1651, the Merchant Adventurers complain that they are mistreated and disparaged in Hamburg

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1650s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/petitions/state-papers/1650s#h2-0007.

The governor, deputy assistants and fellowship of the merchant adventurers of England. SP 46/96 f. 44 (1651)

To the right honourable the Councell of State

The humble peticion of the governour deputy assistantes and fellowshipp of merchantes adventurers of England

Most humbly sheweth that the peticioners by letteres of the 24th of Aprill last from that part of their fellowshipp which resideth in Hamburgh in Germany have received a copie of an humble addresse made the 22th of the same month by the court there unto this honourable councell, which they doubt not but is come to your honours handes, and therefore according to their duty to the comon wealth, aswell as that intrest which they have in the prosperity thereof, the petitioners doe humbly hope it wilbe judged noe presumpcion in them, if they interpose amongst your other many and more weighty affaires, and putt your honours in mynd of the said humble addresse of their said brethren, and earnestly pray your honours patronage of them both, in this oppression and neglect under which the well affected of this nation and the trade thereof doe suffer not onely there at Hamburgh, but in all the partes of their priviledges beyond the seas. The petitioners shall not trouble your honours with the repetition of the particulars in the said addresse, they beinge therein at full represented, onely they crave leave

To be humble and instant peticioners with your honours, that by your favourable and speedy report, of the low condicion of the fellowship and their trade in those partes

1 First that effectuall letters may be obtayned from the Parliament to the senate of Hamburgh wherein the breaches upon them may according to the dignity and honour of the Parliament be with due resentment expostulated

2 Secondly that your honours would please to continue your encouragement to your resident in those partes, on whose esteeme abroad the honour of the nation and trade of this fellowshipp doe soe much depend

3 Thirdly and lastly, that your honours would please effectually to recommend to the Parliament the establishing of the government of the fellowship by owning them in some spetiall manner. For as the petitioners have formerly humbly declared themselves unto your honours, they are on all handes sencible, that unless the Parliament doe by some publique act confirme them and their government as by the former supreame authority of this nation upon all changes they were have bin b at enabled, and from there to then [illegible], the stranger abroad with whome they deale, will looke on them under noe other notion, but as stragling merchantes and soe will take advantage to antiquate all those priviledges and immunityes which the fellowshipp with soe great charge, in soe many ages hath obtayned abroad, and under which the staple and cheife trade of this nation was first founded, [illegible] dayly grew up, and at last flourished to the great benifitt of the common wealth, and to the emulacion of all neighbouring countryes

And the petitioners shall pray etc

Samuel Avery governour

Report by Wendy Lewis

In this petition, Samuel Avery, writing as Governor of the Merchant Adventurers, cited the ‘oppression and neglect’ their members faced in Hamburg and elsewhere and the ‘low condition’ of their trade. He asked the Council to write to the Hamburg Senate, outlining the breaches they suffered; to continue to encourage trade; and to recommend to Parliament that it confirm the Adventurers’ fellowship. Avery warned that without Parliament’s protection those whom his members had to deal with would view them as just straggling merchants and take undue advantage. 

The Merchant Adventurers

The Merchant Adventurers were an incorporated society of merchants who had been granted a monopoly on the export of undyed woollen cloth to any point on the coast of Northern Europe between the Somme and Skaw (present day Denmark).[1]  Although the membership was drawn from the merchants of ‘diverse great Cities, Maritime Townes, and other parts of the Realme, to wit, London, Yorke, Norwich, Exceter, Ipswitch, Newcastle, Hull, &c’,[2] the society itself was based at a city or ‘marte town’ on the continent.[3]  From 1611 this city was Hamburg.  The ruling body of Hamburg, the Senate, granted the Merchant Adventurers generous privileges in addition to their monopoly on woollen imports; among other things they were given trading rights equivalent to those of native Hamburg merchants, as well as the right to worship according to their own religion.[4]

By 1651, when the Merchant Adventurers submitted this petition, however, their position in Hamburg had become uncertain, even precarious. In 1649, after the execution of Charles I, Royalist agents began threatening, attacking and even killing Parliamentary supporters on the continent.[5] The Merchant Adventurers, who had been largely supportive of Parliament, were prime targets.  In March, Parliament received a report of an attack made on the chaplain to the Merchant Adventurers: servants of the Royalist agent Col. Cochrane ‘laid wait for the English Minister, when he was going to the English house to preach, and would have pistolled him … the pistols not taking fire, the fellows being mad with anger drew their poyniards to stab the Minister; who crying out murther, was rescued by the citizens’.[6]

Shortly afterwards, a group of Merchant Adventurers were abducted by Royalist agents, and only the speedy pursuit and rescue by their fellow merchants saved them from being held for ransom.  Parliament wrote to the Hamburg Senate asking for better protection for the Merchants, but in 1650 the newly appointed secretary to the Merchants, Richard Bradshaw, complained that the abductors, after having been banished from Hamburg, were now allowed to return. It seemed to him that the Senate sometimes favoured the Merchants and sometimes the Royalists, and there may have been strong basis for this suspicion. After all, Hamburg was an autonomous imperial city, with little military power, and relied on its neutrality for protection.[7] This petition would have been an attempt by the Merchant Adventurers to regain their former secure status in Hamburg.

Samuel Avery

At the time this petition was submitted, Samuel Avery was Governor of the Merchant Adventurers and already well-established in his career.  A strongly religious Presbyterian, and active member of St. Stephen’s Coleman Street parish, he had been one of the leading Parliamentarians during the Civil War.[8] Avery was made Master of the Merchant Taylors in 1645, and elected Alderman for Cripplegate the same year; he then served as Alderman for the Bassishaw ward from 1647 to 1653.[9] Election to the Court of Aldermen in the City of London presupposed wealth and high status: a fortune of £10,000 was required for eligibility and there were costly responsibilities for entertainment and hospitality.[10] Avery was Commissioner for Customs from 1645 to 1647,[11] and a member of ten separate Parliamentary Committees between 1645 and 1648.[12]  He served as Sheriff of London from 1647 to 1648[13] and was elected Member of Parliament for the City of London in 1654.[14] Avery died in 1664.[15]


[1] William E. Lingelbach, ‘The Merchant Adventurers at Hamburg’, American Historical Review 9.2, pp. 265-87 (1904), p. 267, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101068319530&view=1up&seq=5.

[2] John Wheeler, A treatise of commerce (1601), pp. 19-20.

[3] William E. Lingelbach, The Merchant Adventurers of England (1902), p. xv, https://archive.org/details/merchantadventu03linggoog/page/n18/mode/2up.

[4] Lingelbach, ‘The Merchant Adventurers of Hamburg’, pp. 269-71. See also Philippe Dollinger, The German Hanse (1970), pp. 356 and 366.

[5] Jason T. Peacey, ‘Order and Disorder in Europe: Parliamentary Agents and Royalist Thugs 1649-1650’, Historical Journal, 40 (4) pp. 953-76 (1997), pp. 961-65.

[6] A Perfect Diurnall of the Passages in Parliament, no. 297 (2-9 April 1649), quoted in Geoffrey Smith, Royalist Agents, Conspirators and Spies (2010).

[7] Mary Lindemann, The Merchant Republics: Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg, 1648-1790 (2015), p. 37.

[8] Robert Brenner, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict and London’s Overseas Traders, 1550-1653 (1993), pp. 386 and 489.

[9] Alfred P Beaven, ‘Chronological list of aldermen: 1601-1650’, in The Aldermen of the City of London Temp. Henry III – 1912 (1908), pp. 47-75. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/london-aldermen/hen3-1912/pp47-75.

[10] Brenner, p. 81.

[11] Beaven, pp. 47-75.

[12] Brenner, pp. 482 and 486.

[13] Beaven, pp. 47-75.

[14] ibid

[15] ‘Samuel Avery’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Avery.