The Elizabethan Statue of Apprentices listed a number of the more common misteries which were open only to apprentices whose fathers owned freeholds with clear incomes of forty shillings, except where the apprentices were the sons of a master. 35Next Page
Short was the period in which apprentice became journeyman and journeyman master, as school books relate events. By 1381, the journeymen were not "down-trodden or very harshly used, but still [were] conscious that they were never likely to become masters." 36
It is truly naive to attach importance to the notion that when a serf fled to a town he needed to stay but a year in order to become a free man, presumably on his way to becoming a master. The facts read differently; his path was not an easy one. One learns: 37
The important privilege, known as the freedom of the city, was largely restricted to craft gild members, which made membership very important. Anyone not possessing the freedom of the city was liable to be impressed into the navy, thrown into jail for trivial offenses, or subjected to other inconveniences.
Proof of the early differentiation of the crafts into "junior aristocracies" in the Low Countries is shown in a bit of history which played itself out between the years 1302 and 1328: 38
Van Artevelde's new government was based on three economic groups: (1) the "Old Citizens" -- including both the rich gildsmen and other old families; (2) the weavers, a newly organized, powerful middle industrial group; and (3) the lesser gilds. This strongly suggests the social stratification of the Italian towns.
If stratification was pyramided at this early date, when was the system "open"? When the assertion is made that "wealth was beginning to be the criterion of a man's social position, although much deference was still paid to birth . . . ," 39 one is constrained to protest that birth was a decisive factor in the business world, almost as decisive as it was in agriculture at that time.
The decline of the craft gilds. The ruin of the craft gilds was a case of gradual substitution. The rich traders, as wholesalers, introduced the domestic system against the protests of the masters and to their bitter misfortune. This explanation of events will be taken up at the end of the section to follow, the part dealing with the growth of capitalism. Here it should be stated, however, that the craft masters did not, as a rule, grow richer, more numerous, more powerful, and did not usher in the era of factory production. Instead, they were left behind, clinging to old regulations and monopolies no longer effective. The power and influence of the merchants outstripped the craftsmen. "The small masters sought to save themselves from hopeless dependence upon the traders or the industrial entrepreneurs . . . They even went to the extent of enlisting powerful persons at court to aid them in their fight against the wholesale handicraft system." 40 Charles I is said to have taken up arms in their behalf; he lost his head; they lost their monopoly. The putting-out system had engulfed them; the industrial system made repairmen of them, in so far as they remained independent.
One thinks of shoemakers, tailors, and furriers. This is another instance of middle class elements being outwitted by those above them.
The development of early capitalism. The social class aspects of early commercial enterprise reveal that there had been a certain definite continuity in lineage. Whoever refers to the rich and powerful business men of the eighteenth century in Europe, known as the upper bourgeoisie or capitalists, as upstarts and as men risen from the ranks or as persons without family background, should be persuaded to re-state his generalizations in the light of the documented history of commerce and business.
35. Ibid., p. 134.
36. Ibid., p. 111.
37. Loc. cit.
38. Knight, op. cit., p. 230.
39. A. Abram, English Life and Manners in the Later Middle Ages (London, 1913) p. 7.
40. N. S. B. Gras, Industrial Evolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1930) pp. 57 - 58.