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9-08-2015, 15:49

Urban life

The wealth and commercial success of merchants were both a cause and consequence of their domination of urban politics. Though some merchants, like Cosimo de Medici and Jacob Fugger, chose to infl uence city government through informal means, in most cities merchant families enhanced their power by joining together in merchant guilds and assuming membership of the council or councils that governed the city. Council members generally served for life, and they often rotated in and out of the offi ce of mayor. In some cities certain seats on the council were reserved for the elected representatives of specifi c groups, especially craft guilds, but more often the existing council members chose the replacements for members who had died. Many city councils in the sixteenth century tried to limit membership to an exclusive group of families, though men from newly rich families were generally still able to turn their fi nancial success into membership of the city’s political and social elite. Not surprisingly, city economic policies generally worked to the benefi t of merchant guilds and their members, who gained disproportionally from economic growth. Some cities in Germany and Italy remained independent city-states throughout the early modern period, but elsewhere in Europe centralizing monarchs asserted their power over cities. Urban leaders often recognized that cooperating with monarchs could give them advantages, allowing them to shape national as well as local fi nan cial and trade policies, and infl uence other government decisions. Men from wealthy merchant families – especially second and third sons, who often trained as lawyers – became royal offi cials, and gradually, in many parts of Europe, the urban elite and royal service merged into a single oligarchy of wealthy, educated men whose families intermarried. As we saw in chapter 3 , service to a monarch might eventually bring a noble title, formalized in France as a position in the noblesse de robe . Originally members of the noblesse de robe could not transmit their titles to their heirs, but by the seventeenth century these ranks also became hereditary. They were, in fact, often simply purchased outright for the tax advantage conferred by noble status. Even those cities located within centralizing monarchies, such as London and Paris, had a level of autonomy that rural areas did not. All cities could build walls to regulate the fl ow of people and goods, charge taxes, hold markets, and form a citizens’ militia. Legally and juridically, a city was a corporate community, embodied in the adult male heads of household who were its citizens; women, and men who were not citizens, had to pay taxes and supply troops for the citizen militia, but they had no political voice. Almost all European cities were enclosed by walls with gates and watch-towers; as immigration from the countryside swelled the urban population, spaces between houses were fi lled with new buildings and additional stories were built on existing houses. Once this was no longer possible, houses were built right outside the walls, and eventually these suburbs might be enclosed within a second or third ring of walls. With the development of effective siege cannons, city fortifi cations were often enhanced by thicker walls, massive bastions, and permanent defensive guns. Citizens paid special taxes to build and maintain these walls, and their construction provided work for the city’s poor and recent immigrants. The physical structure of most cities can serve as a metaphor for urban social, economic, and political structures. In contrast to today, the center of most cities was the most desirable neighborhood, with the large houses of merchants, lawyers, and other wealthy individuals close to the cathedral, church, or main market place that marked the hub of the city. Here the city built government buildings, including elaborate city halls, courts, and public granaries. Slightly out from the center were the homes of craft guild masters and professionals; goods were produced or services performed on the fi rst fl oor or at the front of the house, while the family, along with servants, apprentices, and sometimes journeymen, lived at the back or in the upper stories. The craft guilds described in chapter 1 continued to organize the production and distribution of most products well into the eighteenth century or even longer. In theory, all guild masters were equal, following the same rules about the size of their shops, hours of operation, and access to raw materials. In practice, richer masters often hired servants to undertake the less-skilled parts of production, or pushed for fewer restrictions on the number of journeymen allowed in each shop. Sometimes they even hired poorer masters and their workshops outright, effectively reducing those masters to wage laborers and transforming themselves into capitalist entrepreneurs. These moves were occasionally accompanied by formal changes in guild regulations, but more often by a lack of enforcement of existing rules, as guild offi cials charged with their enforcement were often the same wealthy masters who benefi ted when they were fl outed. Confl icts between masters were often accompanied by confl icts between masters and journeymen. During times of economic expansion, apprentices and journeymen looked forward to the day when they too could become masters, marry, and establish their own shop and household. During times of decline or uncertainty, guilds often restricted the number of new shops and limited membership to sons of masters or those who married a master’s widow or daughter. Many journeymen continued to work for a master all their lives, becoming essentially wage laborers. They began to think of themselves as a group distinct from masters rather than as masters-in-training, and formed special journeymen’s guilds, termed compagnonnages in French and Gesellenverbände in German. They held initiation rituals, when they were often given a new name and taught a secret oath, met regularly in taverns or private drinking rooms, and held memorial services for those who had died. Journeymen had little opportunity to accumulate property or money, so they became particularly concerned with what has been called the “symbolic capital” of honor and skill, and acted harshly against those they saw as dishonoring the guild. Their idea of “honor” was very different from that developed by craft masters and merchants. For journeymen, frequent travel, physical bravery demonstrated in fi ghts and contests, spending all one’s money on drinks for friends, and camaraderie all gave one status, while for masters and merchants honor involved stability, honesty, reliability, and authority over one’s family and servants. Both masters and journeymen were groups of men, and the differing notions of honor became the core of two very different ideals of masculinity , ideals that later shaped working-class and middle-class notions of what made a true man. Political authorities and guild masters feared journeymen’s guilds would provoke social and political unrest, and often banned them. The Diet of the Holy Roman Empire banned separate journeymen’s associations in 1530, 1548, 1551, 1566, 1570, and 1577, but the frequency with which this ruling was repeated is a good indication of its ineffectiveness. Journeymen enforced their demands by boycotting a master or sometimes an entire town, spreading the word as they traveled. In many parts of Europe, journeymen won the right to live on their own rather than with the master’s family, and to determine who would be allowed to work in guild shops. They refused to work next to those they regarded as dishonorable, which often included married journeymen and women. State authorities trying to promote the free movement of labor in the eighteenth century ordered journeymen to accept their married colleagues, but opposition remained strong. In the minds of most journeymen, getting married meant one had clearly broken with an ideal of masculinity that prized connections among men and the ability to move around easily; a man who married was thus not a real man. Journeymen’s associations survived well into the nineteenth century, when they continued to carry out strikes and supported many of the 1848 uprisings.

SOURCE 16 Petition protesting guild actions

Because guild regulations sometimes limited the production allowed to each shop in order to make sure all masters’ workshops had a market for their products, wealthier masters or merchant-entrepreneurs sometimes hired individuals or families in nearby villages to produce goods outside of guild rules. Guilds attempted to stop this, sometimes by force. In this petition from late sixteenth-century Frankfurt, a widow reports that guild members have blocked her attempt to fi nd a weaver for her relatively small amount of yarn. In petitioning the city council, she is appealing to those who were politically and socially superior to the weavers’ guild. She skillfully uses rhetoric that will appeal both to the council members’ sense that they should be the ones to determine economic policy in the city, and to their sense of pity. Distinguished and honorable sirs, I, a poor and distressed widow, wish to respectfully report in what manner earlier this year I spun some pounds of yarn, 57 to be exact, for the use of my own household. I wanted to take the yarn to be woven into cloth, but didn’t know whom I should give it to so that I could get it worked into cloth the quickest and earliest. Therefore I was talking to some farm women from Bornheim, who were selling their produce in front of the shoemakers’ guild house, and they told me about a weaver that they had in Bornheim who made good cloth and could also make it quickly. I let him know – through the farmers’ wives – that I wanted him to make my cloth. I got the yarn together and sent my children to carry it to him; as they were on their way, the weavers here grabbed the yarn forcefully from my children, and took it to their guild house. They said they had ordinances that forbade taking yarn to foreigners to weave, and told me they would not return it unless I paid a fi ne. I then went to the lord mayors, asking them about this ordinance that would let people confi scate things without warning from the public streets. They said they didn’t know about any such ordinance, and that my yarn should have long been returned to me. I then went to the overseer of the guild, master Adlaff Zimmermann who lives by the Eschenheimer tower, who answered me with rough, harsh words that they would in no way return my yarn to me, and that the guild did have such an ordinance. Therefore I respectfully request, if they do have such an ordinance, I didn’t know anything about it, and so ask you humbly and in God’s name to tell the weavers to return my yarn. If, according to this ordinance, I am supposed to pay a fi ne, they should take it from the yarn, and give the rest back. I ask this of your honorable sirs, as the protectors of widows and orphans, and pray that you will help me. Your humble servant, Agatha, the widow of the late Conrad Gaingen. (Unpublished petition in Frankfurt Stadtarchiv, Zünfte, Ugb. C-5o, Ss, no. 4. Translated by Merry Wiesner- Hanks) The households of merchants and masters depended on the work of servants, who made up between 15 and 30 percent of the population of most cities. Larger commercial and manufacturing centers had a higher percentage of servants than the smaller cities, whose economies were more dependent on agriculture. Perhaps one out of every twelve people in early modern France was a servant, two-thirds of them female. Children might begin service as young as seven or eight, traveling from their home village to a nearby town. They often depended on friends and relatives to fi nd positions for them, gathered at certain spots in the city where employers knew to look for servants, or in some cities of Germany and France used the services of an employment agent. Some urban servants were in fact slaves, purchased from eastern Europe in Italian households or from northern and western Africa in Spanish and Portuguese ones. Most households with servants could afford only one, a woman whose tasks were highly varied; she assisted in all aspects of running the household, and generally ate and slept with the family, for there was rarely enough space for her to have separate quarters. Even in wealthier households with many rooms, servants were rarely separated from their employers the way they would be in the nineteenth century, but lived on quite intimate terms with them. No matter what their age, servants were legally considered dependants of their employers, and could be punished or dismissed by them with little recourse. Male heads of household in particular were expected to oversee the conduct of their servants at all times. The city council of Frankfurt, for example, required employers whose maids became pregnant to pay the costs of the delivery and care for the maid and her infant for three months no matter who the father was. They reasoned that the pregnancy would not have happened had the master been keeping a proper eye on his servants. Though servants usually came from poor families, they identifi ed in many ways with their employers, and tended to wear fancier clothing than poor people who worked for wages. This upset bourgeois notions of the proper social order, and many cities expanded their sumptuary laws to forbid servants to wear fi ne materials or jewels, even if they had been given these by their employer. Ordinances regulating the conduct of servants became stricter during the sixteenth century. Some laws even charged servants with causing the general infl ation, as they were now demanding wages instead of being satisfi ed with room and board.

 

 

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