The guilds were an important part
of city and town life. Guilds were
- exclusive, regimented organizations;
- created in part to preserve the
rights and privileges of their members; and
- separate and distinct from the
civic governments, but since the functions and purposes of guild and civic
government overlapped, it was not always easy to tell them apart, especially
since many well-to-do guildsmen were prominent in civic government.
Two kinds of guilds were especially
important to civic life--merchant guilds and craft guilds.
The merchant guilds were probably
the first to appear and constituted the nucleus for civic organization.
- As early as the 10th c. merchants
formed organizations for mutual protection of their horses, wagons, and goods
- Often a merchant guild would found
a town by obtaining a charter.
The craft guilds came about by increased
specialization of industry.
- A group of artisans engaged in
the same occupation, e.g., bakers, cobblers, stone masons, carpenters,
etc. would associate themselves together for protection and mutual aid.
- As these craft associations became
more important than the older merchant guilds, their leaders began to demand
a share in civic leadership.
- Soon no one within a town could
practice a craft without belonging to the appropriate guild associations.
- The purpose of the guilds was
to maintain a monopoly of a particular craft especially against outsiders.
For example, the harness makers would get together and figure out what the
owners of business needed from that trade then allow as many masters to set
up shop as the business could support.
and Worker Protection
In protecting its own members, the
guilds protected the consumer as well.
- Many craft regulations prevented
poor workmanship. Each article had to be examined by a board of the guild
and stamped as approved.
- Because of lack of artificial
light, work at night was prohibited.
- In Florence the number of dyers
was specified by the guild. In one place it was forbidden to see pigs fattened
by a barber-surgeon lest the pig had been fattened on rich peoples' blood.
- Metalware plating was tantamount
to fraud and, therefore, was forbidden.
- To regulate competition between
members the guild forbade advertising.
- All prices were regulated
- Craftsmen could take work outside
where it could be seen.
- Price-cutting was strictly forbidden.
- To preserve its monopoly a guild
forbade the sale of foreign artisans' work within a city.
- The most important processes used
in manufacturing were guarded. In Florence a worker who possessed any essential
trade secrets and for some reason fled to a foreign territory must be tracked
down and killed lest he divulge the information.
- Monopoly existed within individual
guilds through the limitation of the number of masters.
- No member was ever allowed to
corner the market by purchasing a large supply of a product or commodity so
as to be able to fix the price.
Performed by Guilds
Guilds performed other services for their members as well. They
- provided funeral expenses for
poorer members and aid to survivors;
- provided dowries for poor girls;
- covered members with a type of
health insurance and provisions for care of the sick;
- built chapels;
- donated windows to local churches
- frequently helped in the actual
construction of the churches;
- watched over the morals of the
members who indulged in gambling and usury; and
- were important for their contribution
to emergence of Western lay education. In earlier times, the only schools
in existence had been the monastic or cathedral schools.
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:
- The City Council could intervene
in event of trouble between guilds.
- Council could establish the hours
of work, fix prices, establish weights and measures
- Guild officials were frequently
appointed to serve in civic government because guilds usually voted as a unit,
raised troops for the civic militia, and paid taxes as a group.
Each guild was required to perform
public services. They:
- took turns policing the streets
- constructed public buildings and
walls to defend the town or city.
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:
- lowest was apprentice,
- next was journeyman, and
- top-ranking stage was master.
The same structure is present in
labor unions and colleges today.
-- 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 shop where he would learn
his trade was located on the ground floor.
- The second story was the masters'
- The third story housed the journeyman
who was there to learn also.
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.
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:
- The journeyman had to work on
his own time to produce this masterpiece -- Sunday was the only day he did
not work sun-up to sun-down.
- He must use his own tools and
raw materials which required a capital outlay that he might not have been
able to accomplish as a wage earner.
- Then if he did produce the required
work, the state of the economy guided the vote of acceptance -- it was not
desriable to have too many masters in a guild and when the economy was tight.
The masters would not admit anyone to their ranks to strain the economy.
the masterpiece was completed and the guild voted to accept the journeyman as
a master, he could become one.
even more about medieval towns on Stephen Alsford's wonderful Medieval Towns Website
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Syllabus | 373
Assignments | 373
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