Monday, February 20, 2023

The Great Twelve

Of all the livery companies in medieval London, 12 were considered the most important and influential. They were collectively referred to as the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City of London. Which were considered the most important?

1. The Mercers: the word is related to "merchandise" and was a collection of all the shopkeepers of non-edible goods, a wide-ranging group!

2. The Grocers: they started early as the Guild of Pepperers, responsible for dealing in spices, but changed over time to represent more edibles. They were also charged with maintaining the official standards of weights and measures.

3. The Drapers: they regulated wool (and other) cloth in the City. The wool trade was enormously important to England's finances.

4. The Fishmongers: got their first royal charter from Edward I in 1272. Thanks to the Thames, fish was a popular staple.

5. The Goldsmiths: regulated the quality of gold and silver, crucial for coinage and trade. Gold and silver goods needed to be brought to their hall (currently on Foster Lane) for assay and approval, and marked legitimate; hence the term "hallmark." They were also responsible for checking quality of the output of the Royal Mint.

6 & 7. The Merchant Taylors & the Skinners:

8. The Haberdashers: besides hats, they sold caps, gloves, pins, and ribbons. They did not get a royal charter until 1448.

9. The Salters: salt could make a man rich. Not only used in cooking, it was part of the process for cleaning, bleaching, and degreasing leather. Salt was used for dying fabric. This group was expert in salting meat and fish.

10. The Ironmongers: they regulated the quality of iron which was necessary for use in wheels and other items.

11. The Vintners: they controlled the import of wine, which accounted for one-third of all imports in the 14th century! Today they still retain the right to sell wine besides (as with most other livery companies) doing charitable work.

12. The Clothworkers: in 1528, the Fullers (who prepared cloth by removing impurities like grease nd dirt) and the Shearmen (finishers who made sure the surface of the cloth was smooth) merged to become the Clothworker's Company.

But what was the deal with positions 6 and 7? Was it a tie for most important? Not quite: they agreed to take turns about who had precedence over the other. For those details, you'll have to come back for the next post.

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