Levant Company

Levant Company
Industry International trade
Fate Dissolved
Predecessor The Venice Company and The Turkey Company
Successor Duke of Leeds, Stratford Canning
Founded 1581[1]
Founder Sir Edward Osborn
Defunct 1825
Headquarters London, Aleppo, Ottoman Empire
Number of locations
various across Europe and Near East
Area served
eastern Mediterranean
Products Rum and Spices, cloth: cottons and woollens, kerseys, indigo, gall, camlet; tin, pewter, maroquin, soda ash.
Services Trade and Commerce
Total assets Merchant Shipping
Total equity Joint-Stock Capital Company
Owner Great Britain
Number of employees
6, 000
Parent English Crown
Divisions Turkish, Levantine, Venetian Littoral.

The Levant Company was an English chartered company formed in 1592. Its initial charter, awarded on 11 September 1581, was good for seven years. It was granted to Edward Osborne, Richard Staper, Thomas Smith and William Garret with the purpose of regulating English trade with Turkey and the Levant. The Company remained in continuous existence until being superseded in 1825. A member of the Company was known as a Turkey Merchant.[2][3] Its charter was approved by Queen Elizabeth I as a result of the merger between the Venice Company (1583) and the Turkey Company (1581), following the expiration of their charters, as she was anxious to maintain trade and political alliances with the Ottoman Empire.[4]


Its origins lay in the Italian trade with Constantinople, and the wars against the Turk in Hungary, although a parallel was routed to Morocco and the Barbary Coast on a similar trade winds as early as 1413.[5] The collapse of the Venetian empire, high tariffs, and defeat of the Genoese at Scio and Chios had left a vacuum that was filled by a few intrepid adventurers in their own Cog vessels with endeavour to reopen trade with the East on their own accounts.[6] Following a decline in trade with the Levant over a number of decades, several London merchants petitioned Queen Elizabeth I in 1580 for a charter to guarantee exclusivity when trading in that region.[7] In 1580 a treaty was signed between England and the Ottoman Empire, giving English merchants trading rights similar to those enjoyed by French merchants. In 1582 William Harborne, an English merchant who had carried out most of the treaty negotiations in Constantinople to French protestations, made himself permanent envoy. But by 1586 Harborne was appointed 'Her Majesty's ambassador' to the Ottoman Empire, with all his expenses (including gifts given to the Sultan and his court) to be paid by the Levant Company.[8] When the charters of both the Venice Company and the Turkey Company expired, both companies were merged into the Levant Company in 1592 after Queen Elizabeth I approved its charter as part of her diplomacy with the Ottoman Empire.[4]

The Company had no colonial aspirations, but rather established "factories" (trading centers) in already-established commercial centers, such as the Levant Factory in Aleppo, as well as Constantinople, Alexandria and Smyrna. Throughout the Company's history, Aleppo served as headquarters for the whole company in the Middle East. By 1588, the Levant Company had been converted to a regulated monopoly on an established trade route, from its initial character as a joint-stock company. The prime movers in the conversion were Sir Edward Osborne and Richard Staper. A new charter was granted in January 1592, and by 1595 its character as a regulated company had become clear.[9] In the early days of the company there were threats not just from Barbary pirates but during the war with Spain in 1586, 1590 and 1591 they successfully repelled Spanish galleys in attempts to capture their cargo. The Company as a result though had heavily armed ships some of which were used during the Spanish Armada campaign, surrendered to the Royal Navy.


James I (1603–25) renewed and confirmed the company's charter in 1606, adding new privileges.[10] However he engaged in a verbal anti-Turk crusade and neglected direct relations with the Turks. The government did not interfere with trade, which expanded. Especially profitable was the arms trade as the Porte modernized and re-equipped its forces. Of growing importance was textile exports. Between 1609 and 1619, the export of cloth to the Turks increased from 46% to 79% of total cloth exports. The business was highly lucrative. Piracy continued to be a threat. Despite the anti-Ottoman rhetoric of the king, commercial relations with the Turks expanded. The king's finances were increasingly based on the revenues derived from this trade, and English diplomacy was complicated by this trade. For example, James refused to provide financial support to Poland for its war against the Turks.[11]

During the Civil Wars, some innovations were made in the government of the company, allowing many people to become members who were not qualified by the charters of Elizabeth and James, or who did not conform to the regulations prescribed. Charles II, upon his restoration, endeavored to set the company upon its original basis; to which end, he gave them a charter, containing not only a confirmation of their old one, but also several new articles of reformation.

By the charter of Charles II, the company was erected into a body politic, capable of making laws, etc., under the title of the Company of Merchants of England trading to the Seas of the Levant. The number of members was not limited, but averaged about 300. The principal qualification required was that the candidate be a wholesale merchant, either by family, or by serving an apprenticeship of seven years. Those under 25 years of age paid 25 pounds sterling at their admission; those above, twice as much. Each made an oath, at his entrance, not to send any merchandise to the Levant, except on his own account; and not to consign them to any but the company's agents, or factors. The company governed itself by a plurality of voices.

The company had a court, or board at London, composed of a governor, sub-governor, and twelve directors, or assistants; who were all actually to live in London, or the suburbs. They also had a deputy-governor, in every city and port where there were any members of the company. This assembly at London sent out the vessels, regulated the tariff for the price at which the European merchandise sent to the Levant were to be sold; and for the quality of those returned. It raised taxes on merchandise, to defray impositions, and the common expense of the company; presented the ambassador, which the King was to keep at the port; elected two consuls for Smyrna and Constantinople, etc. As the post of ambassador to the Sublime Porte became increasingly important, the Crown had to assume control of the appointment.

One of the best regulations of the company was not to leave the consuls, or even the ambassador, to fix the impositions on the vessels for defraying the common expenses—something that was fatal to the companies of most other nations—but to allow a pension to the ambassador and consuls, and even to the chief officers—including the chancellor, secretary, chaplain, interpreters, and janissaries—so that there was no pretence for their raising any sum at all on the merchants or merchandises. It was true that the ambassador and consul might act alone on these occasions, but the pensions being offered to them on condition of declining them, they chose not to act.

In extraordinary cases, the consuls, and even ambassador himself, had recourse to two deputies of the company, residing in the Levant, or if the affair be very important, assemble the whole nation. Here were regulated the presents to be given, the voyages to be made, and every thing to be deliberated; and on the resolutions here taken, the deputies appointed the treasurer to furnish the required funds. The ordinary commerce of this company employed from 20 to 25 vessels, of between 25 and 30 pieces of cannon.

The merchandises exported there were limited in quality and range, suggesting an imbalance of trade; they included traditional cloths, especially shortcloth and kerseys, tin, pewter, lead, pepper, re-exported cochineal, black rabbit skins and a great deal of American silver, which the English took up at Cadiz. The more valuable returns were in raw silk, cotton wool and yarn, currants and "Damascus raisins", nutmeg, pepper, indigo, galls, camlets, wool and cotton cloth, the soft leathers called maroquins, soda ash for making glass and soap, and several gums and medicinal drugs. Velvet, carpets, and silk were bought by the traders.[12]

The commerce of this company to Smyrna, Constantinople, and İskenderun, was much less considerable than that of the East India Company; but was, doubtless, much more advantageous to England, because it took off much more of the English products than the other, which was chiefly carried on in money.

The places reserved for the commerce of this company included all the states of Venice, in the Gulf of Venice; the state of Ragusa; all the states of the "Grand Signior" (the Sultan of Turkey), and the ports of the Levant and Mediterranean Basin; excepting Cartagena, Alicante, Barcelona, Valencia, Marseilles, Toulon, Genoa, Livorno, Civitavecchia, Palermo, Messina, Malta, Majorca, Minorca, and Corsica; and other places on the coasts of France, Spain, and Italy.

Levantine shipping

Ships owned by the Levant Company from 1581 to 1640:[13]

  • The Alathia
  • The Alcede
  • The Alice and Thomas
  • The Alice Thomas
  • The Aleppo Merchant
  • The Angel
  • The Anne Frane
  • The Ascension
  • The Bark Burre
  • The Barque Reynolds
  • The Centurion
  • The Charity
  • The Cherubim
  • The Christ
  • The Clement
  • The Cock
  • The Concord
  • The Consent
  • The Cosklett
  • The Darling
  • The Delight
  • The Desire
  • The Diamond
  • The Dragon
  • The Eagle
  • The Edward Bonaventure
  • The Elizabeth and Dorcas
  • The Elizabeth Cocken
  • The Elizabeth Stoaks
  • The Elnathan
  • The Emanuel
  • The Experience
  • The Freeman
  • The George Bonaventure
  • The Gift of God
  • The Golden Noble
  • The Grayhound
  • The Great Phoenix
  • The Great Suzanne
  • The Greenfield
  • The Guest
  • The Gyllyon
  • The Harry
  • The Harry Bonaventure
  • The Hector
  • The Hercules
  • The Husband
  • The Industry
  • The The Jane
  • The Jesus
  • The Jewel
  • The Job
  • The John
  • The John Francis
  • The Jollian
  • The Jonas
  • The Lanavit
  • The Lewis
  • The Little George
  • The London
  • The Margaret
  • The Margaret Bonaventure
  • The Marget and John
  • The Marigold
  • The Mary
  • The Mary Anne
  • The Mary Coust
  • The Mary Martin
  • The Mary Rose
  • The Mayflower
  • The Merchant Bonaventure
  • The Mignon
  • The Paragon
  • The Peregrine
  • The Phoenix
  • The Primrose
  • The Prosperous
  • The Providence
  • The Rainbow
  • The Rebecca
  • The Recovery
  • The Red Lion
  • The Report
  • The Resolution
  • The Roebuck
  • The Royal Defence
  • The Royal Exchange
  • The Royal Merchant
  • The Saker
  • The Salamander
  • The Salutation
  • The Samaritan
  • The Sampson
  • The Samuel
  • The Saphire
  • The Scipio
  • The Society
  • The Solomon
  • The Suzanne
  • The Suzanne Parnell
  • The Swallow
  • The Teagre
  • The Thomas and William
  • The Thomas Bonaventure
  • The Thomasine
  • The Toby of Harwich
  • The Trinity
  • The Trinity Bear
  • The Triumph
  • The Unicorn
  • The White Hind
  • The William and John
  • The William and Ralph
  • The William and Thomas
  • The William Fortune

Governors of the Levant Company

The British government took over the Company in 1821 until its dissolution in 1825.

The ambassadors at Constantinople

Consuls of the Levant Company

At Smyrna

  • 1611–24 William Markham
  • 1624–30 William Salter
  • 1630-3 Lawrence Green
  • 1633-4 James Higgins
  • 1634-5 John Freeman
  • 1635-8 Edward Bernard
  • 1638–43 Edward Stringer
  • 1644-9 John Wilde
  • 1649–57 Spencer Bretton
  • 1659–60 William Prideaux
  • 1660-1 Richard Baker
  • 1661-7 William Cave
  • 1667–77 Paul Bryant
  • 1677–1703 William Raye
  • 1703–16 William Sherrard
  • 1716–22 John Cooke
  • 1722–23 George Boddington
  • 1733–41 Francis Williams
  • 1741-2 Thomas Carleton
  • 1742–62 Samuel Crawley
  • 1762–94 Anthony Hayes
  • 1794–1825 Francis Werry

At Aleppo

  • 1580-6 William Barrett
  • 1586-1586 James Toverson
  • 1586-1586 John Eldred
  • 1592-4 Michael Locke
  • George Dorrington (Acting Vice-Consul, 1596)
  • 1596-1596 Thomas Sandys
  • 1596-7 Ralph Fitch
  • 1597-1597 Richard Colthurst
  • vacant
  • James Hawarde (Acting Vice-Consul, 1606)
  • 1606–10 Paul Pindar
  • 1610–16 Bartholomew Haggatt
  • 1616–21 Libby Chapman
  • 1621-7 Edward Kirkham
  • 1627–30 Thomas Potton
  • 1630-8 John Wandesford
  • 1638–49 Edward Bernard
  • 1649–59 Henry Riley
  • 1659–72 Benjamin Lannoy
  • 1672–86 Gamaliel Nightingale
  • 1686-9 Thomas Metcalfe
  • 1689–1701 Henry Hastings
  • 1701-6 George Brandon
  • 1707–15 William Pilkington
  • 1716–26 John Purnell
  • 1727–40 Nevil Coke
  • 1740-5 Nathaniel Micklethwait
  • 1745–51 Arthur Pollard
  • 1751-8 Alexander Drummond
  • 1758-1758 Francis Browne
  • 1759–66 William Kinloch
  • 1766-8 Henry Preston
  • 1768–70 William Clark
  • 1770-2 Charles Smith (Pro-consul)
  • 1770–83 John Abbott
  • 1783-4 David Hays (Pro-consul)
  • 1784-6 Charles Smith (Pro-consul)
  • 1786–91 Michael de Vezin (Pro-consul)
  • factory closed 1791–1803
  • 1803–25 John Barker

Shipping numbers: Turkey and the Levant

YearOutward ShipsInward Ships
1800 6 14
1801 10 7
1802 18 19
1803 9 27
1804 1 13
1805 6 16
1806 1 18
1814 18 44
1815 13 44
1816 18 26
1817 21 45
1818 29 87
1819 40 53
1820 50 90
1821 31 53
1822 34 53
1823 40 87
1825 95167
1826 79109
1827 61101
1828 45 93
1829 74 73
1830 95 95



Membership began declining in the early eighteenth century. In its decline the Company was looked upon as an abuse, a drain on the resources of Britain. The Company's purview was thrown open to free trade in 1754, but continued its activities until dissolution in 1825.

The bird Turkey's name came from the Turkey merchants.[14][15]

Turkish Opium was bought by the Levant Company.[16][17]

The Levant Company encompassed American merchants before 1811 who bought Turkish opium. China bought Turkish opium from the Americans.[18] Turkish opium was bought by Americans who took it to China.[19] China received Turkish opium from Thomas Handasyd Perkins and John Jacobs Astor.[20] Turkish opium was brought by the United States to China.[21] In 1806 China received the initial opium import from Turkey by the American ship Eutaw. Turkish opium was brought to China by the Gurard, Peabody, Delano, Perkins, Forbes, and Astor clans[22]


The arms of the Levant Company were: Azure, on a sea in base proper, a ship with three masts in full sail or, between two rocks of the second, all the sails, pennants, and ensigns argent, each charged with a cross gules, a chief engrailed of the third, in base a seahorse proper. * The crest was: On a wreath of the colours, a demi seahorse saliant.

See also


  1. Jasanoff, Maya (5 December 2009). "Pashas: Traders and Travellers in the Islamic World by James Mather". The Guardian.
  2. Mather, James (May 2011). "The Turkey Merchants". History Today. 61 (5).
  3. Searight, Sarah (June 1966). "The Turkey Merchants: Life in the Levant Company". History Today.
  4. 1 2 Kenneth R. Andrews (1964), Elizabethan Privateering 1583–1603, Cambridge University Press
  5. Rymer, Foedera, viii, p.732; Wood, p.
  6. privateer merchant ships recorded as setting out from England included, Anne (1446), Katherine Sturmy (1457), (Lipson, Economic, I, p.505); Antony (1478), Mary de Toowre (1482), (Power and Postan, p.45.); Jesus of Lübeck (1552), Mary Gonson (1552), Williamson, (Maritime Entreprise, p.223)
  7. The London Port Books from the 1560s and 1570s do not record any shipments by English merchants to or from the Levant, when Venice filled the role of intermediary and Antwerp retained its position as entrepôt. (Willan 1955:400ff).
  8. Michael Strachan, "The life and Adventures of Thomas Coryate", OUP, 1962.
  9. Willan 1955:405–07.
  10. Anderson, Adam (1764). An Historical and Chronological Deduction of the Origin of Commerce. 1. p. 468.
  11. Eysturlid, 1993
  12. "Turkey-merchant". Fine Dictionary. Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary.
  13. The Early History of The Levant Company, M. Epstein, M.A., PH.D, London, George Rutledge & Sons, 1908
  14. "How Turkey Got Its Name". Now I Know. November 23, 2010.
  15. FORSYTH, MARK (Nov 27, 2013). "The Turkey's Turkey Connection". The New York Times.
  16. "Opium Throughout History The Opium Kings". PBS. 1998.
  17. M. Kienholz (13 October 2008). Opium Traders and Their Worlds-Volume One: A Revisionist Exposé of the World's Greatest Opium Traders. iUniverse. ISBN 978-0-595-91078-6.
  18. Clifford Putney; Paul T. Burlin (17 February 2012). The Role of the American Board in the World: Bicentennial Reflections on the Organization's Missionary Work, 1810-2010. Wipf and Stock Publishers. pp. 30–31. ISBN 978-1-61097-640-4.
  19. MEYER, KARL E. (June 28, 1997). "The Opium War's Secret History". The New York Times.
  20. Smith, Phillip (June 4, 2015). "5 Elite Families Who Made Their Fortunes in the Opium Trade". Alternet.
  21. "Opium trade". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  22. Smith, Van (October 21, 2014). "Baltimore's narcotic history dates back to the 19th-century shipping-driven boom, quietly aided by bringing Turkish opium to China". Baltimore City Paper.
  23. As recorded in the Fox-Davies, Arthur (1915). The Book of Public Arms. College of Arms.




Further reading

External links

Look up Turkey merchant in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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