Who were the Merchant Adventurers?

For centuries, the Guild of Merchant Adventurers was the most powerful cloth-trading company in northern Europe. Members of the company travelled to far-flung parts of northern Europe, such as the Baltic and Iceland, to sell their goods, bringing back prized commodities to sell.

According to Britannica Online, the Merchant Adventurers were “a company of English merchants who engaged in trade with the Netherlands (and later with northwest Germany) from the early 15th century to 1806. The company, chartered in 1407, principally engaged in the export of finished cloth from the burgeoning English woolen industry. Its heyday extended from the late 15th century to 1564, during which period it sent its fleets to its market at Antwerp in the Spanish Netherlands with cloth to be sold at the annual fairs. By the middle of the 16th century, as much as three-fourths of English foreign trade was controlled by the London officers of the company, many of whom served as financiers and advisers to the Tudor monarchs. After 1564 the Merchant Adventurers lost its market in the Spanish Netherlands and a long search for a new one followed. After 1611 its foreign trading activities were centred at Hamburg and one or another town in the republican United Provinces. The company was criticized in Parliament as a monopoly, and it lost many of its privileges in the 17th century. Its charter was abrogated in 1689, but the company survived as a trading association at Hamburg until the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars”.

The York fellowship of the Merchant Adventurers is still active today. Now called The Company of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York, it holds one of the best preserved medieval guild halls in the world in trust and operates it as a museum, administers charities and plays an important role in the civic and business life of the City of York. Find out more about the York Company and the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall here

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