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The year was 1267, and blood flowed in the muddy streets of London.A dispute between two guilds the Goldsmiths and the Tailors had escalated until it turned into armed conflict.One obvious source, especially in time of war, was the wealth of the livery guilds.

A glance at the online social calendar for the Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners showed that its members were busily engaged in preparations for the annual Inter-Livery Clay Pigeon Shoot, the Inter-Livery Bridge Competition, the Installation of Masters, and the Lord Mayor’s Show, in addition to the regular practice sessions of the guild’s own Golfing Society.)The nature of life in medieval times was such that the social, the religious, the economic, and the political spheres were fully mixed. For example, the Fraternity of Pepperers, which begat the Company of Grocers in 1373, which in turn begat the Turkey Company in 1581 and the East India Company in 1600, maintained an altar in the Church of Saint Antonin and paid a priest to pray for the souls of past members.

Since London had no police force, guilds also played a role in maintaining public order.

In 1623, Parliament passed the Statute of Monopolies, intended to halt the practice, but Charles I exploited loopholes in the act and managed to raise £100,000 per year from selling monopolies.

In time, the practice ceased to be an effective source of revenue, since there were limits to how far even a king could go is selling off smaller and smaller slices of economic activity.

The issues that led to the fighting are not recorded, but history does tell us that over 500 men were involved, including members of the Cloth workers’ Guild and the Cordwainers’ Guild, and that many were injured or killed.

Such rumbles broke out from time to time among the scores of craft guilds that had arisen during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.In 1340 it was the Skinners fighting the Fishmongers in the Cheapside district of the city. Though bloody, those conflicts were both mere skirmishes compared to the all-out war of the 1390s in which a grand alliance consisting of the Drapers, the Mercers, the Tailors, the Goldsmiths, the Saddlers, the Haaberdashers, and the Cordwainers went to war against the Fishmongers and the Victuallers.The issues were a complex blend of the lofty and the mundane, including fish prices and the religious teachings of John Wyclif.Among the London guilds, a strict ranking developed.Twelve became known as the “great livery guilds,” with the Mercers occupying the top slot, followed in order of prestige by the Grocers, the Drapers, the Fishmongers, the Goldsmiths, the Skinners, the Merchant Tailors, the Haberdashers, the Salters, the Ironmongers, the Vintonners, and the Clothworkers.Meanwhile, as the livery guilds continued to joust with the monarchy over who would ultimately control the innumerable revenue streams produced by the English economy, growing international trade had begun to transform some of the guilds into the first actual business corporations.

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