If you have read all of the His Majesty’s Hounds books, you will likely remember that Raphael, as a merchant, was referred to by the ton as a ‘Cit’ – a term which was, in a way, derogatory. So today I thought that I would give you some of the history behind how that appellation for merchants came about.
It all has to do with where merchants lived, and did business, compared to
where the upper classes lived, in the metropolis of London. London was
founded, as a city by (almost) that name, by the Romans – they called it
Londinium. The Romans built strong city walls around the town, in the second century AD – those walls enclosed an area of about 1.2 square miles.
Inside the walls, lived the important people of the time – the wealthy and the wealthy merchants. After Roman rule, the city came to be ruled by a council of merchant and craft guilds – by the City of London Corporation, whose privileges and rights where enshrined in the Magna Carta.
Over time, suburbs grew up outside the City walls, as the city expanded. Soon, the crowded original city was too small, noisy and dirty for the aristocracy to want to live there. So suburbs designed for the wealthy grew in areas nearby, but with more space, more greenery, and less exposure to the ‘dirty business of trade’.
The wealthy merchants, however, continued to live in the largest and best houses in the original City, as that meant they were close to their business premises, closer to the docks, and better placed to continue to make money.
To distinguish themselves from the merchants (who were, in many cases, wealthier than the aristocracy), and to assert their superiority, the ton came to actively look down on the merchants – investing in a business was suitable, doing actual work in a business was seen as extremely lower class and completely unsuitable for a gentleman. This view also came from the fact that most aristocrats got their money from the produce of their estates – their tenant farmers did the work, an estate manager ran things for them, and the gentleman never had to do any of it.
So to make that distinction clear, the ton came up with the term ‘a Cit’ to refer to someone who worked and lived within the official bounds of the original City of London.
So – next time you see the term in a book, consider ll of the prejudice and upper class superiority of attitude that went into its creation, over a period of centuries!