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Wednesday 12 April 2023 11.00 - 13.00
G-2 LAB02 Disputed Endings: How Labour Relations were Terminated in Pre-Industrial Europe
B24
Network: Labour Chair: Jane Whittle
Organizers: Taylor Aucoin, James Fisher Discussant: Jane Whittle
Moderators: -
Taylor Aucoin : Unfinished Business: Mediating Servant Wage Disputes and Broken Contracts through the English Labour Laws, 1563-1700
The English labour laws aimed principally at regulating wage labour, rural craftsmanship, apprenticeship, and service in agricultural husbandry. More specifically, the 1563 Statute of Artificers built upon and replaced labour legislation in place since the Black Death in order to lay out and enforce, among other things, the regular assessment ... (Show more)
The English labour laws aimed principally at regulating wage labour, rural craftsmanship, apprenticeship, and service in agricultural husbandry. More specifically, the 1563 Statute of Artificers built upon and replaced labour legislation in place since the Black Death in order to lay out and enforce, among other things, the regular assessment and setting of maximum wages for day labourers and servants, regular hours of work for day labourers, a mandatory seven-year apprenticeship for rural artisans, and compulsory service in husbandry for one-year terms for all able-bodied men and women not already in employment. Although manner and level of enforcement varied across time and region, aspects of these laws remained in legal and practical effect until the early nineteenth century.

Historians of early modern England have long studied those aspects of the Statute governing the assessment and setting of maximum wages. Yet less has been said about the impact of compulsory service and its mechanisms of enforcement. More recently, scholars such as Jane Whittle and Tim Wales have shown the persistence and sophistication of county and parochial systems which enforced annual contracts of service across the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Masters and magistrates used the law to coerce masterless individuals into service and to prevent and punish those who attempted to leave before the end of their term. Yet the latter ‘exit from the labour relationship’ could also occasion disputes wherein the servant, rather than their superiors, used the labour laws to their advantage and protection.

Early modern quarter session order books, session rolls and notebooks of justices of the peace often record wage claims or disputes between servants and their (usually former) masters. Servants appealed to JPs for help securing their back-owed wages, and the magistrates frequently ruled in their favour, citing the labour laws to enforce restitution. This paper provides a systematic analysis of such wage dispute evidence, heretofore largely neglected in the historiography of the labour laws. Paired with examples of masters prosecuted for ‘putting away’ their servants before term and without cause, this study explores the extent to which servants could exercise agency through and within the final moment of coercion in the labour relationship, using the labour laws to enforce ostensibly contractual obligations. (Show less)

James Fisher : Premature Exits? The Termination of Compulsory Apprenticeships before the Statutory Age of Expiry in England 1600-1750
The legal condition for the ending of compulsory apprenticeships in England was simple and unambiguous (also called ‘parish’ or ‘pauper’ apprenticeships). The 1601 Poor Law gave local state officials the power to bind poor children to work unpaid in other households as ‘apprentices’ until the age of 21 (girls) or ... (Show more)
The legal condition for the ending of compulsory apprenticeships in England was simple and unambiguous (also called ‘parish’ or ‘pauper’ apprenticeships). The 1601 Poor Law gave local state officials the power to bind poor children to work unpaid in other households as ‘apprentices’ until the age of 21 (girls) or 24 (boys). The indentures which bound children all included a clause specifying this age requirement. Since the law did not prescribe the age at which a child could be bound, the length of contract (anywhere from 7 to 17 years) was entirely determined by the statutory age of expiry. Without the terms of the contract being broken or some external disruption, the ending was straightforward and predictable.

However, there is considerable evidence that apprentices did not always complete their full term. Court records are full of orders for apprentices to be legally discharged following appeals, while anecdotal evidence has led some historians to speculate that informal agreements to end the contract years before expiry were common and widespread. Yet we currently have no systematic analysis about how often apprentices did not complete their full terms, the various reasons for termination (formal or informal), and how authorities sought to regulate or enforce contracts. As compulsory apprentices constituted up to one third of young rural labour in some areas, this leaves significant uncertainty about working life.

This paper will present new evidence and a clear scheme for categorising the range of reasons for the dissolution of compulsory apprenticeships. These include the master failing in their obligations, by not maintaining or abusing the child, not providing work or training, or simply desertion; the apprentice failing in their obligations to serve through disobedience, absconding or sickness; or even through mutual agreement. Due to the particular nature of these apprenticeships, events which would usually signal the end only prompted a re-arrangement; for example, upon the death of a master an apprentice might be transferred to a new master. The scope for exit was also gendered: endings for female apprentices were distinct, as marriage was an accepted reason for leaving while pregnancy could be grounds for discharge. Drawing upon direct and indirect evidence from court and local parish records, this paper will offer a new account of the scope for prematurely ending compulsory apprenticeships within and beyond legal constraints. It will thus shed light on whether coercive constraints were tightened or loosened for this group of unfree workers as they grew into adulthood. (Show less)

Teresa Petrik : Taking the Disobedient to Court: Uncovering Mechanisms of Coercion and Autonomy in 17th and 18th Century Austrian Servant Legislation
The institution of service can be considered a crucial form of how labour was organised, as well as a formative characteristic of social organisation in a wider sense in Early Modern Europe. Servants were considered part of the household in which they served, while at the same time, the relation ... (Show more)
The institution of service can be considered a crucial form of how labour was organised, as well as a formative characteristic of social organisation in a wider sense in Early Modern Europe. Servants were considered part of the household in which they served, while at the same time, the relation between servant and master was subject to extensive judicial regulation and was therefore often a matter of public negotiation. This contribution will approach the legal regulation of service in the late 17th and early 18th century through the lens of historical semantics and analyse servant laws issued in the Habsburg Monarchy. The abundance of legal regulation at this time points to the highly conflictual character of the servant relation. These laws covered issues revolving around the behaviour of servants, their entry into a labour relation, their exit from employment, different forms of remuneration, the role of intermediary agents, the legitimacy of physical punishment, and lastly, how state institutions should interfere in conflicts surrounding the servant relation. An analysis of these documents allows for an in-depth examination of the interrelation of labour and coercion and gives insight into the complex web of power relations and interdependencies on different levels of hierarchy between servants, masters, intermediaries acting in the recruitment of servants, the absolutist state, and other institutional authorities, such as the court.

A central dispute within this context revolved around servants’ exits from employment. This paper will investigate the legal frameworks established in order to control servants’ possibilities of leaving employment. It will especially focus on how the regulation of these exits through instruments such as obligatory certificates issued by servants’ masters functioned as mechanisms of disciplining and coercion, and how they were instrumentalised in order to maintain the hierarchical relationship between master and servant. However, it will also address to which extent legal institution created spaces of servants’ agency, for example through the establishment of a servant court. Thereby, this contribution aims to uncover the underlying mechanisms of coercion, dependency, and autonomy within service. Methodologically, the contribution will be based on an analysis of semantic categories. (Show less)

Vilhelm Vilhelmsson : Strategies of Exit: Absconding from Service in Nineteenth-century Iceland
In Iceland, compulsory service was the primary and preferred form of labour management from the medieval period until the turn of the 20th century, with regulations being particularly strict from the late 17th until the late 19th century. Servants were expected to submit to the absolute authority of their masters, ... (Show more)
In Iceland, compulsory service was the primary and preferred form of labour management from the medieval period until the turn of the 20th century, with regulations being particularly strict from the late 17th until the late 19th century. Servants were expected to submit to the absolute authority of their masters, who, in turn, were by law responsible for their servants’ well-being as well as their moral education and Christian upbringing. Labour regulations thus not only coerced workers into submission but also guaranteed them certain rights. These included provisions that masters should feed and clothe their servants, pay their wages on time and in full, and refrain from verbally (or physically) abusing them, although physical chastisement was not only allowed but actively encouraged. Regulations stipulated the amount of labour the average worker should perform as well as the rations of food and number of clothing items servants should receive. Labour legislation also stipulated the conditions under which the master-servant contract could be terminated and how that process should take place, citing various forms of insolence and disobedience on the behalf of servants as well as containing vague references to abuse and neglect by masters as legitimate causes for termination. In this paper, I argue that this ‘moral economy of service’ was maintained through the resistant practices of servants whose tactics included absconding from service in order to gain a bargaining position to negotiate their labour conditions. The analysis builds on a study of the records of arbitration courts, established in Iceland in 1798, which due to their conciliatory function became an important site for such negotiations. (Show less)



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