The Wine Trade in Bristol in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
By Catherine R. Pitt
MA Thesis, University of Bristol, 2006
Abstract: Bristol was the third largest importer of wine into England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and for the port itself, wine was its largest and most valuable import. There have been very few studies of this, especially using the extant custom accounts. This thesis aims to reconstruct Bristol’s wine trade in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries through the indepth analysis of four custom accounts from varying years over this period. Three of these accounts were previously un-transcribed. In doing so, this study aims to gather more knowledge about the nature of Bristol’s wine trade from the detail of these records.
The work will focus on the import of wine from the Continent into Bristol, and examine any transitions in Bristol’s markets abroad. The thesis will examine the theory that the loss of Gascony in 1453 caused a shift away from French wine imports to growth in the Iberian peninsula, and will explore if this continued, and to what extent, over the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This study will also investigate whether there was a decline in Bristol’s wine trade over the sixteenth century. It has been found that the custom accounts have too often been taken on face value in the past and the impact of wine smuggling ignored. The reliability of the custom accounts studied will be assessed by considering influencing factors, such as war, religion and illicit trade, and to what extent this may have detrimentally influenced the accounts’ data. This thesis will find that after 1558, there are significant incentives to smuggle wine that appear to have undermined those custom accounts created after this date.
Chapter One involves a detailed analysis of the data from the four custom accounts, studying the import amounts of wine to reveal the nature of Bristol’s wine trade over the period, with focus upon evidence of a shift in market from France to the Iberian peninsula.
Chapter Two will then be an analysis of the reliability of these accounts as a true record of the wine imports and the nature of Bristol’s wine trade. Evidence will be examined from relating studies and contemporary extant documents. This will reveal if there were any incentives or evidence for the smuggling of wine, and if so to what extent this may have affected the reliability of the custom accounts.
The conclusion will sum up the evidence found from the examination of these four custom accounts, and their reliability as a model for studies in the overall nature of Bristol’s wine trade in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.