The idea of a joint stock company was one of Tudor England’s most brilliant and revolutionary innovations

Thursday, March 2nd, 2023

The idea of a joint stock company was one of Tudor England’s most brilliant and revolutionary innovations, William Dalrymple’s suggests, in The Anarchy:

The spark of the idea sprang from the flint of the medieval craft guilds, where merchants and manufacturers could pool their resources to undertake ventures none could afford to make individually. But the crucial difference in a joint stock company was that the latter could bring in passive investors who had the cash to subscribe to a project but were not themselves involved in the running of it. Such shares could be bought and sold by anyone, and their price could rise or fall depending on demand and the success of the venture.

Such a company would be ‘one body corporate and politick’ — that is, it would be a corporation, and so could have a legal identity and a form of corporate immortality that allowed it to transcend the deaths of individual shareholders, ‘in like manner’, wrote the legal scholar William Blackstone, ‘as the River Thames is still the same river, though the parts which compose it are changing every instance’.

Forty years earlier, in 1553, a previous generation of London merchants had begun the process of founding the world’s first chartered joint stock company: the Muscovy Company, or to give it its full and glorious title, The Mysterie and Companie of the Merchant Adventurers for the Discoverie of Regions, Dominions, Islands and Places Unknown.


  1. Yoder says:

    They destroyed the world.

  2. Jim says:

    Indeed they did. Henry the Eighth had the right of it, yet even his Statute of Uses went not nearly far enough: for not only must beneficial use and enjoyment not separate from bare legal title, but so seemingly trivial a rite as non-human personhood legalistically summoned by judicial construction is evidently a profane dance with the God of the Underworld.

    Five hundred years later, our world has fallen fully into the bloodless, immortal hand of the undead. Against such a cosmically cunning adversary man’s only hope is the coursing heat of life. Let he who would be king forever rend the corporate veil in twain from top to bottom.

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