Joel Rosenthal

title.none: Jefferson, ed., Warden's Accounts (Joel Rosenthal)

identifier.other: baj9928.0412.027 04.12.27

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Joel Rosenthal, SUNY- Stony Brook,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Jefferson, Lisa, ed. Warden's Accounts and Court Minute Books of the Goldsmiths' Mistery of London, 1334-1446. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003. Pp. xxxviii, 630. $165.00 0-85115-890-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.12.27

Jefferson, Lisa, ed. Warden's Accounts and Court Minute Books of the Goldsmiths' Mistery of London, 1334-1446. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003. Pp. xxxviii, 630. $165.00 0-85115-890-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Joel Rosenthal
SUNY- Stony Brook

The title of this book pretty much spells out what is to come: the accounts and court minute books of this important company of the City, with the Latin or French (or occasional English) on the left, a translation on the facing page. Because the records run for such a long period, and because of the prominence and importance of the goldsmiths, this volume is a most welcome one. Lisa Jefferson is one of a number of scholars who have worked in the last few years to offer accessible and user-friendly versions of the records of companies and crafts, of municipal government, of ecclesiastical persons and institutions, and of families who preserved their own version of their daily life and their accounts: recent volumes of this sort have been edited by Norman and Valerie James, The Bede Roll of the Fraternity of St Nicholas, by Ralph Griffiths, The Household Book (1550-1551) of Sir Edward Don: An Anglo-Welsh Knight and His Circle, by Hannes Kleineke and Stephanie R.Hovland, The Estate and Household Accounts of William Worsley, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, 1479-1499, among others. When the records being offered cover the business of a London company they combine some of the aspects of a monastic cartulary--preserving the record of privileges received and concords arrived at--and some of the aspects of the annualized record keeping we know from manorial records and the registers of families and private households.

In keeping with the impetus behind this kind of elaborate and regular record keeping, the goldsmiths had a basic formula or agenda governing what, out of each year's wide-ranging menu of deeds and misdeeds, was to be set down in their official records. There was always some attention devoted to the demographics or life-stage milestones of a gild: the lists of apprentices were admitted that year, and then the names of those admitted into full membership (both Englishmen and the various categories of foreigners), and the names of those four men chosen to serve their term as wardens of the company. The regular expenses of the wardens--a burden they accepted as part of the price they paid for their elevation to high office--were usually given as well: money for alms and the poor, money to have the bell at St Dunstan's rung (presumably on May 19, his feast day, he being the patron saint of the goldsmiths), money to cover professional expenses to lawyers and the City's serjeants (these perhaps to be reimbursed?). There might also be money spent on bread, cheese, and ale, or for ringing the bell at St Paul's in addition to St Dunstan's, or for cloth and clothing for the gild's chaplain, or for gifts to regular houses in and around the City, or for minstrels, processions, and musical instruments. Imposing as this list of social and collegial obligations was, the total expended on such items by what we assume to have been a group of wealthy men rarely amount to more than a few pounds a year. Their charity might amount to about £1 per person per year--for the lucky few who were chosen (as in 1336-38, when eight recipients came in for £13s. 4d).

The business of the goldsmith's common assembly was also a regular item for the annual record. It was in their assembly that collective decisions were hammered out, and such business focused largely on ways of protecting (and extending) the monopolistic control the goldsmiths exercised over their craft. This was a control that could run to work done with other precious metals and objects, and it could run to the privilege of controlling relevant activities beyond the walls of London itself. The long and extremely circumstantial charters of Edward III--linking the skills and probity of the master goldsmiths to the welfare of the kingdom--were clearly adjudged to be well worth the space they occupy in the registers (running here from pp. 63-71, as well as the labor of and payments for so much scribal activity -- and we have a later notation of an unspecified sum to a scribe "for all manner of things" in 1374-75, as well as 2s.10d. for a new paper register, in 1370-72, and the much more serious business of "a book of velum containing 400 leaves plus the guard leaves...[and now needed because] in former times various documents have been embezzled").

But all of the above is on the positive, or the constructive side of the ledger. In terms of pages devoted to any particular activity, the apprehension and punishment (or would-be apprehension and would-be punishment) of malefactors occupies the bulk of these records, as it probably did of company thinking, time, and energy. All municipal records--be they ancient, medieval, or modern--seem to be rich in their tales of cheating, forging, embezzling, swindling, short-changing, substituting, faking, counterfeiting, and stealing. No reason why London and Londoners of the 14th and 15th centuries should be an exception, and if anything the high value of the materials and the skilled workmanship involved in the world of the goldsmiths is apt to raise the statistical ante of misdeeds. The temptation to bend, cut, or ignore the rules may well have increased in direct relationship to the profits that were anticipated by dint of the many (and ingenious) transgressions for which people are brought to the bar to be punished, imprisoned, shamed, and fined.

The admission of apprentices to the gild was a regular part of each year's business, as was that of those men who had now served their initial terms and were ready for full fledged membership. This annual infusion of new blood was vital to the health of the collective body, and the lists of those entering upon their apprenticeships often ran to as many as 40 men (for 1400-01) or more on occasion, with each apprentice listed along with the master under whom he would serve, and each putting up a small sum (between 2s. and 20s.) or satisfying the standard fee with a pledge or a surety. In 1349-50 there were 35 different masters taking on apprentices, and three of these took on more than one new man, while Thomas Mundene became "apprentice of the wife of Richard Pargate" (apprentiz la femme). And in that year, when the turnover of personnel at all levels of society was near its all-time high, there were also 23 men "coming out of their terms" and entering the company, along with 11 aliens now admitted to the company, among whom we can note Hanekyn of Cologne and Solomon "the enameller" (l'amailour). A grim year for this gild, as for so many others, and marked by an entry indicating that "since all the Wardens of the previous year had died, the first expense was to have the bells tolled at St Paul's." The records of 1362-63 might reflect the second visitation of the plague; 62 men were taken on as apprentices and 28 aliens were admitted as brothers (among them, "Mans Irissheman" and "Roulandus van Frankeford"). Though these large numbers are not unusual, they were balanced or countered by the tallies of other years, particularly as we move into the 15th century, when we are sometimes dealing with no more than a dozen or two new names. The smaller though perhaps more profitable world of 15th century economic life makes itself known in such a laconic and unreflective fashion.

There were usually four wardens elected (on St Dunstan's day) to serve for the year. Beyond forking over money for various good causes that helped the London poor and trumpeted the glory of the mistery (such as the wax for seven candles weighing 60lb., plus torches amounting to 38s. 1 1/2 d in 1383-84), they presided over the gild's assembly. It was here, in 1369-70 that 135 men of the company "have sworn to keep the good rules and ordinances of the same mistery." The long list of those swearing seems to be given in a random order, though some of the masters carry surnames that bespeak regional origins, though perhaps dating from an earlier generation (such as John Chichester, John Norwich, or Robert Guildford), and a few others stood out from their fellow Londoners by being labeled as mazerer or "apprentice of the sheriff." At other times the goodmen of the mistery did common business so as to reaffirm the binding power of their ordinances touching the standards for gold and silver, for the inspection of objects made with jewels, and for the designation of the proper locations in which work was authorized (which meant not "in alleyways nor in secret places"). And it presumably was the goldsmiths in some sort of an assembly of the whole who approved sending 2 spearmen and 12 bowmen to the siege of Calais in 1436, as is "recorded in the large paper register" of the wardens of that year.

But mostly, as I indicated above, the court books and accounts focus on those who did not toe the party line regarding standards, prices, conditions of labor, and loyalty to the common culture. The diversity of anomalous behavior is impressive, as is the ingenuity of some of those who ran the risks associated with doing it their way. The ranks of the villains and scoundrals are both lengthy and noteworthy for the ingenuity that men brought--then as now--to getting around the system. We might turn to the case of 3 men of the gild, plus a pedlar, a Carmelite friar, and a "Dutchman," (which sounds like one of those unpublished Sherlock Holmes tales)--dealing with spoons and a cup "made of alchemy and fake silver" (223). Or there is the case of the man apprehended for covering his copper ware with silver, a transgression that cost Ludwig of Saxony a quarter of a year in prison (193). What sounds like a raid on a chop shop yielded a fake gemstone, items of gilded copper, and a gold goblet "plugged with lead," among other items (249). Lead in the base of a goblet meant a fineof 6s. 8d. that would go to the poor, plus the smashing of the offending base (159), while in 1440-41 so many men were charged with offenses that a listing of their sins ("defect in the workmanship" or "fake bands" or "a defect and for disobedience and trouble to the wardens" or "counterfeit silver") and the appropriate penance (ranging from 2s. to 26. 8d., with some confiscations as well) takes up all of page 505 of this volume. Fines were the standard treatment; imprisonment was not uncommon, and the ultimate sanction of brotherhood--expulsion from the gild--was also a possibility, as was confession and public penance. The quasi-religious or quasi-spiritual aspects of a gild or fraternity, no matter how much it kept at least one eye on Mammon, are of considerable interest.

The gild system, of course, was a labor system based on a rigid hierarchy of credentials and seniority; those at the bottom neither got a fair shake nor did they expect as much. At the same time, any labor system--short of one based on slavery--has to have both inducements, some for long-term recruitment and replacement and some for short term rewards, to make tolerable the years of subservience and training. There was a line, of some degree of fineness or other, between the exploitation inherent in seven years of training and service and the abuse of those being trained and/or used. And when the latter kind of treatment was brought to the gild's notice--whether by way of the moral economy of the community or because of a fear of fines and sanctions that might fall upon the collective group, the authorities might intervene. Masters who allowed apprentices to buy out their years of service prematurely could face sanctions, as could the former apprentices (111). A master who order his apprentice to hawk goods from a cart at Smithfield, on the threat of being "beaten and ill-treated," was warned off and told to contribute half a mark to the gild's alms chest at St Dunstan's (123). And when an apprentice of John Hall died and another ran away it was charged that John's wife was the cause: "people say...the wife used to beat his apprentices" (p. 359). If Hall were found culpable he was not to train any more apprentices and pay a fine to the wardens. Another master with an eye on the main chance stopped short of physical abuse but he was prone to taking on child labor without bothering to register his young workers in the apprenticeship system--avoiding both the entry fees and the gild's supervision (283).

These matters--some large, some small, some risible, some clearly of serious import--cover the bulk of the entries in the registers. Items and events of less central importance but of passing interest as anecdotes or vignettes into urban and commercial life make their appearance from time to time. When all the City gilds were told to be arrayed in red and white for their procession that welcomed Anne of Bohemia, the "Emperor's sister" (197) into London, the seven score men of the mistery wove silver threads into their garments and sported gold clasps with gemstones, while "on their heads they wore chaplets covered in red material powdered with the same trefoils." Their role in the mayor's procession of November, 1427, was enlivened by a quarrel with the butcher's gild (443), while when the wardens of 1420 handed over the gild's regalia and paraphernalia they listed a considerable inventory of musical instruments: 4 trumpets, 4 clarions, and much else--and some of it newly made--and weighing in all 22lb. 7 3/4 oz. Troy Weight (391).

This vast register, spanning a long century from early Edward III into the middle days of Henry VI, is a treasure trove of information about the internal working of a major urban gild. Its riches lie mostly in tracking the internal demography and finances of the company, in allowing us to trace the company's concern to maintain its privileged place in the pecking order of crafts and artisans and fraternities, and in our opportunity to peek through some of the windows it opens on chicanery and the realities of doing business in the late medieval world. Though the annual contacts with the church of St Dunstan, the clergy of London, and the philanthropies and social institutions of the City are so routinized that they have attracted but passing notice in this review, they constituted a significant part of the gild's annual or cyclical collective life: processions, charity in the form of good, clothing, and money, support for the chaplain, etc.

Jefferson's long introduction is largely concerned with the language of the manuscripts and some codicological problems that are explicated with clarity. There is less concern to integrate the rich body of material she makes accessible with a more complex and comparative tale of London life--be it political, economic, or demographic. We learn a great deal about one mistery but much less about how this powerful mistery was entangled in the politics of the City, how much its inner circles were self-perpetuating (if they were), how the internal discipline of the goldsmiths' stacked up against that of other gilds, or what role its wardens also played in parish fraternities or in civic office. But, as we always try to say when being critical about the "book not written," we owe a considerable debt to an editor who has made so much material available for economic and urban historians and, with only the slightest bit of guidance, for the classroom.