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From this emphatic preamble we might expect that deacons and all their doings were at length to receive their final condemnation, and it proves what a power the crafts had become that the enactment now passed was essentially of the nature of a compromise. For a year to come (it declared) deacons were to possess no powers beyond examining materials and workmanship. This impotent conclusion left things precisely as they were. The crafts continued to elect their deacons, the deacons to hold their objectionable assemblies, and the various artisans to charge exorbitant prices for their commodities.
Such were the relations of the crafts to the legislature till the reign of Mary, when a new departure took place in their history. At first it appeared as if they were to be losers in the long battle. During the regency of Mary of Lorraine, in 1555, the Act of 1427 was revived and confirmed.
, On the ground that the election of deacons led to dangerous courses, such as the contracting of leagues between the different burghs and between the different crafts of each burgh, it was ordained that thenceforth the office of deacon should cease to exist. Instead of deacons, officials, called Visitors, were to be chosen by the Town Council and appointed over each craft. The duties of these visitors were to be restricted to the scrutiny of materials and workmanship; they were to have no power of calling assemblies or of making laws, both
of which privileges were to reside wholly in the Town Council. Again, however, the Government found that it had taken a line which it was unable to follow. The very next year it was constrained to surrender the great point of contention. By royal proclamation it was announced that thenceforth every craft in all the burghs was to have its deacon, endowed with the "privileges, faculties, freedoms, consuetudes, and uses,” which they had ever enjoyed. to
Thus the crafts had triumphed over the Crown or rather over the merchant guilds which had been mainly responsible for the action of the Crown. How was it that the crafts had been able to gain such a decisive victory over these powerful bodies? First, it is to be noted that their mere numbers made them a formidable element to reckon with in every burgh. Together with their families, and the journeymen, apprentices, and general servants dependent on them, the craftsmen, it is computed, must have composed not less than two-thirds of the entire communities in which they were found." But mere numbers would not have given them the ascendency they had now come to possess. The great source of their strength was that all the greater crafts were now organised societies as closely compacted and informed by as definite a purpose as the merchant guilds themselves.
It was in the latter half of the fifteenth century that the movement towards closer organisation
acquired a momentum which secured its eventual
From all the greater crafts there came petitions to the Town Councils for charters or “seals of cause” which should constitute them incorporated bodies with powers of internal government and a legal standing in the community. The petitions placed the Town Councils in an embarrassing position. On the one hand, there was much to be said for incorporation, as with legal recognition the crafts would become directly responsible for the good conduct of their individual members. On the other hand, by becoming authorised associations their power to work mischief would be increased, and they would be enabled to cope at still greater advantage with their old enemies, the merchant guilds. But however the Town Councils might be disposed, the pressure brought to bear upon them was irresistible, and in Edinburgh before the reign of Mary, twelve crafts had gained the coveted charters—namely, the chirurgeons and barbers, hammermen, bakers, Aeshers, wrights and masons, skinners and furriers, cordwainers, tailors, weavers, dyers, bonnet-makers, and candlemakers. Of the other royal burghs the same story is to be told. In most of them there had been the same prolonged struggle between the crafts and the merchant guilds ending in the same notable result—the incorporation of the crafts wrung from the Town Councils, and sealed with the sanction of the State.
This brief sketch of the relations between the
crafts and the merchants was necessary for the explanation of one of the most important developments of the reign of Mary. After the question of
. the national religion, if even subsidiary to that, it was undoubtedly the antagonism between these two rival sections of the community that most intensely preoccupied the public mind of Scotland. In the towns, it is to be remembered, were now gathered at least a third of the population of the country, and it was in the towns that its intelligence and enterprise were mainly concentrated. But for the support of the chief burghs of the kingdom, as we know, the Reformation could hardly have become an accomplished fact. How the towns should develop, therefore, what class of persons in them were to control their development, what principles were to prevail in the manifold life of their communities—these were questions of the first importance for the future of the country at large; and they were all involved in the issues of the great controversy between the crafts and the merchants.
In the reign of Mary the controversy mainly turned on one point, and it was a point of far-reaching importance. The crafts had gained the right of appointing their own deacons, and the most important of them were now legally accredited corporations, but the acquisition of these advantages was only means to a great end. What the crafts had set their hearts upon was a place in the Town Councils that were now to be found in all the
burghs. In their endeavours to
to obtain this privilege the Scottish crafts were but following the example of similar associations in every country where they existed. In the towns of Germany the struggle between the artisans and the merchants had begun as early as the thirteenth century, and in the course of the fourteenth the artisans triumphed in most of the great towns of the south. In Flanders the struggle had been specially fierce, and it was only after bloody street contests that the crafts had gained their point. In Scotland there was bitterness enough between the two contending parties, but the power of the Crown was sufficient to keep them tolerably under bit and bridle, and it was by sheer dogged persistence that the crafts at length forced their way into the Town Councils.
It is beside our present purpose to trace the origin of these Town Councils—to note how they gradually became differentiated from the earlier governing bodies, and how they at length assumed the general form which they possessed in the time of Mary. Here it is only necessary to recall the statute of 1469 which determined the mode of election that was thenceforth to be followed in all the burghs. According to this statute the old Council was to choose the new, and both together were to elect the various town officials in the choice of whom, however, the representatives of the crafts were likewise to have a vote. Such was