The Influence of the Guild


Image courtesy of Medieval Madness


Crafts/tradesmen’s guilds also included pewterers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths. Silverware was a prudent investment for the wealthy. Glaziers, wood-carvers, cabinet-makers and glass-blowers were also represented in guild memberships, as were, grocers, fishmongers and vintners.


Guilds represented groups of retailers of all types- those who provided necessities and those creating luxury items. These fraternities held rigid control over the workmanship of their members. Crafts/tradesmen were bound together by product standards as well as religious backgrounds and community spirit. These common interests raised the standards of craftsmanship to high levels and culminated in the golden age of guilds during the Georgian era (1714 to 1830-37).


Guilds were originally religious groups before they became trading concerns. Once established, these fraternities met regularly to discuss business. They met in churches close to their workshops, monasteries and hospitals and often adopted the saint of the church they met in as their patron saint. Guild groups were very often wealthy and gave back to the sick and poor. They looked out for and cared for each other during times of trial or sickness. They also gave back to the community by making structural improvements in the town.


Medieval kings granted charters to the guilds with corporate rights and full powers of jurisdiction. The first among these to receive charters were the weavers, bakers, and saddlers. Guild companies paid enormous amounts of revenue to the exchequer in return for these special privileges.


Legal regulations served to safeguard encroachment on businesses by outsiders, stamp out fraud and deceit, and control prices. Guilds were interested in holding business monopolies on their crafts and trades, however, foreign craftsman and their wares were allowed to attend the large trade fairs held annually in English towns. Foreign craftsmen who created rugs, tapestries, woven cloth and glass were eventually invited to England to teach their crafts to English tradesmen and crafters.


“In city or town or country village the whole municipal, industrial or social life of the Middle Ages moved in the circle of the Gild.” H.P. Ditchfield in English Custom and Usage In London, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Lord Mayor would be selected by the guildsmen. His “election” would then be followed by elaborate feasting and banqueting. The guilds put on fabulous celebrations for many civic occasions.

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