England Smuggling

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Smuggling has a long and controversial history, probably dating back to the first time at which duties were imposed in any form, or any attempt was made to prohibit a form of traffic. In England smuggling first became a recognised problem in the 13th century, following the creation of a national customs collection system by Edward I in 1275.[1] Medieval smuggling tended to focus on the export of highly taxed export goods — notably wool and hides.[2] Merchants also, however, sometimes smuggled other goods to circumvent prohibitions or embargoes on particular trades. Grain, for instance, was usually prohibited from export, unless prices were low, because of fears that grain exports would raise the price of food in England and thus cause food shortages and / or civil unrest. Following the loss of Gascony to the French in 1453, imports of wine were also sometimes embargoed during wars to try to deprive the French of the revenues that could be earned from their main export. Most studies of historical smuggling have been based on official sources — such as court records, or the letters of Revenue Officers. According to Evan Jones (University of Bristol), the trouble with these is that 'they only detail the activities of those dumb enough to get caught'.[3] This has led him and others, such as Prof Huw Bowen (University of Swansea) to use commercial records to reconstruct smuggling businesses.[4] Jones' study focuses on smuggling in Bristol in the mid-16th century, arguing that the illicit export of goods like grain and leather represented a significant part of the city's business, with many members of the civic elite engaging in it.[5] Grain smuggling by members of the civic elite, often working closely with corrupt customs officers, has also been shown to have been prevalent in East Anglia during the later 16th century.[6] In England wool was smuggled to the continent in the 17th century, under the pressure of high excise taxes. In 1724 Daniel Defoe wrote of...
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