Encouraging Flemish Weavers to come to Scotland

Morvern French
Friday 14 November 2014

It is perhaps little known outside academic circles that the Scottish Parliament passed a law in July 1587 that encouraged Flemish weavers to come to Scotland. This posting reproduces and comments briefly on that Act of Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament passed an Act in July 1587 that gave legal encouragement to the bringing of Flemish weavers to Scotland. The box below contains the text of the Act.

Weaving – as well as the related crafts of spinning, combing, shearing, fulling, and dyeing – were common in Scotland during the medieval period, with both urban and rural manufacturers catering to the textile demands of ordinary people. This produce was typically of low quality, but was produced on a large enough scale in the later Middle Ages for it to be exported to Flanders – the hub of northern European textile manufacture – to clothe the urban poor.

The Flemish textile industry, the keystone of the region’s medieval economy,[A] was known for its production of high quality fabrics, including Bruges satin, Lille worsted, and Ypres grosgrain. This success was driven from the twelfth to early fourteenth centuries by the fact that its raw materials included high quality Flemish wool, as well as that of Scotland, England and Ireland. Indeed, as early as Roman times woollen cloth, made by the Flemish in Arras, was marketed in Asia Minor.

The Flemish textile industry had many ups and downs over the subsequent four centuries but Flemish weavers retained a reputation for high quality workmanship. The law passed in Scotland in 1587 was motivated by a desire to, in modern parlance, keep more of the “value added” associated with wool production in Scotland. Importing Flemish craftsmen to Scotland was seen as a way to foster a skills transfer to local apprentices.

Act in Favour of Flemish Craftsmen
Legislation: private act

[2]Our sovereign lord and three estates of this present parliament, upon the humble supplication of John Garden, Philip Fermant and John Banko, Flemings, strangers and workmen, having consideration that the said strangers are come within this realm to exercise their craft and occupation in making of serges, grograms,[3] fustians,[4] bombasines,[5] stemmings,[6] baize, coverings of beds and others appertaining to their said craft and for instruction of the said lieges in the exercise of the making of the works, and have offered to our said sovereign lord and whole commonwealth of this realm the experience and sure knowledge of their labours, which will tend to a perpetual flourishing of the said craft within this realm; therefore, our said sovereign lord and three estates aforesaid have thought reasonable and expedient and for the common good of the realm have agreed and concluded with the said craftsmen and strangers aforesaid upon the particular heads and articles following: that is to say, the said craftsmen shall remain within this realm for the space of five years at the least after the date hereof, and shall bring within this realm the number of 30 persons of weavers, fullers and such others as may work and perform the said work, as also one dyer or more for dyeing and perfecting of their said works, and that they and their servants, fullers, weavers and dyers to be brought home by them shall make and perfect their items and pieces of works according as the same are, or have been, made in Flanders, Holland or England, keeping length, breadth and quality according to the rule and style of the book of the craft aforesaid, presented before his majesty by the said craftsmen, seen, considered, allowed, marked and authorised by his highness and delivered in keeping to the superintendent of the said craft and keeper of his highness’s seal thereof after-specified.

Item, the said craftsmen are obliged by this act to take no apprentices but Scottish boys and maidens of this realm, and before any others, the burgesses’ bairns of Edinburgh to be preferred and accepted upon the conditions following, to wit, to be apprentices by the space of five years and that the said strangers shall teach their apprentices some part of their craft, whereby their labours may be worth their meat and clothing within the space of half a year after their entry; and thereafter the said masters shall instruct them in the whole points of their said craft within the space of five years and shall hide no part thereof from them; and also shall furnish them reasonably in meat, drink, clothing, bedding, washing and wringing, for the which causes to be performed by the said strangers to their apprentices during the said space of five years, the said apprentices and each one of them shall pay to their masters for each one of their apprentices the sum of £40 Scots money [for each man child and £20 for each maiden];[7] also the said strangers are obliged by this act not to suffer any persons of their own nation and vocation to beg or trouble this country for poverty, and that they shall subsist them by their works and furnishing according to the order observed by their nation in England, and the price of the said seals to be paid by the buyers of the said stuff.

Item, to the effect that his majesty’s lieges be not deceived nor prejudiced by the said strangers’ insufficient work, but that the same work and every piece and parcel thereof shall be as sufficient as any other similar stuff that is made in the said countries of Flanders, Holland or England, according to the rule and form of the book of the said craft produced and marked as said is, therefore, his majesty, with advice aforesaid, has appointed, constituted and ordained an honest and discreet man, Nicholas Uddard, burgess of Edinburgh, to be visitor and overseer of the said craftsmen, whole works, items and pieces and to try the sufficiency thereof, and to keep his highness’s seal, stamp and iron for marking thereof, for the which seal and furnishing of irons and lead thereto, as also the timber and looms whereupon they tax the said stuff, the said Nicholas shall have such duties as is contained within the said book and as is commonly used to be paid for that in Flanders, Holland or England; which office his majesty, with advice aforesaid, gives and conveys to the said Nicholas during his lifetime, and by this act exempts him from all taxes, watching, warding and other charges and impositions whatsoever as freely as the said strangers are exempt from them, and that for good considerations moving his majesty.

And his majesty, willing to gratify the said strangers for their good offices aforesaid, has granted and, by this act, grants to the said strangers and workmen a patent place within the burgh of Edinburgh, or within any other burgh within this realm, where they shall remain upon the ordinary market days of the said burghs to sell their made items and pieces of stuff to the lieges of this realm, providing that they shall sell no wool nor worsted before the same be put in work; also that the burgh where they dwell and use their craft shall appoint them sufficient places to set up trees, draw and dry their stuff and other needful things for their craft, upon reasonable payment, according to the order of their said book.

Item, his highness, with advice aforesaid, by this act, exempts the said strangers, their companies, servants and apprentices from all taxations, subsidies, tributes, impositions, watching, warding, taxing and other charges whatsoever within burgh or beyond the same, and ordains that the magistrates of the burgh of Edinburgh and others where they shall remain to make them burgesses of their burgh and grant them the liberty thereof freely during their remaining; and also his majesty grants to them the liberty and privilege of naturalisation and to be as free within this realm during their remaining as if they were born within the same, and that their lawful bairns shall possess the said privileges as if they were naturalised or born Scotsmen.

Also his majesty ordains the provost and bailies of Edinburgh and of the other burghs where the said strangers shall happen to make residence to furnish and deliver to each one of the said three workmen a sufficient work loom to begin their work and no further.

Item, it is permitted that strangers may buy the said persons’ items of work in the open market only, and also that they may choose to themselves within the said burgh of Edinburgh and liberty thereof, or any other burgh of this realm, a convenient place for the use of water to them and their servants and to a fuller and dyer, according to their said book; and that their servants and apprentices that shall come within this realm shall be exempt from all exactions as said is, and also shall be reimbursed and paid of their expenses and passage coming by sea by the magistrates of the burgh where they shall arrive and make residence, they being always craftsmen able to exercise the said vocation.

It is also granted by his majesty, with advice aforesaid, that the said Flemings craftsmen and their companies, when they are a sufficient number and shall require a kirk and minister to be the kirk of their nation, that the same shall be permitted to them upon their expenses reasonable for maintaining of the kirk and sustaining of a minister thereat as they can agree with the parties, providing that they and their congregation of the said kirk shall be subject to the discipline and profession of the kirk of Scotland and to the ecclesiastical and civil laws thereof.

And likewise, it is permitted by his majesty that the said craftsmen may bring within this realm and maintain within the same a wright of their own country for making of their work looms, who shall be exempt and possess their liberties aforesaid as themselves.

And for the better furtherance of this good and godly enterprise, his majesty, with advice aforesaid, gives and assigns to the said three strangers and their companies the sum of 1,000 merks money of this realm, to be paid to them of the first and readiest of the goods which shall happen to be made by them for the duty of his majesty’s custom, which shall be received of each item and piece of their work and labour; and that to be paid after the said number of 30 workmen be brought in and planted within this realm.

Item, his majesty, with advice of the said three estates, declares and ordains that each item and piece of the said craftsmens’ work shall pay to his highness, by the workers thereof, for his majesty’s custom of the same, such customs and duty as is paid for that in Flanders, Holland or England, according to the said book and value of the said stuff as shall be given in table to the said Nicolas Uddard, whom his majesty also by this act constitutes receiver of the said custom and duty during the space aforesaid.

And the said strangers and workmen presently within this realm, or that shall happen to come within the same to the effect aforesaid, shall be bound and obliged to present themselves before the provost, bailies and council of the said burghs before they be admitted to possess the privileges above-written, and there give their oaths for observing of the laws of this realm, spiritual and temporal, and for due obedience to his majesty and his successors, their judges and officers, their superintendent and overseer according to the laws of this realm, and that they shall remain within this realm at their work and shall not vacate from there during the said space of five years and further during their remaining within this realm.

[1] National Archives of Scotland, PA2/13, ff.143v-145r. Records of the Parliaments of Scotland: http://www.rps.ac.uk/
[2] ‘P.’ written in margin. Sections are numbered in Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, but not in the manuscript.
[3] A coarse fabric, usually of silk mixed with mohair or wool, and stiffened with gum.
[4] A coarse cotton or flax cloth.
[5] A twilled or corded material, of silk and worsted, or cotten and worsted, or worsted alone.
[6] A woollen cloth used to make hose or sometimes furnishings.
[7] This interpolation, written in the margin and authorised by the signature of the clerk register, replaces the deleted clause ‘as is commonly given with the apprentices of crafts within Edinburgh’.

There are a number of interesting features of the law. Most worthy of note, perhaps, are the following:

  • The crafts that were encouraged included the making of serges, grograms, fustians, bombasines, stemmings, baises and coverings of beds. These items are defined in the footnotes to the law. What distinguishes them is that they are all high quality items that would require the application of specialized skills.
  • The law provided for 30 people to be brought to Scotland that could include weavers as well as fullers and dyers. These craftsmen were required to be in Scotland for at least 5 years.
  • The workmanship was expected to be of the same quality as that found in Flanders, Holland or England.
  • The craftsmen’s skills were to be transferred through the employment of only “Scottish boys and maidens of this realm” and preferably “the burgesses’ bairns of Edinburgh”.
  • When there was sufficient numbers of craftsmen and their family members in Scotland the law provided for the provision of a kirk and minister. Reasonable expenses of the minister and kirk were to be covered. There is no evidence that such a kirk was ever established in Edinburgh or beyond.

Clearly Flemish weavers came to Scotland as a result of this initiative and evidence of their existence and activities have been found and reported in earlier blog postings.

Alex Fleming and Morvern French
November 2014

Morvern is a second year PhD student at the University of St Andrews, and a contributor to the Scotland and the Flemish People project.

[A] David Nicholas, Medieval Flanders (Longman, 1992).

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