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from the hearth of the mother state to remind them of their common origin, but none the less retained complete independence in the management of their domestic concerns. In England the sacred fire that passed from town to town was the knowledge of law and the ordered liberty that springs from law. The charter granted to Oxford, for example, laid down that “if there be any doubt or dispute of any judgment that they ought to make, they shall send their messengers to London, and what the Londoners shall decide, they shall approve ”i. Again, Bedford when in difficulties was to apply to Oxford, and "what the citizens of Oxford shall adjudge, that they shall hold and do without doubt”. The importance of affiliation lies in the fact that it facilitated the growth of a national economy by clustering the towns together in well-defined groups, each of which followed similar customs and were bound together in a community of economic life. It was thence a single step to assimilate municipal practices to a uniform standard and consolidate the different groups into one compact whole.
The mediaeval town thus formed a complete economic whole, in which the interests of the stranger and the general control of economic life were consciously subordinated to the well-being of a select number of burgesses or gildsmen. The gild system undoubtedly fostered a spirit of jealous exclusiveness. The aims of municipal policy were frankly and avowedly selfish, and they were inspired by an energetic determination to assert the supremacy of the townsmen over all who stood outside their own privileged circle. It was immaterial whether the stranger within their gates was an Englishman from a neighbouring town or a foreigner from beyond the sea. He was in either case subjected to disabilities, embodying principles which have long disappeared from modern life. On this account the merchant gild has been severely condemned for its narrow range of vision, for a policy which placed the municipality before the state, and the burgher before the Englishman. But it is
1 Charter Rolls, i. 92. Two occasions are recorded of the mayor of Oxford consulting London: (i.) concerning the rights of a testator, (ii.) procedure re pleas of land : Sharpe, Calendar of Wills, i. p. vi.
Charter Rolls, i. 26.
only fair to remark that the monopoly which the gild asserted so jealously and guarded so rigorously was won at a heavy sacrifice, and was only maintained by an unremitting care. To all appearance, moreover, they freely extended their privileges to those who were willing to bear the financial burdens by which their franchises were maintained, “supporting at all times all the due and customary burdens within the aforesaid town”1. If the struggle for freedom bred within the townsmen a spirit of monopoly and harshness of temperament, it was not perhaps without compensation in the eager, active existence in which citizenship carried with it real responsibilities and duties. Among the burgesses at any rate there seems to have been a genuine sense of solidarity, a co-operation of social and economic forces for the common welfare, which made the English borough of the Middle Ages a storehouse of political ideas and a valuable school for political training. It paved the way for the day when the municipality would be merged into the state and the burgesses into the nation. Whether the fruits which it achieved could not have been produced under a system affording more scope for independent enterprise and more latitude for individual initiative, is a question which hardly falls within the province of the historian to determine.
It is more important to decide how far the system of commercial monopoly must be condemned on economic grounds. The eminent historian of the gild merchant holds that the rigid protection of the older chartered boroughs sapped their commercial prosperity, and was among the potent factors that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries brought about a great revolution in English municipal history—the widespread decay of once powerful boroughs 2. No one will lightly dissent from these views; yet it would scarcely be safe to attribute undue influence to any one factor, and every instance of the alleged decay of towns must be dealt with on its own merits. In the first place, the monopoly of the towns largely tended in practice to be more apparent than real, for the holding of markets and fairs,
1 Little Red Book of Bristol, i. 102.
2 Gross, Gild Merchant, i. 52.
often protracted over the greater part of the year 1, must have afforded ample opportunities for the restricted needs of mediaeval commerce; while the great mass of traders could claim freedom of traffic by virtue of charters or commercial treaties . Again the trend of the cloth trade away from the old corporate towns to new industrial centres, while partly prompted by the desire to evade control and escape financial obligations, was ultimately due to the rapid expansion of the woollen manufactures 3 Other factors have also to be taken into consideration : the heavy burden of taxation and the firma burgi, the oppressive character of craft ordinances, changes in the localization of the staple, the transformation of trade routes, and the succession of epidemics and fires 4. Moreover, many towns were extremely slow in recovering from the Black Death, which dealt a severe blow at their prosperity, and from the Hundred Years' War, which diverted the energies of the nation into unprofitable channels and drained the country of its economic resources. 1 Supra, p. 208.
? Supra, pp. 252, 275. 3 Infra, p. 439.
Cf. Norwich, infra, p. 433.
THE fundamental and perennial interest of the mediaeval Significcraft gilds lies in the fact that they represent a vital stage in ancha olike
craft gilds. economic evolution, and enable us to discern how industrial problems were handled and solved in the Middle Ages. These problems, it must be acknowledged, differ widely from our own, which are at once more complex and involve larger issues. But in the effort to provide a fair remuneration for the worker and to reconcile the conflicting claims of producer and consumer, were developed principles of industrial control and conceptions of wages and prices to which we may perhaps one day again return. The craft gild comprised three classes of members—the masters, the journeymen and the apprentices. We shall deal first with the institution of apprenticeship as the most typical and instructive feature of the gild system.
The object of apprenticeship is defined in an Eliza- Apprenbethan state document: “Until a man grow unto the age
ticeship. of twenty-three years ” he has not "grown unto the full knowledge of the art that he professed”. It was system of technical training, by which the craftsman was initiated into the secrets of his craft and rendered qualified to carry on his calling. The terms of apprenticeship varied from place to place, but there was everywhere an underlying similarity of ideas and purpose. It was essentially a contractual relation involving mutual obligations on the part of master and apprentice alike. The master was required to provide bed and board and technical training,
“and whatever is needful for an apprentice ”1: sometimes also a small salary 2: sometimes even his schooling 3 and a knowledge of languages 4. In an indenture drawn up at Leicester in 1531 the apprentice was to receive eightpence a year, and in the eighth year sixpence a week; moreover, he was “to be kept as a prentice should be, that is to say, meat and drink, hose and shoes, linen, woollen and his craft to be taught him, and nothing hid from him thereof” 5. If the master neglected to fulfil these duties the apprentice was at liberty to withdraw from his service. Among the Cappers of Coventry, whenever an apprentice complained that he had not “his sufficient finding according to the customs of this city”, the wardens of the gild were to admonish the offender, and if necessary could place the apprentice with some other master. They were also “once in the year to go through the whole city to every man's house of the craft, and by their registers to call for every apprentice before them to know how the constitutions be kept”, that is, they were every year “to examine prentices "6. At Exeter in 1562 a master was charged with refusing to “instruct and set forth [his apprentice) in such sort as he is bound to do”, and the apprentice was therefore set free from his employment? The master was expected to regulate the apparel of the apprentice 8, and was also responsible for his "good demeaning and bearing” 9. At Dublin and
1 York Memorandum Book, i. 54-55 : indenture of apprenticeship among the Bowers (1371). For an early indenture (1291), see Records of Norwich, i. 245.
a Records of Oxford, II: the apprentice was to receive 12d. for his salary and 20s. at the expiration of his term (1513).
3 A boy of fourteen was apprenticed for twelve years to a haberdasher, and the master was to provide him with two years' schooling in grammar and writing (1462) : L. F. Salzmann, English Industries of the Middle Ages (1913), 230.
4 Vict. County Hist. Somerset, ii. 408 : a weaver of Taunton undertook instruction in the language of Brittany as part of the agreement. 5 Records of Leicester, iii. 29. 6 Coventry Leet Book, iii. 671,673 (1520). 7 W. Cotton, An Elizabethan Guild of the City of Exeter (1873), 157.
8 At Newcastle the merchants passed an ordinance in 1554 regulating their apprentices' apparel : Newcastle Merchant Adventurers, i. 20. For the apparel worn by an apprentice (temp. Ed. IV.), see Trans. Royal Hist. Soc. N.S. xvi. 173.
. In the ordinances of the Bury weavers (1477) it is laid down that a master is responsible for those whom he employs: Hist. MSS. Comm. 14th Rep. App. viii. 135.