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the mode of electing the Town Councils which still prevailed at the accession of Mary, and it was with ever-growing dissatisfaction that the craftsmen regarded it. All through Mary's reign they never ceased to clamour for what they deemed their right to have representatives in the Councils, and they had formidable means at their disposal to enforce it. As we have seen, they had numbers and organisation on their side, and when some special occasion arose, it was always in their power to raise a tumult and stop the business of the town. When one of their number was tried by the town officials for some breach of the law, they followed the example of the great barons, and assembled in such numbers as to terrorise the judges. It was out of sheer compulsion that in 1560 the Town Council of Edinburgh took the tentative step of admitting two craftsmen into it as members of its body." The victory of the crafts, however, was far from being
The Council contrived to raise so many objections against the representatives whom the crafts put forward that all through the reign of Mary the controversy proceeded with increasing rancour on both sides. The details of the struggle belongs to the history of the crafts and the merchant guilds, but for our purpose it is sufficient to note that, as far as Edinburgh is concerned, the long contest was finally closed by the definitive Decreit Arbitral delivered by James VI. in 1583. By that Decreit it was ordained that twelve merchants and
ten craftsmen should henceforth compose the Council, though only merchants were to be eligible to the offices of provost, bailie, dean of guild and treasurer. If a craftsman aspired to any of these offices, he must give up his craft while he held it, and even after he retired from office it was only by a special licence that he was permitted to resume his former occupation." As by the same date, the crafts had gained their point in most of the other leading burghs, we realise with what persistency and uniformity of purpose they had at all times and everywhere been animated in the protracted struggle.16
What was the national significance of this struggle which for fully a century preoccupied the Scottish burghs, and which they regarded as an issue of life and death for their communities? Why were the crafts so eager to obtain representatives in the Councils, and why were the merchants equally eager to frustrate their demand? The answer to these questions goes to the root at once of the social relations and the economic conditions of the time.
From the very beginning of the town life the merchants had constituted a class apart. Their wealth, their privileges, their style of living—all marked them off from the rest of the community and converted them into a caste with traditions and prejudices which were only strengthened by the growing importance of the class of artisans. This exclusive feeling, moreover, was fostered by the general spirit of the age. According to the teaching of the mediæval Church it was by the decree of heaven that men were born in a certain order of society, and it was unnatural in any mortal to seek to emerge from it. It was on this conception of social relations that both feudalism and the ecclesiastical hierarchy were
hierarchy were based. The subordination and interdependence of their component parts were deemed necessary to the integrity of the whole structure of society, and were consequently to be regarded as belonging to the nature of things. It was in the genuine spirit of the time, therefore, that the merchants drew a line of demarcation between themselves and the rest of the community. But, though the differentiation of classes might be the theory of Church and State alike, in actual fact no living and progressive society could be bound by such conditions. In the Church itself, in all ages, men rose from the humblest position to its highest offices; and when the spirit of feudalism was most dominant, the essential equality of men was an idea familiar to the whole of Christendom. But it was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that this idea became a general and potent motive, impelling and determining the action of masses of men. In the case of Scotland it is not till the fifteenth century that we can clearly trace the democratic spirit in definite opposition to the existing order. When in that century the Scottish crafts concentrated their action in the endeavour to obtain a share in the government of the towns, it was from a sense that they were demanding a right which was sanctioned by reason and religion alike.
Under one aspect, therefore, the struggle between the craftsmen and the merchants may be regarded as the conflict between the democratic spirit on the one hand, and the spirit of exclusive privilege on the other. That the struggle was seen in this light by both of the opposing parties is curiously illustrated in a particular instance. In 1579 a controversy arose between Perth and Dundee regarding their respective precedence among the burghs, and among the reasons which
, Dundee alleged in its favour was the fact that Perth had lost its standing as a burgh by admitting craftsmen into its Town Council."7
But no class of men any more than the individual has ever acted from a single motive, and in the case of the conflict between the crafts and the merchants both were certainly animated by more motives than
Above all there was a selfish class feeling animating both which touched the well-being of the entire community of the town. There was a direct and powerful reason why the crafts should desire to strengthen their societies by all the means in their power. What they desired above all in the interest of their class was absolute control to determine the quality of the materials they used in their handiwork and to fix the prices at which the finished
materials should be sold. Their anxiety to have deacons and to receive legal incorporation was, in truth, primarily to compass this very end. But it was a fundamental principle of mediæval economics, as it was still a fundamental principle in the time of Mary, that the producer could not be safely left to set a value on his own wares. Competition and the law of supply and demand were not realised as forces that might regulate trade and protect the consumer from the rapacity of the producer. From the earliest times, therefore, the municipal authorities had claimed the prerogative of fixing prices in the interest of the whole community. When the clamour of the crafts compelled a modification of this arrangement, the result was not such as to encourage further concession. An Act of 1551, for example, begins with this expressive lament: “Forasmuch as my Lord Governor (the Regent Arran) and Three Estates of Parliament, regarding the exorbitant prices that every craftsman within burgh raises upon our Sovereign Lady's lieges in all such things as pertain to their craft, so that the prices are doubled and trebled by many of them to the great hurt of the said lieges, etc.” To remedy the evil thus described the Estates had recourse to the only means of checking it which was consistent with the economic theories of the time: the provosts and bailies of the different burghs were commanded to summon the craftsmen and their deacons before them and impose “reasonable