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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

An Early Cooks' Guild Charter, London, 1495

View of a "cook shop" in Bermondsey in the 1560's, modern-day South London. Little is known about the exact nature of this painting though it seems that Elizabeth I (right, accompanied by Lord Burghley) is attending some sort of public festival. A cook shop can be seen in the background with a dining room prepared with a very fine table. The cook can be seen working over an elevated rotisserie in the background. By the 1560's the Cooks' Guild of London was at least 250 years old and would have been a presence in this cook's working life. (Joris Hoefnagel, A Fête at Bermondsey (detail) c. 1569-70)

Cooks in London and Paris were among the earliest craft groups of their respective cities to form into guilds. Historians of The Worshipful Company of Cooks of London, John Taverner and Alan Borg, both set the date of the original foundation of the London Cooks' Guild around the early fourteenth century (c. 1309), though both note that we will never be certain of the exact date of formation. 

What is a guild? Medieval guilds existed in a number of forms, some religious, some confraternal, others based on mercantile, artisanal or craft-based interests.  In the case of the London cooks, the guild was designed to be a body of master cooks, usually headed by 3 "jurors" and responsible for adjudicating on matters relating to the guild or disagreements between members, establishing craft-wide norms and standards that would be maintained within London's city limits. In addition, the Cooks' Guilds oversaw admittance and training of apprentices and journeymen. In the case of London, the cooks established their guild autonomously, only receiving royal charter as the official representatives of the cooking and pie-baking crafts throughout the city between 1475-1495. While previously the pie-bakers and the cooks maintained separate guilds, they seem to have been united into the same guild by 1494.

As cooks we rarely get to see the types of rules our ancestors lived by (and there are many more posts about cookery guilds to come), so I thought I would post one of the early charters of the London cooks here for peoples' enjoyment. This is the charter granted to the London cooks in 1495 by Henry VII of England, and offers vivid insight into the working lives of late medieval cooks.

[One caveat before continuing: these rules apply only to cooks who sold food to the public within the city limits of London - not cooks who were employed in royal or noble households. There is an uncertain relationship between the cooks of royal and noble households resident in London and the cooks who worked in public food shops, market stalls, cook shops and other public-sector cookery venues.]

 The Charter:

 Ordinacio dez Pastelers
15 Dec., 11 Henry VII. [A. D. 1495]

"Came the Wardens and other good men of the Art or Mistery of Pastelers of the City before the Mayor and Aldermen, and complained that whereas in time past they had been "of power to have a company of theym self in one clothing" and been able to bear the City's charges, they had now fallen into such poverty, owing to their being deprived of their living by vintners, brewers, innholders, and tipplers, that they could no longer appear in one clothing, nor were able to bear the City's charges, unless speedy remedy be applied. They prayed therefore that certain articles might be approved and enrolled, to the following effect:

-That every brother of the Fellowship attend an appointed church on the Feast of Exaltation of Holy Cross [14 Sept.] to hear Mass, and make offering of one penny, a brother's attendance being excused for reasonable cause, but not the offering of a penny. That he also attend on the following morning to hear a Requiem for the souls of all deceased members.

-That every brother, on due warning, attend funerals, obits, &c., of Brethren and "Sistern" of the Fellowship.

-That disputes be submitted to the Wardens before action be taken at law.

-That the Wardens have authority to search and oversee all manner of dressed victuals in open shops, to see if they be wholesome and also "whether the penyworthes therof be reasonable for the comon wele of the Kynges liege people or not."

-That all persons that seethe [boil], roast, or bake victuals for sale in the City pay henceforth such quarterage to the Wardens as freemen had been accustomed to pay in support of the Craft.

-That no one henceforth send any victuals ready dressed about the streets or lanes to be sold, under penalty of forfeiture of the same to the use of poor prisoners in Ludgate and Newgate and fine.

-That no persone nor persones enfraunchised in the said Crafte of Pastelers from hensforth shalle take uppon hym or theym to make any grete Festes as the Serjauntes Fest the Maires Fest the Shireffes Fest and the Taillours Fest without thadvice of the Wardeyns to thentent that the Fests of everiche of theym shalbe welle and worshipfully dressed for thonoure of this Citee and also for thonour and proffite of the persones that shalle bere the charges therof," under penalty prescribed.

-That whate persone or persones of the same Crafte that hereafter shall serve the Maire for the tyme beyng or any of the Shireffes for the yere of Mairaltie or Shervalte as their householde Coke or Cokes shalle neither in his own propre persone nor by any his servaunt or servauntes by Colour Crafte or otherwise that yere dresse or do to be dressed any Festes brekfastes dyners or Sopers for any Weddynges obites Craftes or otherwise out of the Maire or Sherriffes houses without suche Fest brekefast dyner or Souper be made at the cost and charge of the said Maire and Sherreffes for the tyme beyng to thentent that every man of the same Feaulisshippe may have a competent livyng," under penalty prescribed.

-That from hensforth there shalbe but one shoppe occupied on the Sonday of the said Crafte in Bredestrete and one in Briggestrete to [?] that your Suppliauntes the gode Folkes of the same Craft may serve Godde the better on the Sonday as trew Cristen men shuld do; and the ii shoppes to be opened by th' advice of the Wardeyns for the tyme beyng that is for to sey one shoppe to be occupied on the Sonday in the one strete and an other shoppe in the other strete and an other persone to occupie and open a shoppe on the next Sonday in the one strete and an other in Þe other strete and so alwey one to occupie after an other," under penalty prescribed.

-That "if any persone or persones enfraunchised in the said Crafte hereafter make any bill or billes of fare and proporcion for any Fest dyner or Souper by the desire of any persone or persones or elles make covenaunt with any to dresse such Fest dyner or Souper that then none other of the same Craft shall put any suche persone or persones from the makyng and dressyng of the said Fest dyner or Souper," under penalty of 20s.

-That every one enfraunchised in the Craft that herafter shalbe commaunded by the Wardeyns to bere the Corce of any brother or sister of the same Crafte to burying shall bere the same Corce or Corces to the Churche and to burying without any resistence grudge or geyneseyng of any persone or persones so commaunded upon peyn of iijs. iiijd.

-That if any foreyn or straunger take upon hym to make or dresse any Fest dyner or Souper within the same Citee or liberties therof that thanne it shalbe lefull to the Wardeyns for the tyme beyng with a Serjaunt of the Maires to theym assigned to attache take and arrest any such Foreyn or straunger so makyng any Fest dyner or Souper and to bryng the same Foreyn or straunger to prison and to bide the punysshement of the Maire and Aldermen for the tyme beyng and over that to forfeite at every tyme so doyng 10s. to be divided in maner and forme abovesaid.

-That every brother of ability and power shall pay for his quarterage yearly for the priest and clerks and his dinner 4s.

-That no freeman of the Craft slander or revile another, under penalty.

-That any brother making unreasonable complaint to the Wardens shall forfeit 20 pence.

-That no one of the Craft shall from henceforth make or do to be made upon one day more than ij dyners and one Souper, under penalty of 6s. 8d.

(source: [1495] “Ordinacio dez Pastelers”, Calendar of letter-books of the city of London: L: Edward IV-Henry VII, ed. Reginald Sharpe (London: City of London 1912), fol. 320.)
By: Ryan Whibbs

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