Scriveners' Company Common Paper 1357-1628 With A Continuation To 1678. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1968.

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'Introduction', in Scriveners' Company Common Paper 1357-1628 With A Continuation To 1678, (London, 1968) pp. vii-xxiv. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

In this section


The Company of Scriveners

The Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Company of Scriveners of the City of London were incorporated under that title by letters patent dated 28 January 1616/17. (fn. 1) Of the eighty-four Livery Companies of the City of London, the Scriveners have the forty-fourth place in order of civic precedence. The Company, when incorporated, became the successor of those freemen hitherto called the Writers of the Court Letter of the City of London who, as a society or fraternity, had practised the science, art or mystery of professional scribes and, among other things, performed those functions now associated with notaries public; in fact, by 1477 the term 'scrivener' was synonymous with notary. (fn. 2) In their capacities as agents acting as conveyancers, scriveners occupied a very responsible position in society; scriveners acting as witnesses to the signing and sealing of many deeds of title and other legal instruments which they had prepared, gave such attestation a greater authority than that of witnesses not enjoying such high professional status. From what must have been humble beginnings as mere 'writers' of letters and documents, we find these men banding themselves together as a guild and, like those of any other trade or profession in medieval England, taking steps to ensure that they had the monopoly of their calling. The existence of professional writers or notaries in places other than London is recognized, but consideration of them is outside the scope of this brief introduction. (fn. 3)

Although the exact date when the 'Writers of Court and Text Letter' formed some sort of guild is not known, they are mentioned, with the limners and barbers, as an accepted professional class as early as 1357. (fn. 4) Seven years later, in 1364, the Writers doubtless considered that the general direction for the good government of all the crafts in the City of London applied to them because a copy of the enrolment of that article is the second entry in their records. (fn. 5) Decisive action to establish the monopoly of their profession was taken by the Writers of the Court Letter on 26 September 1373 when they delivered a petition to the Mayor and Aldermen of the City which resulted in the promulgation of simple ordinances for the control and administration of this particular craft and the appointment of two Wardens. (fn. 6) Thus 1373 must be regarded as the year when the Writers became a corporate body whose members were governed and protected. As we shall see, rules were modified as occasion required, but in the course of almost 250 years—from 1373 to 1616—dissension and disobedience, infringement of ordinances, financial embarrassment and other problems inevitably arose which could only be resolved by obtaining letters patent from the Crown and an approved set of ordinances whereby the actions of members of the craft could be better regulated. The old fraternity of the Writers was automatically dissolved and reconstituted as a Company, with a new name, under the direction of a Master, two Wardens and twenty-four Assistants who had the services of a Clerk and a Beadle. That form of government, mutatis mutandis, is exercised over the members of the Livery at the present time. After the charter of incorporation was obtained in 1616/17, the form 'Citizen and Writer of the Court Letter' was gradually abandoned and the simple form 'Citizen and Scrivener' (Cives et Scriptor) used instead; that latter had become generally accepted by the end of 1618. (fn. 7)

As Margaret James has shown, the movement of crafts and professions towards incorporation reached a climax during the reigns of the first two Stuarts. For example, trades such as the Turners obtained their charter in 1604, the Shipwrights in 1605, the Fruiterers in 1605/6, the Curriers in 1606, the Plumbers in 1611, the Founders in 1614, the Bowyers in 1621 and the Horners in 1637/8, while ancient callings, which amounted to professions, such as the Musicians, the Scriveners and the Apothecaries became incorporated in 1604, 1616/17 and 1617 respectively. Added to these were 'new' occupations like the Makers of Playing Cards (1628), the Spectacle Makers (1629) and the Gunmakers (1637/8), who secured grants of privilege. 'The Statute of Monopolies in 1624 had no effect on the progress of incorporation; indeed, its effect was rather in the opposite direction, for while the way of individual monopolists was made distinctly harder, the privileges granted to corporate bodies were expressly excluded from its provisions.' (fn. 8) The Court of Common Council frequently considered how to strengthen a particular Company by compelling all freemen of other Companies who practised that trade to be translated to it. A joint petition to the City was presented by the Bricklayers, Carpenters, Feltmakers, Hatband Makers, Joiners, Plasterers and Weavers 'demanding that an Act should be passed to enjoin all persons using their respective trades to bind their apprentices at the Companies' halls, and to be obedient to their regulations. Similar petitions were presented in 1659 by the Founders, the Scriveners, the Upholders, the Freemasons, the Clockmakers, the Carpenters, and the Gunmakers'. (fn. 9)

The majority of the members of the Scriveners' Company belong either to the legal profession or to professions which, in some way or other, may be regarded as closely allied to it. Therefore, like the Goldsmiths and the Gunmakers among the older Livery Companies, the Scriveners may be said to be continuing their original guild, whereas the members of so many other Livery Companies are in no way associated with the craft of the Company to which they have the distinction of belonging. It may be mentioned here that, as in other Companies, women were admitted; instances of this practice occur in 1665, 1666, 1675 and 1677; in 1666 two honorary freemen were elected.

After 1373, when the Writers of the Court Letter became self-governing, the Writers of the Text Letter broke away and joined up with the Limners and together they founded a guild in 1403 which was the ancestor of the present Worshipful Company of Stationers that received its royal charter in 1557; there is a close similarity between the armorial bearings of the Stationers and the Scriveners which were granted in 1557 and 1634 respectively. (fn. 10)

The editor of a text is probably always tempted to exceed his terms of reference when writing an introduction, thereby spoiling the pleasure of those who persevere in looking through a book to make their own discoveries. Few members either of the original fraternity or the later Company were distinguished, but none the less John Milton—the father of the poet—is found in this record, as, indeed, is the celebrated Sir Robert Clayton (1629–1707). (fn. 11)

It is a matter for regret that so few records of this ancient corporation have survived (fn. 12) and one can but express the hope that the publication of this present volume will result in the discovery of documents, long hidden away in some forgotten box, which will enable the six centuries of the history of the scriveners of the City of London to be made more complete.

Some aspects of the Company's development and administration

Memoranda in the Common Paper show that from the earliest times some measure of control was exercised over those who practised as scriveners. In 1364, for example, imprisonment and a fine were the penalties for anyone who was a hindrance to the craft, and such penalties increased in severity for each offence. (fn. 13) Nine years later, in 1373, the ordinances enrolled in Guildhall (fn. 14) indicate the work of a scrivener—the making of wills and the writing of charters and other deeds to which the writer was to append his name as a sign of good faith. Here, too, is an attempt to keep 'foreigners' and unqualified persons out of the craft: only those who were free of the City and of the craft were permitted to 'keep shop'. Thomas Pantier, who set up in business although not qualified, was sent to the pillory in the mayoralty of Adam Bamme (1390–1) ; (fn. 15) the rebellious conduct of Robert Huntyngdon (fn. 16) is noted on p. 282 of the Common Paper; the submission of John Valentyn, who was guilty of divers offences as well in language as in other things to the Wardens in 1446, is transcribed on p. 62.

The mandate issued by Robert Braybrooke, Bishop of London, in 1391 (fn. 17) is of considerable importance: it demonstrates the religious feelings of the time and the severity of his rebuke: Sundays and festivals were not being observed by some scriveners who opened their premises for business on such days, and by so doing not only set a wicked example to other crafts in the City but were holding the Church in contempt. This admonition led to the issue of new ordinances (fn. 18) which included a set form of oath, penalties for doing business on Sundays or double feasts, the provision of a livery to be worn principally on the day of Pentecost 'in honour of God who has given all knowledge'. The fraternity was to meet on the first Sunday following the feasts of Christmas, Easter, St. John the Baptist's day and Michaelmas day to deal with any mischiefs or administrative problems; each member was to pay four silver pennies at each of the four terms and be fined for absence without reasonable excuse. Penalties were incurred by those who refused the office of Warden or who employed persons either not free of the craft or not bound apprentices. The conditions governing apprentices were very strict and to contravene them could result in a fine of £10 to the City chamberlain and £6 13s. 4d. to the common use of the craft.

The petition to the Mayor and Aldermen in January 1439/40 (fn. 19) is further evidence of the desire for good government. In 1450 (fn. 20) we have details of the livery to be worn (it was of one colour, but the colour is not specified), and of the annual attendance on the Sunday next after St. John the Baptist's day at a sung mass of the Holy Ghost at St. Paul's or some other convenient place. On that occasion, 12d. was levied from each man; 7d. of that sum was regarded as ordinary quarteridge, 4d. went towards the expenses of the mass and the dinner which followed, and although it is not stated what happened to the odd penny, it would seem that that was the offering which every man was to make at the mass.

There was an important meeting of 'the hoole Company of the Felasship' or Mistere of Scryvaners' at the mansion or dwelling-place of Henry Wodecok, one of the Wardens, on 12 January 1497/8, when the ordinances of the fraternity were read, considered and revised. (fn. 21) The decisions made at that meeting are of much interest, as they are reflected, to some extent, in the seventeenth-century ordinances.

The first resolution concerned the election of Wardens: it was agreed that the two Wardens elected on the Sunday following St. John the Baptist's day should serve for two years, that one such Warden should be of the older men who had held office before and the other should be a younger man who had not served previously. During each term of two years there were to be in all three suppers and a dinner: in the first year a supper on the Sunday next after the Feast of the Epiphany and another on the Sunday following St. John the Baptist's day. In the second year a supper after Epiphany (as before) and a dinner on the Sunday following St. John the Baptist's day, when the new Wardens were elected. The dinner was to be preceded by a mass of the Holy Ghost at which every freeman was to offer a penny. Within an unspecified number of days the retiring Wardens were to render accounts to their successors in the presence of four members of the fraternity, of whom two were to have already served as Wardens.

Each freeman had to pay 12d. for his supper and 2s. for his dinner, but if he brought his wife to the dinner, the charge for her was 4d. These payments were in lieu of the old quarterly charges of 7d. and 1s. for the dinner. The number of suppers was reduced because, under the old system, it was found that the money collected did not cover the expenses and each pair of Wardens found themselves five or six marks short at the end of their term of office; neither was the common fund of the society able to bear such losses.

Attention was directed to the question of apprentices, some of whom had what is called an imperfect 'congruyte of gramer', a fault bringing reproach to the fellowship. Every master, therefore, was to bring his apprentice before the Wardens; the apprentice's name was to be entered in the book of the fellowship; the apprentice was to be examined by the Wardens or their assignees and if it was found that his education was below the required standard, the master was to be admonished and charged to send the apprentice to a grammar school until he should have 'posytif gramer' or at least 'be competently erudite and lerned in the bookes of p[er]nula Gendres Declynysons p[re]t[er]ites and supynes Equivox & Sinonimes'. (fn. 22) If a master failed to observe this rule within the first year of the apprentice's term, he was fined 100s., of which half was equally divided between the Chamber of Guildhall and the fellowship, and the other half went to the apprentice if he or his friends had acted as informers. Furthermore, when a master took an apprentice, he was to deliver to the Wardens a silver spoon worth 3s. 4d. or give the same amount in money; a marginal note of 1558 says, however, that the sum was then only 2s. 6d.

It is likely that the memorandum of January 1497/8 was not copied into the Common Paper until 16 March 1557/8, when the rules regarding apprentices were further clarified. (fn. 23) The then Wardens, Thomas Went and William Pierson, with nine other members, met at Waxchandlers' Hall and resolved that every apprentice be brought to the Wardens by his master within six weeks of being bound; his name was to be entered in the common book; he was to be examined as to his proficiency in the Latin tongue; the penalties for default were to be imposed as mentioned above. It was also ordered that no master was to permit an apprentice to certify or witness the sealing or delivery of any deed, evidence, bond, writing or convseyance whatsoever unless he had been bound for at least a year. The penalty for breaking this rule was 10s. for the first offence, 20s. for the second and 40s. for the third, the fine to be applied to the same uses as that for failure to present apprentices.

At a dinner at Waxchandlers' Hall on 16 July 1553 (fn. 24) it was shown that the method whereby the senior Warden had to be a man who had served in office before was impracticable 'as by the obs[er]vac[i]on of this ordre and by reason of deathe thelder sorte of the seide company are worne awey so faste that at this present there are but three of them lyvyng besydes the wardeyns (fn. 25) nowe standyng'. It was thought unfair to burden the few eligible members with continual or frequent office and so it was resolved to choose both Wardens from men who had not served before, but the upper Warden was to be selected by those who had held, and were holding, office, and the junior Warden by general election. This rule was to remain in force until there were eight persons living who had been Wardens, plus the two in office; when that number was reached, the old order was to be brought back into use.

An order dated 6 October 1601 is on pp. 194, 195 of the Common Paper: (fn. 26) it is very long, recites the order, 16 July 1553, and another, 9 July 1583, which latter stated that a Master should be chosen to serve with the Wardens for two years and to be elected only by those who had held the office of upper Warden. On 26 July 1597, however, it had been decided that the election of Master and Wardens should be an annual event, but as the number of 'Anncientes of the said Company' had grown to nineteen by 1601, which was a sufficient number, and it was realized that the yearly charge of the election dinner would put too heavy a strain on the Company's finances (its stock being little or nothing), it was decreed that the Master and Wardens should serve, as stated above, for two years from the time of their election.

The Master was to be elected by past Masters; the upper Warden by past Masters and Wardens; the puisne (or accountant) Warden by the generality of the Company to whom should be submitted the names of three members of the Court of Assistants who had not previously held office; the generality was to choose one of the three 'whome they shall like of. At this October meeting in 1601 it was stated that as the Court of Assistants, whether of the 'ancient' or 'younger' sort, was fifty-six, no more should be admitted during the coming seven years unless the number fell to twenty, or twenty-four at the most. In future, any received into the Court would be by the consent of the Master, Wardens and Assistants or the greater part of them.

Such were the efforts to govern the Company: it was not until the charter of incorporation was granted in 1616/17 that still greater powers were given to those who were to direct its affairs. It must be emphasized that scriveners carried a heavy responsibility: they had to prepare deeds of conveyance which, if faulty, could involve a purchaser in litigation and great financial loss. They had to ensure against forgery and they had to testify either as writers of the deeds or as witnesses to signing and sealing; they had to be prepared to defend the truth of that which they had written or to which they had subscribed. The precautions against forgery probably account for the complicated paraphs invented by scriveners; such men had to guard against the unscrupulous actions of their servants and, perhaps more than anything else, the damage that might be done by those practitioners who were not free of the craft. In brief, the integrity expected of a solicitor today is the same as was expected of a scrivener, and in the period with which we are concerned it was the Master, Wardens and Court of Assistants of the Company who exercised or tried to exercise, a control similar to that of the Law Society today.

The Scriveners' Hall

No reference occurs in the records discussed in this book to the Company's hall. Meetings were held in houses, inns, a church or at Waxchandlers' Hall, but in 1631 the Company acquired land in Noble Street on which four houses were built adjoining either side of the great gateway or entry leading from the street to their own hall. Precisely when this hall was acquired is not known, but its site had been the property of Sir Nicholas Bacon (1509–79), lord-keeper of the great seal to Queen Elizabeth I. The hall was held by the scriveners until 1703, when, with property in Oat Lane, it was sold to the Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness-makers for £1,600. It was described by William Maitland in his History and Survey of London (1756), p. 762, as 'a handsome Building'; its west entrance was from Noble Street and its southern end abutted on Oat Lane. The old hall was demolished in 1867 and its replacement, built in 1870, perished in the Second World War. The Hudson's Bay Company leased the Scriveners' Hall from 1682 to 1696, but it was then usually referred to as Hudson's Bay House; there were vines and fig trees in the garden. (fn. 27)

The Common Paper

At the end of the fourteenth or the beginning of the fifteenth century the Writers of the Court Letter procured a book in which to record ordinances and memoranda and to serve as a register of members. That volume, known as the 'Common Paper' (fn. 28) is the principal subject of this present book; it consists of 296 pages of paper, (fn. 29) 15½ × 11½ inches, now bound in leather with simple blind tooling and secured by a buckle and strap laced on to the cover. The buckle and strap are replacements and are part of the extensive repairs, following the original style, carried out to the book by skilled craftsmen at the Public Record Office in 1924 and 1925. That the book has had a succession of covers is shown by the later insertion of extra sheets between the original first gathering (pp. 1–8 and 53–66 as now numbered). (fn. 30) Two parchment guards, both with slight rubrication and probably cut from devotional books, a former parchment cover bearing the date 27 March 1607 and the names of John Butler and John May, (fn. 31) paper from the inside of a cover (one piece having on it the name Frankelyn (fn. 32) and some paraphs), and another pair of parchment covers on which the name Thomas Misson (fn. 33) (among others) appears, have all been bound in for their better preservation.

Although the original text of the Common Paper is in generally good condition, it is often untidy, which indicates that the book came to be used for memoranda instead of for the more formal purposes of record and subscription. Most of the earlier records are in barbarous French, which has presented problems of translation; (fn. 34) the declarations are mostly in Latin (fn. 35) which also leaves much to be desired, (fn. 36) and there are instances (e.g. Common Paper, pp. 106–9 (fn. 37), 128–30, 172–4 of the original) where it is seen that there were delays between the time of admission and subscription which automatically confuses the chronological arrangement. There is a distinct air of casualness about many of the later entries in the Common Paper which contrast sharply with the earlier ones; (fn. 38) throughout this vital record of the Company's affairs it is noticeable that many of those admitted can hardly be classed as brilliant exponents of the skills they were supposed to have acquired—calligraphy and the disciplines of grammar and spelling. As there is no evidence to the contrary, it must be assumed that the declarations were written by the persons making them.

Reference to the list of contents on pp. v, vi will show that the Common Paper is a haphazard combination of subscriptions and evidences; the latter, in the form now presented, are self-explanatory and the basis for the detailed history of the development and administration of the Company which are beyond the scope of these introductory comments. But the Common Paper has value in other directions: from 1580 until 1628 the fathers of scriveners are given together with place of residence and occupation. Such information will be of interest to genealogists, besides illustrating that men came long distances in order to qualify for membership of a profession offering a special and essential service to the population at large. (fn. 39)

An analysis of those entries where territorial and occupational details are available provides the interesting information that the northern and midland counties provided 103 men (group A); the east and south-east counties, 44 (group B); other counties fairly near London, 43 (group C); the western counties, 24 (group D); London (exclusive of men whose fathers were described as citizens and members of Companies), 14 (group E); Wales, 10 (group F); and uncertain, 2 (group G). The groupings are as follows:

Group A
Cheshire 10
Cumberland 3
Derbyshire 6
Durham 3
Herefordshire 12
Lancashire 10
Leicestershire 10
Lincolnshire 4
Northamptonshire 9
Rutland 1
Shropshire 6
Staffordshire 9
Warwickshire 2
Worcestershire 3
Yorkshire 15
Group B
Cambridgeshire 4
Essex 7
Hertfordshire 6
Huntingdonshire 1
Kent 12
Norfolk 5
Suffolk 9
Group C
Bedfordshire 2
Berkshire 6
Buckinghamshire 7
Hampshire 5
Middlesex 7
Oxfordshire 5
Surrey 6
Sussex 5
Group D
Cornwall 1
Devonshire 3
Dorset 3
Gloucestershire 13
Somerset 3
Wiltshire 1
Group E
London 14
Group F
Denbighshire 2
Flintshire 5
Monmouthshire 1
Montgomeryshire 1
Radnorshire 1
Group G
Uncertain 2

To the above, totalling 240, there are another 80 men whose fathers are described as citizens of London and members of the following Companies:

Barbers and Surgeons 3
Blacksmiths 1
Clothworkers 4
Drapers 7
Goldsmiths 2
Grocers 2
Haberdashers 3
Innholders 2
Ironmongers 2
Leathersellers 2
Merchant Taylors 10
Minstrels 1
Painter Stainers 1
Pewterers 1
Saddlers 1
Salters 1
Skinners 3
Tallowchandlers 1
Vintners 2
Waxchandlers 1
Writers of the Court Letter 30

To gain some idea of the social status of the fathers of men who became scriveners, the following is an analysis of occupations excluding those in the preceding table:

Badger 1
Baker 1
Blacksmith 2
Bricklayer 1
Capper 1
Carpenter 3
Chapman 1
Clerk in Holy Orders 13
Clothier 4
Clothworker 1
Cooper 1
Dyer 1
Esquire 3
Fellmonger 1
Founder 1
Fuller 1
Gentleman 53
Husbandman 11
Innholder 1
Lawyer 1
Linen Draper 1
Mariner or Sailor 2
Mercer 3
Merchant 2
Merchant of the Staple 1
Pewterer 2
Saddler 1
Shoemaker or Cordwainer 6
Singingman 1
Slater 1
Tailor 3
Tanner 1
Weaver 1
Woollen Draper 2
Writer 2
Yeoman 98

Also, from 1583 to the end of the record are the names of the masters to whom the newly admitted scriveners had been apprenticed; this information is also provided for the earlier period from MS. Rawlinson D51.

MS. Rawlinson D51

This manuscript, now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, was compiled between 1664 and c.1680 (fn. 40) and is of great importance because it draws on material now not to be found elsewhere, but which must have been in existence towards the end of the seventeenth century. The manuscript is all reproduced (either as additions to the Common Paper or as Appendix I on pp. 76–127 below) except for the lists of contents, abstracts of ordinances, and the index. The original charter incorporating the Scriveners' Company, 28 January 1616/17, the ordinances as approved 29 January 1618/19, and the amendments to the ordinances as approved 28 May 1635, (fn. 41) here printed from Rawl. D51, (fn. 42) are now in Guildhall Library, where they are indexed as MSS. 8716–18. (fn. 43)

MS. Rawl. D51 is a copy of British Museum Harleian MS. 2295, which is a foolscap book, bound in calf, but with a new spine. On the front cover is an ink inscription (perhaps a name) now obliterated; below it is an elaborate paraph formed of interlacing scrolls or flourishes. Harl. MS. 2295 was written c. 1636–40 on paper; the pages were originally numbered 1–58 (now foliated 1–29), followed by fourteen unnumbered blank leaves, pp. 59–64 (now foliated 30–32), and a blank unnumbered leaf. The manuscript does not contain an English translation of the letters patent, 28 January 1616/17, or any chronological list or alphabetical index of members of the Company. Hurnfrey Wanley described the volume as 'A Book in folio, formerly (as I suppose) belonging to some Master of the Company of Scriveners [sic] of London; wherein I find divers matters relating to the said Company'. (fn. 44)

The compiler of Rawl. D51 was indifferent as to dates: for example, he regarded the calendar year 1450 as the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Henry VI, whereas that regnal year covered the period 1 September 1449 to 31 August 1450. This means that some of the Rawl. D51 entries are actually under the wrong calendar year; we can only be certain of the precise year if the month is stated. Despite this blemish, the manuscript is of value as an extension by fifty years of the Common Paper and particularly as it covers the period of the Commonwealth. It is also of value as the second oldest transcript (fn. 45) of the basic documents of the Scriveners' Company and for showing the processes in obtaining the charter of incorporation and approval to the ordinances. Sub-headings thoughtfully supplied for convenience of reference by the compilers of Harl. MS. 2295 and Rawl. D51 are reproduced; a modest amount of punctuation and/or capital letters have been inserted to mark sentences or clauses which may otherwise have been obscure.

The make-up of Rawl. D51 is confusing and some explanation is necessary. It is a volume of paper, 16 × 9¾ inches, of which leaves i–iii are unnumbered and, between each of the leaves numbered 2–8 are additional leaves (2a, r. and v., 3a, r. and v., 4a, r. and v., 5a, r. and v., 6a, r. and v., 7a, r. and v.) which are not numbered. The number 16 has been repeated on two leaves; pp. 19–22v., 34–35v. and 44v. are blank, but otherwise leaves numbered l–41r. bear writing on both sides. To avoid reference problems, the numeration of the leaves of Rawl. D51 given in this present book conforms with that employed for the photostat copy in Guildhall Library, viz. pp. i–iii (fn. 46) = 1–6, pp 1–18v. (including the 'a' pages) = 7–54, pp. 19–22v. being blank are ignored, pp. 23–33v. = 55–76, pp. 34–35v. are blank and ignored, pp. 36–41r. = 77–87, and p. 41v. is ignored as a blank.

The forms of oath

As so much of the Common Paper is occupied with the declarations of men admitted to the fraternity, the forms of oath must be treated in some detail. What may be regarded as standard forms will be found on pp. 49, 66, 67, 74, 75 and 105–7 below. The earlier forms which individual scriveners compiled and wrote are more interesting than the later ones because of the variety in expressing basic sentiments and because of their solemn nature; a small selection of them, in translation, is given below. (fn. 47)

Fundamentally, an oath is composed of the following elements:

(i) A statement of the person's name and position, e.g. John Tanner, civis et scriptor litere curiails civitatis predicte; the formula seldom varies, but predicte can be replaced by London, and litere curialis is sometimes omitted.

(ii) A statement of realization of reason for, or intention of, the oath. This begins with such word as senciens, videns or cognoscens, often with a synonym and/or adverb, and explains that the oath results from necessity (ex necesse), hard work (ex magna industria) or great faith (ex magna fidelitate), for the common advantage (pro communi militate) of the people (populi) or the craft (artis). There are many variants of these reasons and any number may be found in one oath in any combination. In more ambitious oaths (e.g. Thomas Guy, p. xxi below) this theme is developed, usually with much circumlocution, and often introducing the idea of stamping out or preventing scandals and deceits.

(iii) The 'tenere et observare' clause, usually governed by the main verb of swearing (see (v) below), by which the writer swears to 'hold and observe' the oath, but other verbs such as custodire or affirmare are also found.

(iv) A statement of free will. Either mea propria (or spontanea or bona) voluntate, or sponte [mea], or non coactus, and many other variants or combinations. The phrase is generally to be taken with the verb of swearing although it could conceivably belong to the 'tenere et observare' clause.

(v) The swearing, which contains the first (and occasionally the only) main verb of the passage. It is the crux of the oath. The verb is either iuravi or prestiti (nothing else) with iuramentum (occasionally sacramentum) or just an illud or ipsum referring back to an earlier mention of iuramentum. Associated with this verb is the 'tactis sacrosanctis' clause, occasionally lengthened with an explanation of the sacred objects, e.g. evangeliis. The corporal part of the oath is either an adverb (corporaliter) with tactis or an adjective (corporale) with iuramentum, and meaning 'having corporally touched the sacred objects' or 'I have sworn the corporal oath'. (fn. 48)

(vi) The 'consenciens' clause, assuring compliance with the ordinances. There is often what seems to be a paradox when ordinaciones is qualified by both novas and antescriptas, but probably only novas is strictly temporal in meaning. Sometimes future ordinances are included.

(vii) A statement of subscription of name. Nomen is usually omitted in favour of me. The expression scripsi una cum nomine meo (with no object) must imply that the oath was also written by the swearer.

(viii) The 'credence' phrase which merely explains why the writer has subscribed his name. The usual form is in fidem et testimonium premissorum, but more obscure expressions such as in robur or in evidenciam clariorem premissorum are found; sometimes the whole phrase is omitted.

In the following translations it will be seen that synonyms were so popular that any two scriveners could say almost the same thing with different words. Variants of 'aforesaid' are particularly noticeable; the same English phrases must usually apply to different words in the Latin. (fn. 49)

1. I, indeed, John Cossier, (fn. 50) citizen and writer of the court letter of London, desiring sincerely to avoid and annul, with all my cunning, whatever deceits, failings and scandals are to be conjectured or exposed in the craft which I use, or will be able to be conjectured or exposed in some way in the future, have sworn the corporal oath (having touched the sacred gospels of God) with my sure knowledge and unprompted free will to observe and inviolately fulfil whatever ordinances are contained in the prescribed oath, drawn up by the masters and worthy men of this craft, as much in the implementation of justice as for the common good, consenting moreover to all other new ordinances previously proclaimed (fn. 51) and drawn up by the same masters and worthy men [and] subscribing my [name] here with my own hand in credence and testimony of the aforesaid.

2. And I, Martin Seman, (fn. 52) citizen and writer of the court letter of London, knowing full well and understanding that the said oath recently proclaimed and made up by the masters and worthy men of our said craft, and established, as has been said before, by the said master, John Cossier, is profitable and reasonable, and was ordained, for several reasons, for the common advantage and in the implementation of justice, and desiring sincerely and effectually to avoid and annul, with all my power, whatever deceptions or falsehoods, failings and scandals are to be conjectured or exposed in the craft which I use, or will be able to be conjectured or exposed in some way in the future, have sworn this oath (having physically touched the gospels of God) with my sure knowledge and true free will, consenting equally to all other said new ordinances proclaimed and ordained by the same masters and worthy men, and subscribing my [name] with my own hand in credence and testimony of the aforesaid.

3. And I, Robert Huntyngton, (fn. 53) citizen and writer of the court letter of the said City, knowing that the said oath has been ordained with great fidelity and for common advantage, have sworn this corporal oath (having touched the sacred objects) of my unprompted free will to observe and fulfil it in every way, and consenting to all the other new ordinances, I have subscribed my [name] here with my own hand in credence and testimony of the aforesaid.

4. And I, Adam Pynkhurst, (fn. 54) citizen and writer of the court letter of the oft-mentioned City, although, alas, found to be unworthy and insignificant in mental resources, skill or knowledge of this kind, realizing however that the prescribed oath, made as a result of a great need and with the loyalty and labour of the wise and circumspect men of my said craft, has been equally provided and ordained for the complete avoidance as well as removal (as far as possible) of disinheritances especially and all other scandals, deceptions, disgraces and falsehoods of every kind, and as much for the increase of honour and the good and praiseworthy reputation of the said craft as for preserving the status of the whole nation, in as far as it affects me in my work or will be able to affect me in the future, I have sworn the said corporal oath (having touched the sacred [gospels] of God) spontaneously and not compelled in any way in the above matters and, furthermore, consenting from my own pure and free inclination to other ordinances and whatever wise regulations are firmly provided and now newly ordained for the honour and benefit of my said craft, and desiring to observe these steadfastly and inviolately—as far as I can according to my ability—I have voluntarily made this document, which is clear to view, to be written by my own hand in testimony of the greater deed (fn. 55) and in credence of the aforesaid and all and singular that has gone, promising by the good faith with which I am bound to God to be drawn by no other [loyalty] so as to prevent any one or other of the aforesaid [ordinances] being done, (fn. 56) without the consent of the greater and more worthy part, of all the men or people of my said craft either now or in the future.

5. And I, Nicholas Grantham, (fn. 57) citizen and writer of the court letter of the oft-mentioned City, although I make unseemly haste in excusing my ignorance in the knowledge of my said craft (seeing that it is rightly said to be more of a divine than a human attribute to know everything and to err in nothing—if men were able to remember all and singular by heart, which is absurd, then it would clearly follow that to write is nothing else than to anticipate labour with labours—writing, therefore, often calls to mind [matters] which lapse and waver (fn. 58) through the instability of human nature) wishing nevertheless to conform utterly with the injunctions of my masters and friends, their statutes already written and those to be drawn up in future, and realizing and striving after what is useful and necessary, so that the prescribed oath and the new ordinances prescribed for the common advantage of the people of the kingdom should be steadfastly observed since they are agreed upon by right and reason (because it is lawfully said that the common benefit should come before private), I have of my pure and unprompted will sworn the corporal oath to observe inviolately, according to my strength and ability, the said oath and the new prescribed ordinances and those to be ordained in the future by the masters and friends of my craft, subscribing my [name] here with my own hand so that credence can be applied more fruitfully to the aforesaid.

6. And I, William Acastre, (fn. 59) citizen and writer of the court letter of the said City, realizing full well that the prescribed oath has been provided for common advantage and also by much hard work of wise men of the said [craft], have sworn the corporal oath (having touched the sacred scriptures) of my own volition, to hold to it and to observe it as is fitting, consenting moreover to all other articles legally constituted both now and in the future I have written this with my own hand and have set my name to it in credence and as a surer confirmation (fn. 60) of the aforesaid.

7. And I, Thomas Guy, (fn. 61) citizen and writer of the court letter of the oftmentioned City, wishing to perform and carry out those things which were and are ordained by my masters and the trustworthy men of my said craft, and especially well realizing that the said oath was drawn up, from necessity, out of the greatest faith, as much for utter avoidance of scandals and wicked deceptions and falsehoods in the said craft as for the profit and honour of the said craft and the principal benefit of all the people, having touched the sacred objects of God, have sworn the said corporal oath of my own unprompted free will, not compelled by force nor by fear, and furthermore consenting and promising to observe justly and faithfully all other ordinances newly drawn up, I have written my [name] here with my own hand to add more weight to the credence of the aforesaid.

8. And I, John Tanner, (fn. 62) citizen and writer of the court letter of the said City, although unworthy of [this] knowledge and insignificant in its craft, wishing however to make use of the proposed liberties and transactions in all and singular the points which are drawn up for the profit of my said craft, or will be legally constituted in the future, have corporally sworn the said oath (which I realize was drawn up for common advantage and as a result of the hard work of distinguished men of the said craft), having touched the sacred scriptures, induced by my own free will, and I have now written in my surname, to make surer certainty of the aforesaid, with my own hand, warmly entreating the patience of him who reads my writing so that the ignorance of one who is willing to learn may be pardoned among so many and such great scholars.

9. I, Stephen Playne, (fn. 63) citizen, writer of the court letter of the renowned City of London, fully examining and clearly observing the oath sworn to by me some time ago, drawn up and carried through, to be in the future interests of the highest expediency of the state and of great loyalty [thereto], will therefore by my own unyielding free will, with the help of God and through my full power, act in accordance with the said oath and all other injunctions of this genuine craft as is mentioned beforehand to those who are newly initiated, and so that greater trust may be summoned I have placed my name, written in my own hand, on this present writing.

10. I, Richard Mulcaster, (fn. 64) late apprentice of Francis Mosse, having been admitted to the craft of the scriveners [and] being in some small way skilful, promise to observe, to the best of my ability, all the ordinances of this craft.

11. I, Mark Bradley, (fn. 65) having been admitted by the right of redemption, knowing well that the oath which I have now sworn is quite necessary and has been proclaimed and provided with this [i.e. that] intention, intend to observe it inviolately (God be willing) as best I can. Therefore I have subscribed [my name] here, with my own hand, to each ordinance concerning the craft of we scriveners, 25 day of October 1627.

Editorial method

A photographic reproduction of each page with a transcription and/or translation opposite would be the only completely satisfactory method of offering a text so complicated as the Common Paper. The limitations of print and of space have necessitated reducing the text to essentials: this has been achieved by the translation or transcription of those sections of the record which would have lost value by any form of abbreviation, and the submission of the remainder of the volume as a calendar with footnotes to direct the reader to reproductions of some of the entries in other works. (fn. 66) Problems of translation (fn. 67) have already been mentioned and, in certain instances, footnotes have been provided where some explanation or comment seemed desirable. In the later transcripts, (fn. 68) names have been extended in the lists of those assessed, but in headings, preambles and such other places where the character of the document would have been lost or made obscure, those passages are transcribed to correspond as nearly as possible with the original text; footnotes to these difficult sections give further details regarding editorial methods.

So far as the calendared portions of the text are concerned, Christian names have been extended and rendered according to modern usage, (fn. 69) but surnames are given as written in the original; in those instances where a surname ends with a flourish of which the meaning is not clear, an apostrophe has been introduced, (fn. 70) but if it is known that a terminal flourish is mere ornament, it has been omitted. There have been difficulties in deciding whether a letter in some surnames is a 'n' or a 'u': typical examples are Bronn or Broun and Mannsell or Maunsell. With a few exceptions which are noted in the calendar, the place-names in the Common Paper are obvious and as the minor variations in their spelling do not materially add to our knowledge of that subject, such names and the counties are given according to their modern forms. Except in exact transcripts, figures have been converted from Roman to Arabic characters. Discretion has been exercised with regard to contractions when the sense demanded an extension. Thorn has been transcribed as th. Editorial notes or additions to the text are enclosed in square brackets.

In the lists of subscribers to the oath it will be seen that certain information is printed in italic type within square brackets. Such details have been taken from Rawl. D51, which is described above; for example, the entry (fn. 71)

William Dodd, 15 July 1577 [ . . . of William Dormer . . . 1564]

means that the declaration in the Common Paper has been reduced to a bare statement of Dodd's subscription on 15 July 1577, but that Rawl. D51 gives us the additional information that he was apprenticed to (fn. 72) William Dormer, who himself subscribed in 1565/6 as William Dermer. (fn. 73) Even the minor variations in the spelling of surnames in Rawl. D51 may be important, because we do not know from what sources, other than the Common Paper, that record was compiled; it would appear, however, that the author of Rawl. D51 made some effort to simplify the spelling of surnames. As in the Common Paper, Christian names in Rawl. D51 are given in their modern forms.

Where the phrase 'edited transcript' is used in the printed text of Rawl. D51 it means that contracted words have been extended; that there has been a reduction in, and a standardization of, capital letters; that the 'con' ending of words like 'Corporacon' has been modernized, but spellings such as 'Cittie' and 'scrivenor' have been retained. Superscript letters have been brought down to the level of the line except in those places where it seemed preferable to reproduce the text as precisely as possible. (fn. 74)


I offer my sincere thanks to the Master, Wardens and Court of Assistants of the Worshipful Company of Scriveners for granting me the privilege of editing the most important of their archives. Likewise I thank the Clerk to the Company (Mr. H. S. S. Trotter, D.F.C.) for his courteous replies to my inquiries and for help in other directions. Like all who draw on the resources of the Guildhall Library, I am much indebted to my friends, Dr. Albert Hollaender and his colleagues, for the benefit of their knowledge and for their readiness to assist in every possible way; it is always a pleasure for me to find an excuse to work in the Guildhall Library which I have been privileged to use for forty years. I am particularly grateful to Mr. J. M. L. Booker, who has been untiring in wrestling with knotty problems in Latin and French in the Common Paper; without his generous and willing assistance the translations would have been far less perfect. So many other friends have contributed to this book in one way or another; if they are not named it does not indicate that my gratitude is any the less sincere.

I can hardly expect that this book is flawless; if it contains any errors, then the blame must fall on my shoulders alone.


  • 1. For a translation of this document, see pp. 80–91.
  • 2. Oxford English Dictionary. In the sense of a professional penman, the earliest reference in O.E.D. is to Reinaldus le scriueyner, c. 1375; the form escrivener occurs in 1415. As money brokers, O.E.D. quotes from Dekker and Webster, Northward Hoe! (1607): 'Here was a scriuener but euen now, to put my father in minde of a bond, that wilbe forfit this night.'
  • 3. See H. C. Gutteridge, 'The Origin and Historical Development of the Profession of Notaries Public in England', in Cambridge Legal Essays written in honour of and presented to Doctor Bond, Professor Buckland and Professor Kenny (1926), pp. 123–37; J. S. Purvis, 'The Notary Public in England', in Archivum, vol. 12 (1962), pp. 121–6, and the Bibliography on pp. xxv, xxvi below.
  • 4. See Common Paper, p. 1.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. For a translation of this document, see pp. 2–4.
  • 7. See Common Paper, p. 205.
  • 8. M. James in The City of London. A book reprinted from the special number [8, 9 November 1927] of The Times, p. 32.
  • 9. Ibid., p. 33. The chapter from which this and the previous quotation are taken is a valuable and concise account of the incorporation movement and the control over trades.
  • 10. See J. Bromley and H. Child, The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London (1960), pp. 217, 232.
  • 11. They are probably the only two scriveners in the Dictionary of National Biography. In The Coat of Arms, vol. 7, p. 274, attention is drawn to Robert Graves's book, Wife to Mr. Milton, where the arms of the Company of Scriveners are wrongly described.
  • 12. See list on pp. xxvi–xxviii.
  • 13. See Common Paper, p. 1.
  • 14. See Common Paper, pp. 2–4.
  • 15. See p. 3.
  • 16. His subscription (undated) is on p. 54 of the Common Paper.
  • 17. See Common Paper, pp. 5, 281.
  • 18. See Common Paper, pp. 6–8.
  • 19. See Common Paper, pp. 9, 10.
  • 20. See Common Paper, p. 15.
  • 21. See Common Paper, pp. 189–91.
  • 22. See Common Paper, p. 190.
  • 23. See Common Paper, p. 191.
  • 24. See Common Paper, p. 192 (printed pp. 52, 53). The entry is dated 16 July, 1 Mary, which would have been in 1553 if the reign of Lady Jane Grey is ignored.
  • 25. John Melsham and John Hulson elected in 1553, see p. 28, note 1.
  • 26. Printed pp. 53, 54.
  • 27. Thanks are due to Miss A. M. Johnson, archivist to the Hudson's Bay Company, for this information.
  • 28. It is now deposited in the Guildhall Library (hereafter abbreviated to GL) where it is indexed as MS. 5370.
  • 29. Those which are blank are noted in the text.
  • 30. The book was repaired under the direction of the late Sir Hilary Jenkinson, who has inserted in it one of his valuable memoranda describing its composition and appearance.
  • 31. Butler's name does not occur elsewhere in the Common Paper; for John May(e), 1597, see pp. 41, 57, 64.
  • 32. For Stephen Frankeleyn, early fifteenth century, see p. 21; for Martin Fran(c)klyn, 1557, see pp. 14, 28.
  • 33. This name does not occur elsewhere in the Common Paper.
  • 34. See below, pp. xxii, xxiii under editorial method.
  • 35. An illiterate example in English occurs on p. 47.
  • 36. See below, pp. xviii, xix, under oaths. When the form of oath became shorter and more standardized after the early years of the sixteenth century, we see that because of their limited knowledge of Latin scriveners often copied—not always accurately—the declaration that preceded their own.
  • 37. On these pages there is a wide range of dates, from 1539 to 1553; this may account, at any rate in part, for the variations between dates given in the Common Paper and in MS. Rawlinson D51, which is discussed later on.
  • 38. For the care lavished on these early declarations, see the reproductions in H. Jenkinson, The Later Court Hands in England (1927).
  • 39. The bibliography on pp. xxv, xxvi indicates some of the sources which will explain the place of scriveners in society and their close links with other branches of the legal profession.
  • 40. The manuscript is hereafter abbreviated to Rawl. D51; I am indebted to the Curators of the Bodleian Library for permission to use it. The manuscript is no. 12869 in F. Madan, A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, vol. 3 (1895); a photostat copy of it in GL is indexed as MS. 8721 A.
  • 41. These three documents are printed on pp. 80–113 below.
  • 42. A detailed comparison between the originals and Rawl. D51 has not been undertaken. The clumsy phrasing and laborious repetition of the ordinances make them tedious to read; I hope to reduce them to a briefer statement for inclusion in a short history of the Worshipful Company of Scriveners.
  • 43. See pp. xxvi, xxvii for a list of documents in GL belonging to the Scriveners' Company.
  • 44. See A Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts, in the British Museum, vol. 2 (1808), p. 643. As the manuscript is excluded from the numerical table in C. E. and R. C. Wright (eds.), The Diary of Humfrey Wanley, 1715–1726 (1966), we have no clue as to its provenance.
  • 45. The manuscript is described in W. D. Macray, Catalogi Codicum Manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Bodleianae, partis quintae, fasciculus tertius, viri munificentissimi Richardi Rawlinson I.C.D. (1893), p. 27: Chartaceus. In folio majori, sæc. xvii. ff. 41. 'Liber Petri Le Neve, Rouge Croix prosecutoris armorum, 1695;' in catal. MSS. ejus, 254. This is followed by a list of contents of the manuscript in English. For Peter Le Neve (1661–1729), who became Norroy King of Arms in 1704, see Dictionary of National Biography and W. H. Godfrey (and others), The College of Arms (16th monograph of the London Survey Committee, 1963), pp. 114, 115. Le Neve was Rouge Croix Pursuivant from 1690 to 1704. For Richard Rawlinson (1689/90–1755), see Dictionary of National Biography and W. D. Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library (2nd ed., 1890), pp. 231–51.
  • 46. These numbers are what would be properly accorded to the pages if they had been numbered throughout.
  • 47. Attention has already been directed (p. xiv) to the indifferent grammar used by scriveners, so these translations, of necessity, are rather broader than would have been the case had the originals been composed in faultless Latin. It would not have been practicable to have included these forms of oath in the calendar. I gratefully acknowledge the enormous amount of help that Mr. J. M. L. Booker has given me in connexion with the oaths.
  • 48. As in the oaths of Andrew Joye and Thomas Froddesham. In the oath of William Slade the corporal word is omitted.
  • 49. This illustrates the difficulty, if not impossibility, of precise translation.
  • 50. See p. 20 and note 2 thereon.
  • 51. See paragraph vi above. Perhaps the true intention here is the subscription to the original ordinances and to any new ones (either additional or amended) drawn up between the date of the original set and the date of signing.
  • 52. See p. 20 and notes 2 and 3 thereon.
  • 53. See p. 20 and note 4 thereon.
  • 54. See p. 20.
  • 55. He probably meant by this his actual observance of the oath in his daily life.
  • 56. Perhaps this should be understood to mean 'being done away with' or altered.
  • 57. See p. 20.
  • 58. Literally 'sink and stagger'.
  • 59. See p. 20.
  • 60. Literally 'certainty'.
  • 61. See p. 20.
  • 62. See p. 20.
  • 63. See p. 29.
  • 64. See p. 61.
  • 65. See p. 62.
  • 66. E.g., H. Jenkinson, The Later Court Hands in England (1927).
  • 67. E.g., pp. 5–8 and 222 of the Common Paper, and many of the declarations.
  • 68. Pp. 279–95 of the Common Paper.
  • 69. In cases where there was any doubt, the original spelling has been retained.
  • 70. E.g., a name written 'Turno' with a terminal flourish may well be Turnor or Tumour.
  • 71. See p. 32.
  • 72. In the calendar of the Common Paper I have used the words 'apprentice to' in preference to the 'apprentice of used in Rawl. D51.
  • 73. See p. 29 and the last paragraph on p. xvii.
  • 74. Clarity has been the objective rather than an exact reproduction of a multitude of unimportant scribal mannerisms, but perhaps it would have been wrong to have completely destroyed the character of a document even if it is of late date.