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One obvious source, especially in time of war, was the wealth of the livery guilds.
For example, during the war between England and Spain, it was the Grocers’ Company, among others, that financed the ships that defeated the Spanish Armada.
In 1623, Parliament passed the Statute of Monopolies, intended to halt the practice, but Charles I exploited loopholes in the act and managed to raise £100,000 per year from selling monopolies.
In time, the practice ceased to be an effective source of revenue, since there were limits to how far even a king could go is selling off smaller and smaller slices of economic activity.
The Skinners, Fishmongers, and Haaberdashers of the late Middle Ages did not yet display the particular features that would allow us to call them corporations.Scores of other guilds were known as the “lesser livery guilds.” Membership in one of the great livery guilds required a membership fee of £1000; to belong to one of the lesser livery guilds, the fee was £500. At one feast in 1516, the Drapers entertained the Mayor and the Sheriffs with “brawn and mustard, capon boiled, swan roasted, pike, venison baked and roast; jellies, pastry, quails, sturgeon, salmon, wafers and hippocras... swan’s puddings, a neck of mutton in pike broth, two shoulders of mutton roast, four conies, eight chickens, six pigeons, and cold meat plenty.” Indeed, centuries after guilds such as the Skinners, Salters, and Long-bow Stringmakers had outlived their economic functionality, many of them lived on as vehicles for networking and socializing.(Lately, the guilds have been rediscovered by London’s young professionals, who have been forming new ones at a record pace, with names such as the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists and the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants, and the Worshipful Company of World Traders.Given the advantages inherent in controlling such a function, it is no wonder that gifts or sales of monopolies to non-guild members provoked bitter guild opposition.In 1580, when Queen Elizabeth attempted to grant a monopoly on the gauging of beer to one of her court favourites, the Brewers’ Guild mounted a fierce campaign to dissuade her.
They were not unified businesses, but rather umbrella groups for the members of particular crafts.