Guilds were associations of men and sometimes women that performed a combination of social, religious, and economic activities. More prevalent in urban areas, they tended to be either parish organizations created to perform religious devotions, or craft or trade fellowships designed to regulate their organizations (membership, craft standards, and other activities), protect their business from local and overseas competition, and expand trade in national and foreign markets. With the wool staples, which began in the early fourteenth century and which favored English rather than alien traders, English and particularly London trade guilds became very wealthy and powerful, often influencing royal policies because they were a principal source of income for the crown.
Guild records of organizational structure, activities, and membership tended to be kept in French until the fifteenth century, when they begin frequently to appear in English. In 1388 King Richard II gave additional impetus to record keeping when he requested from towns and guilds descriptions of the make-up of the guilds. The Grocers’ Company, as the most powerful guild in London in the fourteenth century, has the greatest number of London records to survive. It shows an annual membership of between 70 and 130 senior members in the late-fourteenth to mid-fifteenth centuries who were involved in importing spices, fruit, and chemical products, and exporting primarily wool.
Over twenty-five guilds existed in Bristol, a principal English craft and trade town, in the fifteenth century. The Weavers in the second excerpt express concerns first raised earlier in the century about workers not from the city. The specific interest in women guild members is a new feature in their records. Women in England generally had been able to become guild members, but they were a distinct minority and were usually accorded fewer rights, privileges, and advantages than their male counterparts. Traditional women’s work in households and in seasonal work also tended to exclude them from forming or partaking in guilds.
Theis ordynaunces ar be gonne in the worchyp of God in the yer of owr Lord 1345, of the fraternite of St. Antonyn off the grocers for hem to maynteyn and susteyn in the best maner, to the wiche we praye God help, hys modyr Seynt Marye, and all the holy cumpanye off heven. And the same ordynaunce turnyd in to Englysche be the avyce of the fraternite in the yer of owr Lord 1418, Robert Chechele, alderman, that tyme governour,1 Esmond Twyn and Thomas Catworth, maysteres.
The acord is made be comun assent that every man of the brothyr hood the day of Seynt Antonyn in the moneth off May schall comen to chirch of Seynt Antonyn fornseid,2 yf they bien in London, for to hyer the hye messe, and ther for to abyde from the begynnyng in to endyng of the messe. And iche of hem schall ofyr a peny in the worchyp of God, and of hys blessyd moder Marye, and of Seynt Antonyn, and all seynts, and who so faileth schall paye twelve pence. And the same day, ethyr in eight dayes next folowyng, the whiche day schall be assygnyd be the maistres, schall comen to gedres all that ben in London off this fraternite for to speke to gedirs and, as they accordyn, to gedyr etyn and, aftir the ordenaunce of the maystres, thay schullyn be servyd. And all tho that beyn in the clothing schull paye two shillings, six pence. And he that is owt of towun shall paye als moche as hit is be fornseid for the fornseid mete and for to susteyn the prest.3 And all tho that bien owte of the clotyng, and he hold shop, schall paye twelve pence,4 com he or com he nought. And that every brothir of the same felashepe holdynge ocupacion up on himself shal quarterly paye to ther prest seven pence.
And the same daye of the assemble the maystres, whan the mangerye5 is endyd, shullen comen with three chapeletts,6 and they schull chesyn othyr three wardeyns for the yer folowyng, apon whom the forseid chapelletts schullen be sette, and to hem delyvered, yf they be ther present. And than to hem delivered in presence of hem ensosyyd7 to hem, the whiche be chosin be all the compaignie, all the monye, all the avoyr,8 and the paper, and all that langith to the fornseyd fraternite in payne of losse of ten pounds and so forth from yer to yer.
And who so refusith to be maystre, he is bounden to paye to the forseyd brothirhed ten pounds sterlynges and than to be put owt of the brothirhed for all dayes. And yf eny of the compaignie be put owt of the compaignie for any trespasse that he hath doon ageins the fraternite, he schalle nowght be take in to the clotyng ageyn witowten the comun assent of the same fraternite. Also, hyt is ordeyned that at the first congregacioun off the newe maystres that there bie chosyn an alderman of the same craft to be governour ovyr the maystres, that ben for the yer. Also, at devyse of the maystres and the feleshyp, ther beien chosyn six or ten of the compaignie in helpyng and counseylyng of the same maystres that bien for the yer, and they schullen be redy at alle tymes whan they bien assygnyd, and they that faylle pay twelve pence. And yf eny of the maystres faylle, paye two shillings but they hafe resonable excusacion.
And at the same ferst congregacioun alle these poyntes to be rehersyd to forn the fraternyte or ellys the maystres at that tyme lese ten pounds. Also, hyt is ordeyned that they schull have a bedyl to warne and somune the feleschyp als oft tymes as he is boden be the wardeyns, and he that is than warnyd by the bedel and comyth nought shall been amersyd for that defaut als wel as he were preyed, othyr warned, by the wardeyns. And the bedel schall have for hys travayle of the commoun good five marc a yer, a gown, mete, and drynk of the maystres that ben for the yer. The same day is ordeyned that the wardeyns schull nought aventour over the see, neyther leve the comun good, bot at her owen aventur. Also, it is accorded in the same yer that every yer ageyns9 Crystemas they schull ben clothyd in sewt, the same clothyng to be kepte two hole yer; that clothyng and all othyr that perteneth to the comun of the craft shall be bought be the avyse of the wardeyns forn seyd. Also that they resseyve no man in to her clothyng bot he have servyd his termes as aprentice, and than, be counseyle of the maystres and the felawship that is ensosyed to hem, enquer that he be of good name and ellys resseyve hym nowght. And yf any othyr man that is freman of othyr craft, or ellys be redempcioun freyd of the same craft, he shall nought be resseyvyd in to the forseyd fraternite lesse than he paye at the lest for hys entre ten pounds sterlynges, and yt nought resseyvyd wit owten hem that bien to the maystres ensosyed for the yer. And yf they don the contrarye, paye to the fornseyd fraternite twenty pounds. And whan eny man hath servyd hys prentyshod in the same fraternite that, be the avyse and discrescioun of the maystres and hem be fornseyd, shal be resseyvyd and sworn, payynge three shillings, four pence for his entre.
Also that the newe maystres be boundon to the old jointely in the som that they delyver hem. And that they make rekenyng and acompt, and delyver the monye, with all othir thynges that ben longyng to the craft, be amoneth after that they han chosyn newe maistres, or ellys lese ten pounds to the box.Also that non of the same fraternite hold in hys schop but apprentices or elles alowes10 that hath servyd hys termes as apprentice in the craft; but yf it so be that eny of the same fraternite dye or ellys fall in to povert wher for that he may nowght maygten hym ne lerne hym as apprentyse schuld be and be accord depart fram hys maystre, than it is leful to eny of the fraternite, with owte fraude or mal engyn, to hold hym as apprentice for the terme that he is be hynde with hys maystre forseyd. And yf eny of the fraternite hold eny man in hys schop or in othyr place ocupyith in any othyr maner than it is to forn ordeyned, he schall paye forty shillings within eight dayes aftyr that he is warnyd to voyd hym, and every woke after twenty shillings to he be voyded. Also that the maystres onys in the yer at the leste, or as ofte as they have any man suspecte, goon and asseyen weyghtys, powdres, confescions,11 plasters, oynements, and all othyr thynges that longyth to the same craft, they takyng in every schope that they fyndyn defectyve, the same defawt to be redressid be hem and her felischyp, they takyng of everi man, as well that be nought defectif as othyr, for ther labour of the forseyd serch, four pence.
Also, what man comyth nought at dew tyme warnyd be the bedel, that is to seyn to rydyng ageins the kyng, qwien, or othyr lordes with mayr, shereff, or goyng on prossession wit ther mayr, as comun cours is at Cristemas and othir tymes, congregacions, or any othir thynges that they ben warnyd, to pay the payn to the bedel, or ellys, yf they abyde tyl the maystres comen, to paye the dowble. Also, it is be comun assent of the fraternite that no man of the fraternite take ne be frawde do take hys neighbours hows that is of the same fraternite or hawns12 the rent ageyns the wille of thyn forseyde neyghbour; he that is found in thys defawt schall paye at iche tyme ten pounds, that is to wetyn, five pounds to the fraternite and five pounds to hym that is thus put owght of ys hous. And yf eny debate be be twix eny of the fraternite for mys governaunce of wordys, or askyng of dette, or eny othyr thynges, that anon the partye plentyff come to the maystres that ben for the yer and tel hys grevaunce, and they to maken an ende ther of, and yf the maystres mowe nowght, by leve of the maystres go to the lawe and, yf they don wit owght leve, paye forty shillings to the maystres in helpyng of the same brothyrhode.And whan eny of the brothyhode dyen in London, the maystres that ben for the yer shul don her bedel to warn hem in what clotyng they schull comyn to the dirige and the morwe to the messe, and tho that fayle paye twelve pence. And yf any of the same brethyrhode die and is nought of power to paye for the costes of the berying, than the same brothyrhod grauntyth that it be don of the comyn good, and they to be ther in her clotyng as they schuld for the richest man of the same bretherhode apon the payn fornseyde. And whane eny man of the same bretherhode take apprentice wit any summe of goods or monye wit hym, he schall paye six shillings, eight pence to the maystres in help of the same brothyrhode and, yf he take non monye wit the apprentice, than paye three shillings, four pence wit in eight dayes aftyr, upon peyne of the dowble. And yf any man of the same fraternite be aventur of the see, or borowhode, or eny othyr meschyef have lost hys good, than that the maystres with the fraternite ordeyne that he may be holpyn and susteyned of the comun good or ellis of her almes and whan eny of the brothyrhod makyth hys testament that aftyr hys owen fre ville he devise that is likyng to hym to the forseyd fraternite in helpyng and performyng of the almes of hem that have nede in the same fraternite.
Also, an ordinaunce was made in the yer of owr Lord 1346 be comun assent of the same fraternite: a bonde to the maystres that bien for the yer, the wiche bonde schall bien asselyd of every brothyr of the same fraternite, and a byd in the maystres handys for the yer, be the wiche they schull constreyn, and the stresse hold in here kepynge with owten eny othyr officer. And he that is ageyns here ordenaunce of eny thyng that is devysyd to forn or be better avyse here aftyr, he to paye that the wardeyns wit here felawschyp ensocyed to hem wollen award apon hym, and this to be kepte at all dayes. Amen.the comune councell of the seid towne of Bristowe holde in the guyldhalle there the twenty-ninth day of Septembre in the yere of the reigne of Kyng Edward the fourth after the conquest the first,14 that for asmuche as divers persons of wevers crafte of the seid towne of Bristowe puttyn, occupien, and hiren ther wyfes, doughtours, and maidens, some to weve in ther owne lombes and some to hire them to wirche with othour persons of the seid crafte, by the whiche many and divers of the kynges liege people likkely men to do the kyng servis in his warris and in the defence of this his lond, and sufficiently lorned in the seid crafte, gothe vagaraunt and unoccupied and may not have ther labour to ther levyng, therefor that no person of the seid crafte of wevers within this seid towne of Bristowe fro this day foreward sett, putt, or hire his seid wyfe, doughter, or maide to no suche occupacion of wevyng in the lombe with hymselfe or with any othour person of the seid crafte within the seid towne of Bristowe and that upon payn of lesyng at every tyme that any person found defective of the seid crafte, and hit justly and truly presented by the maisters of the seid crafte to the maire for the tyme beyng and tofore the seid maire so proved, of seven shillings, eight pence to be leveide, half to the use of the chambour of Bristowe aforseid and half to the contribucion of the seid crafte, provide alwey and excepte that thes acte strecche not to any mannes wyfe of the crafte of wevers nowe levyng at the makyng of thes acte but that they may occupy ther seid wyfes duryng ther naturall lyfe of the seid women in maner and fourme as thei didden tofore the makyng of thes seide acte, etc.
Item, hit is aggreed, ordeigned, and assented by Philip Meede, maire of Bristowe;15 William Spencer, Sherif; and all the comyn councell of the seid towne at the councell of Bristowe hold in the guyldhall of the seid towne the laste day of May, in the yere of the reigne of Kyng Edward the fourth after the conquest the second,16 that for asmuche that divers and many of the crafte and occupacion of wevers daily receyven and put in occupacion of the seid crafte straungiers, allions, and othour not born under the kynges obeisaunce, and for ther singuler profit, provokyn and stere divers marchauntz and othour to bryng in to this towne of Bristowe people of divers countrees not born undir the kynges obeisaunce but rebellious, which been sold to theyme as hit were hethen people, and through the contynuance thereof in defaute of correccion hit hath caused that suche straungiers and allions beth gretely multeplied and encreased within the towne of Bristowe and that the kynges liege people born within this seid towne and othour parties of this his realme bene vagarauntz and unoccupied, and may not have ther labour for ther levyng, that therefor fro this day foreward no maner person of the seid crafte of wevers within this towne of Bristowe set or put any suche estraungier or allion to wirche in the occupacion of the seid crafte of wevers, nor in any thyng therto belongyng or perteynyng; and yf by due cerche made by the maisters of the seid crafte to the maire of Bristowe for the tyme beyng be presented, and tofore the seid maire, truly, justly, and lawfully proved that any suche person or persones bith so occupieng and excercisyng suche straungiers and allions in wevers crafte or any thyng belongyng or perteynyng therto hereafter contrary to this seid ordnaunce, that he or they and every of theyme lese, forfeite, and pay as oftyn tymes as he or they be founden defective of the premisses for every suche defaute six shillings, eight pence, half to the use of the comyn chambour of Bristowe and the othour half to the contribucion of the seid craft, provyd alwey and excepte that thes acte strecche not to any person or persons that was or were made prentice to any burgeise within this seid towne of Bristowe tofore the feste of Cristmas last passed and at that tyme they beyng in theyre prentiswyke.
In witnes of the whiche premisses and ordnaunces aboveseid, we Philip Mede, maire of Bristowe, by the assent and concent of all the comune councell of Bristowe aforseid, have putto oure seall of Office of Mairalte of Bristowe the day and yere aboveseid, etc.