Life in Elizabethan England Next

A Papermaker and his Apprentice


As ever, youth are running wild in the streets. Just ask anyone.

There is a general belief that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and tumbling towards the Last Judgment, as confirmed by the disrespect of children and young people for their parents and their masters.

This is of course due to too much cherishing, coddling, and permissiveness breeding "great incurable vices."

Ascham was disturbed by young people's light-minded pursuit of fashion and frivolous use of slang. If he'd had a lawn, he'd have told you to get off of it.

The solution is to round them all up and put them to work. Masters are responsible for the moral upbringing of their apprentices, as well as the skills they need to earn a living. Morals include duties to both God and society.

Nowell's Catechism (which all are meant to learn by heart) defines "parents" as anyone to whom any authority has been given by God—the source of all authority. Masters are empowered to apply "fatherly corrections" as necessary.

Statute of Artificers, 1563

The Statute of Artificers governs all trades and crafts. In the usual repetitive language of the law, it summarizes the acts and statutes relating to work and wages, vagrancy, apprenticeships, and price setting. [Google books, scroll down]

It also governs retaining, departing, wages and obligations of apprentices, servants, and laborers: "to banish idleness, advance husbandry, and yield unto the hired person a convenient proportion of wages."

No one may take up a trade or craft practised in England without serving at least seven years' apprenticeship.

Employment is to be for no less than a year at a time in any of the sciences, crafts, mysteries or arts of clothiers, woolen cloth weavers, tuckers, fullers, cloth workers, sheermen, dyers, hosiers, tailors, shoemakers, tanners, pewterers, bakers, brewers, glovers, cutlers, smiths, farriers, curriers, sadlers, spurriers, turners, sappers, hatmakers, feltmakers, bowyers, fletchers, arrowhead makers, butchers, cooks, or millers.

Having retained a servant or employee for a year's term, you can't let them go at the end of that term without a quarter's notice. Unless you can prove (with 2 witnesses) reasonable and sufficient cause. Fine: 40s.

If an employee is under 30 or unmarried, (unless they come into an inheritance of at least 40s or property worth at least £10) they can't leave that employ during the 1-year term without good and just cause and the approval of two Justices of the Peace or the town mayor.

There's no point in leaving a bad master unless you have another position to go to. A masterless man is a considered a vagrant. You can be imprisoned for up to 21 days unless you can get someone to vouch for your reasons. And after that you'll be whipped out of the town as a vagabond.


We may apply the term "infancy" to any child up to age 15. Adolescence is perceived to last until age 25, a period in which young men especially are troubled by both Cupid and Venus.

Apprenticeship prepares an English youth for a life in a trade, whether farm laborer or merchant. Its nearest analog in the modern world is a compulsory formal education.

Just about every type of job has a more or less formal apprenticeship, even if they are not part of a guild.

Indenture provides moral instruction and control of young people as well as an education and a career.

Apprenticeship generally begins in the late teens and runs for 7 years. On the farms it can start as early as age 10, but the Statute requires they be kept until they are at least 21.

An apprentice cannot marry and can't start a household. This is one reason why the average age of first marriage is so high (25) for men.

A young person aged 12-20 may not refuse to become an apprentice if a householder of sufficient means demands it, unless they are already apprenticed elsewhere.

In cities and incorporated towns, the parents must be worth £3 a year or more, or be a 40 shilling freeholder. This is meant to keep agricultural laborers from streaming toward the cities, and to curb social climbing.

Masters can be fined £10 for taking an illegal apprentice.

Apprenticeships let gentlemen give their younger sons a useful skill so they can support themselves instead of living off what might not be a great estate.

You may be able to get out of an apprenticeship if the terms of the contract are not met; that is, if you do not receve training in the skill or craft you signed up for. A master may, and probably does, treat his apprentices as servants but he is also obliged to teach them their trade.

An apprentice goes to live with his master's family and is raised by him during this difficult term of his adolescency.

Girls are eligible for apprenticeships in some trades but not all. Generally this is fine work for which smaller hands are well suited: buttonmakers, lacemakers, and tailors, among others. The record also shows some girls apprenticing to bakers and stationers.


Literacy takes a big jump in the 1560s, driven by increases in trade and the Bible printed in English.

Illiterate master craftsmen make sure their sons are taught to read, write, and cypher as necessary business skills.

By the 1580s, most London craftsmen and tradesmen can both read and write—which are separate skills. Those in outdoor trades (thatchers, bricklayers, fishermen...) presumably have less need of writing but may well be able to read.


Jones, Birth of the Elizabethan Age
Aughterson, English Renaissance

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10 March 2010 mps