Introduction: Redemption, women and the unenfranchised

Calendar of the Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London: Volume 2, 1364-1381. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1929.

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, 'Introduction: Redemption, women and the unenfranchised', in Calendar of the Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London: Volume 2, 1364-1381, (London, 1929) pp. xlvii-liv. British History Online [accessed 26 May 2024].

. "Introduction: Redemption, women and the unenfranchised", in Calendar of the Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London: Volume 2, 1364-1381, (London, 1929) xlvii-liv. British History Online, accessed May 26, 2024,

. "Introduction: Redemption, women and the unenfranchised", Calendar of the Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London: Volume 2, 1364-1381, (London, 1929). xlvii-liv. British History Online. Web. 26 May 2024,

In this section


(a) Early history of redemption

The third method by which citizenship was acquired was payment or redemption. An adult person, who was not qualified for enfranchisement either by patrimony or apprenticeship, was by City custom regarded as a foreigner. To some extent this class of freemen was recruited from born Londoners, who raised themselves by thrift and industry from the unenfranchised labouring class. But the majority of new citizens by payment were undoubtedly newcomers to the City, attracted there by the opportunities which it afforded. If they were aliens by birth they were described as alien-born (alienigene) or strangers (estraunges), while native Englishmen were "foreigners" (forinseci) or denizens (indigene).

The alien element in London has always been large. At the Conquest there was so considerable a French element, that the French burgesses were mentioned first in the Conqueror's charter, and in the 12th and 13th centuries several of the leading City families were of Italian, German and Low Country blood (fn. 1). Every century saw large accessions of aliens —financiers, merchants, weavers, beer-brewers, glassworkers, coopers and goldsmiths, until the last great whole sale immigration of the Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In even greater measure the population has been fed from the English country-side, the "uplaund" of the records; in fact, the vast majority of names in the Husting Rolls of Deeds and Wills are place-names. But this is true, not only of London, but to some extent of other medieval towns and villages. Apparently the population, in spite of the restraining influence of land-tenure and the manorial system, was even before the Black Death continuously fluid, with a constant drift towards the towns.

If we are to judge from the terms of City and company ordinances the attitude of the citizens towards the newcomers was almost invariably unfriendly, and the ordinances were such that it would appear impossible for the adult merchant, craftsman or labourer to gain a footing at all. Actually, apart from the natural xenophobia of all communities, there was no consistent feeling or policy towards immigrants. The wealthy foreign merchant was encouraged at one time as importing commodities and ideas, at another suspected of attempting to evade the customs; the skilled craftsman was welcome in one trade and unwelcome in another, or welcome and unwelcome in the same trade at different times, while the labourer's position fluctuated with supply and demand. Many of the civic ordinances directed against them were either concessions to seasonal complaints or momentary expressions of exasperation, forgotten within a few months or disregarded when a chance of profit was discovered. This was especially the case from the middle of the 15th century onwards, when the enterprising "small master" often developed into a considerable employer of labour, and something like the factory system began to appear. It is true that citizenship was jealously guarded, but it was always purchasable by those who prospered. There is even evidence of a feeling that character and enterprise were qualifications as valuable as money. The "haunse" or fee for the freedom was more than once put on a sliding scale, so proportioned as to admit alike the handicraftsman and the leader of commerce.

It has been mentioned that in 1275 purchase by agreement with the Chamberlain in the presence of the Mayor and Aldermen was one of the recognised methods of obtaining citizenship (fn. 2). According to the Liber Ordinationum, about 1230 (fn. 3) the foreigner paid for admittance to the freedom and the protection of the City the sum of half-a-mark, and if he were a man of substance whatsoever was just. The Loriners in 1261 ordained that a foreigner setting up house must pay 40s to the commune (fn. 4). About 1275 a note of complaint is sounded. The jurors of the Ward of William Hadestok presented to the Itinerant Justices that certain persons, who had served the office of Mayor, had been selling the freedom to foreigners and strangers (forinsecis et advenis), without common consent of the commune, during the last six years and more, thus depriving the King of his toll (fn. 5). This ancient chartered (fn. 6) right of freedom from toll throughout England and from custom in London constituted one of the principal attractions of citizenship to alien merchants, who carried their certificates of freedom with them on their trading journeys (fn. 7). Though the commonalty claimed that their consent was necessary, the Mayor and Aldermen still continued to act alone. In 1284 a taverner, who was probably also a wineimporter, paid the sum of 40s, equivalent to £40 or £50 of modern money, for the freedom, which was granted on condition that he brought letters testimonial from his native town of Toulouse, and other security that the citizens of London would not be molested in Toulouse or elsewhere beyond the sea (fn. 8). That there were advantages in welcoming alien merchants may be gathered from the King's ordinances in 1285, which provide that such merchants as were good and sufficient, by whom the King, his City and land might be benefited, should be admitted to the freedom, provided that they were well vouched and that they bore the same charges as other citizens (fn. 9). A committee of six persons was appointed by the Mayor and Aldermen in 1290-1 to supervise these admissions (fn. 10). Meanwhile there are occasional references to the redemption of English foreigners. Two skinners were required to pay 26s 8d and 21s respectively for their freedom, and certain foreign poulterers, charged with the offence of selling like freemen, were allowed to compromise by becoming citizens by purchase (fn. 11).

(b) Enrolments of redemptioners in 1309-1312

The enrolments of freedoms between 1309 and 1312, transcribed into Letter Book D (fn. 12), throw much light on the subject and at the same time suggest several problems. As the late Prof. Unwin pointed out, circumstances were abnormal (fn. 13). There was undoubtedly a strong movement towards craftorganisation and participation in the City government, and either the citizen element in the misteries brought pressure or inducement to bear upon their fellow-members to take up the freedom, or there was a concerted movement in the same direction among the unenfranchised themselves. Men became citizens in groups. Between 21 Nov. and 10 Dec. 1309, 22 skinners presented themselves, between 10 Dec. and 23 Dec. the same year 12 chandlers became free and between 4 Feb. and 3 March 1311, 35 bakers sought admission, and there were similar batches of fishmongers, bowyers, coopers and cooks.

A comparison between the numbers of redemptioners and apprentices yields further interesting facts. Altogether 646 became free by purchase as against 253 by apprenticeship. In 43 of the 120 occupations mentioned, apprentices were neither enrolled nor admitted to the freedom during these three years, though men of those trades acquired citizenship by redemption. Where the numbers enfranchised were very few no conclusions can be drawn, except possibly that those trades were too small to be organised and that most of the members had no civic ambitions. It may again be mere chance that two armourers, one farrier and one fletcher bought their freedoms and that no apprentices in those trades were enrolled or admitted to citizenship. But when it is found that 5 bowyers, 6 bowyers "de laine," 36 brewers, 7 carpenters and 9 upholders were redemptioners, and there were no apprentices entered in those trades, and that the bladers had 9 redemp tioners and two apprentices enfranchised, the bakers 43, the clerks 12, the cooks 36, the cordwainers 26, the skinners 30 and the vintners 9 redemptioners, but only one apprentice to each—it would appear that these trades had been largely in the hands of unenfranchised men, who now were moved to seek recognition as an organised craft and citizen-rights. Where, on the other hand, the numbers of redemptioners were balanced by the number of apprentices admitted to the freedom, as in the case of the butchers, the chandlers, the chaucers, the fishmongers, the girdlers and the tanners, and there were also many new apprentices enrolled, we may suspect that these trades were already well organised and that an attempt was being made to bring the unenfranchised into line. This is clearly the case where redemptioners were greatly outnumbered by apprentices, as with the corders, the goldsmiths and especially the mercers.

The names of the redemptioners show that this class was predominantly alien or foreign in origin. Of the total number of 646, there were 12 aliens, apparently substantial merchants, who found the usual security to save the City harmless on this side of the sea and beyond. The majority of the others seem to have been tradesmen and workmen who at one time or another had taken up residence in the City and were already engaged in trades and handicrafts. Some 75 were obviously foreigners from places outside London, e.g. "Hugh Sauvage of Hereford." The names of places were borne as surnames by a further 332, e.g. "Robert de Manefeld, Roger de Derby," etc., who were probably not born Londoners or not the sons of citizens. The remainder possessed London-names, occupational names, nicknames, and names denoting foreign or alien origin, such as le Breton, Irreys or Irishman, Picard and Peytevyn. Evidence that the freedom conferred desirable privileges is afforded by the fact that 51 persons were admitted, sometimes for reduced fees or none at all, on the recommendation of the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Earl of Gloucester, the Mayor and other important persons. The fees paid by the ordinary redemptioners either followed a scale or were graduated according to circumstances, ranging from the 5s or 6s 8d paid by poor men in humble trades to the £5 demanded from a Gascon merchant.

(c) Vouching of redemptioners

Such was the condition of affairs when the good men of the commonalty of every mistery presented their petition on 6 Dec. 1312, praying that the ancient methods of admittance might be observed. From time immemorial, they declared, no stranger denizen or alien (nulla persona extranea indigena vel alienigena) had been admitted to the freedom, of whose conduct and status there was no certain knowledge, unless the merchants and craftsmen, whose trade he wished to exercise, had certified the Mayor and Aldermen as to his faithfulness and condition (fn. 14). How far this was a true statement of City custom is open to question. It was not unusual to present recommendations in the form of an appeal to ancient usage, and possibly the only basis for the claim was the feeling, manifested in 1275, that the commune should have a voice in the admission of newcomers (fn. 15). Even in later times redemptioners were vouched by men of other trades than their own (fn. 16). However, the petition appears to have been received favourably, and seven years later its terms were amplified in the constitutions submitted to Edward II, and authorised by him in the form of a charter. It was then ordained that admittances should take place in the Husting by surety of six honest men of the mistery or trade exercised, or in case the applicant belonged to no certain mistery, by assent of the commonalty (fn. 17).

(d) Varying policy towards redemption

Whether the rush of persons seeking the freedom continued at the same rate there is no evidence to show. The records disclose little consistent policy either on the part of the City government or the authorised trades, the only constant factors being the advantage of citizenship and the natural wish of those who prospered to acquire it. Some misteries insisted on the freedom as a condition of employment, others found their profit in not doing so. The Fusters, Painters and Loriners in 1327 wished no one to follow their trade unless he took up the freedom under sufficient surety and with the consent of their eight overseers (fn. 18). The Sheathers in the same year were willing to set a stranger to work if he had sufficient surety for his good behaviour or had been enfranchised (fn. 19). The Tapicers in 1331 wished no one to keep any manner of handwork, which appears to mean keeping shop, unless he were free, but somewhat illogically they also asked that if a non-freeman took an apprentice, it must be done by permission of the Mayor and Aldermen (fn. 20). The Girdlers (1344), the Cutlers (1344), the Spurriers (1345), the Whitetawyers (1346), the Glovers (1350), the Shearmen (1350), the Haberdashers (1371) and others were in favour of keeping their trades as close preserves for freemen (fn. 21). On the other hand the Heaumers (1347), the Pewterers (1348), the Braelers (1355), the Waxchandlers (1358), the Smiths (1372) and the Barbers (1376) (fn. 22), though doubtless not unwilling that a foreigner should be enfranchised, were more intent that he should be approved by the rulers of the mistery as a man of good character and a skilled workman. Possibly from their point of view insistence on enfranchisement would have resulted in restricting the supply of labour. Moreover the attitude taken by the misteries varied according to the state of trade and the pressure of competition. But one fact emerges clearly, that every trade had to take account of numbers of unenfranchised men flocking into the City.

As the City authorities rarely legislated except on petition, their attitude was as changeable as that of the misteries. In 1364 they agreed to a petition that no one should be admitted to the liberty of the City by redemption unless he had served in the same mistery for seven years, and paid 6os and more, "for it were better that those unable to pay this sum should continue to serve others either as apprentices or hired servants, than that the number of masters should be unduly increased (fn. 23)." Two years later it was found that this excessive fee had driven many to leave the City, and it was ordained that an applicant for the freedom should come to the Guildhall with six good men of his mistery to pay a certain amount of his goods at the discretion of the Aldermen and Chamberlain, and that no one should be compelled to receive the franchise, if it were proved by examination of the good men of the mistery and the neighbours of his Ward that he had not sufficient goods, notwithstanding the above ordinance (fn. 24). Apparently there was another change of policy and the 60s fee had been reintroduced and with the same result, for it was noted in 1381 that poor persons were prevented from obtaining the freedom and had withdrawn to Southwark, Westminster and elsewhere, many houses in the City stood empty, the number of citizens was reduced, and the Chamber of London and the whole commonalty had suffered (fn. 25). Again it was decided to admit fit and proper persons for a sum suitable to their estate—a decision which was reversed in 1383 and restored in 1384 (fn. 26). This was not the last time that changes were made. During the 15th and 16th centuries the fees were repeatedly raised and lowered, placed on a graduated scale and fixed on a flat rate, and occasionally it was resolved not to admit any redemptioners at all for a space of years (fn. 27). But whether a fixed fee or graduated fee was in operation at the moment it appears always to have been found necessary to admit men on terms suitable to their condition. It was obviously unjust to expect a tiler or a cobbler to pay the same amount as a rich mercer or grocer. When high fixed fees were the rule, the poor man received the "favour" of the court (fn. 28).

(e) Abuses of redemption

The fact that a man could usually obtain the freedom, whatever system was in operation, at a lower cost in a humble mistery than in one of the more important and wealthy companies (fn. 29), led to numerous abuses. With the connivance of wardens, foreign merchants were enfranchised in a handi craft or tradesman's mistery and proceeded to traffic wholesale in silks and valuable goods. The mercers complained that men had been admitted to the freedom as haberdashers and were carrying on the business of mercers (fn. 30). Where there was an obvious desire to defraud the chamber or the customs such offenders might be disfranchised or forced to transfer to their rightful company on payment of heavy fees (fn. 31). The very large number of entries in the City books referring to these cases shows how widespread was the practice. The wealthy foreign merchant was always regarded with a certain amount of suspicion. In 1378 the Common Council established a rule that no stranger known to be rich and powerful should be admitted without their consent, even though he were presented by a mistery (fn. 32). A complaint was made in 1408 that strangers, who obtained the freedom by redemption, were defrauding the King of the customs which they would otherwise have paid, whereas the petitioners themselves had obtained the freedom at great cost by long apprenticeship (fn. 33). Evidently tradejealousy was the main motive of this petition. The matter of customs was taken up in 1410 by Thomas Chaucer, the King's Butler, who represented to Parliament that the King's prisage of wine was seriously diminished owing to the great numbers of persons who bought the freedom and to the gifts of the freedom made by the Mayor (fn. 34). The Mayor and Aldermen were summoned, and undertook that no one should enjoy the franchise unless he were a citizen resiant and dwelling in the City. The matter was raised again about 1424, when a request was made that all who had been enfranchised by the Mayor either on petition or payment should still be forced to pay the above prises (fn. 35). Generally speaking, it was felt that the best manner of preventing substantial merchants from abusing the freedom was to insist on their joining only the mistery they exercised, that they should be resiant in the City and support its charges (fn. 36) and that they should purchase the freedom at a figure commensurate with their position. The whole question was thoroughly discussed in 1433 when the Common Council made a number of complaints to the Mayor and Aldermen. They pointed out that it was a special point of the franchise that all admitted to it should be contributory to lot, scot, taxes, talliages, watches and all other charges, which had been especially heavy of late. Meanwhile strangers and denizens had been flocking into the freedom, "some for lucre to the Chambre and to craftes and some for lucre sengell to the Mair and for je vous pries" which people were dwelling in divers parts of the realm, and being admitted to one craft used another, and when in the City had "grete cours of selling of merchandises to straungiers many of hem ofte to losse in grete abatement of the prises of alle chaffare and merchandise and also to grete hindring to the King in his custumes." The Mayor and Aldermen answered that such absentee merchants must return before Michaelmas and set up household with their wives, children and servants, excepting all manner of lords, knights, squires, men of law and others that are not common merchants, that if it were proved that they had entered one craft to practise another they should be disfranchised, though officers and such others as were not common merchants might still be presented to the freedom by wardens of misteries which they did not practise. As regards wholesale trade, the Mayor and Aldermen were in a difficulty, since it was generally understood that while a freeman must only sell retail in his own trade, he might engage in wholesale trade of any commodities. They ordained therefore "that it be leofull to every man that be Redemcion here after truly withoute disceit shall be made free in any Felship of such craft as he hath verrily used to use furth the saide craft after and such other occupacions as god & fortune for the tyme will avaunce and able him too (fn. 37)." Once having admitted a foreigner to the freedom, it was difficult so to restrain him as not to interfere with the cherished rights of other citizens.

(f) Numbers of redemptioners in the 15th and 16th centuries

The frequent references to "great numbers" of redemptioners can be checked by a series of Recognisance Rolls beginning in 1437 and continuing with wide intervals to the close of the century (fn. 38). They contain the names of redemptioners presented by the wardens and good men of the different misteries, each person being vouched in bonds of £20 by four others, usually but not always belonging to the same mistery. The lowest number recorded in eleven complete years was 28, the highest 50 and the general average 40. It is not quite clear whether these rolls included those admitted by je vous pries, i.e. on the recommendation of the King, great noblemen, ecclesiastics and lawyers. As we have seen, there were 51 such admittances in the three years 1309-12. The Journals of the Common Council contain references to recommendations of this kind in the 15th century, but not more than two or three in a year. The custom became a definite abuse in the 16th century, when it was necessary to make representations to the King against granting letters to his servants and court officials (fn. 39). Even the imposition of heavy fees did not stop the practice (fn. 40). The Chancellor attempted to prove that he had the right of presenting two persons by virtue of his office (fn. 41), and a deputation of protest was sent to the Earl of Leicester (fn. 42). At the worst however, not more than ten redemptioners each year appear to have gained their freedom by this means. As regards the 16th century, certain of the companies attempted to grapple with the problem of the unenfranchised artificer by petitioning for his inclusion on easy terms. The Cordwainers (1529,1548), the Joiners (1529, 1548, 1563, 1574), the Minstrels (1533), the Weavers (1540, 1550, 1562), the Bowstring-makers (1546), the PainterStainers (1548), the Fletchers (1551), the Blacksmiths (1551, 1560, 1566, 1570), the Clothworkers (1553), the Marblers (1574) and others were allowed to take in groups varying from 4 to 20 at reduced fees (fn. 43). These admittances probably raised the average. Nevertheless there were only 31 redemptions recorded in 21 months between Dec. 1551 and Sept. 1553 (fn. 44). Taking the 15th and 16th centuries together we shall probably be near the truth in saying that a yearly average of some 40 or 50 persons acquired the freedom by redemption.


The grading of the members of the misteries into two classes, freemen and those in the clothing or livery, has already engaged the attention of several writers. A word may be said with regard to its political results. During the 14th and 15th centuries the civic government was carried on by the Courts of Aldermen and Common Council and by a body, somewhat larger than the Common Council, usually described as a Great Congregation (fn. 45). The Aldermen were chosen for life, except for a short period of annual elections, by the freemen of the Wards (fn. 46). The Common Councillors were likewise chosen by the Wards, except between 1375 and 1384 when the voting qualification was transferred to the misteries (fn. 47). The Great Congregations, which appear to have been a diminished survival of the old Folkmoots, were chosen in the same manner as the Common Councils, except during the abovementioned period. Originally they possessed legislative power and met frequently, but towards the end of the 14th century their main function was the election of the Mayor, Sheriffs, Chamberlain, Auditors and several other minor officers. In 1384 it was ordained that the Common Council with others of the more sufficient men of the City should elect the Mayor and Sheriffs. In 1467 the Common Council enacted that the Congregations should include the Masters and Wardens of each mistery among the rest (fn. 48).

Meanwhile a custom had arisen by which the more pros perous members of many of the misteries or companies were clothed in a special livery to distinguish them from the ordinary freemen householders. In 1475 the membership of the Congregation was confined to those wearing the liveries of the companies together with the Common Council (fn. 49). When elections in the City were regulated by Act of Parliament 11 Geo. I c. 18, s.14, it was assumed that only liverymen of a year's standing were qualified to vote in the assembly, now known as the Liverymen in Common Hall assembled.

Thus by successive stages the grading of members in the companies became an integral part of the franchise. Until 1867 (fn. 50) the Aldermen and the Common Council were elected by the freemen householders, including the liverymen, in the Wards, while the largest assembly, and not the least important, became a general assembly of the higher rank of freemen.


The right of women to be admitted to the freedom of the City by patrimony, apprenticeship and redemption, though not frequently exercised, is fully established at the present day. Since 1835, the intervention of a Livery Company has not been necessary, but previous to that date it would appear that in almost all the companies, enfranchisement of women was an ancient custom. Of the 76 companies which came within the scope of the Livery Companies Commission in 1884, nine declared that women were not admitted to-day, but only one declared that women had never been admitted (fn. 51), while another quoted a by-law of 1610 against their admission (fn. 52). In a few cases it was recorded that women could become free by patrimony or that only spinsters and widows were eligible (fn. 53). Apparently in the remainder women were and in theory are still on the same footing as men (fn. 54). A century or two ago, when the companies were still largely occupied with their trades, enfranchisement was more common and is illustrated by a number of instances in the City records (fn. 55). The advantage on the economic side, it will be remembered, consisted in the liberty to set up shop and trade retail.

As the natural avocation of women throughout the Middle Ages was matrimony and few seem to have remained unmarried, it is not surprising that evidence in earlier times is scanty. In 1465 it was noted as an ancient custom that every woman married to a freeman of the City is after the death of her husband a freewoman so long as she continues a widow and resides within the City (fn. 56). There are many instances of male apprentices, on the death of their masters, serving the remainder of their term to his widow (fn. 57), and even beginning an apprenticeship with the latter (fn. 58). But apart from freedom by marriage, there are in the City records only two early instances of women taking up the freedom per se by redemption; one woman, whose trade is not specified, paying a fee of 10s in 1310, the other, a brewster, paying half a mark in 1311 (fn. 59). The domestic character of London women is shown by the fact that no girl was enrolled as an apprentice in 1309-12, nor again in 1551-3. But that there were such is shown by Ricart's Kalendar, where it is said that femmes couverts, using crafts in the City by themselves, can take women apprentices to serve them, who are bound by their indentures to husband and wife to learn the latter's trade, and such indentures must be enrolled the same as men's (fn. 60). A mistress of this kind entered into security in 1364 to instruct her apprentice Juseana, to find her in food and drink and not to beat her with stick or knife (fn. 61). A few years later a cruel master-embroiderer paid damages for ill-treating his girl-apprentice, whose father came from Reading to sue on her behalf, and the master was also called to account for failing to enrol her at Guildhall (fn. 62). In another case in the present Calendar a master and mistress covenanted with the latter's girl-apprentice, that if she wished to take a husband during her term she should have the option of being released for the sum of 4 marks or of serving out the apprenticeship (fn. 63). No doubt the majority chose the former career, but those who did not marry may be assumed, failing evidence to the contrary, to have become citizens and freewomen. They would be engaged mainly in the lighter or selling trades, such as embroidery, spinning and weaving and fine needlework, like the silkwomen who mentioned in their petition to the King that they had no other means of livelihood but their craft (fn. 64).

The numbers of such women citizens are difficult to estimate. The books and ordinances of several of the companies contain the names of occasional women or refer generally to sisters of the craft. Among the Saddlers, brothers admitted as householders paid 13s 4d and sisters 6s 8d (fn. 65). In the later 15th century we hear of sisters among the Smiths (fn. 66), Pewterers (fn. 67) and other companies, though it is not clear whether these women were wives or widows of freemen or belonged only to the social or fraternity side of the organisation. The whole question of women's work in the Middle Ages is engaging the attention of women students and it is possible that their researches on the economic side may also throw light on the extent to which women obtained and exercised the rights of citizenship.


(a) Estimates of the population

It has been suggested in the preceding sections that the citizens of London were a comparatively small privileged class, very largely recruited outside London, mainly shop-keepers and masters, surrounded by a far greater mass of unenfranchised inhabitants. Owing to the lack of data as to population a comparison of respective numbers can only be tentative. The statement of Peter of Blois to Pope Innocent III in 1199 that the City contained 120 parish churches and 40,000 inhabitants is probably far more worthy of credence than medieval estimates in general (fn. 68). For the 14th century there are two widely different views. One gives 16,360 in 1332 on the evidence of the Subsidy Rolls, and a lay population of about 30,000 in 1377, based on the Poll Tax, and possibly one-fifth of these numbers would represent the households (fn. 69). A larger estimate by Dr Creighton sets the figure between 40,000 and 50,000 during the whole of this century (fn. 70). How many of these were citizens? In the larger London of the 16th century, there were 2407 freemen in 38 companies in 1537 (fn. 71), and if we consider that the same average number for each company applied to a further twelve companies, known to have been in existence in 1516 and still surviving in 1537, a rough figure of some 3024 freemen householders is found in a population estimated by Dr Creighton at 62,000. Again allowing five members to a household, the citizen class in 1537 may be computed at 15,120, or slightly more than a quarter of the total population, and the full citizens themselves at one-twentieth of the living inhabitants. There is no reason to suppose that there was a larger proportion of freemen in the 14th and 15th centuries. To judge from the number of apprentices it might well be less. Thus it would probably be safe to say on a conservative estimate that for every freeman in London from 1300 to 1537 there were at least three adult men unenfranchised.

The few figures available of aliens show that this class alone was numerous. In 1436 there were 540 resident in London (fn. 72), and the numbers continued to increase. In 1563 the aliens in the City, Westminster and Southwark numbered 4534. In 1583 there were 3537 in the City proper (fn. 73) and in 1635 there were 2547 alien manual workers alone (fn. 74). But aliens constituted only a small portion of the inflow of strangers into London and must have been greatly outnumbered by English-born foreigners.

(b) Skilled workmen

It must further be remembered that the foreigners who acquired the freedom by redemption at the annual rate of 115 during the three years 1309-12, and in the 15th century at an average of 40 a year were already residents of London, and represented only the successful skilled men of their crafts, who acquired the privilege of setting up shop, employing labour and taking apprentices. They are to be found doing skilled labour among the Heaumers (1347), Hatters (1347), Furbishers (1350), Braelers (1355), Smiths (1372), Cutlers (1380), Brasiers (1417) (fn. 75), Joiners (1427), Coopers (1428,1440), Painters (1466, 1481) (fn. 76) and many other misteries. Some crafts even failed to prohibit retail trade by foreigners (fn. 77). The foreign linen-weavers (1420), being necessary to the profit of the people, were allowed to occupy lanes and chambers under the supervision of the masters of the linen-weavers (fn. 78). In the 15th century, the misteries which obtained royal charters usually sought authority to oversee the whole of their craft in London and its neighbourhood and in such charters there is mention not only of the freemen of the mistery but of all others exercising the craft (fn. 79). It is common in the 16th century to find lists of persons under the supervision of a company of whom only a portion were full members and freemen (fn. 80).

(c) The labourers

On the other hand, in many crafts, there were processes and tasks which demanded no skill and there are frequent references in the Records to men who were no more than labourers. The Blacksmiths say that no man shall teach his journeymen (sons alowes) the secrets of the trade, as he would his apprentice (fn. 81). The Cordwainers complain of the numbers of aliens and foreigners employed and pray that no freeman be allowed to teach them unless they are properly apprenticed (fn. 82). But many misteries acquiesced in their presence without murmuring. Apparently there was always need for unskilled labour and no great disposition to allow men to rise above it (fn. 83).

(d) The lowest class

But in addition to these employed men, there was a further element of the population which was undoubtedly large. The records of the Mayor's Court, the Letter Books, the rolls of the Sessions of Itinerant Justices (fn. 84), the Coroner's Rolls and the Gaol Delivery Rolls show that beneath the steady hardworking men of the crafts there was a mass of destitution, misfortune and rascality, housed in broken-down tenements, in rents, slums and alleys. There was a poverty-stricken class of casual labourers, whose scanty possessions are revealed by inquests; of the blind, lame and diseased whose misery evoked the pity of testators; of pickpockets and thieves who lurked within the shadow of pentices; sharpers and tricksters who haunted the taverns; loose and disorderly women of every degree; drunken and dishonest chaplains and broken soldiers. This class may have been to some extent recruited from idle and workless apprentices and journeymen, but mainly it was a class, which from want of character, physique and opportunity had no means of self-improvement and no understanding of or desire to participate in the privileges of citizenship.


  • 1. E.g. the Bucchuintes, Bukerels, Fitz Thedmars, Horns, etc.
  • 2. Above, p. xxvii.
  • 3. Liber Ordinacionum, fo. 173.
  • 4. Lib. Cust. i, pp. 78-79.
  • 5. Rot. Hund. i, p. 432.
  • 6. See Charter of Henry I, Page, London, pp. 275-6.
  • 7. Cal. of P. and M. Rolls (i), p. 27.
  • 8. Cal. of B, p. 281.
  • 9. Lib. Alb. i, p. 287.
  • 10. Cal. of C, pp. 2-3.
  • 11. Cal. of E.M.C. Rolls, pp. 35-6, 107, 246.
  • 12. Cal. of D, pp. 35-96.
  • 13. History, Oct. 1925, p. 254.
  • 14. Cal. of E, p. 13.
  • 15. Rot. Hund. i, p. 432.
  • 16. City's Recognisance Rolls, 13-25, passim.
  • 17. Lib. Cust. i, pp. 268-73.
  • 18. E, fos. 176 b-178; Riley, Mem. pp. 156-62.
  • 19. Cal. of P. and M. Rolls (i), p. 39.
  • 20. E, fo. 210; Riley, Mem. p. 179.
  • 21. F, fos. 88, 90, 107, 126 b, 169 b, 173; Riley, Mem. pp. 216-17, 217-19, 226-8, 232-4, 245-7, 247-8; G, fo. 272; Riley, Mem. pp. 350-2.
  • 22. F, fos. 142 b, 155 b; Riley, Mem. pp. 237-8, 241-4; G, fos. 32, 92, 285; Riley, Mem. pp. 277-9, 300-2, 361-2; H, fo. 27 b; Riley, Mem. pp. 393-4.
  • 23. Cal. of G, p. 180.
  • 24. Ibid. p. 211.
  • 25. Cal. of H, p. 162.
  • 26. Ibid. pp. 213, 235.
  • 27. Jour, ii, fo. 268; 12, fo. 127 b seq., 348; Rep. 4, fo. 146 b; 8, fo. 202 b; 10, fos. 167, 259 b, 335 b, 336; ii, fo. 106.
  • 28. Rep. 10, fo. 167; 12, fo. 235 b; 13, fo. 63 b.
  • 29. Cal. of H, pp. 259-60.
  • 30. Ibid. pp. 257-9.
  • 31. I, fo. 131; Riley, Mem. pp. 597-8; Cal. of L, p. 59; Rep. i, fos. 116, 118, 130 b, 131.
  • 32. Cal. of H, pp. 109-10; cf. Rep. 12 (i), fo. 199 b; 13 (2), fo. 508 b.
  • 33. Cal of I, p. 63.
  • 34. Rot. Parl. iii, p. 646 a.
  • 35. See K, fo. 23. The précis in R. R. Sharpe's Calendar of K, p. 34, appears to be faulty. The passage is a draft of a petition complaining that the "ordinance" of ii Henry IV had not been executed.
  • 36. Cal. of F, p. 149; G, p. 203; H, pp. 146-7, 310; K, pp. 131-2; Jour, i, fo. 71; 7, fo. 66; 10, fo. 181 b seq.
  • 37. Cal. of K, pp. 161-6.
  • 38. Recognisance Rolls, 13-25.
  • 39. Rep. i, fos. 77 b, 168, 175 b; 3, fo. 51; Jour. 12, fos. 164, 210, 213 b, 246, 282, 348; Rep. 4, fo. 146 b; 7, fos. 70, 78 b; Jour. 13, fo. 471; 14, fo. 41; 15, fo. 20 b.
  • 40. Rep. 12 (i), 161 b, 163.
  • 41. Rep. 14, fo. 220.
  • 42. Rep. 16, fo. 159 b.
  • 43. See Journals and Repertories, passim.
  • 44. Lond. and Mid. Arch. Soc., C. Welch, Freemen of London, 1908.
  • 45. See Index to Cal. of P. and M. Rolls. (i).
  • 46. A. B. Beaven, The Aldermen of the City of London, i, pp. 392-403; ii, pp. xvii-xix.
  • 47. R. R. Sharpe, London and the Kingdom, i, pp. 206-7;. Cal., of H, pp. 39-44, 227.
  • 48. Cal. of L, p. 73.
  • 49. Cal. of L, p. 132.
  • 50. When the voting qualification was extended to others than freemen by 30 Vict. c. i.
  • 51. The Fletchers' Company, iii, p. 396.
  • 52. Broderers, ibid. p. 303.
  • 53. E.g. Armourers.
  • 54. Cf. Patten Makers and Wheelwrights.
  • 55. Rep. 131, fo. 276 (1727). Apothecaries summoned to show cause why they refused to admit Anne Reed by patrimony; fo. 328, Anne Reed admitted. Rep. 135, fos. 496, 524. Apothecaries quote a by-law against admitting three sisters by patrimony as they do not occupy the trade, and are allowed to pay redemption fees for them into the Company of Glasssellers.
  • 56. Jour. 7, fo. 89.
  • 57. Cal. of D, p. 114.
  • 58. Ibid, pp. 109-10.
  • 59. Ibid. pp. 51, 75.
  • 60. Ricart's Kalendar, p. 103. Cf. Cal. of H, p. 391 (1393); I, p. 134 (1415); Jour, ii, fo. 259 b (1509). "All persons having maidens or women apprentices," etc.
  • 61. Cal. of P. and M. Rolls (i), p. 274.
  • 62. Below, p. 107.
  • 63. Below, p. 219.
  • 64. Below, p. 102.
  • 65. Cal. of L, pp. 274-5.
  • 66. MS. book of Blacksmiths containing names of men and women of the Fraternity of St Loye.
  • 67. Charter of 1474, see C. Welch, Pewterers.
  • 68. See n. 3 below.
  • 69. Finance and Trade under Edw. III, ed. G. Unwin, pp. 43-4.
  • 70. C. Creighton, "The population of old London," Blackwood's Magazine, April, 1891.
  • 71. C. Alien, History of London, ii, pp. 343-429, citing list of freemen preserved in Chapter House, Westminster.
  • 72. C. L. Kingsford, E.H.R., 23, p. 354.
  • 73. Unwin, Gilds, pp. 246-7.
  • 74. Analytical Index to Remembrancia, pp. 420-1.
  • 75. Riley, Mem. pp. 237-9, 239-40, 258-9, 277-9, 361-2, 438-42, 624-7.
  • 76. Cal. of K, pp. 61-2; K, fos. 60, 185 b; L, fos. 43-4, 160.
  • 77. Riley, Mem. pp. 354, 361-2, 372-3, 393-4; Lipson, Econ. Hist. p. 338, n. 7; Cal. of K, pp. 193-4. See petition of Artificers of London and other places against alien and foreign householders, Rot. Parl. v, p. 506 b (1463).
  • 78. Jour, i, fo. 72 b. For the King's protection of foreign clothworkers, see Cal. of K, pp. 96, 150; Rot. Parl. iii, p. 600 a; iv, 50 a.
  • 79. Rot. Parl. vi, p. 185 b; Cal. of L, pp. 177-8; Cunningham, Ind. and Comm. i, pp. 513, 514.
  • 80. See 3 H. VIII, c. 10, 14 & 15 H. VIII, c. 2. Already in 1488 the Painters have brothers of the craft, free and foreign. L, fo. 260; cf. Pursers, ibid. fos. 204-5, 257 b; Weavers, ibid. fos. 295-296 b, have "freemen of the Chamber" and "of the Charter."
  • 81. Riley, Mem. pp. 569-70.
  • 82. Cal. of K, pp. 335-7.
  • 83. Haberdashers (G, fo. 272), Horners (K, fo. 276 b), Coopers (L, fo. 249), Pinners and Wiremongers (L, fos. 329-31).
  • 84. City's Iter Roll AA, Add. Chart. 5153, Assize Roll 547.