Book Review – ‘Inside the Illicit Economy: Reconstructing the smugglers’ trade of sixteenth century Bristol’ by Evan T. Jones
As a literary critic and cultural historian, rather than an economic historian, and as a reader that likes to be told stories, especially ripping good yarns, I approached reviewing Evan Jones’ detailed account of the ‘business’ of smuggling in sixteenth-century Bristol with some trepidation. Inside the Illicit Economy is not a ‘romantic’ account of smuggling, but neither is it a ‘dry’ history. As the subtitle implies, it is a ‘reconstruction’ of the complexities and inconsistencies of the business accounts of Bristol’s merchant class, and it tells a fascinating story where the key characters’ actions and motives, and the turbulent histories of the commodities they trade in, are traced in the pages of ledgers and account books. What Jones reveals is systematic and massive fraud on the part of some of early modern Bristol’s mercantile elite, clearly undertaken in the full knowledge and connivance of at least some of the customs officials employed to regulate imports and exports into this major English port….