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Battles at the Market

Tudor and Stuart England saw an increase in trade. As the stakes became higher, battles between merchants, and between merchants and market officials, became more common.

In Chester in November 1557, the stewards of the bakers felt that the price set by the mayor was too low. After consulting with other bakers, they decided to go on strike. The town council backed the mayor, and asked the bakers to reconsider. The bakers refused, and the town council retaliated by dissolving the baker’s guild. The authorities then issued a proclamation to allow all of the town’s citizens to bake their own bread. By August of 1558, some of the bakers petitioned the town council to reestablish their guild, with the understanding that they would submit to the mayor’s assize. Thirty years later when the baker’s guild again refused to accept the assize, the town authorities once again issued a proclamation “to all persons, inhabitants or foreigners... to sell all kinds of bread.” The tacit Chester officials used was to take away the guild’s monopoly in the hopes that it would force the bakers to accept a lower price, even if it led to inferior products being sold at the market.

Image Courtesy of History Extra

The butcher's guild in Coventry organized to encourage the town council to pass a by-law that would exclude non members from the market. This allowed a small number of butchers to control the market. Because butchers controlled meat, skins and tallow, they were able to exert influence on the market laws. However, again in Chester, when the butchers attempted to strike, the mayor allowed “foreign” (butchers that did not live in the town) sell in the market, which broke the guilds monopoly and again forced the sellers to cave to the mayor’s rules.

As you can see, merchants and tradesmen could use their guilds to try and force the towns to give into their demands. But they had to be careful not to risk their monopoly to sell in certain towns. It seems that tradesman who had control over multiple goods (butchers) faired better in their battles than tradesmen that sold a good that was fairly easy to make like bakers.

Source: J.H. Thomas- Town Government in the sixteenth Century





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