Considers the rise of the ready-made clothing trade in England (the garments largely produced by women) and its clash with the tailoring guilds. Illustrated by items in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.
There was a large and rapidly expanding cloth finishing industry in London in the late fifteenth and the first half of the sixteenth century. London merchants brought provincial cloth to the City, some of which was finished prior to export, and some was finished for the City’s expanding clothing industry. The success of the London Fullers and Shearmen was reflected in their merger to form the Clothworkers’ Company in 1528, and their acceptance ten years later as the last and twelfth merchant company in the City. The paper traces both the economic progress of the company and some of its principal members, and the difficulties that the Fullers and Shearmen faced as they decided to merge, and then to become accepted as one of the leading companies in the City.
The author reviews the earliest court minutes of the Merchant Taylors’ Company in London and comments on some of the few references they contain to garments from the 1560s and 1570s.
Probably the most neglected aspect of the history of the guilds and livery companies of early modern London is the ubiquitous subordinate organisation known as the ‘yeomanry’ or ‘bachelors’ company’. Many narrative histories of individual companies make only passing reference to the existence of a yeomanry, and dismiss the organisations as generally transient and insignificant. Per contra, the yeomanry of at least one of the major City livery companies represented to an extraordinary degree a company within a company in the later sixteenth century.
By the time Elizabeth ascended the throne, the yeomanry body of the Merchant Taylors’ Company had acquired effective responsibility for the vast majority of the Company’s membership. To most contemporary and modern observers, the dazzling wealth, magnificent ceremonies and eminent members — entitled to wear the prestigious livery gown of the Company, and generally drawn from the mercantile and civic élite — were the most intriguing aspects of the history of the Merchant Taylors’ Company. To the poor freemen below the livery these matters were of less significance.
Part I of this article examines briefly the origins, nature and functions of the sub-company. Part II explores the degree to which this body represented the continuation of the traditions of the medieval guild of London tailors and continued to embody the aspirations and interests of its artisan members.
Although mercers have long been recognised as one of the most influential trades in medieval London, this is the first book to offer a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the trade from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The variety of mercery goods (linen, silk, worsted and small manufactured items including what is now called haberdashery) gave the mercers of London an edge over all competitors. The sources and production of all these commodities is traced throughout the period covered. It was as the major importers and distributors of linen in England that London mercers were able to take control of the Merchant Adventurers and the export of English cloth to the Low Countries. The development of the Adventurers’ Company and its domination by London mercers is described from its first privileges of 1296 to after the fall of Antwerp.
This book investigates the earliest itinerant mercers and the artisans who made and sold mercery goods (such as the silkwomen of London, so often mercers’ wives), and their origins in counties like Norfolk, the source of linen and worsted. These diverse traders were united by the neighbourhood of the London Mercery on Cheapside and by their need for the privileges of the freedom of London.
Extensive use of Netherlandish and French sources puts the London Mercery into the context of European Trade, and literary texts add a more personal image of the merchant and his preoccupation with his social status which rose from that of the despised pedlar to the advisor of princes.
After a slow start, the Mercers’ Company came to include some of the wealthiest and most powerful men of London and administer a wide range of charitable estates such as that of Richard Whittington. The story of how they survived the vicissitudes inflicted by the wars and religious changes of the sixteenth century concludes this wide-ranging study.
The Worshipful Company of Pewterers of London owns a barge cloth embroidered with the Company’s arms and dated 1662. The bill for it from the embroiderer John Best also survives as part of that for a new barge ordered around the time of the entry into London by river of Charles II’s bride Catherine of Braganza. The embroidery, which is a rare surviving example of applied work in woollen cloth on a wool ground, was the most expensive item in the order apart from the barge itself. The technique is compared with that of some other extant embroideries, while John Best’s work for the Great Wardrobe Accounts is also discussed.