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vitality as a commercial institution, or were attended merely by the local people who dwelt in their neighbourhood"1. One striking illustration will serve to indicate that as late as the sixteenth century the fair often remained an important centre of internal trade. In the opening years of Henry VIII.'s reign Redcliffe, a suburb of Bristol, obtained the grant of a fair, but it proved "prejudicial and harmful to the interests of the citizens who applied for relief to the Star Chamber. Their indictment (1529) sets forth how craftsmen of Bristol found themselves unable to dispose of their wares, inasmuch as purchasers now stayed away from the city and resorted instead to the fair. In particular they alleged that " cappers of London and other foreign cappers of this realm" sold their caps at the fair, "by means whereof the cappers of Bristol have less utterance of their caps to their great losses and hindrance and to the impoverishing of three or four hundred people as carders, spinners and knitters, which, before the time the said fair was kept and used, had their livings by the cappers of Bristol which for the most part now are put from their work". The merchants of the city also declared "that the continuance of the fair at Candlemas shall be the decay of merchants and navy of the port of the city". All the trade, they added, was attracted to the fair: "all strangers repair thither with all kinds of merchandise which they sell to other strangers as at that time do resort thither". Finally, the city revenues suffered a great loss of toll, since "strangers withdraw until the time of the fair, and then all things are custom-free "2. Nor was Redcliffe fair the only mart to attract traders from other parts of the kingdom. Attention has already been drawn to the continued importance of Stourbridge and Bartholomew fair 3. St. Ives was still "most notable for provisions of fish", and even St. Botolph would seem to have
1 A. Law, "Town Life," in Economic Review, iv. 385 (cf. also Cunningham, English Industry, i. 451). Three statements seem open to criticism: (i.) that the new fairs "only lasted from one to three days"; (ii.) that they were frequented merely by the local people"; (iii.) that they "assumed a holiday rather than business character." The abstention of foreigners was due of course to the fact that the carrying trade was passing into English hands.
2 Select Pleas in the Star Chamber, ii. 252, 261 seq.
3 Supra, p. 232.
revived, for as late as 1665 it was described as "a fair of note, whereto there is usually extra-ordinary resort out of several parts of the kingdom"1. In the reign of Elizabeth, Harrison in his Description of England wrote: There are very few" large towns" that have not one or two fairs or more within the compass of the year assigned unto them by the prince. And albeit that some of them are not much better than . . . the common kirkmesses beyond the sea, yet there are divers not inferior to the greatest marts in Europe"". During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries English fairs certainly declined in relative importance. They were no longer the only, and perhaps not even the chief centres of traffic, for the towns had steadily grown in prosperity and in their ability to meet the requirements of the community; beyond this point it seems impossible to go.3
1 Thompson, Boston, 345.
2 Harrison, Description of England, ed. F. J. Furnivall (1877), 303.
3 For the importance of Stourbridge fair in the eighteenth century, see the interesting Historical Account of Sturbridge, Bury, and the most Famous Fairs in Europe and America (Cambridge).
THE GILD MERCHANT
Character- IN all stages of social evolution an intimate relation may istics of mediaeval generally be traced between political institutions on the towns. one hand, and the forms of economic organization on the other. How far political factors have moulded the destinies of mankind, and determined the nature and scope of their economic activities, can never be exactly known, and it is seldom easy to disentangle the many-coloured threads which make up the complex strands of social development. None the less, in the successive phases of national growth a marked influence has been exercised in the economic sphere by one or other of the contemporary political agencies 1. The terms 'village economy', 'town economy', 'national economy', have been freely used to designate the different aspects of social organization, though these terms if applied too rigidly would lead us to acquire a wholly artificial conception of the mediaeval community. In the interpretation of the past it is impossible to isolate the different periods of economic development into water-tight compartments. There is always a constant tide of progress and change, in which normally everything is in a state of transition and nothing remains at a standstill. The characteristics of a town economy are found in embryo in the village economy; those of a national economy appear in the town economy. Nowhere do we find sharp and clear-cut lines of demarcation, but everywhere a gradual and almost imperceptible movement. With this caution we may readily recognize the
1 G. Schmoller, "Studien über die wirthschaftliche Politik Friedrichs des Grossen," in Jahrbuch, viii. 16.
utility of terms which serve to concentrate attention upon well-defined economic traits, whose influence was specially marked at particular epochs, and in whose light we can construct a working hypothesis that will help to interpret for us the phenomena of mediaeval society. In the later Middle Ages the outstanding feature of political and social conditions in England was the position occupied by the municipalities, with whose exclusive and self-centred character we are concerned in the present chapter. At a time when England was slowly fashioning the conception of a national state and achieving a measure of political unity hitherto unknown, disintegration appeared everywhere the dominant characteristic of her economic system. A jealous and rigid commercial monopoly isolated every locality from its neighbour, and sought to set up an impenetrable barrier of protective tariffs and stringent regulations. Economic life was organized on the basis of the town and the village, and the town, not the state, represented the vital principle of mediaeval economy; a municipal rather than a national policy constituted the mainspring of social development. Every town strove with varying degrees of success to become a self-dependent state, with active powers of aggression and defence; and the exclusion of strangers, the imposition of tolls, the right of reprisals, the restriction of foreign'1 competition, were all economic weapons in their municipal armoury. This isolation and independence of English towns made its influence felt in three directions: (1) in the jealous exclusion of non-freemen from a participation in their mercantile privileges; (2) in the more or less complete localization of economic control; (3) in the inter-municipal relations of towns with one another.
I. The mercantile privileges of a town were usually vested The Gild in a body known as the merchant gild, into whose hands Merchant. fell the monopoly of trading during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. There is no mention of the merchant gild in Anglo-Saxon history, and to all appearance it was established in England after the Norman settlement. The consolidation of national life, a process set in motion by the
1 The term 'foreign' applied both to aliens and to all non-citizens.
Norman Conquest and accelerated by the administrative genius of Henry I. and Henry II., fostered the growth of towns and the expansion of trade; this in its turn would facilitate the development of a specially mercantile institution in which the trading activities of the borough would be focussed at a single point. In its organized form the merchant gild was perhaps introduced from the continent, though some kind of commercial association could scarcely have been completely unknown before. The earliest known reference to the gild merchant is in a charter to the town of Burford (1087-1107) 1; it is also found occasionally in the town charters of Henry I., and appears very often in Angevin charters. Altogether about a hundred towns in England, and seventy in Ireland and Wales, are known to have contained a merchant gild 2; it was thus a widespread and not an exceptional institution of municipal life. But in some towns, London, Norwich and the Cinque Ports among others, a merchant gild appears never to have been established 3. A document has recently come to light containing direct mention of a gild merchant in London in 1252, but this is too unusual to be conclusive, and may be an error of the chancery clerk who drafted the charter. The concession of a merchant gild was by far the most valuable franchise conferred in borough charters, and was usually expressed in the formula: "Know ye that I have granted to the men of [Andover] that they have their merchant gild in [Andover] "5. It carried with it certain franchises which were commonly too well known to need rehearsal: thus John gave to Nottingham a merchant gild "with all the liberties and free customs which should or usually belong to a merchant gild". The privilege was definitely intended as a source of profit to the burgesses, and in the charter of Hugh le Despenser to Cardiff in 1340 the grant is avowedly made" for their own profit". The fundamental feature
1 Gross, Gild Merchant, i. 5. It is also mentioned in a document, 2 The list of towns is given ibid. i. 9 seq.
3 Ibid. i. 21 (n. 5); Hudson, Leet Jurisdiction in Norwich, p. lxxxviii. 4 English Hist. Review, xviii. 315.
5 Ballard, Borough Charters, 205. Records of Nottingham, i. 9.
Records of Cardiff, i. 21.