A Guest Post by Susan Rose
The World of Stephen Vaughan
09 February 2023
This picture shows the Old Bourse at Antwerp in the early sixteenth century. This was the first official Exchange in Western Europe, and the centre of the money market. It appears on the cover of Henry VIII and the Merchants: the World of Stephen Vaughan by Susan Rose published in February 2023 by Bloomsbury Academic. The book casts new light on a hitherto neglected area of English life at the time. It is centred round the world of Stephen Vaughan, a Londoner and Merchant Adventurer who rose to be Henry's agent on the Bourse and ambassador to the court of the Regent of the Netherlands, Charles V's sister, Mary of Hungary.
Stephen's family was originally from the Welsh Marches but was established in London by the beginning of the sixteenth century. As a young man Stephen had close connections with Thomas Cromwell, sharing his sympathy for religious reform. As a merchant trading to the Netherlands fairs, Stephen also became familiar with the vibrant life of Antwerp, a city where an active market in all forms of art flourished and where more books on a wide rage of topics, including religion and theology, were printed than in any other place. Stephen undertook personal commissions for Cromwell in Antwerp and also became his 'writer' something much like a modern PA. In this way he also was gradually drawn into royal service as well as working for the Merchant Adventurers in the Netherlands, negotiating with the authorities on trading condition, tolls and the like. He was the invaluable man on the spot when Henry wanted to try and lure William Tyndale, the translator of the Bible into English back to London from his exile on the continent. Stephen was also sent off to visit Lutheran princes to try and get their support in the 'King's Great Matter' (the divorce). He was also a source of intelligence about those who were attempting to undermine the King's policies, including Friar Peto of the Observant Franciscans whom he called , 'a tiger clad in a sheepskin' and 'a perilous knave'.
Stephen suffered no adverse effects to his career after Cromwell's catastrophic fall from power. In many ways the 1540s were the peak of his achievement. At this time he became much more closely involved in royal affairs especially the war with France as an ally of the Emperor. It was clear to the Privy Council that the King would be forced to borrow money on the Antwerp market if he was to undertake any campaigning in the coming war. The only men who had the knowledge and experience to set this up were Stephen and his colleagues. This became Vaughan's major concern along with the equally demanding task of recruiting a force of mercenaries to fight under the English standard. The Emperor and the Regent, England's allies, had considerable experience of both raising mercenary forces and obtaining loans on the Antwerp Bourse. The English authorities were novices in both fields. Vaughan found that mercenary captains realised that they held the whip hand over those who wanted to hire their services. Paget, a member of the privy Council exclaimed bitterly that they knew it was their 'fair season' and meant to profit by it. Similarly the Council in London had little idea of how the Bourse worked with great emphasis placed on personal contacts and the way exchange rates between the many currencies in use were manipulated to conceal, or at least obscure, interest rates. Vaughan had little option but to use a broker to approach the main banking houses like that of the Fuggers of Augsburg or the Bonvisi of Lucca. The man he chose Gaspare Ducci was effective as long as there was something in the bargain negotiated for him personally. Vaughan described him as always 'greedily lusting after gain'. The details of the prolonged sessions of bargaining in Antwerp occupied Vaughan for much of the period from 1544-6. He was in the end succesful but the strain of not only raising the loans but then arranging their repayment on time was exhausting. His letters to Paget, the Privy Council as whole, and the King himself make the process clear and are the source for the relevant chapters in the book.
As well as the world of the trade fairs and the Bourse the book also looks at Stephen's personal life. He was a convinced reformer as far as religion is concerned but also never doubted the royal supremacy over the Church. He had a large family to consider since as well as his own three childfren he also took over the care of his first wife's five children by a previous marriage. The story of his two daughters Anne and Jane is particularly arresting. Both were educated to a high standard by a tutor renowned as a classicist. Anne grew up to become a fervent supporter of John Knox and a poet of considerable talent. Her sister Jane, on the other hand, was equally strong in her support of the old ways of Rome. Her family home in Essex, Braddocks in Wimbush, still exists and contains a priest hole which at one time sheltered John Gerard the Jesuit priest, later martyred. She herself was threatened with the horrors of peine forte et dure for refusing to plead when charged with a breach of the anti-Catholic laws. The divisons which split Tudor England apart are exemplified here in the story of one family. It was perhaps something of a blessing that Stephen died before these very different outcomes were apparent.
I was drawn to write the story of Vaughan and his family because of the intrinsic interest of the surviving sources especially the collection of State Papers in the well known Letters and Papers of Henry VIII. These state papers are not all formal documents but full of strongly expressed views and personal asides. The topic also fitted in well with my studies of late medieval and early modern trade and traders in my books on the wine trade and that in wool (The Wine Trade in Medieval Europe 1000-1500, Continuum 2011 and The Wealth of England: the medieval wool trade and its political importance, Oxbow 2018.) The commercial life of England and the merchant community was a vital part of the Commonwealth in the sixteenth century and as worthy of our attention as the intrigues, factions and love affairs of the court.
© Susan Rose 2023
After graduating BA in Modern History at Oxford, I managed to combine a PhD from London University with bringing up my
family. Once they were at school I began teaching, first at secondary schools and later at Roehampton University and the
Open University. I managed to publish both my thesis as The Navy of the Lancastrian Kings and a later book Medieval Naval
Warfare while teaching but most of my writing has been done after retiring. The most recent four books are Calais,
An English Town in France, 1347-1558 (Boydell, 2008) The Wine Trade in Medieval Europe 1000-1500 (Continuum, 2008)
England's Medieval Navy : ships men and warfare (2013, Seaforth) and The Wealth of England: the medieval wool
trade and its political importance 1100-1600 (Oxbow, 2018).
I am on Twitter as SusanRo14144970 and Facebook as Susan Rose. I also have an author profile on Amazon.
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