The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 2003.
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This book is an attempt to explore medieval society by following a single little-known industry in all its ramifications. My chief debt is to the Worshipful Company of Skinners, whose generosity in granting me access to their records first stimulated my interest in the London gilds; and then to the Universities of London and Southampton, whose grant of fellowships in 1951 and 1952 gave me the opportunity to pursue the subject. But I soon came to realize, as N. S. B. Gras pointed out in his Business and Capitalism, that the gilds have been studied 'almost to the neglect of the real business of the men who established them'. This book grew, therefore, from a study of the 'real business' of innumerable London skinners. The abundance of London's medieval archives has alone made this possible. Thus I owe a very great debt to successive editors of the City's records and to those who have worked on them, in particular the late Professor George Unwin, Dr. Sylvia Thrupp, and, more recently, Dr. Gwyn A. Williams. The extent of my debt to them all will be apparent from the footnotes, and I am grateful to Dr. Williams for much personal help. To Mr. T. F. Reddaway I have always been able to turn for guidance on problems associated with the history of London, and I owe much to his encouragement and the care with which he has read the whole manuscript. Professor F. J. Fisher kindly read Chapter IX and made valuable suggestions for its improvement. My path has been eased by the staff at Skinners' Hall, and at the libraries and record depositories in which I have worked, and I am particularly grateful to Mr. P. E. Jones, the Deputy-Keeper of Records, Corporation of London, and his assistant, Mr. M. J. Chandler.
In following up the 'real business' of skinners I have been drawn into unfamiliar fields where I should have been lost without the generous help given to me. Of the many whose kindness I am glad to acknowledge I should like to thank in particular Mr. Francis Weiss and Mr. H. Kaplan, who initiated me into the techniques of the manufacture of furs and helped with Chapter II; Mr. R. E. F. Smith, of the University of Birmingham, who made valuable criticisms of Chapter VIII and put me in touch with recent Soviet studies on the Baltic trade; and Mr. R. E. Latham, of the Public Record Office, who gave generously from his store of learning. To my great regret Professor R. Delort's important articles on 'Un aspect du commerce vénitien au xve siècle: Andrea Barbarigo et le commerce des fourrures (1430–1440)' did not appear in Le Moyen Age, lxxi (1965), until after this book had gone to press.
I wish to thank the Skinners' Company for permission to make use of material from the Company's archives, and for much personal kindness; Miss M. B. Honeybourne for permission to base the map of London on maps she has drawn; the British Agricultural Society for permission to reprint, as Appendix B, an article first published in their Review; The Macmillan Company, New York, for permission to base the map of Russia on one of which they hold the copyright.
Those I have taught, as well as friends and colleagues, have helped me in a number of ways, some in the course of conversation, others, in particular Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Atkinson and Miss B. S. Knott, with the manuscript. Others, and especially the members of Professor E. M. Carus-Wilson's seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, have contributed by providing not only source material but most profitable discussion. Dr. A. R. Bridbury has given unstintingly of his time in helping me to clarify arguments, and his suggestions throughout have been invaluable. To Professor Carus-Wilson herself, above all, I am deeply indebted for help of all kinds, for her patience in reading the manuscript, and for her penetrating criticism. Without the help and encouragement of them all this book would never have been completed. For the imperfections of this study, however, I alone am responsible.
E. M. V.