‘The poor pedlar makes more noise crying his goods than does a rich mercer all his valuable wares’: The Mercery Trade in the Thirteenth Century
Much of the thirteenth century can claim to be the golden age of small merceries and of the itinerant mercer, both celebrated in song. They flourished in the busy environment of the great fairs of Europe and in the highly urbanized areas of the Merceries of cities like London and Paris. Trade, population and the supply of coin were expanding, and with the death of King John the financial demands of the crown eased. Aspirations and living standards rose, and there was peace in northern Europe for about eighty years. The reigns of Louis IX (1226-70) and Henry III (1216-76) ran together for several decades, and, although their personalities and capabilities differed, they both were naturally inclined to peace, a tendency fostered by religion and close family ties. As far as mercery was concerned, luxury goods were in demand and court culture made Paris a centre for the arts. The records of France, especially of Paris, supplement those of London to give a vivid picture of the life and activities of mercers in this period. There survives the first list of an average mercer’s goods: it may be poetic, but its variety should not be dismissed as hyperbole, for the regulations of the crafts of Paris show that the invention and industry of the mercery artisan and retailer was infinite.