Glasgow had no merchant guild, although some form of organisation existed by the 1560s when one James Fleming was referred to as their president. The lack of a guild probably indicates that merchants (wholesalers) were few in number. The Clyde was shallow and water-borne trade was difficult so most trade was with the hinterland. Although Alexander II, in the early 13th century, had granted Glasgow merchants trading rights throughout Scotland, attempts to trade with the Argyll and Lennox areas brought conflict with Dumbarton merchants. In 1469 Dumbarton intercepted a French ship bringing wine for Glasgow merchants. Three years later the two burghs agreed to have equal access to the Clyde. But there was often also bitter rivalry with the merchants of Renfrew, Rutherglen and Paisley. However, by the middle of the 16th century bread, ale and spirits from Glasgow were finding their way as far afield as the Western Isles.
The right to hold a fair for eight days in the year had been granted by the Charter of the late 1170s and it probably attracted a few foreign merchants. The bishops, of course, had good European links and from time to time borrowed money from Florentine bankers. Indeed, a member of the Bardi family from Florence became Dean of Glasgow at the end of the 13th century. Strictly, only royal burghs could trade abroad, but Glasgow was one of the burghs to which James III, in the late 14th century, invited foreign merchants and his son, James IV, allowed what was now the archbishopric of Glasgow to export wool, hides and fish without payment of excise duty.
The main ports for foreign goods were Linlithgow and Irvine and, in the late 14th century, William Medicus was recorded sending wool for export to Linlithgow. It was through Linlithgow that wine was brought to the town. There were trading links with Arnemuiden and Middleburg in the Netherlands in the 1540s: Matthew Cook and "Jeens Willz" were dealing in such commodities as wax, honey and alum.
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