The targets of the generality's complaints fell into two categories: the ruling group of the Company, and other groups of workers. The generality's grievances centred on the alleged corruptions and incompetence of the rulers, and they were often prepared to blame them too for such 'external' problems as impressment and friction with other workers.
Probably the most common allegation against the rulers was that they made apprentices and others free before they had served their time. Often they were said to have done so for bribes, but sometimes other explanations were put forward. Such complaints were made at intervals from the later sixteenth century to 1641, and they continued even after the revolution. The result, said the generality, was that 'the River is overburdened with watermen, so as one cannot subsist by another, and many of them unskilful, to the danger of many passengers' lives ...'  The first recorded complaint was in 1579. On this occasion the rulers 'excused themselves' 'by saying that they made such admittances upon letters and commendations of noblemen and persons of [the Queen's] council, whom they might not deny.' (The power of the nobility in those days was indeed great, and would have been difficult to resist.) They were enjoined to make reasonable refusals to such requests and to take the cases to law where necessary.  (In 1641 there was trouble over similar matters, when the revolutionary watermen prevented watermen from rowing who had been made free 'by His Majesty's especial command and reference'. ) Again in 1599 the watermen protested that the rulers were admitting large numbers to row 'by way of redemption', i.e. by purchase. On this occasion the Aldermen ordered that, from thenceforth, all people admitted to row be first approved by them and registered in a book to be kept for that purpose. 
The most frequent complaint in the watermen's schedule of grievances of 1641 is of apprentices being prematurely set free for bribes.  The ruler Andrew Bartlett was said to have received a bribe of £10 in 1631 to make one T. Gyllet free. John Taylor, then an assistant, was said to have received the money (see below). The rulers denied this, saying that the money was given to the Company poor in open court.  Various other such charges were also made. One Josias Bend was imprisoned by the rulers for saying that '[t]hey would make any man free for money'. 
A related complaint was that money was extorted from apprentices who had served their time when they were admitted to the freedom. Often this occurred under the guise of 'voluntary' contributions to the poor's fund (which presumably were supposed to be being pocketed by the rulers).
Similar complaints were made about the payments and fines for other transactions, such as quarterage payments and transferring apprentices. 
The restriction of the number of apprentices a waterman could have (to one) led to a change of emphasis in the generality's attitude to servant-holding. Whereas in the 1620s the generality still wanted the right to a second servant, by the 1630s they sought rather to restrict the rulers and royal bargemasters to the same number as themselves. They accused the rulers of corruptly having anything up to six servants apiece. 
In 1598 and 1641 complaints were made that mill- and straw-boat men, lightermen and other goods carriers were carrying passengers (contrary to the 1555 Act).  Pressing was a perennial grievance and, apart from the general aversion to the press, the watermen sometimes accused the rulers of illegitimately pressing men, possibly for bribes.
The watermen's complaints and ideas for reform both evolved from specific grievances and solutions to generalized conceptions.
By 1641 'ruler corruption' had become a generalized 'explanation' for the watermen's problems. Their objection to the oligarchy became the fact that it was an oligarchy. The rulers, 'to wrong and prejudice' the generality, 'do elect and cause themselves to be elected ... contrary to law'. This referred to the rulers' custom of nominating candidates for successors, which the generality were purporting to regard as contrary to the intention of the Act of 1555. As a result, the monopolistic rulers 'ruinate [the generality] with fines, imprisonments, molestations and other ruinous exactions, vexations and grevious abuses, without any legal power or warrant to do the same'. 
The watermen's poverty and economic distress arose, of course, from deeper and more general causes. Basically they were a poor stratum of society, for which there could be no specific administrative remedy. The rulers were the most obvious, most immediate target, and regardless of whether they were at fault, made the most convenient scapegoats.
For their part the rulers simply issued a blanket denial of any corruption on their part since the early seventeenth century.  Such protestations of blamelessness are too good to be believed. But their opponents' attacks, which paint them in colours of utmost blackness and villany, are not credible either. By their own account they were saints, by the generality's, devils. With the two viewpoints so far apart, it is impossible to form a balanced picture from them. However we may note the rulers' defending statement that no 'Rules can be so perfect, but some errors will happen, as long as men are men'. 
The generality's ideas for reform also evolved from attempts to rectify specific grievances in terms of the status quo  into a generalized quest for democracy as a solution to the 'oppressive' oligarchic system. The rulers might argue that such a system made for stability, but the watermen challenged that it allowed them to sink into laziness, incompetence and corruption. The watermen reached this viewpoint by 1621. By 1641 they had arrived at the principle of annual general election of rulers (an aspiration never, alas, realized), and for open accountability of the rulers' financial and general court proceedings. 
Discontent amongst the watermen finally resulted in the outbreak of two major revolts in the Company. These occurred in 1621-23 and 1631-32, and they prefigure the revolution of 1641-42.
The revolts, and also the succeeding revolution, followed similar patterns. Firstly we may remark the obvious fact that they recurred in a ten-year cycle. It may be noted (though there is no explicit evidence of a relationship) that they coincided with economic depressions.  In each case they began with pressure for democratic reform in the Company, followed by a resort to direct action as ordinary watermen, under the inspiration of radical leaders, revolted against the Company's authority and proceeded to work on their own lines. Concessions were obtained from the authorities, both in regard of Company administration and of the watermen's other demands. In the case of the two revolts these were limited in scope and, in practice, much of them was afterwards gradually clawed back. In the revolution, the political reforms were far more radical, and it was only with difficulty and over a much longer period that they were retracted, and even then only partially. Once the upheaval was over, things would drift slowly back to normal.
The watermen proposed that thirty assistants, chosen by themselves, should participate in the government. The assistants were to have 'as absolute a power to rule and govern, in the absence of the overseers, as the overseers themselves'. Four of the assistants (to be chosen by the rulers in conjunction with the Court of Aldermen) were to serve as rulers alongside four of the old rulers for the ensuing year. It was not specified that this was to be an annual procedure, but this was undoubtedly intended. Thus a fully democratic government would be progressively introduced. In other clauses, the watermen sought to extend the authority of the Company from Cliff in Kent to Reading in Berkshire, and (mindful of the unemployment caused by the decline of the navy) to make merchant ships carry one waterman's servant for every hundred tons' burden. 
The rulers made their own replies to the bill, taking care to raise an objection to each of the watermen's proposals. The bill did not get beyond a first reading in the Commons, but some of its ideas were reflected in subsequent legislation by the City government and Privy Council. The concept of selection of rulers found an echo in an Aldermanic ruling of 1622 (see below), and (as we have seen) the Privy Council enacted an order on sea service similar to the watermen's proposal.
The watermen were perhaps influenced in their ideas for democracy by the constitution of the Billingsgate Porters' company,  which had been introduced shortly before this time. At the end of 1619 an Act of the London Common Council had given the porters, freemen of the City, power to elect assistants to the government of their company. These assistants were annually to participate in the election of the company's rulers. This 'democracy' was strictly limited, however. The assistants were to serve for life — they were not subject to re-election at regular intervals — and their votes were only counted alongside those of all rulers past and present.
By 1622 the watermen had proceeded from lobbying to direct action. They petitioned the Court of Aldermen against their rulers in the February of that year, and the committee appointed to consider their complaints reported back in May. It found that
one Jourden, [David] Parry [and] Jenckins with divers others, have combined with a great company of unruly and stubbern watermen (being the body of the River as they term themselves) to become turbulent, malicious and troublesome against the said Rulers, overseers and assistants and against the laudable and ancient government of the said River of Thames (as appeareth by twenty-six several articles to us exhibited against them) ...The rulers
do endeavour (as much as in them is) to uphold and maintain the ancient rule and government of the said River, and to reform and suppress the tumultuous insurrections and innovations of their unruly watermen, who thirst after nothing less  than alteration [i.e. total change, revolution], and so to be alienated from the City's government (of which they grow weary) and [who] list to a kind, dissolute and rebellious rule amongst themselves ...'Kind' is presumably used in the sense of 'like' or 'kin', meaning that the watermen were pursuing the goal of self-rule or social democracy.
The watermen had complained about impressment, and of the various fines levied by the rulers. While rejecting the watermen's 'slanderous allegations' against the rulers,  the committee stated that, as far as any financial errors or injustice were concerned, the rulers were 'yearly within compass' of the auditors appointed by the Court of Aldermen.
The committee nevertheless recommended a 'political' concession in the direction of the watermen's aspirations. They noted that the number of new rulers chosen each year was variable, so that 'sometimes there come in more, sometimes less'. In the current year, for example, there had been chosen only two new rulers, who sat alongside six rulers who were continued from the previous year. Such alteration often happened as a result of the deaths of four of the rulers within the compass of two years. The committee suggested that in future all eight rulers continue for no longer than one year. While four of these were still to be of the 'ancienter' sort of watermen, the other four were to be drawn from the younger and 'inferior sort', not being of the assistants. Should a ruler die in office, he was to be replaced by a waterman of the like sort. Thus, it was hoped, order and obedience would be restored, especially when 'those that are now obstinate and refractory ... may [thus] expect themselves to be chosen Governors and Rulers ...'. 
The committee's recommendation was adopted by the Court of Aldermen. However (as an examination of the lists of rulers shows) the rulers were not all terminated at the end of a year. Rather, the changing of rulers was almost fully regularized, so that now, usually, four new ones were selected each year.  Presumably, if the Aldermen stuck to their resolution, two of these were of the ancients and two of the 'younger and inferior sort'.
The revolt did not calm down, however. On the contrary, by the autumn it had reached its highest pitch. It now appears that a class of less poor watermen, 'desiring to have their second servants', formed its backbone.  By now, David Parry had emerged as the main leader of the revolt. Parry,
stirring as it were a commotion by the generality against the [rulers], did upon the first day of October arrest all the [rulers] in their court, to the great animating of the generality against them, and reported that he has already spent and will spend great sums of money to overthrow them in their government,  and further that he has served the [rulers] with subpoenas into the Exchequer to their great trouble and hindrance.The Privy Council, whom the rulers had petitioned, referred the matter to the Court of Aldermen for appropriate accommodation and punishment. 
The Aldermen attempted to persuade Parry 'unto conformity and obedience', reminding him of the oath he had taken on such matters.  But Parry 'obstinately denied to conform himself and very contemptuously and insolently behaved himself towards this Court', for which the Aldermen ordered him to be imprisoned in Newgate until he submitted.  Parry subsequently obtained his freedom by habeous corpus, whereupon he took 'new encouragement to persevere in his disobedience'. The Privy Council ordered his re-arrest (on 30 May 1623). 
In the long run all this did Parry no harm. He was a ruler on five occasions from 1625 to 1636.  Also he was, or became, a Queen's waterman.  He was a wealthy waterman, and was not in need of the Aldermen's ruling of May 1622 to qualify for rulership.  He died in 1636. But in 1641, the name David Parry (a son or grandson?) appeared on a petition, on behalf of the generality, against the 'corruptions' of the rulers.  Activism seems to have been something of a family tradition.
As for reform of the Company regulations, there may have been a subsequent struggle over the rules (as there was after the 1631-32 revolt). Finally in 1626 the new set of bye-laws came out. These contained some modifications to the rules of 1584, and some additional orders, but there are no obvious changes in line with the watermen's aspirations. Taylor described the bye-laws as a 'confirmation' of the old Book of Orders. 
The recruits appear to have been apprentices, the usual kind of impressees. No evidence appears that they were intended for the traditionally much-opposed land service, but the press nevertheless met with great opposition from the outset. At least part of the explanation for this may have been the notority which the genocidal war in Germany had already acquired, and the fear that the impressees would in fact be used for land service in that country. Hamilton's force itself suffered greatly, death and desertion reducing its numbers to 500 by November 1631. 
The press was undoubtedly a major contributor to the revolt in the Company which followed. The watermen, perhaps believing their annointed sovereign beyond reproach, accused the rulers of forging the King's signature on the impressment warrants, and of 'buying and selling' of men to serve in Germany. Another grievance was, evidently, the impressment of widows' apprentices; the naval officers denied that this had happened. The rulers evidently had to justify themselves as early as July, and in November/December an enquiry was held before the officers of the Navy, where the rulers were cleared of the charges of corruption.  But the issue was to rear its head again in 1641.
Meanwhile, in September, the Privy Council was issuing an order for the suppression of a revolt which had broken out in the Company. 'Multitudes' of watermen (perhaps several hundred in number ) had combined themselves with fishermen and bargemen and organized a movement to defy the authority of their government. In an unacceptable breach of order, one of these 'refractory persons' had recently struck an officer of the Lord Mayor's at a public assembly. 
As in 1622, the watermen now brought a list of grievances before the Court of Aldermen. Their petition was read in the Court in February 1632, and the committee appointed to consider it reported back in April. It put forward a list of sixteen proposed orders for the Company, which were adopted by the Aldermen.  Perhaps the most significant item was one which prevented any member of the Company, ruler or otherwise, from having more than one apprentice at a time. The given reason was to rectify the excess numbers of watermen (who of course were under-employed). However, it may be considered that depriving rulers and a few other privileged watermen of their extra apprentices would hardly have made much difference to this situation. The real reason may have been simply an attack on privilege. The royal watermen were subsequently up in arms about their loss of privilege.
Amongst other provisos were ones limiting watermen's payments towards the Company's new Book of Orders of 1626, and preventing rulers from being ale-house keepers. It was also decided that certain aldermen should sit with the rulers on their court days to satisfy the Court of Aldermen of the 'wellgoverning' of the Company, which 'will be a means to call those to a more obedient government who now are Refractory and obstinate against the said government' of the Company.
Meanwhile, the rulers were making their own moves. In February 1632 they had petitioned the Privy Council, and the petition was heard by the Aldermen in May. It concerned certain orders which the rulers wished to be inserted into the Company's Book of Orders. 
The committee appointed to hear this matter reported in October. The result was a set of proposals differing slightly from those adopted in April.  A grudging relaxation of the blanket ban on extra apprentices was made; a maximum of ten 'aged, decayed, lame or blind' men could now take a maximum of two apprentices at a time. The proviso limiting payments on the Book of Orders was omitted. Evidently both sides in the dispute had been heard, for the new proposals were adopted, supposedly after having been agreed to by six of the rulers and seven of the generality of watermen. The latter, presumably the generality's representatives, were Thomas Gibson, John Heather, Thomas Atkins, Joshua Church, William Hawkins and Marmaduke Hudson. 
It is extremely doubtful that such consultation and agreement were fair and genuine, because two of the generality, Church and Heather, were immediately up in arms against the new orders. The same month the Aldermen heard the rulers' complaint against the two men
for their Contemptuous carriage towards the said Rulers in speech and gesture and for refusing to perform the orders of [the Court of Aldermen] of late made ...; the said Heather and Church had very Contemptuously and in a very rude manner ill demeaned themselves towards the said Rulers and much slighted and Contemned the said orders of this Court ...The Aldermen therefore committed them to Newgate, 'there to remain until they find good sureties respectively for their good behaviour'.  In December the 'matters in difference' between the rulers and Church and Heather were referred to a committee. 
Heather, who was himself a ruler at some time,  was an opponent of the oligarchy. Church, the firebrand reformist, was to be involved in the 1641-42 revolution as well. In the present revolt he put forward the watermen's grievances against the rulers and exchanged insults with John Taylor in the Aldermen's Court, while Heather accused Taylor of receiving a bribe for the freeing of an apprentice. 
The initiative was now shifting towards the establishment. In February 1633 the rulers petitioned the Aldermen against Thomas Gibson, John Heather, Joshua Church, Thomas Atkins, William Shugbury 'and divers other refractory watermen'. The Court appointed a committee 'to peruse the orders heretofore made by this court for the better regulating of the Watermen and reformation of abuses by them committed and to settle peace and quietness (if it may be) amongst them'. 
Meanwhile, a petition had been made to the King by the King's and Queen's bargemasters and fifteen other royal watermen who were or had been rulers. They had protested their loss of the privilege of keeping extra apprentices (the rulers having been allowed one more, and the bargemasters two more than the generality). In March the chamberlain of the royal household wrote to the Aldermen, pointing out that this was a traditional privilege and one approved of by his majesty. The Aldermen moved to investigate. 
Finally, in March 1634 the Aldermen approved a new set of regulations for the Company.  They were to stand with those of 1626 for the government of the Company. All other rules previously made were to be voided. The bargemasters' privileges were restored, as were the ruling group's. A limited concession was made, in which new rulers appointed after 1 March 1634 were to keep one apprentice only until the group of old rulers and assistants was reduced (by death or resignation) to twenty, after which the 'ancientist' of the new were to be allowed two apprentices apiece. All blind, old, lame or otherwise infirm watermen were also permitted two apprentices.
The rule against rulers being ale-house keepers was reiterated. Nothing further was said about the Book of Orders. The orders came down more strongly against 'refractory watermen'. While watermen refusing to assist the rulers in punishing such watermen were to be fined 5s., those accepting this duty were to be paid the same amount, for their 'pains' and loss of time. The rulers and assistants, 'with the good approbation of the generality', were permitted to build a place of confinement at the hall, to be called 'little ease', for the punishment of unruly apprentices who took advantage of the imprisonment of poor masters 'not able but to their utter ruin to gain their liberties being in prison'.
But perhaps the most significant provision was one which authorized the watermen at every pair of stairs between Windsor and Gravesend to elect 'four honest householders and free watermen', out of which the rulers were to choose two, or less. The function of these choices would be to inform the rulers of 'the abuses Committed at their several and respective stairs' by all watermen who would 'not be conformable',
that thereby the said Rulers may with more facility and ease be informed of the abuses of such refractory persons and give punishment to the offenders according to the quality of their misdemeanours. This may seem a cynical attempt to turn the popular force against itself, permitting 'democracy' only in order to elect its own 'narks'! The rulers did not even have to accept any of the generality's informer candidates. Nevertheless, one of the demands which the watermen themselves periodically made was for the bringing-to-heel of recalcitrant watermen; they voiced such aspirations in 1621 and again in 1641.  And this enactment is an interesting precedent of the democratically-elected Company assistants instituted in 1642. These latter too were elected by the 'towns and stairs' from Windsor to Gravesend, and one of their functions was, or became, to report the 'misdemeanours' of the watermen at their particular stairs.
1. In 1579, 1583, 1598-9, 1610, 1622, 1632 and 1634. (1) 1579:- rep. 21, fo.429; Acts of the Privy Council, 1578-80 (1895), p.84; cf. CLRO, Remembrancia, I, fos. 43b-44a; Analytical Index to ... the Remembrancia ... (1878), p.562. (2) 1583:- CLRO, Remembrancia, I, fo.281 a & b; see Analytical Index to ... the Remembrancia ..., p.562. (3) 1598-99:- BL, Lansdowne MS 142, fos.7-11; cf. rep. 24, fo.350b. (4) 1610:- rep. 29, fo.186a & b. (5) 1622:- rep. 36, fo.75b, cf. fo.139a & b. (6) 1632:- rep. 46, fo.112b, cf. fos.172a-176a. (7) 1634:- rep. 48, fo.63a.
2. Complaint of 1641. Lords MSS, 3 May 1641, petition of the eight rulers of the watermen, annex, fos.4-5.
3. CLRO, Remembrancia, I, no. 96, fos.43b-44a. Back to text
4. Lords MSS, 3 May 1641, petition of the eight rulers of the watermen. Back to text
5. BL, Lansdowne MS 142, fos.7-11; rep. 24, fo.350b. Back to text
6. Taylor, Commons Petition, annex. Back to text
7. Taylor, Commons Petition, p.5. Back to text
8 . Taylor, Commons Petition, p.8. Back to text
9. Rep. 36, fo.139b (1622); Taylor, Commons Petition, annex. Back to text
10. Taylor, Manifestation, p.6. For the change in attitude to servant holding, see below (revolts of 1621-23 and 1631-32).
11. BL Lansdowne MS 142, fo.*; Lords MSS, 3 May 1641, petition of the eight rulers, annex, p.6. Back
12. Lords MSS, 10 March 1640/41, watermen's petition. Back to text
13. [*ref] Back to text
14. Taylor, Commons Petition, p.10. Back to text
15. In 1598-99 they asked merely for an inspection of the Company's records. BL, Lansdowne MS 142, fo.*. At this stage they evidently still thought in terms of correcting things through the rulebook.
16. Taylor, Manifestation, p.6; cf. Taylor, Commons Petition, p.10; Lords MSS, 3 May 1641, petition of the eight rulers of the watermen, annex, fo.*.
17. See E M Leonard, The Early History of English Poor Relief (Cambridge University Press, 1900), pp.144-53, 161.
18. Commons Journal, I, p.609; GL, Broadsides 24.41, The Contents of the Water-mans Bill into the Parliament House, May 1621 (London, 1621), quoted fully in Humpherus, I, pp.201-6.
19. GL MS 4790, pp.4-6. Back to text
20. The MS says 'more' here. Back to text
21. The source does not give details of the nature of these accusations. Rep. 36, fo.139b.
22. Rep. 36, fo.139a & b. Back to text
23. See Appendix 1. Back to text
24. Even in the spring of 1622, watermen were agitating to have two servants. Rep. 36, fos.116a, 127. The following December, the Court of Aldermen reported that David Parry, one of the revolt's leaders, offended against Company rules by working more servants than allowed. Rep. 37, fo.44a.
25. The original rulers' petition says here that Parry 'hath spent already £100 upon [the generality], and hath £100 more which he will spend unles he obtaine his purpose to overthrowe them in their government'. SP 14/134, fo.26.
26. Acts of the Privy Council, 1621-23 (1932), p.356, report and orders of 20 November 1622.
27. Of course, this referred to the oath taken by all watermen upon being made free. See above, *.
28. Rep. 37, fos.43b-44a. Back to text
29. Acts of the Privy Council, 1621-23 (1932), p.513. Back
30. Rep 39, fo.121b (1625); rep. 40, fo.146b (1626); rep. 47, fo.151 (1633); rep. 49, fo.112b (1635); rep. 50, fo.136b (1636).
31. SP 16/135,(4), fo.43b. Back to text
32. See Appendix 3, Parry, David. Back to text
33. CSPD 1640-41, p.583. His name appeared with that of Richard Angell, who was a neighbour of old David Parry. The latter two lived in Harp Lane, London. See Appendix 3, Angell, Richard; Parry, David.
34. Humpherus, I, pp.213-18; rep. 40, fos.347a, 361b-362a; Taylor, Commons Petition, p.6.
35. According to Humpherus, (I, p.*), there was in 1631 discontent in the Company over the election of rulers, but I have seen no corroborating evidence elsewhere.
36. S R Gardiner, The History of England 1603 - 1642, VII, pp.174-5, 195. Back
37. SP 16/195, fo.21; SP 16/196, fos.45, 61. See CSPD 1631-33, pp.92, 104, 106. According to the naval officers, a total of 170 had been impressed, but only 83 were actually sent out.
38. Gardiner, pp.190-1. Back to text
39. SP 16/196, fos.61, 69 (see CSPD 1631-33, pp.106, 201); PC 2/41, p.239; Taylor, Manifestation, p.7; Taylor, Commons Petition, pp.10-11. Cf. the complaint (unspecified) of the Thames fishermen against the officers of the Navy, heard in the Court of Aldermen in October. Rep. 45, fo.517.
40. Cf. Taylor, Manifestation, p.3. Back to text
41. PRO, PC 2/41, p.186, 30 Sept. 1631. This order remained in force until the beginning of the 1640s, when the authority of the Privy Council was abrogated. See Chapter 4.
42. Rep. 46, fos.112b, 172a-176a. Back to text
43. Rep. 46, fo.209a & b. Back to text
44. Rep. 46, fos.193b-194a. Back to text
45. Rep. 46, fo.235b. Two of the names are mis-spelled; Heather is given as 'Header' and Atkins as 'Atkinson'.
46. Rep. 47, fos.2b-3a. Back to text
47. Rep. 47, fo.57a. Back to text
48. Taylor, Commons Petition, p.5. Back to text
49. Taylor, Manifestation, p.2; Taylor, Commons Petition, p.5. At about this time Taylor stated that he had almost finished a pamphlet, to be entitled 'All Waters', wherein he was to defend himself against the 'scandalous libels, and defaming speeches' which some watermen had made against him. Taylor on Thame Isis (1632), p.28. Unfortunately, no copy of this pamphlet appears to survive.
50. Rep. 47, fo.139b. Back to text
51. Rep. 47, fos.170b-171a. Back to text
52. Rep. 48, fos.63a, 229b-235b. Back to text
53. Rep. 48, fo.231b. Back to text
54. GL, Broadsides 24.41, quoted in Humpherus, I, p.*; Lords MSS, 3 May 1641, petition of the eight rulers of the watermen, annex, fos.1-2.