Feudal Europe

Guilds or associations of craftsmen

The growth of the medieval cities implied the development of craftsmanship and an increase in the number of craftsmen. These included, among others, weavers, coopers, bakers, brassworkers, carpenters, dyers, etc. Most craftsmen worked in textile production.

Craftsmen made all their products by hand and they used few tools. They worked in small workshops, located in the house of the owner, and had few workers.

Throughout the 10th century, craftsmen started to form associations based on religious and charitable principles. In the l2th century, the first guilds appeared. Each guild exercised a monopoly over their trade and had a statute, which had to be sworn by a the members of the guild, where their obligations and rights were specified.

  • The statutes established the rules. The guild distributed the necessary raw materials equally, strictly controlled the number of employees, supervised the quality of the product and set the prices.

  • The statutes also organised a system to provide assistance to the members, that 15 to say, they helped the sick, widows or orphans and they built hospitals using the donations of the members.

Guild Hall in Conventry (UK)

The organisation of trades

Each trade was divided into three categories of craftsmen: master, skilled craftsman and apprentice.

  • The master was the owner of the workshop, tools and raw material. He made a profit or a loss. Masters directed the guilds.

  • The skilled craftsman was the expert worker who had a salary in exchange for his services.

  • The apprentice was a young man who wanted to learn the trade. He worked for several years but did not earn any kind of salary. As a rule, there was only one apprentice in each workshop, and he lived in the master’s house and was supported by him.

In the beginning, a skilled worker could become a master if he proved his skills by passing a hard exam. However, towards the end of the 13th century, it became more difficult to pass the exams, until it reached a point where the masters created dynasties, in other words, their sons inherited their posts, and promotion was stopped. It became obligatory to create a master piece, which was very expensive and required a huge effort from the candidates rendering it impossible for a skilled worker who had to work in a workshop.

Commerce                                                                                   The Plague