Mercantile Voices of the Early Fifteenth Century

  • Roger A. Ladd
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Though estates satire has been my main focus thus far, no analysis of antimercantilism would be complete without a corresponding look at the conflicting mercantile responses to that satire. Chaucer and Gower imaginatively model hypothetical merchant responses to satire by creating discursive spaces for those mercantile readers who would have had access to their scribes and manuscripts, but without more evidence of mercantile manuscript ownership, those poets cannot provide adequate evidence for a historical mercantile subject—position. Exploring such a subjectivity requires a move to a different sort of text; there are no merchant poets, but there is certainly one mystic, and a body of anonymous poetry with a more overtly mercantile perspective. Approaching a historical mercantile subjectivity as a counterpoint to the satiric poets’ treatment of trade, this chapter traces a crooked path from the anxiety and fractured subjectivity of The Book of Margery Kempe, to the overt political activism of The Libelle of Englyshe Polycye, to the charity of “The Childe of Bristowe” and its analogue, to the redemptive power of merchandise in the pseudo—Chaucerian Tale of Beryn. These texts have on the surface little in common, but they all demonstrate mercantile responses to the problem of living righteously in a sinful physical world. Merchandise’s materialist associations are familiar from poems like Piers Plowman, but these texts break with that tradition in different ways.


Fifteenth Century Guild Structure Intercessory Prayer Merchant Fleet English Merchant 
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© Roger A. Ladd 2010

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  • Roger A. Ladd

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