Finance and Trade Under Edward III the London Lay Subsidy of 1332. Originally published by Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1918.
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SOCIAL EVOLUTION IN MEDIÆVAL LONDON
Any town that has a past has a natural history no less interesting than that of an anthill or a beehive-if only it could find a Lubbock to unravel the long evolution of its social instincts or a Maeterlinck to unfold its wealth of mystical suggestion. Readers of the autobiography of Goethe cannot easily forget his vivid account of his boyhood in Frankfort, of the endless delight which his already creative imagination took in the long vista of centuries which the daily sights and the immemorial customs of his native city opened up to him
"The street in which our house was situated," he tells us, "passed by the name of Hirschgraben (Stag-ditch), but as neither stags nor ditches were to be seen we wished to have the expression explained They told us that our house stood on a spot that was once outside the city, and that where the street now ran had formerly been a ditch in which a number of stags were kept because the senate every year, according to an ancient custom, feasted on a stag"
He tells us how he loved to wander over the fourteenth century bridge and to return by the ferry, with what reverence he gazed on the Saalhof, which stood where the palace of Charlemagne had been, how he lingered to spend his pocketmoney in the mediæval market that crowded the space in front of St. Bartholomew's Church, how he roamed at will (as the privileged grandson of one of the city magistrates through the ancient vaults of the Romer (the City Hall), was shown the three benches on which the three estates of citizens-the magistrates, the middle class and the craftsmen-sat separately on Council days, and how he listened with boyish delight in the Election Chamber to the story of emperors who had been chosen in that very room and whose portraits adorned its walls He describes the bustle and excitement of the great fairs,-the whole city pouring forth to meet the procession, the solemn ceremonies of the Pipers' Court, the weird music of the shawm, sackbut and the oboe, the symbolic gifts of pepper and gloves
"But what chiefly attracted the child's attention," says Goethe, " were the many little towns within the town, the fortresses within the fortress, viz, the walled monastic enclosures and several other precincts remaining from earlier times and more or less like castles-such as the Nuremberg Court, the Compostella, the Braunfels, the ancestral house of the von Stallburg family, and several strongholds which had been transformed into dwellings and warehouses Everything bore witness to a remote past when the town and its neighbourhood were seldom free from strife Gates and towers still remained to mark the limits of the older city, and beyond these a new line of gates, towers, walls, bridges, ramparts encompassed the later growth"
The title which Goethe chose for his autobiography- Poetry and Truth-is at once elucidated and justified by this account of the environment of his childhood With a sure instinct for what was essential and an imagination admirably balanced between the demands of science and of art, he has sketched, in a few broad but effective strokes, not only the outer Frankfort of his boyhood, but the inner life of an earlier time in which his own genius had its roots Most striking of all perhaps is that last touch about the surviving mediæval enclosures,-the little towns within the town, the deserted shells in which the patrician burgher, the monastic community, the company of foreign merchants had been held aloof by a spirit of social exclusiveness Of this spirit the boy still beheld a living instance as he gazed in fear and wonder through the gate of the Jewish quarter at the abodes of a people whose history had deeply impressed his growing mind These survivals were not only well adapted to captivate the romantic imagination of a young poet, they bodied forth the earliest phase of the mediæval city, they furnish me with my clue, the starting point of my essay
If we go back five centuries, from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the thirteenth century, and betake ourselves from Frankfort to London, we shall find the living world represented by the survivals of Goethe's boyhood Let us suppose a knight from the country on a visit to his cousin, a London alderman, and riding in with him through the western suburbs of the city As they pass through the Abbot of Westminster's lands at Kensington the alderman talks of business matters, and the knight is surprised to find how extensive and complicated the affairs of a London alderman are He knew, of course, that his cousin, though, like himself, of mixed Saxon and Norman descent on one side, was descended on his mother's side from a well-known Jewish banker of King John's time, that he had married the daughter of a worthy Provencal knight, who had followed the Queen Eleanor into England He knew also that his cousin had inherited several manors in Kent and Surrey, the produce of which was brought to the London market in his own barges, that he was a purveyor to the King and the nobility, and that he carried on a small loan office under forms adapted to the prejudices of the age But he was not prepared to hear that the alderman was nearly as much in Southern France, where he bought wine for the King, as in England, that he was a farmer of the tolls at Queenhithe, and that he was about to have a share, along with an expert Italian, in coining the new gold pennies with which the King had resolved to celebrate his reign A man of such high connections is evidently the right person with whom to see the town
They make a slight detour to see the sights of Westminster All at once they come to a great field filled with an immense crowd of traders of all nations, buying and selling at endless lows of stalls, eating and drinking, listening to jongleurs or friars This is the Abbey Fair, and the King has compelled all the citizens of London to close their shops for a fortnight and to come and trade in the fields The citizens are enraged and swear they will not come next year, but the King is determined to find money to finish the great abbey church which you can see a-building yonder And so they pass the Abbey through a crowd of debtors, beggars and outlaws huddled within its precincts, and the great hall of Rufus, where the King's three chief judgment seats are set, where he lately kept the marriage-feast of his brother with thirty thousand dishes of meat, and where he has on occasion fed six thousand poor people at Christmas " The citizen who gets the contract on these occasions," says the alderman, "may make a fortune, but is as likely to lose one" They pass more houses of great magnates, then the King of Scotland's town house, and reach Savoy House, a palace newly built for the Queen's uncle "A great household this," says the worthy citizen. " I supply them with a ton of tallow candles yearly and eighteen hundredweight of wax" Along the Strand facing the river are the Bishops' town houses,-Worcester Inn, Bath Inn, Chester Inn, Exeter Inn, and each has a little population of retainers, servants and craftsmen attached to it When they reach the great establishment of the Knights Templars they find a crowd collected A waggon of the King's treasures, guarded by men-at-arms, is passing through the gate The Temple, in fact, serves as the national bank They turn up the New Road (our Chancery Lane), pass Chichester House (lately the residence of the Chancellor, Ralph Nevill), and come to the house of the Black Friars, who have not yet transferred their site to the Earl of Lincoln for his New Inn and moved within the city wall Then, turning the corner, they ride along Holborn with the Abbot of Malmesbury's town house on their right and the Bishop of Ely's town house on the left As they descend the hill to cross the river Fleet the alderman points out the towers of the Knights Hospitallers across the fields at Clerkenwell, with the nunnery beside it, and around both a hamlet of settlers There, too, they catch a glimpse, across the open ground of Smithfield, of the Priory of St Bartholomew, with the beautiful church that still remains to us, and of the hospital, and the alderman would talk of the recent struggles of the city with the Prior about St Bartholomew's Fair, and how the Priory was like to rob the city of the cloth trade unless it were sharply looked after And now they have climbed Snow Hill and entered Newgate The half-finished walls of the Grey Friars rise to their left The choir is already built, by an alderman of the city, but three other aldermanic benefactors who are destined to furnish the chancel, the dorter and the chapter house are still in their cradles "The builder of that choir," says the alderman, "my old friend William Joynour, God rest his soul, was a right worthy man Although he had been in the King's service, as we aldermen all are sooner or later-our trade wouldn't prosper if we were not,- yet when he was mayor in '39 he stood manfully for the liberties of the city against the King, who wished to force a sheriff upon us" "Ah," says the knight, "that will be the affair of the 'commune' I heard some talk of" "No," replies the alderman, somewhat disconcerted, "that is another matter That was a mere dispute we had with the riff-raff of the city"
Threading their way across the market, in front of St. Nicholas' Church, they pass the gate of the sanctuary of St Martin-le-Grand, through which they can see a whole street of craftsmen's stalls, and behind them lodgings for refugees, and so come to the open space on the north-east side of St Paul's, with St Paul's Cross in the midst of it, and the city belfry at one corner "This is the place of the Folkmoot," explains the alderman, "where the people of London assemble to meet the King, or to hear a Pope's bull, or to proclaim an outlaw It would be better," he adds, "if this old custom were allowed to drop It is but an occasion of turbulence, and all the serious business of city government has long been transferred to the hands of the aldermen in their separate wardmotes or collectively in their Court of Husting at the Guildhall But when the King, to serve his own ends, has the bell sounded to summon the folk a great crowd of pedlars and tinkers get together, and fancy that their 'Yea, Yea!' and 'Nay, Nay!' is to settle everything, and that they are the commune of the city Now, I need not tell you, that it is we men of substance who are the commune, we men of good birth and knightly breeding, who are aldermen and the sons of aldermen, who know the law and custom of the city, who own the land and carry on the trade It was we who gamed the commune and the mayoralty from King Richard, and it is only our wary policy that can preserve them, for the King could easily persuade the crowd to shout their liberties away
"But, come," says the alderman, "lest you should think we citizens were all a set of base handicraftsmen, let me show you our place of arms" And he led the way to the open space before the west end of the cathedral "Here the men of London meet to go forth to battle And the lord of Castle Baynard, whose towers you see near the river yonder, claims an hereditary right to marshal the host and lead it forth On occasions of war he comes riding with nineteen mounted followers, and the mayor and aldermen coming forth from the west door, fully armed, deliver to him the banner of the city which bears the image of St Paul in gold, but the face, hands, feet and sword are of silver Even in time of peace the castellan of Castle Baynard has the whole parish of St Andrew under his special supervision, with a court and stocks and prison of its own, and the mayor must summon him to all great councils and must rise to meet him and set him by his side, and as long as the castellan remains all judgments must be delivered by his mouth"
Then the alderman leads his companion between the bakehouse and the brewhouse, whence 40,000 loaves and 60,000 gallons of beer are provided for the great household of St Paul's every year, down to Paul's Wharf, where the supplies from the manor houses are landed, and so along Thames Street to the Bridge and the Tower Here the knight marvels at all the sights and sounds of a great port, but what surprises him most is to find how little of the riverside appears to be in the hands of the citizens themselves Where the Fleet entered the Thames were the corn mills of the Knights Templars, then the wharf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, then Castle Baynard Wharf, then Paul's Wharf Queenhithe, where all the corn supplies that came by water were landed, had just been secured for the city from the Earl of Cornwall by an enterprising mayor The trade of Vintry was still mostly in the hands of Flemings and Gascons, and that of Dowgate was dominated by the German merchants, who had their gildhall in the Steelyard there The bridge itself was controlled by wardens appointed by the King, and the wool exporters, whose business occupies the river front from Billingsgate to the Tower, were largely companies of Flemings and Italians When the knight went to see the Guildhall he would find it in the centre of a quarter peopled by a separate community of Jewish bankers ruled by their own rabbis and controlling much of the finance of the city
Nor was this atmosphere of exclusion and privilege confined to foreigners-to religious communities, to feudal magnates The very fishmongers and weavers were not, in their trade matters, under the control of the city Each of these trades had, like the Castellan and the Bishop, the Abbot and the Knights Templars, a law of its own and a special court to itself
These feudal forms were in fact a survival from what had been till recently the dominant element in the constitution At the beginning of the thirteenth century the King's letters to London had been addressed to the barons and citizens, and down to the middle of the fourteenth century there appeared at the funeral of an alderman a rider on a caparisoned horse, arrayed in the armour of the deceased and bearing his banner and shield, as at the burial of a baron of the realm A class of similar pretensions were the landlords and the rulers of all the continental cities They lived in fortified stone houses, fought on horseback, held office in royal or episcopal households and inter-married with the territorial nobility If we seek an illustration, what better could we have than that of the first Mayor of London, Henry FitzAylwin, and his immediate descendants Henry died possessed of broad lands in Middlesex, Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire His son married the heiress to an estate in Surrey held by a service of serjeantry in the King's kitchen Joan, the daughter of this marriage, married Ralph the Furrier, a serjeant of the King's Chamber, upon whom the King bestowed various houses in London and Winchester, and who combined a lucrative trade in foreign skins with the management of an estate in Norfolk Robert, the son of Joan, and the grandson of a FitzAylwin, who inhabited his grandfather's mansion near London Stone, married the daughter of the Earl of Derby, turned his grandmother's Surrey manor house into a castle, was lord of the hundred of Lambeth and a privy councillor Many of the parish churches of London had been built by the early aldermen as private chapels and chantries, and half a dozen still bear their names
These examples clearly explain the nature of the power exercised by these early rulers of the city. It rested primarily on the ownership of land, official position, and family connection, trade was only a secondary, though no doubt an important, source of wealth This is true also of the great continental cities In some cities trade became important very early, as at Venice and in Flanders But even in the Flemish cities, whose mercantile origins M Pirenne, their historian, (fn. 1) has clearly demonstrated, the traders became powerful through land ownership and official power
The mediæval city owed nearly as much to this patrician class as it had done to its early bishops What M Pirenne says of their achievements in the great Flemish cities, Bruges, Ghent, Y pres, Douai, etc, might be applied with little modification to the early aldermen of London They gave urban civilisation a permanent shape They set up a system of municipal administration, of finance and taxation, of halls and markets, in which the democracy that followed them found little to alter They built solid walls, constructed ports, cut canals, dredged rivers, established a water supply, organised transport and postal service, created a civic bureaucracy and inaugurated municipal records But their greatest service was political By dint of skilful negotiation, timely pressure and the judicious use of their opportunities and resources they laid a firm foundation for civic independence The aldermen of London might claim with some justice that it was they who had won the liberties of the city Undoubtedly there was another side to the matter Towards the end of their régime, in the second half of the thirteenth century, a universal cry goes up from all the cities of Western Europe denouncing the abuse of magisterial power by the civil oligarchies. They are accused of keeping all civic offices in the hands of a clique, of laying all the taxes on the poorer citizens, of creating trade monopolies for themselves, of building their mansions on public land, of sitting in judgment on their own causes
But whether used well or ill, their control over the destinies of the city during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is undoubted How did it pass from their hands ?
The story of how this was accomplished is the story of the growth of the commune, upon which recent historical investigation has shed much new light At the end of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth century there was a widespread rising of the French cities against their episcopal lords The inhabitants swore a secret oath to live and die together, and took up arms in defence of their common liberties The King of France favoured the movement as tending to weaken the feudal power of the bishops and to strengthen his own, and supported the commune by swearing to it himself Thus there arose a new form of municipal independence in close connection with the royal power
The early historians of the communal movement-French scholars with popular sympathies-looked upon it as a great democratic upheaval-the first rising of the Third Estate We now know that this was far from being the case The communal movement was in fact carried to success by men of that very patrician class I have just been describing Without their leadership success would have been impossible, and as a rule they retained control of the new political instrument they had created But in one important respect their rule differed from that of the patricians In the hour of common peril all classes of inhabitants-knights, clergy and citizens-had sworn the oath They had all a tacit claim to share in the commune That claim was full of possibilities
The famous case of the London commune is the best example of this development The policy of Henry II had seriously diminished the civic liberties which the patrician class had won for London, and they seized the opportunity presented by the absence of Richard to extort the grant of a commune and a mayor from John But for all practical purposes the government of London remained the same The aldermen presided in their ward-motes, gave judgment in the husting and chose the mayor and the sheriffs Only under royal compulsion did they take any counsel with the rest of the citizens But whenever a popular protest is heard it takes the form of an appeal to the communal ideal "We are the Commune of London, and we ought to elect the mayor and the aldermen"
In that cry we seem to hear the first expression of the spirit of modern democracy But democracy, ancient or modern, has done nothing without party discipline, and party discipline needs a basis in social organisation If, therefore, we find the commune ultimately widened, we look for the social forces that achieved this result, and if the social forces from below were not strong enough we must examine those that were operating within the patrician class itself It was for the purpose of gaining a brief preliminary survey of those forces that we accompanied the knight and alderman in their ride into the city of London
We found the early civic community closely hemmed in by an environment-partly consisting of feudal households, but still more of communities in whose life its own life was very closely intermingled-bodies of monks and cathedral clergy, of templars and hospitallers, and foreign merchants. The period during which the city had been acquiring its political independence on a patrician basis had been marked by an immense growth of communities representing nearly every variety of religious, social and economic aim There were communities of ecclesiastical and social reformers, of popular preachers, of slum workers, communities to house the pilgrim, to visit the prisoner, to tend the leper, to nurse the sick, to console the dying, communities of adventurous younger sons such as now go to the colonies or join a filibustering raid, communities of alien merchants, and last, but not least, communities of students of theology, and the arts, of law and medicine
Yet, in spite of this extreme variety of membership and of purpose, most of these communities had some striking characteristics in common They almost all represented at first an upgrowth from below, the powerful spontaneous impulse of new religious, social and economic forces to re-shape the old order, or to transfuse it with a new spirit They were nearly all international organisations, and most of them united within a single community members of widely different social ranks and origins The living principle of their organisation was in every case that of the religious fraternity, whilst its external and legal aspect was almost as universally that of a collective feudalism
The functions which the gilds performed in the later period of civic development were performed by these communities for the city of the patrician period They were largely recruited from the patrician class, and served as the natural organs of its expansion The class out of which the early oligarchies of the cities were formed was increasing by additions from above and from below much too rapidly to find room within the limits of what was becoming more and more a close coterie of families It cast off swarms in every direction-swarms of monks, of knights, or scholars, of merchant adventurers, and the communities which we find filling so large a space in city topography and operating so powerfully upon it as an environment were settlements from these swarms
It is one of the many merits of Dr Rashdall's History of the Universities in the Middle Ages to have emphasised the close analogy between those earlier associations and the later gilds The rise of the universities, he says, was "merely a wave of that great movement towards association which began to sweep over the cities of Europe in the course of the eleventh century" Only a wave, but surely the most influential wave and also the most significant For with the rise of universities the meaning of the whole movement becomes clear It is laying the foundations of the liberal and learned professions, just as the later gilds were to lay the foundations of the mercantile and industrial professions It may be a matter of dispute which group was the more important of the two, but both were undoubtedly essential to the fully-developed city, and still more to the realisation of that national life of which the city was to be the organ
The direct control exercised over city life by these noncivic communities was very great Monastic and clerical bodies and universities have ruled or dominated cities like Oxford, Cambridge, Bologna, Rome Alien merchants were the earliest rulers of Prague and Stockholm, and still dominate the life of many a city in the East of Europe to-day Acre and Tyre and Antioch during the rule of the crusading knights, were full of palaces, on whose roofs noble ladies walked with crowns of gold, whilst knights hospitallers from Yorkshire were collecting rents in the villages of the Archbishop of Nazareth The Teutonic Order of Knights, turning aside from the failure of the crusades to Germanise Slavonic Europe, founded and ruled a group of Baltic cities that grew into a powerful commercial state And three great orders of knights who dwelt in Castilian cities from which they had expelled the Moors almost constituted a separate estate in all the later monarchies of Spam
But it is with the indirect effects of this stimulating environment on the growth of the city that I am chiefly concerned
When we read the biographies of the men who played a leading part in the twelfth century we realise how much of the industrial freedom, the social fluidity, the carrière ouverte aux talens which we associate with city life could be attained by a skilful use of the opportunities offered by the earlier communities Thomas "À Becket," born in Cheapside, the son of a London citizen, is educated by a community of monks, at Merton, enters a community of students at Paris, serves for a time as a civic official, acquires the accomplishments of knighthood, joins the feudal household of the Archbishop of Canterbury, enters deacons' orders, and enjoys a plurality of living, qualifies as a lawyer at the University of Bologna, becomes an Archdeacon, a clerical emissary to Rome, a royal favourite, Warden of the Tower of London, Chancellor of the Realm, Archbishop The rungs in this astonishing ladder of promotion are furnished by the great households and the great communities Or, to take another familiar instance- Carlyle's Abbot Sampson He was not fortune's favourite like Thomas, he made his own way, and all the rungs of his ladder were provided by the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds Yet what a remarkable range of talents-none of them of a religious kind-does this monastic community find scope for In the obscure poverty of his youth and early manhood, Sampson sees the world as a student at Paris, as an emissary at Rome Later on he is an estate agent, an improving landlord, an architect, an acute financier, the progressive autocrat of a thriving town, the lord of fifty knights, a peer of Parliament, a Royal Commissioner
Thomas of London and Abbot Sampson reached the goal of their ambition, but very few of the thousands who were thronging the Universities of Bologna and Paris or returning from an adventurous but profitless youth spent in the Crusades could hope to become archbishops and abbots The applicants for what we may call Civil Service appointments must have been numerous, and one of the chief avenues to that service was controlled by the patrician oligarchy in the city When that oligarchy showed signs of becoming an hereditary caste of inter-related families the discontent of outsiders of the same class must have been great But discontent might have a nobler motive The aldermen were oppressing the poorer citizens, and a fervent religious sympathy with the wrongs and sufferings of the poor was one of the strongest characteristics of the best minds of that age-the age of Arnold of Brescia, Peter of Lyons, and Francis of Assisi The rising of London under William FitzOsbert in 1196 is best explained by a combination of both these motives Only five years before the patricians had invoked all the forms of a popular insurrection to secure a restoration of civic independence on a firmer basis John had sworn to the commune The aldermen who held office for life as rulers of the wards and judges and administrators in the Court of Husting, had elected Henry Fitz-Aylwin to be mayor on the same tenure There is no evidence that they gave the rest of the citizens any share in the constitution Indeed, ten years after FitzOsbert's rising, and fifteen years after the grant of the commune, we find King John commanding the city to elect a special council of twenty-four to enquire into the wrongs inflicted by those who are set over the administration of the law and over the assessment and collection of taxes, and over the government of the city, who are accused of collecting much money from the common people and of withholding it from the King
But the most definite and the most interesting things we know of FitzOsbert's rising relate to FitzOsbert himself He had fought as a crusading knight in Portugal He was learned in the law, and equally learned in the Scriptures He preached to the people in the streets and open spaces-in St Paul's itself He took his texts from Isaiah, and declared it to be his mission to save the poor from the oppression of the rich When he was dragged from sanctuary and hanged the common people accounted him a martyr Such was London's first demagogue But he was himself an alderman, a patrician, a knight, a learned man In this class also belonged the later leaders of the commons of London, Thomas FitzThomas, Walter Hervy The patricians were divided amongst themselves
If we look around the cities of Western Europe in the latter half of the fourteenth century, a great revolution appears to have been accomplished Instead of the hereditary rule of a score of families who circulated the offices amongst themselves, we find in some of the greatest cities a wellorganised democracy In place of or beside a court of landowning magistrates, aldermen with feudal pretensions and aristocratic connections holding office for life, we find a Council elected annually from tradesmen by tradesmen The increasing list of trades which share in this right of election shows the growing organised political power of the once despised craftsmen Indeed, it is often enacted that no one can acquire the position of a citizen without being a member of a trade gild The old patricians held craftsmen in contempt, and regarded commerce mainly as an official perquisite, their politics were of a feudal cast, they backed one episcopal candidate-one royal pretender-against another The new civic community shuts its gates on feudal anarchy, and puts trade and industry frankly in the first place How has this great change been effected? It looks at first sight as if the organised trades and handicrafts had gone up against the patrician stronghold, and carried it by storm
But closer study does not confirm this notion The great families still remain, or others have taken their place Their collective hereditary control is gone, but their social prestige is still great, and they fill many elective offices both in the city and the gilds In their style of living and dying they are as feudal as ever Sir John Pulteney, who was Mayor of London in the middle of the fourteenth century, and lived in the mansion vacated by the Earl of Norfolk, endowed by his will seven priests to sing in a new-built chapel for his soul, and bequeathed ruby and diamond rings to his friends, the Bishop of London and the Earl of Huntingdon, that they might see his wishes properly carried out Richard Whittington of famous memory made a similar will
The trade gilds, on the other hand, when we know more about them, do not appear likely to have contrived the overthrow of the patricians The poorer gilds are not strong enough, the more powerful gilds not sufficiently democratic These greater gilds, indeed, had always been full of patrician members If the gilds have conquered patrician feudalism in any sense, it can only have been by absorbing it There has been no abrupt transition, no complete displacement of the knightly class by the bourgeois The patricians have been gradually transformed from within
Much of this gradual transformation is no doubt to be attributed to the gilds, but not by any means all of it They came into the field when the work was already half done Friendly societies of craftsmen had indeed probably existed here and there since Roman times, but these could not overthrow or undermine a strong patrician society The gilds of merchants which were very active in the twelfth century cities, were certainly one of the chief means of transforming the garrisons of knights and officers into a mercantile community But the merchant gild was so far from destroying the exclusiveness of the patrician class that it had become one of its chief organs Its rules strictly forbid the admission of craftsmen-"men with blue nails" The craft gilds did not win collective recognition or play any effective part in political life till the end of the thirteenth century Even then they won but partial and temporary victories, and they fought under patrician leaders
And now let us suppose ourselves out for a final ramble through the city at a period part way between the Middle Ages and our own time-the end of the sixteenth century-the time of Shakespeare We might have many guides who know and love every inch of the ground, but before all others we should be wise in preferring old John Stow, tailor, antiquarian, annalist, chronicler We shall naturally find a great change from the thirteenth century The population is at least five times as great, the shops and houses-especially those of the middle-class citizens-are immensely improved If we could peep inside we should notice more improvement still Tapestry, Turkey work, pewter, brass, fine linen and costly cupboards of plate worth £500 or £600 "For such furnishing," we are told, "is to be seen in the houses of knights, gentlemen, merchant men and other wealthy citizens" Most of the houses are the timber structures we think of as Elizabethan, but a few of the older stone houses that were inhabited by the city magnates of our earlier time still remain to attract the gaze of the curious and the study of the antiquarian It is even more interesting to find the old feudal halls with their enclosures still shutting out the intrusion of the crowded city, the houses of kings, nobles, bishops, of monks, friars, hospitallers and Templars Most of these appear to preserve a life that is modelled on the social ideals of the past, the style of the great household of the feudal baron
We turn aside into one of these mansions-for our guide seems to take a certain affectionate pride in it Here is a group of buildings in which a prince of the blood need not be ashamed to dwell-a great banqueting hall that will seat two hundred guests, with windows of Flemish glass and tapestries like those at Hampton Court A chapel, a portraitgallery, a king's chamber, an exchequer chamber, a treasury, a wardrobe, a pantry, a buttery, a larder, a kitchen, a storehouse, a bakehouse, a brewery, a gardener's house and stables Near the gateway stand a row of cottages "These," says our companion, "are the company's almshouses, and yonder livings," he adds, pointing to the steeples of several adjacent churches, "are in the company's gift" "The Company" What company can this be? But we have no time to ask questions, for we are hurried in by our eager companion to see the records, and from these we only gather that the company is a fraternity of St John the Baptist In a great scroll under a baronial coat-of-arms, magnificently emblazoned, consisting of "Argent, a tent royal between two parliament robes, gules, lined ermine, on a chief azure a lion of England, crest the Holy Lamb in glory proper, supporters two camels, motto concordia parvae res crescunt" On the scroll we see a list of honorary members embracing seven kings, two princes, and bishops, dukes and earls by the score The ordinary leading members we find are aldermen and sheriffs, baronets and knights, merchant princes and lawyers, whose sons and brothers hold high office in church and state We are still puzzling over the social basis of this remarkable company, when, as we are examining the rich treasures of its wardrobe and, amongst other things, a richly-embroidered hearse-cloth -where pascal lambs alternate with heads of John the Baptist-we notice with some surprise several embroidered pairs of scissors A light strikes us-the meaning of the "Parliament robes, lined ermine," clears up "What company did you say this was?" we ask our companion -John Stow draws himself up in astonished pride "My company-the honourable Merchant Taylors"
We explain our former bewilderment and how we took this for a great baronial mansion "There is no marvel in that," replies Stow, "it was once the house-though then much smaller-of Sir Oliver de Ingham, the Seneschal of Gascony under Edward III" He proceeds to show us parallel cases Here is St Helen's Priory, inhabited by the Leather-sellers There is the mansion of the FitzWalters, taken over by the Grocers Yonder the manor-house of the Nevilles, occupied by the Pewterers And each of these communities appears to be a microcosm of the social life of the great city Beneath the top dressing of aldermen, merchants and professional men there was a main body of wealthy shopkeepers, a large contingent of master craftsmen, a following of journeymen and apprentices, who in their spare hours read the chap-book lives of Sir John Hawkwood and Sir Richard Whittington-and aspire to marry their master's daughter and become Lord Mayor
Gravely pondering on the social transformation that has been thus gradually wrought we pass out of Newgate-along Holborn-down Chancery Lane Here, we remember, were formerly houses of chancellors, justices and bishops, and also the great community of Knights Templars These we now find inhabited by gilds of lawyers, which together make up a great legal university In all outward respects these communities resemble those we have left behind, in their feudal style, halls, gardens and chapels, arms and liveries and hierarchies of classes But the residents are not all of civic extraction, indeed, one of their number has just written a book to prove the direct contrary This is John Ferne of the Inner Temple, and his work is entitled "The Glory of Generosity" "Nobleness of blood," says he, "joined with virtue, counteth the person as most meet to the enterprising of any public service, and to that cause it was not for naught that our ancient governors in this land did with a special wisdom and foresight provide that none should be admitted into the house of Court except he be gentleman of blood" Yet, notwithstanding this pardonable vaunt, we shall find the sons of citizens mingling with the sons of gentry of every degree in this training-ground of the statesmen and the administrators of the growing nation
Note-The statement made on p 13 about the constitution of London in the reign of John is based upon a writ printed in Rotuli Litterarum Clausarm, Vol I, p 64 (ed 1833), which appears to have been overlooked by the historians of London