1638, William Carne tries to get out of the tobacco licencing trade

William Carne, Esquire. SP 16/378 f. 21 (1638)

To the Kings most excellent majestie

The humble petition of William Carne esquier

Humblie sheweth

That your majestie by letteres patentes was pleased to graunt to your petitioner and Edward Carne his brother for their lives, the office of receiver of the revenue of the tobacco licences and portage thereof with 200 pound per annum fee, which your majestie for your better service hath since farmed to the Lord Goring and have bene pleased to allowe your petitioner the 200 pounds per annum fee, but your petitioner deprived thereby of the benefitt of portage and other perquisites incident to such offices wherein hee submittes to your majesties pleasure

Humblie neverthelesse praies that your majestie wilbe pleased to recommend the consideracion and satisfaccion of his losse therein to the Lord Goring and to encourage his lordship to advance the same to some considerable proporcion, and since your majestie is not pleased to accept his future service in the receipt of the said revenue, that you will vouchsafe to accept the surrender of the said letteres patentes and graunt the like to two such persons as the Lord Goring shall nominate and give warrant for it accordinglie,

And your petitioner shall for ever pray for your majesties long and prosperous reigne.

[paratext:] Att the court att Whitehall 3o January 1637 / His majestie is gratiously pleased to accept of the petitioners surrender and that Master Attorny Generall prepare a bill for his royall signature that a new graunt pass to Timothy Butts and Peirse Deare during their lives with the said fee of two hundred pounds per annum and twenty shillings per cent for portage with other enlargements as formerly hath bin graunted to the petitioner / Edward Powell/ William Carne receiver for Tobacco / January 1638 / A warrantt for a graunt of the receivorshipp of the fynes and rentes uppon the tobacco licences to Timothy Buttes and Peirce Deare.

Report by Sheila Douglas

In his petition William Carne sought to surrender the office he and his brother held to collect revenues from tobacco licensing.

Background to the Carnes and the petition

The Carnes, originally from Wales, were residents of Cornwall for over 200 years. By 1820 they were considered to be ‘of respectability’ within their Parish and known as respectable merchants in Falmouth, Penzance and other parts of Cornwall.[1]

William and his brother Edward were granted by Charles I, for life, the office of ‘receiver of the revenue of tobacco licences and portage thereof’, for which they received a £200 a year fee plus 1% ‘portage’ (1% of all revenues collected).  Edward Carne had been the Receiver of the compositions for knighthood since 1631 and he and William, a senior official of the Chancery, were employed to collect the rents due from those licensed to sell tobacco. The Carne brothers and others could monitor and govern the distribution of licences for sale by endorsing approved persons by local negotiation and nomination.[2]

The Spanish Company and Lord Goring

The Spanish Company was an English chartered company or corporate body established in 1530 and 1577, confirmed in 1604, re-established in 1605 by King James, whose purpose was the facilitation and control of English trade between England and Spain through the establishment of a corporate monopoly of approved merchants.[3]  William Carne is named as a member of the Spanish Company in 1605.[4]

In 1636 the ‘Spanish merchants’ sought “to take over both the impost farm and the licencing system, thereby gaining control over the Virginia tobacco from ship to retailer”.[5] The Committee for Trade considered a counter-offer from Lord Goring, 1st Earl of Norwich. Goring was a court favourite of both James and Charles. He was involved in a number of the King’s most oppressive schemes for raising money. After negotiation it was agreed that he and his partners would pay £11,000 a year and two-thirds of all money taken above this.[6]

In his petition William Carne referred to the fact that the King had ‘farmed’ the revenues from tobacco licensing to Lord Goring. While William had retained his annual fee of £200, he had, as a result, ‘been deprived of portage and other perquisites’. It appears it is this that prompted him and his brother to seek to relinquish their office. Their request was agreed. The King instructed the Attorney General to prepare a new grant to a Timothy Butts and a Pierce Deare. The annual fee remained £200 but portage was now set at 20%, perhaps reflecting the reduction in collected revenues that licence holders now faced.

By 1637 the King’s tobacco licencing policy seemed to act as catalyst in many of his policies becoming more unpopular and increasing hostility. Goring’s firmer attempts to enforce the licencing policies aggravated the latent hostility to the licensing scheme and Goring’s Tobacco Office became an opportunity for opposition to the King’s authority. Charles’s ‘licence by patent’ policy to regulate tobacco retailing finally collapsed as unlicensed retailers did not comply.[7]


[1] C. S. Gilbert, An Historical Survey of the County of Cornwall: Volume 2, Part 1 (1820), p 58, https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=NvlRAQAAMAAJ&hl=en_GB&pg=GBS.PA58.

[2] Anthony R Rowley, ‘How England Learned to Smoke: The Introduction, Spread and Establishment of Tobacco Pipe Smoking in England before 1640’ (unpublished Ph. D thesis, University of York, 2003) pp. 286 – 287, http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/9845/1/403870.pdf.

[3] ‘Spanish Company’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Company.

[4] ‘Charter of 1605’, in Pauline Croft (ed.), The Spanish Company, (1973), pp. 95-113. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-record-soc/vol9/pp95-113.

[5] Rowley, ‘How England Learned to Smoke’, p. 302.

[6] Rowley, ‘How England Learned to Smoke’, pp. 303-4; ‘George Goring, Lord Goring’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Goring,_1st_Earl_of_Norwich.

[7] Rowley, ‘How England Learned to Smoke’, pp. 318-19, 326-27.


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles I and the Civil Wars’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.