A Social Contract? Master Against Servant in the Court of Requests

Sharp practice or sharp 'prentice? Paul Seaver argues that the tale of how a Bristol notary and his erstwhile trainee fell out and went to court in 1620 tells us much about the social aspirations and intimacies of 17th-century England.

We all know what apprenticeship is. In all trades before the industrial revolution, and in a few trades to this day, the normal way in which a skill is learned, together with the qualification to practice it, was through apprenticeship. An adolescent would be apprenticed to a master for seven years, at the end of which he would be a qualified practitioner and, after a couple of years as a wage-earning journeyman, he would marry, set up shop as an independent master and, presumably, live happily ever after.

Why then, should an institution that involved so much commonality and mutuality of interest nevertheless lead in some instances to litigation?

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