Merchant Adventurers

Merchant Adventurers,

name given originally to all merchants in England who engaged in export trade, but later applied to loosely organized groups of merchants in the major ports concerned with exporting cloth to the Netherlands. They were incorporated as a trading company in 1407. Originally the company's activities centered in Bruges, but in 1446 it obtained trading privileges from the duke of Burgundy and established its staple (i.e., trading center) at Antwerp. Despite strong competition from the Hanseatic LeagueHanseatic League
, mercantile league of medieval German towns. It was amorphous in character; its origin cannot be dated exactly. Originally a Hansa was a company of merchants trading with foreign lands.
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, whose dominance in the Baltic caused the exclusion of the Merchant Adventurers from that area, the company flourished, established depots in several cities, and in 1560 was given the monopoly on exporting cloth to W Germany and the Netherlands. It continued to prosper throughout the 16th and 17th cent., although political rivalries forced it to move its staple to Hamburg (1567) and Dordrecht (1655). The company was dissolved in 1808.


See E. M. Carus-Wilson, Medieval Merchant Venturers (2d ed. 1967).

Merchant Adventurers


one of the oldest English trading companies; exporters of cloth. It was established as an independent company in 1406 by a charter from Henry IV. In 1407 the Merchant Adventurers founded its first factory, in Antwerp; this city became the company’s main storage base. The center for its activity was London, and London merchants dominated the company. Structured on the share principle, it represented an embryonic form of joint-stock company. A major competitor of the Hanseatic League, it acquired increasing importance in European trade as the latter declined. In the early 17th century the company made Hamburg its main base. In the second half of the 17th century it lost its monopoly of the cloth trade. It ceased to exist in 1808.

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