Freemen and Burgesses – merchants versus craftsmen.
Scotland was slow to distinguish craft-men from merchants, and possibly garnered the idea of trade societies (unions) from Germany where the craftsmen had been pursuing representation on Town Councils since the thirteenth century. But in Scotland the merchant burgess were a class apart with wealth, privileges and life style different to the common people. They saw the artisans as a threat to them and their way of life; some would allege the growing importance of the craftsmen to be a threat to both local and national government.
The civic activity, government of the towns, taxation, the governance of peoples resident in them, and the daily lives of in dwellers lay almost exclusively in the hands of the merchant burgesses ( meaning every shop keeper as well as exporters of goods). They were the representatives on the Town Councils and held to themselves all positions of authority – the provost or mayor and chief magistrate; baillies etc. The `craft-men` existed only in royal burghs; they were also `free men` but were second class citizens whose affairs were long managed by the merchants. By tradition and law the wares manufactured by the craftsmen were valued and their selling price fixed by the Town Council. This followed the medieval economic ideal that every article had an intrinsic and just price that should not be altered either by the whim of the individual or by competition in the market place. This meant the individual burghs had an enormous say in what was produced and sold within its bounds, and thus the income that most of the in dwellers could earn. At various times wardens or inspectors evaluated the quality of work and even had a say in the type and quality of raw materials that were used. It also created a bureaucracy of monumental proportions as there were appointed officials for each trade with ale tasters, wine tasters, inspectors and appraisers of bread and flesh, and for every product of the handicrafts.
There were restrictions on the common out-dweller, who only had his raw goods (manufactured wares were the right of freemen to make and sell) to be carried into town to the market square and the `tron` – the public weigh scale. Here the goods were evaluated and a selling price set; about ten o`clock selling would be allowed by ringing of a bell. The in dweller was not much better off, he too had to buy and sell in an open booth or market and sell at fixed prices. A consequence of the strict legislation was the creation of a blackmarket whereby out-dwellers would enter by night and sell their wares and the purchaser sell on to his friends at a profit – the civil offences of forestalling and regrating appeared regularly in the records of proceedings of the courts.
Understandably the craftsmen resented the extremely close control and had been making noises and seeking self control for many years. The craftsmen saw the need for introducing their own `deacons` to manage such matters as quality and price control. They also saw the objectives of gaining legal incorporation and ultimately a voice on the Town Councils. On the emerging political front the craftsmen were already a significant group of people and it was becoming more and more difficult to ignore them. With their apprentices and journeymen, families and general servants, they represented roughly two thirds of the entire community.
There developed an increasing demand for trade association and petitions to Town Councils for charters or “seals of cause” which would constitute them incorporated bodies with powers of internal management and thus a legal standing in the community. By the middle of the sixteenth century twelve crafts had gained charters in Edinburgh – chirurgeons (surgeons) and barbers; hammermen; bakers, fleshers, wrights and masons; skinners and furriers; cordwainers (shoe makers); tailors; weavers; dyers; bonnet makers; and candlemakers. An added twist to the matter of pricing, however, was the intervention of the Privy Council who claimed the right of fixing prices much to the annoyance of all.
The craftsmen were not only vociferous in their demands but also adopted the tried and tested method of influencing decisions by bringing their supporters along and stopping the business of the burgh. It was influences like this that caused Edinburgh to let two craftsmen become members. Subsequently they were obstructive as possible to prevent the appointments. Dissatisfied the crafts continued their demands until in 1583 James VI issued his `Decreit Arbitral` in which he ordered that twelve merchants and ten craftsmen should comprise the Council. The offices of Provost, Baillie, Dean of Guild and Treasurer remained as positions for merchants. If a craftsman sought any of these posts he had to give up his craft while he held office. He could continue in his craft afterwards only by special licence from the king.
Scotland in the 16thC.