“Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.”
Duke of Wellington
IN 1374 KATHERINE DUCHEWOMAN, who “wrought up the loom . . . false work” made “of linen thread but covered with wool . . . against the ordinances the trade”, had her cloth (“4 yards in length and 7 quarters in breadth”) burned before her eyes. John Penrose, having sold wine “‘unsound and unwholesome for man’ was forced to drink a draught of the same and have the remainder poured over his head”.1
The medieval guilds of Europe were extremely powerful. Anyone wishing to work as a craftsman had to invest all their assets in the guild; membership was for life and involved the whole family. Moreover, as the unfortunate Duchewoman and Penrose discovered, the penalties for infringement were harsh.
The factory system was anathema to the guilds. Yet their implacable opposition could not halt the advent of mass production. The new captains of industry did not waste time arguing with the guilds. They simply circumnavigated them. As the Industrial Revolution progressed, these once omnipotent organisations died or became charities – for example, the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers and the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers and other livery companies of the City of London. But if the guilds had worked with the Industrial Revolution instead of against it, they might have had some influence on events.
Europe’s medieval monasteries were organised in a highly efficient manner. ...