VI. Organization in the London Industry

The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 2003.

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'VI. Organization in the London Industry', in The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages, (London, 2003) pp. 101-132. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]


The gild which grew up in the London fur trade is of special interest in that the Skinners' Company is one of the few among the 'Great Twelve' of the city livery companies to be associated with an industry rather than with a trade, and there are certain unusual features in its development. (fn. 1) Unfortunately a study of its activities is handicapped by the fact that the Company's accounts begin only in 1491; minutes of the meetings of the court were kept only from 1551; and the journal kept during the fifteenth century has not survived. Thus for the fourteenth century, the most significant period in its history, we have to be content with two charters, some ordinances, and a few scattered decisions. Much useful information can, however, be derived from the two rolls of members kept throughout the period by the two fraternities which made up what was later known as the Skinners' Company; and this can be supplemented from material in the Corporation records. (fn. 2)

The city authorities drew one broad distinction between workers in a particular industry. Some were freemen; others were not. Skinners, tawyers, and fellmongers who were freemen were either sons of freemen; or trained, through apprenticeship, to freedom; or admitted through redemption, that is by purchase—usually, after 1319, sponsored by six of their fellow workers. These methods of admission to the freedom were certainly generally accepted in the early thirteenth century, but machinery through which the implications of citizenship might be fully worked out was only slowly built up in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. (fn. 3) The necessity for keeping registers of apprentices and redemptioners was appreciated in the London of 1274 with its large immigrant population, but it was still sufficient three decades later for the freemen of the neighbourhood to vouch for an apprentice's training. (fn. 4) Procedure over freedom by patrimony was not fully clarified until 1387, and there was frequent discussion of the fees to be paid by redemptioners and changes of policy towards them throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. (fn. 5) This machinery functioned with increasing though never complete efficiency, as associations were formed by the freemen in each trade, which were able, after 1319, to take over, in their own interest, much of the responsibility for presenting to the freedom. (fn. 6)

Men admitted to the freedom were usually associated by name with their fellow workers from the late thirteenth century onwards. A freeman was described as citizen and skinner, or citizen and tawyer. Thus those who had vouched for him as a loyal member of the community might be held in future responsible for his good behaviour. This was a conception thoroughly familiar to all Englishmen in the Middle Ages. As the City's population grew, and her trade expanded, the mistery or craft became a practicable unit for this purpose. Thus the mistery of skinners consisted of all freemen skinners, the mistery of tawyers of all freemen tawyers. But the recognition of two misteries linked with two processes in a particular industry never implied rigid economic specialization, and the custom of the City which permitted all freemen, whatever their economic standing, to open shops militated against the development of such specialization. Those misteries named between 1309 and 1312—at least 120— bore, broadly speaking, some relation to economic realities. (fn. 7) Later some disappeared, others appeared, or split up, or coalesced with others under the pressure of economic change.

Nor did recognition imply that each mistery had an established machinery through which it functioned as a unit. Many in the early fourteenth century, some for the greater part of that century, may have been little more than informal groups bearing a certain degree of mutual responsibility, although capable of common action in a crisis. Where their numbers were few and their trade economically independent of others, or the masters were men of similar interests and social standing, established in a particular locality, co-operation in the handling of apprenticeships and presentations to the freedom was presumably easily arranged. The misteries were recognized as entities by the authorities in the late thirteenth century partly as a matter of practical convenience. While some had already assumed fuller responsibilities, and others took what opportunities arose of strengthening their control over their members, others may only slowly have responded to pressure from above. Thus as late as 1364 it was decreed that all misteries should elect wardens to supervise the work and behaviour of their members. (fn. 8) In some cases, such as that of the London fellmongers, we know nothing at all of the means by which the mistery carried out these functions. At no time was the need to secure municipal or royal support for the enforcement of ordinances felt, even if any were formulated, nor was municipal intervention ever required in any dispute with a related trade. Some of these misteries may have maintained at some time a private association, others may have acted under the aegis of one of the many parish fraternities so widely supported by the humbler citizens, and of their activities we know very little. (fn. 9)

The mistery only became a more coherent force in urban society when its members, under the pressure of circumstances, set up some more formal organization through which to work. We have already seen some misteries, working through their fraternities, associations at that time recognized only by the Church, supplying the driving force of political and constitutional change in late thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century London. (fn. 10) In a few of them some sort of corporate organization came to be tacitly assumed and accepted by the authorities, and by 1328 at least twenty-five were in a position to register the names of their wardens. (fn. 11) During the fourteenth century many other misteries followed suit, according to their needs and resources, by securing recognition of ordinances which implied the existence of some form of association. This development meant that when the experiment of electing Common Councillors by mistery rather than by ward was attempted in 1377, fifty-one organized misteries were granted the privilege. (fn. 12) A list drawn up in 1422 implies that 111 misteries had some sort of corporate organization, of which some had been formally recognized by the authorities, some not. (fn. 13) It was the spread of organizations within the misteries which helped to mould the constitution of the City, of which they were to become an integral part. Eventually, at a date it would be difficult to determine precisely, membership of one of these recognized organizations became essential to those wishing to become freemen. Several factors contributed to this development, virtually a compromise between two conflicting interests. The increased numbers and growing strength of the organized misteries in the second half of the fourteenth century partly accounts for it. But of greater significance was the determination of the City to establish its authority over all private associations, a continuation of the struggle to retain control over all the sokes and immunities within its boundaries. Important moves were made in this direction in 1388 and 1389, by both national and civic authorities, following a period of violence and confusion when many fraternities were widely suspected of malpractices or of political activities. (fn. 14) Several fraternities reacted quickly to this threat to their position by securing royal charters that granted what was for them the novel privilege of full legal incorporation; this greatly strengthened them as independent associations in control of the affairs of a mistery. The spread of this particular form of association, usually described as a livery company, among the wealthier misteries led to further action by the City which, empowered by a statute it helped to initiate in 1437, reaffirmed its control of the companies. (fn. 15) Those misteries which set themselves up as livery companies after that date had to register their royal charters with the City, and others secured municipal approval for similar organizations without the costly formality of securing incorporation. By the late fifteenth century many misteries were so organized—sixty-five were listed in order of precedence in 1488. (fn. 16)

In most livery companies at this time only the wealthier members wore the full livery and were described as liverymen; other freemen wore only part of the livery. But it was assumed by the sixteenth century that all freemen were drawn within the ranks of the livery companies, obviously a highly artificial arrangement, full of anomalies, and one which bore little relation to economic realities. Their importance in city life was fully recognized by a significant constitutional change of 1475. (fn. 17) Congregation, the body which elected the mayor, sheriffs, and other officers, in which the freemen of the wards were represented by their wealthier members, was from henceforth to be composed of the liverymen of the companies. While this decision may not in practice have made much difference, the changed basis for membership gave opportunities to men in humbler misteries and gave the liverymen a hold on the city franchise which they still hold today. (fn. 18) Freemen who were not in the livery of the companies retained only the right of electing, with the liverymen, the aldermen and common councillors who represented their wards, a privilege they held until 1867. (fn. 19)

Only one of the three misteries involved in the fur trade, the skinners, found more formal organization desirable in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, for reasons already discussed. (fn. 20) In 1327 the mistery secured a royal charter which stated the privileges granted to it as a body; in 1328 it was allowed to elect officers who were responsible for the exercise of its authority. (fn. 21) But some skinners had had their own association for many years before this, the fraternity, which the most prosperous men in the industry had for long used as a political pressure group. This fraternity, dedicated to Corpus Christi, may have been reorganized after 1327: the surviving roll of members suggests at least that a new roll was begun between 1335 and 1340. (fn. 22) The grocers made a fresh beginning in 1345: twenty-one men, pepperers, corders, or apothecaries, dined together and decided to meet regularly. They agreed to hire a priest, each paying 1d. a week for his support, and to wear a livery. They kept a record of other arrangements for the regulation of the fraternity, and of the names of members. (fn. 23) The skinners' Fraternity of Corpus Christi, however, seems in the 1340's to have been much bigger than this, presumably because already long established. It consisted certainly of fifty, and probably of about seventy, people. (fn. 24) Naturally, wealthy merchants like William de Cave and Roger Nettlested, who carried the bulk of the trade with the Great Wardrobe, Thomas Leggy and William de Pountfreyt, both shortly to be aldermen, and Thomas de Stafford, who died while on business in the Low Countries, were members of the fraternity. (fn. 25) But most were men of middling rank, the more prosperous masters and shopkeepers living in Walbrook ward, with a sprinkling of skinners living elsewhere. But it must have been, like the grocers' fraternity, a limited group, since there were prominent skinners in Walbrook like John Trappe, the scale of whose business we can deduce from a letter to a Genoese customer, who were not members. (fn. 26) Its centre was the church of St. John Walbrook, and there was probably a priest attached to the fraternity from an early date. But a fraternity was a body of men whose common interests and activities were not only economic but social and religious. The Fraternity of Corpus Christi attracted as members not only skinners but some tawyers and fellmongers, and later even upholders, and other merchants quite unconnected with the industry. Men like Bartholomew Thomasyn, a rich Italian spice merchant, and William Stanes, apothecary to Edward III, who both lived near by in Cheap ward, were members, as were about a dozen women, wives of members. (fn. 27) Similarly, when two other groups of freemen skinners, drawn from a lower social class, built up fraternities of their own in another part of London, probably during the third quarter of the fourteenth century, they too attracted members from outside the industry. The fraternities drew their strength, therefore, from the sanction of the Church and their social cohesion; they cut across, and were not identical with, the mistery.

It is not surprising, however, to find that the Fraternity of Corpus Christi, to which thirty-two of the sixty freemen skinners of 1332 belonged, gradually came to take control of the affairs of the mistery after 1328. (fn. 28) Of the thirty-two skinners named as active in the affairs of the mistery on five different occasions between 1337 and 1344, six were not members of the fraternity. (fn. 29) But all the twelve men chosen to inspect work in 1344, 'the wiser, richer, more provident men of the mistery who had the honour of the city and the interests of their trade at heart', had joined the fraternity. (fn. 30) From that time, no one who was not a member was involved in the organization of the trade.

To what body then does the term 'gild' refer? In 1364 the tailors were allowed to hold their 'gild' within the City once a year and therein make regulations for their mistery. This reflects contemporary usage in London: it refers specifically to the meetings of the fraternity which held authority within the mistery. (fn. 31) Presumably only those who exercised the craft were involved, and in many trades fraternity, mistery, and gild were identical once public recognition had been granted. But the term 'gild' is used loosely today as a portmanteau word to cover all the different associations found among medieval tradesmen.

Professor Coornaert analysed the various bodies to be found between the eighth and the fifteenth centuries in different parts of Europe to which the name 'gild' has been given, and he has demonstrated that great diversity underlay the few features they had in common. (fn. 32) These were more or less limited to certain traditions and rites inherited from a distant past, in which feasting and drinking played a very important part, a fact vividly illustrated by a twelfth-century chronicler's use of the English word 'gild' in connexion with the Latin 'bibitoria' or drinkinghouse. (fn. 33) The common objectives of these groups, many of them religious in inspiration, sprang from a profound sense of brotherhood, and were reflected particularly in such activities as almsgiving and assisting at burials. (fn. 34) But these associations came to be used at different times for different purposes, and it was this which gave them their individual but hydra-headed character. Medieval gilds cannot be studied in isolation. Only close investigation, where this is possible, of a particular association in a particular industry in a particular town reveals its nature. Unfortunately our grasp of medieval urban society and industry is such that attempts at definition or analysis are built on shifting sands, often holding good for a particular moment of time only.

Of the power and influence of the fraternity or gild which grew to dominate the mistery of the skinners in the fourteenth century there can, however, be no doubt. Few skinners were as rich or influential as the leading grocers or mercers. Yet as a body the skinners feared no one. Whatever lay behind the violent and dramatic struggles between them and the fishmongers during the years from 1340 to 1343, what emerges is that the skinners were apparently strong enough to challenge one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations of the time. The ensuing strife drew royal attention to disorders in the City, and in 1340 the mayor and aldermen, after consultation with the commonalty, felt impelled to use one of their rarely exercised powers and order the execution in Cheap of two of the fishmongers involved and the imprisonment of the skinner who had struck the first blow. (fn. 35) Seventeen years later the struggle was still sufficiently well remembered for the agreement which ended it to be used as a reference point for expressing someone's age. (fn. 36) By 1363 the skinners were able to contribute £40 to a loan to the King. In this their contribution was only equalled by the drapers, fishmongers, and mercers. The cordwainers paid £6. 13s. 4d. and the saddlers £5. (fn. 37) The social prestige of the fraternity grew steadily. It received the patronage of Edward III and his queen, the Black Prince, Richard II and his Queen Anne, and included among its members important noblemen and leading merchants like Sir John Philipot. (fn. 38) The skinners played no outstanding part in the prolonged disputes which embittered City politics between 1376 and 1394. But their authority as one of the greater misteries, based on the leadership of substantial merchants exercised through a well-organized fraternity, was then generally recognized. Seven merchant skinners served as aldermen during the years when the experiment of annual elections was tried out, two represented the City in Parliament. Elections for the Common Council, both by ward as was customary, or by mistery, show that the skinners received equal representation with the great misteries. (fn. 39)

The Fraternity or Gild of Corpus Christi of the Skinners of London received royal recognition in the charter granted in 1393, only a few months after the quarrel between Richard II and the City had been settled. (fn. 40) Thereafter it was virtually identified with the mistery and its authority was derived from secular rather than ecclesiastical sources. It is usually from this date referred to as a livery company, as its members were formally permitted to demonstrate their corporate identity by the wearing of a livery, as had long been customary. The skinners were thus one of the first five trades to take steps to secure definition of their position after the inquiry instituted into the gilds in 1389 and the criticism of the wearing of livery made by the Commons following the conflicts of the previous decade. (fn. 41) Although it was not until 1438 that the mistery, rather than the fraternity, was fully protected by a grant of legal incorporation, the powers acquired in 1393 were considerable. The licence to hold lands in mortmain, although not taken up immediately, made possible the acquisition of the mansion called the Copped Hall in Dowgate, on the site of which Skinners' Hall still stands, as well as other property, valued altogether in 1409 at £11. 17s. 0d. and in 1412 at £18. 12s. 8d. (fn. 42) Although the skinners presumably had some meeting-place before this, the ownership of a permanent headquarters contributed to the prestige of the mistery and simplified its administration. Governors had been elected before this date, but the royal charter specifically allowed the members of the fraternity to elect a master and four wardens who have, since that time, been responsible both for supervision of the trade and the social and religious activities of the fraternity. The appointment of two chaplains, described in 1393 as being customary from old times, was also confirmed. We know from a bequest of 1387 that there was already more than one beadle, the essential officer of both mistery and fraternity. (fn. 43)

Little is known of the activities of these officers at this time. The master and wardens presumably met regularly at Skinners' Hall to deal with infringements of ordinances, to discuss with members problems which concerned the reputation of the trade, such as concealed money-lending, to arbitrate in disputes between members, and to regulate the taking of apprentices and the admission of new members. Services were held at the church of St. John Walbrook, all members being expected to attend the burial services for their brethren and pray for their souls, and to be ready to help those in need and their families. Management of the property and finances of the Company probably also took up much time. From the date of the first recorded bequest, given by a draper in 1361, gifts of money, property, and other goods were received. (fn. 44) Other income came from subscriptions, in their origin gifts for the poor, and from fines. Between 1365 and 1393 one-third of the fines levied by the City for offences against the ordinances went to the mistery; (fn. 45) presumably after 1393 the Company handled cases in its own court and all the money taken in fines went into the common box.

The great day of the year for the skinners was Corpus Christi day. For them this was election day; in their brilliantly coloured furred liveries they attended a solemn feast, to which later the mayor and aldermen were sometimes invited. (fn. 46) After it elections for the following year took place. How early the ermine 'caps of maintenance', which first appear in the Company's records in 1487 and later figure in the Company's coat of arms, were used is not known. (fn. 47) But as it was traditional in the early fraternities for retiring officers to place garlands on the heads of their successors, we may assume that the caps of maintenance have been in use for a very long time. (fn. 48) But the privilege the skinners most treasured, which was confirmed by the charter of 1393 but which they had probably held for many years, was the responsibility for the Corpus Christi procession in the City. This was one of the sights of medieval London. Stow described how the procession 'passed through the principall streetes of the Citie, wherein was borne more than one hundred Torches of Waxe (costly garnished) burning light, and above two hundred Clearkes and Priests in Surplesses and Coapes, singing. After the which were the Shiriffes servants, the Clarkes of the Counters, Chaplains for the Shiriffes, the Maiors Sargeants, the counsell of the Citie, the Maior and Aldermen in scarlet, and then the Skinners in their best Liveryes.' (fn. 49) Although it is not until the end of the fifteenth century that the Company's accounts provide a more detailed picture of the preparations for Corpus Christi Day we can be sure of the importance of the procession itself in the Company's history throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. (fn. 50)

The reaction of other freemen skinners to the growing power of the fraternity of the richer men in the trade is not known. They too, however, followed the merchants' example and formed their own fraternities, one attached to St. Mary Spital and one to St. Mary Bethlem, both priories and hospitals outside Bishopsgate and some distance away from Walbrook. These were perhaps twenty years old when they joined to form the Fraternity dedicated to Our Lady's Assumption, and transferred to the church of St. John Walbrook. The annual entries in the roll of this fraternity begin on 20 July 1397, but 166 people were listed as having previously been members of the brotherhoods, and a further 155 listed before the entries begin. It was certainly a large and thriving fraternity at this time, but nothing more is known of its early history, or of how closely it was connected with skinners. (fn. 51) After the inquiry of 1389 it may have been decided that it was advisable for all freemen skinners to be more closely linked with the leaders of the mistery. One of the ordinances of the yeomanry implies that they assumed that the charter granted to the older fraternity in 1393 also gave them the right to hold regular meetings. (fn. 52)

It is evident, however, that from 1397 the Skinners' Company assumed the shape which was to be characteristic of most livery companies a century later. The Fraternity of Corpus Christi formed the 'livery'; it consisted of the more prosperous men in the industry and their friends, and was the executive body of the mistery. The Fraternity of Our Lady's Assumption formed the 'yeomanry', freemen skinners of humbler social standing and their friends. It was distinguished from the merchants' fraternity by contemporaries since it was described as the 'yemen companye' (in 1402), or the fraternity of the servienti or valetti (circa 1420). (fn. 53) All these words are capable of a variety of interpretations but they are used here to indicate those in a subordinate position, the less privileged. (fn. 54) In this the yeomen skinners may be compared with the forty-two freemen householders in the Grocers' Company in 1430 who had not the right to wear the livery and were thus distinguished from the fifty-five men who wore the full livery and the seventeen who wore the hood only. (fn. 55) Although excluded from responsibility for the affairs of the mistery, they were fully trained freemen, presumably working sometimes on their own account, at other times for the merchants. Some prospered and no doubt social ambition led them to seek admission to the livery when they could pay the necessary dues. (fn. 56) Others found their social needs fully satisfied by the activities of the yeomanry fraternity and felt no urge to participate in discussion of the affairs of the mistery.

The remarkable wealth and social prestige slowly built up by the Fraternity of Our Lady's Assumption during the first half of the fifteenth century is some measure of the prosperity of the small masters. It provides also a comment on the depth of the needs which were satisfied by it. The ordinances breathe the same spirit as those of the parish fraternities. The association had its own four wardens, chaplain, beadle, and clerk; from gifts a considerable store of plate, linen, and ecclesiastical vestments was quickly collected. (fn. 57) In 1441, for instance, the wardens were able to carry forward a balance of £80. 13s. 5d. (fn. 58) As early as 1439 the fraternity was given some property, and this and other gifts continued, even in the sixteenth century, to be handled separately from those belonging to the livery. (fn. 59) Its activities were concentrated on the services and dinners, assistance at the funerals of members, and the relief of the sick and poor, and its members wore a livery of their own.

Membership of the fraternity was extraordinarily wide. Early in the fifteenth century the members were chiefly skinners and their wives, with some of their friends among the small tradesmen, barbers, tailors, cooks, and brewers. (fn. 60) It is interesting to notice, however, that some of these skinners who never cared to join the merchants' fraternity were yet trading on a big enough scale to sell direct to the Great Wardrobe. (fn. 61) Soon, members from outside London were admitted, a man from Banbury in 1411, and one from Exeter in 1412. By 1427 the net was more widely spread: members from Bristol, Chester, Northampton, Coventry, and the Home Counties; skinners from Boston and Newark; men from the bigger misteries, grocers, fishmongers, vintners; Hanseatic merchants and Lombards. More gentry joined, lawyers, parsons from Sussex and Kent, and a monk from Canterbury, as well as men from noble and ecclesiastical households. As many as sixty-four new members were admitted in 1442, and eighty-eight in 1445, numbers which indicate a large income from entrance fees if not from regular subscriptions. Eventually the fraternity received the patronage of the queens of both Henry VI and Edward IV, the Earl of Oxford and his wife, and the Bishop of Hereford. (fn. 62)

Thus in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries the Skinners' Company was made up of two fraternities, that of the merchants and that of another group, primarily the smaller masters, both associations flourishing in relative independence of each other, with a high social standing in their own circles. During the fifteenth century, however, the organization of the Skinners' Company became increasingly hierarchical. By 1435 decisions in the Company were being taken by a small group of merchants, the 'Sixteen' of the Fraternity of Corpus Christi, a body later to be known as the Court of Assistants. (fn. 63) By 1452 the yeomanry were no longer to give alms without leave from the Sixteen, and had to produce their accounts in full for audit by the Master and wardens. (fn. 64) Some further reorganization took place about 1480 which produced a striking change in the character of the yeomanry. In 1480 twenty-two new members were admitted to the fraternity, including the Bishop of Hereford and the Clerk of the Works at Syon; but in each of the three following years not only were there fewer new members, (eight, five, and seven respectively), but they can nearly all be identified as working skinners. (fn. 65) This was certainly partly the result of the decision taken in 1475 by the City that only liverymen of the companies could meet in Congregation to elect the mayor, sheriffs, and other officers. This decision enhanced the value of membership of the livery and depressed further the status of the yeomanry. (fn. 66)

Of organization among other workers in the fur trade who were freemen little is known. Tawyers and fellmongers were relatively small groups who could with the minimum of organization deal with apprenticeships, presentations to the freedom, and other problems, and their social and religious interests may have been catered for elsewhere. (fn. 67) The fellmongers never troubled, so far as we know, to form an independent association at all. Some found it convenient to join the merchant skinners' fraternity, others did not. Prosperous tawyers like Adam Wenlock, one of the leaders of their mistery in 1365, joined the merchant skinners' fraternity; others joined the yeomanry; some presumably did neither. In 1488, however, the tawyers, or greytawyers as they specifically described themselves, sought municipal recognition for an association modelled on that of the livery companies. (fn. 68) Their right to elect a master and two wardens of their own, and supervise their craft, was confirmed and their ordinances were approved by the City. Unfortunately little information survives about this gild, although we know that one group wore the livery, and paid a subscription of 2s., and one group, who did not, paid 1s. 4d. It was, however, to be shortlived, as economic difficulties forced the tawyers to turn for protection to those on whom they depended for their work, and they were formally made members of the Skinners' Company in 1564. (fn. 69)

There was still another large body of workmen in the fur trade, to which it seems probable that about half the men known to have been working as skinners in London between 1330 and 1350 belonged. (fn. 70) They were foreigns, men who were not freemen of the City. Probably the majority of them were too poor to pay the necessary fees to City and gild, and scraped a precarious living as best they could. But it may be questioned whether this was true of them all. It was particularly easy for skinners to stay within the letter of the law, evade the financial responsibilities of citizenship, and yet do fairly well out of selling second-hand furs, by crying their wares in the streets or by building up a clientele of their own. 'Foreign' shopkeepers in several trades had to be tolerated to such an extent that in 1463 a particular area in the City, Blanchappleton, was set aside for them, and others settled in the suburbs. (fn. 71) Non-freemen skinners came under the supervision of the leaders of the mistery, but of their activities, individual or corporate, little is known.

Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the members of a comparatively small, distinct, social group within the fur trade dominated the organization of the industry, as they may have dominated it economically. On the one hand, they had to supervise the manufacture and sale of furs, both by skinners and others, in the public interest; on the other hand, they hoped to use their association to further their own interests.

The functions exercised by the misteries as agents of the municipality may be clearly seen by the middle years of the fourteenth century. Some derived their authority directly from the Crown, others from the municipality itself. The crafts were expected to elect rulers and might submit their names for the approval of the mayor and aldermen. They were to see that high standards of workmanship and purity of goods were maintained, for which purpose they might formulate ordinances in which the appropriate standards were defined. These ordinances, when registered with the authorities, became in effect municipal ordinances, although usually enforced by the gilds. The gilds were also expected to supervise in their respective trades the working of the much older traditions which made up the apprenticeship system, thus ensuring efficient technical training, and to present to the freedom. They dealt with other labour matters and helped to settle disputes between members. Some trades came to terms with related crafts about wages to be paid, and, in the victualling trades particularly, helped to ensure fair prices.

It is easier unfortunately to find out what the skinners were expected to do than to gauge their success in doing it. Formal definition of what was presumably the practice of the best craftsmen of the day in the manufacture of furs was achieved, and powers through which such standards might be enforced were secured. (fn. 72) The charter of 1327 prescribed a standard size for fur linings of squirrel, the numbers of skins to be used in their manufacture varying only according to the number of tiers, and the quality of skins or parts of skins of which they were made. The size of fur linings of budge and lamb was similarly defined. Skins of differing qualities or new and second-hand skins were not to be used in the same fur, nor were second-hand furs to be sold unless still attached to garments. Searchers were to confiscate furs which did not conform to the regulations, not only in the City and surburbs, but also at the fairs of Boston, Winchester, St. Ives, Stamford, Bury St. Edmunds, and elsewhere, and their owners were to be punished by the mayor, or the stewards of the fairs. In 1365 ordinances elaborated these decrees. Certain skins were not to be worked together: calabre was not to be worked with pured minever or bis, nor winter skins with out-of-season ones, nor ruskyn with popell. Inspection was also to include imported furs, which were to be passed before being sold in the City or being taken to be sold elsewhere. Punishments were defined: fourteen days in Newgate, a fine of 13s. 4d. to the City and 6s. 8d. to the mistery, and the replacement by the skinner involved, or strangers if they could be apprehended in the City, of a forfeited fur by one properly made, a duty for which the leaders of the trade made themselves responsible. Nor were skins to be beaten in the streets. All these clauses were little more than elaborations of the first regulations proclaimed for the trade in 1288: they defined the standards of work which, once perhaps designed by skinners with the interests of their trade in mind, they were now expected to maintain to protect the public. Good workmanship was defined as the use of the required number of the good parts of skins in the manufacture of furs of standard size, and in the refusal to defraud the customer by the use of cheaper or second-hand skins in the place of good-quality ones.

The first task of the gild was to ensure that these standards were kept. Searchers were appointed, their names being often presented to the Court of Aldermen, and they were encouraged at one time by being given one-third of the sums levied in fines. (fn. 73) But how thoroughly or how frequently they searched the shops where furs were sold is not known. Certainly in 1365, and for some time after, furs were inspected, however spasmodically, and various people were fined by the mayor. Some were not skinners. Upholders were accustomed to selling furs, both new and second-hand, as well as bedding; thus the wardens in 1442 inspected the furs of William Barnwell, upholder, although his wife did her best to stop them. (fn. 74) William Shukburgh, draper, also spent some time in Newgate for defying the skinners' searchers. (fn. 75) He is an interesting but isolated example: an importer of skins and furs and a wholesale distributor, he had furs made up in his shop and must either have employed a skinner or known something of the craft himself. (fn. 76) Some of those fined were not Londoners: John Isaak came from Chichester, and Henry Mulsho, a prominent merchant, came from Gedyngton in Northamptonshire.

It would appear, however, that the skinners devoted most of their attention to the members of their own trade. Fifty-two cases, involving forty-eight men, were brought before the mayor and aldermen between 1365 and 1393, the majority within a year of the passing of the ordinances in 1365. (fn. 77) At least thirty-nine of these offenders can be identified as London skinners or fellmongers. (fn. 78) The fines imposed varied, seldom being as heavy as those proposed in the ordinances, but some were, such as the 46s. 8d. paid by Thomas de Ware. (fn. 79) Yet the number of cases was in fact comparatively small for a period of thirty years. Possibly only persistent offenders were taken to the City courts; minor infringements of the ordinances may have been dealt with in more summary fashion. After 1393 no skinners were summoned by the mistery in the City courts. Presumably additional powers were assumed by the Company after the charter granted in that year.

Enforcement of the ordinances, a difficult task at the best of times, would certainly have been simplified had all skinners lived in Walbrook, Cornhill, or Budge Row, as they were ordered to do in 1365. (fn. 80) But while many lived in those streets throughout the Middle Ages, there were always skinners living elsewhere. For instance, only one-quarter of the 124 skinners whose wills were enrolled in the first four registers of the Commissary Court of London, which cover the years 1374 to 1449, came from the parishes of St. John and St. Stephen Walbrook. (fn. 81) There was, too, an interesting case in 1381 which suggests that the search was not always as thoroughly done as it might have been. A skinner who had sewn old otter skins into a fur of new beaver skins was summoned not by the mistery but by the irritated clerk for whom the gown had been made, and brought before the Court of Aldermen rather than before the wardens of the Company. (fn. 82)

Nothing is known of the extent to which the skinners exercised their rights of search outside London. Certainly the London girdlers were busy at Wye fair in 1332, and the London goldsmiths actively pursued their responsibilities outside the City. (fn. 83) Skinners did indeed begin to take an increased share in the representation of the City at the fairs after 1327. (fn. 84) Possibly appointments such as that of warden at Boston Fair made it easier for prominent skinners to carry out their search. However, the interest of the Londoners in the fairs diminished as they declined in importance after the thirties, and only one later appointment (to Boston Fair) is noted in the London records. (fn. 85)

The maintenance of high standards of workmanship within the fur trade was ultimately to the advantage of all who were in any way connected with it, as well as being of immediate concern to the skinners' customers. Attempts were certainly made, however spasmodically, in the second half of the fourteenth century to enforce these standards and to prevent fraud. Traditions as to what constituted good workmanship grew up within the trade: a certain degree of skill was expected before a craftsman received the freedom, and a skinner would guarantee to do some work 'well and truly as he would warrant before the masters of his craft'. (fn. 86) The success of the gild in achieving these limited objectives may perhaps also be inferred from its success in checking the dyeing of furs. This process, known to the ancient world and to twelfth- and thirteenth-century Europe, was frowned upon by gilds of skinners and considered contrary to the interests of the trade because of the dangers of fraud. (fn. 87) In England, although second-hand furs may have been so treated, (fn. 88) there is no evidence to suggest that it was ever openly done. Presumably dyeing of furs involved a difficult technique and this may have eased the skinners' task, but only in 1533, when the control of the Company was much weakened, is there any evidence of 'cats painted' being sold. (fn. 89)

Yet in the last resort the gild, while supervising the trade for the benefit of all, represented only a sectional interest. Did the merchant skinners use their organization to further their own economic interests at the expense of others, whether skinners or not? The high social prestige of their fraternity, which presumably continued to bring them considerable political influence as common problems were discussed behind closed doors, also strengthened their hands as entrepreneurs and shopkeepers. Some skinners were driven to protest against the policy of the merchants in 1365, as they had done in 1304. (fn. 90) In that year eight men were sent to prison for rebellious conduct against the leaders of the mistery, and in 1368 another six men had to promise not to form congregations or 'covins' in taverns. (fn. 91) But collectively the merchants might also plan the purchase of skins, or regulate the machinery through which they were bought; they might try to resolve their labour problems by imposing rates for piece-work on those who dressed skins and stitched up furs for them; they might attempt to concentrate the retailing of furs in their own hands, possibly, in view of their very considerable luxury market, agreeing on raised prices. Only if successful in such directions may the activities of the gild be held to have influenced significantly the development of the industry in London.

Of some of their joint activities we know little. Their interest was concentrated on the work of the sworn brokers, the men who acted as intermediaries, on behalf of the City, between them and the aliens who imported skins. These men were regularly appointed by the skinners and their names registered before the Court of Aldermen. In 1365 ordinances defined their functions. They were to act justly, and report fraudulently packed bundles of skins; they swore neither to buy nor sell peltry, nor to encourage non-freemen to share in the trade. (fn. 92) The skinners faced supply problems quite different from those, for instance, of the grocers, who were jointly hiring ships for the transport of spices, spending money on their defence, and arranging for their loading and unloading in the 1370's. (fn. 93) But Company accounts, which might reveal the skinners' activities in these and other directions as the grocers' do theirs, do not exist.

We must, therefore, look elsewhere for our evidence. It is obvious that the skinners were very active in the 1360's, particularly in the year 1365, when one of the wealthiest and most ambitious merchants among them, Adam de Bury, was Mayor of London. (fn. 94) As he, with other aldermen, was later accused by the Good Parliament in 1376 of having used his public office for private profit, it may be assumed that mayoral patronage, and the support of the other aldermen on the bench, was of considerable help to the skinners in pressing for the ordinances granted to them in that year and in facilitating their enforcement. (fn. 95) Partly these no doubt reflected the institutional development of the preceding years, and therefore administrative procedures were more fully outlined than in 1327. But they also show that the merchant skinners, like some of the most powerful groups in the City's economy, were fully determined in the midfourteenth century to further their own particular interests. The fishmongers, for instance, were attempting to ensure that goods were sold only at agreed prices in 1321, and the grocers, among others, in 1363. (fn. 96) The monopolistic aims of the drapers and vintners are clearly reflected in the charters granted to them in 1363–4. (fn. 97) Undoubtedly, while accepting that wholesale trade was open to all citizens, they hoped to channel the retail trade in their own particular commodities through their own members. (fn. 98) The fishmongers may have been successful in doing this: not only were they numerous and wealthy merchants able to control the sources of import of fish, but they enjoyed a prescriptive right to hold a 'halimot' or court in which all disputes between fishmongers were settled, a privilege shared by no other organized trade in London at this time. (fn. 99)

Similarly the ordinances granted to the merchant skinners in 1365, linked with the petition of 1327, reveal their aims at the height of their powers. (fn. 100) On the one hand, they obviously hoped to make the traditional citizen monopoly of retail trade more of a reality than it had been. Hence they attempted to regulate the second-hand trade in furs, which always provided poor craftsmen and new-comers to the City with an easy avenue to retail trade. Street hawkers were restricted to selling second-hand furs, and these were to be sold only while still attached to clothes. Craftsmen working on new furs were forbidden in 1365 to buy or sell second-hand ones. But the ordinance which gave the skinners the right to inspect all imported fur linings before they were sold in the City, and all fur linings being taken by skinners and fellmongers to be sold outside the City, went a great deal further than this. Such powers of inspection could have been put to a variety of uses, and this threatened all importers of ready-made furs, whether aliens or other London merchants, and those who attempted to sell them. While they were on safe ground in attacking aliens who attempted to sell furs retail, as they were restricted to wholesale trade, their position with regard to fellow Londoners was a more difficult one. The custom of the City allowed all freemen to open shops, and to trade wholesale in whatever they wished. Thus to attempt to secure for skinners a monopoly in the retail trade in skins and furs ran counter to City tradition and would be particularly difficult to enforce.

The skinners, with the other powerful associations which were attempting to build up their authority in the same way, were unfortunate in that so soon after their ordinances were confirmed in 1365, and perhaps not unconnected with them, there occurred a serious crisis in City politics. (fn. 101) The closing years of Edward III's reign and the decade which followed were years of disturbance and confusion for England generally; they were also years of decisive importance in the history of London and the greater misteries. Not only did the organized trades attempt and fail to tighten their hold on the constitution of the City by strengthening their elective powers, but their powers and privileges in connexion with their own trades led to bitter rivalry between them, and the citizen monopoly of retail trade was challenged by the King. Thus the attempt made in the last years of Edward III's reign to free retail trade brought the skinners sharply behind the party led by Brembre and the fishmongers, which successfully defended the citizens' monopoly in 1377. (fn. 102) But jealousy led the leaders of some of the greater misteries to band together to fight the more privileged fishmongers. For this purpose they willingly accepted the leadership of the reforming mayor, John of Northampton. As a result the fishmongers were in 1382 deprived of their halimot and their monopoly of the sale of fish, as well as being excluded from judicial office in the City. (fn. 103) But Northampton's policy of cheap food, while it remained popular with smaller men, soon lost him the support of the majority of London merchants when it was seen to threaten the citizen monopoly of retail trade. This was still jealously guarded, the City authorities refusing in 1368, for instance, to proclaim the observance of statutes of 1335 and 1351 permitting merchant strangers to trade freely in the City. (fn. 104) Thus the statute of 1382, opening retail trade in victuals to all, was repealed in the following year, and despite further attempts to free trade by the Merciless Parliament in 1388, the citizens recovered their monopoly of retail trade. (fn. 105) The struggles, which thus apparently ended in victory for the great misteries, in reality, however, ended in a compromise. Citizens alone could sell retail in the City, except for provisions, trade in which was to be open to all. This settlement was confirmed in 1392–3. (fn. 106) Furthermore, any powers which brought the crafts into conflict with the municipal courts or municipal policy had to be given up. (fn. 107) The fishmongers, content with the unusual privileges brought by their control of the halimot, had not troubled to protect themselves with other ordinances, and now found themselves seriously weakened by the loss of this court. The other wealthy crafts had to surrender their royal charters to the mayor in 1388, and the inquiry into the position and powers of the fraternities in 1389 was a further attempt to ensure that all private associations should recognize public authority. (fn. 108)

Thus one monopoly only was ever acknowledged by the municipality: that none but citizens might set up shop for themselves and sell goods retail in the City. Men free of the City might sell what they wished, provided that the goods were well made or of good quality. Grocers were never limited to the sale of spices and medicines, but sold wine, fish, cloth, English and German caps, painted boxes, leather bags, Prussian canvas, silver spoons, and other such diverse articles. (fn. 109) But those goods, whether English or foreign, had to reach the standards agreed by the municipality, supervision of which was in the hands of the wardens of the craft concerned. Thus officials of any gild, while never in a position after 1389 to insist that only men of that mistery could sell the goods produced by its workmen, had the right to search the shops of men outside the trade, and confiscate any defective goods they found which belonged to their craft.

This, then, was the position held by the skinners after they had cautiously secured protection for their fraternity by a royal charter in 1393. This was the basis of their authority in the fifteenth century when they consolidated their position. A petition of 1433, for instance, shows how completely they had failed to make good their claims of 1365. In 1428, they summoned a mercer for selling badly made imported furs, and five years later presented a petition claiming 'to have the search and oversight of all manner furs brought by any merchant stranger or other to sell in the city'. But the Court of Aldermen then decided that the charter and ordinances on which they based their claim did not warrant the petition, implying that this had for many years been considered contrary to the public interest. (fn. 110)

Yet we get a distinct impression that most of the retail trade in skins and furs passed through the hands of skinners. Furs are rarely listed in any quantity in surviving details of the imports of the big London merchants; (fn. 111) in inventories of the goods they sold the only furs to appear with any frequency were beaver hats, imported from the Low Countries and usually sold by mercers. (fn. 112) The mercer who was summoned by the Skinners' Company in 1428 made the excuse that he lacked the expert knowledge to discover whether or not the fur was made up of skins of varying quality. (fn. 113) This defence perhaps provides the best indication of the attitude of the big merchants. The trade in good quality furs was a highly specialized luxury trade like that in mercery, and merchants, while never hesitating to fill up a cargo with furs or to sell them, may have tended to leave them to those who knew what they were doing. Similarly, few craftsmen except those trained in the art were in a position to make up furs, and only those in a few allied crafts can have attempted to do so. This included upholders, tailors, and glovers, all of whom often used furs to line or trim the articles they made. (fn. 114) Thus the specialized nature of their trade would seem to provide a more satisfactory explanation of the skinners' apparent monopoly than the exploitation of their authority through the gild.

While merchant skinners shared a common interest in retail distribution with other wealthy merchants like fishmongers and grocers, they had another major interest which seriously affected their outlook. They were manufacturers, and for them control of an essential process, the dressing of skins, was a far more vital step towards monopoly. Control of subsidiary trades was obviously a matter of great importance to all the industrial crafts. Legally the trained men in each craft were all freemen and technically the equals of each other, but attempts to achieve control can be followed in several of them, in particular the attempts of the saddlers to control the fusters, lorimers, and painters who helped to make the saddles. (fn. 115) In the fur trade the merchants wanted to control the payments they made to the tawyers for dressing their skins, and to prevent the tawyers from working for any but citizen skinners. The skinners could then afford to ignore tailors and upholders who sewed skins because so long as the dressing of skins was in their hands, tailors and upholders would be forced to buy the skins they needed from them. They could also effectively check any attempts made by non-Londoners to invade the retail market, except with imported furs, and cripple the activities of the small working skinner without a shop.

The first battle between skinners and tawyers took place as early as 1300, when the skinners were already strong enough to summon the tawyers and force them to agree to the payments to be made for the dressing of skins. (fn. 116) The tawyers firmly denied having attempted to form a confederacy of their own, but they had apparently agreed in general on the raised prices to which the skinners objected. The relationship between the two crafts was ultimately defined and it was agreed that any contravening the agreement reached were to be judged by four men, three representing the skinners and one the tawyers. Further ordinances, which had also included agreements over payments, were confirmed in the mayoralty of Thomas Leggy, skinner, in either 1347–8 or 1354–5, but these no longer survive. (fn. 117) It is very likely that they belonged to the later date and reflected the unsettled period following the Black Death and the labour troubles then prevailing. The disputes which followed, leading up to the more serious disturbances of 1365, suggest that the master tawyers were far from being miserable workmen unable to do anything but submit to pressure from above. A group of ten masters twice refused to agree to the ordinances, preferring in the end to be sent to prison, and their serving men then shut up shop and repaired to Horsley-down in Bermondsey to discuss the matter. (fn. 118) In the end, however, the tawyers were helpless in face of the onslaught unleashed against them, and they and their twenty-nine servants had to agree to terms which gave the skinners sole rights to supervise their work.

It is probably not irrelevant to comment on the fact that both groups of ordinances were confirmed during the mayoralty of skinners, Thomas Leggy and Adam de Bury. Nor do the skinners seem to have scrupled to use their power in less legitimate fashion. The jury which reported on the behaviour of the serving men of the tawyers was made up entirely of skinners, twelve of the most prominent of the period, five of whom were shortly to be aldermen. (fn. 119)

The first of the ordinances, which the tawyers eventually had to accept, puts into words the most extreme claims made by the skinners: 'It is ordained that no one of the tawyers shall do any work in his trade for Easterlings, Flemings, or any other person of whatsoever place or trade he may be, but only for folks who are pelterers, freemen of London, and who keep open shop in the trade.' (fn. 120) Tawyers were forbidden to buy or sell any wares of peltry, including old budge skins which had been re-dressed, or to act as brokers between dealers in skins. Prices to be charged by the tawyers for the work they did were fixed, permitting some increase in payments as agreed in 1300. (fn. 121)

Thus the ordinances of 1365 defined precisely the position of the tawyers. They were serving-men only, even if prosperous masters employing as many as nine men; and any means by which they might improve their economic position and assert their independence of the skinners was firmly stated to be illegal and punishable by imprisonment or fine.

The monopolist aims of the skinners show most clearly in their contacts with the tawyers; investigation of their relations after 1365 should, therefore, shed some most welcome light on the whole question of their monopoly. Were the skinners strong enough to force the tawyers to keep the terms of the agreement? The evidence provided by the London records is unfortunately chiefly negative and inconclusive. Only two cases where tawyers were punished for breaking the ordinances are recorded: in 1365 a tawyer was fined for cutting the head off a skin, and in 1375 another tawyer was imprisoned although the charges brought against him by the skinners were not specified. (fn. 122) However, some indications of the relations between the two crafts may be drawn from early fifteenth-century Great Wardrobe accounts. In 1422–3, 6s. was paid for tawing one thousand greywerk for the King. This was the sum agreed on in 1365, and may be assumed to have been a reasonable price, giving a fair reward for labour. The figure suggests that the skinners had been successful in maintaining the fixed rates of pay. (fn. 123) Yet the very fact that that payment is detailed in the accounts hints at a change in the relationship between skinners and tawyers. In 1407–8, when some skins had to be tawed, the London skinner who had recently been appointed as King's Skinner was responsible for its being done. (fn. 124) He, as we should expect from the ordinances of 1365, put the work out, paid for it, and was paid in his turn through the Great Wardrobe. But in 1422–3 a London greytawyer was approached and paid directly through the Great Wardrobe, and London tawyers were doing the work without intermediary in 1443–8, in 1480, and in 1492. (fn. 125)

Nor is there any evidence in the City Letter Books or Journals that the skinners protested when the greytawyers secured confirmation of their ordinances in March 1488. (fn. 126) Although their petition followed the customary pattern its very wording, and the complete omission of any reference to the skinners, suggests that it was many years since the skinners had effectively supervised their work:

for lacke of good Rules [they said] and ordennyng within the saide crafts . . . many evil disposed persones of the same crafts have knowledge of lackyng of the said ordenances so that they be greatly disordered and not of oon conformed but every man takyng his owne way as menne under none obedience . . . [The master and two wardens to be elected were to have power to] search and oversee work belongyng to the same crafts as well wrought by alien straungers and foreigns as by men enfranchised in the same crafte that the same work be well werkemanly and truely made and wrought.

An increase in prices paid for tawing towards the end of the fifteenth century, while it may also reflect changing circumstances, is sufficient to confirm this growing independence of the tawyers. In 1433–4 a timber of ermine skins was tawed for 8d., a price which had risen to 1s. by 1485; (fn. 127) the cost of tawing a timber of sables rose from 4s. in 1480 to 5s. in 1492–4. (fn. 128) Thus the few hints we can gather about the relations of skinners and tawyers after the triumphant victory of the merchants in 1365 do suggest, however tentatively, that for probably only a relatively short time were the skinners either anxious or able to enforce their control over the tawyers.

No clear-cut picture of a medieval gild at work emerges from surviving evidence relating to the fur trade in London in the later Middle Ages. Shrouded in the secrecy which sheltered the early fraternities, many of its activities during the most critical half century or so of its existence are hidden from us. But the obscurity springs far more from the very nature of the gild. Primarily it was a body of men whose organization and functions varied according to the demands made upon it, either by its members or by municipal authority. It was always a religious brotherhood and a society closely bound by convivial celebrations. But gild members used their association to satisfy different needs at different times: at one time it acted as a political pressure group, at another as a means of building up monopolist pretensions or handling a specific problem within the trade. At other times the stimulus to action came from above, in accordance with royal or municipal policy. Its leaders were busy men, sometimes wrapped up in their own concerns and reluctant to take office, or more interested in the social prestige that office might bring than in the punctilious execution of their duties in connexion with the manufacture of furs. However, only the slightest of clues survives to point to such shifts of interest, which were constantly working upon the gild from within. Then, too, we must agree with Professor Coornaert when he writes:

L'on a toujours le sentiment que leur principe, que leur réalité humaine échappent par quelque côté à nos prises, à nos classifications, parce qu'elles relèvent et de structures matérielles et de conceptions spirituelles différentes des nôtres. (fn. 129)

Yet we may sum up with certain generalizations. The gild of the skinners was throughout the fourteenth century, and probably later, a most powerful and privileged body. It ranked with the wealthiest mercantile gilds; it was itself a rich and wellorganized association; and its social prestige was high. A standard of good workmanship in the manufacture of furs was clearly defined, and attempts were made, particularly during the 1360's, the decade when the most extensive powers were sought and granted, to see that it was observed. At the same time the gild was strong enough to secure recognition of powers which, if successfully put into practice, would have given its members complete control over those who carried out the preliminary dressing processes, and rights of search which could have been put to a variety of uses. It does not, however, seem probable that any of these more extreme claims were successfully pursued for more than a short time, possibly because they were not in the public interest as understood by the municipal authorities after the struggles of Richard II's reign. Skinners came very near to achieving a monopoly in the manufacture and sale of furs, but this sprang more from the specialist nature of their trade than from the successful exploitation of the powers granted to the gild.

How far skinners allowed the technical standards and the Christian traditions of brotherhood encouraged by the fraternities to influence their daily life and work will never be fully known. The prospect of death and life after death drew from many merchant skinners genuine expressions of loyalty to the gild, affection for their fellows, and thoughtful care for their servants, apprentices, and poor skinners dependent on them. (fn. 130) Their charity was rarely indiscriminate: poor struggling skinners benefited by the gifts of money, coals, or food; the elderly or ailing received weekly pensions or were sheltered in almshouses. But in their business life, many skinners showed themselves hard and ruthless traders, paying scant regard to law or the authority of the gild while busily lining their own pockets. (fn. 131) However, in view of the parochial character of much of medieval industry, deliberate defiance of the commercial and moral standards of the time can rarely have been sound economic practice. The medieval skinner worked within a closely knit community, his business acquaintances and colleagues were often relatives or the friends with whom he spent his leisure hours. The gild embodied and expressed in its regulations the standards and conventions of that group, and the individual merchant may more often have respected them because he could not afford to ruin his reputation or antagonize his friends than because the thought of the formal sanctions of gild authority intimidated him. Thus by providing an association whose social amenities members could enjoy, in whose spiritual and charitable activities they could participate, and whose statements of what was agreed practice in the manufacture of furs they could respect, the gild performed services for skinners which, if they did not decisively influence the history of the fur trade, nevertheless satisfied very real needs in the later Middle Ages.


  • 1. On the London gilds see G. Unwin, The Gilds & Companies of London. The 4th ed. (1963) contains the list of sources on individual companies revised by F. J. Fisher for the 1938 ed. and a critical survey of more recent work by W. F. Kahl. On European gilds in general see S. L. Thrupp, 'The Gilds', Camb. Ec. Hist. iii, pp. 230–80, and A. B. Hibbert, 'The Economic Policies of Towns', ibid., pp. 197– 229.
  • 2. The Company's records were described, and extensive selections from them printed, by J. F. Wadmore, Some Account of the Worshipful Company of Skinners of London, and J. J. Lambert, Records of the Skinners of London, Edward I to James I. The beautifully illuminated volumes in which ordinances and members of the fraternities are listed are not dated. It seems probable, judging from the contents and entries in the 1508–9 accounts, that they were begun either in the late fifteenth century or when the Act of 1503 decreed that companies must present their ordinances for approval to the Lord Chancellor. Names of members were presumably copied from older manuscripts which have not survived, as the two volumes certainly contain authentic and reliable information dating from the fourteenth century.
  • 3. Thomas, Cal. P.M.R. ii, p. xxx.
  • 4. Ibid., pp. xxvii, xxxv.
  • 5. Ibid., pp. xxviii–xxix, xlvii–lvi.
  • 6. See the arrangements made for this purpose by the Tailors in 1364: Cal. Letter Bk. G, p. 162.
  • 7. Thomas, op. cit., p. xxxv.
  • 8. Cal. Letter Bk. G, p. 174.
  • 9. Kingsford traced about 160 of these: Prejudice and Promise in Fifteenth-Century England, pp. 141–2.
  • 10. Supra, pp. 47 ff.
  • 11. Cal. Letter Bk. E, pp. 232–4.
  • 12. Cal. Letter Bk. H, p. 59. On two occasions in the previous year 41 and 47 misteries elected representatives: ibid., pp. 41, 42–44.
  • 13. Unwin, Gilds, pp. 370–1.
  • 14. Ibid., pp. 124–6, 155–8.
  • 15. Ibid., pp. 159–72.
  • 16. Ibid., p. 166.
  • 17. Thomas, Cal. P.M.R. ii, p. lix.
  • 18. This assembly, known as Common Hall since 1738, also nominated and elected the City Members of Parliament from the late sixteenth century until 1918: The Corporation of London: its Origin, Constitution, Powers and Duties, London, 1950, pp. 13–15.
  • 19. Ibid., pp. 29–30.
  • 20. Supra, pp. 44–52.
  • 21. C.P.R., 1327–30, p. 34; Cal. Letter Bk. E, p. 233.
  • 22. A conclusion based on the presumed dates of death of Robert de Dodeford (1328–32) and Robert de Knapwell, senior (1335), who were not members, and that of Peter de Newcastle, who was a member (1340–1) : Cal. Letter Bk. F, p. 188; Cal. Wills, i, p. 447.
  • 23. Kingdon, Archives of the Grocers' Company, i, pp. 8–12.
  • 24. The first twenty-four people listed came from royal and noble families, followed by the names of mid- and late-fourteenth-century clerks, chiefly connected with the parishes of St. John and St. Stephen Walbrook. The names of members of the fraternity follow, beginning with John de Bedford: S.C. Roll of C.C.
  • 25. Cal. of Letters, p. 107.
  • 26. Cal. Letter Bk. E, p. 233; R. S. Lopez, I. W. Raymond (eds.), Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World, no. 186. Giacomino of Recco had ordered 800 furs of pured minever and 1,000 furs of black budge from Trappe.
  • 27. S.C. Roll of C.C.; Thrupp, Merchants, p. 220; Thrupp, Grocers, p. 249.
  • 28. S.C. Roll of C.C.; supra, p. 42 for skinners who paid the subsidy of 1332. Taxpayers were normally freemen: Ekwall, Two Early London Subsidy Rolls, p. 88.
  • 29. Cal. Letter Bk. F, pp. 17, 96, 97; Cal. Coroners' Rolls, p. 268; Cal. P.M.R. i, p. 209.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. Cal. Letter Bk. G, p. 161.
  • 32. Coornaert, 'Les ghildes médiévales', Revue historique, cxcix (1948), pp. 31–55, 208–14. For the possible origins of the word 'gild' see pp. 22, 29–31.
  • 33. Quoted from Walter Map by Poole, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta, p. 226.
  • 34. Coornaert, op. cit., pp. 233–4.
  • 35. See Thomas, Cal. P.M.R. i, pp. xxviii–xxix; ibid., pp. 122–3, 126–9, 196; Cal. Coroners' Rolls, pp. 266–9; Cal. Letter Bk. F, pp. 95–97.
  • 36. Escheat Rolls, 1340–77: MS. Calendar, p. 91.
  • 37. Cal. Letter Bk. G, p. 172.
  • 38. S.C. Roll of C.C. The folio is reproduced by Lambert, p. 54.
  • 39. Beaven, Aldermen, i, pp. 392–403; Bird, The Turbulent London of Richard II, pp. 122–31. When the experiment was first tried out in 1351, the grocers, mercers, and fishmongers were each represented by six men, and the skinners were one of nine misteries to be represented by four: Unwin, Gilds, p. 77.
  • 40. Lambert, pp. 50–51. This charter was dated 25 April, 16 Richard II, i.e. 1393 not 1392, and cost the Skinners £60.
  • 41. Unwin, Gilds, pp. 124–5, 157–60.
  • 42. C.P.R., 1408–13, p. 58; Stahlschmidt, 'Lay Subsidy, temp. Henry IV', Archaeological Journal, xliv, p. 65.
  • 43. From William Causton: C.C.L. Courtney, 167.
  • 44. Cal. Wills, ii, pp. 30, 292, 314, 324: Wm. Wiltshire: C.C.L. Courtney, 345; Lambert, p. 125.
  • 45. Lambert, pp. 41–42.
  • 46. N. Charleton referred to his furred livery in his will: P.C.C. Luffenam, 26. In 1501–2 the livery was violet, in 1506–7 blue: S.C. Accts. i.
  • 47. Lambert, pp. 100–2. These head-bands of velvet and ermine are still used today.
  • 48. Unwin, Gilds, pp. 100–4.
  • 49. Stow, Survey of London, ed. Kingsford, i, pp. 230–1.
  • 50. See, e.g., S.C. Accts. i. Expenses for 1491–2, excluding expenditure on property and in connexion with religious and charitable bequests, totalled £33. 1s. 8½d. Of this £14. 7s. 1½d. was spent on the procession.
  • 51. Few of the members appear elsewhere in the City records. Of the earliest groups, several men were certainly alive between 1365 and 1370: N. Brode, R. Taunton, R. Mildenhall, W. Gyfforde, A. Kent: Cal. of Letters, p. 159; Kunze, Hanseakten, no. 186; Cal. P.M.R. ii, pp. 18, 88, 152. H. Carleton was killed in 1382: C.P.R., 1381–5, p. 389.
  • 52. Wadmore, op. cit., p. 35. In 1402 both fraternities were considered part of the Company, as a decision about subscriptions was then taken by the master, his four wardens, and the four wardens of the yeomanry.
  • 53. Ibid.; cf. C.C.L. More, 93 (J. Pellyng, 1421): 'The fraternity of the Holy Mary, videlicet servientum pellipariorum.' C.C.L. More, 131 (W. Kent, 1424): bequests were left to 'fraternitas magistrorum arte pellipariorum' and 'fraternitas valettorum eiusdem arte pellipariorum'. Cf. C.C.L. Brown, 388–9 (R. Scalton, 1417).
  • 54. Unwin, Gilds, pp. 224–5; Unwin, Industrial Organisation, pp. 51–61.
  • 55. Unwin, Gilds, p. 226.
  • 56. In 1493 the fee for admission to the Livery was 20s.: S.C. Accts. i, passim.
  • 57. Listed in the roll of members. See Lambert, op. cit., pp. 93–100.
  • 58. Ibid., p. 99.
  • 59. Cal. Wills, ii, p. 488; S.C. Accts. i, 1493–4, 1494–5, 1496–1500.
  • 60. S.C. Roll of O.L.A., passim.
  • 61. e.g. John Burskavory: S.C. Roll of O.L.A., 1412; K.R.A.V. 407/1.
  • 62. The beautiful folios showing the entry of the two royal sisters are reproduced in Lambert, facing p. 82.
  • 63. Wadmore, op. cit., p. 38.
  • 64. S.C. Roll of O.L.A., 1452, 1464.
  • 65. Ibid. 1480, 1481, 1482, 1483; Lord Chamberlain, Accts. 9/50, ff. 51d, 52.
  • 66. Thomas, Cal. P.M.R. ii, p. lix.
  • 67. Although neither tawyers nor fellmongers were included in the list of misteries drawn up in 1422, the wardens and probi homines of the greytawyers were presenting to the freedom certainly in 1445 and presumably at other times: supra, p. 104; Recognisance Roll 16, m. 2.
  • 68. Letter Book L, ff. 242d–244; Journal 9, f. 165.
  • 69. Repertory 15, f. 432; Unwin, Industrial Organisation, p. 104.
  • 70. Altogether 147 were named in the records 1330–50; 60 paid the subsidy of 1332, i.e. were freemen: supra, p. 42.
  • 71. Cal. Letter Bk. L, p. 37.
  • 72. C.P.R., 1327–30, p. 34; Lambert, pp. 29–30, 39–40. These ordinances were entered in Letter Book G, and transcribed by Riley, Memorials, pp. 328–30.
  • 73. Cal. Letter Bk. H, pp. 29, 324. They were presumably assisted by informers. See Unwin, Gilds, p. 138, for the particular difficulties of 1377.
  • 74. Journal 3, f. 112. Barnwell was a merchant who bought furs from aliens and sold bedding, etc., to the Great Wardrobe: K.R.A.V. 128/31, m. 27d; 409/6.
  • 75. Journal 7, f. 136.
  • 76. K.R.C.A. 194/18 (Feb. 1466), 194/16; E.C.P. 64/207; Journal 7, f. 136.
  • 77. Cal. P.M.R. ii, pp. 15, 22, 233; Letter Book G, f. clxix; Cal. Letter Bk. G, p. 274; ibid., H, pp. 29, 158, 161, 231–2, 262, 324.
  • 78. Most have been traced through the printed Calendars or the first register of wills of the Commissary Court of London.
  • 79. Letter Book G, f. clxix. This offender was presumably not the fishmonger of that name (Cal. P.M.R. i, p. 268) but the skinner (Extents on Debts, 20, m. 22).
  • 80. Lambert, p. 42.
  • 81. The MS. Index to these volumes names the parishes of the majority of the testators, and only those skinners have been included in this total whose parish is known.
  • 82. Cal. Letter Bk. H, pp. 158–9.
  • 83. Gross, Select Cases in the Law Merchant, i, p. 110; T. F. Reddaway, 'The London Goldsmiths circa 1500', Trans, R, Hist, S., Fifth Series, xii (1962), p. 51.
  • 84. e.g. about one-third of those appointed wardens for Boston Fair in 1333, 1335, and 1336 were skinners, and a skinner was appointed for Winchester Fair in 1334 and 1335: Cal. P.M.R. i, pp. 66, 67, 88, 89; Cal. Letter Bk. E, pp. 260, 284, 286, 291, 303.
  • 85. Cal. Letter Bk. F, p. 215. One of the three was a skinner.
  • 86. Mayor's Court, Original Bills, 2, m. 15. Cf. the Peltyers of Norwich, who encouraged the industrious by refusing alms to those fallen into distress through their own folly: T. Smith, English Gilds, p. 31; cf. p. xl. Probably a similar pride in the reputation of their trade underlies the decree of the Paris skinners in 1369 that none should describe their work as 'made in Paris' unless it was so: Prat, p. 122.
  • 87. C. Singer, The Earliest Chemical Industry, p. 6; Cal. Lib. R. iii, p. 286; Du Cange, Glossarium, vii, 'Dissertations sur l'histoire de Saint Louis', p. 6; Cal. P.M.R. i, p. 214. Dyeing is most explicitly dealt with in the statutes of the Rouen skinners in 1462, which forbade 'teinture de charbon, ne de molet, ne d'ocre, ne d'autre peinture fart': Prat, p. 142. Cf. Prat, p. 122, and J. N. A. Thierry, Chartes, coutumes, actes municipaux, statuts des corporations d'arts et métiers des villes et communes de France, Paris, 1850: Région du Nord, i, p. 348 (Amiens).
  • 88. Cal. P.M.R. i, p. 214.
  • 89. Lambert, p. 165.
  • 90. Cal. E.M. Ct. R., p. 154.
  • 91. Cal. P.M.R. ii, pp. 18, 19, 27, 88, 89. Of the rebels of 1381 named, only 3 were skinners: H. Poul, W. Kyng, and R. Redyng: ibid., pp. 289, 301; C.P.R., 1388–92, p. 25.
  • 92. Cal. Letter Bk. G, p. 197.
  • 93. Kingdon, Archives of the Grocers' Company, i, pp. 43, 49, 50, 55.
  • 94. Bury was M.P. in 1362, Mayor 1364–6 and 1373–4. For him and other aldermen skinners see Beaven, Aldermen, i, pp. 167, 344–5, and Thrupp, Merchants, appendix.
  • 95. Aldermen had the right to commit to prison.
  • 96. Lib. Cust., p. 401; Rot. Parl. ii, pp. 277–8; Thrupp, Grocers, p. 259.
  • 97. C.C.R., 1364–8, pp. 74–76.
  • 98. The Commonalty petitioned the Court of Aldermen to this effect in 1364; Cal. Letter Bk. G, pp. 179–81.
  • 99. Unwin, Gilds, p. 128; Thrupp, Merchants, p. 12; Thrupp, Grocers, p. 277.
  • 100. Lambert, pp. 29–30, 39–40.
  • 101. R. Bird, The Turbulent London of Richard II; Unwin, Gilds, pp. 127–54; Sharpe, Cal. Letter Bk. H, pp. i–lvii.
  • 102. Bird, op. cit., pp. 77–80.
  • 103. Cal. Letter Bk. H, pp. 191–3, 194; Rot. Parl. iii, pp. 141–2; 6 Ric. II, i, c. 9, 10, 11: Stats. Realm, ii, pp. 28–29. The City ordinances were issued in June, the statute, following the petition to Parliament, in October.
  • 104. Cal. Letter Bk. G, p. 231 and note. Cf. 2 Ric. II, c. 1: Stats. Realm, ii, p. 7. This statute distinguished between provisions, fur, and small mercery ware, which noncitizens were to be free to sell retail as well as wholesale, and wine and 'great wares' like silk and linen cloth, in which non-citizens could only trade wholesale.
  • 105. 7 Ric. II, c. 11: ibid., p. 34; 11 Ric. II, c. 7: ibid., pp. 53–54.
  • 106. 16 Ric. II, c. 1: ibid., pp. 82–83.
  • 107. Ibid., p. 34.
  • 108. Cal. Letter Bk. H, p. 336; Cal. P.M.R. iii, p. 149; Unwin, Gilds, pp. 124–6, 157.
  • 109. Thrupp, Grocers, pp. 277–84.
  • 110. Cal. Letter Bk. K, pp. 89, 170–1.
  • 111. See, e.g., K.R.C.A. 71/8, 71/13.
  • 112. e.g. Extents on Debts, 40, m. 18; 45, m. 15; Cal. P.M.R. iii, p. 225.
  • 113. Cal. Letter Bk. K, p. 89.
  • 114. See, e.g., Extents on Debts, 46, m. 17; Elias Mussh, described both as tailor and peleter: Assize Roll, Middlesex, 16 Edward III, mm. 9d, 10.
  • 115. Williams, Medieval London, pp. 177–81; Unwin, Gilds, pp. 85–87. Cf. relations between the merchant goldsmiths and the craftsmen who worked for them: ibid., p. 78; Rot. Parl. iii, p. 9. For relations between the different leather crafts in other European centres, see Camb. Ec. Hist. iii, pp. 251–4.
  • 116. Supra, p. 50.
  • 117. Cal. P.M.R. ii, p. 28.
  • 118. Ibid., pp. 28, 29, 31; Plea and Memoranda Roll A 10, m. 11.
  • 119. Plea and Memoranda Roll A 10, m, 11. The ward involved was presumably Walbrook, whose alderman was at this time the notorious John Pecche, close friend and business associate of Adam de Bury, and a member himself of the skinners' fraternity.
  • 120. Lambert, pp. 42–43; Riley, Memorials, pp. 330–1.
  • 121. Tawyers were to be paid 6s. for dressing one thousand greywerk instead of 4s. or 5s.; 8s. for one thousand polan instead of 5s. 6d.
  • 122. Cal. P.M.R. ii, pp. 31, 190.
  • 123. K.R.A.V. 407/13.
  • 124. Ibid. 405/14, f. 14.
  • 125. Ibid. 407/13: J. Boteller, presumably the greytawyer whose will was proved in 1436 (C.C.L. More, 461): J. Coco: K.R.A.V. 409/2; J. Massy: Nicholas, Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York and Wardrobe Accounts of Edward IV, p. 121, and K.R.A.V. 413/10.
  • 126. Letter Book L, ff. 242d–244; Journal 9, f. 165.
  • 127. K.R.A.V. 409/12; Campbell, Materials, i, p. 265.
  • 128. Nicholas, op. cit., p. 121; K.R.A.V. 413/10.
  • 129. Coornaert, 'Les ghildes médiévales', Revue historique, cxcix (1948), p. 233.
  • 130. See particularly the wills of Henry Barton, Wm. Comberton, and Robert Scalton: Cal. Wills, ii, pp. 477–9; C.C.L. Brown, 177–8 and 388–9.
  • 131. The business activities of Thomas Myrfyn provide an interesting contrast to the sentiments expressed in his will: P.C.C. 13 Bodfelde; E.C.P. 539/53, 260/22; Lyell, Acts of Court of the Mercers' Company, p. 509; Repertory 2, f. 95; ibid. 3, ff. 94, 110d, 111d, 243d.