It is a commonplace of historic science (of which Sir Henry Maine in his Ancient Law, and Mr. Bryce in his Holy Roman Empire, have supplied impressive illustrations) that an idea which has once succeeded in materializing itself as a social or political institution does not wholly pass away when its first manifestation reaches a natural term, but hovers about the sphere of its former activity till, in the recurring cycle of human events, the conditions return which favour a new embodiment. There are many such instances of ‘metempsychosis’ to be met with in economic history, and by no means the least striking is that of the local trading monopoly which in its earliest form was known in England as the gild merchant. Just as the tradition of political unity, which was the legacy of Roman rule, survived for centuries after the Empire had broken up into separate nations, and continued to play an important part in European history whenever events favoured its revival, so, in some towns the gild merchant maintained a shadowy existence behind the craft organizations which had very largely taken its place, and found during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries something like a new lease of life in a modified shape.

Revival of the local trading monopoly