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British in Iberia

British history and stories in Spain and Portugal.

The English traders of Seville in the 15th Century.
11 March 2010 @ 13:04

In 1304, a Seville merchant ship reached England.   However, at this time in the 14th Century, the majority of trade between England and Andalucia was transported by Basque ships and, from the second half of the century onwards, also by ships from Bristol.  In Andalucia, the merchandise most sought-after by the English traders was olive oil, for use in cooking and also in the textile factories and also in the making of Seville soap.  They also exported leathers and honey.  However, during the 15th Century, the merchandise of choice was Andalucian wine.  In turn, the English exported wools and cloth.  The English were in constant trading wars with Genoese and Florentine traders in Seville.

The result of this intense business activity was the rise in the number of English traders in Seville, particularly after the discovery of America, making them the second largest group of foreign traders in the city, after the Genoese.  The largest concentration of English traders was in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, attracted by the special privileges provided by the Dukes of Medina Sidonia.   In Seville, following the discovery of America in 1492, the Kings of Spain set up a trading monopoly with the newly discovered lands of America, the Canaries and the Barbary Coast, forming the House of Trade (Casa de Contractión) in 1503.  This meant the closing off of colonial trading traffic from the ports of the Andalucian coast which then led to a quick economic decline.  Thanks to a lawsuit against the Kings of Spain allowing it freedom to trade and the Duke keeping his own independent Customs, Sanlúcar was the only exception to this economic down- turn.  In addition, a branch of the House of Trade was established in Sanlúcar which meant large vessels could avoid the difficult trip up the Guadalquivir river to Seville.   

The groups of traders - the Flemish, the English and the Italians remained settled there in the town.  The community of English traders had a particularly strong influence in the town, where, in 1517, they began building the English Catholic Church of St. George.  There is a strong history of English in neighbouring Seville between 1480 and 1515, the most notable of whom was Thomas Malliard, who worked for the London rag-and-bone man, Henry Palmer.

Trading disputes and arguments were common between the English and their Genovese and Florentine counterparts, with their inevitable lawsuits in the legal framework of the period.  The following are some examples, with the names and surnames in the Spanish version, as would have been the case:

On the 26th April, 1492, the Law calls Guillén Esterlin, English trader, on request of Juanoto Berardi, Florentine trader, both parties resident of Seville, for the pending lawsuit regarding trading disputes regarding Irish leathers.

On the 15th September, 1499, a Seville judge makes some enquiries into whether an English trader, Jorge Bolestrud, had tried to bribe another judge who was overseeing the lawsuit between said trader and Francisco de Riberol, a Genovese trader.

28th April, 1497.  A Seville judge, Juan de Silva, dealt out justice to Jorge Bolestrud, an English trader resident in the same city, who had lawsuits with Francisco Relirol, a Genovese trader, over merchandise that he had sent from London.

21st November, 1494.   Recourse to the committee of Juan de Porras, a Seville collection attorney, on the request of Guillén Asteley, an English trader who wanted to recover the money given as guarantor to the Irish trader, Juan Linche.

On the 18th March, 1492, the Seville courts passed sentence in the request of the English trader Juan Bisnes, who was owed an amount of maravedis (an old Spanish coin) by the Genoves trader Francisco de Riberol. 

The 3rd May, 1492.  Sentences passed from the judicial courts of Seville and Cádiz, and also from their Archbishop and Bishops, so that, on request from Juan Tristán, city judge, obliging the English trader, Jacome Fruiges to honour the quantity of merchandise that he had sold.

8th February, 1497, a petition is made on behalf of an English trader in Seville, Jorge Bolesques, who had served in the Spanish Flemish fleet with two of his ships, both of which were embargoed for a period in the port of Deva, Guipuzcua  which prevented him from continuing with his business.  One of his servants, Diego Gonzalez from Sanlúcar de Barremeda, absconded with one of the ships and twice, in order to cover his tracks, he faked the sale of the ship.

Written by Jesús Castro

Translated by Rachael Harrison

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