September 30, 2009

Merchants and Citizens

Veselin Kostic's recent article in the Dubrovnik Annals brings out something about early modern England and immigration that its worth realising. He has accumulated the records of three cases- two in Chancery and one that proceeded to Parliament- and discusses with reference to them the condition of Ragusan merchants in London. His discussions I think reveal two sides to the treatment of immigrants in early modern England. The first two cases he discusses are about adultery and tresspass: in both cases a Ragusan merchant appealed to Chancery for justice when an Englishman had accused him of adultery. What is interesting about both cases is that in neither was the merchant convinced that a jury trial would afford him justice. Both merchants thought that a native jury from London would be biassed in favour of the citizen who had impeached them- hence they raised the matter to the courts of equity. The last case concerns a murder- in this the international outrage seems according to Kostic to have forced the English authorities to proceed extraordinarily in order to resolve the murder and preserve London's reputation. What we see here are two mechanisms therefore: one which makes the situation of foreigners in Early Modern England very dangerous (the jury trial- a jury normally drawn straight from the tightknit community in which the 'crime' was committed and who would not know and have sympathy with the Ragusan) and the other in which a mechanism, rough and ready, existed to coerce the English state into protecting foreigners- ie the nascent free market in trade. This dynamic between local justice and international reputation is a fascinating one revealed by Kostic's article and definitely something that deserves attention.