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Trading with the Enemy 1585–1604*

  • Pauline Croft (a1)


It has been the standard wisdom of historians that whereas the rebel Dutch continued to trade with Spain and the Spanish possessions throughout the Armada war, the English did not. As the letter-writer John Chamberlain resentfully complained, ‘We for their sake and defence entering into the war, and being barred from all commerce and intercourse of merchandise, they in the meantime thrust us out of all traffic to our utter undoing’. The evidence assembled here suggests instead that English trafficking with the enemy was much greater than has been assumed, although it probably never reached the huge proportions of the Dutch effort. Moreover the substantial volume of illicit trade should point to a re-consideration of some important Elizabethan attitudes to Anglo-Spanish relations both before and during the war, and hence also more generally to religious attitudes.

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1 Letters of John Chamberlain, ed. McClure, N. E. (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1939), I, 38. The classic account of Dutch illicit wartime trade is Kernkamp, J. H., Der handd op den vijand (1, 1572–1588, Utrecht, 1931; 11, 1588–1609, Utrecht, 1934).

2 Braudel, Fernand, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II (2nd edn, Paris, 1966), I, 433–6. For evidence of the illicit shipment of silver from Spain to England, Croft, PaulineEnglish mariners trading to Spain and Portugal 1558–1625’, The Mariner's Mirror, LXIX, 3 (1983), 255–6, and for the massive quantities of Spanish silver coined at the Mint in this period Challis, C. E., The Tudor coinage (Manchester, 1978), pp. 191–7. Calendar of state papers Spanish, Elizabeth, ed. Hume, M. A. S. (4 vols., London, 18921899), III (1580–86), 811.

3 Although Anglo-Spanish trade had undergone some vicissitudes in the 1540s, its substantial volume in the 1560s is illustrated by Public Record Office (P.R.O.), Exchequer 190/2/1, (cloth exports by denizens Easter–Michaelmas 1565). Pierre, and Chaunu, Huguette, Seville et l'Atlantique (8 vols., Paris, 19551959), VIII(I) ‘Structures’ and VIII (2–2bis) ‘Conjonctures’.

4 P.R.O., State papers foreign Elizabeth (S.P.70) 66/1291, S.P.70/67/20, 38, 67, 99, 384, 386, 414. The standard account in Read, Conyers, ‘Queen Elizabeth's seizure of the duke of Alva's payships’, Journal of Modem History, V, 2 (1933), 443–64, has been modified by Ramsay, G. D., The queen's merchants and the revolt of the Netherlands (Manchester, 1986), pp. 9179.

5 The renewal of the intercourse between England, the low countries and Spain was proclaimed on 30 April 1573 and confirmed by the treaty of Bristol in August 1574. Tudor royal proclamations, eds. Hughes, P. L. and Larkin, J. F. (3 vols., New Haven and London, 19641969), II, 371; Calendar of state papers foreign…Elizabeth, XII (15721574), 543. For the Channel Islands and Hamburg, British Library (B.L.), Cotton Vespasian 113, fo. 318; P.R.O., High court of admiralty depositions (H.C.A.13), 19, fos. 431, 435v; H.C.A.13/20, fos. 29v, 242; Exchequer 159/361 Trin. 26 d, Exchequer 190/5/1.

6 B.L., Lansdowne MS 14, fo. 163; P.R.O., H.C.A. 13/19, fos. II, 87, 101, 123, 454v., 518v.; P.R.O., H.C.A.13/20, fo. 29v., 242.

7 P.R.O., H.C.A.13/19, fo. 431v.; P.R.O., H.C.A.13/20, fo. 29v.

8 B.L., Lansdowne MS 14, fo. 163; Gonzalez, Juan Eloy Gelabert, Santiago y la tierra de Santiago de 1500 a 1640 (La Coruña, 1982), pp. 261–9.

9 P.R.O., H.C.A.13/19, fos. 11, 234, 264, 361, 406–406v., 518v.; P.R.O., H.C.A.13/21, fos. 130, 132. de Lettenhove, J. M. B. C. Kervin, Relations politiques des Pays-Bas et de l' Angleterre sous le règne de Philippe II (11 vols., Brussels, 18821900), VII, 682.

10 Lansdowne MS 14, fo. 163: The Fugger newsletters 1568–1605, ed. von Klarwill, V. (2 vols., London, 1924), II, 10.

11 Guildhall Library, London, MS 2942. For shipbuilding at Bristol in these years, Vanes, Jean, ‘The overseas trade of Bristol in the sixteenth century’ (unpublished Ph.D dissertation, University of London, 1975), p. 356. The volume of Anglo-Spanish trade can be traced in P.R.O., E 190/6/3, (Michaelmas 1574–Easter 1575), E 190/6/4, (Easter–Michaelmas 1576), B.L., Lansdowne MSS 41/36 and 41/43 (1583–4).

12 Although some of the traders caught in Spanish ports in May 1585 had been attracted thither by Philip II's recent guarantee of safe conduct for vessels carrying corn, many others were leading London merchants who had traded to Spain for years and were well informed about the political and diplomatic situation. H.C.A.I3/26, fos. 35–6, 46–46V, 190V–191, 234–235v; P.R.O., S.P. Dom. Eliz. (S.P.12), 179/8; S.P.12/191/34. Philip's unexpected action remains in some ways mysterious: I am grateful to Dr Simon Adams for discussions on this point.

13 P.R.O., S.P.12/183/10; P.R.O., H.C.A.13/26, fos. 23, 30v., 255v., 256v., 257, 325; H.C.A. 13/27, fos. 21, 209.

14 Connell-Smith, Gordon, Forerunners of Drake (London, 1954), pp. 8394. Tudor economic documents, eds. Tawney, R. H. and Power, Eileen (3 vols., London, 1924), III, 202: Loomie, A. J., ‘Religion and Elizabethan commerce with Spain’, Catholic Historical Review, L, 1 (1964), 3949.

15 P.R.O., H.C.A.13/31, fo. 204v., H.C.A.13/33, fos. 20, 261, H.C.A.13/35, fos. 133–133v, 138, 344; P.R.O., S.P.I2/243/57.

16 H.C.A.13/19, fos. 234, 361, H.C.A. 13/20, fo. 11, H.C.A.13/26, fos. 40v., 43v., 47–8, H.C.A.13/30, fo. 11, H.C.A. 13/34, fos 6, 31, H.C.A. 13/35, fo. 366. cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., XXI (pt. 1, 15861588), 56–8.

17 Loomie, A. J., ‘Thomas James the English consul of Andalucia (1556–c 1613)’, Recusant History, XI, 4 (1972), 165–7. Francis James handled the transfer of moneys to Edmund Palmer, the privy council informant at St Jean de Luz, in the 1590S: P.R.O., S.P. Spanish (S.P.94) 5/fo. 205, S.P. 94/6/fo. 202.

18 P.R.O., H.C.A.13/26, fos. 23, 234, H.C.A.13/27, fos. III–IIIV., H.C.A.13/30 fo. 129, H.C.A.13/31, fo. 6, H.C.A.13/34, fo. 312; P.R.O., E 190/12/3; P.R.O., S.P. 94/10 fo. 86, S.P.94/13 fos. 97, 104.

19 Archivo General de Simancas (A.G.S.), Estado 185, n.f., 23 August 1600. Cat. S.P. foreign Eliz., XXIII (1589), 151–2; Acts of the privy council (hereafter A.P.C.), XXI, 393. Historical MSS Commission, Salisbury, IV, 177.

20 A.P.C., XXIV, 6, ibid, XXXIII, 292.

21 P.R.O., State papers domestic additional, Eliz., (S.P.15) 30/110; P.R.O., S.P. 12/242/57; A.G.S., Estado 181, n.f. 16 Feb. 1598, 20 April 1598.

22 H.M.C. Salisbury, VI, 394; P.R.O., H.C.A.13/26, fo. 376, H.C.A.13/29, fo. 230; A.G.S., Estado 181, n.f. 16 Feb 1598; Tudor economic documents, II, 80–1. P.R.O., E 190/8/1 fos 22v., 25; P.R.O., S.P.94/8, fo. 162.

23 Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., XXIII (1589), 172, 383: List and analysis of state papers foreign Eliz. (Aug. 1589–June 1590), ed. Wernham, R. B. (London, 1964), 368. A.G.S., Estado 181, n.f. petition of Vairegas, 1597: Cat. S.P. foreign Eliz., XXIII (1589), 172, 383; S.P.94/7 fo. 38; H.C.A.13/26, fo. 319, H.C.A.13/27, fo. 21. A.G.S., Estado 190, n.f. endorsed ‘el papel que ha dado el coronel Semple’. See also Loomie, A. J., ‘Sir William Semple and Bristol's Andalucian trade’, Trans. Bristol and Gloucs. Arch. Soc., LXXXII (1963), 177–87.

24 Calendar of state papers Venetian, VIII (15811591), 144–5, 166, 295, 331–2, 334. Armstrong, E., ‘Venetian despatches on the Armada and its results’, English Historical Review, XII, 4 (1897), 673–4.

25 A.P.C., XV, 167: H.C.A.13/33, fo. 282v, H.C.A.13/26, fo. 190v, H.C.A.13/35, fo. 133: Exchequer 190/10.II fo. 34v. See also Shillington, V. M. and Chapman, A. B., The commercial relations of England and Portugal (London, n.d.), p. 151.

26 Scammell, G. V., ‘The English in the Atlantic Islands, c. 1450–1650’, The Mariner's Mirror, LXXII, 3 (1986), 308–11. Birch, W. de Gray, Catalogue of a collection of original MSS formerly belonging to the holy office of the Inquisition in the Canary Islands (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1903), I, 223–31; P.R.O., E 190/8/1.

27 Cat. S.P. Spanish, III, 152; P.R.O., E 159/361 Trin. 26 d.; A.P.C., XXIV, 182–3. Tudor economic documents, III, 202; P.R.O., S.P.12/188/8; P.R.O., S.P. 94/6 fo. 287; S.P. 94/4 fo. 64.

28 A.P.C., XIV, 30: S.P.94/3, fos. 207–8.

29 Miller, L. R., ‘New evidence on the shipping and imports of London’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, XLI (1927), 741, 752–3. S.P.12/262/7; Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., XX (15851586), 337.

30 Tudor economic documents, II, 82–3: Lonchay, H. and Cuvelier, J., Correspondence de la cour d'Espagne sur des affaires des Pays-Bas au XVII siecle (1598–1621) (Brussels, 1923), 92–3.

31 Gras, N. S. B., The evolution of the English corn market (Harvard Economic Studies XIII, Cambridge, Mass., 1915), pp. 101–3: Tudor economic documents, III, 200: Braudel, , La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen, I, 530–45: S.P.94/2 fo. 53: Bennassar, B., Recherches sur Us grandes épidémies dans le nord de L Espagne á la fin du XVIe siécle (Paris, 1969), pp. 1112. Braudel, F. and Romano, R., Navires et marchandises á L'entrée du port de Livourne 1547–1611 (Paris, 1951), pp. 4956.

32 Williams, N. J., ‘Francis Shaxton and the Elizabethan port books’, Eng. Hist. Rev., LXVI, 3 (1951), 387–95; Williams, N.J., ‘The maritime trade of the East Anglian ports, 1550–1590’ (unpublished D.Phil, dissertation, University of Oxford, 1952), pp. 2936, 227; Smith, A. Hassell, County and court: government and politics in Norfolk 1558–1603 (Oxford, 1974), pp. 5, 11, 14, 17, 19, 99, 137. 235. S.P.I2/243/57.

33 A.P.C., XV, 282; ibid. XVII, xii; ibid. XX, 31; ibid. XXI, 91, 435; ibid. XXIII, 345. P.R.O., S.P.15/30/62: Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz. XXI (pt. 2), 196–7.

34 Cheney, E. P., ‘International law under Elizabeth’, Eng. Hist. Rev. XX, 4 (1905), 659–72. A.P.C., XV, 282, ibid. XVI, 415, ibid. XVII, 450, ibid. XX, 8, 31, ibid. XXI, 435, ibid. XXIII, 345, ibid. XXV, 137, 205, S.P.12/212/65.

35 P.R.O., H.C.A.13/26, fo. 255V; P.R.O., S.P.15/29/49, ibid. 30/62; P.R.O., S.P.12/241/18: S.P. Dom. 242/57; P.R.O., S.P.12/243/57, S.P.12/274/24. Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., XXI (pt.a), 90. State papers relating to the defeat of the Spanish Armada anno 1588, ed. Laughton, J. K. (Navy Records Soc., London, 1895), II, pp. 291–2. For friction with the Hanse, , Fedorowicz, J. K., England's Baltic trade in the early seventeenth century (Cambridge, 1980), pp. 1417, 39–44. Burghley thought it vital to stop supplies of victuals to Spain in 1587, and Parma's army was held up for lack of them in the key campaign of the same year. S.P.12/250/15; Wernham, R. B., Before the Armada (London, 1966), p. 393; Tudor royal proclamations, II, 28–31.

36 Schubert, W. R., A history of the British iron and steel industry (London, 1957), pp. 161–72, 255. A.P.C., VIII, 186; S.P. 12/153/73; Lansdowne MS 79/92. Birch, Thomas, Memoirs of the reign of Queen Elizabeth (London, 1754), II, 151. , D. and Mathew, G., ‘Iron furnaces in south-eastern England and English ports and landing places,1578’, Eng. Hist. Rev., XLVIII, 1 (1933), 91–9. Quinn, D. B. and Ryan, A. N., England's sea empire 1550–1642 (London, 1983), p. 16. Cipolla, C. M., Guns and sails in the early phase of European expansion 1400–1700 (London, 1965), pp. 33–5.

37 P.R.O., S.P.94/1, fos.3–3v, 140;S.P.94/2, fo. 148;S.P.94/4, fo.63;S.P.94/5, fo.9, S.P.94/6, fos. 141, 171; S.P.12/244/165; Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., XX (15851586), 641–4, ibid. XXI (pt. 1), 58, ibid. XXIII, 172; A.P.C., XVIII, 7, ibid. XXI. 430, ibid. XXX, 431. S.P.12/244/116, 339; B.L., Lansdowne MS 114/71; P.R.O., S.P.15/30/62; P.R.O., S.P. 12/218/30; Vanes, , ‘Overseas trade of Bristol in the 16th century’, pp. 362–3. Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., XX, (15851586), 652–3. The trade in ordnance conducted by Lionel Cranfield in the early seventeenth century is illustrated in H.M.C. Sackville, I, 64.

39 Quinn, and Ryan, , England's sea empire, p. 150.

40 A.G.S., Estado 572 n.f. Don Juan of Austria to Philip II, 15 Nov. 1577. A.P.C., XVII, 450, ibid. XXII, 6, ibid. XXVIII, 8. Tudor royal proclamations, II, 184. S.P.94/2 fo. 147, S.P.94/5 fo. 174.

41 P.R.O., S.P.94/2, fo. 148; P.R.O., S.P.94/10, fos. 82–3. Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., XXI (I), 413–15. Parliamentary debates in 1610, ed. Gardiner, S. R., Camden Soc., LXXXI (London, 1862), p. 59.

42 A.G.S., Estado, 183, fo. 177, 17 Jan 1599: Cal. S.P. Venetian, VII (15811591), p. 528, Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., XX, 219, ibid. XXI(I), 11–12. Quinn, and Ryan, , England's sea empire, p. 150.

43 S.P.94/6, fos. 44, 124. Corbett, J. S., Papers relating to the navy during the Spanish war 1585–87 (Navy Records Soc., XI, London, 1898), 57; Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., XXI (I), 117–12. Braudel, , La Méditerrannée et le monde méditerranéen, I, 575–6: Thompson, I. A. A., ‘The appointment of the duke of Medina Sidonia to the command of the Spanish Armada’, Historical Journal, XII, 2 (1969), 212–13. Birch, , Memoirs of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, II, 109. Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., Lists and analysis I, 373.

44 Cal. S.P. Spanish, III, 8–11; S.P.12/245/132, ibid. 266/3, ibid. 275/55. In 1590 Philip II was told by the proctors of the Cortes that the suspension of commerce with England had seriously affected the general level of trade, which in turn made any increase in the sales tax almost impossible: Lovett, A. W., ‘The vote of the millones, (1590)’, Historical Journal, XXX, 1 (1987) 16. Fisher, F. J., ‘London's export trade in the early 17th century’, Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., III, 2 (1950), 151–61; Croft, Pauline, ‘The rise of the English stocking export trade’, Textile History, XVIII, 1 (1987), 1012.

45 Jones, N. L., Faith by statute: parliament and the settlement of religion 1559 (London, 1982). Adams, S. L., ‘The Protestant cause: religious alliance with European Calvinist communities as a political issue in England, 1585–1630’ (unpublished D. Phil, dissertation, University of Oxford, 1973). Lake, Peter, ‘The significance of the Elizabethan identification of the pope as antichrist’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, XXI, 2 (1980), 161–78. For the slow progress of the reformation see for example Haigh, C., ‘Puritan evangelism in the reign of Elizabeth I,’ Eng. Hist. Rev., XCII, 1 (1977).

46 MacCaffrey, Wallace T., Queen Elizabeth and the making of policy 1578–88 (Princeton, New Jersey, 1981), pp. 329, 340–2. Andrews, K. R., Trade, plunder and settlement (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 226–40. McBride, Gordon K., ‘Elizabethan foreign policy in microcosm: the case of the Portuguese pretender’, Albion v, 3 (1973), 195200.

47 The marchants avizo by J[ohn] B[rowne] marchant, 1589, ed. McGrath, Patrick (Cambridge, Mass., 1957). Literary works dealing with merchants are discussed by Stevenson, Laura Caroline, Praise and paradox (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 75214.

48 The marchants avizo, pp. xxxiv, 10. McGrath does not comment on the significance of the printer's device or the date of publication.

49 The original writings and correspondence of the two Richard Hakluyts, ed. Taylor, E. G. R. (2 vols., Hakluyt Soc., 2nd ser., London, 1935), II, 221. Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Wood 30, 32. H.C.A. 13/29, fo. 205.

50 Croft, Pauline, ‘Englishmen and the Spanish Inquisition, 1558–1625’, Eng. Hist. Rev., LXXXVII, 2 (1972), 257–9; Dodd, A. H., ‘Mr. Myddleton the merchant of Tower St.’ in Bindoff, S. T., Hurstfield, J. and Williams, C. H., Elizabethan government and society (London, 1961), pp. 260–78; Andrews, K. R., Elizabethan privateering (Cambridge, 1964), pp. 114–15. Cf. the attitude of Sir John Newdigate: Fincham, Kenneth, ‘Personalities and politics in early Stuart England’, Historical Journal, XXVIII, 4 (1985), 1008–9.

51 H.C.A.13/25, fo. 322V. For John Bird and John Watts, Andrews, Elizabethan privateering, and see above: for Robert Cobb, Roger Howe, Arthur and John Jackson, and Thomas Starkey, Andrews, pp. 121–2 and Exchequor 190/8/1. For a request for letters of marque after the seizure of a vessel, the Vyolet of London alias the Angel of Emden, on her way back from an illicit voyage to Spain, , H.M.C. Salisbury, XIII, 598: H.C.A. 13/31, fo. 204v. Andrews, , ‘The English in the Caribbean, 1560–1620’, in Andrews, K. R., Canny, N. P. and Hair, P. E. H., The westward enterprise (Liverpool, 1978), p. 120. The naval tracts of Sir William Monson, ed. Oppenheim, M. (5 vols., Navy Records Soc., London, 19021914), I, 137.

52 Maltby, William S., The Black Legend in England (Durham, North Carolina, 1971), pp. 6187.

53 MacCaffrey, , Queen Elizabeth and the making of policy, p. 313. B. L., Cotton MS Nero B. I, fo. 162.

54 Cal. S.P. Spanish, III, 62, 130. Camden, William, The history of the most renowned and victorious princess Elizabeth (London, 4th edn, 1688), p. 255.

55 H.C.A.13/26, fo. 325: Dean, D. M., ‘Bills and acts 1584–1601’ (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cambridge, 1984), pp. 111–43. Wernham, , Before the Armada, pp. 374–93, 404. Cal. S.P. foreign Eliz., XIX (15841585), 521.

* Earlier drafts of this article were read at the Tudor-Stuart seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, London, and at a seminar held by the International Commission for Maritime History. I am grateful to all those who offered comments and references, especially Professor Conrad Russell and Dr Geoffrey Scammell, and to Dr Simon Adams for helpful criticism.


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