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Bernard Livard, Tailor, 1573

Bernard Livard’s name appears on an indictment drawn up on 3 March 1573. An indictment is a legal document setting out the case against those listed. In this case it is a group of tailors who have broken employment rules.

Bernard Livard, is the fifth name on a list of six, all living in High Holborn. His name is followed by the word ‘alienus’, alien, foreigner, showing that he was an immigrant. The tailors are accused of working for themselves in their own houses, rather than for a master tailor.

Many French tailors settled in England during the Elizabethan period. Some probably came here for economic reasons.

Others certainly arrived as Protestant refugees. Protestants had broken away from the Catholic Church and had suffered persecution.

Men in conversation

The date of Livard’s prosecution is only a few months after the notorious massacres of French Protestants that began in Paris in 1572. Starting on St Bartholomew’s Day (24 August), the massacres spread to other cities and went on till late in October. During that time large numbers of French Protestant refugees, known as Huguenots, sought refuge in England.

In our voice-over we have chosen to imagine that Bernard Livard was one of them.

Rooms in High Holborn

You know me, m’sieu. Bernard Livard, your tailor. I made that gown you are wearing. M’sieu, sir, I beg of you, will you grant me the favour of a word in private?

Men in conversation
Men in conversation

God bless you, sir. This is very kind. But you have always used me with kindness. That is why I am bold to come to you now. You know that I am a stranger in your country, one of the people they call Huguenots, a poor Frenchman called by the grace of God to the knowledge of his word. And because of this, I am a fugitive from my own country of France, where the people of God are cruelly oppressed by the papists.

Daily they are beaten, mistreated, murdered; and that is in ordinary times. But last summer - oh, forgive me, your worship, I cannot speak of it. I know you have said you would gladly hear everything about that time I can tell you.

You asked me to - to witness to what I have seen so that you can write it down for others to read - and I shall do that, your worship. But I cannot do it yet. I cannot get the shrieks out of my ears, you see. And the smell of the blood - I cannot bear to think of it. Thank you, m’sieu. You are kinder than I deserve.

Elizabeth I, 1588
Elizabeth I, 1588

Since I came to this country, very many of your people have been kind to me. And I pray to God daily for the health of your Queen Elizabeth (may God bless her and keep her) who out of her favour towards God’s people has permitted so many of us Protestant exiles to settle here in safety.

But now I don’t know what I am going to do. Sir, they tell me you are a great docteur - doctor - of the laws. Can you explain to me then what I must do to conform to this your Statute of Art - art-if-icers?

I shall tell you what has happened. In my own country, I was what you English call a journeyman tailor - I had served my apprenticeship and was working in the shop of a master, M’sieu Simon, a very godly man. It was my hope to have a shop of my own very soon. I was putting aside money from my wages, and my uncle, he left me money in his will.

And there was a young woman - we were betrothed, you understand. She would have brought some money with her. But it is gone - all gone. My master, my mistress, their children, their two apprentices - all butchered, and the house looted, and my money, which was in my master’s strongbox, was taken along with everything else. I was the only one to escape.

Violent Crowd
Violent Crowd

I was there when the crowd came to the house, but I ran up the stairs to the attic; and God prompted me to climb out of the attic window and flee away over the roofs. I know his hand was over me, or else I should have fallen to the street. Sometimes I wake sweating in the night, remembering that climb, that scramble over the roofs, the tile that slipped from under my foot, the crowd roaring in the street below and their faces in the torchlight. And behind me the screaming. It seemed to go on for a long time.

You will want to know what happened to Marie, the woman I was to wed. I do not know. Like so many others, she is gone. She disappeared that night, the night of St Bartholomew, the night the Romish persecutors came to kill us all. That much I have learned. Sometimes I dream that I shall meet her again - that perhaps we shall meet face to face on a street in London. But I do not think so. I think that she is dead.

Well, sir, I hid, and I ran, and I tramped across the country, and I made my way to Calais. I had a little money in my purse to live on - again, God took care of me - and I sold my good doublet, that I made myself, and though by the time I reached the coast I did not have enough money to pay my fare, the master of an English ship took me across to Dover in return for a little help on the voyage - he needed a steward to look after the better sort of passengers.

London 1560
London 1560

From Dover I came to London, where my master, M’sieu Simon, had friends to whom he used to write letters. One of them gave me a loan, and with this I bought the tools of my trade - my scissors, my yardstick, my goose and thimble, needles and thread. I tried to find work with a master, but none of your English master tailors would give me a place. And my fellow Frenchmen who have shops of their own have been told by your Worshipful Company of Merchant Tailors that here in London they are not permitted to employ more than two of us Frenchmen at a time. That is the law.

But outside the city walls, the laws are not so strictly kept - so I was told. I was told that it was quite a common thing for your English journeymen tailors to work for themselves in rooms and garrets. Sometimes some of the masters will put work out to them and pay for it by the piece. And sometimes they work for themselves, making or altering clothes for customers.

Map showing Holborn, C17th
Map showing Holborn, C17th

So I rented a room here in High Holborn, and for some months now I have never been out of work. Pride is a sin, but I know that God has gifted my hands with more than usual skill as a tailor.

But perhaps he is punishing me for my pride. For this morn
ing, early, a knock came on the door to the street. I heard steps on the stair outside my room. I was afraid. The knocking was very loud: it woke me up, and for a moment I was back in Paris. I thought that the horror was beginning over again. Well, it was not so bad as that. When I opened the door, I saw one of my neighbours, a civil enough fellow I had always thought him, but it seemed he had shown the constable where to find my lodging. The constable told me that I must go with them to the justicier, the justice.

Tudor House
Tudor House

I cannot deny it: I was shaking with fear. But when we arrived, I found myself in a room full of tailors. Several of them were known to me: journeymen like myself, living in the streets outside the city bounds and taking a chance by working without a master. All of the others were English born. We were kept waiting a long time for the justice to come. When at last he came, he reminded us of the statute, told us to find ourselves masters, and left his clerk to write down all our names. He did not even ask us for, what is your English word? bail, that is it. He did not ask for bail; though from something one of the others said, I think that he should have, under the law.

Men meeting
Men meeting

Tell me, sir, of your goodness: what must I do now? I have lost everything I had in the world. All I have left is my faith and my work. We are commanded by God to labour. In France, I had a place in the world, a life to lead, an honest trade. I would have stayed there if I could, but I dared not for my life. In England I am safe from being slaughtered, but there are those in this country, your Company of Merchant Taylors, who want to keep me from working at my trade. How then am I to live? My trade is all I know.

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