1667, Edward Burton petitions for a consulship at Santa Cruz, South Barbary

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1660s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, Edward Burton of London, merchant. SP 29/188 f. 37 (1667).

To the Kings most excellent majestie

The humble peticion of Edward Burton of London merchant

Humbly sheweth that whereas your petitioner is now bound out upon a merchant imployment for the port of Santa Cruz in South Barbary in his owne and other your majesties subjects affaires intending for some time there to reside, and though the place be inconsiderable yet in regard many occasions may offer, for your majesties service and for the advantage and encouragement of your majesties subjects in their trade and comerce by your majesties establishing of a consul there.

Your petitioner therefore in all humilitie beseeches your most excellent majesty out of your gracious and royall inclinacion to the advancement of trade to be pleased to graunt your majesties letters pattents to your petitioner to be consul of the said place.

And your petitioner is in duty bound shall ever pray.

Edward Burton

Report by Judy Warner

In this petition, Edward Burton, a London merchant, asked for a consulship. This report examines the potential trade between London and Santa Cruz, and also what the position of a consul there could involve.

A London merchant in 1667

To be able to style yourself with the occupational status of ‘merchant’ in London in 1667 could imply certain details about Edward Burton’s history. In order to use this title it meant that he had either been apprenticed to a merchant as a teenager for a period of about eight years, or as a mature adult had bought his membership of a livery company (a guild) such as the Mercers’ Company or gained membership by patrimony.[1]

To gain an apprenticeship could imply good family connections to the merchant, either from within or outside London. The apprenticeship required the merchant on his part to teach the young man enough to be worthy of guild membership by the end of the term. Being granted this meant he could become a Freemen, and also a Freemen of the City of London.

The Mercers’ Company was and still is the premier Livery Company of the City of London – the first in precedence of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies. It had been established during the 12th century, and was incorporated under a Royal Charter in 1394. Its initial aim was to act as a trade association for general merchants, but especially for the exporters of wool and the importers of velvet, silk and luxurious fabrics (mercers). Yet, by the 16th century, this trade represented a smaller part of the trade undertaken.

However, the title of ‘merchant’ could also be used by people wishing to show they were self-styled traders operating in London. There is no record of Edward Burton on the rolls of the Mercers’ Company for the likely period 1640–1665. An Edward Burton is listed on the rolls of the Clothmakers’ Company for 1627, but that would have made him over 60 at the time of this petition and rather unlikely to have been putting himself forward for a position in Santa Cruz.[2]

Thus, Edward Burton was possibly a self-styled ‘merchant’ with no official connection to a livery company, but nevertheless an ambitious man looking to further his trading future.

Looking elsewhere in London records, an Edward Burton does appear on the tax records for the Royal and Additional Tax of 1666.[3] He is listed as living in New Fish Street, which was part of Fish Street Hill and ran up from the Thames to Thames Street close to Pudding Lane and was part of the ward of Bridge Within. This street was consumed in The Great Fire 1666 and the details were recorded by both Edward Waterhouse and Samuel Pepys.[4]

Yet, Edward Burton is not in Great Fish Street in the 1666 Hearth Tax records, but only listed as owning a 13-hearth house in St Dunstan in the West, an area that survived the Great Fire. A 13-hearth house was a very substantial dwelling and the neighbouring houses were of a similar size, so this Edward Burton was living in well-to-do circumstances. The two records may be for the same individual or for two different ones. If for the same person, it can be conjectured that he could have owned both at the same time or sequentially, or used one for business purposes (possibly the Fish Street one) and one for residential purposes.[5]

Which Santa Cruz?

Santa Cruz is the location for which Burton wishes to be appointed Consul. There were three Santa Cruzes, one on Tenerife, one on Madeira and one on the South Barbary coast now known as Agadir. Tenerife was a Spanish territory and Madeira was a Portuguese territory. Charles II had married the daughter of the king of Portugal, Catherine de Braganza, and in the process had acquired a very advantageous trading arrangement specifically for Madeira as part of a lucrative marriage dowry.

Madeira had only been settled since 1425 when it was divided into three captaincies for members of the Portuguese nobility by Henry the Navigator.[6] Cleared and burned land proved very fertile for wheat, sugar cane and vineyards. The latter were developed to counter the dominance of the Genoese and Venetian growers. In time this overtook the production of wheat and cane and “Malmsey” became a favoured wine, especially in England. As part of the marriage trade agreement, protectionist measures for Madeiran wine were agreed in exchange for English absolute freedom of business with the island, including local tax facilities.

Furthermore in 1660 the Navigation Acts, passed to control the trade to British colonies in America, banned the export of European goods except from the British traders living in Madeira, provided that their exports were transported in British ships. This allowed the Madeiran wine trade to be exported to the American continent and other British colonial markets. Thus, a triangular trade between Madeira, the New World and Europe was established. This built on the already booming wine trade from Madeira that had overtaken that from Tenerife and captured the Brazilian market. All of this could have made Madeira seem a very attractive proposition for a London merchant.

However, because of the usage of “South Barbary” in the wording of his petition, Burton was likely referring to the present location of Agadir. South Barbary as a term covered quite a large sea area but, on the whole, referred to North Africa.


The Portuguese established a trading post in Agadir in 1505 and built a fort to defend it. However, tribes from the region blockaded and captured it, and its loss led over time in the 16th century to a gradual loss of other Portuguese trading points on the Moroccan coast.

During the 17th century in the reign of the Berber dynasty, Agadir became a harbour of some importance, expanding its trade with Europe. Was this what attracted Burton to it as a potentially lucrative location? Agadir traded in sugar, wax, copper, hides and skins and Europe brought weapons and textiles. By the time Burton applied for the consulship, the trade between Morocco and France was receding and was being overtaken by the Dutch and the English. Although Agadir lacked a proper port and wharves it could be seen as ripe for development and a prime spot for an enterprising merchant. One way to capitalise on that even more was to apply to become its English consul.[7]

Consulships – protecting British interests and furthering your own

The 17th century was a period of both growth and transition for the English Consular service and a potentially prime time for Edward Burton to seek to join its ranks. Today a consulate is a lower tier embassy, promoting and protecting British interests and its citizens in a foreign country. In the 17th century there was a much stronger link with local trading interests, although the national and public aspects of the position were also developing, particularly in those countries where the trade was not allocated to a company, but was instead open to the whole nation.

Nevertheless, the consul had to tread a difficult tightrope between a number of different interest groups and could attract the disapprobation of all, or some of them, at any one time. He had to avoid displeasing e.g. London merchants trading to his port, the English factors there, the masters of English ships coming to discharge or pick up freight, native merchants and residents of the port, local magistrates, customs and admiralty offices, any other diplomatic representatives in residence, the Secretary of State in England and the King in Council – quite a list! Besides all these he had his own interests as a trader to pursue, and this to him would always come first.

Another commercial development made life a bit more disputatious too. In the past there had been local “factories” – in other words merchants who as it were lived “over the shop” or travelled with their goods. Increasingly now though the merchants stayed at home and left the business to local commissioners – young men who made a living on commission and so were another form of competition, and a mutually jealous lot. The merchants at home began to look to the King for some kind of protection of their interests through the only agency available i.e. the consul.

During the Interregnum a new conception of the consular office began to develop. The state began to rely on consuls not merely for the protection and management of English trade, but also for political intelligence and assistance to the English fleet in the Mediterranean. In fact, in March 1649 the Council of State asserted its right to approve all consular nominees. Once Charles II returned, he inherited this arrangement, though he removed all incumbents and replaced them with Royalists.[8]

By 1663 the whole question of consulates came up in the House of Commons which resolved ‘That his Majesty be humbly desired by the House, that no Consularship be continued, or hereafter granted in any place, but by the desire of the Respective Merchants trading to that place, and such allowances, and charges as the Merchants shall consent to give them’.[9]

Charles’ reply was firm but conciliatory:

‘His Majesty finds that the nomination of consuls in the Factories abroad hath always been in the Crown and kept there; because in most ports, they are Agents to maintain the Privileges of the Nation, and the Articles of peace made by the Advantage of it. That if his Majesty should grant what is desired to the Merchants here, it would manifestly disoblige the rest of the Kingdom, equally engaged in the Trade. However, his Majesty so for complete with the Desires of the House of Commons, as to promise care shall be taken to nominate none, but in such Places where they are precisely necessary; and with such allowances as the merchants shall think fit, in their respective Factories. And also, that the said consuls be men fitly qualified and acceptable to them’.[10]

So there the controversy rested, and it was in this setting that Edward Burton put in his petition – the merchants could set the local fees, the King could retain the initiative on the appointees in current consularships, determine any new ones to be set up and any men in post could stay put if the local factories were happy to accept them. Basically, the London merchants did not wish to pay fees to support any royal protégés who knew nothing about the trade. Burton evidently saw an opportunity for advancement in Santa Cruz with its propitious treaty arrangements.

Because the King had left these local fees to the consul to negotiate, it meant that he had to strike the best bargain he could with the local merchants, master and factors, and they of course wanted to pay him as little as possible. Only the consul knew how much he made each year and this could be affected by any number of events: the current volume of trade, pestilence, or some diversion of trade that the consul had no control over.

A Consul’s Duties

Besides pursuing his own financial ambitions, the consul did have a number of other responsibilities including resolving disputes between English merchants in their factories, merchants and masters of English ships, and between master and seamen. He was also the local spokesman with local government for the English merchants trading to the port and was the procurator for persons in England to secure their rights and property. He had to take charge of the estates of Englishmen dying in the region, obtain recognition of the rights of their heirs and if intestate to act as executor. He had to help merchants fulfil custom formalities, clear ship and collect debts, and in times of war he was expected to report anything strategically important to the English Ambassador (if there was one) and to the Secretary of State. He also had to warn English merchants of the dangers, give assistance to the English fleet, commission privateers, and assist in the disposal of prizes.

To do all this, the local consul had to operate in a trading environment where any foreigner was viewed as fair game for fraud, extortion or oppression. Treaty rights would only carry anyone so far. Miles away from the actual seats of power, life could be reinterpreted for personal profit.[11]

Edward Burton the Consul?

Burton was petitioning for a post early in the reign of Charles II. By the end of Charles’ reign, consuls had begun to prove their worth and the merchants had far less interest in attempting to reduce their influence or jurisdiction. It would have been an astute career move on Burton’s part.

However, other questions arise. Being established in a 13-hearth house in St Dunstan’s in the West betokened a comfortable lifestyle. Burton professes to intend moving to reside in Santa Cruz, which presented unique challenges. Perhaps he was a natural adventurer or a risk taker? In fact, Edward Burton’s petition was successful and he was established in his post as Consul of Santa Cruz in South Barbary from 1667.[12]


[1]  S. Alford, London’s Triumph Merchant Adventurers and the Tudor City (2017).

[2] Records of London’s Livery Companies Online: https://www.londonroll.org/event/?company=clw&event_id=CLLL6354.

[3] London Metropolitan Archives COL/CHD/LA/03/066/002-0026.

[4] G. Milne, The Great Fire of London (1986); The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 2 September 1666: https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1666/09/02/.

[5] ‘Hearth Tax: City of London 1666, St Margaret New Fish Street ‘, in London Hearth Tax: City of London and Middlesex, 1666 (2011), British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-hearth-tax/london-mddx/1666/st-margaret-new-fish-street.

[6] ‘Agadir’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agadir.

[7] ‘Agadir’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agadir.

[8] H M Borges of Madeira, History https://www.hmborges.com/en/history.html

[9]  ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 8: 8 April 1663’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 8, 1660-1667 (London, 1802), p. 468. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol8/p468; ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 8: 12 May 1663’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 8, 1660-1667 (London, 1802), pp. 480-481. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol8/pp480-481.

[10] ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 8: 12 May 1663’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 8, 1660-1667 (London, 1802), pp. 480-481. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol8/pp480-481.

[11] V. Barbour, ‘Consular Service in the Reign of Charles II’, The American Historical Review, 33:3 (1928), pp. 553-578.

[12] P. Fraser, The Intelligence of the Secretaries of State (1956), p. 158.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles II, 1660-1685’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.