Sunday, 8 February 2015

Freedom to Sell and Magna Carta 1215

People in line on 3rd April 2016 to view the copy
of Magna Carta belonging to Salisbury Cathedral
You have got to hand it to the merchants of the past on whose broad shoulders we stand. ( forgive the mixed metaphors ;) )

As we salespeople going about our daily business, visiting our clients by air, sea and land it is easy to take for granted the freedoms and the rights to move around the country and the world that the medieval merchants gained for us. 

We might occasionally be made aware of this when we are asked by Passport Control whether our visit to their country is for “business or pleasure?”.

 Yet in the past our selling forefathers, the merchants , had to endure many difficulties and restrictions.

As we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and its place in the development of individual freedom and liberty under the law, it is interesting to see how some early foundations for our selling and trading developed. We can gain such an insight through reading some of the clauses in the great charter of 1215.

“Omnes mercatores habeant salvum et securum exire ab* Anglia et venire in Angliam *, mirori et ire per Anglia tam per terram quam, ad emendum et vendendum, sine omnibus malis toltis.”

The 1297 version kept at the Guildhall Library London
Clause 41. "All merchants are to be safe and secure departing from England and entering into England and staying and going through England both by land and by water to buy and sell without any evil exactions."

Clauses 12 and 13  cover protection from arbitrary  taxation and confirming London and its merchants its liberties.

Clause 20 on amercements( fines / penalties)
... that amercements imposed on free men and merchants should fit the crime. They should not be so large as to effect a free man’s ‘contenementum’ which means livelihood and a merchant’s merchandise which came to the same thing.


Amongst the 25 Barons who were signatories to the security clause includes the unnamed Mayor of London.

By 1150 London was referred in some records as the “Queen of the whole kingdom”. London’s population by 1215 was around 40,000 by far the country’s largest town. Its  nearest rivals  were Bristol, Winchester, Norwich and York.

London’s geographical position on the east of the country placed it near to the merchants of the continent.  Goods could be sailed up the Thames and merchants could unload their wares well inland rather than in some inland port. 

London was effectively the only large town in England. There were networks of craftsmen, tradesmen and shopkeepers supported a thriving urban culture, and the River Thames was busy with merchant traffic. Apparently vessels could reach up to  * Lechlade Gloucestershire.

 The city jealously guarded the extent of its self-governance and its financial freedoms. ( not much change then today !)

By the second half of the 12th century the country’s exchequer moved from Winchester to Westminster.

 London is the only city mentioned by name in Magna Carta but the charter does refer to “ ..all other cities and boroughs and vills and ports” confirming them “ liberties and free customs”.

Wealth of the towns came from both trade and manufacture. In Clause 35 we learn of the standardising of measures of wine, ale, corn and cloth. Much of trade was internal but corn was imported in times of dearth.

Ale was even more local needed to be consumed soon after it was brewed.


English Wool has a long pedigree
Wool was exported to Flanders to be made into cloth.
Documents from the 13th century refer dyed cloths , russet and halbergers e.g. the **scarlets of Lincoln, halbergers of Stamford and russets of Colchester. 

 From 1275 we see in documents that duty is raised on exported sacks of wool to Flanders and the foundation of English customs.  Cloth from Flanders to England did not balance the value of the wool it imported so it paid for much of the wool in cash ( silver coins) This had profound effects on England’s money supply.

Clause 33 sought to remove fish weirs (a physical obstacle to trade) from the river Thames, Medway and elsewhere throughout England unless at the seashore.

Clause 35 sought to establish uniform measures of drink (wine and ale), corn and cloth throughout the country (where corn measures  were adopted  to the measure of London)

Clause 41 allowed ,except in time of war, merchants except in time of war, all merchants safety and travel without suffering any unjust exactions.

Clause 42 gave freedom of travel to everyone in and out of the kingdom again in time of war.


In our business era of the Industrial Internet of Things, selling is increasingly integrated with the internet, the word 'merchant' is used less nowadays. 

Yet it intrigues me today when we insert our credit or debit card into those bank card readers,  that after we have keyed in our PIN  it displays the instruction  “hand back” the machine “to  merchant”.

 It is worth noting what we professional salespeople owe a debt to those 25 barons at Runnymede and to merchants for the spread of Selling.

However you wish to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta , I wish you Good Selling.

For further reading 

Source :  Magna Carta Penguin Classics 2013 ISBN 978-0-241-95337-2. New commentary by David Carpenter.

* perhaps of interest to readers from USA ,Lechlade was the birthplace of one Thomas Prence (1599-1673), emigrated to America in 1621 and was a co-founder of Eastham, Massachusetts, a political leader in both the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies, and governor of Plymouth, Massachusetts (1634, 1638, and 1657–1673).

**Lincoln Scarlet (known then as Lincoln graine/greyne)  was expensive compared to Lincoln Green.  In order to create the deep scarlet hew, a dye from Turkey called ‘Kermes’ (from which the English word ‘crimson’ developed) was imported. This dye was made from the crushing of a particular insect, giving a more richer colour than could be created with the dyes native to Britain.

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