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  • Writer's pictureGVHeritage Group

Trade & Royal Monopolies

The Statute of Monopolies was an Act of Parliament which allowed monarchs to grant patents (originally over particular industries to skilled individuals with new techniques) in order to strengthen the economy by making it self-sufficient and promoting new industries.  However the system became seen as a way to raise money (through charging the patent-holders).

Elizabeth 1 was seen as a great ‘abuser’ of the system, issuing patents for common commodities including starch and salt although she  assured an audience of around 140 MPs (in 1598) that she was never a:

‘greedy scraping grasper... nor yet a wastere’

and had been deceived by projectors who

‘pretended to me that all my subjects should have a publicke benefitt and proffitt, as well as they should have private gaine’.

The Company of Mineral and Battery Works was, (with the Society of the Mines Royal), one of two mining monopolies created by Elizabeth I. The Company's rights were based on a patent granted to William Humfrey on 17 September 1565. This was replaced on 28 May 1568 by a patent of incorporation, making it an early joint stock company. The Society of the Mines Royal was incorporated on the same day.

The Company of Mineral and Battery Works had the monopoly right:

  • to make "battery ware" (items of beaten metal), cast work, and wire of latten, iron and steel.

  • to mine calamine stone and use it to make 'latten' and other mixed metals

  • to mine the royal metals of gold and silver in various English counties, most of which in fact contained little of those minerals. (Most of the metal used by the Company of Mineral and Battery works was mined by the Society of Mines Royal, with which the Mineral and Battery Works maintained a close relationship).

Determined to make England less dependent on foreign goods, Elizabeth I in 1568 granted a patent of incorporation to William Humfrey, (a former Assay master of the Royal Mint), who had worked closely with William Cecil in setting up the first British wireworks at Tintern, Monmouthshire in 1567-8.

The company licensed its right to use calamine to make brass in 1587 to a group of company members led by John Brode. They set up brass works at Isleworth, but a decade later the company obstructed them from mining calamine. The company also engaged in litigation over lead mining in Derbyshire, which it alleged to be infringing its monopoly.

In the 17th century the company was not particularly active, but periodically granted licences for mining or industrial activities that would infringe its rights. It probably informally amalgamated with the Society of the Mines Royal in about 1669. Ultimately in 1689, the passing of the Mines Royal Act effectively removed the monopoly mining rights of both companies.


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