The City’s 12 Great Livery Companies

“Mercers * Grocers * Drapers * Fishmongers * Goldsmiths * Merchant Taylors * Skinners * Haberdashers * Salters * Ironmongers * Vintners * Clothworkers

Medieval London was a free city that governed itself through the interconnections between its wards, its parishes, and the guilds that controlled the various aspects of trade. The twelve great livery companies are the richest and oldest of the guilds whose foundation charters (though often much older) can be securely dated to fourteenth-century documents. They were (and are) managed by a clerk but controlled by a Master, a number of wardens and a court of assistants elected by the liverymen and freemen of the company. Access is through patrimony (descent), servitude (apprenticeship to a guild member) or redemption (a fee).

Liverymen famously squabbled about order of precedence. It is said the origin of the phrase ‘being at sixes and sevens’ is the Skinner and Merchant Taylors’ dispute and eventual agreement to exchange being number 6 and 7 in the hierarchy.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

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