Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London: L, Edward IV-Henry VII. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1912.
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Soon after the accession of Edward IV. William Dunthorn was appointed Common Clerk (i.e., Town Clerk) of the City in the place of Roger Spicer alias Tonge, who had been discharged on account of his Lancastrian proclivities. (fn. 1) The new Town Clerk and his more famous predecessor in office, John Carpenter, had some characteristics in common. One of Carpenter's foibles was occasionally to sign official documents with his surname only. This grew into a common practice with Dunthorn and later Town Clerks, and has been continued down to the present day. Both Carpenter and Dunthorn took an intelligent interest in the City's Records, the former being responsible for the compilation of the City's customs and franchises in the well-known 'Liber Albus,' whilst the latter made a compilation, chiefly from the City's Letter-Books, known as 'Liber Dunthorn'. (fn. 2)
It is remarkable that in Carpenter's time the City's Records were not in the Town Clerk's custody, but in that of the Chamberlain. It was not until 1462, when Dunthorn had been nearly a year in office as Town Clerk, that the Court of Aldermen decreed that all Rolls and Records in the custody of the Chamberlain should be transferred to the custody of the Town Clerk. (fn. 3) It is difficult not to believe that Dunthorn himself was responsible for this change, as also for another order of he Court, made a few months before, which placed the clerks of the Mayor's Court, of which the Town Clerk for the time be ng was ex officio Registrar, entirely at Dunthorn's disposal. (fn. 4)
There are entries in the Letter-Book before us recording historical facts which are marred by the introduction of irrelevant matter couched in florid and pedantic language. This is no doubt due to Dunthorn's affectation, a weakness from which Carpenter also had not always been free. (fn. 5) Thus the account of the banquet given by the Serjeants-at-law in 1464 in Ely House, when Matthew Philip, the Mayor, met with such discourtesy that he refused to take the seat allotted to him, and returned in high dudgeon to his own house, is prefaced with an account of the fabulous foundation of London by Brut and a laudatory comparison of the City of London with the town, of Venice and Genoa But apart from this, the record of the event is interesting as being an official and contemporary account. It appears, moreover, to be the only account which mentions an unsuccessful attempt made by the Serjeants to set matters right, by inviting the Mayor to attend a banquet on the following day, when they would see that due respect was paid him. (fn. 6)
At another time, when recording the imposition of a fine by the Court of Aldermen on a man for marrying a City orphan without having first obtained permission of the Court, Dunthorn cannot refrain from quoting Cicero on the importance of bestowing special care upon children; (fn. 7) whilst on another occasion he quotes Seneca, (fn. 8) for the sole purpose of displaying his classical attainments. Dunthorn died in office in February, 1489-90, and was succeeded by Nicholas Pakenham, but neither the death of the former nor the appointment of the latter is recorded in the Letter-Book.
Early in the volume we find recorded the petition of the Mayor and citizens—presented, as was the custom, by the mouth of the Recorder—to the Duke of Clarence, Steward of England, for permission to perform the customary services and to receive the customary fees at the Coronation of Edward IV. (28 June, 1461). We have also the names of the thirteen citizens chosen from the leading livery companies to assist the Mayor on that occasion. (fn. 9) The proceedings are here recorded in simple terms, but when the account becomes transferred from the Letter-Book to 'Liber Dunthorn,' the Town Clerk must needs add an utterly unnecessary preface, which detracts from the dignity of the narrative.
Four years later Ralph Josselyn, the Mayor, received a writ of Privy Seal, dated from Sheen, 13 April, 1465, bidding him attend at Westminster Palace on Sunday, the 26th May, on the occasion of the Queen's Coronation. (fn. 10) This is all that the LetterBook tells us of the matter, but if we turn to 'Liber Dunthorn' we find the following particulars recorded, viz., that on Friday after the Feast of the Ascension the Queen came from Kingston to the Tower with a retinue of nobles; that the King created the following knights (more correctly Knights of the Bath), viz., the Mayor, Hugh "Whiche," Thomas Cook, and John Plomer, Aldermen, as well as Henry Waver, citizen and draper (afterwards an Alderman); and that on the following Sunday (26 May) the Coronation took place, the Mayor and citizens performing the customary services, and the Mayor receiving the usual fee. (fn. 11) On the accession of Richard III. the citizens again put in their claim for service at the Coronation of the King and Queen, and their claim was again allowed. (fn. 12)
Beyond these Coronation claims, and the letter sent by the "bastard" Falconbridge to the Mayor and Aldermen in 1471 desiring permission to pass through the City with his Kentish followers, together with the reply to the same, there is scarcely an incident of national interest recorded in the Letter-Book. Even the temporary recovery of the throne by Henry VI. and the flight of Edward IV. are scarcely noticed or not at all; and the same may be said of the short reign of Edward V., (fn. 13) the demise of Richard III., and the accession to the throne of the House of Tudor.
Again, there is nothing recorded indicative of Lambert Simnel's insurrection of 1487 (unless it be a proclamation against propagators of false "tidings and tales"), (fn. 14) and nothing relating to the Perkin Warbeck conspiracy ten years later. For such matters we have to turn to the City's Journal or Repertory (fn. 15) of the day.
We should have expected to find the Letter-Book recording frequent instances of money granted to Edward IV. by the novel method of a so-called "Benevolence." As a matte of fact we find only one mentioned, and that was a grant of 5000 marks made by the City early in 1481, when England was threatened with a Scottish invasion. (fn. 16) The money, as we learn from another source, was repaid the following year. (fn. 17) Of a former Benevolence to which the Mayor and Aldermen made heavy contributions in 1475, to assist the King in his expedition against France, the Letter-Book says not a word.
On the other hand, we are forcibly reminded of two calamities which befell the nation within a few years of each other. One was a scarcity of cereals towards the close of 1482, which threatened a famine in the City had not merchants been encouraged to send their grain to London by a promise that it should not be intercepted by the King's purveyors; (fn. 19) and the other was a visitation of the epidemic known as the "sweating sickness," which in 1485 carried off two Mayors and six Aldermen within a week. Thomas Hille, who was Mayor at the time of the outbreak, fell a victim to the sickness, and died on the 23rd September, and was succeeded by William Stokker, appointed the following day. Within four days Stokker himself was dead, and on the 29th John Warde was elected Mayor for the remainder of the official year. There was no Mayoralty banquet, but we are told that the Mayor attended the banquet given by the newly appointed Sheriffs, who had been sworn into office the previous day, and were to be presented before the Barons of the Exchequer on the following day. (fn. 20) Warde appears to have had but little liking for the City at any time, and the civic authorities had some difficulty in getting him to reside in London, even before the epidemic. On the 28th June the Court of Aldermen had bidden him return and reside within the City with his family, under a penalty of £500. (fn. 21) It is therefore not surprising that when the Mayoralty year expired he was not put in nomination for re-election, and Hugh Brice was elected. (fn. 22) Warde probably went back into the country, glad to get away from the pestilential City.
Among events of purely municipal interest with which the Letter-Book is largely concerned may be mentioned a dispute which arose in 1462 between the City and the Hanse merchants upon a claim made by the latter to a mansion over Bishopsgate, and to a right of defending the main part of the gate, including the "Portcolys," in time of war. They refused, moreover, to keep in repair a certain portion of the gate (as in duty bound under the "composition" made with the City in 1282 (fn. 23)) unless their claim to the mansion were allowed. Thereupon the deed of "composition" was examined by the Mayor and Aldermen, and was found in no way to support the claims put forward by the merchants. As the gate stood in immediate need of repair, the merchants were summoned to give up the keys in order that the repairs might be carried out by the civic authorities. On their refusing to do this the Court of Aldermen instructed the Mayor to take forcible possession of the gate, and to expel the foreign merchants. This was done; and as the merchants resolutely refused to give up the keys, new keys had to be made, and William Calbeck, a Serjeant-at-Mace, who occupied a mansion over the gate, was commissioned by the Court to execute the necessary repairs at the City's expense. (fn. 24)
Although the Hanse merchants are believed to have been in occupation of the Steelyard, near Dowgate, as early as 1320, (fn. 25) they did not become actual proprietors of it until 1475, the year following the Treaty of Utrecht (20 July, 1474), (fn. 26) granted to them by Edward IV. as a reward for their assistance against Queen Margaret and the Earl of Warwick. At that time it was the property of the Corporation. (fn. 27) It was one of the stipulations of the treaty that not only the court (curia) in London called the Steelyard, but the Steelyard at Boston in Lincolnshire, should be confirmed to the Hansards. Towards this end the Mayor and Aldermen, on the 11th February of that year (1475), covenanted to make over the depôt to the King in "exchange" for a remission of a sum of £70 3s. 4d. out of the yearly fee ferm paid by the Sheriffs, as well as their leasehold in an adjoining tenement belonging to Elsing Spital for a similar remission of a sum of £13 16s. 8d. (fn. 28) This deed of covenant was followed a few days later by another conveying both properties to the merchants of Almaine, the one in perpetuity, the other for a term of thirty-two years, (fn. 29) and on the 12th May the Court of Aldermen agreed that the merchants should have a confirmation of their liberties under the City's Common Seal. (fn. 30)
The reader is reminded that by the terms of this "composition" the Hanse merchants were allowed to have an Alderman of their own choice as of old, provided he was a freeman of the City and was presented to the Mayor and Aldermen, to b by them sworn to administer justice. At that time a foreigner, Gerard Merbode by name, was Alderman of the Hanse, (fn. 31) and in 1320 John le Long, an Easterling, held the same office; (fn. 32) but before the end of the fourteenth century we find two City Aldermen elected in succession by the merchants to be heir Alderman, one of them being the well-known William Walworth. (fn. 33)
The importance of the office of Alderman of the Hanse is illustrated by a case recorded in the year 1344 in a series of Rolls of 'Pleas and Memoranda,' (fn. 34) preserved at the Guildhall. There we read that a London merchant had been robbed of goods to the value of £20, and had forthwith brought an action in the Sheriff's Court for damages. It happened, however, that the thief was a merchant of the Hanse, and as such was claimed by John Hamond, at that time Alderman of the Hanse as well as Alderman of the City of London, to be tried before him at the Guildhall of the Teutonics, and his claim was allowed.
In course of time the election of their Alderman passed out of the hands of the merchants into the hands of the King, who usually appointed one of the City Aldermen. (fn. 35) The Treaty of Utrecht expressly stipulated that in civil or criminal causes affecting the Hanse merchants in England the King should appoint two or more judges, who, without the formalities of law, should do speedy justice between the parties. (fn. 36)
The same year that the Hanse merchants came into possession of the Steelyard we find an ordinance of Common Council recorded in the Letter-Book which hitherto appears to have passed unnoticed. It is to the effect that thenceforth two Aldermen of the same Art or Mistery should not be nominated together for the Mayoralty. (fn. 37) It is not clear for what purpose this ordinance was made; the nearest parallel to it is an ordinance made in 1384 (when the election of members of the Common Council reverted from the Guilds to the Wards), to the effect that no Ward should return more than eight persons of the same Mistery. (fn. 38)
There are other ordinances recorded in the Letter-Book affecting the mode of municipal elections. Thus, in 1480, an ordinance was passed restricting the inhabitants of a Ward to the presentation of two Aldermen and no more (if any were presented) on the occasion of an election of an Alderman for their Ward, otherwise the election was to be void. (fn. 39)
Again, in 1491, the Common Council decreed that when the election of a Chamberlain took place the Mayor and Aldermen should nominate two persons for the Commonalty to select one for the office; and further, that, with respect to the election of Bridge Masters, the Mayor and Aldermen should nominate four persons for the Commonalty to select two of them. (fn. 40) The reason for these innovations is to be found elsewhere than in tne Letter-Book, viz., that many "Bridge Masters" had hitherto done "litell good in thoffice," and when discharged returned only "syngle accomptes," whilst some Chamberlains had been in arrear in their accounts to large amounts of money. (fn. 41)
That the accounts, both of the Chamberlain and Wardens of London Bridge for the time being, were usually in arrear is testified by the terms of the appointment of City auditors as recorded periodically in the Letter-Book. (fn. 42) Notwithstanding these ordinances, no change in the manner of election of Chamberlain or Wardens appears in the Letter-Book; but for some reason or other the election of a Chamberlain for the years 1489 and 1490 is not recorded.
Here it may be remarked, by the way, that in 1474 William Philip was elected City Chamberlain in place of Robert Colwiche, who had been annually appointed since 1463, and had recently been elected Alderman of Farringdon Without. His ceasing to be Chamberlain was probably on that account, (fn. 43) although many Aldermen had previously filled that office. From his day, however, down to 1765, when Theodore Janssen, Alderman of Bread Street Ward, was elected Chamberlain, no Alderman was Chamberlain except Sir Peter Rich, who held the office on the King's nomination in 1684 and 1688. From 1766 down to the present day Aldermen have invariably been elected Chamberlain, with the exception of Benjamin Scott (1858-92); but all of them (excepting John Wilkes, 1779-97) resigned their aldermanic gowns on their election as Chamberlain. (fn. 44)
At the present day Sheriffs for the time being appoint their own Under-Sheriffs, and this custom appears to have prevailed from the earliest times down to the year 1441, when (as we have seen) the Court of Common Council ordained that in future the Under-Sheriffs should remain in office during good behaviour, their frequent removal having caused much expense and inconvenience. (fn. 45) Their appointment then became vested in the Common Council, so far at least as concerned the UnderSheriffs of London.
On the other hand, the appointment of Under-Sheriffs for the county of Middlesex still appears to have remained with the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex for the time being; but the system worked badly, and those appointed proved so often unsatisfactory that in 1482 the Common Council endeavoured to raise the standard by imposing a property qualification on those seeking the office, and insisting upon those who were appointed residing continually within the City or county. (fn. 46)
Four years later (1486), the officers of the Sheriffs' prisons or Compters, known as Secondaries (or Under-Sheriffs), obtained fixity of tenure of office during good behaviour, and became no longer removable, except by order of the Court of Aldermen. (fn. 47)
Lastly, the Court of Aldermen thought fit, in 1483, to forbid any one to be elected Serjeant-at-Mace to the Mayor until he had served two consecutive years as Serjeant-at-Mace to one of the Sheriffs. (fn. 48) This ordinance, however, was modified two years later by another ordinance, which allowed yeomen (valecti) of the Mayor and of the Chamber to be elected Serjeants of the Mayor and Chamber, notwithstanding any ordinance to the contrary. (fn. 49)
The Letter-Book records an interesting ordinance also made by the Court of Aldermen in 1475, prescribing the number of sessions to be held in the year for gaol-delivery of Newgate. It was to the effect that thenceforth they should be held at least five times a year—four times by the Sheriffs, and once (or twice, if necessary) by the Mayor, provided the Sheriffs held the first four sessions and the Mayor the fifth (or sixth, if need be). The ordinance then goes on to prescribe the number of law officers, Aldermen, and jurors who should in future be invited to dinner, and the amount of money to be allowed the Middlesex jurors for their refreshment. (fn. 50)
The ancient custom of appointing special commissions of oyer and terminer and gaol-delivery (so often recorded in the earlier Letter-Books) appears to be falling into desuetude, (fn. 51) and instead of gaol-delivery taking place once a year (as was usually the case under the old system), it was now to be held at least five times a year, greatly to the relief of the unfortunate prisoners awaiting trial.
At the present day, pursuant to the Act of 1834 constituting the Central Criminal Court, (fn. 52) sessions are held at least twelve times a year, or once a month, the time being fixed by general orders of the Court approved by at least eight judges of the High Court.
In April, 1479, the Letter-Book records an ordinance by the Mayor and Aldermen adjourning the sessions of all Courts held before the Mayor and Sheriffs until after Trinity Sunday. (fn. 53) We are not told the reason for this ordinance, but it was probably due to a pestilence that ravaged the City and the country between September, 1478, and November, 1479. (fn. 54)
It is to be noted that the Mayor and Aldermen, even when recorded as sitting in the Inner Chamber of the Guildhall, where they usually sat as a Court of Aldermen, are frequently described in this and the preceding Letter-Book as the Court of the lord the King. Strictly speaking, the full style of the Court of Aldermen is the 'Court of the Mayor and Aldermen in the Inner Chamber," to distinguish it from the Court of the Mayor and Aldermen in the Outer Chamber, or Lord Mayor's Court, the latter being also known as the "Court of the lord the King holden before the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London". (fn. 55)
A curious ordinance is recorded as having been passed by the Mayor and Aldermen in 1485, to the effect that for the purpose of avoiding illness, which was daily caused by the Mayor, Aldermen, and Council of the City uncovering their heads when sitting in Court, as well as for saving time and trouble (ad evitanda......alia tedia et dispendia temporum), (fn. 56) neither the Mayor, Aldermen, nor any of the Council, whilst sitting in the Court of the Inner Chamber (i.e., the Court of Aldermen), should thenceforth uncover their heads, under penalty of losing one penny every time they acted to the contrary, unless it were done for the purpose of showing respect to strangers. (fn. 57)
A few months later we find two orders emanating from "my lord Maire" and the Aldermen for the destruction of unlawful nets and sacks of coal deficient in holding capacity. The orders are not dated, but were evidently issued some time between January and April, 1486. (fn. 58) The style "the lord the Mayor" or "my lord the Mayor" is frequently met with about this time, (fn. 59) but "my lord Mayor" (as in these orders) appears to occur here for the first time. It has long been a moot point as to when and how the Mayor of the City obtained the prefix of "Lord." It was stated in the City's official return to the Royal Commission of 1893 that "the title of the Chief Magistrate of the City of London to be styled 'Lord Mayor' dates back to the Fourth Charter of Edward III. (1354)," but such a statement is manifestly incorrect, for reasons that need not be discussed here.
The true explanation is probably to be found in a misinterpretation of the Latin title dominus Maior, which originally meant nothing more than Sir Mayor, as already pointed out in the preceding Calendar. (fn. 60) In course of time it came to be translated into "the lord the Mayor," whence it was but a step to "the lord Mayor." In favour of this explanation may be adduced the fact that in 1504 (the year hitherto accepted as furnishing the earliest instance of the kind known in the City's Records) we find recorded both dominus Maior and "my lorde Mayre." (fn. 61) It was not until 1534 or 1535 that the title "lord Mayor" came to be generally used.
Stow (fn. 62) records how William Pole, a yeoman in the Court of King Edward IV., was stricken with leprosy, and how the King granted him a plot of land near Highgate whereon to build a Hospital "for the reliefe and harborow of such leprous persons as were destitute in the kingdome, to the end they should not be offensive to other in their passing to and fro." The same year that the King made this grant, viz., 1472, he caused a writ to be issued to the Mayor and Sheriffs of London and Middlesex ordering the removal to Lazar hospitals of all lepers found on horseback or on foot in the highways of the City and county, as the disease was on the increase, under a heavy penalty of £500 in case of disobedience. The disease was believed at the time to be communicated, not only by the vicious air breathed by the lepers, but even by the sight of them (eorum oculorum inspeccionem). (fn. 63) Pursuant to this writ extra precautions were taken to prevent lepers entering the City, and proclamation was made notifying that such lepers as should attempt to enter the City would forfeit their horse if they came on horseback, and their gown or outer garment if they came on foot. (fn. 64)
Among the ordinances of the Barbers' Fraternity approved by the Court of Aldermen ten years later (1482), and entered in the Letter-Book, was one enjoining masters to bring their apprentices before the Master and Wardens in order to examine them and judge by their "colour and complexion" whether they were "disposed to be lepur or gowty." (fn. 65)
1 A defendant in the Sheriffs' Court having alleged in bar of a debt an immemorial custom in the City that if an apprentice to a freeman entered into a bond with another freeman in a sum of money, without permission of his master, such bond was void, provided the recipient of the bond was aware of the fact of apprenticeship, and the plaintiff denying the existence of any such custom, the Mayor and Aldermen certified in 1468 that there was no such custom. (fn. 66)
That the Court of Aldermen disapproved of apprentices entering into bonds is seen in one of the ordinances of the Barber-Surgeons just mentioned, enjoining freemen of the Guild desirous of taking an apprentice to bring him before the Master and Wardens, in order that he might be examined as to his parentage, and also "if there be on hym any bonde claymed."
2. We have the Recorder's certificate in 1482 as to the custom of foreign attachment in the City. (fn. 67) This procedure was for the purpose of compelling the appearance of a debtor in an action at the suit of his creditor, and in default of such appearance gave the creditor power to attach the debtor's property found in the hands of a third party, known as a "garnishee." The procedure was cumbersome and confined to the jurisdiction of the Mayor's Court, but since the decision of the House of Lords in the well-known case The London Joint Stock Bank v. The Mayor of London, in 1881, the custom has fallen into disuse, although held to be perfectly valid, except where a corporation aggregate is cited to appear as garnishee.
3. Thirdly, we have the Recorder's certificate in the same year (1482) of the City custom which enabled a freeman to devise lands and tenements within the City, in mortmain (fn. 69) or otherwise, as well by nuncupative will as by written testament. (fn. 70)
4. And lastly the Recorder's return, delivered in 1491, certifying the custom whereby not only freemen, but all inhabitants of the City had the power to devise lands and tenements in the City, the question of mortmain not being touched upon. (fn. 71)
The leading feature of the Letter-Book, however, is the large number of ordinances of various Guilds or Companies submitted to the Mayor and Aldermen for approval and enrolment. It has already been noted how an endeavour was made by Parliament in 1437 to restrain the Masters and Wardens of the various Guilds and Fraternities throughout the kingdom from making unreasonable ordinances such as they had no legal power to make, by causing them to bring in their Charters and Letters Patent before the Justices of the Peace in the country, and before the municipal authorities in cities and boroughs. (fn. 72) This statute, even if effectively carried out, did little more in the City of London than strengthen the hands of the civic authorities in dealing with the City Guilds. In March, 1438, the Wardens of the Mistery of Brewers were questioned as to their new charter, when they promptly declared their submission to the Mayor and his Council and readiness to renounce anything in their charter that was opposed to the City's liberties. (fn. 73) A few weeks later the Wardens of the Cordwainers were ordered to renounce before the Lord Chancellor all privileges granted by a recently acquired charter, and after considering the matter for three days submitted. (fn. 74) In 1474 the Butchers were fined for making ordinances prejudicial to the liberties of the City (fn. 75); and the charter granted to the Bakers in 1486 was only allowed by the Court of Aldermen to be placed on record on the distinct understanding that the Bakers would not use it in any way prejudicial to the City. (fn. 76)
The statute by this time, however, had proved ineffective, and it became necessary in 1487 for the Mayor and Aldermen to pass an ordinance to the effect that thenceforth Wardens of Misteries should make no ordinances unless the same be approved by the Mayor and Aldermen for the time being. Thereupon, we are told, many Wardens brought in their books of ordinances that had not been authorized by the Court, and the folios on which they were recorded were cut out bodily. (fn. 77) It would be interesting to learn if there be still extant among the archives of any Livery Company a manuscript of the fifteenth century which bears signs of having experienced this drastic treatment.
Between 1437 and 1487 the number of companies that brought in their charters for enrolment scarcely exceeded a dozen, whilst during the same period the companies tha submitted their ordinances (not once only, but two or three times) to the Court of Aldermen number over forty. That the order of 1487 had the desired effect is shown by the fact that during the next nine years, viz., between March, 1488 and March, 1497, about the same number of companies are recorded as having brought in ordinances or "articles" for approval and enrolment as in the previous fifty years.
It is significant that of the twelve "great Livery Companies" only two have ordinances recorded in the Letter-Book, namely, the Skinners and the Tailors—unless, indeed. we add the Shermen, who afterwards developed into the Company of Clothworkers.
One of the earliest Acts passed in the reign of Edward IV. was that prohibiting the importation of foreign manufactured goods, (fn. 78) with the view of encouraging native industries. Yet in spite of this Act, and the numerous restrictions placed on so-called "foreins" (fn. 79) (whether non-freemen or aliens) wishing to carry on business in the City, they succeeded in "plucking away" the livelihood from freemen.
A few weeks after the passing of this Act we find the freemen Bladesmiths complaining of "foreyns," from places abroad as well as from the suburbs of the City, selling their inferior wares (or "chaffaire") privately in the City, without bringing it to the public market. They also complained of "foreyns, dwellyng in ferre contrees" of the realm, counterfeiting the trade-marks of freemen, and of the want of skill displayed by so many "unkonnyng" grinders of "sheres" and blades. (fn. 80)
In the same year the Fruiterers of the City complained of their business being ruined by "foreins" repairing daily in great numbers to the City and selling their fruit when and where they chose, without any restriction or correction, and prayed that foreigners might be compelled to stand in places specially appointed for them, and sell fruit on three days of the week, viz., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and no more. (fn. 81) Their petition was granted; but two years later it was found necessary to allow the foreigners an additional day, (fn. 82) and in 1486 the freemen Fruiterers petitioned the Court of Aldermen that they might be allowed to stand with the foreigners as freely as they did before the ordinance of 1463. (fn. 83)
In 1471 we find a rare instance of the Court of Aldermen coming to the assistance of the foreigner in the City. By ancient custom the freemen Bakers, in their Halimotes, made annual presentments to the Court of Aldermen of what they found wrong in the conduct of their business. They were thereby enabled to vent their anger against the intrusive foreign baker by making false presentments against him, whilst sparing freemen, and thus to subject him to iniquitous fines and amercements. In order to remedy this the Court decreed that two officers should yearly be specially appointed to assess and limit the penalties so incurred. (fn. 84)
Between the freemen bakers and the " foreign" bakers— bakers from Stratford by Bow and other places in the vicinity of London—there had always been a continuous struggle. It was in vain that the civic authorities restricted foreign bakers to certain hours and certain places for selling their bread; (fn. 85) such ordinances were either ignored altogether or circumvented. Thus, when the foreign bakers were told to remove their carts from their standing by midday, (fn. 86) they took to bringing a spare horse with them, and on these they hawked their bread about the streets of the City until orders were issued to the contrary. (fn. 87) No wonder the freemen bakers retaliated against the foreigner in their Halimotes.
A few years later the freemen Glaziers of the City had occasion to complain to the Court of Aldermen of certain ' foreyn persones, as well straungers as other, to the number of twenty-eight and more," working secretly at the craft. The City, they said, bore evident tokens of the inefficiency of their work, yet nothing could be done, owing to the Wardens of the Craft having no oversight or correction of non-freemen. They prayed the Court, therefore, to ordain that thenceforth no one should exercise the craft unless he became a freeman of the City and his efficiency was established by the Wardens; and further, that the Wardens, in conjunction with an officer of the City appointed by the Mayor or Chamberlain, might be authorized to search for bad work, with the view of punishing offenders. (fn. 88)
In 1483 the free journeymen of the Fullers prayed the Court that in future no Fullers should employ a foreigner so long as freemen were available for work (fn. 89); and a similar prohibition was obtained in 1491 by the Painters, provided that freemen could be found as capable as the foreigner, and "as gode chepe." (fn. 90)
By that time Parliament itself had again come to the relief of the native craftsman by forbidding any person not born under the King's obeisance to exercise or occupy any handicraft, and ordering all aliens to return to their own country or else to become servants to such of the King's subjects as followed their particular craft. (fn. 91) Yet, notwithstanding the restrictions placed upon foreigners by this Act, the Wardens of the Fullers again had occasion to complain to the Court of Aldermen (in 1487) of the low estate to which the Craft had fallen owing to the excessive influx of foreigners, as well as the lax system of apprenticeship and the want of proper supervision of work. (fn. 92)
The citizen had other grievances against foreigners, inasmuch as they neither paid scot nor bore lot, as he was obliged to do. (fn. 93) They failed, moreover, to sit on inquests in cases involving aliens and denizens, as bound by statute. (fn. 94) At one time the fine imposed on defaulters in this respect was no more than 3 pence, but, this amount proving insufficient to compel appearance, new fines were imposed in 1486, extending from 3 pence to 20 shillings, with power of distress. (fn. 95)
The activity of aliens in the commerce of the City eventually ruined a number of the lesser trade and craft Guilds and forced them to join hands in self-protection. Thus, in 1476, the Horners and Bottlemakers found themselves too impoverished to meet the demands made upon them by the Crown as well as by the City as separate and independent Guilds. They therefore simultaneously prayed the Court of Aldermen that the members of both crafts might be treated as "Brethren" and jointly bear any burden that might be imposed in future. Their prayer was granted. (fn. 96)
Three years later (1479) the Whitetawyers found their numbers so diminished that they experienced difficulty in appointing Wardens of their craft and discharging their civic liabilities. They, too, laid their case before the Court of Aldermen, and prayed that they might henceforth be considered as belonging to the craft of Leathersellers, and that all members of the craft of Whitetawyers might be allowed to "change their copies" into the craft of Leathersellers. (fn. 97)
A few months later we find a similar complaint made by the Wyredrawers and the Chapemakers, with the result that the Court of Aldermen allowed them to become amalgamated under the name of Wyremongers. (fn. 98)
In 1497 the Letter-Book records yet another amalgamation, viz., that of the Pinners and Wyremongers, under the name of Wyresellers. It appears that the Pinners and Wyremongers had so often been at variance with each other, and their numbers had so decreased, that they were unable any longer to "bere scotte lotte nor other charges." They therefore petitioned the Court of Aldermen that they might be made one Fellowship, to be known as "the Crafte and occupacion of Wyresellers, and utterly to dismysse and adnull the namys of Pynners and Wyremongers." (fn. 99)
It must not be thought that the presence of the foreign element in the City was an unmixed evil. It was to a certain extent a blessing, inasmuch as the alien frequently introduced new methods, incited competition, and, on occasion, prevented the freeman from unduly enhancing the price of commodities. (fn. 100)
The ordinary constitution of a Livery Company embraced a Master, two or more Wardens, a Court of Assistants, a Livery, and a general body of freemen, including a distinctive class known as Yeomen or Bachelors. The Master was often identical with the Upper or Prime Warden, a title still retained by the Goldsmiths and Fishmongers. During the period covered by the Letter-Book the chief executive officers of the Guilds were the Wardens, the title of Master being comparatively rare. It is remarkable that the Wyresellers are recorded as being ruled by Wardens and a unique officer called an "Umpire." (fn. 101)
Occasionally disputes arose as to the right of electing the Wardens. We have seen how, in 1444, the journeymen Weavers claimed the right of election, which they had continued to exercise, as they declared, until within the last six years, when their claim had been disallowed by masters of the mistery who were householders. The matter being referred to the Court of Aldermen, and both parties having been heard, that body decreed that in future the masters of the craft (fn. 102) or mistery should elect the Wardens, and that journeymen should have no voice in such election. (fn. 103)
Similar disputes having arisen in the Butchers' Company in 1466, we find the Court of Aldermen ordaining that thenceforth the election of Wardens should be made by the more influential (valenciores) members of the Guild, viz., those of the Livery only. (fn. 104)
The ordinances of the Saddlers in 1490 prescribed that on election day all those of the Livery should choose eight persons, and that the outgoing Wardens should select four of them to serve as Wardens for the year ensuing. (fn. 105)
It is difficult to say when Courts of Assistants were first called in to take part in the administration of the Livery Companies. It has been stated that the first hint of them occurs in the Records of the Grocers' Company under the year 1379; and the author of this statement prints what purports to be the very words of the resolution for the appointment in English with mediæval spelling. (fn. 106) No such resolution under that year appears in the 'Facsimile' of the Company's earliest MS. book, edited by the late Mr. J. A. Kingdon in 1886; and if it had been there, the probability is that it would have been in French.
On the other hand, there is a resolution recorded in the Grocers' MS as having been passed in 1345, and "turnyd in to Englysche be the Avyce of the Fraternite" in 1418. (fn. 107) It runs as follows:—
The original ordinance is not recorded, but accepting it as a fact, it shows that, at least in the Grocers' Company, the election of Assistants was practically coeval with the establishment of the Guild itself.
In other Guilds the custom of summoning 'Assistants' to the Master or Wardens does not appear from the Letter-Book to have become general before the latter half of the fifteenth century. Originally, they were only summoned on special occasions, such as the examination of apprentices on entering their term of service or at its expiration, when they sought to be made freemen; and those called in to assist on such occasions were usually past Wardens of Bailiffs. (fn. 108)
Another special occasion when Assistants were called in to give advice was when a fresh livery or clothing was ordered by the Wardens This took place every two or three years, and often proved a hardship to impecunious brethren, unless carried out with discretion. (fn. 109)
In 1463 the Mercers appear to have made a considerable advance towards the establishment of a Court of Assistants for general purposes by ordaining that in future twelve sufficient persons should be yearly chosen to be Assistants to the Wardens, and that the fellowship would abide by all decisions of a majority of this body. (fn. 110) We find a somewhat similar ordinance for governing the Carpenters in 1487, but in their case the Assistants were to be chosen once a week. (fn. 111) We look in vain in the Letter-Book for any record of a Standing Court of Assistants such as exists in most Livery Companies at the present day.
Next to the Master and Wardens and Court of Assistants in order of rank come those entitled to wear the livery or clothing of the Guild, always supposing that such Guild or Fraternity had first been authorized by the Court of Aldermen to have a livery.
The origin of this term "livery" (Lat. liberatura) is to be found in the feudal custom of Barons and other great lords "delivering" badges and liveries to their retainers, known as "Livery of Company." This custom grew into such an abuse, and gave rise to so many commotions, that it had to be restrained by a series of statutes extending from the reign of Richard II. to that of Henry VII. (fn. 112)
At critical times even the peace of the City itself was menaced by mobs of armed retainers. Hence the ordinance of the Common Council in 1467 (when the all-powerful Earl of Warwick, with his huge retinue, was showing himself obnoxious to the Royal Family), which strictly forbade any freeman or officer of the City to take or use the livery of any lord or magnate, under penalty of disfranchisement and loss of office. (fn. 113)
On the other hand, the wearing of liveries by the Mayor and Sheriffs of London and by members of Guilds and Fraternities founded for an honest purpose was expressly permitted by statute. (fn. 114) The Mayor, the Aldermen, and the Sheriffs continued, therefore, to wear their respective livery gowns and to grant them to their subordinate officers. In course of time the custom was extended, and livery cloth was granted by the Court of Aldermen to Ministers of State, Officers of the Royal Household, certain Judges of the High Court, (fn. 115) and other influential personages whose favour the City desired to obtain. (fn. 116)
Liveries of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs were renewed every year and varied in colour. This frequent renewal not only led to an accumulation of livery gowns in the hands of the owners, (fn. 117) but caused considerable expense to those who had to provide them. The burden became so heavy that in 1389, when the livery-men of the various Companies met in Common Hall to elect a Mayor for the year ensuing, they passed a resolution to the effect that in future the Sheriffs should only give "clothing" to the City's officers and their own serjeants, and that they should no longer ride, but go to Westminster by water or on foot; and, further, that those members of the Guilds who were willing to accompany them should go in their last clothing, and not have new clothing given to them, under penalty of paying a fine of 100 marks into the City's Chamber. (fn. 118) In the following year the Court of Aldermen decreed that the expense of providing gowns or liveries on certain prescribed occasions should be defrayed out of dues paid by strangers for brokerage and scavage. (fn. 119)
In 1468 the Court of Aldermen passed an ordinance to the effect that thenceforth the Chamberlain for the time being should, on or about Midsummer Day, yearly provide cloth called "Ray"—from its being a striped cloth—for the livery of the Mayor and of the Chamber, and that a sample of the cloth should be submitted to the Mayor and Aldermen. (fn. 120) In the same year the Court of Aldermen agreed that Thomas Torald should yearly have a gown of similar cloth and a pension of 6s. 8d. in recognition of his past services to the City; (fn. 121) and in 1492 a ray gown at Christmas was granted to Robert Harryson, the City's Attorney in the palatine court of Lancaster, in addition to his salary. (fn. 122)
Livery cloth was given twice a year, viz., at Whitsuntide and Christmas, to the Serjeants and Yeomen of the Mayor, Sheriffs, and Chamberlain for the time being; but they got into the habit of having their gowns made of such inordinate length that they were impeded in their duties, and it became necessary for the Common Council to pass an order in 1486 that the gowns should be at least a foot from the ground. Any infringement of this order involved loss of office. (fn. 123)
As early as the fourteenth century the City trade and craft Guilds began to assume liveries, with the view, no doubt, of binding their members together in closer association; and having taken this step they firmly believed that "a good time was about to begin." (fn. 124) Whether this assumption of a livery was done with the sanction of the Court of Aldermen or not the chronicler does not say. However this may have been, it is certain that in later times no such Guild could adopt a livery or clothing without the sanction of the Court, and any attempt to do so was at once put down. Occasionally we find the Yeomen or Bachelors—a class enjoying the freedom of a Guild, but not members of its livery—asserting their independence by forming themselves into a Fraternity and assuming a distinctive livery of their own. (fn. 125) This occurred among the Saddlers in 1396 (fn. 126) and among the Tailors in 1415, (fn. 127) but in both cases the Court of Aldermen, being appealed to by the legitimate rulers of each Guild, insisted on the Yeomen accepting their subordinate position.
The livery consisted of two parts, viz., a gown and a hood (chaperoun), and in the ordinances of some of the companies we find a distinction drawn between those members who wore the livery and those who only had hoods. (fn. 128)
It was changed every two or three years, the cloth being bought for the purpose by the ruling officers of the Guild, to whom those entitled to wear the livery had to apply for sufficient cloth to make a gown, paying for the same a reasonable price. If they disliked the cloth so provided they could take a "scantlon" or "patron" (pattern) of it and get their own gowns on payment of a small fee, but they had to take care that the colour of the cloth they selected matched the colour of the pattern. (fn. 129)
It is said that originally all householders of a Guild wore its livery; in course of time, however, a distinction arose between householders who were of the Livery and those who were not of the Livery. (fn. 130) Thus in 1431 there were 42 Grocers who were householders and shopholders who were not of the Livery. (fn. 131) Similarly, in the ordinances of the Founders recorded in this Letter-Book under the year 1490 we find mention made of householders keeping shop who were not of the clothing. (fn. 132) So with the Cutlers we find a distinction drawn between freemen of the clothing and freemen "not beyng of the clothing and occupyng a shoppe" (fn. 133); and so again with the Weavers— those of the livery and householders out of the livery were to dine together on a certain day, those in the clothing paying 12d., and householders out of the clothing 8d. (fn. 134)
The fees paid by those "taking up" the Livery varied in different Guilds. With the Saddlers, the customary payment was an ounce of silver or a spoon of silver of the value of 3s. 4d. (fn. 135) Any one refusing to obey a "call" to the Livery was liable to a fine, unless his circumstances prevented him undertaking the responsibility and expense of the position. (fn. 136)
In elections, whether parliamentary or municipal, the liveryman of the Guilds originally enjoyed no privileges over the citizen who paid his scot and bore his lot. Such elections lay with the Commonalty conjointly with the Mayor and Sheriffs for the time being down to 1467, when the election of the Mayor and Sheriffs became vested in the Common Council, the Masters of the Guilds in their livery, and "other good men specially summoned." (fn. 137) It was not, however, until 1703 that an Act of Common Council emphatically declared that the election of Sheriffs belonged to "the Liverymen of the several Companies of the City in Common Hall assembled." (fn. 138) After 1404 the City Chamberlain was usually elected on the same day (if not by the same body of electors) as the Sheriffs, (fn. 139) and by Act of Common Council of 1695 both the nomination (concerning which vide supra, p. ix) and the election of Chamberlain were vested in the Livery.
At what date the Livery began to usurp the function of the Commonalty in the election of the City's representatives in Parliament is not clear, but there is evidence to show that they had done so long before their claims in this respect were established by the Election Act of 1725 (Stat. 11 George I., cap. 18). (fn. 140)
Women were admissible into every trade or craft Guild. There was nothing, moreover, to prevent a single woman being bound apprentice in the City until the year 1407, when a statute was passed forbidding parents to put out a son or daughter as apprentice unless they (the parents) had 20 shillings a year in land or rent. (fn. 141) The Act proved abortive in the case of a son or daughter who bound themselves apprentice without consulting their parents, (fn. 142) and in 1429 was repealed upon petition of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City. (fn. 143) Widows of freemen were admitted to the Guild of their late husbands, and allowed to carry on the trade or craft exercised by the deceased. Thus it is not an uncommon thing to find women enrolled as members of Guilds where one would least expect them, such as the Armourers, (fn. 144) the Founders, (fn. 145) and the Barber-Surgeons. (fn. 146)
Many (if not most) of the Livery Companies had their origin in a religious and social Fraternity, comprising both Brethren and "Sistern," long before they became trade and craft Guilds incorporated by charter. In some cases, however, as, e.g., the Drapers, the Haberdashers, the Dyers, and the Bakers, the right to establish a Fraternity was expressly granted to them by their respective charters of incorporation. (fn. 147)
The ordinances of the Masons' Guild are remarkable for the hospitality extended to the wives of members by allowing them to accompany their husbands, "if they will," to the dinner or "recreation" once in every two years, the husband paying 12 pence for himself and 8 pence for his wife on that occasion. (fn. 148)
The Guild of Brewers had an exceptionally large number of female members, no less than 39 women being recorded in 1417 as wearing the Livery. (fn. 149) It has been said that the business of brewing was "almost wholly in the hands of females, and so continued to be till the close of the fifteenth century, if not later." (fn. 150) If this be true, it is strange that in the ordinances of the Beerbrewers recorded in this Letter-Book under date 1482 (fn. 151) women are not once mentioned, whilst in a list of 300 persons recorded as being engaged in the brewing industry in the City in 1420 less than 20 were females. (fn. 152)
1. The first class of ordinances prescribe the manner in which the election of Masters and Wardens was to be made— a ceremony associated with the performance of a solemn Mass, followed by a dinner, "feast," or "recreation" —and the transfer of the money, jewels, and other property of the Fellowship by the outgoing Wardens to the custody of the new Wardens. They also prescribe how often the livery or clothing shall be changed, the number of apprentices a freeman may have in his employ at one time, the settlement of internal disputes without resorting to law, and other particulars of economic interest. Thus they empower the Wardens to search for defective work, and insist upon members attending on all occasions when summoned by the Beadle. They forbid the employment of strangers to do work which could equally well be done by a freeman, and the efficiency of the freemen of any craft was guaranteed by an ordinance which forbade the admission of any one to the freedom until he had been examined by the Wardens and proved "connyng." Quarterage was to be paid by the members, varying in amount according as they were of the Livery or not. This money, as well as half the amount of fines incurred for infringement of the ordinances, went usually into the "Common Box" for the "refreshment" of any brother or sister who had fallen on evil days. Lastly, due respect was ordered to be paid to those in authority, and all "fasyng," "brasyng," and "making of fray" was strictly forbidden.
2. The second class of ordinances relate chiefly to attendance at church and at funerals of deceased members, as well as the distribution of charitable gifts out of the Common Box. Thus, when a Loriner died the members of the Guild were to attend the parish church of the deceased in their "most honest clothyng" for Dirige and Requiem, and afterwards be present at the interment. Thirty masses were to be sung within eight days for the benefit of the soul of the departed one, at the cost of the Fraternity, provided he or she had kept up their payment of quarterages and other charges during their lifetime. If a member fell into poverty through no fault of his own, he was to receive a weekly sum of 10 pence out of the Common Box if he had served as Warden, and 7 pence if he had not; and on his death his funeral expenses were to be defrayed by the Guild, if his own goods were insufficient. (fn. 153)
The Barber-Surgeons submitted a special ordinance to the Court of Aldermen for its approval in 1495, to compel members to attend the funeral of one of their number, under penalty of a fine. (fn. 154) Torches, tapers, and other funeral accessories were ready at hand in every Guild to assist in bringing the body of a deceased member "honestly to the earth." (fn. 155) The expense was to be defrayed out of the estate of the deceased if practicable, otherwise out of the Common Box.
To this class belong those ordinances which forbade work being carried on by trader or craftsman upon Sundays and certain Festivals and their vigils. Strange as it may appear, it was the Wardens of victualling Guilds like the Butchers and the Bakers who, of their own free will, prayed the Court of Aldermen in 1423 to forbid their members to follow their business on Sunday, except under certain limitations as to time. In the same year we find the Fletchers, or arrowmakers, asking for an ordinance forbidding them to keep open shop on Sundays and great Festivals, (fn. 156) although these were the days on which the citizen and apprentice could best devote themselves to the practice of archery in Finsbury Fields.
At other times the civic authorities took the initiative. Thus in 1444, when Thomas Catworth was Mayor, a proclamation was issued on a certain Sunday in May forbidding any fishmonger, butcher, poulterer, or baker to sell any victual on Sunday unless absolutely necessary. No cook was to bake or roast on a Sunday, and neither cook nor innkeeper was to sell uncooked meat on that day. All marketing was to be finished on Saturday. (fn. 157)
In 1484 the Common Council ordered a special clause to be inserted in the Wardmote Commissions to the effect that hucksters of ale or beer in each Ward were to be of the franchise of the City; they were to find surety for good behaviour; they were to shut and bar their doors at a specified time, and allow no one to eat or drink within then houses on Sundays until High Mass was over at their parish churches, but this restriction was not to apply to Innholders and Pastelers, who were allowed to start eating and drinking at home before Mass was over. (fn. 158)
Hat merchants were forbidden to expose their wares for sale, not only on Sundays, but on any Festival which the Church prescribed to be preceded by a fasting vigil as well as on Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, or Whitsunday and the two following days. This ordinance emanated from the hat merchants themselves, and was approved by the Court of Aldermen in 1488. (fn. 159) In the same year the Fullers desired and obtained the approval of the Court for an ordinance forbidding the setting of cloth upon tenters on Sundays and principal Festivals. (fn. 160)
In 1495 the Wardens of the Pastelers—who were both prebakers and pastrycooks—prayed the Court of Aldermen that thenceforth they might open two shops on Sunday and no more, viz., one in Bread Street and the other in Bridge Street. They desired this "to thentent that your suppliauntes the gode Folkes of the same Craft may serve Godde the better on the Sonday as trew Cristen men shuld do." Those tending the shops, moreover, were to be changed every Sunday, "and so alwey one to occupie after an other." (fn. 161)
3. Some of the ordinances relating to the technical side of the Guilds are of such interest that, when not printed elsewhere, they have been fully set out in this Calendar. This applies to the ordinances of the Bladesmiths, the Fruiterers, (fn. 162) the Beerbrewers, the Glasyers, and Upholders. In other cases lengthy abstracts have been given, with occasional extracts verbatim et liter atim where an ordinance seemed of exceptional importance.
It will be seen that this class of ordinances is more prominent than either of the other two classes; that the religious and social element, so conspicuous in the earlier days of the Guilds, had become largely obscured by the secular and business element. The Carpenters, for instance, when petitioning the Court of Aldermen in 1487 (for the first time, as it appears) that certain ordinances for the better regulation of their Craft might be approved and placed on record, prefaced their petition by reminding the Court that such ordinances were necessary in order to put an end to "such hurtes and deceipts as might be used in suche stuffe as belongeth to the saide Crafte and in divers werkes to be made and wrought by unconnyng persones occupying the same Crafte" within the City and liberties On the other hand, the earlier ordinances of the Guild, which Mr. Charles Welch, F.S.A., claims to have recently discovered at the Public Record Office (fn. 163) (and which do not appear to have been ever submitted for approval to the Court of Aldermen), deal almost entirely with the religious and charitable side of the Fraternity.
The ordinances of other Guilds—as, for instance, the Upholders, the Leathersellers, the Fletchers, and the Pursers— are purely technical, their primary object being to ensure good workmanship and protect the public from fraudulence. They had a further object, namely, to protect the free workman, not only from the competition of the foreigner or non-freeman, but also from the rapacity of his fellow-freeman. The latter point is exemplified in an ordinance of the Pastelers, which forbade those employed on the staff of the households of the Mayor or Sheriffs for the time being to provide entertainments for private individuals outside, the professed object being that every man of the Fellowship "may have a competent livyng." (fn. 164) A foreigner or stranger undertaking to provide a dinner or supper ran the risk of a fine and imprisonment. (fn. 165)
A petition of the good men of the Mistery of Upholders— i.e., Upholsterers—to the Court of Aldermen in 1474, that their Wardens might be authorized to seize all feather beds, mattresses, cushions, and such like household goods found to be deceitfully made, comprising (inter alia) feather beds and bolsters stuffed with feathers and flocks, and pillows stuffed with thistledown and "cattes tailles," (fn. 166) shows an earnest desire to promote the common weal, albeit the Mistery itself was to benefit by receiving half of the goods forfeited. (fn. 167)
Not only have we the ordinances of the Barber-Surgeons submitted to, and approved by, the Court of Aldermen in 1482 and 1487, (fn. 168) but we also have recorded in the Letter-Book the charter granted to the Guild by Edward IV. in 1462. (fn. 169) Both the ordinances and the charter are of interest, and are set out in Mr. Sidney Young's 'Annals of the Barber-Surgeons' (fn. 170); but of still greater interest, perhaps, is a petition presented to the Court in February, 1492, by the Wardens and other good folk of the Fellowship of Surgeons enfranchised in the City—"not passyng in noumbre of viij persones"—praying that in consideration of their small number they might continue to be discharged from serving as Constable and from any office necessitating the bearing of armour or weapons, as well as from juries, inquests, &c., as they had been accustomed to be time out of mind. The petition set forth that they had always been treated as Heralds of Arms on battle-fields and elsewhere, and allowed to stand "unharnessed" and "unwepened," seeing that they never "used feates of werre," their sole business being to succour the King's liege subjects in time of need; but that, nevertheless, at the last election of Constables one of them had been called upon to serve, and would probably be compelled to serve unless the Court favoured their petition, which the Court did. (fn. 171)
In 1514 the Wardens, &c., of the Guild of Surgeons, "not passyng in nombre xij persones," petitioned Parliament to similar effect, and an Act was passed in conformity with their petition, but extending the privilege also to Barber-Surgeons, so long as the number of twelve was not exceeded. (fn. 172)
By an Act of Parliament passed in 1745 (Stat. 18 Geo. II. cap. 15) the Surgeons and the Barber-Surgeons were not only made distinct bodies, but, whereas the former were specially exempted from service as constables, overseers, and other officers, as well as from serving on juries and inquests, the latter body was granted no such privileges.
The exceptional privilege of exemption from serving on assizes, juries, inquests, &c., was also enjoyed by members of the Cooks' Company under their charter of 1482, (fn. 173) in consideration of the trouble the members were often put to on occasion of royal entertainments on St. George's Day and other times.
The ordinances of a comparatively unimportant Guild like that of the Tilers are of striking interest. In 1461 we find the Common Council of the City solemnly declaring that in future the Tilers should be reputed as labourers and not be incorporated nor deemed to constitute an Art or Society. (fn. 174) In 1468, however, when the manufacture of tiles had become so unsatisfactory that Parliament had to intervene and prescribe the exact manner of preparing the clay for the purpose, the Tilers of the City laid the matter before the Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council (styled "the Court of the lord the King in the Chamber of the Guildhall"!), and prayed that their Fellowship might be restored to the franchises of which they had been deprived, and that they might elect two Wardens who should see that all tiles conformed with the samples in the custody of the City Chamberlain. (fn. 175) Their prayer was granted.
A few years later, viz., in 1473, good men of the Mistery of Tilers made an appeal to the Court of Aldermen. Experience had taught them that the search for bad tiles and presentation of them to the Chamberlain was more than their two Wardens could undertake; they therefore prayed the Court to allow them to appoint three Wardens to carry out the work; and, furthermore, that one half of all tiles presented and forfeited might be applied to the use of the Craft, whilst the rest was to benefit the City's Chamber. This petition was also granted. (fn. 176)
The use of tiles for roofing buildings in the City in place of rushes and straw was introduced soon after the fire which committed such havoc within its walls in the year 1212. Among the provisions made for minimizing the risk of fire by what is known as the Second Assize of Buildings, promulgated by Fitz-Alwyne, the City's first Mayor, was one to the effect that roofs were not to be covered with reeds, rushes, straw, or stubble, but only with tiles, shingles, boards, or lead. (fn. 177) Nevertheless, there were buildings in the City roofed with straw as late as the beginning of the fourteenth century, for we find Thomas Bat, in 1302, pledging himself to replace by a certain day the straw which covered his houses in the parish of St. Laurence, Candlewick Street, with tiles, or allow the Mayor and Sheriffs to cause the work to be done out of the rents of the same. (fn. 178)
In 1362 not only the City, but the greater part of England had been devastated in a different way, namely, by a fierce tempest which razed buildings to the ground or at least stripped them of their roofs. The damage thus done gave occasion to those who had tiles on hand to enhance their price and for tilers to demand higher wages, but a stop was soon put to such proceedings by a peremptory order from the King. (fn. 179)
In order to encourage the manufacture of tiles, a curious custom is said to have existed at Reading, in the fifteenth century, of fining barbers who shaved customers in forbidden hours in so many hundred tiles instead of money. (fn. 180)
A somewhat analogous custom is to be found in the Letter-Book, viz., that of recalcitrant members of Guilds being made to pay fines in so many pounds of wax instead of cash. (fn. 181)
The Letter-Book records the ending of a long-standing dispute between the Company of the Tailors (not yet entitled "Merchant" Tailors) and that of the Skinners of London touching their claim of precedence on ceremonial occasions. (fn. 182) The order of precedence of the Livery Companies varied from time to time and gave rise to no little jealousy. Soon after the accession of Richard III. the question of precedence between the Tailors and the Skinners became so hotly contested that eventually both Companies consented to have the matter submitted to Robert Billesdone, the Mayor, and the Aldermen, and to abide by their judgment. On the 10th April, 1484, the Mayor and Aldermen gave their decision, which is now generally known as the "Billesdone Award." It was to the effect that the Master and Wardens of the Skinners should invite the Master and Wardens of the Tailors to dine with them at their Common Hall every year, on the eve of the Feast of Corpus Christi, if they then made an "oppen dyner," and that the Master and Wardens of the Tailors should similarly invite the Master and Wardens of the Skinners to dine at their Common Hall on the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist; and further, that the Skinners should take precedence in processions over the Tailors one year, and the Tailors over the Skinners the following year, except that when an Alderman of either Company should happen to be Mayor, his Company should take precedence during his Mayoralty over all other Companies, according to ancient custom.
This award has continued to be observed, with rare exceptions, down to the present day. Once every year the two Companies entertain each other, when the chief toast of the evening (when the dinner takes place at Skinners' Hall) is given as follows :—
"The Master and Wardens of the Worshipful Company of Skinners drink health and prosperity to the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors, also to the Worshipful Company of Skinners, Merchant Taylors and Skinners, Skinners and Merchant Taylors, root and branch; and may they continue and flourish for ever!"
In responding, the Master of the Merchant Taylors concludes by returning the compliment in a similar toast, with the names of the Companies interchanged. (fn. 183)
Some years later the Skinners claimed that the Award was limited to civic processions, and did not affect "general goings and assemblies," but in January, 1521, the Court of Aldermen ruled otherwise. (fn. 184)
No attempt was made at the time of Billesdone's Award, nor, indeed, until long afterwards, to settle permanently the order of precedence of the Livery Companies in general. In May, 1512, we find an order of the Common Council to the effect that "all maner of Feloushippes shall kepe the order of goyng in procession and standyng as it was ordeyned in M[ayor] Shaa daies," (fn. 185) but no such ordinance can be found recorded. (fn. 186)
Other disputes arose a few years later between the Salters and the Ironmongers and between the Shermen and the Dyers, the cause of the dispute, in both cases, being recorded as "the preeminence of the lowme and place aswell in all their Goynges in all processions as all other goynges Standynges and Rydynges for the busynessys and causes of this Citie." (fn. 187)
These disputes led to a settlement of the order of precedence by the Court of Aldermen on the last day of January, 1516, in the following terms :— (fn. 188)
"Here after ensuyth thorder & direccon taken at this Court by the Mayr & Aldremen aboveseyd of & for all the Craftes & Misteres ensuyng For their Goynges aswell in all processions as all other goynges Standynges & Rydynges for the busynessys & causes of this Citie The seyd Order & direccon to be from hensforth fermely observed & kept eny other Rule Order or direccon heretofore made to the contrary notwithstanding Provided alweys that the Felysshippe wherof the Mayre ys for the yere accordyng to the old custume shall have the preeminence in goyng afore all other Felysshippes in all places duryng the tyme of Mayralte &c."
In conclusion may be mentioned two deeds recorded towards the end of the Letter-Book. One is dated 4 Dec., 7 Henry VII. [A.D. 1491], and the other the 21st December of the same year. (fn. 189) By the former licence is given to the Mayor and Commonalty and their successors by Sir John Fortescue, Knt., (fn. 190) to dig and break ground in his close, called the "Mewes close" (situate near Charing Cross), and anywhere else on his property in the county of Middlesex that may be necessary, for the purpose of conveying water by conduit-pipes to the City, as well as in a close called the "Covent Gardyn" held by him on lease under the Abbot of Westminster. The licence is to hold good for a term of 180 years and the term of his leasehold interest in the "Covent Gardyn" without payment of any consideration whatever beyond making such amends to his tenants and occupiers as "they have used to do or make in tyme past."
By the latter Sir John Fortescue grants to certain Aldermen and citizens, specifically named, and their executors and assigns a certain meadow called the "Conducte mede," described as being situate near the "newe house of the Conducte of Tybourne," and having on its west side a brook called "Aybroke," and as abutting on its east side upon a lane called "Suglane," together with a certain well adjoining the mead; to hold the same for a term of 180 years from Michaelmas last, at an annual rental of £4, saving always to the Mayor and Commonalty their rights of laying pipes on the premises for conveyance of water to the City.
This being in all probability the last Calendar of the City's Letter-Books for which the present Editor will be responsible, he may perhaps be pardoned if he adopts a recommendation put forward by a reviewer of some recent Calendars of Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, viz., for "the general reader to select some one or two of the more full and lively of these Calendars for attentive perusal, since he may gather from them in a week's diligent reading a more vivid idea of the England of his forefathers than he will get from the most brilliant pages of the professed historian."