In the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI occurred the first attack by the Crown on Livery Companies by statutes of 1546 and 1547 which deprived them of their religious functions with the dissolution of Chantries and free chapels, and by vesting in the Crown trust properties charged with “payments by misteries and crafts for priests, obits and lamps” which were used to found Grammar Schools and Colleges. The Companies retained however their charitable trusts for the relief of sickness and poverty and for education, and were allowed to buy back properties formerly held by them on religious trusts.
From the reign of Henry VIII to that of Charles I the Crown looked to the Livery Companies for forced loans for specific purposes including the Plantations of Ulster (1610) and Virginia (1609), and for the provision of men and arms for defence.
The reign of Charles II witnessed the second attack by the Crown on Livery Companies by the Institution of Quo Warranto proceedings against the City Corporation and the Livery Companies resulting in the surrender of their existing Charters in 1684-5 and the grant of new restrictive Charters by Charles II and James II. James II however revoked the new and restored the old Charters and this was confirmed by the Statute 1 William and Mary Cap. 8 in 1690. The 1684-5 Charters are of interest in that apart from new provisions providing for Crown control, they specifically recognised for the first time the existence of Courts of Assistants to run the affairs of the Companies in addition to the Master and Wardens named by earlier Charters, although in many cases these had existed for centuries as select bodies which often replaced the Livery as the body which elected the Master and Wardens.
By the 17th century the control over their craft had begun to decline except in a few cases where it remains to the present day, e.g. the Goldsmiths with their statutory duty to Hallmark silver. The Companies’ powers to regulate the trades associated with them have probably never been soundly based and were probably ineffective being void at Common Law as “in restraint of trade”. The fact that recruitment was always by Patrimony (birth) as well as by redemption (purchase) and Servitude (apprenticeship) also ensured that only a proportion of the members were themselves connected with the trade.
In the 19th century Royal Commissions inquired into the Companies in 1837 and 1884, neither of which however resulted in legislation.
The Livery Companies have moved from their original purely charitable and social activities, through a period between the early middle ages and the 17th century, during which they assumed in addition (insofar as it is possible to describe mediaeval concepts by modern phrases) the combined function of employers’ associations, trade unions and