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London merchants and the Borromei bank in the 1430s: local credit networks and the transfer of skills
By J.L. Bolton
XIV International Economic History Congress (2006)
Introduction: Italian merchants were not liked in fifteenth-century England, if contemporary propaganda is to be believed. They were accused of all manner of commercial and financial crimes, from selling their imports dear and buying English goods for export cheaply to rigging international exchange transactions so that both the balance of trade and payments was in their favour and bullion drained from the land. If this was generally true of late-medieval attitudes, then it was even more the case between 1435 and 1439-40. The Burgundian decision to change sides in the Hundred Years War and, at the Treaty of Arras of 1435, to abandon the English alliance, led to an attack on Calais and a four-year interruption in the wool export trade through the Staple there and to a ban on the sale of English cloth in Holland, Zeeland and Brabant. This supposedly hit the London merchants hard. Their principal markets for the sale of cloth and the purchase of linen cloth and other mercery wares for import were at the Brabantine fairs. Flanders had long been closed to them since the duke of Burgundy had banned the sale of English cloth there some eighty years earlier. Now they could neither export wool through Calais nor cloth through the Brabantine fairs at Antwerp and Bergen-op-Zoom. Their exports slumped and only the Italians seemed to benefit from this sharp contraction in English overseas trade. Small wonder then that they were, as Holmes has shown, the chief target of the well-known poem, the ‘Libelle of Englyshe Polycye’.