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Writing masters and accountants in England: A study of occupation, status and ambition in the early modern period

John R. Edwards (Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)
Malcolm Anderson (Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 2 August 2011




The purpose of this paper is to address the lack of knowledge of the accounting occupational group in England prior to the formation of professional accounting bodies. It aims to do so by focusing on attempts made by writing masters and accountants to establish a recognisable persona in the public domain, in England, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and to enhance that identity by behaving in a manner designed to persuade the public of the professionalism associated with themselves and their work.


The study is based principally on the contents of early accounting treatises and secondary sources drawn from beyond the accounting literature. Notions of identity, credentialism and jurisdiction are employed to help understand and evaluate the occupational history of the writing master and accountant occupational group.


Writing masters and accountants emerged as specialist pedagogues providing the expert business knowledge required in the counting houses of entities that flourished as the result of rapid commercial expansion during the early modern period. Their demise as an occupational group may be attributed to a range of factors, amongst which an emphasis on personal identity, the neglect of group identity and derogation of the writing craft were most important.

Research limitations/implications

The paper highlights Early English Books Online (available at:, Eighteenth Century Collections Online (available at: and the seventeenth and eighteenth century Burney Collection Newspapers as first class electronic resources now available for studying accounting history from the sixteenth century through to the eighteenth century.


The paper advances knowledge of accounting history by: profiling commercial educators active in England in the early modern period; studying the devices they employed to achieve upward social and economic trajectory; explaining the failure of an embryonic professionalisation initiative; and demonstrating the contingent nature of the professionalisation process.



R. Edwards, J. and Anderson, M. (2011), "Writing masters and accountants in England: A study of occupation, status and ambition in the early modern period", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 24 No. 6, pp. 685-717.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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