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Conflict management in western Europe: the case of the Portuguese merchants in England, Flanders and Normandy, 1250–1500


Recent historiography argues that the legal autonomy of municipal governments created the necessary conditions for successful commercial transactions and economic growth in certain parts of Europe in the later Middle Ages, and that these features attracted foreign merchants. This article uses empirical data from England, Flanders and Normandy to test the following questions: were there significant differences in rules, laws and institutions between one place and another in late medieval western Europe? Were the Portuguese merchants drawn to markets that hypothetically had more effective institutions? The findings demonstrate that legal institutions and conflict management were very similar across western Europe, and that there is no evidence that the Portuguese opted for trading in a certain market because of its effective institutions. Moreover, the article claims that the merchants seemed to prioritise protection and privilege while trading abroad, and it highlights the role of commercial diplomacy in conflict management.

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1 van Bavel, Bas, Dijkman, Jessica, Kuijpers, Erika and Zuijderduijn, Jaco, ‘The organisation of markets as a key factor in the rise of Holland from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century: a test case for an institutional approach’, Continuity and Change 27 (2012), 347–78.

2 North, Douglass C., Institutions, institutional change and economic performance (Cambridge, 1990), 34 . See also Landa, Janet T., Trust, ethnicity, and identity: beyond the new institutional economics of ethnic trading networks, contract law, and gift-exchange (Ann Arbor, 1994), vii.

3 Gelderblom, Oscar, Cities of commerce: the institutional foundations of international trade in the Low Countries, 1250–1650 (Princeton, 2013), 3.

4 Ibid., 102.

5 Ibid., 3.

6 See the Special Issue of Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis debating Gelderblom's Cities of commerce, especially: Dijkman, Jessica, Puttevils, Jeroen and Ryckbosch, Wouter, ‘Cities of commerce: an introduction to the articles’, Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis 11, 4 (2014), 55–9; Safley, Thomas Max, ‘Institutions and their discontents’, Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis 11, 4 (2014), 6173 ; Dumolyn, Jan and Lambert, Bart, ‘Cities of commerce, cities of constraints: international trade, government institutions and the law of commerce in later medieval Bruges and the Burgundian state’, Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis 11, 4 (2014), 89102 .

7 Daudin, Guillaume, ‘Cities of commerce: how can we test the hypothesis?’, Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis 11, 4 (2014), 107–8.

8 Murray, James M., ‘Of nodes and networks: Bruges and the infrastructure of trade in fourteenth-century Europe’, in Stabel, Peter, Blondé, Bruno and Greve, Anke eds., International trade in the Low Countries (14th–18th centuries): merchants, organization, infrastructure (Leuven-Apeldoorn, 2000), 114 ; van Bavel, Bas J. P., Manors and markets: economy and society in the Low Countries, 500–1600 (Oxford, 2010), 225.

9 Specific folio and page numbers of the sources utilised are given in context throughout the article. Portugal: Santarém, Visconde de, Quadro elementar das relações políticas e diplomáticas de Portugal (Paris, 1842–1863) (hereafter Quadro Elementar); da Silva Marques, João ed., Descobrimentos Portugueses: documentos para a sua história (Lisbon, 1944) (hereafter DP); Pinto Ferreira, J. A. ed., Vereaçoens de 1431–1432 (Porto, 1985). England: Calendar of the Patent Rolls in the Public Record Office (London, 1891–1916) (hereafter CPR); Calendar of the Close Rolls in the Public Record Office (London, 1892–1949) (hereafter CCR); Kew, London, The National Archives (hereafter TNA), ‘Ancient Petitions’, SC8; London Metropolitan Archives (see endnote 32); Rymer, Thomas ed., Fœdera, conventiones, literæ, et cujuscunque generis acta publica, inter Reges Angliæ (London, 1869) (hereafter Fœdera). Flanders: Paviot, Jacques ed., ‘Les Portugais à Bruges au XVe siècle’, in Arquivos do Centro Cultural Calouste Gulbenkian, Volume XXXVIII (Paris, 1999), 1122 (hereafter LPB); Paviot, Jacques ed., Portugal et Bourgogne au XVe siècle (1384–1482): recueil de documents extraits des archives bourguignonnes (Paris, 1995) (hereafter PB); van Answaarden, Robert ed., Les portugais devant le Grand Conseil des Pays-Bas (1460–1580) (Paris, 1991) (hereafter GCPB). France: de Laurière, M. ed., Ordonnances des rois de France (Paris, 1723); Michel Mollat, ‘Choix de documents relatifs à la Normandie pour servir à l'histoire du commerce maritime, XVe–XVIe siècles’, in Michel Mollat ed., Études d'Histoire (Torino, 1977).

10 See de Oliveira Marques, A. H., ‘Notas para a história da feitoria Portuguesa na Flandres, no século XV’, in de Oliveira Marques, A. H. ed., Ensaios de história medieval (Lisbon, 1965), 219–67; Childs, Wendy R., Trade and shipping in the medieval West: Portugal, Castile, and England (Porto, 2013); Miranda, Flávio, ‘Before the empire: Portugal and the Atlantic trade in the late Middle Ages’, Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies 5, 1 (2013), 6985 .

11 Smaller ports like Caminha, Viana, Aveiro, Setúbal, Lagos and Faro were important for the kingdom's maritime economy, but had modest participation in international trade.

12 Godinho, Vitorino Magalhães, ‘Finanças públicas e estrutura do estado’, in Godinho, Vitorino Magalhães ed., Ensaios II – sobre história de Portugal (Lisbon, 1978), 56.

13 See Godinho, Vitorino Magalhães, A economia dos descobrimentos Henriquinos (Lisbon, 1962); Godinho, Vitorino Magalhães, A expansão quatrocentista Portuguesa, 2nd edn (Lisbon, 2008); deOliveiraMarques, A. H., Hansa e Portugal na Idade Média, 2nd edn (Lisbon, 1993); Miranda, Flávio, Portugal and the medieval Atlantic: commercial diplomacy, merchants and trade, 1143–1488 (Porto, 2012).

14 For more on Portugal's commercial expansion, see Miranda, Portugal and the medieval Atlantic.

15 See references in endnote 13 above.

16 Elbl, Ivana, ‘Nation, bolsa, and factory: three institutions of late-medieval Portuguese trade with Flanders’, International History Review 14, 1 (1992), 122 .

17 My translation; A. H. de Oliveira Marques, ‘Notas para a história da feitoria Portuguesa na Flandres’, 165.

18 DP, vol. 1, 21–2, doc. 29.

19 Hardy, Thomas Duffus ed., Rotuli litterarum patentium in Turri londinensi asservati (London, 1835), 20b, 44a; CPR 1232–1247, 43, 52–3.

20 In medieval Europe, it was not uncommon for maritime custom to determine that half of the jury members in a case involving a foreign litigant were foreign. See R. G. Marsden ed., Select pleas in the Court of Admiralty, 2 vols., Selden Society, nos. 6 and 11 (London, 1894–1897), vol. 1, xlvii; Constable, Marianne, The law of the other: the mixed jury and changing conceptions of citizenship, law, and knowledge (Chicago, 1994), 924 , 96–107, 112–15.

21 For the source, see de Laurière ed., Ordonnances des rois de France, t. 2, 157–8.

22 Michel Mollat, ‘Choix de documents relatifs à la Normandie’, 112–14.

23 See Abulafia, David, The two Italies: economic relations between the Norman kingdom of Sicily and the northern communes (Cambridge, 1977), 69.

24 Also at its origin was the desire of the Crown to raise money, and the fact that it had noticed that because alien merchants’ property rights were not properly protected, ‘many merchants are put off from coming to this land with their merchandise to the detriment of merchants and of the whole kingdom’. The list of nations mentioned in the Carta mercatoria of 1303 is as follows: Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Navarre, Lombardy, Tuscany, Provence, Catalonia, the duchy of Aquitaine, Toulouse, Quercy, Flanders, Brabant, and ‘all other foreign lands and places’ (Alemannie Francie Ispanie Portugalie Navarre Lumbardie Tuscie Provincie Cathalonie ducatus nostri Aquitannie Tholosanie Caturtinii Flandrie Brebantie et omnium aliarum terrarum et locorum extraneorum). See Rothwell, Harry ed., English historical documents, 1189–1327, Volume III (London, 1975), 417, 454. See also Greif, Avner, Milgrom, Paul and Weingast, Barry R., ‘Coordination, commitment, and enforcement: the case of the merchant guild’, Journal of Political Economy 102, 4 (1994), 747.

25 Kim, Keechang, Aliens in medieval law: the origins of modern citizenship (Cambridge, 2000), 3840 . For more on law merchant, see Basile, M. E., Bestor, J. F., Coquillette, D. C. and Donahue, C. Jr. eds., Lex mercatoria and legal pluralism: a late thirteenth-century treatise and its afterlife (Cambridge, MA, 1998). For a definition of law merchant, see below in the text.

26 Especially those found in CPR, passim.

27 Miranda, ‘Before the empire: Portugal and the Atlantic trade in the late Middle Ages’, 75–7.

28 The rise in piratical attacks and the difficulties merchants faced were related to the Anglo-French conflicts of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, and several stages of the Hundred Years’ War.

29 In the 1390s, for example, a Portuguese merchant protested against the attack off the coast of England by William Brian of Kent, claiming that he was in possession of Richard II's safe-conducts. CCR 1377–1381, 405.

30 Kim, Aliens in medieval law, 40.

31 Miranda, Flávio, ‘Network takers or network makers? The Portuguese traders in the medieval West’, in Caracausi, Andrea and Jeggle, Christof eds., Commercial networks and European cities, 1400–1800 (London, 2014), 179–85.

32 The Portuguese elected an Englishman, in contrast to merchants of other nations, who were allowed two brokers, and were named nationals. London Metropolitan Archives, COL/CA/01/01/001, fos. 40, 44v; COL/AD/012, fos. 258v–259. Many thanks to Margaret M. Condon for this reference.

33 See Basile et al., Lex mercatoria and legal pluralism; Benson, Bruce L., ‘The spontaneous evolution of commercial law’, Southern Economic Journal 55, 3 (1989), 644–61.

34 Definition by Emmanuel Gaillard quoted in Cuniberti, Gilles, ‘Three theories of lex mercatoria ’, Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 52, 1 (2016), 369434 .

35 Cordes, A., ‘Lex Maritima? Local, regional, and universal maritime law in the Middle Ages’, in Blockmans, Wim, Krom, Mikhail and Wubs-Mrozewicz, Justyna eds., The Routledge Handbook of maritime trade around Europe, 1300–1600: commercial networks and urban autonomy (London, 2017), ch. 5.

36 Volckart, Oliver and Mangels, Antje, ‘Are the roots of the modern lex mercatoria really medieval?’, Southern Economic Journal 65, 3 (1999), 427–50.

37 Residual records from Castile and Zeeland were included, but are not representative. 318 of the 382 records correspond to sources related to conflict resolution, as used in Table 1. The remaining 64 documents include safe-conducts, commercial treaties negotiated between the Portuguese and foreign rulers, and references in chronicles. For a comprehensive list of the sources used in this article, see endnote 9 above. Other archives and sources are quoted where relevant throughout this article.

38 The stages of development of Portugal's commercial expansion and the preservation of archival material surely help to explain the huge differences in the volume of records between one century and another.

39 PB, see appendix: ‘Compte du bailli de l'eau de l’Écluse’, doc. 18.

40 See de Faria, Tiago Viúla and Miranda, Flávio, ‘“Pur bone alliance et amiste faire”: diplomacia e comércio entre Portugal e Inglaterra no final da idade média’, CEM: Revista do CITCEM 1 (2010), 109–28.

41 This is very common in the Flemish Civiele sententiën.

42 GCPB, doc. 10.

43 Genoese, Florentine, Piedmontese and Lucchese.

44 Especially the Castilians, the Basques and the Galicians.

45 Normans and Bretons.

46 See, for example, the case in PB, app. doc. 28.

47 For more on Anglo-Portuguese politics of the late fourteenth century, see da Fonseca, L. A., O essencial sobre o tratado de Windsor (Lisbon, 1986); de Faria, T. V., The politics of Anglo-Portuguese relations and their protagonists in the later Middle Ages (c. 1369–c.1449) (Oxford, 2012).

48 Heebøll-Holm, Thomas K., Ports, piracy, and maritime war: piracy in the English Channel and the Atlantic, c. 1280–c.1330 (Leiden, 2013), introduction. For that reason, political relations between England and Portugal were often rather tense and Anglo-Portuguese trade interrupted. See Miranda, Portugal and the medieval Atlantic, 143.

49 The Portuguese merchants do not seem to appear in the existing sources for local urban courts in places like Exeter and London, for example.

50 A brief description of the Burgundian judicial system may be found in Blockmans, Wim and Prevenier, Walter, The promised lands: the Low Countries under Burgundian rule, 1369–1530 (Philadelphia, 1999), 238. In the mid-fifteenth century Philip the Good (r. 1419–1767) allowed all inhabitants of Flanders, Brabant and Holland to submit an appeal to the central court. Charles the Bold (r. 1467–1477) reformed the Grote Raad into the Parlement of Mechelen, in 1473, which disappeared in 1477, until it was finally settled as the Great Council in 1504. See van Rompaey, J., De Grote Raad van de Hertogen van Boergondië en het Parlement van Mechelen (Brussels, 1973), 143; C. J. Zuijderduijn, Medieval capital markets: markets for renten, state formation and private investment in Holland (1300–1550) (Leiden), 2009, 43–5. See also Alain Wijjfells and J. M. I. Koster-van Dijk, ‘Les procedures en révision au Grand Conseil de Malines (1473–1580)’ (paper presented at the conference La justice dans les états bourguignons et les régions voisines aux XIVe – XVIe siècles, Luxembourg, 1989), 67–96.

51 The ‘Cour des Aides’ – the Court of Aids – was a tribunal responsible for judging primarily on customs. The court was established in 1355 in Paris. See the entry on the court in Chéruel, A., Dictionnaire historique des institutions, mœurs et coutumes de la France (Paris, 1855). In 1399, a Portuguese merchant had to defend himself before the Cour des Aides following a conflict with Rouen's customs officials. Michel Mollat, ‘Choix de documents relatifs à la Normandie’, 112–14.

52 See Mollat, M., Le Commerce maritime normand à la fin du Moyen Âge (Paris, 1952), 438.

53 DP, supplement, vol. 1, 128, doc. 101.

54 Ruddock, Alwyn A., ‘Alien merchants in Southampton in the later Middle Ages’, English Historical Review 61, 239 (1946), 16.

55 LPB, docs. 38, 71, 73, 74, 81, 85, 86, 120, 157.

56 LPB, doc. 64.

57 See Constable, The law of the other, 7–27.

58 See above.

59 LPB, doc. 1.

60 LPB, docs. 53, 116.

61 LPB, doc. 56. In this example, the composition of the mixed jury was changed because of the time it took to resolve the dispute.

62 LPB, doc. 66.

63 LPB, docs. 56, 57.

64 CCR 1405–1409, p. 187.

65 Source is transcribed in J. A. Pinto Ferreira ed., Vereaçoens, 83, doc. XXVI.

66 Francisque-Michel, R., Les portugais en France, les français en Portugal, Volume I (Paris, 1882), 425–7. For letters of marque, see Table 1 notes.

67 The first hearing was on 4 February 1384.

68 LPB, doc. 154, GCPB, doc. 11.

69 A. Greve, ‘Brokerage and trade in medieval Bruges: regulation and reality’, in Stabel, Blondé and Greve eds., International trade in the Low Countries, 28, 43. See the examples presented in Miranda, Portugal and the medieval Atlantic, 222–3.

70 Especially Filip van Aertrijcke and Lievin van der Mersch. See the documents in LPB, docs. 17, 25, 27, 28, 32, 38, 40, 41, 50, 51, 53, 58, 72, 79, 82, 92, 105, passim.

71 Constable, Olivia Remie, Housing the stranger in the Mediterranean world: lodging, trade, and travel in late antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2003), 3.

72 LPB, doc. 91.

73 See the example of Vasco Rodrigues below.

74 The Court of Piepowder was a court of a market or fair in which the disputes of wayfaring merchants were settled. See Gross, Charles, ‘The court of piepowder’, Quarterly Journal of Economics 20 (1906), 231–49. The quotation in this paragraph is taken from Whitaker, William Joseph ed., The mirror of justices (London, 1895), quoted in Kim, Aliens in medieval law, 29.

75 Gelderblom, Cities of commerce, 109.

76 CPR 1292–1301, 296, 538, 546; CPR 1321–1324, 315, 380; CPR 1334–1338, 298.

77 Vasco Rodrigues was in England from at least 1 May 1436, when he received a licence from King Henry VI to buy a 120-ton ship to be laden with wool. The ship probably did not sail to Portugal but to Flanders, where Rodrigues sold the wool, and bought new merchandise and goods. On his way to Portugal, the king's sergeant-at-arms John Hunte – whose mission was to lead an army to the duchy of Aquitaine, by order of John Radclyf, knight and seneschal of the duchy – intercepted Vasco Rodrigues. Rodrigues obeyed the arrest, but the unexpected happened: the English king's enemies of Brittany captured his ship (and the merchandise worth 1,000 marks), and took him to La Rochelle, where he and his fellows spent three years in prison. Upon release, he returned to England, but he was now bankrupt. Vasco Rodrigues needed funds to plead for justice before the King. These he borrowed from London merchants. The deal fell through, however, and he was once again imprisoned for another three years (in Newgate and Ludgate).

78 CPR 1429–1436, 512; CPR 1436–1441, 515, 543; CPR 1441–1446, 4, 29–30. See also Childs, Trade and shipping in the medieval West, 115.

79 This was a problem unique to London, where three different sets of customs officers were responsible for the collection of customs and subsidies on wool, wool fells, and hides; petty customs; and tonnage and poundage.

80 CPR 1405–1408, 350.

81 These figures should be read with caution, however, because the records for most cases – from the case's opening to the sentence – are incomplete.

82 LPB, doc. 138.

83 LPB, docs. 89, 90, 91.

84 LPB, docs. 135–8, GCPB, doc. 8.

85 The Santa Maria was captured in Laredo on 22 February 1473, and the sentence was read on 5 January 1475.

86 CCR 1343–1346, p. 257.

87 That is, ‘pay without delay or hindrance’: TNA, E 122/138/17 (‘Particulars of Customs Accounts’).

88 Fœdera, vol. 8, 99.

89 TNA, SC 8/185/9211.

90 Quadro Elementar, vol. 14, 125–130.

91 CCR 1381–1385, 358.

92 For the account of the attack, see de Resende, Garcia, Chronica de el-rei D. João II (Lisbon, 1902), ch. 20. See also Fœdera, vol. 11, 763–4.

93 DP, vol. 3, 106, doc. 180.

94 See Fœdera, vol. 11, 762–3, 763–4, 769–71.

95 See, for example, the negotiation between Portugal and the duke of Burgundy in 1389. PB, doc. 9.

96 Gelderblom, Cities of commerce, 3.

97 Unfortunately, the lack of merchants’ private correspondence in Portugal makes it impossible for us to understand the precise rationale behind their options in the governance of trade. See the discussion on the governance of trade in Gelderblom, Oscar, ‘The governance of early modern trade: the case of Hans Thijs, 1556–1611’, Enterprise and Society 4, 4 (2003), 608.

98 Gelderblom, Cities of commerce, 102.

99 See also the recent theory on law merchant by Angelucci and Meraglia, which stresses the importance of ‘a bureaucracy capable of coercion’ and, therefore, ‘capable of expropriation’, in making merchants more confident in international trade: Angelucci, Charles and Meraglia, Simone, ‘Trade, self-governance, and the provision of law and order, with an application to medieval English chartered towns’, Social Sciences Research Network 2, 6 (2016) available at SSRN:

100 Milenkovic-Kerkovic, Tamara, ‘Origin, development and main features of the new lex mercatoria ’, Facta Universitatis: Series: Economics and Organization 1, 5 (1997), 8791 .

101 Sweet, Alec Stone, ‘The new lex mercatoria and transnational governance’, Journal of European Public Policy 13, 5 (2006), 627–46.

102 Quotation from Michaels, Ralf, ‘The true lex mercatoria: law beyond the state’, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 14, 2 (2007), 453. See also Gelderblom, Oscar, ‘The resolution of commercial conflicts in Bruges, Antwerp, and Amsterdam (1250–1650)’, in Ma, Debin and van Zanden, Jan Luiten eds., Law and long-term economic change (Stanford, 2011), 244–76.

103 For the Portuguese kings of the 1400s, the Atlantic was not merely a sea, but a space over which they exerted political and economic control. This was validated by papal bulls and diplomatic agreements with Castile, leading to the formation of the mare clausum policies and to the establishment of areas of economic exclusivity under royal monopoly for Euro-African commercial exchange. See Schwartz, Stuart B., ‘The economy of the Portuguese Empire’, in Bethencourt, Francisco and Curto, Diogo Ramada eds., Portuguese oceanic expansion (1400–1800) (Cambridge, 2007), 1948 . Luiz Filipe R. Thomaz, De Ceuta a Timor (Linda-a-Velha, 1994), especially the first four chapters; Oliveira e Costa, João Paulo, Mare Nostrum: em Busca de Honra e Riqueza nos Séculos XV e XVI (Lisboa, 2003); Vieira, Mónica Brito, ‘ Mare Liberum vs. Mare Clausum: Grotius, Freitas, and Selden's debate on dominion over the seas’, Journal of the History of Ideas 64, 3 (2003), 361–77.

104 van Houtte, J. A., ‘The rise and decline of the market of Bruges’, Economic History Review 19, 1 (1966), 2947 ; Miranda, Portugal and the medieval Atlantic, 146.

105 According to the typology defined by Riley-Smith, Jonathan, ‘Government in Latin Syria and the commercial privileges of foreign merchants’, in Baker, Derek ed., Relations between East and West in the Middle Ages (Edinburgh, 1973), 109–32.

106 da Gama Barros, Henrique, História da Administração Pública em Portugal nos Séculos XII a XV, 11 vols., 2nd edn (Lisbon, 1945–1954), vol. 10, 258 and ff. See also Andrade, Amélia Aguiar and Miranda, Flávio, ‘Lisbon: trade, urban power and the king's visible hand’, in Blockmans, , Krom, and Wubs-Mrozewicz, eds., The Routledge Handbook of maritime trade around Europe .

107 See, for example, Lloyd, T. H., England and the German Hanse, 1157–1611: a study of their trade and commercial diplomacy (Cambridge, 1991), 101; Rau, Virgínia, ‘Uma família de mercadores italianos em Portugal no século XV: os Lomellini’, Revista da Faculdade de Letras 22 (1956) 5683 ; Postan, Michael M., Medieval trade and finance (Cambridge, 1973), 194; Goldthwaite, Richard A., The economy of Renaissance Florence (Baltimore, 2009), 4; Constable, Housing the stranger, 118.

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