This entry in the Fleshers book, from July 1630, records that freemen of the Flesher craft were to be responsible for their wives’ speech. It seems that talk by ‘certane of the wyffis’ had spread discord within the craft, although the subject of the women’s discussion is not recorded. It was decided that a member of the craft would be fined every time his wife, child or servant ‘spoke evil of a brother of craft, privately or publicly’.
It was essential to answer slander publicly, because reputation was an important way in which people could judge the trustworthiness and credibility of others. Once a man’s good name had been lost it was very difficult to regain. People in all walks of life were careful to protect their ‘renown’, but it was particularly important for craftsmen, because the reputation of the guild was closely tied to its success in the commercial sphere.
A woman’s reputation was gained or lost by her personal conduct, and the social penalties for nonconformity could be severe. If she was accused of inappropriate or immoral behaviour the things people said about her character and past actions became very important. This was true even in court, as there were far fewer sources of evidence which could be drawn upon to support a case.
Unsurprisingly, the Fleshers preferred to handle such disagreements internally. Making a craftsman responsible for the actions of his household could be an effective method of addressing the problem, because he had the most to lose from the opprobrium of his brethren and the imposition of financial penalties. He would therefore be more likely to monitor the behaviour of his wife and servants to ensure they followed the rules.
Thomas Phennesoun and remanent brethren of craft understanding that divers and syndreis discordis and dissentiones aryses betuix brethren of craft arryseing upon the great calumnies and eivill speaches of certane of the wyffis. Thairfor it is statut that if ony fremanis wyf barne or servand sall heirefter at any tyme injur calumniat or speik evell of or to ane brothir of craft privatlie or publictlie that the husband of the said wyff offendand sall be answerable for his wyffis fault and for his barnis and servandis under the pane of xl s for the craft fault and to be doublit toties quoties [as often as it shall happen].