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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1991
  • Online publication date: October 2009

4 - THE FRAMEWORK OF SOCIAL RELATIONS: THE LIVERY COMPANIES

Summary

INTRODUCTION

The livery companies remained key institutions in the City because they controlled access to the freedom and the political, legal, and economic privileges it entailed. They were central to the organisation of business life, providing a framework within which the conditions of employment could be regulated, standards of production maintained, and legislation for the benefit of the craft promoted. The bonds between members were reinforced by the conviviality fostered in a rich cycle of feasting, by the charity provided by the companies, and by the availability of a framework within which disputes could be reconciled. Membership of a company was therefore a crucial component of a citizen's identity, and the companies generated those institutional loyalties which, I have argued, were important in ensuring that the pursuit of the redress of grievances remained institutionally focused. Nevertheless, to concentrate on the goals shared by members of the same trade and the social round which bound them together would only give one side of an often complex picture. Not all companies were equally successful in achieving the identification of the rank and file of the membership with the institution. Because of the unequal distribution of power within the companies, the aspirations of the artisans were often neglected by the rulers, or, worse still, the companies became instruments for the exploitation of the artisans, institutions through which wholesaling interests could ensure the dependence of producers on them.