The Settlement of the Merchants Adventurers at Stade, 1587–1611
Since at least the eleventh century there has been a town at the site of Stade on the lower reaches of the river Schwinge, just above its mouth in the estuary of the Elbe opposite Hamburg. After a century or so of prosperity and prominence as a member of the Hanseatic League, Stade entered into a period of slow decline in the later Middle Ages, and by the sixteenth century had sunk so far as to allow its active membership of the League to lapse.1 An Englishman, circa 1595, described it as ‘a poor town, about the bigness of Barking or Gravesend’.2 With its sister towns nearby, Bremen and Buxtehude, it was subject to the archbishop of Bremen, who was entitled to certain dues from shipping in its harbour. These mattered less, however, than the pretensions of its ambitious neighbour Hamburg on the other side of the Elbe. Hamburg claimed to regulate and tax all shipping on the river, and in particular to enforce the carriage of all corn on its waters for sale at its own market.3 The prosperity of Hamburg, and possibly its political pretensions, received some further stimulus in 1567 by the completion of an agreement with the Company of Merchants Adventurers of England, the gist of which was that the English company received extensive rights for its membership in the marketing of woollen cloths in the city. The Englishmen were expected to attract much other business to their cloth mart thus established by the Elbe; and their advent in fact laid the foundations for the subsequent rise of Hamburg to a place among the half-dozen most important seaports of northern Europe. But for nearly a quarter of a century the development of Hamburg was hindered and its position under threat because the English were driven to transfer their cloth mart to the modest haven of Stade nearby. How the interruption could have occurred is the subject of this essay, but first, a glance at the Merchants Adventurers and their mart towns is necessary.
KeywordsCorn Depression Europe Shipping Amid
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