Medieval Guilds

A guild is an association or a group of artists or craftsmen who control and regulate the affairs of their trade. The culture of creating guilds for a particular profession took roots during the middle and late medieval times in Europe. One of the main purposes of a medieval guild was to safeguard the interests of their members and raise a voice for their rights.

Blacksmith and Medieval Guild

A medieval Blacksmith would have been a member of a medieval Guild

Medieval Guilds History

The history of medieval guilds can be traced back to 1200’s when universities emerged in various large cities of Europe such as Paris, Oxford, and others. It was at these universities that student guilds were formed to organise and represent the voice of students. Subsequently, medieval guilds were formed by the people belonging to other professions. In England, the concept of guilds arrived with the Norman Conquest in 1066. Thus medieval guilds were formed for merchants, musicians, craftsmen, and people from other professions. The culture of forming guilds became widespread during the late medieval times and at the beginning of the 14th century, there were 350 guilds in the city of Paris alone.

Medieval Guilds Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship was common in the medieval guilds and young people who wanted to learn a certain profession were taken as apprentices in the medieval guilds. With the passage of time and learning of a profession, the apprentice was progressively promoted to craftsman, journeyman, and recognised master of the profession. In most of the large guilds, a standardised duration for the apprenticeship was enforced.

Medieval Guilds Rules

The medieval guilds that operated in large towns and cities had their own set of rules and these rules were incumbent on every member of the guild. For instance, there was a rule that a medieval guild would decide the price of the goods and it would not be the privilege of the individual members. Similarly, rules were made about the wages and working hours etc. Finally, individual members could not indulge in any kind of advertising for personal gain.

Medieval Guild Goldsmiths

A medieval Goldsmith would have been in a medieval Guild

Enforcing Medieval Guilds Rules

Large medieval guilds had their own halls in the town where they would hold regular meetings. Various disputes and matters of importance were settled and discussed during these meetings and appropriate punishments were handed out to those who violated the guild rules. Losing the membership of a guild could come at considerable financial cost and that could also mean being ostracised by the professional community.

Medieval Guilds Punishments

Various punishments were used for those members of medieval guilds who did not abide by the rules. For less serious violations, relatively simple punishments were reserved including public scolding or a small fine. A classic example of punishment for a baker who had baked weights in his bread was to make him walk around the town with a loaf tied around his neck. Such and other kinds of punishments were prevalent and expulsion from a guild was considered the most serious punishment.

Medieval Guilds Summary

The culture of forming medieval guilds began to emerge in Europe during the high and late medieval times. During this time, people from different professions made their guilds which represented their rights and ensured the following of a uniform set of rules. Members who violated those rules were accordingly punished and the punishment sometimes included expulsion from the guild.

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