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History of Free Trade page 2

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The period of the usages and institutions which the "Liber Albus" brings to light is believed to extend from the earlier years of the reign of Edward I. to about the middle of that of Richard II. Among other of the innumerable vexations and oppressive laws which it contains, it is ordained that no one should purchase wines or wares of any kind brought by ship, in the Pool of the Thames. Vessels and boats with victuals of any kind on board were ordered to lie one day at anchor without selling anything. Some trades were forbidden to use fountain water, and others, including spirit brewers and maltsters, soft water for the purposes of their industry. Bowyers were not to send bows to Cornhill, or to any other place within the city for sale. Spur-makers were ordered to sell spurs at the rate of 6d. and 8d. the pair, the very best not to exceed 12d.; the prices to be charged by shoeing-smiths were fixed at three-halfpence for a common horse-shoe with six nails; with eight nails, 2d.; and for removing the same, |d.; for putting a shoe on a courser, 2½d.; for putting a shoe on a charger, 3d.; and for removing a shoe from either, Id. The prices of labour were generally fixed in like manner, and labourers or workmen who would not accept these harsh terms were to be arrested and imprisoned. Saddlers, skinners, and tanners were particularly directed to be chastised for charging excessively; and fishmongers, poulterers, and other journeymen were warned to be equally careful how they assessed the value of their own work. The privilege of keeping inns was, like all other trades, confined to freemen; but foreigners and strangers, when admitted to the freedom for the purpose of becoming innkeepers, were commanded to keep their houses in the heart of the city, and avoid the banks of the Thames, which was a favourite locality for such houses of entertainment. No innkeeper was allowed to 10dge a guest more than a day and a night, unless he would be responsible for any offences against the innumerable civic laws which his guest might commit. These " hostelers " were also forbidden to sell drink or victuals to any one but their guests; and it was the duty of city officers to search their houses to see that they had not transgressed this rule. No innkeeper was allowed to make ale or bread, but was enjoined by public enactment to buy of the brewers and bakers, and the former was compelled to sell his ale at certain fixed prices, in sealed gallons, pottles, and quarts. But although this regulation appeared to favour the brewers, that unfortunate class of producers seem to have been still greater sufferers by the system of civic tyranny. As soon as their brewing was finished, it was the duty of the brewer to send foi the ale-conner of the ward, in order to taste the ale. Upon so doing, the latter functionary, if he did not find the ale as good as it ought to be, with the assent of his alderman set a lower price upon it, which in the sale was not to be exceeded under pain of fine, imprisonment, and punishment by pillory. It may be a matter of surprise that any one in those times should voluntarily continue to be a brewer. The reason is found in another enactment, that if any man or woman should decline to brew, or should brew a less quantity than he used to brew, in consequence of this ordinance, such person should be held to be a Withdrawer of victuals from the city, and for such disobedience and malice should incur the penalty of imprisonment according to the will of the mayor for the time being, besides being compelled to forswear for ever his trade within the liberties of the city. No wine-taverner was allowed to mix old wine with new; and it was enacted that after the arrival of new wine at a tavern, none of it should be sold before the old was disposed of. Taverners who sold sweet wines were forbidden to deal in other wines, and the number of their taverns was limited.

The laws regulating the bread trade, traces of which still existed until very lately in the well-known "assize" of bread, were still more puerile and vexatious. The bread consumed within the city was made partly within the walls and partly in places at a distance. It was permitted to be made at Stratford and Bromley, in Essex, and at Stepney and St. Albans, from which places it was brought on pack-horses or in carts. At times, however, this import of strange bread was suddenly prohibited, and occasionally bread made in Southwark was also peremptorily ordered not to cross the river. Loaves were directed to be sold at two and four to the penny, and none were to be sold at a higher price, such as three or five farthings apiece. Bread was to be carried to market in baskets of a certain shape, coarse bread in boxes or hutches. The bakers were ordered not to give credit to the retailers if known to be in debt to others, and not to take bread back from them when once sold. The baker of brown bread was on no account to make white bread; nor the duly appointed maker of white bread to infringe upon the rights of the duly appointed baker of brown. The latter was not to have a bolting-cloth in his possession, or to sell his flour to cooks or any one else. No bakers were to heat their ovens with fern, straw, stubble, or reeds; they were not to buy corn for the purposes of re-sale; to take the servants of other bakers who had left their places without a licence; nor to make special arrangements with their landlords for a share in the profits of their oven; and the sheriff was directed to take no fines from bakers, but to inflict upon them punishment by pillory instead. Corn-dealers and millers were subjected to equally harsh laws. The sale of almost every kind of fish was regulated by enactments peculiar to itself. Butchers, and poulterers, and vegetable-sellers were, in like manner, regulated and instructed in the art of conducting their respective trades. It was, moreover, the constant practice, not only of the purveyors and servants of the king, but also of the great lords and important inhabitants of the neighbourhood, to visit the great markets before the hours appointed for the opening of public sales, at which hours, after these privileged persons had had the "pick and choice" of the various commodities, at prices fixed by the city regulation, or public acts, the retailers and the poorer classes were allowed to begin making their market. Tailors, dyers, weavers, bootmakers, skinners, furriers, old clothesmen, and others were also threatened with the pillory for innumerable breaches of similar ordinances. "That," says Mr. Riley, "the favoured and so-called free citizen of London, even, despite the extensive privileges in reference to trade which he enjoyed, was in possession of more than the faintest shadow of liberty, can hardly be alleged, if we only call to mind the substance of these laws, filled as they are with enactments and ordinances arbitrary, illiberal, and oppressive: laws which compelled each citizen, whether he would or no, to be bail and surety for a neighbour's good behaviour, over whom, perhaps, it was impossible for him to exercise the slightest control; laws which forbade him to make his market for the day until the purveyors for the king and the great lords of the land had stripped the stalls of all that was choicest and best; laws which forbade him to pass the city walls for the purpose even of meeting his own purchased goods; laws which bound him to deal with certain persons or communities only, or within the precincts only of certain localities; laws which dictated, under severe penalties, what sums, and no more, he was to pay to his servants and artisans; laws which drove his dog out of the streets, while they permitted "genteel dogs" to roam at large - nay, even more than this: laws which subjected him to domiciliary visits from the city officials on various pleas and pretexts; which compelled him to carry on a trade under heavy penalties, irrespective of the question whether or not it was at his loss, and which occasionally went so far as to lay down rules at what hours he was to walk in the streets, and incidentally what he was to eat and what to drink; viewed individually, laws and ordinances such as these may seem, perhaps, but of trifling moment; but ' trifles make life,' the poet says, and to have lived fettered by numbers of restrictions like these must have rendered life irksome in the extreme to a sensitive man, and a burden hard to be borne."

These interferences with industry and trade, though generally carried farthest in the internal regulations of great towns, are also abundantly illustrated in the laws of the realm. Liberty to adopt what business a man pleased, to ask what price he pleased for his labour or goods, to betake himself to what market appeared best for obtaining employment or disposing of his commodities, was a thing unknown to our forefathers. Generally these burdens upon the people were borne patiently; but occasionally they led to serious outbreaks. The popular rebellions in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries were no doubt in great measure attributable to these causes; but the most remarkable protest against restrictions on commerce was afforded by the difficulties encountered by Queen Elizabeth in her endeavours to establish monopolies of particular branches of domestic trade and industry in favour of individual subjects. That politic princess wisely abandoned the system as soon as it seriously endangered her popularity, as, indeed, did James I. under similar circumstances. The speech in which Elizabeth's determination was announced to the House of Commons by Cecil affords complete evidence of the nature and extent of these monopolies or "patents" - as they were called from the instrument which granted them - the mischief which they had done, and the widespread discontent they had occasioned; and is also curious from its close resemblance - in all but the evidently forced jocularity of the speaker - to some of those speeches in which the late Sir Robert Peel announced Iiis schemes of economical and commercial reform.

"I take it," said Cecil, " there is no patent whereof the execution hath not been injurious. Would that they had never been granted. I hope there shall never be more. (All the House said ' Amen.') In particular, most of these patents have been supported by letters of assistance from Her Majesty's Privy Council; but whosoever looks upon them shall find that they carry no other stile, than with relation to the patent. I dare assure you from henceforth there shall be no more granted. They shall all be revoked. But to whom do they repair with these letters? to some outhouse, to some desolate widow, to some simple cottage, or poor ignorant people, who, rather than they would be troubled and undo themselves by coming up hither, will give anything in reason for these caterpillars' satisfaction. I say, therefore, there shall be a proclamation general throughout the realm, to notify Her Majesty's resolution in this behalf. And because you may eat your meat more savoury than you have done, every man shall have salt as good and cheap as he can buy it or make it, freely without danger of that patent, which shall be presently revoked. The same benefit shall they have which have cold stomachs, both for aqua vitce and aqua composita, and the like. And they that have weak stomachs, for their satisfaction, shall have vinegar and alegar, and the like, set at liberty. Train-oil shall go the same way; oil of blubber shall march in equal rank; brushes and bottles endure the same judgment. The patent for pouldavy, if it be not called in, it shall be. Oade (woad) which, as I take it, is not restrained either by law or statute, but only by proclamation (I mean from the former sowing), though for the saving thereof it might receive good disputation; yet for your satisfaction, the Queen's pleasure is to revoke that proclamation, only she prayeth thus much, that when she cometh on progress to see you in your countries, she be not driven out of your towns by suffering it to infect the air too near them. Those that desire to go sprucely in their ruffs, may, at less charge than accustomed, obtain their wish; for the starch patent, which hath so much been prosecuted, shall now be repealed. There are other patents which be considerable, as the patent of new drapery, which shall be suspended and left to the law. Irish yarn is a matter I am sorry there is cause of complaint about; for the savageness of the people and the war have frustrated the hope of the patentee, a gentleman of good service and desert, a good subject to Her Majesty, and a good member of the commonwealth - Mr. Carmarthen. Notwithstanding, it shall be suspended and left to the law. The patent for calf-skins and fells shall endure the censure of the law. But I must tell you, there is no reason that all should be revoked, for the Queen means not to be swept of her prerogative. I say it shall be suspended, if the law do not warrant it. There i3 another servant of lier Majesty's, Mr. Onslow, one of her pensioners, an honest gentleman and a faithful servant, he hath the patent for steel, which one Mr. Beale once had; this, too, because of complaints, shall be suspended. There is another that hath the patent for leather, Sir Edward Dyer, a gentleman of good desert, honest, religious, and wise; this was granted unto him thirty years ago. It crept not in by the new misgovernment of the time; yet this shall also be suspended. The patent for cards shall be suspended and triable by the common law. The patent for glasses, which though I do least apprehend to be prejudicial to the public good, yet it is left to the law. There is another patent for saltpetre, that hath been both accused and slandered; it digs into every man's house, it annoys the inhabitant, and generally troubleth the subject; for this, I beseech you, be contented. Yet I know I am to blame to desire it, it being condemned by you. Her Majesty means to take this patent unto herself, and advise with her counsel touching the same. For I must tell you the kingdom is not so well furnished with powder as now it should be. But if it be thought fit upon advice to be cancelled, Her Majesty commanded me to tell you, that though she be willing to help the grave gentleman that hath that patent, yet out of that abundant desire that she hath to give you complete satisfaction, it shall be repealed. This hath come to the ear of the Queen, and I have been most earnest to search for the instrument, and as a counsellor of state, have done my best endeavour to salve the sore. Then I must needs give you this for a future caution. That whatsoever is subject to public expectation cannot be good, while the Parliament matters are ordinary talk in the street. I have heard myself, being in my coach, these words spoken aloud: - ' God prosper those that further the overthrow of these monopolies; God send the Prerogative touch not our liberty! ' "

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