The Trading Community of Exeter 1470-1570 with special reference to Merchants and Tailors
Date: 7 June 2021
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
PhD in History
ABSTRACT This thesis examines the history of Exeter between the late fifteenth and late sixteenth centuries, filling a gap between existing studies by Kowaleski and MacCaffrey. It provides a contrasting examination of the merchants and the tailors, the two most prominent occupations in the city. The research takes a multi-sourced ...
ABSTRACT This thesis examines the history of Exeter between the late fifteenth and late sixteenth centuries, filling a gap between existing studies by Kowaleski and MacCaffrey. It provides a contrasting examination of the merchants and the tailors, the two most prominent occupations in the city. The research takes a multi-sourced approach drawing on local and national collections, many of which have been little studied before. Following a critical account of the historical sources, a wider political, social and economic context is established. There is an examination of all Exeter’s trades and crafts, of the minor guilds and the role of artisans in trade. The main body of the thesis then concentrates on the tailors and merchants, examining their guilds, working practices and trading activities. Detailed examination is made of the trade through the port of Exeter, and the role of Exeter merchants in the coastal trade and in other ports. The diversification of merchant wealth is considered. A detailed investigation of the Exeter Merchants’ Company between 1558 and 1570 is finally provided. This thesis concludes that Exeter was a more open community in the late fifteenth century than at the end of the period studied. Earlier, a range of occupations held political and economic power but by the 1520s, and more so by the 1560s, a merchant elite had taken control. This elite established a dominance over the overseas trade excluding both the city’s artisans and merchants from other towns. Nonetheless it is clear that traders from towns within the trading community such as Topsham, Tiverton, and Taunton were important in creating Exeter’s economic success before the mid sixteenth- century. The elite extended their control over Exeter’s guilds but power was contested by the tailors in particular. The tailors were a dynamic group from the late fifteenth century until the 1520s but had declined in importance before making their final challenge to the merchants in 1558/59. By the late 1550s the merchants were able to establish their own Merchants’ Company. By then the artisans were largely excluded from the government and overseas trade, though change was slow and this was not fully achieved before 1570. The thesis also stresses that Exeter’s economic stability rested on the vital efforts of a wide and successful middling artisan group. Overall the contrasting fortunes of the merchants and the tailors show how social and economic divisions widened in the city across the period in focus.
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