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Merchant and Craft Guilds
A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades
Part II. Chapter III - Differences among the Merchant and Craft Burgesses


IN a previous chapter some account was given of the early differences among the craftsmen. For a time these differences were lost sight of on account of the disturbing effect of the wars with England. About 1430, Scotland became so much depopulated by the wars with England, that it was found necessary to import craftsmen from France and Flanders. In 1431, King James, "to augment the common well, and to cause his lieges increase in mair virteus, brocht mony nobill craftsmen out of France and Flanders, and other partes—for the Scottis were exercit in continuell wars frae the time of King Alexander the Third to thay days. Thus were all craftsmen slave be the wars." James V. had also to plenish the country with craftsmen from France, Spain, Holland, and England. Pitscottie tells us that "some of these were gunners, wrights, carvers, painters, masons, smiths, harness-makers, tapesters, broudsters, taylors, cunning chirurgeons, apothecaries, with all other kinds of craftsmen that might bring his realm in policy, and his craftsmen apparel his palaces in all manner of operation, and necessaries, according to their order, and gave them large wages and pensions yearly." The depopulation of the country by the wars with England also told severely on the common good of the burghs. In 1491 the third Parliament of King James, "holden at Perth, 18th March," passed the following Act, in which the deacons are asked to furnish a statement to the Chamberlain of Scotland of all monies received from craft burgesses in payment of their freedom :-

lit is statute and ordainit anent the Common Good of all our Sovereign Lord's Burrows within the Realme that the said Common Good be observed and kept to the common profit of the town, and to be suspended (expended) in common and necessary things of the burgh with the advice and councill of the town for the tyme: and Deacons of crafts where they are, an inquisition yearlie to be taken by the Chamberlain of expenses and disposition of the samen.

When the country became more peaceful the burgesses again began to differ among themselves as to their relative rights and privileges. We have already seen that in the earliest trading charters granted to Aberdeen the weavers and fullers were excluded from the Merchant Guild, and in the reign of James III. a general statute was passed enacting that every craftsman "aither forbeare his merchandise or els renounce his craft" without any colour or dissimulation, under the pain of escheat of his merchandise; and again, in the reign of James IV., the Convention of Royal Burghs enacted that " na craftesman sail vse ony maner of merchandise within the burgh, but occupy his awin craft under the pains contenit in the Actis of Parliament." But, notwithstanding these statutes, there were always differences of opinion as to what was meant by the "use of his awin craft." The wrights, for instance, claimed the right to import timber, the shoemakers to deal in leather, the skinners and glovers to deal in hides and skins, and so forth ; and in these disputes the Town Councils, being dominated by the merchant influence, showed little favour for the craftsmen. In this respect Aberdeen was a notable example. The Dean of Guild was a member of the Town Council ex-ojicio ; he collected all the burgess dues not only from merchant burgesses, but from trade burgesses, and handed them over to the Common Good; and this coalition with the alderman and baillies naturally aroused the jealousy of the more plebein but more numerous craftsmen. The craftsmen, at certain periods of the town's history, contributed as liberally as the merchants to the Common Good, and naturally they held they were entitled to a proportionate representation in the Town Council. Frequent disturbances were the result—disturbances that were -at this time common in most of the burghs in Scotland. A specially severe encounter between the merchants and craftsmen of Edinburgh led to the passing of an Act in the reign of Queen Mary (1555) which again abolished the office of deacon. Shortly before the passing of this Act the Edinburgh magistrates had passed a law encroaching on the craftsmen's special rights and privileges, and this new infringement, says Campbell in his "Cordiners of Glasgow," roused the resentment of the deacons of the Trades to such an extent "that they at once resolved to let it be clearly understood that they were in no mood to submit, but were determined to obtain redress, and that speedily." They accordingly proceeded to the Town-House, where, apparently with the intention of overawing the magistrates, they drew their swords. In this object they were disappointed and were themselves seized and overpowered by an armed force, and thereafter imprisoned. The craftsmen then assembled to rescue their deacons; but, on the matter beginning to assume a serious aspect, it was put an end to by the interposition of the Regent Arran.

In few burghs in Scotland was the war between the two classes of burgesses waged with such bitterness as in Aberdeen. The Act of 1555, giving the Magistrates the power of appointing deacons of the crafts, gave great dissatisfaction, and in the following year a "special gift" was obtained from Queen Mary restoring to the craftsmen the power to elect their own deacons, and bestowing other privileges, with the object of removing "the dissensions, public and private hatred and contention of our merchants and craftsmen dwelling within our burghs." (See Appendix).

But while this charter strengthened the position of the craftsmen in Aberdeen, it did not, as might be supposed, tend to lessen the friction between them and the merchant burgesses or Guildry. On the contrary, disagreements became more frequent and more bitter. The composition paid to the Common Good, the relative rights and privileges of the two classes of burgesses, and their representation at the Town Council, all in turn formed matters of dispute and controversy. In reference to the question of representation it may be here explained that at the end of the fourteenth century the management of the public affairs of the burgh was vested in the hands of an Alderman and four baillies who were chosen " with the consent and assent of the whole community of the burgh; "but this, apparently popular, mode of election existed in name only and not in practice. The Magistrates were for a long period practically self-elected, and the management of the public affairs of the town fell into the hands of a few leading families, who took care to exclude all who did not meet with their approval. Meanwhile the craftsmen had increased in number, and through their associations they began to act more vigorously. By an Act of Parliament passed in 1460 craftsmen had a right to take part in the elections, it having been then enacted that "Ilk craft shall choose a person of the same craft that shall have voice in the said election of officebearers for that time," and this right they determined should be fully recognised. They were just beginning to feel their strength, and to realise the usefulness of their associations, each with its duly appointed deacon and set of officebearers. They had to bear "Scot and lot, watch and ward "the town, and they claimed to have a voice in the election of the governing body. And to enable them to carry on their agitation for more control in the management of the town's affairs, they incorporated their associations under a Deacon-Convener and Convener Court. The Town Council evidently did not like the new office-bearer, and in 1591 declared the office illegal and the election unconstitutional. The jealousy of the Council with regard to the Convener can easily be understood. The craftsmen had become more numerous than the merchants; they had obtained privileges independent of the Town Council; and the Deacon-Convener must have occupied a position of no small influence in the community. The whole population at this period, it may be observed, was about four thousand, and as the members of the free craftsmen numbered several hundreds, they, with their journeymen, servants, apprentices, and families must have represented a large proportion of the total population.

Not the least serious element of dispute was the composition or dues charged for making freemen. When trading privileges were first granted, no special arrangement existed with regard to the sums paid for burgess-ship. A freeman was simply bound to pay " Scot and lot, to watch and ward the town ; " and, as will be seen by the Acts of Parliament already quoted, the sums collected were to be spent upon the "common warkis of the toune." These dues formed one of the chief sources of the town's revenue, and, along with the grants of lands and fishings made by the Crown, constituted what, to this day, is known as the Common Good.

The disputes about the composition arose when the Crafts began to exact entrant dues to their own associations. The Council held that these entrant dues interfered with the dues exacted for the freedom; while the Crafts maintained that the entrant dues to their own associations were used for eleemosynary purposes, and for protecting the craftsmen in the exercise of their special trading privileges. The craftsmen had no objection to undergo "scot and lot" for the maintenance of the "Common Warkis," but they also claimed the right to institute funds of their own, to provide for their own poor, and to combine for the protection of their own special rights and privileges. It was, in short, the old familiar warfare of the more plebeian crafts fighting for political power and the maintenance of their rights against their richer and more powerful brethren. And this warfare continued, to a greater or less extent, from the end of the fifteenth century down to the passing of the Burgh Reform Acts.

In 1579 the dispute about the composition, and the admission of members to the Crafts who had not duly passed the Council, reached an acute stage. A number of craftsmen were arrested and fined for "breaking the Acts and ordinances of the town," in sums ranging from 40 shillings to ten pounds Scots; and "the counsal being convenit for the maist pairt within the counsal-hous, reasoning upone the exorbitant and glyt compositions Lakin be the deconis of the craftes of this burght fra craftesmen and breder of the craft in admytting thame fre of their craft aganis thair prevelegeis, statut, devysit, and ordanit, that in all tyme cuming the detain of everie craft sail present the person of craft creven to be admittit free of the said craft to the deines of gill of this burght as ane worthy and qualificit craftismen to be admittit be the toune free of his craft efter diligent tryell and examination of thair habilitie be the said craft; and that the decanis of thair craft sal nawayis compone witht thame quhill the person creven to be admittit free of the craft first compone with the said deines of gill, and to be admittit free be the toune, the maisterstick of the persone to be admittit being exhibit and producit in judgement; and gill ony detain heireftir contraveinis this present ordinance, and acceptis the contrair of the premises the contravener to pay als mekil to the deniss of gill of this burght of his awn purss as he happenit to tak for the composition of the craft."—Council Register, vol. xxix., p. 879.

Two years after the passing of this statute something very much resembling modern "boycotting" was resorted to in the case of a number of leading craftsmen who were disturbing "the bowels of the burgh." Johne Duncan, Ion Roray, talyeouris; James Bannerman, baxster; and Patrick Leithe, armourar, were charged with having purchased law burrows against the Provost, Baillies, and Council, "intending thairby to leive within this burght without any correctioun or ordour" Leithe promised to become obedient, but with regard to the others, "the counsell, seeing the forenamed three persons within this burght and bowills thairof, continuallie refusing all dutiful obediens of their superiouris and magistrates under the Kingis Majestie to the evill of the guid burght, gif remeid were nocht provydid for correcting of the saidis licentious persones, and to avoid the evill example and company of the saidis three persones, it was ordanit, consentit, and grantit to, that na burgess of gild suld set ony dwelling-houss or butht to ony of thame, nor keep secretis witht thame, or gif thame ony labour or manual execrations of thair craft in tyme cuming, in respect thai are discharget of thair fredome and fundin be the decretis producit unprofitabill neeboris of the Commoun Weltht of this bught, resors of upror, sesime, and clivisioun withtin the bowallis thairof unto the tyme they come to obedience of our Soueran Lordis lawis and lauchfull statutes of this brught, and be receavit be the magistrates thairof quharinto the hail bredrene of gild consentit bot [with out] ony contradictioun."—Council Register, vol. xxx., p. 612.

Meanwhile the craftsmen were diligently collecting funds to "prosecute their causs" against the Guildry, and the Council deemed it necessary to "mak ane oulklie (weekly) stent and contribution to be uptaken of everi burgess of gild sua that the samen exceed nocht twa shillings of ilk persone at the maist," this collection to be used in defending themselves against what were regarded as encroachments by the craftsmen.

In 1581 the Aberdeen craftsmen took a bold step. Immediately after James VI. came to the throne they joined with the craftsmen of Edinburgh, Dundee, and Perth in applying for a new charter of privileges, and succeeded in obtaining an important confirmation of previous rights and liberties, along with an extension of their right of dealing in merchandise. The Act of 1555, which deprived the Crafts of the power to elect their Deacons and conferred it on the Town Councils, was specifically repealed. With the object of "removing all public and private dissensions, hatreds, and contentions between merchants and craftsmen, and for certain other reasonable causes," the charter declares:—"We repone them to use and have Deacons of Crafts who shall have vote in choiceing of officers of Burrows and shall elect and admitt all kinds of Craftsmen within Burgh to use and exerce their craft if they be fund able therefor. And they shall Siclyke hear the compts of the common good and be parts of the Auditors thereof ; and they shall conveen and make priviledges statutes and ordinances above the said Craftsmen for keeping of good order amongst them, and sustentation and Intertainment of Gods service, and said use and exerce all maner of merchandize within our said Realme, and outwith the same as they shall think most expedient to their greatest commoditie, with all and sundrie priviledges and liberties and faculties granted to them by our most noble progenitors, or whereof they have been in possession in times bypast, notwithstanding the said Act of Parlt, or whatsoever pains contained therein, anent the whilks we be thir present dispenses. Attour we be thir present ratifys and approves all priviledges, liberties, and faculties, given and granted by our most noble progenitors to the saids Craftsmen in all times bypast, to be used and exerced by them in the same form, force, and effect, in all times coming as they possest the same off before, &c."

The Aberdeen Magistrates were very much displeased with the craftsmen for joining with their brethren in Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee in applying for this gift, and immediately took steps to punish the ringleaders among the craftsmen. A number of them were summoned to appear before the Magistrates and Council, when they admitted that they had rashly and unadvisedly approved of the purchasing of the new "pretendit" privileges, expressed their contrition for engendering uproar, schism, tumult, and sedition betwixt them and their superiors, the Provost, Baillies, Council, and Free Burgesses of Guild, and consented, as the following minute bears, to pass therefrom.

25th August, 1581.—The said day thir craftismen vnderwretin that is to say Mathow Guild, armorar, Lowrens Marsar, George Elphinstoun Arthour Hill, Hew Johnnstoun, sadlaris ; Patrik Hay, Goldsmyth, George Nesmyth, Patre Leithe, Androw Meille, smythtis; Patre Wilsoune, Lourens Bell, Pewteraris ; Richart Williamsoune, Williame Allane, Culteltaris; Gilbert Blak, Robert Sanders, cowparis; Johnne bra, Thomas Spensar, Alexr. Patersone, David Henrie, George Keir, Johnne Barnis, Johnne Knycht, Talzeouris; and Patrik Straquhyn, Baxter; comperit all personallie in Jugement and being aduysit with yame selffis efter retfull deliberatioun and consultatioun and grantit and confessit yat yai had raschly and onaduysatly apprevit in jugement the purchasing of ye new pretendit preuilege obtenit of ye kyngis maiestie and lordis of secreit counsale agains ye freedom, libertie, and common weill of ye frie burgessis and Brethren of gild of yis burt, quhilk yai understand now tendis to engener vproar, schism, tumult, and seditioun, betuixt yame and yare superiouris and magistrates the prouest, Ballies, Consale, and frie burgessis of gild of yis burt, and yairfor war content to leave ye samen and pas yairfra, and to leif upon yair awin Craftis and vocatioun only, according and conforme in all poyntis to ye approbatioun, consessioun, act, and ordinance maid be ye remanent craftismen of yis burt, upon ye fourtene day of August instant and ratefeit and apprevit ye samen in all poyntis and obleist yameselflis and war sworne neuir to cum in ye contrair yairof and put yame in will fur the said assisting and adhering to ye said new preuilege, craving pardoun and forgifnes yairof, and obleist yameselves neuir to do ye lyk in tym cuming bot to be subjectit to all obedience of ye said prouest ballies and consale and to leif at quyatues upon yeir Craftis and vocationis alanerlie in all tyme cumiug. And renuncit ye said preuilege and all uyir preuilege and letters purchest or to be purchest be yame perpetually in all tym cuming.—Council Register, vol. xxx., p. 494.

The Council, however, could not undo the King's Charter, and the promises they exacted from the craftsmen that it would not be acted upon, do not appear to have restored anything approaching an amicable understanding. In 1582 the representatives appointed by the craftsmen to vote at the annual election of magistrates, declined to take any part in the proceedings, a step that brought matters to a crisis, and forced the Council and Guildry to the conclusion that some definite mutual agreement must be arrived at without further delay. The following is the entry in the Council Register bearing on the refusal of the craftsmen to take part in the election, a refusal which in a measure led to the important negotiations narrated in the next chapter :—

1st October, 1582.—The saide day the craftismen eftir following, that is to say Andrew Will, George Elphinstoun, Patrik Hay, Mathew guild, Alexr. Patersone, David Watsoun, Johne Sanders, Cordinar; Thomas Cuik, Cordeuar; Arther Hill, Alexr. Donaldsone, Alexr. Stevin, James Wysman, Johne Wricht, being oppinlie inquirit be calling of ye suit roll be yair names in speciall to gif thair wote in chesing and electing of ye provest, bailies and officiaris of yis burt. according to the comoun order and consuetude of yis burt. obseruit in tymes by past, whilkis anserit everie ane particularlie be yame selffis personalie present yat yai Wald gif na vote nor electioun of ye saidis juges and officiaris quhill yai be restorit to yair libertie and adjoint to ye Societie of uyiris fremen of this burt, and ye actis gif ony be maid yair anent annullit andyair foir refusit to nominat ony persone to exerce ye said office and tuik act and instrument yairupon ; and siclyk Robert Mengzes, baillie, in name of ye toun tuik act and instrument yairupon and protestit yat yai be not hard to haif vote in tyme coming becaus efter yair present refuse without just occasioun.Council Register, vol. xxx., p. 722.


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