Commonwealth merchant ensigns
English Red Ensign 1620
Scottish Red Ensign
Flag of Leinster

For whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself. (Sir Walter Raleigh, "A Discourse of the Invention of Ships, Anchors, Compass, &c.", The Works of Sir Walter Ralegh, Kt. (1829, reprinted 1965), vol. 8, p. 325.
Mercantilism is the basic policy imposed by the Commonwealth on its colonies from the 1660s. Mercantilism meant that the government and merchants based in England became partners with the goal of increasing political power and private wealth, to the exclusion of other empires and even merchants based in its own colonies.

The government protected its London-based merchants—and kept others out—by trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies to domestic industries in order to maximize exports from and minimize imports to the realm. The government had to fight smuggling, especially by American merchants, some of whose activities (which included direct trade with the French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese) were classified as such by the Navigation Acts. The goal of mercantilism was to run trade surpluses, so that gold and silver would pour into London. The government took its share through duties and taxes, with the remainder going to merchants in Britain. The government spent much of its revenue on a superb Commonwealth Navy, which not only protected the Commonwealth colonies but threatened the colonies of the other empires, and sometimes seized them. The colonies were captive markets for British industry, and the goal was to enrich the mother country.

Organization of Trade and Plantations

Between 1650 and 1662 there was intricate and complicated system of committees and councils created and reporting to the Council of State or Parliament. In most cases these bodies were of short existence. Most trade and colonial affairs were treated by the Council that referred them committees and subcommittees that reported back to the Council. Control was exercised by no single or continuous organ and according to no clearly defined or consistent plan.

The merchants of London and other important port cities of the Commonwealth were dissatisfied with the way the plantations were managed and desired a reorganization which should bring about order, improve administration, economize expenditure, elevate justice, and effect speedily and fairly a settlement of colonial disputes and organize trade. They presented several proposals to the Protector and Council. Most of these envisioned a separate and permanent council o councils to busy themselves with all plantation and trade affairs.

In 1662 the Council of State statute the creation of two new permanent bodies: Council for Foreign Plantations and Council of Trade. Each would have a permanent President and Secretary and be integrated by merchants and seamen, each would have 6 to 12 members named by the Council of State. They would also meet as a Joint Committee, three members from each Council, to deal jointly Trade and Plantation affairs. Four prominent London merchants Martin Noell, Thomas Povey, Sir Nicholas Crispe and Sir Andrew Riccard took seats in the Council of Trade.

On trade the main tasks were to implement freedom of trade within the nations (England, Scotland and later Ireland) that made up the Commonwealth, implement instructions and report on the Navigation Acts, consider coinage, trade with America and West Indies, revision of chartered companies and recommendation of new ones, encourage fishing, etc.

On Plantation, a recall and revision of all charters, consider petitions from the plantations, solve controversy between the colonies, propose measures to improve administration of the colonies, encourage settlements, etc.

Navigation Acts

Chartered companies

Ensigns chartered companies
British East India Company flag
East India Company
Flag of the British East India Company (1707)
East India Company
1670 to date
Hudsons Bay Company Flag (CtG)
Hudson's Bay Company
1670 to date

The English and Commonwealth chartered companies are an association formed by investors or shareholders for the purpose of trade, exploration, and colonization. They became after 1660 one of the key economic agents in foreign trade rivaling with the Dutch chartered companies in their grab for resources, trade and exploration.

  • Company of Merchant Adventurers of London 1407
  • Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands 1553
  • Muscovy Company 1555
  • Spanish Company 1577
  • Eastland Company 1579
  • Turkey Company 1581
  • Morocco Company (or Barbary Company) 1588
  • East India Company (EIC) 1600
  • New River Company 1604
  • Levant Company 1605
  • French Company 1609
  • London and Bristol Company 1610
  • Somers Isles Company 1616
  • Guinea Company 1618
  • Massachusetts Bay Company 1629
  • Providence Island Company 1629
  • Courteen association 1653-1657 (merged to the EIC)
  • Leeward Islands Company
  • Gulf of Saint Lawrence Trade and Fishing Company (or Gulf Company)
  • Hudson's Bay Company 1670
  • Company of Adventurers Trading to Africa (CATA, 1665)

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