Friday, June 20, 2008

Merchants and Craft Guilds


During the twelfth century merchant guilds arose in all the towns of importance in England, and in the next century a further development of town life took place in the rise of craft guilds. These associations were composed of the artisans engaged in a certain industry in a particular town. By the growth of population it is evident that when the merchant guilds had attained their first century there would be a considerable number of persons dwelling in the town who would not be eligible to membership of the guild either as landholders or as the heirs of guildsmen. Many of these would be skilled in some pursuit or calling, and naturally they would adopt the best means of securing their rights and protecting their interests by taking common action against the rest of the community.

The earliest craft guilds were those of the weavers and fullers of woolen cloth. The guild of bakers is nearly as old, and that of the leather dressers, or corvesars, dates from about the same period. At first there was a struggle between the merchant guilds and the craft guilds, as the one body naturally strove to retain its monopoly of the government of the town, and the other endeavored to share in its municipal privileges. But the circumstances of the time were such as to quickly unite the two bodies in a common resistance to the tyranny of the sovereign power or of the great feudal lords. In turn, the monarch found it good policy to foster the towns, both with the object of developing their wealth and so of acquiring a source of revenue for himself as well as of bringing into existence a factor to counterbalance the overgrown power of the nobles. — Westminster Review.

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