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Merchant and Craft Guilds
A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades
Part II. Chapter IV - The Common Indenture


THE year 1587 was a memorable one in the history of the Guildry and Crafts in Aberdeen. Something approaching a dead-lock in the management of the affairs of the burgh had been brought about by the conflicts and disputes between the merchant and craft burgesses, and, with the view of arriving at a better understanding, it was arranged to hold a conference or a "commoning" :-

22nd June, 1587.—The said day the counsaill convenit for ye maist part with ane certain number of the brethrene of gild aduysing upoun ye articulis given to ye Prouest, Bailleis, and Counsaill be ye deaconis of ye crafts for them selffis and remanent craftsmen of ye said burght desyring sum preuileges to be granted to thame according to ye saidis articulis, the Counsaill, with consent of the brethrene of gild, thought it guid that thair sal be som commoning haid thairanent with ye saidis deaconis or twa or thre for ye sa.idis craftis appointit and nominat for ye haill haneing comissioun of ye saidis craftis at twa houris after nowne to continue within Sanct Nicholas Kirk. And for yat effect the counsaille and brethrene of gild nominat Alexr. Cullane, David DIengzes, Baillis and Alexr. Rutherford to meit at the hour foirsaid, and have commoning vpoun ye saidis articulis with sic as sal be chosin be ye craftismen aucthoresit with their comissioun to see and consider gif ane vniformite may be haid betwixt the brethrene of gild and thame, and to report agave quhat beis done the morne to ye effect the counsaill may consult yair anent. With prouisioun that ye commoning be na wayis preindiciall to the richtis, preuilegeis, liberteis, and imuniteis of ye haill brethrene of gild and all actis and constitutiones of yis burght nor zit to the civill actionis and caussis depending presently befoir ye lord is anent ye saidis preuilegeis betwixt the saidis provest, bailleis, counsaill and brethrene of gild on ye ane part, and ye saides craftsmen on ye other part.—.Council Register, vol. xxx., p. 218.

The preliminaries having been satisfactorily arranged, and the craftsmen having appointed George Elphinstone, saddler, Alexander Robertson, Baxter, and John Duncan, tailor, as their commissioners, the Common Indenture or " The Aberdeen Magna Charta," as it came to be called, was formally ratified upon the 6th day of August,1587, with all the serious solemnity befitting such an important event. We are told that "the haill town being lauchfullie warnit to this day be the handbell passand thro' the haill rewis of the town, quhairupon the bearer made faith in judgement, to the effect underwritten; and being conveenit for the maist part, representant the haill body of the town, compearit personally in judgement ane worshipfull man maister Alexander Cheyne, parson of Suaw, commissar of Aberdene, oversman in the action and matter underwritten, and produced the decreet and appointment given in and pronounced betwixt the bretheren of gild of this burgh and craftismen of the same burgh, concerning all contests and debates betwixt the saids brethren of gild and craftismen for avoiding of the said debates whilk has been amang them in time bygane, and there desirit the saids brethren of gild and craftismen, being conveenit for the maist part, to affirm the samen, and to grant to the registration thereof in the buikes of this present auditore ; whilk being openly read in judgment, the saids brethren of gild and craftismen ratifyit and affirmt the same, and consentit and ab eit all in ane voice, without contradiction to the registration of the said appointment in the said buikes, that execution may pass thereupon in form as effeirs; in respect whereof the saids baillies ordaint the same to be done, and to be registrate in the buikes of this present auditore, to have the strength of ane confest act and judicial decreet, and excutorials of poinding and horning to pass thereupon in form as effeirs, and interpont their authority thereto to the effect forsaid, and monisht the saids brethren of gild and craftismen to underly and fulfill the samen in all points."—Council Reg., vol. xxxii., p. 233.

Under this agreement the mode of admitting craftsmen to the freedom was strictly defined, and the composition rates fixed as follows:—"Giff the entrant be the eldest son of any free burgess, or zit the eldest son of ane free craftisman that hes past their prenticeship within the said burgh of Aberdene, he sail be free with the craft for the bancate only; bot the rest of merchants sons, or free craftismen's sons that hes past their prenticeship within the said burgh of Aberdene, sail pay forty shilling o'head, with the bancate also befoir, allenarly; and all prentices learning within the said town, and zet being ane forane, or born out of the said town, as also they that are not freeman's sons, suppose they be born within the town, sail pay 'ten marks overhead with the bancate, for their freedums, to the deacon and bretheren of their craft; sicklike outlands craftismen that are notht born burgesses sons or freemen's sons of the said burgh, neither hes past prenticeship within the same, but has learnt their craft in ony uther place not within the town, they sail pay to the deacon and maisters of their craft for their freedom, at the least twenty marks money forsaid with the bancate as said is; and decerns the composition of the money forsaid for the freedum, as is above expreamt, to be delivert and payt to the deacon of the craft, he to be answerable for the twa parts of the same to the dean of gild and to deliver the same to him for to be wared and bestowt upon the aid, support, and help of the common charges of the town, according to the directions to be given be the provost, baillies, and council of the said burgh to him thereanent; and the third part of the said composition, with the bankates foresaid, to be distributit and bestowt at the pleasure of the deacons of the craftis and their brethern foresaids freemen of the said burgh."

The other conditions of the agreement related chiefly to respective trading privileges of the two classes of burgesses, and to the number of representatives the craftsmen were to have at the election of the office-bearers in the Town Council. In regard to the latter it was decreed that "it sail be liesome to the said craftismen to choise sax persons of their a.win number zearly, to be upon lyitis, of whom the concil sal choise twa thereof zierly, who sall have place with the rest of the ordinary auditors to hear and see all and sundry the town's compts, baith of property and causualitys."

The Common Indenture was confirmed by Royal Charter granted by James VI., dated at Faukland, the 16th of July, 1617, and was again ratified by an Act of the Scottish Parliament held at Edinburgh on the 28th of January, 1688. (For fall text of the Indenture, see Appendix.)

The much-desired peace "within the bowells of the burgh," which was expected to follow the solemn enactment of the Common Indenture, was, however, of very short duration. Several of the deacons, in their defiance of the Town Council went the length of admitting craftsmen "free of their craft" before they were presented to the Council, an offence which led to the following sentences being pronounced, and an ordinance passed that deacons who ventured to do so in future would be fined £20 Scots for each offence:—

19th May, 1591.—The said day the prouest, bailleis, and counsall, modefeit the unlawis of the deaconis of the craftis vnderwretin quha war convict obefoir for receawing and admitting craftismen frie of their craftis respective vnderspecified, befoir thay war made frie of the toun be ye prouest, baillies, and deanis of gild theirof, express against the statutis of ye toun, ye aid preuileges grantit to yame, and contrar ye tenor of the appoyntment decreit and contract maid betuix the actis of thair convictiouns of the dait the xvii. day of Dtaii instant, at lynth proportis as eftir follows :—That is to say—Alex. Ronaidsone, deacon of the baxteris, to fyve merks ; Johne Sauderis, deacon of the cordoneris, to fyve merks; Androw Lesly, deacon of the websteris, to fyve merks. And this day being assianit to Mathow Guild, deacon of the hammermen, and to Johne Dauidsone, deacon of the tailzeoris, to produce befoir the prouest, baillies, and counsalle, ane warrand of the deanis of gild, and prouest, baillies, and counsalle of this burght, to mak Adame Gordone frie of the craft of the hammermen, and the said Johne Dauidsone, for receaving of Androw Riddell, frie of the said tailzeour craft, and sua doing did na wrang in receaving and admitting of the saidis persones, nathing being producit be ye said Mathow and Johne to preiff the samen, quairfor thay war convict and put in amerciament of Court for transgressing of the said contract, and ilkane of thame tua unlawis modefeit to fyve merkis, and ye deanis of gild was ordanit to uplift thair unlawis, and the prouest, baillies, and counsall deuysit statut and ordanit that gill ony deaconnis of the craftis of this burght sal be convict theireftir for receaving and admitting of ony persone frie of thair saidis craftis befoir thay be presented, receavit, and admittit be ye toun and maid frie be ye deane of gild, that the deacone convict herein sail incur the unlaw of tuentie pundis als oft as thay happen to be convict, to be payit to the deanis of gild without ony diminutioun. And the persone admittit be thame befoir he be admittit be ye toun neuer to be receawit nor admittit burges nor frie of the toun, and yat na craftisman be maid frie bot be compositioun of ten merkis at ye leist.—CaunczZ Register, Vol. xxx., pp. 1110, 1111.

Fresh differences also arose regarding the election of the Magistrates, and in 1592 a sanguinary conflict took place between the commoners, who had assembled in Greyfriars Kirk under the Deacon Convener, and Lord Huntly with the county Barons and 250 men. The following memorandum, entitled "Anent the common cause betwixt the town and trades, anno 1592," appears in the Trades Records :-

The great division betwixt the Commonalties and the Magistrates of Abd. was in the year of God 1591 and 1592, whereupon proceeded for the Magistrates great trouble. Upon Wedensday before Michaelmass Even, it came to blood, the Commons being in the Gray-frier Kirk be the Conveener to the election of the Magistrates that year, and Huntly with the County Barons being in the town att the Michaelmass Court where through the Laird of Balquhayne with the Lord Huntly with his accomplices whilk being convened together all in arms about the number of 250 or thereby, and of our commons about the number of 15, and there was, the said day, Alexr. Rutherfourd being Provost for the time, caused James Laing bell-man thereby goe through the town to inhibit and forbid under the command of the said Provost that no common man of the said burgh should wear armour upon that day because it was the day of the election under the pain of the highest that might be laid to their charge, and so upon Wednesday it came to blood before the Grey-friers Kirk. There was of 15 there, sip hurt and three or four Magistrates hurt and others, and William Johnston Reader, son to the goodman of Standing Steenes being shott by two shotts the one by Thomas Bulk and the other by Thomas Nicolson who was on the Magistrates part. Whereupon proceeded a great plea in Edr, more as six score of Commons were summoned that confiscation of the cas was remitted to the decision of four Lords of Councill, the ministers, and four burgesses, the King to be oversman, who decreed that remains as yet.

On the 27th September a solemn "consultation" between the Magistrates and the Commons of the town was held, when the blood on both sides was "remitted." This "act of great solemnity" is also recorded in the Trades Books as follows The consultation betwixt the Magistrates and Commons of Aberdeen was held with great solemnity, first att the Womanhill, thereafter passed both parties to the Kirk and heard the sermon, and thereaftor came to the Mercatt Cross and drank ilk ane with others; the blood on both sides being remitted ilk ane embraced others, the government of the town being decerned by decreet arbitrall to be this year as follows:—Thomas Menzies, of Durn, Provost; William Menzies, George Forbes, William Gray, Mr. Patrick Cheyne, Bailies ; Richard Irvine, Dean of Gild ; and David Cargill, Thesaurer.

In 1595 it was agreed to appeal to the Convention of Royal Burghs in regard to the differences about the election of the Provost and Magistrates. The craftsmen " as eet that the Commissionaris of burrowis in thair nixt Conventioun benerall sauld discuss and discerne quhou inony crafts sail have voit in the electioun of the provest, baillies, and vther publict officemen of this burght in all tyme to come, by an attour, the four craftsmen on the auld and new counsallis. Whereupon the saidis craftsmen for themselffs and their successors submitted thaim selffis to the saidis commissionaris of burrowis, renounce all vther jurisdiction and judgement, and oblesing thaim and their forsaidis to stand and abyd at the discreit sentence and determination of the saidis commissionaris of burrowis theiranent bot reclamation or again calling quhilsumever." In July of the following year (1596) the Convention met in Aberdeen, when there appeared before them Thomas Menzies of Durn, provost, and Alexander Rutherford, commissioners for the burgh on the one part, and "Matthew Guyld, dekin of the Hammer men; John Kempt, dekin of the Baxters; Johne Merser, Saidler, Alexander Stevin, Baxter, procurators; having power of the remnent deykins and brethern of the craftes of the said burght, and submitted themselves to the amicable decision of the Commissioners anent the difference and question betwixt the saidis partis concerning the number of the craftismen of the said burght quilk sail have voit yeirlie in the election of the magistrates of the samen at the feist of Michaelmas." After due deliberation, and with the consent of both parties, the Convention discerned and ordained:-

That in all tyme cumin;, yeirle and ilk yeir, the tyme of the electioun of the said magistrates thair salbe twa craftsmen of the auld counsal, and twa of the new counsall, with the six deacons of crafts of the said burght allanerlie, quhlk salbe ten persons in number for saids craftis, and ua mae to have voit in the yeirlie chosinb, at Michaelmas, of the provest, baillies, dean of gild, and theasurer; and in case ony of the saidis ten personis sail happen to be absent the day of the electioun, it sail be lessum to the remanent of the saidis eraftis hauing voit in the electioun, as said is, and being present to chois and put ane qualified persone or persones in place of thame that sail happen to be absent to have voit as gif the personnel absent war personallie present; and gif it sail happen ony of the provest, baillies, dean of gild, theasurer, and consal of the said burght, auld and new (by the said craftismen), quhilkis sail not exceed the number of threttie personnes by the provestes, or woit, quilk mackis threttie ane voittis in the haill for the part of the gild brethern to be absent the said time of the election ; in that case it shall be lesum to the said provest, baillies, dean of gild, theasurer, and consal quha salbe present to elect another person or personis according to the number of them that salbe absent to gif voit at the said electioun in and be all thingis as gif they had been all present that lies voit ordinarlie; and this decreet they discern and ordain to be registrat in the buikisl etc.—Council Register, vol. xxxvi., p. 565.

The ten office-bearers of the Crafts who were thus empowered to vote at the election of the Provost and Magistrates came to be known among their brethren as the "X." They had, as the following minute of the Convener Court shows, to vote "solid," in accordance with the decision of a majority of their own number :-

2s Sept., 1671.—The said day the haill Deacon Convener Court all with ane consent and assent strictly statuts and ordains that in all tymes hereafter it shall be observed be the Deacon Convener, haill deacons, and the tua councillors who shall goe up yearly to the election of the magistrates and council, shall be all of one mind and shall voice all alike in electing of the said council as the major part of them shall ordain, and put in the Deacon-Convener's mouth for that effect according to old use and want that so there be no alteration nor breach of their ten voices (called the X.) in any manner or way, but to stand firm and sure to all future ages under infamie and perjurie. And any who shall contravene hereunto be holden and reputed infamous, and no ways to have society nor correspondence with his traid, nor voice at their meeting, nor benefit of the hospital, until he supplicate and give the Deacon Convener Court satisfaction as they shall ordain. And sicklike, if it be found that any be refractory or disobedient therein the Deacon Convener to have full power to put off that person or persons, and put on another of that trade in his place for voicing in the said election as said is. And this Act to stand unalterable in all time comiing as the laws of the Medes and Persiaus.—Convener Court Book.

The two Trades Councillors had also to vote "together as one man." When any matter affecting the Trades carne before the Council for consideration, the Convener Court had to be consulted by the Trades Councillors, who were then instructed to give their vote according to the decision of the Court. The method of procedure was laid down as follows :-

23rd September, 1672.—The said day it is strictly statute and ordained by the haill court unanimously that whoever the two Councillors be who shall sit upon the Council for the traids that they, nor neither of them, shall give their voice in anything which shall be agitate in the Council concerning the traids in general, or any traid in particular, aneut their liberties or any other public interest, until they first acquaint the Deacon Convener and remanent Ueacons for the time, and after their advice and information given by them thereanent, that both the said Councillors shall conform themselves thereunto, and give their voice unanimously as they shall be advised or enjoined to do. And if any of the said two Councillors shall transgress and contravene herein shall have no voice in his Court until he supplicate the same, and give the members thereof for the time satisfaction as they shall ordain.—Convener Court Book.

The Deacon-Convener, unless specially appointed by the Trades as one of their representatives, had no vote ex officio. He simply attended, along with the "X.," and marked the voting list for the Trades' representatives. On one occasion a Trades Councillor was fined £10 Scots for not attending the meetings of the Council, and was also debarred from the Convener Court. On craving pardon, however, he was reinstated in office.

In 1641, Charles I., who was on his first visit to Scotland, granted a special charter to the craftsmen of Aberdeen confirming the privileges granted by his noble progenitors, and especially the charters granted by "our dear, good dame of worthy memorie, Queen Mary," in 1556, and by King James in 1581 (see Appendix). The latter portion of this charter granted by King Charles contains an important clause referring to "decreits, statutes, or proclamations made, or to be made," which was generally regarded as abrogating the Common Indenture so far as it contained anything at variance with the charters which were being confirmed.

It may safely be assumed that Dr. Guild, who was one of the Chaplains in Ordinary to Charles, and had obtained a charter eight years previously in connection with the founding of the Trades Hospital, had urged the craftsmen to secure this charter. The privileges it confirms are much more favourable to the craftsmen than the liberties granted under the Common Indenture, and the reference to decreets plainly shows that it was the intention to get out of some of the more restrictive provisions of that agreement. The Council, however, declined to recognise this charter, and, in subsequent disputes between the Guildry and the craftsmen, little or no reference is made to its existence.


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