The Company of Merchants of the Staple of England
The Company is an English corporation which dealt in wool (and, it is believed, also skins, lead and tin). It controlled the export of wool to the continent from 1314.
It was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1319 and is therefore one of the oldest mercantile corporations in England. The Company is rare, if perhaps unique, in being ' of England ' and not bounded by city or municipality.
The Company's commercial significance came when it transferred to Calais (English rule from 1347 (King Edward III)). This became the main port for wool. Exports were restricted to the freemen of the Company who, in return for their monopoly, paid a levy back to the Crown. The Company later paid for and eventually managed the garrison in the city.
In January 1558 France (Henri II) regained control of Calais from England (Mary Tudor ("Calais engraved on my heart")) and the Company moved to Bruges.
In 1614, the Cockayne project banned wool exports from England and wool was traded only in domestic 'staples'; the States-General of the Netherlands banned the import of cloth from England. In 1617 the English lifted their ban but the Dutch did not. In 1617 a new Charter was granted by King James I and the company moved to London with premises in Leadenhall.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Company managed the supply of wool to the clothing industry in the UK but the industrial revolution brought problems of supply and ultimate decline.
In the 19th century, the 'Merchant Staplers' still owned considerable property and survived within a strong family basis. It met twice a year in London at the Albion Tavern and the Trafalgar Hotel. Occasionally it intervened in the wool industry on standards for wool winding.
The Staple company was revived in 1948 and today has over 100 Freemen, mostly from Yorkshire and London. The Company is governed by a Court of Assistants; it meets and dines in York and London.
The Company runs a growing charitable trust with scholarships and projects in the wool, textiles and agricultural sectors, as well as university student travel bursaries. The long term objective is to increase the significance of its charitable activities.