The tailors of London and their guild, c.1300-1500
This thesis examines the roles played by craft organisations or 'guilds' in medieval urban society through a case study of the tailors of London in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Using the records of the City and of the guilds themselves, including the important early records of the Tailors, this study seeks to answer important questions about the nature of these organisations and the impact which they had upon urban society. Far from being the mere 'agents' of municipal governments, craft guilds often performed important and constructive functions on behalf of the artisans themselves. The first two chapters examine the extent to which voluntarism characterized the activities of many of these associations: the guild of London tailors, though unusual in the scale and scope of its spiritual and charitable provision, embodied widely shared principles of association which were not articulated solely through parish guilds. Subsequent chapters look at the ways in which the Tailors' guild expressed and articulated other concerns of their members and those outside the ruling guild: in the sphere of City politics, for instance, the Tailors came to represent the aspirations of many poorer citizens through their struggle for civic prominence. Likewise, in the sphere of economic regulation, this thesis demonstrates the ways in which the Tailors' guild, among others, was able to introduce flexible and pragmatic policies of enforcement, based upon the shared interests of those inside and outside the decision-making groups. The final section of the thesis then examines more closely the limitations of impressions of economic structures derived purely from guild statutes. First, the nature of apprenticeship and servanthood in medieval London is examined with particular emphasis upon the differing perceptions of these 'life-cycle institutions' by all concerned. Secondly, a systematic analysis of the structure of the tailoring industry in London is carried out and explores the remarkable diversity of economic life in the capital.