The Broderer’s Apprentice

Derbyshire record office D258/34/86

During the 16th century, skilled craftsmen in London belonged to professional organizations known as companies or guilds which were run according to rules laid out at various times by the wardens of the guild, the ordinances of the City of London, and by acts of parliament.  The guild to which the embroiderer belonged was known as the Fellowship of the Arte and Mistery of the Broderer.  A professional embroiderer apprenticed for at least seven years and might also work as a journeyman for perhaps five more under the guidance of a master before he could be admitted to the “Freedom” of the City of London and identify himself as a Citizen and Broderer. 

To become apprenticed or “bound” to a master in any London guild, the apprentice or his family would pay a fee to the wardens of the guild at the beginning and sometimes also at the end of their terms. An apprentice usually began his years of indenture around the age of sixteen with a bond made between his family and the master with whom he would live for a period of years specified in the written document.  An apprenticeship indenture was a legal document and, regardless of the company it was made with, was registered either within the City of London Guildhall prior to 1562 and after that. 

An apprenticeship indenture for a London embroiderer during the Tudor period has not been yet been discovered.  The one pictured here is dated 1604, one year after the death of Elizabeth I.  It indicates the master is Alexander Found and the apprentice is John Bowne, the son of a farmer from Mattock in Derbyshire.

The wording of the apprenticeship indenture was fairly generic and a similar document could be used for many of the skilled trades.  It outlined the behavioural responsibilities to which the apprentice would conform: “He shall not inordinately waste nor lend.  He shall not … contract matrimony.  He shall not play at dice, cards, nor at any other unlawful games.  The taverns nor alehouses he shall not frequent… He shall not depart nor long absent himself without leave, but in all things as a good and faithful apprentice and shall well truly and honestly bear and behave himself unto and towards his said master and all his during the said term.”  In return the master would “well and sufficiently teach and entrust him with reasonable chastisement and shall and will find and allow unto him meat and drink, linen, woolen, bed, hose and shoes … during the said term”.

More specific apprenticeship rules were laid out in the official ordinances of each guild and changed with the passing of each new set of by laws.  The 1528 ordinances, for example, included the apprentice’s oath to be sworn upon his presentation to the wardens at the beginning of his term.

Ye shall swear that ye shall be good and true to our sovereign lord the King and to his heirs kings of England. And well and truly ye shall serve your master for the terms of your apprenticehood, and in all lawful and honest causes ye shall be obedient, as well to him as to the wardens of this company, and them that be and hereafter shall be, of the clothing. Ye shall have them in due reverence.  The lawful secrets of the said fellowship ye shall keep and give no one information nor instruction thereof to none person but of the said fellowship.  In all these things ye shall well and truly behave and surely keep the said oath to your power so help you God and his saints as by that book.

The Broderers’ Company approved three sets of ordinances during the 16th century and a close examination of them may provide an insight to the how the unfolding political, social and religious events might have affected them. For example, by 1582, the oath was no longer mentioned but three new rules had been added. The apprentice was now required to give a silver spoon of the value of 10 shillings to the Company rather than providing a meal for the Warden and Assistants on the day of his freedom. This reflects the necessity or desire of the Company to acquire long term wealth as silver plate could be added to the Company’s inventory of assets as moveable goods.

2 thoughts on “The Broderer’s Apprentice

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  1. Very interesting. I have found many apprenticeship indentures while researching my ancestry but none for an embroiderer, unfortunately. Thank you for giving me a greater understaning of these documents

  2. This is fascinating information. There is an interesting parallel between the life of an apprentice broderer and those of student nurses in the not so too distant past. Their lives were similarly restricted and policed during their years of training while they were bound to live in a nursing residence .

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