10c The Guilds in English Towns Chris Jackson Seminar 5th Nov 1998

Guilds, an associations of persons who have similar interests in either a craft or specific profession, began in Europe in the 11th century and started in England after the Norman Conquest.

The earliest known guilds were those of charitable affiliations, these type of guilds held banquets that would involve mysterious ceremonies often involving considerable amounts of liqueur. Two types of guilds rose up after the eleventh century, firstly within the cities were the merchant guilds, started as a consequence of the growth in commerce and of urban communities. The members of these guilds had the right to govern collectively an aspect of their common activity. Members took oath to provide mutual assistance and obey the regulations of the guilds.

Secondly there was the craft guilds that came into being at the start of the twelfth century, imitating the merchant guilds, uniting themselves to give them mutual benefits. Some were originally started through religious organisations, however, due to the economic situation they did not stay that way.

Due to the gradual growth of economic life of the towns craft guilds and guilds merchants were increasing, some licensed others un-licensed, but all paying a considerable sum of money to the crown for privileges bought or usurped. Important boroughs secured charters from their lords and the fate of many towns were in the hands of these lords.

In many cities workers were permitted the right to join or remain out of the guild in his craft. In other cities the guild would purchase from the royal government the right to control it's branch of industry.

The members of the craft guild were divided into three classes, masters, apprentices and journeymen. The master was a small proprietor who had control over the raw materials of his trade, and sold the goods manufactured within his own establishments.

The apprentices and journeymen lived in the house of the master, the apprentice learned his trade under his master, after this he was elevated to the status of journeyman and paid a set wage. These journeymen rarely made master, conditions to elevate to this position were always made difficult for them as the masters did not wish to swell their numbers, and after the fourteenth century it became almost impossible.

Many large towns had guilds of merchants or wholesalers, made up from the richest and most influential but also many of lesser wealth. Merchants imported raw materials to the towns that would then be sold on directly or to craftsman who processed them further into saleable products. These men gained considerable political influence and often became imbued with the power of administration. These merchants travelled between cities, developing a network, were they held substantial control over a wide area.

Most guilds could govern wages, hours, and conditions of work and also examine workmanship similar to quality control. The towns council in many areas also issued regulations particularly over trades who exported their products, such as the textile industry. Only cloth, or other goods, that had passed the inspection of the guild would receive a seal of quality that would allow it to be exported.

The reputation of the town and it's guild was based on the quality of the goods sold there, therefore the guilds were most strict about their quality, as the access to most towns were regulated through tolls this was made simpler to control.

The introduction of these tolls into the town showed the importance of the considerable trade that would pass through, the money collected gave a substantial revenue to the area.

Women could not be guild officials, however, after the guild membership developed a hereditary bias, they could pass on the right to mastership to their sons.

The decline of the merchant guilds started in the late fourteenth century, this was mainly due to the rise in importance of the craft guilds. The merchant guilds gradually lost their power as the craft guilds grew in size and importance, where the merchant guilds had been involved in the municipal government they ran into conflict with the central governments that were taking control at the end of the medieval period.

After the fourteenth century the journeyman organized into an associations of their own, they obtained for themselves better wages and working conditions, they succeeded in doing this mostly by going on strike. However, this did not improve the status of the journeyman, these men are now considered to be the forerunners of the modern trade unions.

English Economic History Bland ect.
The Evolution of the Medieval World David Nicholas
Economic History of England H O Meredith