Customs Rates and Exemptions in London

Customs varied over time since the Crown or Parliament granted exemptions and reductions to merchants from particular regions, usually as compensation for debts owed by the Crown or reparations for injuries done by the English in that region, but sometimes as a reward for service to the Crown. Since these exemptions or reductions affected what and how ships and imports were recorded in the E122 national customs accounts, it is important to keep track of them.

They are outlined in detail in the Introductions of the List and Index Society volumes compiled by Stuart Jenks. An example of the complicated system of customs rates and exemptions for London in the fifteenth century is depicted in the table below.

Custom TypeWho PaidSpecific ExemptionsGoods TaxedRates
1.  Wool Customs and Subsidiesa
Ancient CustombDenizen and alien exportsWool, wool-fells, hides6s8d per wool sack and per 240 skins/fells; 13s4d per last (200) hides
New (Petty) Custom on WoolcAlien exports Castilians and Leónese paid as denizens, 1466-89dWool, wool-fells, hides3s4d per sack of wool and per 240 skins/fells
Subsidies on WooleDenizen and alien exportsHanse usually exemptWool, wool-fells, hidesVaried. In 15th century, denizens usually paid c. 23-33s per sack of wool and aliens as much as 90s; in 1471 alien rate fixed at 66s8d
2. Petty Custom
New (Petty) CustomfAlien imports and exports; denizen cloth exportsCastilians and Leónese, 1466-89, merchants of Guipúzcoa, 1476-89, and from 1468, merchants of Brittany All goods, including imported cloth, but excluded exports of wool, wool-fells, and hides; denizen wool cloth exports; and wine imports.Ad valorem duty of 3d per £ value. Wax customed at 1s per quintal. In 1491, alien imports of sweet wine had to pay 18s per buttg
Cloth custom (Pannage)hDenizen and alien exportsHanse paid denizen rateCloth exportsRates varied. Aliens (except Hanse) paid at higher rate
3. Subsidies of Tunnage and Poundage
PoundageiDenizen and alien imports and exportsHanse usually exempt, as were merchants of Veere (from 1471). Castilians and Leónese paid as denizens, 1466-89All goods except those exempted (wool, wool-fells, hides, wine, grain, fresh fish, meat). Denizen cloth exports sometimes liable until c. 1422 when specifically exempted.Ad valorem duty. Denizens charged 1s per £, aliens charged 2s per £
TunnagejDenizen and alien importsHanse usually exemptWineDenizen imports of sweet wine were 3s per tun; alien imports were 6s per tun
4. Wine Customs
Butlerage: New (Petty) CustomkAlien importsWine2s per tun of wine
PrisagelDenizen importsCitizens of London, Cinque Ports, and many other towns with charters of exemptionWineVaried by size of ship: if ship’s cargo >20 tuns, owed 2 tuns for 20s each; if cargo 10-19 tuns, owed 1 tun; if <10 tuns, none owed
5. Miscellaneous Fees
CocketmDenizen and alien merchants Wool, wool-fells, hides.2d from each merchant exporting wool, wool-fells and hides.
Bill of contentnShipmasterPaid for entering information on the ship in customs account1d
Bill of dischargeoDeparting shipsCharge by searcher on each ship leaving port20d to 6s per ship
Passenger feepAlien passengersHead-money fee paid to searcher4d per passenger
TronageqDenizen and alien merchantsTo weigh wool1d per sack of wool
a For the complications regarding the collection in London of wool customs and subsidies that were assigned to refund the Staplers for their loans and paying the wages of the Calais garrison, see H.S. Cobb, ‘Introduction’, Overseas Trade of London, Accounts of 1480-1, pp. xvi-xv; Jenks, Enrolled Customs, Part 8, p. iv.
b Collected continuously from 1275; E. M. Carus-Wilson and O. Coleman, England’s Export Trade, pp. 1-2, 194.
c Collected continuously from 1303, but those for wool, wool-fells and hides collected with ancient custom in later years; ibid, pp. 2, 194. That for wine collected and accounted for as ‘butlerage’ (along with prisage) by the king’s butler.
d An Anglo-Castilian treaty allowed merchants from Castile and León to pay all customs and subsidies (including poundage and tunnage) at denizen rates (including cloth exports, which were thus free of poundage). In 1476,customs and subsidies due from them and merchants from the province of Guipúzcoa were reduced by half in London and some other ports; Jenks, ‘Introduction’, Enrolled Customs, Part 10, pp. iv-v.
e Granted to king by parliament. The rates fluctuated until fixed in 1471; Carus-Wilson and Coleman, England’s Export Trade, p. 194. For Hanse exemptions, see below, note h.
f Collected continuously from 1303; that for wool, wool-fell and hide exports and wine imports collected separately (above, note c and below, note k). From the late 1450s, denizen imports and exports (especially cloth and tin) traded through alien factors were customed as alien; Jenks,’Introduction’, Enrolled Customs, Part 9, p. iv. For Spanish exemptions, see above, note d. A 1468 treaty allowed Breton merchants to pay customs at denizen rates, which exempted them from poundage on their cloth exports and petty custom; Jenks, ‘Introduction’, Enrolled Customs, Part 10, p. v.
g The Statute of 1491 aimed at Mediterranean sweet wines in response to Venetian customs on English exports of malmsey from Crete. Called ‘new customs’ of 1491 and assessed as part of petty customs, not tunnage; Jenks, ‘Introduction’, Enrolled Customs, Part 9, p. iv.
h Collected continuously from 1347. For Hanse customs exemptions and resistance to new impositions, see T. H. Lloyd, England and the German Hanse, pp. 32-4, 51-2, 75-8, 140, 143, 217, 269-71. The Hanse was exempted from the cloth custom in March 1437, but this was suspended Sept. 1447 to Oct. 1449 except for merchants of Gdansk and Lübeck (privilege restored in Mar. 1456). There was a further suspension in 1468 (except for Cologne merchants) to 1474; Jenks, ‘Introduction’, Enrolled Accounts, Part 9, pp. vii-xiii
i Granted to king by parliament. First grant was in the 1340s, but in 1415 parliament began to make grants for life to the king; Gras, English Customs, pp. 81-4. By c. 1480, the valuations had become standardized for many commodities; Cobb, ‘Introduction’, pp. xiii, xxv, n. 105. For Hanse exemptions, see above, note 8; for Spanish exemptions, note h, above; for Veere exemptions, see Jenks, ‘Introduction’, Enrolled Accounts, Part 9, p. v.
j Above, note i.
k From the late 1320s, the new (petty) custom on wine was collected by the king’s butler and came to be called ‘butlerage’; from 1303 prisage was commuted into a money payment for aliens, but denizens continued to pay in kind; Gras, English Customs, pp. 42, 66.
l Above, note k.
m Paid at this rate since the reign of Edward II; Cobb, ‘Introduction’, p. xxiii.
n Imports also required a declaration in writing of the cargo; Cobb, ‘Introduction’,pp. xxiii, xxv.
o It is unclear if or how this was levied before the early 16th century, though the Cely ship paid this fee in 1486 when leaving Gravesend in the London customs jurisdiction; Cobb, ‘Introduction’, pp. xxiii, xxvi.
p See above, note n.
qThis fee was ½ d per sack in the 14th century, but 1d by the late 15th century; Cobb, ‘Introduction’, p. xxiii.