10b Craft Gilds Alison Weyman

The formal organisation of the numerous trades into craft gilds was largely a phenomenon of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, however many had earlier roots. Although they may have had some attributes of fraternities or social clubs they were essentially 'crafts or misteries', a confederation of men who shared the same craft or trade for which they had a special skill. This included glovers, bakers, saddlers or weavers, amongst many others.

The members of the early craft gilds had a monopoly of their craft within a town, headed by their own officer. They were engaged in regulating their craft and products not only in their own interest but also in the interest of merchants and consumers. Some may have exercised a private jurisdiction over their members such as enforcing craft regulations or 'hallmoot', whilst those authorized by royal charter usually paid an annual payment to the exchequer.

 Financial contributions were made by its members such as regular subscriptions, entry-fees or contributions. For this the members got common priviledges, usually including a monopoly of a craft or trade for the gildsmen, a 'closed shop'. By the fourteenth century craft membership was the path to citizenship and the organised crafts were the foundation of the city's constitution.

Craft gilds were more prevelant in towns where economic activity was highly diverse and the various occupation groups were large enough. There were always potential grounds for conflict between municipal authorities and crafts as the gilds were self regulating and sought to extend their powers of self-regulation to the advantage of their members. In Oxford, the city had accused the cordwainers gild of usurping jurisdiction over its members in 1280, but after the gild had secured a confirmation of its twelth century charters in 1319, it was the city authorities who were rebuked for failing to observe their terms. Regulation of the charges a craftsman might make were designed to benefit customers or commercial entrepreneurs. The crafts often invaded areas of authority claimed by town governments and diverted revenue from civic chests, as many gild courts encroached on the mayors jurisdiction. It laid down customs for the craft and it took fines for infringement of those customs.

By the mid fourteenth century they had become part of the fabric of urban life, although they had mostly been subordinated to the municipal authorities acting as guardians of merchant interests, consumers and of the community at large. These authorities used the crafts as a 'sort of municipal police, who determined the distribution of labour, length of the working day, the remuneration of labour etc. Moreover, the municipalities largely domesticated the gilds, and gild ordinances needed the sanctioning by the town authorities, alongside gild officers having to be presented to and sworn before the officers of the municipality. With the penalties incurred for breaches of the rules of the crafts finding their way into the municipal coffers. They had become an essential part of the civic constitution.