Tuesday, December 25, 2012

17th Century Trade

by Katherine Pym
The East India Company almost died under the reign of Cromwell. The dour religion disallowed many things. Gold and silver did not help the ‘saints’ into heaven.

Calicoes from India were not allowed during the Commonwealth. Only dark and homespun woolens prevailed. Spices brought about the fall of man, so little sold in England. The East India Company was forced to trade spices for other goods in the foreign markets. Pepper traded for coral in Italy sold in India at a 90% profit.

It brought the Dutchman Company, called: VOC or United East Indian Company, into power. They took advantage of England’s weakened Navy and merchant ships to increase holdings in the Far East. In Persian waters, Dutch merchant ships outnumbered the English four to one. The Dutch gained control of one port after the other. After the English Civil Wars, Cromwell went to war with the Dutch. In the South Seas a battle completely destroyed Pulo Run Island’s nutmeg industry.

English merchant ships were virtual warships that carried cannon and shot. If the crew survived periods of calm in the seas, scurvy, or the treacherous waters off the Cape of Good Hope, they invariably fought the Dutch, and other sundries as pirates, to gain ports of call where they could trade. This continued until after Charles II regained the throne.

Enter the Portuguese Infanta, Catherine of Braganza in 1662. Portugal had been in the South Seas trade industry for well over one hundred years. Her dowry brought a wealth of cash, artisans, new designs in furniture, and ports of call in India. They included stations in the Far East, warehouses called factories, counting houses, and residences.
Her dowry ship to England used sugar for ballast.

My resources indicate tea was introduced in England about 1660 by Thomas Garway. He felt it preserved one’s health until old age, but it was expensive—10 shillings per pound with the (England's) East India Company the sole right to import it. Called China tea, it was transported in square wooden boxes lined with lead. The new queen, Catherine of Braganza gave tea popularity. She felt the quality of water in England terrible. Her first drink when she arrived was a horn of ale. She shook her head, and asked for ‘tee’.

Along with the new ports of call came a plethora of new items from the South Seas. Porcelain made its original entry to Europe through the Crusaders. Queen Elizabeth I was given by Lord Burghley a ‘poringer of white porselyn, and a cup of greene porselyn’. She also wore ‘an armlet of pearls and enclosed thereof a clock’. But few others enjoyed such riches. 

When Catherine of Braganza came to England, food was eaten out of bowls and trenchers, liquid slurped from horn cups, tankards, two-handled cups, or posset pots (generally called dishes). These were made of earthenware, wood, or tough leather. Porcelain for the general public did not really hit England’s shores until after King James II went into exile.

King William and Queen Mary brought porcelain with them when they came to England to rule. Europe, who had been the recipient of Dutch trading for years, received a further taste for tea, sipped from porcelain, and served from lacquer-ware.

As time marched toward the end of the 17th Century, shiploads of 250,000 porcelain pieces at a time were brought to England. No longer were the habits of good Englishmen as they had been during the Restoration. Breakfasts were then a dish of new beer, bread, Cheshire cheese, or gruel served with a heavy meat. In early 18th Century the Tatler stated a breakfast of  ‘tea and bread and butter…have prevailed of late years.’

Even though Catherine never gave Charles II an heir, she brought to England a new way of living with the finer things of life. England’s taste became more dignified and refined.

For more information on England and trade, please see my novel, Twins. It takes place in London 1661. It is a study of trade and Catholicism in an overwhelming Protestant city.

You can find it and my other works at the Nook and amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Katherine-Pym/e/B004GILIAS 

My many thanks go to Richer than Spices by Gertrude Z. Thomas.


  1. I hate to rain on any author's parade, but history has always been my greatest love, hence research, research and more research for very many years. Fortunately for the English, quality delft pottery came to England in 1567 when two potters arrived from Holland

    They brought with them the knowledge of making pottery with tin-glaze. This type of pottery is known as delftware in England, and it flourished in London, Bristol and Liverpool in the 17th and 18th centuries before being replaced in the 18th century by refined stonewares, salt-glazed stoneware, fine earthenwares, creamware and pearlware, made mainly in Staffordshire, the heart of the English ceramics industry.

    Tea actually arrived in quantity on the English scene in September of 1658, the very month Oliver Cromwell passed away. There is an interesting connection between these two events. Holland was at the height of her power when Cromwell took over in England and beheaded Charles I. If an English merchant of the day wanted to import wine from Bordeaux, or ship masts from the Baltic, he was likely to employ Dutch ships as the most economical. Cromwell soon passed laws ordaining that European goods could only be imported to England in English vessels or else in those of the producing nation, but not in Dutch ships: unfortunately the Navigation Act of 1651 was to lead to the first (1652-1654) Dutch War, and the war with Spain of 1655-1658 was also fought over trading rights.


  2. Gertrude Z. Thomas was my grandmother. She died in 1990. I know that she would have been so thrilled to know that her book, Richer than Spices, is still used today. Thank you so much for your appreciation of her book. I apologize on her behalf for an inaccuracies in the text.

    1. Liz, we have had a reply from Candace Lerario who would like us to post this reply to your above comment:

      Hi Liz,

      I just found your grandmother's book at a thrift store today. I am excited to read it, although I haven't read it yet.
      I had never even heard of it prior to today.

      I did a basic internet search on your grandmother and her book. I came upon this internet website page.

      I flipped through the book, based on some of Francine's comments in reply to Katherine's post. I didn't check all of the points that Francine made, nor all of the points that Katherine made in the article. However, it appears that both of them might have "misread" your grandmother's book in at least a couple of instances.

      Therefore, in the points that I did check, calling the inaccuracies your grandmother's might very well be incorrect.

      As someone who enjoys reading, thank you for continuing to respect your grandmother's beautiful work. I look forward to reading it in its entirety.


  3. Gertrude Z. Thomas was my grandmother. She died in 1990. She would have been thrilled to know that her book, Richer than Spices, was still used today! Thank you for your appreciation of her book. I apologize on her behalf for any inaccuracies in the text.

    All Best Wishes,

    Liz McGowan


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