The Structure of Credit Networks

  • Craig Muldrew
Part of the Early Modern History: Society and Culture book series


Almost all buying and selling involved credit of one form or another — whether it was a husbandman selling corn in the marketplace, a cordwainer selling a pair of shoes, a labourer bargaining for a piece of work or a wholesaler importing coal from Newcastle — and it was credit, above all, which dominated the way in which the market was structured and interpreted. Debt and credit are probably almost universal in most societies, and have been certainly been common to Europe throughout its history.4 Credit was common in medieval England, and its significance then, and in the early modern period as well, has certainly been noted by historians.5 Although conceptions of credit before the eighteenth century have tended to concentrate on moneylending,6 the vast majority of credit was, in fact, extended as a normative part of the tens of thousands of daily market sales and services discussed in the last chapter.7 Every household in the country, from those of paupers to the royal household, was to some degree enmeshed within the increasingly complicated webs of credit and obligation with which transactions were communicated.8 Merchants traded on credit; tradesmen sold or worked on credit; and many of these people were in debt to the poor for wages and for small sales, or work done.9 In 1625 Henry Wilkinson claimed that without the ‘casuall debts’ necessary in buying and selling, ‘the life of man doth not consist’, and Defoe stated that English tradesmen managed most trade ‘by the force of their credit’ and claimed that he knew a man who carried on business worth £40,000 a year with only £1000 of stock.10


Seventeenth Century Trade Credit Joint Stock Company Wealthy Household Secure Form 
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Copyright information

© Craig Muldrew 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Craig Muldrew
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of History and CivilizationEuropean University InstituteFlorenceItaly

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