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GUILDS. The guild, a formal organization of craftspeople, held an important place in a theoretical system of order called corporatism that emerged in the late Middle Ages in Europe and survived until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Medieval guilds began as devotional and mutual aid societies, but by the early modern period they had become identified with governance as well as with the regulation of economic activities. Guild masters responded to indiscipline in the workplace by drafting statutes or guild bylaws. Municipalities, and eventually monarchs, sanctioned these statutes for a fee, oversaw their enforcement by imposing fines for transgressions, and increasingly conferred legal status upon the guilds.

Corporatism laid out organizing principles that shaped social, political, and economic organization, embracing the concept of paternalism and restricting competition to preserve the livelihood of artisans and channel quality goods, fairly priced, to the consuming public. In keeping with these principles, monopoly over the manufacture and sale of particular items was a privilege widely protected by guild statutes. Statutes also frequently regulated the labor supply to reduce competition among masters, restricting the allowable number of journeymen a master might employ.

Guilds also had a social function. Membership placed an artisanmaster, journeyman, apprentice, or widowin the finely graded hierarchy that structured Old Regime society. Such a system was equally a power structure, and distinction and difference issued from a concern among male masters for subordination of inferiors, be they journeymen, apprentices, wageworkers, or women. Numerous provisions in guild statutes throughout Europe focused on status, above all by strictly regulating the access of workers to the corporation and to mastership within it. They also increasingly excluded women. Escalating fees, extended periods of apprenticeship, and the continuing refinement of masterpieces all pointed to a mounting preoccupation with discipline and a growing hierarchization in the world of work; the barriers between male and female, master and journeyman (that is, a worker with some institutional claim to guild membership), and journeyman and nonguild worker (those with no guild membership whatsoever) were being raised higher than ever before. Master guildsmen and the political authorities shared these values of institutionalization, and their common interests came together in the formulation of the corporate regime, enshrined in part in guild statutes.


Guilds proliferated throughout Europe from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries; in some places such as Sweden and Austria the high point was reached in the eighteenth century. The fifteenth century was a time of corporate expansion in most French towns, and the sixteenth century witnessed a similar development in the towns of the southern Netherlands and England, where expansion continued into the seventeenth century. The towns of the new United Provinces in the northern Netherlands, for example, had few guilds before the seventeenth century, but by 1700 there were about two thousand. The German "home towns" of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuriespolities that were relatively independent of external political authority and held between one thousand and five thousand inhabitantsepitomize the early modern European guild system. The guilds in these locations were political, economic, and social entities. All possessed statutes that stipulated, as elsewhere, the nature and duration of apprentice training, regulations for recruitment of workers and their distribution among the shops of the town, and monopolies. Guild masters enforced these rules with the sanctioning of the municipality. Regulating economic competition had the higher goal, however, of securing community peace and maintaining the social order. This order was rooted in social position defined by Ehrbarkeit or 'honorable status'. Guild masters everywhere, not just in the home towns, possessed this quality, characterized by "the respect of the respected," and jealously guarded it, for it defined one's exclusive position at the upper levels of society.


Determining the role that regulation played in economic practice has formed the research agenda of many historians of the early modern period, and the function of guilds is a central concern in this inquiry. Guilds were empowered and enjoined by municipal, ducal, ecclesiastical, or royal governments to regulate the economyworkshop inspections and access to courts are evidence of this. Many instances of artisans' workshops being searched for illegal materials or unacceptable workmanship can be cited, as can examples of litigation between guilds over encroachment of monopolies. The high-water mark of regulation came in the late seventeenth century and is best illustrated by the policies of the French finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert (16191683) and his immediate successors. Between 1673 and 1714 in France, the crown enacted 450 règlements, or rulings, on manufacture, and another 500 on the policing of the guilds and on jurisdictions between them. Similar regulatory policies were imitated by nearly every state in eighteenth-century Europe.

Historians have long been aware of this regulatory system but only recently have they probed its actual impact on economic activity. Indeed, historians now point to overwhelming evidence that reveals that in many places, normal economic practice was largely beyond regulation, as it comprised a flexible and spontaneous mixture of licit and illicit activity in production, distribution, and consumption. The early modern craft economy was too dynamic to be contained by regulation, since illegal activities such as operating multiple shops, smuggling, unlicensed peddling, and clandestine workers working outside of guilds proliferated. In 1748 in Amsterdam, for instance, nonguild workersboth male and femalewere making more clothes than master tailors.

So what can we conclude about guild regulation and the craft economy? Certainly guilds did not suffocate the free-market economy. The regulatory regime, however, was not totally ineffective or irrelevant. Rather, it was extremely flexible, responding to the various needs of artisans and governments. There were different kinds of markets in the early modern economy, and regulation fit differently in them. There was the sprawling, heterogeneous, and unregulated clandestine and illegal craft economy. Alongside this economy there was the licensed one, but even here within the official organization of the guild we find ample room for flexibility and economic growth. Indeed, within this official, "regulated" structure, masters of the same guild competed with one another, even inviting regulation of their products as a form of advertising their quality precisely so that they could have an advantage over fellow guildsmen.


Corporatism and guilds were embodied in most polities of early modern Europe. Guilds were simultaneously empowered by political authorities and rendered vulnerable to them, and so if these political authorities abandoned corporatism, guilds would disappear. In the eighteenth century, corporatism was increasingly challenged by a rival system, liberalism, and as governments came to embrace the principles of free trade and unregulated markets, corporatism was eventually displaced. Such a displacement, however, was hardly rapid or unconflicted. There was considerable ambivalence within the ranks of political authority about just what liberalism was and how it might be implemented. An episode involving the French controller general of finance, Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (17271781), illustrates this confusion. Turgot attempted to abolish the guilds in February 1776 and was abruptly dismissed in May. An advocate of free trade and therefore an opponent of the regulatory corporate regime, he saw guilds as impediments to growth in the French economy and asserted that abolishing them would liberate commercial and industrial activity. Turgot, however, was not thinking in simply narrow economic terms; nor were his opponents, the staunch defenders of corporatism. Both parties were fundamentally concerned with preserving social order, but equally fundamentally disagreed on how best to secure such order. Turgot sought to replace what he thought was the unnatural and stultifying hierarchy of corporatism with a natural and free one, and so he had no sympathy for his opponents, who clamored that his edict would dissolve the bonds of subordination and invite anarchy. Turgot assumed that masters and workers would form natural hierarchical relationships in the marketplace, that the natural law of the market would maintain order. Corporatists countered that Turgot's natural hierarchy was a dangerous illusion, and because the principle of incorporation linked all of France in a chain that led directly to the throne, to sever one link (as with the abolition of the guilds) would cut the chain and ultimately destroy the entire system and even the monarchy itself.

Turgot lost the battle, but liberalism eventually won the war. Over the long run liberalism did prove corrosive to corporatism in general and to guilds in particular, as attested by the liberal-inspired legislation in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries abolishing guilds all across Europe. The assault on corporations may have been largely inspired by demands for free trade and unregulated markets, but guilds were more than simply economic entities; rather, they were a fundamental unit of the entire early modern system of social representation and social control. Their dissolution, therefore, had widely felt cultural ramifications. As guilds disappeared, the very nature of the artisanry, and the identity of the artisan, was redefined.

See also Artisans ; Liberalism, Economic ; Proto-Industry .


Black, Antony. Guilds and Civil Society in European Political Thought from the Twelfth Century to the Present. Ithaca, N.Y., 1984.

Chevalier, Bernard. "Corporations, conflits politiques et paix sociale en France aux XIVe et XVe siècles." Revue historique 268 (1982):1744.

Crossick, Geoffrey, ed. The Artisan and the European Town, 15001900. Aldershot, U.K., 1997.

Farr, James R. Artisans in Europe, 13001914. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2000.

Kaplan, Steven L. The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 17001775. Durham, N.C., 1996.

Mackenney, Richard. Tradesmen and Traders: The World of the Guilds in Venice and Europe, c. 1250c. 1650. Totowa, N.J., 1987.

Prothero, I. J. Artisans and Politics in Early Nineteenth- Century London: John Gast and His Times. Baton Rouge, La., 1979.

Sewell, William H., Jr. Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labor from the Old Regime to 1848. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1980.

James R. Farr


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In Antiquity

There is evidence in the Bible of a certain unity among craftsmen. This appears to have played a role similar to that of the unions of artisans which assisted their members in the economic and social spheres in ancient Babylonia at the time of Hammurapi. In this period, association among the artisans was confined to the framework of the family, most of whose members were employed in the same profession over the generations, and took the form of concentration of a given group of craftsmen in a certain site in the town for residence and work. The Bible mentions a valley of craftsmen (i Chron. 4:14). In Jerusalem, there was "the bakers' street" (Jer. 37:21). During the period of the Return to Zion, after the Babylonian Exile, the social cells of the professions had consolidated and were acknowledged to the extent that some are mentioned as a group when the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt: "between the upper chamber of the corner and the sheep gate repaired the goldsmiths and the merchants" (Neh. 3:32). Distinctive indications of the existence of craftsmen's unions according to families, and their concentration in particular streets, are found during both the Second Temple era and the talmudic period in Ereẓ Israel, Egypt, and Babylonia. However, the forms of professional organization prevailing in the Hellenistic world gradually gained in influence and appear to have obscured the unifying role of the family in many professions. This was replaced by a special association (ḥavurah) of the members of a given profession for defined purposes: the synagogue was a unifying factor for these associations. The place of the hereditary craft is still evident in the tradition recorded in the Mishnah concerning the families of craftsmen in the Temple (Shek. 5:1; Yoma 3:11; 38a).

From the period preceding the Bar Kokhba revolt there is evidence on the organization of the Tarsians (weavers of flax, so called after the industry of Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia) around special synagogues in Tiberias and Lydda (Meg. 26a; Naz. 52a; tj, Shek. 2:6, 27a), while during the period which followed the revolt there appeared the "master" of the Tarsians (Av. Zar. 17b) and the chief of the slaughterers in Sepphoris during the days of Judah ha-Nasi (Tosef., Hċýǒ 3:2). From the period of the amoraim there is mention of the studies of the "apprentice of the carpenter" (Mak. 8b) and the "apprentice of the smith" and his relations with "his master," the craftsman, who issues orders which he is expected to obey (bk 32b, see Shab. 96b). In a later Midrash there emerges the "company of donkey drivers" which, in partnership, engages in transportation; "they had a chief over the company" who directed its activities (Mid. Ps. 12:1). In Hierapolis, Phrygia, there were unions of dyers of purple stuff and carpet weavers, to whom someone bequeathed a sum of money in order to adorn his tomb on the festivals of Passover and Shavuot; presumably all, or the majority of, the members of these unions were Jews. In Alexandria there were found "the goldsmiths by themselves, the silversmiths by themselves, the weavers by themselves, and the Tarsians by themselves, so that a visitor could come and join his profession and thus earn his livelihood" (Tosef., Suk. 4:6).

Mutual assistance was then one of the declared objectives of the companies of craftsmen and there is a specification how "the woolworkers and dyers … the bakers … the donkey drivers … the sailors are authorized" to act and reach agreement among themselves for the benefit of their fellow craftsmen; they purchased their requirements in partnership; it was accepted to "observe a period of relaxation," i.e., an agreement to refrain from competition in the market and reduction of prices (see Tosef. bm, 11:24ff.; Sefer ha-Shetarot of Judah b. Barzillai al-Bargeloni, no. 57). Those whose work took them on the highways introduced a mutual insurance of their animals and implements employed in transportation (Tosef., ibid.). It is also known that Jews belonged to the general unions of craftsmen, though presumably they did not participate in their religious cults.

[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]

Middle Ages and Early Modern Era

The guilds of the Middle Ages in Europe were thoroughly Christian in character and the Jew had no place in them. Since few Jews in Ashkenaz practiced crafts, they did not organize their own guilds, while the Jewish merchants were restricted in their professions and arranged their affairs through the general communal regulations. In the Byzantine Empire, in the 12th century, an authorization was granted to Jewish craftsmen by Manuel i (1143–1180) to establish guilds in their towns. In Sicily there were Jewish guilds of silk weavers, dyers, and carpenters during the 12th to 15th centuries. In 1541 the tailors' guild of Rome reached an agreement with the Christian guild of the city. In Christian Spain the occupations of the Jews were highly diversified and many engaged in crafts. They established associations (ḥavurot) active in the economic, social, and religious spheres. Solomon b. Abraham *Adret clearly formulated the legal character of the guilds: "every company which has a common interest is to be regarded as a town apart … this was customary in all the holy communities and no one ever raised any doubts as to this" (Rashba, Resp., vol. 4, no. 185). The responsa of R. *Asher b. Jehiel, Solomon *Adret, and *Isaac b. Sheshet Perfet provide information on the structure and activities of the "companies" in Spain. The regulations presented to the king by the company of Jewish shoemakers in Saragossa in 1336 for ratification include arrangements for financial assistance to colleagues in times of sickness, a compulsory arrangement for the visiting of the sick and participation in the rejoicing and mourning of members modeled on the arrangements of the Christian guilds. Also recorded are institutions for charitable purposes and special prayer designed for craftsmen (such as in Perpignan and Saragossa) and the (bet) "midrash of the weavers" (in Calatayud) "which were set aside … for the individuals of the company, and were not consecrated for everyone that comes" (Ribash, Resp., no. 331). A main development in Jewish guilds among Ashkenazi Jewry took place in Eastern Europe, in Bohemia-Moravia, and in Poland-Lithuania, with the increasing number of Jewish craftsmen in those countries. The earliest information on these goes back to the 16th century. Despite the violent opposition of the Christian guilds, the number of Jewish artisans increased considerably and they organized themselves in guilds during the 16th to 18th centuries after the pattern of the Christian guilds, and in order to protect themselves from them. In Prague, there were Jewish guilds of butchers, tailors, furriers, embroiderers, shoemakers, goldsmiths, hairdressers, and pharmacists. In several towns of Poland and Lithuania, such as Brody, Cracow, Lublin, Lvov, Lissa (Leszno), and Vilna, there were numerous Jewish guilds, with up to ten in one community.

The regulations of the Jewish guilds in Eastern Europe followed the spirit of the general guilds, but their social-religious content was influenced by Jewish customs and modes of life. Since they were essentially economic organizations, the Jewish guilds established rules on the relations between their members, the status of the craftsmen, the trainees and the apprentices, and the standards and quotas of production authorized to every craftsman. The guilds were concerned to prevent unfair competition between their members and to protect them from local craftsmen who were not organized in a guild or from craftsmen not living in the town. They cared for their members' welfare, assisted those in difficulties, and provided relief to the widows and orphans of guild members. They developed organized activity for the religious education of members and their children. All the craftsmen, trainees, and apprentices were compelled to take part in public prayers and to observe the Sabbath and festivals. The guilds also formulated detailed rules for the election of committee members. Even though many guilds were first formed through the initiative of the communal administration, the relations between the two bodies gradually deteriorated until open clashes occurred during the 18th century between the guilds and the community leadership in Berdichev, Minsk, and Vitebsk. With the political and economic decline of Poland-Lithuania, the guilds lost their importance. In Russia, Austria, and Prussia, among which Poland was partitioned in the latter part of the 18th century, the guilds with their typical medieval structure were already on the verge of extinction. They ceded their place to modern forms of economic organization. Associations (ḥavurot) of craftsmen existing in many communities during the 19th century had slight economic influence and their function was confined to religious, cultural, and social activities. They continued until the 1930s. In Poland between the two world wars the cechy (guilds) legislation which limited the Jewish craftsmen was revived. As a result, the debate was renewed on the role and organization of the Jews in this modern reincarnation of the guilds.

[Mark Wischnitzer]


M. Wischnitzer, History of Jewish Crafts and Guilds (1965); idem, in: huca, 23 pt. 2 (1950–51), 245–63; idem, in: JSOS, 16 (1954), 335–50: idem, in: Zaytshrift far Yidisher Geshikhte, Demografie, un Ekonomik, 2–3 (1928), 73–88; Juster, Juifs, 1 (1914), 486–7; T. Jacobovits, in: jjgjČ, 8 (1936), 57–145; M. Kremer, in: Zion, 295–325; idem, in: yivoa, 11 (1956/57), 211–42; idem, in: Bleter far Geshikhte, 2 (1938), 3–32; I. Mendelsohn, in: basor (Dec. 1940), 17–21; Alon, Toledot, 1 (1953), 103–6; L. Frydman, in: Yivo Bleter, 12 (1937), 520–32; M. Hendel, in: Oẓar Yehudei Sefarad, 6 (1963), 77–84; I. Levitats, The Jewish Community in Russia (1943), index; I. Halpern, Yehudim ve-Yahadut be-Mizraḥ Eiropah (1969), 163–94.


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Organizations of skilled workers or artisans.

The earliest evidence for workers in Middle Eastern urban trades and crafts associating in guilds for their common economic and social benefit dates from the fourteenth century, though there are hints of looser groupings before that time. The Ottoman and Safavid Empires and the kingdom of Morocco developed extensive guild systems with each guild being self-governing through a hierarchy of ranks. Government approval or oversight, variously expressed, kept them from being totally independent, however. The goal of the guilds was to ensure a stable level of production and an equitable distribution of work among guild members. The guilds thus constituted a generally conservative force disinclined to change with evolving economic conditions. Nevertheless, they were often important foci of communal and religious life for their members, as in annual guild-organized commemorations of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn by Shiʿites in Iran. The terms used for guilds include sinf (category), taʾifa (group), jamaʿa (society), and hirfa (craft). Guilds were commonly subjected to collective taxation administered by the market inspector (muhtasib) or other government official. Jews and Christians were members of guilds in some cities, but exclusively Christian or Jewish guilds, like that of the kosher butchers of Aleppo, were rare.

Records of the city of Aleppo mention 157 guilds in the middle of the eighteenth century. Cairo had 106 in 1814. The survival of guilds in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries varied according to country and rate of Westernization. In northern Egypt, for example, guilds had virtually disappeared by the end of the nineteenth century because of the influx of mass-produced European goods and the growing market for labor created by European investment. By contrast, the guilds of Fez in Morocco escaped severe crisis until the worldwide depression of the 1930s. Even so, municipal statistics of 1938 show the continued domination of small-scale craftwork. The largest guild, that of the slipper-makers, counted 7,100 members, 2,840 of them employers. There were also 800 tanners, 280 of them employers; and 1,700 weavers, of whom 520 were employers. Altogether the guilds numbered 11,000 members.

The potential for guild political activity had manifested itself from time to time over the centuries, as in occasional revolts by workers in the food trades in Cairo at the end of the eighteenth century. By the time modern political life focused on constitutions and participatory government developed, however, economic forces had diminished the importance of guilds in most areas. Iran, where guilds survive to the present day, provides an exception because of its comparatively late exposure to economic and political influences from Europe. The guilds formed the most cohesive group in the Constitutional Revolution of 1906. In Tehran, separate guilds formed seventy political societies (anjoman). The guild leaders lacked a sophisticated understanding of politics, however, so the guilds found themselves barred from political power by the electoral law of 1909. With the advent of the Pahlavi regime in 1926, 230 guilds lost government recognition as corporate entities in an effort to dissipate the coalescence of popular feeling around them; but

because the new system of individual taxation proved unworkable, they regained their status in 1948. Many guild members were drawn to the communist Tudeh Party or to the movements led by Mohammad Mossadegh, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and other critics of the monarchy. In 1969 the 110 guilds of Tehran had a membership of about 120,000. Guild members played an important role in the demonstrations that led to the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

See also anjoman; constitutional revolution; khomeini, ruhollah; mossadegh, mohammad; pahlavi, reza; tudeh party.


Lawson, Fred H. The Social Origins of Egyptian Expansionism during the Muhammad Ali Period. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Marcus, Abraham. The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

richard w. bulliet


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Organizations of merchants in groups called a "hundred" (sto or sotnya ) existed in medieval Novgorod and in Muscovy. The first organization of merchants in guilds (gildy; singular gildia ) occurred in December 1724, when Peter I divided the urban population into a first guild, composed of wealthy merchants, doctors, pharmacists, ship captains, painters, and the like; a second guild, comprising retail traders and artisans; and all others, called the "common people."

Although the word guild was borrowed from medieval European practice, guilds in Russia had purely administrative functions: to categorize merchants according to the extent of their economic activities and to collect fees from them. Merchants also bore heavy responsibilities of unpaid state service, such as tax collection and service on municipal boards, law courts, and other local institutions.

A decree issued on January 19, 1742, specified three merchant guilds. In a decree of March 17, 1775, Catherine II freed merchants from the soul tax and set 500 rubles of declared capital as the minimum requirement for enrollment in the merchant estate, subject to the payment of 1 percent of declared capital each year. A law issued on May 25, 1775, set specific minimum amounts: 10,000 rubles for the first guild, 1,000 rubles for the second, and 500 rubles for the third. In her Charter to the Cities, promulgated on April 21, 1785, Catherine II increased the minimum capital requirements to 5,000 rubles for the second guild and 1,000 rubles for the third. By abolishing the merchants' former monopoly on trade and industry, Catherine allowed the gentry and serfs to engage in ruinous competition with the merchants, free of the annual guild payment. Many enterprising merchants fled this precarious situation by rising into the gentry. The merchant estate therefore remained small and weak.

In 1839 a first-guild certificate, costing 600 rubles, entitled a merchant with at least 15,000 rubles in assets to own ships and factories, to offer banking services, and to trade in Russia and abroad. Second-guild certificates, sold for 264 rubles, entitled merchants whose stated wealth surpassed 6,000 rubles to manage factories and engage in wholesale or retail trade in Russia. Members of the third guild were permitted to conduct retail trade in the city or district where they resided, provided they owned assets worth 2,4006,000 rubles and purchased certificates costing 1.25 percent of the declared amount.

The third guild was abolished in 1863 and a new fee structure established, but the link between largescale economic activity and membership in the merchant estate was already dissolving. Laws issued in 1807, 1863, and 1865 allowed non-merchants engaged in manufacturing and wholesale commerce to enroll in a merchant guild while maintaining their membership in another social estate as well. From 1863 onward, anyone, regardless of social status or even citizenship, could create and manage a corporation. Still, many industrialists and traders enrolled in merchant guilds, as their fathers and grandfathers had done, to demonstrate their commitment to a group identity separate from the gentry.

See also: capitalism; charter of the cities; merchants; russia company


Baron, Samuel H. (1980). Muscovite Russia: Collected Essays. London: Variorum.

Bushkovitch, Paul. (1980). The Merchants of Moscow, 15801650. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hittle, J. Michael. (1979). The Service City: State and Townsmen in Russia, 16001800. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Thomas C. Owen


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During the Renaissance, trade organizations called guilds played a major role in city life, particularly in Italy. Their chief function was regulating business practices. Guilds set standards for manufacturing and protected their members' interests, working to keep people who did not belong to guilds from working in any craft. Although their main role was economic, guilds also had a great influence on social, political, and religious life. They promoted community spirit and helped to establish ties among members of the same trade. In an era known for promoting the idea of the individual, guilds provided a way for people to find their identity within a group.

The earliest European guilds arose in the 1200s. Skilled crafts workers, known as artisans, controlled most guilds, but merchants ran some of them. In some cities, such as Venice, a single guild represented the interests of all people involved in a particular field—from the wealthiest merchants to the poorest crafts workers. Each guild controlled its members' activities in several ways. It set standards of quality for their products and dictated the hours they could work and the materials they could use. It also oversaw the training of new members.

To join a guild, a young man (most guilds were closed to women) had to go through a period of apprenticeship*, usually lasting several years. During this period, he worked for an older, experienced guild member, observing and learning his trade. When his term of service was up, he gained the right to work in the craft. If he wished to become a master—a full-fledged member of the profession—he had to submit a "masterpiece" to be judged by the guild. In the late 1500s many guilds complained about sons of master craftsmen who were moving up in the trade without creating their masterpieces first.

Guilds contributed to society in a variety of ways. Through the apprenticeship system, they kept young, unattached males off the streets and provided them with food and lodging. Guilds also provided an early form of insurance for their members, aiding them in case of illness or accidents. If a member died, the guild provided a funeral for him, which all other members were required to attend. For many people who did not come from wealthy families, the guild may have acted as a kind of substitute family. Town authorities generally supported the guilds because they saw them as a useful guard against social unrest.

Guild members often engaged in social activities as a group. They met on a yearly basis to celebrate the festival of their patron saint (a saint who was believed to protect and aid its members). They also marched together in city parades, helping to promote a feeling of unity within the group. In many cities, guilds came to dominate political life. In Florence and London, for example, only guild members were eligible to hold public office. Guild membership took on such importance that wool workers in Florence staged a revolt in 1378, demanding the right to form their own guilds.

Another guild function was patronage* of the arts. Guilds played a major role in the artistic life of Florence, where a public building called Orsanmichele served as their headquarters. Each guild in Florence contributed a statue of its patron saint to decorate the building. Many guilds hired master artists such as Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti to create these figures as a way of increasing their glory and status within the city.

(See alsoCities and Urban Life; Florence. )

* apprenticeship

system under which a person is bound by legal agreement to work for another for a specified period of time in return for instruction in a trade or craft

* patronage

support or financial sponsorship


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guilds. The guild was one of the most characteristic organizations of the later medieval period and an instrument of local urban monopoly control operated by a particular craft or by the market guild, which was the commercial guise of the local administration. Major towns had specialized guilds for different trades and London had a great variety of both mercantile guilds, such as grocers, goldsmiths, and vintners, and manufacturers like tailors and saddlers. The purpose of the guild was to regulate the local market. This took the form of control of the price and quality of goods. In Leicester, where the local wool trade was particularly important, guild restrictions were intended to retain as much of the business as possible in the hands of local merchants. Outsiders could not buy wool in the town and could only sell to members of the guild. Weavers were prevented from working at night since poor lighting would diminish the quality of workmanship. The guild also limited production and ensured that each individual member secured a fair share of the available business. Recruitment and employment were also limited through entry fines, a preference for the sons of existing members, or apprenticeships which could last for seven years. Membership conferred substantial advantages. Members of Southampton's guild were exempt from local tolls and customs and enjoyed the right of the first option to purchase goods brought to the town. Non-members were prevented from buying certain commodities including honey, herring, oil, or skins, from keeping a tavern, and could only sell cloth on market or fair days. Guilds were characteristic of an economic system, under threat from population decline and competition from unregulated rural industry, in which established interests sought to protect themselves through the maintenance of a monopoly.

Clive H. Lee


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guilds (gilds) Medieval trade associations which sought to regulate trade and to protect the interests of employers and which in some countries survive vestigially as curious gentlemen's clubs. The nineteenth-century view that they could be seen as precursors of trade unions is now seldom advanced. Guild Socialism proposed industrial unions which were to manage major industries.

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