What Were Guilds
Guilds were very important in the middle ages. The word “guild” is from the Saxon “gilden” meaning "to pay" and refers to the subscription paid to the Guilds by their members.A guilds was essentially a union or association. A guild consisted of a group of people who all had a common occupation. People joined guilds to seek protection among other things. Members of a guild paid a fee on a monthly or yearly basis to be and stay a member. The two main jobs of a medieval guild was
Protection for workers - the members of the Guilds
Protection for consumers
In the middle ages people banned together in guilds to mainly protect themselves and others. Just like in a union, guild members received benefits. If a guild member became ill, the other members pitched in to help the member out. Below I have listed a few of the reasons people built and joined guilds.
- Protection from government: By joining a guild members could protect themselves from paying excessive taxes that the landowner might impose.
- Protection from competition:by regulating the guilds profession, guilds eliminated competition
- Working conditions:members were given certain working conditions to ensure that they were not being mistreated
- Protecting the sick:guild members protected each-other in times of need
- helping to pay for unexpected costs such as funeral/burial costs.
- retaining secrets and keeping the competitive advantage of the guild members
- Fair prices:by regulating price, the consumer got fair prices
- Quality goods/services:by regulating the goods/services sold the guild could ensure a certain standard.
Guilds provided leverage to freemen who otherwise had no power over their landowner. With the invention of guilds, the power shifted from the wealthy to the poor. Guilds where not without disadvantages, guilds destroyed commerce and free trade. For example if a baker moved to a new town and decided to open up a bakery, he would first have to join the bakers guild in that town and get their permission. The baker could not open up a shop without the guilds permission, and guilds only let certain members open up shops, this caused issues in the community, Since only guild members could start or run businesses in the town, commerce went down. People were pushed around by guilds. This issue also lead to price manipulation. Since all the trade in a certain industry was controlled by the guild, guilds dictated the prices that would be charged so, the guilds could spike up the prices for the product they offered and the people in the town would be forced to pay that price unless they went to another town which was very hard to do in the middle ages. This was a form of usury.This was a major concern in the middle ages because some guilds were so powerful that even kings had to follow their rules. This is essentially why guilds were so wealthy, because they had a lot of power, if guilds could regulate the prices of certain commodities, they could control the population of the town that they were in, meaning that they could have more power in some instances then even the church.
In medieval times, guilds needed a place to meet. Large guilds built buildings for this event. Wealthy guilds usually had large guild halls with the guilds coat of arms, or symbol posted on the walls. Guilds voted on important propositions and held social gatherings in the hall. In Medieval England, the guild halls were huge.The great hall of the London Guildhall was second in size only to that of the king's hall at Westminster. The mayor of London even sat on a dais as the king did in his hall.
Rankings In Guilds
Once people joined a guild they started as an apprentice, apprentices were unpaid workers who worked along side a skilled craftsman to learn his/her skills. Usually at age seven young boys/girls were sent to a skilled craftsmen house and for a few years, worked along side the person until they mastered the skill.
Next they were promoted to Journeymen which was basically a salaried worker. Usually craftsmen had a few workers who worked along side the craftsmen. After Journeymen came the Guild master who was the master of the skill. The guild master was an expert of whatever skill he worked in. Not many people became guild masters, usually apprentices became Journeymen for the rest of there life, but the select few that do become masters
Merchant guilds were by far the wealthiest and most influential guilds in the middle ages. Merchant guilds were famous for being able to negotiate tax rates with the land owners, plus they regulated all the trade that went on in the town in which they were situated. Merchant guilds usually wrote up the town charter and had monopoly on almost all of the commodity's going into a town meaning they had the most influence. Merchants traded goods and when goods were brought into a town, the merchant guild would usually take a fee, and would tell the merchant what they should charge for the goods they were bringing in. Merchant guilds can be thought of as a modern day Chamber of Commerce. A chamber of commerce is an association of persons engaged in commerce, trade and industry for protecting their interests and promoting their common causes.
Craft guilds were far less wealthy and powerful as merchant guilds but they still played an important role in medieval times. All sorts of people, started and joined craft guilds, from candle makers to bakers, there was a guild for almost every profession. In a medieval town there could be over 50 craft guilds. Almost anyone who wasn't a merchant and preformed a skilled job was in a craft guild. They were not very powerful but they still offered people protection.
Types Of Guilds
Types Of Professions that people had where they made guilds.
As you can see, guilds were an important part of the medieval ages. They offered stability and power for many people. Guilds shortened the gap between peasants and skill workers and nobles/kings. By using guilds medieval towns were able to unite and become strong.