THE TRADE IN HIDES AND WOOL
There are many references indicating that during the 14th century a portion of the Duke family became very active
in trade, to their considerable profit.
In 1315 Edward II issued a safe conduct for John Duke, master of the 'la Godale' of London, for purposes of trade,
"provided he does not carry the corn or victuals to the king's Scotch enemies, and that he holds no communion with
them." This individual might be connected with the later appearance of a Duke family in Brussels.
In 1339 Thomas Duche and other "merchants of Lombardy conversant in the city of London" were summoned to the
Council at the Tower of London to hear certain matters propounded to them in the king's behalf touching the
furtherance of the present war." The king was seeking money from these merchants.
In 1339 and again in 1340 Edward III ordered the collectors of customs in the port of London to pay to Katherine
daughter of William Duc of Brussels and to Henry Estor, her son, or to their attorney, £50 for the term, noting
that the king had granted them £100 yearly for life of land or rent in the realm, and that this served until this
commitment could be met. This was 10 times greater than the pay for an esquire of the king's household. Katherine
and her son had offered the king "homage and fealty," something very unusual for women other than those heir to
very substantial noble estates. Reminders were issued regarding the 1340 payments, over a period of several months,
in a dispute between the king and the collectors of customs for the port of London. Regular repetitions of these
orders for biannual payment occur until the last in 1357. In one case, the order is to Walter de Chiriton,
"fermor" of customs and subsidies due in all the ports of England, and specifies the name of Katherine's attorney,
In 1340 the king issued an order to the Exchequer regarding his debts of £21,000 to merchants of Florence and a
£900 debt to Clayus Duke, indicating that the money of the subsidy of lambs, fleeces, and sheaves in Wilts,
Southampton, Somerset and Dorset and personal taxes in the same counties were to be devoted to repaying these
debts and to subsidizing the household expenses of the Duke of Cornwall and the Earl of Chester. In 1341 an
even larger debt to "Clayus Duk and other men of Brussels" was recorded, involving about 4000 marks due by the
king, in a loan negotiated by Henry de Lancastre.
In all, there seem to have been at least three individuals named "Duc," apparently English, resident in Brussels and
in Lombardy, and perhaps in London as well, for purposes of trade. They were doing very well at it. These were
William, Clayus, and Thomas. All three appear in surviving records at about A.D.1340. William, in turn, had a
daughter, Katherine, apparently resident in England. She was mother of a son, Henry Ester. Her involvement in family
financial affairs must have been exceptional for the time.
After 1340, only Katherine and her son, with secondary references to Katherine's father, William, continue to appear
in the published government records. This may be due to any number of factors, but the most likely one is unpleasant.
In 1349 England experienced its first, very virulent, outbreak of the plague, the Black Death. This struck first
and worst in port cities and among those involved with shipping and trade. The absence in the records in following
years of the members of the Duke family who were heavily involved in trade could be attributed to this event.