The history of the Vintners' Company is a fascinating story of trade, charity, politics and companionship. Although the medieval, possibly even Saxon, origins of the London guilds remains somewhat unknown, there is absolutely no doubt that in medieval London the livery companies, including the Vintners, exercised immense power in economic, social, political and religious spheres.
The origins of the Vintners' Company, like most Livery Companies, are rather obscure. Before the Norman Conquest, neighbourhood groups would meet in their local church in the case of the Vintners, St. Martin in the Vintry. In medieval London, persons of similar trade lived in the same area and so these local groups soon took on an economic element - the word 'guild' comes from the Anglo-Saxongildanmeaning 'to pay'. There are twelfth century references to 'lawful merchants of London' fixing the price of wine - one of the earliest indications of an official group governing trade.
The Vintners' first charter (15th July, 1363) was in fact a grant of monopoly for trade with Gascony. It gave far-reaching powers, including duties of search throughout England and the right to buy herrings and cloths to sell to the Gascons.
The wine trade was of immense importance to the medieval economy - between 1446 and 1448, wine made up nearly one-third of England's entire import trade. Since their first charter in 1363, it was the Vintners who presided over this trade. The Vintners' Company was placed eleventh out of the Twelve Great Livery Companies in the order of precedence of 1515.
By the sixteenth century, the Company's importance was in decline. It had lost its religious duties and Edward VI (1553) severely curtailed the Vintners' countrywide right to sell wine. Under the early Stuarts, the Company attempted to regain its importance, but having been involved with Charles I, it suffered in prestige from political attacks and financially from penal taxation when Parliament came to power in the 1640s. The further curtailment of privileges by Charles II and James II badly damaged the Company's influence and the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed not only the Hall but also many of its other properties and great financial loss resulted. Although William III and Mary II restored the privileges removed by James II, the Company did not recover its former dominance. In 1725 the duty of search was finally abandoned and fewer members of the Trade were becoming members of the Company.
Up to 2006, Vintners retained the right to sell wine without a licence in certain areas, such as the City of London or along the route of the old Great North Road. This right has now been abolished, but limited privileges remain.
➜ Please add apprentices, freemen, wardens, and masters of the Vintners' Company to this project.
- The 12 Great Livery Companies
- William Herbert (1836). The History of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of London: Principally Compiled from Their Grants and Records : with an Historical Essay, and Accounts of Each Company : Including Notices and Illustrations of Metropolitan Trade and Commerce, as Originally Concentrated in Those Societies : with Attested Copies and Translations of the Companies' Charters, Volume 2. William Herbert.