Among the institutions of the Middle Ages, few were
of greater importance, and are more deserving of careful study than the
Gilda Mercatoria or Merchant Guild. Though by no means exciting, its
history is intensely interesting, and throws a flood of light upon the
social as well as upon the industrial and commercial life of mediaeval
Europe. In our own country it has not attracted that amount of attention
which it rightly deserves. Though the list of authorities which Mr.
Gross has printed at the end of his first volume is somewhat formidable,
the number of works it includes which have been written by English
authors on the history of Guilds in general, is remarkably small.
On the Continent the institution has been more
fortunate. In France and Germany and elsewhere
there is a fairly large literature in connection with it. Among others
may be mentioned the contributions of Wilda, Gierke, Karl Hegel, Georg
von Bulow, and Vander Linden. Across the Atlantic, also, the subject
would appear to be attracting a considerable amount of attention. Mr.
Gross himself, though his work issues from the Clarendon Press, and in
its original form appeared at Gottingen, is the Instructor in History at
the Harvard University. Mr. Ashley, however, who
has written two most admirable chapters on the Merchant and Craft Guilds
in his History of Economic* though a professor in the same University,
belongs to Oxford.
^Ir. Gross's principal theme is the English Merchant
Guild. With his treatment of that we do not
propose here to deal, but, in passing, one or two remarks may be
ventured upon it. For the first time, Mr. Gross has made
easily accessible to students a large mass of materials in
connection with the ancient Guihls, chiefly in the shape of charters and
ordinances, which were previously widely scattered or published only in
fragments, and which for the study of the subject are indispensable.
The theories of Professor Bretano respecting
the origin and early development of Guilds, f lip has effectually
dissipated, and rendered doubtful some of the speculations which have
been founded upon them by Mr. Herbert Spencer. In
opposition to Messrs. I\Ierewether and Stephens, Mr. Gross has shown
that the Merchant Guild was not a mere mercantile association, devoid of
public functions, but was at one time an organic and constituent part of
municipal government. On the other hand, in
contradiction to Mr. Thompson, he has shown that while a constituent
element in the civic government, the Merchant Guild did not cover the
same area, but as included in it as a part of the whole. It
may further be remarked that Mr. Gross's volumes
have been extremely well received, and have come
to be looked upon as the standard work on the subject.
Our purpose here has reference to the Guilds of
Scotland. These are treated of by Mr. Gross in an Appendix, I which
fairly bristles with notes and references, and has every appearance of
accuracy; and, as it is likely to be regarded as a standard authority on
the subject, if, indeed, it is not already so regarded, what
we propose in the following pages is to examine
it, and afterwards to give the reader some idea of the Scottish Guilds
as they seem to us to be presented in the authorities we
shall have to refer to.