The Origins of Livery Companies

To establish an understanding of the City Livery Companies one must look back to the period of Anglo Saxon London in the 11th century. Many of the trades and crafts that operated in the City (which was defined by the area of the old Roman Walls) formed themselves into Guilds, or friendly societies, to give protection and to promote their trade or craft.

After the Norman Conquest, William had recognised the strength of the City Guilds and the vital influence they held in the City of London. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle said, “… all the best men representing the Crafts and Guilds went from London to Berkhamsted Castle to accept William as King”. Terms were agreed and William entered London in peace and was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.

The King’s requirements of the City proved London’s opportunity and the determined citizens won from the Crown a succession of Charters which laid the foundations for the City’s Government, its Sheriffs and the Mayoralty. The first Lord Mayor was Henry FitzAylwin and his Mayoralty dated from 1192.

In 1215 King John signed a Charter which gave the citizens of London the right to elect their own Mayor annually, rather than accept the choice of the reigning Monarch. Ever since then the Lord Mayor of London has been elected by the Liverymen of the City’s Livery Companies in “Common Hall”.

The Guilds grew in strength, as more were formed and those already established became more influential. Leading Members took to wear ing distinctive costumes or Liveries, many of which are still worn today during special ceremonies.

The oldest Guild is believed to be the Weavers. Mentioned in the Pipe Roll of 1130, its earliest Charter was granted in 1155. But most of those still in existence date from the 14th century. By this time they were held in such high esteem that Edward III bestowed Royal patronage by joining the Linen Armourers (now Merchant Taylors).

In later years there was a great deal of fighting between the Guilds or Livery Companies to establish seniority; “As Guilds fought for their position, or for their very existence, violent quarrels frequently broke out and there were pitched battles in the streets of London”. The great Companies armed their retainers like feudal barons and much blood was shed as Goldsmiths fought Taylors, Taylors fought Drapers, Pepperers fought Goldsmiths, and so on.