House Mercantilist

 

Founder: Johan sanz Terre

Founding date: 1203 AD

House Instrument: Gittern

House Wines: Claret and Entre-Deux-Mers

Current Chair: Nathanial Jägermeister

 

House Mercantilist is the largest of the Institute’s Houses, a status it has enjoyed for much of the past eight hundred years. The House was established by Bordeaux-based merchants in 1203 to honour Johan sanz Terre (better known in English as John Lackland) for his support of the Bordeaux wine trade.

John Lackland, son of Henry II of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, was crowned King of England in 1199. He soon became embroiled in a series of military campaigns against King Philip II of France in defence of Normandy, his ancestral homeland. As part of John’s strategy to ensure the loyalty of Aquitaine, he abolished the Grande Coutume (in English: ‘the Great Custom’), an export tariff imposed by the English Plantagenet aristocracy on wine and other produce from their holdings in Gascony, Bordeaux and Poitou. In exchange for the repeal, those regions duly pledged their support for John against the French Crown. This early ‘free trade agreement’ gave Gascon merchants vastly improved access to the English market and established Bordeaux wine as the pre-eminent English wine import. To this day, Britain and its former colonies remain the main export markets for claret (a term deriving from the Latin for ‘clear’, reflecting the light style of medieval Bordeaux reds).

The abolition of the Grande Coutume greatly increased the wealth of those involved in the Bordeaux wine trade and a guild of grateful merchants established House Mercantilist in King John’s honour. The formation of the House was essentially a merger of several smaller Houses representing traders of wine from areas of Aquitaine. House Mercantilist’s newfound wealth appears to have triggered jealousy in rival Houses, particularly those representing Minstrels from other regions. The lure of improved profitability, however, through cooperation between neighbouring regions and the Bordeaux trade (the sourcing of barrels, bottles and shipping, for example), appears to have assuaged any lingering resentment.

At the time of House Mercantilist’s establishment, the Minstrels of Wine were based in the Republic of Venice. Though a great supporter of the Institute, it is not thought that King John ever visited the headquarters, occupied as he was by his doomed Normandy campaign and the later revolt of the English barons. John was represented at Minstrels Hall by the English ambassador to the Most Serene Republic of Venice, who sent regular consignments of the Mediterranean’s finest wine to John’s field camps in Normandy and England.

John met his death at Newark Castle in late 1216, while preparing his defence against a planned invasion of southern England by Prince Louis of France. A poisoned case of claret, purporting to be a delivery from the Minstrels of Wine but in fact a plot devised by agents of Alexander II of Scotland (an ally of the French king), was delivered to Newark Castle and at least two bottles were consumed by John as he perused his battle plans. He died in the early hours of the 19th October, his death blamed publicly on ‘a surfeit of peaches’.

Today, House Mercantilist is made up of merchants and wine traders from all over the world. It is the favoured House of Bordeaux and Burgundian négociants, the great Champagne, Sherry and Port marques, commercial buyers from large supermarkets and executives from multi-national wine companies. Given its focus on commerce and its relative youth (barely 800 years old), House Mercantilist is sometimes viewed as arriviste and rather vulgar by elements within the other Houses.

House Mercantilist is responsible for fundraising and managing the Worshipful Institute’s commercial interests around the world, which include several wineries, a chain of boutique hotels, a shipping line and a merchant bank. A well-funded lobbying arm concerns itself with the facilitation of free trade, the reduction of alcohol excise duty and the improvement of wine warehousing and shipping facilities.

 

House Mercantilist enjoys close links with the following institutions:

 

Corporation of the City of London

Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (link not available)

Le Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne

Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto

Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux

Shanghai Shipping Exchange

Instituto Bolivariana para América Vino y Libertad (link not available)

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© 2020 by Peter Stafford-Bow