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From the 11 century and possibly earlier, Social Gilds or Fraternities existed throughout England and on the Continent of Europe, characterised by the common attributes of oaths of initiation, charities for the sick and poor, annual feast and masses for the souls of the dead, but few now survive outside the city of London. By the 12th century, leading trades in the City of London had formed themselves into Gilds or Fraternities presided over by an “Alderman” exercising jurisdiction over members in matters relating to their trade, recognised by the civic authorities with rights of appeal to the Mayor. Crown recognition was also necessary to permit them to hold meetings at a time when all assembles were potentially unlawful, and to exercise jurisdiction over members in craft matters. Gilds not so recognised were “adulterine” and liable to penalties, The wearing of a distinctive “Livery” or uniform as an indication of their craft became a distinctive mark of such Gilds, and this itself was also potentially unlawful and was prohibited by Statutes of Henry IV (1399-1413) which exempt Gilds and Fraternities. By the early 14th century the leading London Gilds had emerged as the “Great Twelve, and in 1319 Edward II granted a Charter to the City which declared that no man could carry on his trade unless admitted to the Freedom of the City through his Gild.

The reign of Edward III (1327-1377) saw the beginning of the process of the reconstruction of the Gilds, thenceforth known as “Livery Companies”, by Letters Patent whereby the State confirmed powers of trade regulation, and in which the names “Aldermen” and “Gilds and Fraternities” gave place to “Master and Wardens” and “Misteries”. In the reign of Henry IV Letters Patent began to ”incorporate” Livery Companies, rather than merely to licence them. At the instance of a City Corporation fearing the independence of the Livery Companies, in 1437 the Statute 15 Henry VI Cap. 6 (now repealed) required that every Livery Company must register its Charter of Letters Patent and Ordinances with the City Corporation, and submit the latter for approval. An enactment of the Common Council in 1475 declared that the Mayor and Sheriffs should be elected by the Masters and Wardens of Livery Companies.

In 1503 the Statute 19 Henry VII C7 (still in force) enacted that no Ordinances (i.e. bylaws regulating members and the craft) should be made by a Livery Company in diminution of the Royal Prerogative or Public Good and that on pain of forfeiting £40 no Ordinance should be made without the approval of the Lord Treasurer, Lord Chancellor and Chief Justices, a function now performed by the Privy Council.