Guilds were formal associations of individuals who practiced the same occupation and joined together for religious, social, and commercial reasons. In London, they were regulated by the city government, but they also enjoyed a variety of economic privileges, such as the exclusive right to practice their occupation or sell certain goods within the city. The richest and most prestigious guilds were known as the Twelve Great Livery Companies, which by 1515 were recognized in this order of precedence: Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmith, Skinners, Merchant Taylors, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners, and Clothworkers. Members of the Twelve Companies were mainly wholesale merchants, but artisans dominated the ranks of the many other guilds or ‘crafts’ in medieval London. Each guild had its own ordinances and hierarchy, which included apprentices, journeymen, masters, and wardens.
There is a published history or articles about the medieval history of just about every guild in medieval London that can be found by searching the Bibliography of British and Irish History (subscription-based but available through most research libraries). The works listed below, organized alphabetically by craft, are restricted to the chief primary sources on medieval guilds in London.
The Records of London’s Livery Companies Online The Records of London’s Livery Companies Online (ROLLCO). Searchable online database of apprentices and freemen members of ten of London’s most important companies from 1400 to c. 1900. The website includes over 366,000 named individuals, although the medieval records are extant only for the Drapers and Mercers. An ongoing and cooperative project between the Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research and the London Livery Companies.
Founders: Wardens’ Accounts Wardens’ Accounts of the Worshipful Company of Founders of the City of London 1497-1681, ed. Guy Parsloe (London, 1964). Transcript of the Middle English accounts of the Wardens, which record fines, admission fees, and quarterage, as well as expenses on wages, guild suppers, and religious services, among other payments.
Goldsmiths: Book of Ordinances, 1478-83 T. F. Reddaway and Lorna E. M. Walker, The Early History of the Goldsmiths’ Company 1327-1509 (London, 1975). A detailed account drawn from primary sources of the development of the Goldsmiths Company, with appendices of primary sources. See Appendix I ‘The Book of Ordinances,’ a modern English calendar of the contents of the guild’s Book of Ordinances, containing oaths of guild officeholders, their royal charter and ordinances governing the craft; Appendix II ‘Biographical Notes,’ of many medieval goldsmiths; and Appendix IV, ‘Wardens of the Goldsmiths’ Company’ from 1335 to 1509/10. Limited search at Haithi Trust.
Goldsmiths Wardens’ Accounts and Court Minute Books, 1334-1446 Wardens’ Accounts and Court Minute Books of the Goldsmiths’ Mistery of London, 1334-1446, ed. Lisa Jefferson (Woodbridge, 2003). Some of the earliest guild records in London belong to the Goldsmiths’ Company. This volume includes both transcriptions in the original language (most of the records are in Anglo-Norman up to c. 1444) and modern English translations on the facing page of ordinances, charters, lists of apprentices, cases heard in the wardens’ court (both commercial and personal infractions like quarrelling), accounts of revenues from entry fees and fines, as well as expenses for feasts and pageants.
Grocers Book, 1345-1528 and 1428-1462 Facsimile of First Volume of Manuscript Archives of the Worshipful Company of Grocers of the City of London, A.D. 1345-1463, ed. John Abernethy Kingdon, in two parts (London, 1886). The facsimiles are large reproductions of the folios in the earliest Book of the Grocers, accompanied by transcriptions in the original language (often Anglo-Norman in the earlier period) and summary English translations. The Book includes lists of members, ordinances, fines and fees paid, copies of court disputes involving the Grocers, and many accounts of their revenues and expenses. A a free Google EBook and limited search of both volumes (downloadable with subscription) at Haithi Trust.
Grocers: List of Wardens of the Grocers’ Company List of the Wardens of the Grocers’ Company from 1345 to 1907, ed. John Abernethy Kingdon and W. W. Grantham (London, 1907). Lists the Wardens of the Fraternity of St Anthony associated with the Grocers (from 1345), and the Wardens of the company from 1373. At Haithi Trust.
Grocers: Accounts and Courts Baron Heath, Some Account of the Worshipful Company of Grocers of the City of London (London, 3rd edition,1869). The Grocers were wholesale merchants who focused on the trade in spices. They were founded in the late fourteenth century as an offshoot of the guild of Pepperers; the guild also included the Apothecaries, who dealt in medicinal herbs and spices. The Appendix contains some medieval records, including a list of members, ordinances of maritime law, and extracts from the accounts and courts of the Goldsmiths wardens. Free Google EBook. The first edition (1829) is on archive.org.
Mercers: Acts of Court, 1453-1527 Acts of Court of the Mercers’ Company 1453-1527, introduced by Laetitia Lyell and Frank D. Watney (Cambridge, 1936). Transcription of the Middle English text of the minutes of the Mercers’ Company, as well as those of the Merchant Adventurers up to 1527. The original book was compiled in the early sixteenth century by the clerk of the Company from records belonging to the Mercers. The text includes ordinances, elections to Company office, payments and loans by the Company and its members, and notices about the watch, the role of Mercers in civic celebrations, the acquisition and management of Company property, and many other items. Limited search on Haithi Trust.
Merchant Taylors: Calendar of Records Henry Lennox Hopkinson, Report on the Ancient Records in the Possession of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St John the Baptist in the City of London (London, 1915). Calendar describing the extant books, charters, title deeds, and other documents of the guild, many dating from the medieval period. Appendix B has a list of the masters and wardens from 1300 to 1651. At Haithi Trust.
Merchant Taylors: Records Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St John the Baptist in the City of London and Its Associated Charities and Institutions, ed. C. M. Clode (London, 1875). Offers a history of different aspects of the guild, interspersed with copious extracts from the original records, including the guild’s accounts, inventory of their jewellery and plate, charters, ordinances, oaths of members and officers, and details from deeds and wills regarding property given to the guild.
Pinners and Wiresellerrs: Accounts The Pinners’ and Wiresellers’ Book, 1462-1511, ed. Barbara Megson, London Record Society, 44 (London, 2009). Includes the accounts of the Pinners craft between 1462 and 1511, along with wills of c. 30 members. The craft was very small and of low status, but the accounts also show their efforts to regulate craft practices, exercise control over the quality of their products, protest the competition from foreign products, license alien workers, and patronize such religious establishments as the Carmelite Friars and St James Hospital. They merged with the Wiresellers in 1497, and the new craft joined the Girdlers in the sixteenth century. On BHO.