long-term impact, but it is doubtful if William Savage, who stood as a pledge for a Londoner shipping wool from Hull to London in 1392, thought it bizarre. (85) Merchants riding the tide of success would not understand that encouraging London merchants and credit to move north would eventually undermine local entrepreneurship; and even if they had, would they have been deterred?

The significant difference in the fifteenth century was the growing scale of London's involvement in the main Yorkshire towns. London goods were in York shops by the mid-fifteenth century and probably earlier. The inventory of a chapman (peddler), Thomas Gryssop, drawn up in 1446, lists an enthralling variety of goods--many obvious imports, but also London purses, coffers, belts, and glasses. (Could York craftsmen no longer meet local demand for these items, or were their prices too high?) Gryssop's debts included 30s. 6d. to a London spicer and 40s. to a London capmaker. (86) He was only one of a growing number of northerners indebted to London merchants: two grocers in particular, Thomas Phillips and Robert Mildenhall, had nearly 400 [pounds sterling] of debts owed by York dyers, merchants, and spicers enrolled in York in 1444-45. A further 84 [pounds sterling] was owed to other Londoners, including sums owed by merchants from Hull and Doncaster, chapmen from Durham and Lancashire. (87)

The chance survival of one document raises problems: could this have been an atypical year? There are, in fact, other hints of the deeper penetration of the north by London investors. For instance, Londoners began to acquire property in Yorkshire. In 1404 Thomas de Leycestre, a London grocer, hired two York men as his rent collectors in York. Were these rents a debt settlement? Robert Kelam, another Londoner, hired a rent collector and agent to look after property acquired by marriage to a York merchant's widow. (88) Income from property was also draining out of the region in other ways, as Yorkshiremen setting up in business in London used inherited Yorkshire property as security to raise working capital in the south. (89) Given the visible decline of three major northern towns and the visible opportunities for the adventurer in London, the decision to migrate was rational.

London's commercial tentacles were lengthening. While the East Coast ports foundered during the prolonged hostilities with the Hanseatic League, Londoners were tightening their grip on the cloth trade with the Low Countries, depriving provincial merchants of further profits and credit opportunities. (90) Even in interregional trade, the merchants from York, Beverley, and Hull were losing out to southerners. By 1505, butchers from London and the Home Counties began to appear alongside London grocers, haberdashers, and occasional craftsmen in the lists of felons claiming sanctuary in Beverley Minster, most of them pursued for debt. (91) The record does not tell us who the creditors were, but the inference must be that business had drawn the southerners north.

There was, then, a range of credit options actively pursued by provincial merchants, but they were local, small-scale, and too exposed to personal vagaries to supply adequate resources to compete with Londoners during much of the fifteenth century, especially with the added pressures created by the bullion famine. Dependent on personal resources rather than on the institutional resources of banking and finance houses, provincial credit was especially vulnerable. The regional contraction in those resources that had provided security against credit was therefore critical. That contraction was most likely the result of a series of staggered short- and medium-term events in the fifteenth century. The first was the reduced involvement in international trade by the Yorkshire merchants in the early part of the century. (92) The flow of trade was interrupted, jeopardizing overseas credit arrangements. Most particularly, the decline in wool exports through Hull, and the Yorkshiremen's diminishing share of that nationally shrinking trade, closed off important financial resources to all but a few. They lost access to the Calais Staple, which had played a central role as a foreign currency exchange and credit agency for wool merchants. According to Postan, "most had something in the nature of a current account with the [Calais] mint." Warrants of payment and bills of mint were issued to merchants, either as part of the process of repaying loans to the Crown or to allow merchants to draw credit abroad against their compulsorily deposited bullion and coin in the Staple. These Staple documents circulated between merchants in Calais and other European centers like "modern negotiable paper." As exports of wool through Hull plummeted from 4,250 sacks per year in the decade 1419-29 to 1,609 sacks per year in the following decade, so the trade to fuel the Calais Staple shrank, and opportunities to employ Staple credit were no longer available as they had been previously. (93)

Merchants looking for alternatives found that the possibility of using rents and mortgages as means of securing credit was affected by the demographic consequences of successive visitations of plague and famine-related epidemics in the region. There were mortality crises in the diocese of York in 1429, 1436, 1438, and 1458-59. (94) Rural and urban rents and land values were falling, most sharply by the 1420s and 1430s. (95) The "harvest failure in the region in 1438-39, together with the erosion of epidemics, undermined demographic recovery during the first part of the fifteenth century. The 1438-40 crisis had a massive effect on the northern economy, and in parts of Durham and North Yorkshire, rents fell still farther. (96) Thus rents as a source of cash income and as security for credit were contracting, and even the large institutions such as Fountains Abbey were hit. (97) A further demographic factor was the high mortality among the merchant class, at least of York, in the late 1430s. (98) This dispersed accumulated capital, interrupted businesses, froze the debt and credit flow of individual concerns, and also brought to account a circle of financial partners, all at just the wrong time. (99)

Credit was, of course, only one of several interrelated elements that powered a region's economy, but international trade had been part of Yorkshire's economy for centuries, connecting local producers with overseas markets and enhancing financial resources. The entrepreneurial failure of the region's merchants critically affected their own towns' fortunes, while the region was taken over by the alternative financial strength offered by Londoners, and in particular by members of the Grocers' Company. (100) Although Yorkshire was still producing for overseas markets in 1500, local merchants played very little part in that trade.


To return to the original question: were the late medieval international bullion crises transferred into the domestic economy and how might any impact be reflected? In a perfect world one could supply statistical series of data to set against each other: regional demographic trends, rent fluctuations, cereal prices, export and import figures, credit transactions, and national mint output. We have only two of these: regional trade figures and national mint output. (101) Evidence for the rest either relates to the south and east of England or, if it is relevant to the north, is patchy and impressionistic. (102) There are also some intractable problems of interpretation. Does tight money always equal tight credit? A study of medieval Colchester suggests not, pointing to a rapid rise in local credit transactions during a time of high mint output in the 1350s. Economic development meant an increase in all forms of agreements and in indebtedness. (103) A contraction in overseas trade then would reduce the incidence of credit and indebtedness, a reduction that need not reflect simply a shortage of coins. (104)

A further difficulty lies in defining the nature of the financial relationship between local economies (perhaps partially insulated from wider fluctuations by using their own "black money") and the developing European and worldwide market. Monetarist models may not entirely explain local economies, even in areas where overseas trade played a significant role. (105)

This article has argued that the bullion famines did have an impact on Yorkshire to the extent that they created a more difficult trading environment for regionally based merchants. Yorkshiremen's share in overseas trade collapsed as war and the growing centralization of international credit operations squeezed them out of the Baltic and the Low Countries. Although there were alternatives to raising credit on the strength of overseas commercial investments, the alternatives available locally were eroded in turn by a series of regional demographic crises. Vulnerable to competition from Londoners, the Yorkshire merchants eventually lost the role they had enjoyed for several centuries as major entrepreneurs in Anglo-European trade. Of the three dominant trading centers in the region, only Hull began to recover in the final decades of the fifteenth century and could claim a continuing role as an international entrepot. (106)

(1) M. M. Postan, "Some Economic Evidence of Declining Population in the Later Middle Ages," Economic History Review, 2d ser. 2 (1950): 221-46; Postan, "Medieval Agrarian Society in Its Prime: England," in Cambridge Economic History, 2d ed. (1966), 1: 560-70; Postan, The Medieval Economy and Society: An Economic History of Britain, 1100-1500 (Cambridge, England, 1972), 27-40, 224-46; with J. Hatcher, "Population and Class Relations in Feudal Society," Past & Present 78 (1978): 24-37: Hatcher, Plague, Population, and the English Economy, 1348-1530 (London, 1977).

(2) J. Day, "The Great Bullion Famine of the Fifteenth Century," Past & Present 79 (1978): 3-54; J. H. Munro, "Monetary Contraction and Industrial Change in the Late Medieval Low Countries, 1335-1500," in Coinage in the Low Countries, 880-1500, ed. N. J. Mayhew, British Archaeological Reports 54 (Oxford, 1979), 95-137; "Bullion flows and monetary contraction in late-medieval England and the Low Countries,," in Precious Metals in the Later Medieval and Early Modern Worlds, ed. J. F. Richards (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1983), 97-158.

(3) H. A. Miskimin, "Monetary Movements and Market Structure: Forces for Contraction in Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century England," Journal of Economic History 24 (1964): 470-90; R. S. Lopez, H. A. Miskimin, and A. L. Udovitch. "England to Egypt, 1350-1500: Long-Term Trends and Long-Distance Trade," in studies in the Economic History of the Middle East, ed. M. A. Cook (London, 1970), 93-128.

(4) P. Spufford, Money and Its Use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge, England, 1988), 339-62; Day, "Bullion Famine," 3.

(5) John Day has prepared chronologically parallel series for mint production, wages, food, and cloth prices and export trends for England, but most of his data for wages and prices are derived from the southeast. "Crises and Trends in the Late Middle Ages." in The Medieval Market Economy, ed. John Day (Oxford, 1987), 185-224.

(6) See A. A. Ruddock, "London Capitalists and the Decline of Southampton," Economic History Review, 2d ser. 2 (1949-50): 137-51, for a similar story.

(7) J. I. Kermode, "Merchants, Overseas Trade, and Urban Decline: York, Beverley and Hull c.1380-1500," Northern History 23 (1987): 51-73; J. L. Bolton, The Medieval English Economy, 1150-1500 (London, 1980), 247-51; J. A. F. Thomson, The Transformation of Medieval England, 1370-1529 (London, 1983), 48-49, 53-55, 57, 60-61; D. M. Palliser, "A Crisis in English Towns? The Case of York, 1460-1640," Northern History 14 (1978): 115.

(8) For the regular use of London courts by aliens to enroll and pursue debts, see A. H. Thomas, ed., Calendar of Select Plea and Memoranda Rolls preserved among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London [hereafter, Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London], esp. 1323-64 (Cambridge, England, 1926), 131, 217; 1413-37 (1953), 87; M. M. Postan, "Private Financial Instruments in Medieval England," reprinted in Postan, Medieval Trade and Finance (Cambridge, England, 1973), 62-63, for the role of London as a clearing center; P. Spufford, A Handbook of Medieval Exchange (London, 1986), xxxiii, for a list of places where bills of exchange could be purchased. London was the only English town included; bills could be bought there in 1350. For Italian financiers in London, see E. B. Fryde, "Italian Maritime Trade with Medieval England (c. 1270-c.1530)," Recueils de la Societe Jean Bodin 32 (1974): 322-25. For the Hanseatic war, see M. M. Postan, "The Economic and Political Relations of England and the Hanse from 1400-1475," in Studies in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century, ed. Eileen Power and M. M. Postan (London, 1933).

(9) "Everytime there was a breakdown in metallic money, everything and anything was pressed into service and paper money flowed or was invented." Fernand Braudel, Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800 (London, 1979 paper ed.), 361.

(10) M. M. Postan, "Credit in Medieval Trade," Economic History Review, 1st ser. 1 (1927-28): 234-61; Postan, "Private Financial Instruments," 29-64, esp. 34; Spufford, Handbook, xxxiii-xxxiv; Thomas, Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London. 1381-1412 (1932), xxxvi-xl.

(11) Spufford, Handbook, xxxi-iii.

(12) See S. Jenks, "Dos Schreiberbuch des John Thorpe und der Hansische Handel in London 1457-9," Hansische Geschichtsblatter 101 (1983): 67-112, for Hanse credit operations in England. I am grateful to Wendy Childs and N. J. Alldridge for this reference.

(13) A. Hanham, The Celys and Their World: An English Merchant Family of the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge, England, 1985), 188-92.

(14) Postan, "Credit in Medieval Trade"; Postan, "Private Financial Instruments," passim; J. H. Munro, "Bullionism and the Bill of Exchange in England, 1272-1663: A Study in Monetary Management and Popular Prejudice." in The Dawn of Modern Banking, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (Berkeley, Calif., 1979), 169-215, esp. 198.

(15) Hanham, The Celys and Their World, 398-405.

(16) For example, in 1425 a Lombard merchant was licensed to pay off his 10 [pounds sterling] debt to Robert de Holme of York with a bill of exchange redeemable abroad. Calendar of Close Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office [hereafter CCR], 1429-35, 369. 371. See also H. J. Smit, ed., Bronnen tot de Geschiedenis van den Handel met Engelond, Schotland, en Ireland 1150-1485 (The Hague, 1928), 2: 1073-74. Cf. Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1413-37, 11-12.

(17) York City Record Office [hereafter, York CRO], E39, 110; York Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Probate Register [hereafter Inst. Prob. Reg.], I, 20 (will of Ann Durem); Postan, "Private Financial Instruments," 34.

(18) Spufford, Handbook, xxviii-xxix; Spufford, Money and Its Use, 256-58, 394-95. See E. Clark, "Debt Litigation in a Late Medieval Vill," in Pathways to Medieval Peasants, ed. J. A. Raftis (Toronto, Ont., 1981), 247-79, for a discussion of rural local transactions.

(19) Spufford, Money and Its Use, 376, for examples.

(20) Julian Hoppit, "The use and abuse of credit in eighteenth-century. England," in Business Life and Public Policy: Essays in Honour of D. C. Coleman, ed. Neil McKendrick and R. B. Outhwaite (London, 1986), 64-66.

(21) M. K. James, "A London Merchant in the Fourteenth Century," Economic History Review, 2d ser. 8 (1955-56): 364-76. See also Hanham, The Cells and Their World, 109-255, 398-430; Postan, "Credit in Medieval Trade," 255-56, for the Celys and the London scrivener John Thorp's notebook, both demonstrating the importance of credit sales. P. Wolff, "English Cloth in Toulouse, 1380-1450," Economic History Review, 2d ser. 2 (1950): 294.

(22) E. Z. Bennett, "Debt and Credit in the Urban Economy: London 1380-1460" (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1989), 153. There were 378 actions in 1461-70, 447 in 1471-80, 106 in 1481-90 (5 years missing), 347 in 1491-1500 (Public Record Office [hereafter, PRO] C241/246-73); Day. Medieval Market Economy, 64. See also R. H. Britnell, Growth and Decline in Colchester, 1300-1525 (Cambridge, England, 1984), 100-101. Statute Staple Certificates were writs issued by the chancellor on behalf of creditors trying to recover a debt registered under Statute Staple. See text at note 50.

(23) W. S. Holdsworth, A History of English Law, 4th ed. (London, 1935), 3: 586-87. Such was the strength of the custom, that it prevailed over compassion in the London City court in 1396, when the payment of a debt took precedence over prevision for two minors, even though complex legal formalities for their care had been completed. Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1381-1412, 239.

(24) York Borthwick Inst. Prob Reg. V, 501 (Grenely), VI. 70 (Collinson); York CRO E39, 187.

(25) For example, Calendar of Patent Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office [hereafter, CPR], 1388-92, 259; 1476-85. 293; M. Sellars, ed., York Memorandum Book, I, Suttees Society 120 (1911): 33; W. Brown, ed., Yorkshire Deeds, II, Yorkshire Archaeological Society 50 (1914): 218; PRO C1/59/112, 64/1137; York CRO E39, 266-67, 281.

(26) Robert Northwold, mercer of London, died about 1374, leaving debts to be retrieved from Beverley, York, Ludlow, Oxford, Gloucester, Winchester, and from a Lombard. Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1364-81, 168-69. A debt did not have to be large to be exploited. In 1369 a debt of 6 [pounds sterling] 13s.4d. was assigned to "divers persons"; ibid., 111-12.

(27) York Borthwick Inst. Prob. Reg. III, 403 (Alcock); York Minster Library, Dean & Chapter Wills II, 43 (Elwald); J. Raine, ed., Testamenta Eboracensia, III, Surtees Society 45 (1865): 49-50, 104, 141.

(28) York Borthwick Inst. Prob. Reg. III, 255-255v. (Holme), 265-265v. (Louth). This was not an uncommon practice. Bennett, "Debt and Credit in the Urban Economy," 200.

(29) In about 1415 it cost John Talkan of York's executors 8 [pounds sterling] 6s.8d. to collect his debts and settle his estate, which had a total value of about 104 [pounds sterling]. In 1451 Thomas Vicars's executors spent only 20s. on tracing and collecting his debts, plus a further 20s. tiding around to settle everything. Testamenta Eboracensia, III, 87-89, 120-22. Cf. Bristol merchant Philip Vale, whose executors' expenses for settling debts and selling property. in 1393 came to 7 [pounds sterling]. Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1381-1412, 208-15.

(30) Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1413-37, 10; Memorandum Book, II, 160. While most Londoners" actions against debtors defaulting under staple law commenced within one year, 39 percent of Colchester creditors waited for three years or longer. Bennett, "Debt and Credit in the Urban Economy," 153-56; Britnell, Growth and Decline in Colchester, 251.

(31) In the seven years before his death in 1397, Maghfeld's assets shrank by about 80 percent. James, "A London Merchant," 369, 373-74.

(32) For example, York Borthwick Inst. Prob. Reg. II, 21 (Stockton), 119v (Shackles); III, 415v-416 (Blackburn), 540 (Hill); V, 29v (Croule), 99 (Johnson), 167 (Ryddesdale).

(33) Testamenta Eboracensia, III, 49-50.

(34) See also Brompton, 1444, about 600 [pounds sterling], debts 200 [pounds sterling]: Barley, 1468, 74 [pounds sterling], debts 53 [pounds sterling]: Fisher, 1476, 13 [pounds sterling], debts 10 [pounds sterling]. York Borthwick Inst. Prob. Beg. II, 86--90v (Brompton); II, 225 (Preston); IV, 60 (Barley); V, 8v (Fisher); Archival Register 18, 384v-385 (Frost). Cf. William Lynn, a London stapler, who left an estate worth 4,842 [pounds sterling] 7s. 2d., of which 3,072 [pounds sterling] was in debts owed to him, while he owed 1,737 [pounds sterling] 1s. 4d.: Postan, "Credit in Medieval Trade," 255-56; and Richard Toky, 40 percent of whose estate comprised unrecoverable debts: Sylvia Thrupp, The Merchant Class of Medieval London (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1962), 105.

(35) We will never know how many agreements were Concluded with a simple handshake like that "on the sands at Scarborough" in 1402 and another "in the churchyard" of St. Margaret's, Walmegate, York, in 1410. Verbal contracts were probably used for small local debts. York Borthwick Inst. Cause Papers, f. 23, 58. I am grateful to Jeremy Goldberg for these references.

(36) Hull City Record Office [hereafter Hull CRO], Bench Books BRG; BRE1, 2; BRB1; York CRO E25, 39; Sellars, ed., York Memorandum Book, I and II. Surtees Society, 120, 125 (1911, 1914); J. W. Percy, ed., III, Surtees Society 186 (1973); Yorkshire Deeds and Feet of Fines for Yorkshire, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series.

(37) G. Unwin, "London Tradesmen and Their Creditors," in Finance and Trade under Edward III, ed. George Unwin (Manchester, England, 1918), 19; M. Kowaleski. "The Commercial Dominance of a Medieval Provincial Oligarchy: Exeter in the Late Fourteenth Century," Medieval Studies 46 (1984): 369.

(38) For example, A. Beardwood, ed., The Statute Merchant Roll of Coventry. 1392-1416, Dugdale Society 17 (1939); City of London Letter Books. Recognisance Rolls, Guildhall Library.

(39) Memorandum Book, II, 98.

(40) Richard H. Helmholz, "Usury and the Medieval English Church Courts," Speculum 61 (1986): 365; Postan, "Private Financial Instruments," 31.

(41) In general the debt or loan was divided into equal portions and repaid at annual or six-month intervals. For example, Memorandum Book, II, 274; York CRO E39. 106, 108, 267.

(42) Memorandum Book, II, 160. It may be that she was meeting obligations from her father's estate. For other examples see ibid., 96, 114; York CRO E39, 267 and cf. Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1382-1412, 239.

(43) Postan, "Private Financial Instruments," 38.

(44) York Borthwick Inst. Prob. Reg, IV, 116 (Wartre); VI. 185 (Stockdale); Memorandum Book, II, 13.

(45) PRO C1/289/10.

(46) Memorandum Book, I, 12-13.

(47) For example, CPR 1429-35, 354; 1446-52. 198; 1452-61, 384, 456; 1467-77, 9,

(48) PRO C1/17/96, 64/439.

(49) Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1381-1412, xxxii-iii; Postan, "Private Financial Instruments," 40-49.

(50) H. Hall, ed., Select Cases Concerning the Law Merchant, II, Selden Society 48 (1930): xiff.; III, Selden Society 49 (1932): xvi, xxviii, xxix; T. F. T. Plucknett, The Legislation of Edward I (Oxford, 1949), 138; CCR 1279-88, 244.

(51) CCR 1279-88, 244; Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1381-1412, xxxv.

(52) There were about 6,000 cases brought under Statute Staple from 1390 to 1450; Bennett, "Debt and Credit in the Urban Economy," 153. But the local courts in Exeter handled over 4,500 between 1378 and 1388, and those at Colchester between 200 and 300 a year in the fifteenth century. Kowaleski, "Fourteenth-Century Exeter," 369; Britnell, Growth and Decline in Colchester, 281.

(53) Hubert Hall thought that the volume of cases concerning enrolled obligations that were recorded in the Close and Patent Rolls, in the Miscellaneous Book of the Exchequer and in Kings and Commons Bench Plea Roils suggested that statutory recognizances did not supersede traditional enrollments for the repayment of trade debts and loans, Hall, Select Cases, III, xiii.

(54) CPR 1381-5, 87; Memorandum Book, II, 30; Hull CRO, D248,

(55) Postan, "Credit in Medieval Trade," 248-49.

(56) A rare survival, a Bristol merchant's inventory, reveals that Philip Vale's real estate was sold for 322 [pounds sterling] 8s. 4d, in 1393; his total estate, including debts, was approximately 757 [pounds sterling]. Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1381-1412, 213-15; R. H. Hilton, "Rent and Capital Formation in Feudal Society," in Second International Conference of Economic History, Aix-en-Provence, 1962 (Paris, 1965), 66-67.

(57) W. G. Hoskins, "English Provincial Towns in the Sixteenth Century," in Hoskins, Provincial England (London, 1963), 77-78; R. H. Hilton, "Some Problems of Urban Real Property in the Middle Ages," in Socialism, Capitalism, and Economic Growth: Essays Presented to Maurice Dobb, ed. C. H. Feinstein (Oxford, 1967). 381; J. Langton, "Late Medieval Gloucester: some data from a rental of 1455," Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, n.s. 2, no. 2 (1977): 271.

(58) J. Kermode, "The Merchants of York, Beverley and Hull in the 14th and 15th Centuries" (Ph.D. diss., University of Sheffield, 1990), 241-71. Property was also a constant element in Londoners" wills between 1400 and 1459, Bennett, "Debt and Credit in the Urban Economy," 196.

(59) Thrupp, London Merchant Class, 122-23.

(60) For examples of the same properties being resold repeatedly by merchants, see ibid., 127-28.

(61) Investment in rent-charges or annuities was more common on the Continent. Hilton, "Problems of Urban Real Property," 336-37; H-P. Baum, "Annuities in Late Medieval Hanse Towns," Business History Review 59 (1985): 24-48.

(62) Unwin, "London Tradesmen," 32; Thrupp, London Merchant Class. 122, 126.

(63) E. A. Bond, ed., Chronica Monasterii de Melsa, III, Rolls Ser. (1868), 144-45; W. Paley Baildon, ed., Yorkshire Fines, 1347-77, Yorkshire Archaeological Society 52 (1915): 64; M. J. Hebditch, ed., Yorkshire Deeds, IX, ibid. 111 (1948): 67; M. J. Stanley Price, ed., Yorkshire Deeds, X, ibid. 120 (1955): 139-40. See also Hull CRO, D126 and Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1413-37, 142.

(64) PRO C1/44/89; Yorkshire Fines, 1347-77, 64, 72. Statute Merchant bonds were also used in property transactions to ensure that seisin of a property was achieved, the bond becoming enforceable if the contract was not fulfilled, like the penalty clause in a modern conveyance. Thus when Hugh Swynflete conveyed a property in Hull to William Ryplingham, they entered a Statute Merchant bond, which was to lapse once "delivery of possession of the property" had been completed. Hull CRO, D301 and also D107; Memorandum Book, II, 45.

(65) Thrupp, London Merchant Class. 122-23, estimated that when conditions were favorable in the fourteenth century, a return of 6-8 percent might be expected, falling to 5 percent in the fifteenth century.

(66) London mercer William Causton built up a sizable rural estate by lending on the security of land and gaining from defaulters. Thrupp, London Merchant Class, 121.

(67) Postan, "Private Financial Instruments," 31; Hall, Select Cases. III, xxix.

(68) PRO C1/289/10; York CRO E39, 128, 172, 187, 205-7.

(69) Loan arrangements reflected political networks within regions. For the southwest, see Kowaleski, "Fourteenth-Century Exeter," 366; for Yorkshire, see Kermode, "York, Beverley and Hull," 235-36.

(70) PRO C1/16/163, 164.

(71) For example, Memorandum Book, I, 187, 204, 215, 236, 245; II, 34, 39, 112, 218; III, 6, 7, 38, 53, 102.

(72) Ibid., III, 53; York Borthwick Inst. Prob. Reg. II. 612; (Auncell); CCR 1447-54, 465; J. C. Wedgwood, Biographies of the Members of the Commons House, 1430-1509 (London, 1936), 12.

(73) (Bilton) Hull CRO BRE 1 263; Memorandum Book, III, 102, 105.

(74) Statutes of the Realm, II, 513. Quoted in Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London, 1413-37, xx.

(75) See, for example, 1428, the case of John Davy of Exeter, who promised to settle a debt "immediately after a certain ship ... should chance to arrive at any port in England." C. Gross, ed., Select Cases Concerning the Law Merchant, I, Selden Society 23 (1908): 117. John Henryson of Hull made bequests in his will in 1528 contingent upon the arrival of the "hulks out of Dansk." Prob. Reg. IX, 328.

(76) Memorandum Book, III, 121-22.

(77) Cal. Plea & Mem. Rolls City of London. 1413-37, xix-xxiii; ibid., 1437-57, xxii-xxviii, 1; ibid., 1458-82. 147-79, for an appendix listing such gifts. See also G. Rosser, Medieval Westminster, 1200-1540 (Oxford, 1989), 156-57.

(78) In 1465, the Dominican Friars in York were in danger of forfeiting jewels, books, and other "precious gifts" that they had used as security to raise loans. Memorandum Book, II, lxxi-iii.

(79) This is an argument advanced by Baum, "Hanse Annuities," 48.

(80) Cf. London, where the evidence of the Sheriffs' and Mayor's courts and of Staple Certificates confirm that the flow of credit was always from London to the provinces; Bennett, "Debt and Credit in the Urban Economy," 142, 147, 169-71. See also Britnell, Growth and Decline in Colchester, 206-8, 281, for fluctuations over time.

(81) For example, Lancaster, CPR 1436-41, 458; Richmond, ibid., 217; Burton-on-Trent, ibid., 216, 1441-46, 18; Penrith, ibid., 7: Lincolnshire, 1452-61, 11; Coventry, ibid., 264, 453; Chesterfield, York CRO E39, 288.

(82) CPR 1405-9, 226; 1413-29, 82; 1436-41, 322; CCR 1447-61, 132; 1461-7. 502; 1494-1509, 3.

(83) H. E. Wroot, "Yorkshire Abbeys and the Wool Trade," Miscellanea, Thoresby Society 33 (1935): 14-15.

(84) For example, Reginald Aleyn between 1391 and 1393, CPR 1391-6, 398.

(85) CPR 1392-6, 22 (Savage); ibid. 1416-22, 95 (Fitling).

(86) Testamenta Eboracensia, III, 101-5.

(87) York CRO E39, 278, 284-85, 288, 295.

(88) Memorandum Book, II, 9-10, 269.

(89) For example, William Bracebridge of York, Yorkshire Deeds, IV, 161; William Brompton of Hull, Hull CRO D533, 534. Richard Blackburn moved down to London but returned to York before he died. Memorandum Book, II, 160; York Borthwick Inst. Prob. Reg. VIII, 105.

(90) Hostilities between the Hanse and the East Coast ports in particular probably accelerated the carriage of Yorkshire cloth via London. In 1420-21, for instance, Hanse merchants were exporting York coverlets through London. N. S. B. Gras, The Early English Customs System (Cambridge, Mass., 1918), 120, 459, 469.

(91) British Library, Harleian MS 560; J. Raine, ed., Sanctuarium Dunelmense et Sanctuarium Beverlacense, Surtees Society 5 (1837): 115, 118, 122, 170-81. For the growth of London's demand for meat from the fourteenth century, see G. A. Rosser, "London and Westminster: The Suburb in the Urban Economy in the Late Middle Ages," in Towns and Townspeople in the Fifteenth Century, ed. J. A. F. Thomson (Gloucester, England. 1988), 52.

(92) Kermode. "Overseas Trade and Urban Decline," 60-72: J. N. Bartlett, "The Expansion and Decline of York in the Later Middle Ages," Economic History Review, 2d ser. 12 (1959-60): 27-30.

(93) Postan. "Private Financial Instruments," 49-51; A. Hanham, "Foreign Exchange and the English Wool Merchant in the Late 15th Century," Bulletin of the Institute for Historical Research 44 (1973): 160-75. O. Coleman and E. M. Carus-Wilson, England's Export Trade, 1275-1547 (Oxford, 1963), 57-60.

(94) P. J. P. Goldberg, "Mortality and Economic Change in the Diocese of York, 1390-1514," Northern History 24 (1988): 41-42.

(95) Bartlett, "Expansion and Decline of York," 28-30; J. M. W. Bean, The Estates of the Percy Family, 1416-1537 (London, 1958), 36, 37, 41, 47; C. Dyer, Lords and Peasants in a Changing Society: The Estates of the Bishopric of Worcester. 680-1546 (Cambridge, England, 1980), 167-71, 374; A. J. Pollard. "The North-Eastern Economy and the Agrarian Crisis of 1438-40," Northern History 25 (1989): 88-105.

(96) Goldberg, "Mortality and Economic Change," 45, 49.

(97) J. T. Fowler; ed., Memorials of the Abbey of St. Mary of Fountains, III. Surtees Society 120 (1918): 33, 76.

(98) Kermode, "Overseas Trade and Urban Decline," 69.

(99) Hoppit, "Eighteenth-century credit," 67.

(100) Sylvia Thrupp, "The Grocers of London, A Study of Distributive Trade," in Studies in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century, 252-53, 270, 273-76.

(101) Coleman and Carus-Wilson, England's Overseas Trade; K. J. Allison, ed., Victoria History of the County of York East Riding (Oxford, 1969), 2: 86-89. Spufford, Money and Its Use, 418.

(102) Day, Medieval Market Economy, 185-224.

(103) Britnell, Growth and Decline in Colchester, 100-101.

(104) Bennett, "Debt and Credit in the Urban Economy," 153.

(105) Baum, "Hanse Annuities," 48.

(106) Since this article was written, Pamela Nightingale has argued that the level of debt and credit reflected in the Statute Staple Certificates involving Londoners was a consequence of their trade in wool, and that the rates of interest set in these transactions in turn influenced all commercial transactions and prices. P. Nightingale, "Monetary Contraction and Mercantile Credit in Later Medieval England," Economic History Review, 2d ser. 43 (1990): 560-75.

JENNIFER I. KERMODE is lecturer in history at the University of Liverpool.

I am grateful to Christopher Dyer. Edward Miller, and Michael Power for their comments on an earlier draft, and to the ESRC for a grant, no. R000 231782, toward the cost of research done in preparing this article.
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Author:Kermode, Jennifer I.
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Date:Sep 22, 1991
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