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The Merchants Adventurers and the Continental Cloth-trade 1560s-1620s.

The Merchan Adventurers and the Continental Cloth-trade (1560s-1620s) Wolf-Rudiger Baumann, in The Merchants Adventurers and the Continental Cloth-trade (1560s-1620s), investigates the effect on the German economy of the transfer of the English staple port for the sale of English woolen cloth from Antwerp to a series of North German ports (Emden, Stade, and Hamburg). Two separate departures from Antwerp, initially a result of diplomatic troubles between England and the Netherlands, provide the beginning dates for this study. No reason is given for ending the study in the 1620s, and indeed the author states on one occasion that the "period under study" is 1564-1611 (p. 138), with the latter date being the time that Hamburg became the permanent staple port.

Baumann first asks what effect the move away from Antwerp had on the cloth-finishing industry, for English cloth had been brought to Antwerp in a semifinished state and had generally been finished there and re-exported. He thoroughly describes the techniques of finishing English cloth, stresses that many Antwerp finishers and merchants who were forced out of Antwerp by religious and economic hard times went to Germany, and in a city-by-city survey indicates that the German North Sea ports increased their finishing activity, as did Nuremberg, where the city government succeeded in attracting dyers and finishers from Antwerp to introduce their crafts.

Baumann also presents the scanty data about the number of ships and the amount of cloth that arrived at the German staple ports. Baumann does not state what quantity of either finished or semifinished cloths had previously been brought into these ports by English and Hanseatic merchants via Antwerp, and he does not emphasize, as Jurgen Wiegandt did in Die Merchants Adventurers' Company auf dem Kontinent zur Zeit der Tudors und Stuarts (1972) (pp. 131-32), that the English could not find a market for all of their cloth. It is certain that the new trade linkage with England worked to the disadvantage of Hanseatic merchants, as direct shipments were made from England by English merchants, almost always in English ships.

The author describes the activity of the Adventurers as merchants at their mart and in the interior of Germany, where he suspects that even "interlopers" or "stragglers" might have been Adventurers. They were not only selling their cloth, but were also establishing themselves as direct purchasers of such products as German linen. Baumann includes an appendix of over eighty English merchants who were active inland, and he differs only in his less adversarial tone from Hajo Holborn's statement that "English traders swarmed over Germany, offering their fine English cloth" (A History of Modern Germany: The Reformation [1967], p. 82).

Baumann concludes with a survey of the cloth-trading activity of German cities, describing separately Emden, Hamburg and Stade, Augsburg, Bremen, Frankfurt-on-Main, Cologne, Leipzig, and Nuremberg. For each, he identifies the marketing areas and provides details of the participating merchants, whom he categorizes by national origin. Aside form the staple ports, the arrangement of towns is alphabetical, but in a summary Baumann analyzes the results as a reflection of shifting trade routes (pp. 309-11).

Baumann uses standard English works on the Merchants Adventurers, as well as a wide range of sources in German. He draws on city archives, most notably those of Nuremberg, and on many monographs about the trade and industry of particular German cities. His book, and this translation, would be valuable even if it did no more than bring these latter studies together.

Baumann's central question of how German industry and trade were affected by the shift of the staple to north German ports is interesting and challenging. However, a broader question would have produced a clearer book: How were German trade and industry affected by the decline of Antwerp? Baumann does refer many times to immigrants from Antwerp and their participation in the new German finishing industry and cloth trade, but because he waits until page 223 to describe the previous pattern of trade from Antwerp into Germany along the Rhine River, he makes it unnecessarily hard to see how German merchants, including those middlemen who sent cloth on to Italy and to central and eastern Europe, tried to adjust to the shift in supply from Antwerp to the north coast. For example, Nuremberg's effort to establish the cloth-finishing crafts there fits into this context. This short-coming of the book is made more serious by the absence of any maps except for two very specialized ones.

In the final analysis, it remains unclear whether any of the following was much affected by the shift to the north German ports: the amount of English woolen cloth imported into Germany, the number or importance of German merchants, or the supply to the customers who were traditionally supplied by German merchants. Baumann increases the uncertainty by mentioning (for the first time in the final pages of his book, pp. 309-11 and 313-15) many other changes in the economic and financial environment that diverted trade from the traditional Rhine routes or otherwise hurt German merchants.

Constance Jones Mathers is associate professor of history at Randolph-Macon College. She is the author of "Family Partnerships and International Trade in Early Modern Europe: Merchants from Burgos in England and France, 1470-1570," Business History Review (1988), winner of the Newcomen Prize.
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Author:Mathers, Constance Jones
Publication:Business History Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1990
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