Apprentices through the ages: 1500’s

In history apprentices tended [1] to be young children who often learnt their parents’ trades, shadowing them and learning as they grew. Paid apprenticeships also existed but the main difference was is that the parents paid to send their young children to live with a skilled craftsperson and learn from them. The craftsmen would then look after the young apprentices providing shelter, food and water as well as becoming a parent figure for the apprentice. Apprenticeships were usually an average of 7 years but with free labour there was always the chance this would expand further.
This brings us to the 1500’s which was an interesting time to be an apprentice as there was thievery, riots and new laws introduced.

1517 – Evil May Day.

1517 – Evil May Day.

In the spring of 1517 the sweating sickness spread [2] causing illness and death. When combined with a hot March and April this made the whole of London that spring a volatile place to be.
A sermon just before Easter unlocked even more volatility [3]  by blaming immigrants for stealing Englishman’s jobs causing more unrest, this pushed the Henry VIII and his government introduce a curfew to prevent violence erupting throughout London.

This is where two apprentices come in. They tried to break the curfew, but when a councilmen tried to force them back to their dwelling.  They refused inciting a struggle. Screaming for their fellow ‘Prentices and clubs’ at which point the riots broke out.

After the riots subsided, several executions took place. There was no mercy, the executioners were extremely cruel.

Apprenticeships through the ages: 1563 – Recognition of apprenticeship.

1563 – Recognition of apprenticeship.

In 1563 Queen Elizabeth introduced new laws called the statue of artifices and apprentices. [4] The laws aims were at regulating apprenticeships. They did this by introducing Compulsory Seven-year apprenticeships, in order to prevent apprentices being taken advantage of. Yearly wage assessment as well as apprentices having set wages for each position. They also made sure that if a worker and employer agreed wages above the set rates, they would be penalised and could face imprisonment.

In 1813 these laws were abolished. [5] The reputation around apprenticeships deteriorated due to the poor conditions in factories. As well as the notion that apprentices were being exploited.

1595 – The starch monopoly, crop failings and Shakespeare.

1595 – The starch monopoly, crop failings and Shakespeare.

Finally in 1595 there were two large events. Apprentices stole a 1000 weight of starch. [6] The same year a large group of about 1000 apprentices went and protested in tower hill. They were protesting scarcity and the rising cost of food. One reason behind the rising prices was the poor crop yield. Which happened twice in 1595 as well as the year before.

There is potential that these events inspired some of Shakespeare’s playwriting sessions. [7] Romeo and Juliet features brawls and duels that take place in public streets. The 1500’s proved to be a chaotic century for apprentices but while crop shortages, riots and thievery. A positive however is that some of the greatest literature is potentially inspired by the apprentices of the 1500’s

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