The Origins of Tunnage and Poundage: Parliament and the Estate of Merchants in the 14th Century

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By establishing the dates and political context of all early grants of the subsidy of tunnage and poundage, this study provides new evidence for the relationship between parliament and the so-called 'estate of merchants' during the third quarter of the 14th century. Until the 1370s, tunnage and poundage was granted by the king's council with the assent of groups of merchants; it was only at the end of Edward III's reign that grants of the tax began to be made in parliament, and only from the mid 1380s that it became fully integrated into the customs system. Throughout the period of experimentation, the subsidy was intended for a specific purpose: the defence of the coasts and of English shipping. This partly explains why the crown chose to discuss it with groups of mariners and merchants rather than with the Lords and Commons in parliament. The chronology therefore calls into question assumptions about the collapse of the estate of merchants in the 1350s and the take-over of its fiscal and political agenda by the burgesses in the parliamentary Commons. Through an analysis of petitions made in the name of the 'merchants of England', it can be shown that crown and parliament alike continued to recognize this group as a distinct political entity for the rest of Edward III's reign. The decisive shift came not in the 1350s but in 1382, when the merchants themselves acknowledged that the appropriate place to determine the crown's financial policies was, indeed, in parliament.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-227
Number of pages19
JournalParliamentary History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • parliament
  • Commons
  • merchants
  • taxation
  • customs
  • petitions

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