How the Society of Apothcaries achieved independence

Gaining a Charter 1610-1625


The pipe rolls of Henry II show that a Guild of Pepperers existed in London by 1180. By 1316, the Pepperers had been joined by the Spicers the combined fraternity becoming the Company of Grocers in 1376. In time the Grocers gained the power to examine shops for impure goods, to punish the owners and to prosecute any unlicensed trader within the City and for seven miles around. Amongst their number was a group who made medicines, the grocer-apothecaries.

The Seeds of Secession

By 1518 the physicians, who were university trained, had formed themselves into an exclusive College of Physicians and obtained their charter from Henry VIII. The College also gained authority over the apothecaries including the right to search their shops and to restrict apothecaries to dispense prescriptions only for Members of the College. Searches of shops for poor drugs by both the Physicians and the Grocers, while sometimes active were often dilatory and inadequate. Grocer-apothecaries were irregularly voted to positions of authority within the Grocers Company so as juniors they had little power or authority to police themselves and thus improve standards. By the early 1600’s these grocer-apothecaries had become increasingly vocal and began thinking about leaving their mother company and forming one of their own.

The Ground Prepared                              

After James V1 of Scotland became King James 1 of England the Grocers’ charter was re-granted in 1607 with a clause that the apothecaries were recognised as a distinct component of the Company although without representation of right on the Grocers’ Court. Pressure for secession grew and the son of a refugee Huguenot minister, Gideon de Laune, (1564-1659), who was physician and apothecary to James’ Queen, Anne of Denmark, emerged as the leader of those apothecaries who wanted to break away. The legal battle for self-governance started in 1610 when the grocer-apothecaries promoted a Bill in Parliament to provide for the establishment of a separate company but when Parliament was dissolved in 1611 the Bill fell. Meanwhile the College of Physicians had been considering how they might increase their control over the apothecaries.

The Petition for a Charter 1614

When the King attempted to raise money by summoning a parliament in 1614, the secessionist apothecaries saw their opportunity and presented a skilfully drafted petition on 2 April 1614 to gain a charter. The Law Officers of the Crown, including the Attorney General Sir Francis Bacon, were ordered to confer with the King’s Physicians, the College, the Grocers and the complaining apothecaries to “examine the disorder they complain of”. They did so in early May after which James ordered the drafting of King’s Bill for a Charter, adding that the new company should have the same precedence in the City as the Grocers from which it split.
Headings of Laws by which the Apothecaries of London should be bound were worked out including detailed rules about the organisation of the new company and the terms of apprenticeship and membership. This document became the basis of the final Charter which was agreed by the seventy-six grocer-apothecaries, including de Laune, who signed the document. However, there were many objections including those from the Lord Mayor, the Aldermen, the Grocers and even from some loyal apothecaries worried about their loss of income and who wished to stay with the Grocers.
Losing patience, James ordered another bill to be drawn up and a second charter was written in June 1615. Internal wrangling at Court further delayed the Charter, but in the summer of 1617, Bacon became temporary Regent of England while the King was in Scotland. Bacon was assumed to be friendly to the apothecaries and with him in charge, there were no further impediments. A third draft Charter was prepared (without any clause in it saying that apothecaries could not practice medicine) and then signed on the King’s return bringing the Society into legal existence on 6 December 1617. The document named 122 founding members of the new body and called it a Society rather than the usual Company but over thirty grocer-apothecaries stayed with the Grocers.

The Society Grows  

de Laune and his fellow seceders were nevertheless an influential and persuasive group who were determined on success and they were soon busy with the administrative details that would underpin the new company. A Court of twenty-four members was elected: Edmond Phillips became the first Master and Stephen Higgins and Thomas Fones the Upper and Renter Wardens respectively. Three members on the first Court were Royal Apothecaries including de Laune.  The Court was sworn in at Grays Inn on 16 December before the Attorney General. de Laune as a ‘foreigner’ was not at first free of the City but the King later petitioned the Lord Mayor to grant de Laune Freedom so he could eventually legally hold office in the new Society.
Enrolling the Apothecaries charter was deferred by the City until it received an order from the King commanding them to do so, but livery was not granted by the City until 1630. The Grocers soon compiled a list of goods they claimed that they alone should sell whereupon the Apothecaries provided one similarly. Even though the King intervened ordering that the differences between the two organisations should cease, the new Society was involved in legal battles with the Grocers until at least 1624, including proceedings in the Star Chamber in 1622. Conflict with the College of Physicians also erupted concerning their College’s authority over the Apothecaries, the dangers of apothecaries practicing medicine and on the sale of impure drugs.

The Society Established

There were further battles with the City to be fought. In 1624 the House of Commons took up the Grocers’ case against the Apothecaries who claimed that the charter was not legal because the Grocers had not agreed to it. It was also alleged that the new Society had not paid all their City dues. The King, although ill, settled the matter however in his last speech to parliament in 1625 when he stated “I myself did devise that corporation and do allow it. The grocers, who complain of it, are but merchants; the mystery of these apothecaries were belonging to the apothecaries, wherein the grocers are unskilful; and therefore I think it is fitting they should be a corporation of themselves”. On 27 March 1625 King James died and with him the Royal protection of the Apothecaries was at an end.