Growing up to become a physician or a surgeon wasn’t in the career plan for York University Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus James Carley.
That changed last year with his election as master of the Worshipful Company of Barbers, a livery company based in London devoted to the practice of medicine. Carley, who is a specialist in medieval history and early modern studies, is the first Canadian to be elected as master of the company, and has just returned to Canada after a one-year term in the stylish role. His wife, Glendon Professor Emerita Ann Hutchison, served as the company’s Mistress Barber. For the year Carley lived in a flat in the London Charterhouse near the company’s hall in Monkwell Square close to the historic London Wall: Hutchison commuted back and forth from Toronto where she is academic dean at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.
Originally formed in 1308, the Worshipful Company of Barbers is guild that traces its roots to a time when members of a profession formed associations, like those of the modern-day unions. Hat makers, butchers and surgeons, apothecaries, scriveners, grocers, fishmongers, mercers, and tallow chandlers, were just some of the established companies. Members often wore a distinctive form of dress and met regularly to discuss their trades, unfair business practices, to interpret new political climates, and socialize in meeting halls. In their early form, these associations were known as liveries due to the membership’s special clothing and professional focus. Currently, there are 110 livery companies in the City of London. The role of master is the highest level in a livery and is a one-year appointment.
Prior to his appointment as master, Carley was a part of the livery for 20 years, serving initially as a freeman before becoming a liveryman and then taking a governance role in various levels as a warden. Nowadays, the liveries are focused on charitable work and education, including special lectures and the awarding of scholarships as well as funding schools and, in the case of the Worshipful Company of Barbers, funding of a hospice for the elderly. Of the livery companies the Great 12 have taken precedence since the time of Henry VIII. The Worshipful Company of Barbers sits in the 17th position.
For Carley, his year as master was one of learning and innovation. “It was an exciting and very stimulating year and I learned a great deal about how important the livery companies are to the City of London in terms of their charitable giving,” says Carley, noting the role was very time consuming. “Like most masters, I felt it was good to give over so much of my life to the role knowing that it was only for one year.”
As the 708th master of the Worshipful Company of Barbers, Carley says he is most proud of being the first Canadian master and for bringing more women and Canadians to speak at the livery’s meetings. “Given that livery companies still tend to retain a male bias, I was especially pleased with my ‘feminist’ year,” he says. “I think my greatest accomplishment was to have so many women as my speakers, including our forthcoming honorand Moya Greene (JD ’78), who is the CEO of the U.K.’s Royal Mail and former CEO of Canada Post, and Germaine Greer, who received an honorary degree from York University in 1999. I was especially proud when Kim Campbell, the former prime minister of Canada, gave a speech to the company on the history of Canada and the makeup of its parliamentary system, all in eight minutes.”
The focus on medicine, particularly the charitable support of a modern-day hospice is in keeping with the livery’s original roots. In the Middle Ages, the Worshipful Company of Barbers also represented surgeons (as it still does, along with physicians), as the two professions were connected in that both worked with sharp blades. In the Middle Ages, as the practice of medicine was banned by the Vatican, barbers were often called upon to perform minor surgical procedures. According to the guild’s website, it wasn’t until 1462 that the Barbers Company was granted the power to regulate surgery. In 1745, the surgical membership left the Barbers Company to become the Royal College of Surgeons of England, an organization that exists to current day.
Carley says that some of the perks of being master of a livery are the invitations to events, such as a garden party at Buckingham Palace, visits and tours of historic sites including a Barbers’ visit to Canterbury, a visit to Oxford’s historic Bodelian Library, teas, dinners and the elegant outfits the master must wear. There’s also plenty of food, fine wine and of course, great British beer. Few people know the historic perks associated with being master of the company, the most notable being the privilege of being able, should he wish, to drive sheep over London Bridge, and a role in the election of the Lord Mayor of London.
As part of his final few days as master, there a special reception on July 25 in his honour, which included the presentation of the table of contents of a forthcoming Festschrift titled, Books and Bookmen in Early-Modern Britain. Essays Presented to James Carley, containing a collection of writings commissioned in recognition of his work and fittingly included many submissions from his academic colleagues.
Would he take up such a role again?
“Yes, absolutely,” says Carley, noting that for now, he is content to be back in Canada and working on his research and writing.
In addition to his role as Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of English, Carley is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada as well as of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He is a specialist in the history and provenance of medieval English manuscripts; a bibliographer and a student of the early Tudor period.
He has written extensively on the history of Glastonbury Abbey, on the Tudor antiquary John Leland, on sixteenth-century book culture in general, on the foundation and early history of Lambeth Palace Library, as well as on the Arthurian legends, and the modern British novelist Lawrence Durrell.
Among his many publications are The Chronicle of Glastonbury (1985), Glastonbury Abbey: History and Legends (1988; revised edn 1996). He is co-editor of The Archeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey (1991), Culture and the King: The Social Implications of the Arthurian Legend (1993), Books and Collectors 1200-1700 (1997), and 'Triumphs of English'. Henry Parker, Lord Morley, Translator to the Tudor Court (2000). Carley is one of the editors of Shorter Benedictine Catalogues, Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues (1996) and editor of The Libraries of King Henry VIII in the same series (2000).
He is the author of The Books of King Henry VIII and his Wives (2004) and has published more than 75 articles. His most recent books are: King Henry VIII's Prayer Book: Facsimile and Commentary (London, 2009) and John Leland. De uiris illustribus: An Edition and Translation (Toronto and Oxford, 2010). In 2012 he received a Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee medal and in 2013 he was awarded the Pierre Chauveau Medal from the Royal Society of Canada for "for his distinguished contribution to knowledge in the humanities other than Canadian literature and Canadian history.”
By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor