Medieval Guilds

The guilds were an important part of city and town life. Guilds were

Two kinds of guilds were especially important to civic life--merchant guilds and craft guilds.

Merchant Guilds

The merchant guilds were probably the first to appear and constituted the nucleus for civic organization.

Craft Guilds

The craft guilds came about by increased specialization of industry.

Consumer and Worker Protection

In protecting its own members, the guilds protected the consumer as well.

Services Performed by Guilds
Guilds performed other services for their members as well. They

Guilds and Community Interrelationships

The members of the guild were called confraternities, brothers helping one another. From the political viewpoint, the guild was neither sovereign nor unrelated to society outside the guild and town organization. As a collective unit, the guild might be a vassal to a bishop, lord or king, as in Paris. The extent of vassalage depended on the degree of independence of the town where it was located. There was a close connection between the guild and the city authorities:

Each guild was required to perform public services. They:

A perceived higher social status could be achieved through guild membership. The guildsmen of The Canterbury Tales had wives who liked to be called "Ma Dame" by their inferiors.

By the 13th c. to become a guild man one had to go through 3 stages:

The same structure is present in labor unions and colleges today.

Apprentice -- usually a male teenager who went to live with a master and his family; his parents paid to have him taken on. He probably occupied the attic of their 3 story home:

The apprentice was subject to the master. During his apprenticeship he was not allowed to marry. This learning period might vary from 2-7 years depending on the craft. His training included the rudiments of the trade. The apprentice then progressed to journeyman.

Journeyman or day worker -- entitled to earn a salary.
The next hurdle was to produce a masterpiece that would satisfy the master of the guild so that he could assume the title of master craftsmen and would thus get membership in the guild. This was not easy to accomplish because:

Master--Once the masterpiece was completed and the guild voted to accept the journeyman as a master, he could become one.

Learn even more about medieval towns on Stephen Alsford's wonderful Medieval Towns Website


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