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Middle Ages

Guilds

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Guilds in the Middle Ages were associations or groups of craftsmen. Each guild focused on a specific trade such as the candlemaker's guild or the tanner's guild.

Why were guilds important?

Guilds in the Middle Ages played an important role in society. They provided a way for trade skills to be learned and passed down from generation to generation. Members of a guild had the opportunity to rise in society through hard work.

The guild protected members in many ways. Members were supported by the guild if they came onto hard times or were sick. They controlled working conditions and hours of work. The guild also prevented non-guild members from selling competitive products. Some guild members were even exempt from paying high taxes from the lords and kings.



Guilds helped more than just their members. They had numerous rules that helped to keep the quality of work and pricing consistent. This helped consumers to know they were getting a good product at the correct price.

Guild Positions

In each guild in the Middle Ages there were very well defined positions of Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master. Apprentices usually were boys in their teens who signed up with a master for around 7 years. They would work hard for the master during this time in exchange for learning the craft plus food, clothing, and shelter.

Once the apprenticeship was complete, he became Journeyman. As a Journeyman, he would still work for a master, but would earn wages for his work.

The highest position of the craft was the Master. To become a Master, a Journeyman would need the approval of the guild. He would have to prove his skill, plus play the politics needed to get approval. Once a Master, he could open his own shop and train apprentices.

Types of Guilds

In a major city during the Middle Ages, there could be as many as 100 different guilds. Examples include weavers, dyers, armorers, bookbinders, painters, masons, bakers, leatherworkers, embroiderers, cobblers (shoemakers), and candlemakers. These were called craft guilds.

There also were merchant guilds. Merchant guilds controlled the way trade was handled in the town. They could become very powerful and controlled much of the local economy.


Guild sign outside a shop


Fun Facts about the Guilds
  • Powerful guilds had their own hall in town where they would hold courts to settle member disputes and hand out punishment to those who broke the rules.
  • Even though many women during the Middle Ages learned skilled crafts, they were not allowed to join a guild or form their own guild.
  • The word "guild" comes from the words tribute or payment, which the members had to pay to guild.
  • A Journeyman had to produce a "masterpiece" to be approved by the guild masters.


Take a ten question quiz at the Middle Ages Guilds questions page.

More subjects on the Middle Ages:

Overview
Timeline
Feudal System
Guilds
Medieval Monasteries
Glossary and Terms

Knights and Castles
Becoming a Knight
Castles
History of Knights
Knight's Armor and Weapons
Knight's coat of arms
Tournaments, Jousts, and Chivalry

Culture
Daily Life in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages Art and Literature
The Catholic Church and Cathedrals
Entertainment and Music
The King's Court

Major Events
The Black Death
The Crusades
Hundred Years War
Magna Carta
Norman Conquest of 1066
Reconquista of Spain
Wars of the Roses

Nations
Anglo-Saxons
Byzantine Empire
The Franks
Kievan Rus
Vikings for kids

People
Alfred the Great
Charlemagne
Genghis Khan
Joan of Arc
Justinian I
Marco Polo
Saint Francis of Assisi
William the Conqueror
Famous Queens



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