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Migrants and Cities
From the 12th to the 15th century, merchant and craft guilds had been the economic and political leaders in European communities. While merchants were wealthier, craft workers were more numerous. The two groups competed for influence.
However, with the growth of commercial capitalism, the power of guilds declined. Merchants became entrepreneurs, and guilds had a difficult time keeping control of the production of goods as changes in manufacturing and trade occurred. Non-guild migrants in the cities challenged the merchant elites and the craft guilds for power. Merchants resented the influx of both the landed nobility and lower-wealth classes into the cities.
As more people migrated into cities, population density increased dramatically. This led to crowded and difficult living conditions for members of the lower classes. Cities generally lacked the resources to deal with this rapid growth and the problems that came with it, such as insufficient housing. Also, people who moved to cities often struggled with unemployment. Lots of new city dwellers meant more competition for jobs.
London In the early 17th century, city leaders in London tried to limit the city’s population by outlawing the subdivision of older buildings into smaller and smaller dwellings. Their efforts were unsuccessful. Many people had to live in crowded and unsanitary conditions, which brought outbreaks of deadly diseases, such as plague and tuberculosis, as well as generally poor health. More than one-third of London’s children died before the age of six.
In 1666, the Great Fire of London burned for four days. It ravaged much of the city because of the overcrowded conditions and shoddy construction. In addition, the lack of clean water and food combined with high food prices and unchanging wages made it difficult for people to thrive in the city.
Source: Getty Images
This engraving shows the fire that devastated London in 1666.

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