What were the Guilds?
What is the meaning of the word 'Guild'? The word “guild” is from the Saxon “gilden” meaning "to pay" and refers to the subscription paid to the Guilds by their members. Other words associated with the term guild include association, society, brotherhood, company, fellowship, fraternity and livery. The guilds of the Middle Ages were licensed from 1170 and were similar to modern labor unions where the guilds set standards for their professions and protected the interests of their members.
The Reasons why Medieval Guilds were established
The system of Feudalism during the Medieval times of the Middle Ages allowed the lords and owners of the land to tax the towns people and their trades. As trade increased during the Medieval times of the Middle Ages the taxes became excessive. In Medieval England which was run to the feudal system it was impossible for just one man to make objections to the rate and amount of tax that the lord demanded. The idea of forming a Guild was born.
The Purpose of Guilds in the Medieval times of the Middle Ages
The Purpose of Guilds in the Medieval times of the Middle Ages was originally based on the protection of the Guild members but consumers also benefited from the introduction of guilds. The purpose of the guilds were therefore twofold:
- Protection for workers - the members of the Guilds
- Protection for consumers
Guilds in the Medieval times - Protection of Workers / Guild Members
The Guilds in Medieval times protected the workers, or the guild members as follows:
- Members of Medieval Guilds received protection form excessive taxes imposed by the lords and land owners
- Competition between members was regulated by fixed pricing policies - advertising and price cutting was banned
- Illicit trading by non Merchant Guild members was banned
- All members of guilds were obligated to retain all trade secrets
- The number of Guild masters and members of guilds were restricted to ensure there was sufficient business for each of the guilds
- Sickness Protection
- Protection for their members, goods and horses when travelling
- Help with funeral expenses. Orphans of members of guilds were also cared for
- Guilds funded the first non-religious schools of the Middle Ages
- Working conditions and hours of work were regulated
Guilds in the Medieval times - Protection for Consumers
The Guilds of the Medieval times in Medieval Times also protected the consumers. The spin-offs from the regulations of the guilds led to:
- Fair pricing policies - all prices were regulated by the guilds
- Quality of goods or workmanship. Goods and services were inspected and members of guilds were expected to undertake long apprenticeships
Medieval Guilds of the Middle Ages were also involved in civic duties. Guild members were expected to help to protect the town or the city where the guild operated. These civic duties included providing a militia for the town, policing the streets and constructing public buildings and walls to defend the town or city. The guilds were also expected to maintain high moral values in the guilds - usury and fraud was eliminated. Religion was an extremely important aspect of life during Medieval times and guilds were expected to fund and to help in the construction of churches.
The Merchant Guilds of the Middle Ages
A Merchant Guild was an association of of traders. The Merchant Guild was able to negotiate with the lord and the trade levy became regulated. The Merchant Guilds controlled the way in which trade was conducted in the towns and cities and applied rules to the way in which trade was conducted during the Medieval times and era. The members of the Merchant Guilds became very important members of the Medieval town community of the Middle Ages. The introduction of the Merchant guilds in a town or city lead to its own hierarchy and involvement in civic duties. The power of the Merchant Guild members increased to such an extent that the livelihood of individual trades or crafts within a Medieval town, or city, were being jeopardised. Merchant guilds tended to be wealthier and of higher social status than craft guilds.
The Craft Guilds of the Middle Ages
The Merchant Guilds were imposing regulations on the individual traders or craftsmen to regulate prices and supply. The individual crafts and trades established their own guilds. Medieval Guilds consisted of Merchant Guilds and Craft Guilds.
Names of Medieval Guilds
A list of the names of Medieval London guilds provides an insight in the many jobs and occupations which were available to the Medieval people of during the Medieval times and era. The section relating to the Medieval London Guilds also details the function of the Guildhall and describes the Ceremonial Livery and role of Women in the guilds of the Middle Ages.