From the moment governments began making money from levying duty on imported goods, a smuggling trade developed to avoid paying such taxes. Whilst the popular image of historic smuggling remains a romantic one, this book makes clear that the illicit trade could be a large-scale and systematic business that relied on the connivance of well-connected merchants. Taking the port of Bristol as a case study, the book provides the most sophisticated historical study ever undertaken of the smugglers’ trade, in England or abroad. Following on from the author’s prize-winning article in Economic History Review, the volume employs the business accounts of sixteenth-century merchants to reconstruct their illicit operations. It presents a detailed analysis of the merchants’ illegal businesses, assessing how individual merchants, and Bristol’s commercial class, were able to protect their contraband trade. More fundamentally, it examines how and why the illicit trade developed, why the Crown was unable to suppress it, and the role smuggling played within Bristol’s wider economy. Through an investigation of these matters the study explores a world that has long attracted popular interest, but which has always been assumed to be immune to serious historical investigation. The book offers a pioneering study, demonstrating that a detailed examination of a particular time and place, based on a close and integrated reading of both official and private records, can make it possible for historians to investigate illicit economies to a greater degree than has previously been believed possible.
'Evan Jones has written a lucid and persuasive study of an increasingly significant aspect of our understanding of the development of English overseas trade.' Pauline Croft in the International Journal of Maritime History 'The book is a welcome and important development of Evan T. Jones’s well-received article… One of the key methods Jones employs in the book, and something that represents a valuable contribution to studies of merchants and overseas trade, is his detailed reconstruction of the operations of individual merchants from which he is able to understand their motivations to risk trading illicitly.' History 'All in all this case-study is well written, very well researched and convincing in stating that illicit trade was ubiquitous in sixteenth century Bristol, and probable in the other English port cities.' Tijdschrift voor Zeegeschiedenis '… there is some very rewarding material in this book, on smuggling itself, its necessity and incentives, in the problems faced by government and its attempts to overcome them and on the implication of the dark figure inherent in smuggling for our knowledge of the sixteenth-century economy.' Journal of British Studies 'His thoughtful approach and clear presentation open an unprecedented window upon the smuggling activities of Bristol’s mercantile community.' Urban History