Guild History


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  • List of medieval guilds
The Mystery of the guild
Names for craft-guilds include opus, opificium, artificium, craft, mystery, arte, métier, hantwerk.
Together with mutual aid, the 'honour' of the craft defined the purpose for which guilds existed. There was a sense of pride in the 'misterium artis', in the special technique and skill known only to oneself and one's colleagues, and in the excellence of the finished article. Artefacts must be 'loyal'. to be a skilled craftsman was to occupy and fulfil a recognized role, an officium (lit. duty), with its own dignity. In this way professions began to acquire something of the status of vocations.
Antony Black Guilds and Civil Society in European Political Thought: from the Twelfth Century to the Present London: Methuen, 1984, p. 14
Those who didn't like guilds
Smith reiterated the age-old accusation against guilds, that 'people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.' (bk1, ch10, pt2)
Antony Black Guilds and Civil Society in European Political Thought: from the Twelfth Century to the Present London: Methuen, 1984, p. 160
The total guild
the new apprentice was ceremonially bound; each new kind of work he attempted was celebrated; the new journeyman must ceremonially get his 'footing'; the change from one bench to another in the workshop, the first visit of a man's wife to the shop, his marriage and the birth of each child were commemorated, and a new partner of the employer was 'kicked' in a supper to the men. At the beginning of the winter season the men received a 'waygoose'. On the delivery of a coach the customer's coachman received a present. The journeyman must recently arrived in the shop became 'constable' and received a staff, ceremonially presented. New clothes were sometimes, though not always, 'wetted'.
E.J. Hobsbawn Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959, p. 154
Guild liveries
"But yet in London", says old Stow, "among the graver sort (I mean the liveries of companies), remaineth a memory of the hoods of old time worn by their predecessors: these hoods were worn, the roundlets upon their heads, the skirts to hang behind in their necks to keep them warm, the tippet to lie on their shoulder or to wind around their necks; these hoods were of old time made in colours according to their gowns, which were of two colours, as red and blue or red and purple, murrey, or as it pleased their masters and wardens to appoint to the companies…"
George Unwin The Gilds And Companies Of London London: Allen & Unwin, 1938, p. 191
Guild meals
[In late 13c then London's trade was in foreign hands.] the special feature of the fraternity was its yearly feast, when a prince and twelve companions were elected, and a crown was awarded to the best song, a copy of which was to be attached to the blazon of the new prince's arms in the hall. The body of the hall was to be simply decorated with leaves and rushes, and upon the seat of the singers alone was cloth of gold to be bestowed. The old prince accompanied by his companions was to march through the hall singing and bearing on his head the crown, and in his hands a gilded cup of wine, which he was to bestow upon the new prince in sign of their choice. No gluttony was to be tolerated at the feast. Each companion was to be served with "good bread, good ale, good wine, and then with potage, and one course of solid meat, and after that with double roast in a dish, and cheese and no more." After this simple repast the members were to mount their horses and ride through the city, the poet laureate for the year riding between the old prince and the new, and having escorted the new prince to his own house, they were to dismount and have a dance by way of hearty good-bye, after which they were to take one drink and depart each to his own house on foot. Ladies were excluded from the feast in order that the companions "might learn to honour, cherish and commend all ladies as much in their absence as in their presence."
George Unwin The Gilds And Companies Of London London: Allen & Unwin, 1938, p. 99
Freedom of the city
[13th century] "No man of English birth and especially no English merchant, who followed any specific mistery or craft, was to be admitted to the freedom of the city except on the security of six reputable men of that mistery or craft."
George Unwin The Gilds And Companies Of London London: Allen & Unwin, 1938
The gild system
In the time of Edward III there were listed more than 40,000 religious and trade gilds in England;
This high degree of specialization was extended to the arts, to social interests, amusements and education; it was even extended to religion, so that in one church might be a gild of priests, of musicians, of singers, of actors in the mystery play, and a gild to look after the altar besides to see that it was properly dressed with rich cloths and its candles always burning.
it accepted into membership only trained men, all others, servants, etc., being left outside and considered as "cowans";
it is quite impossible to understand our Fraternity today apart from the craft gilds of old in which apprentices, fellow crafts and masters united in the one hand, toiled and lived together in brotherhood to the end that the word might be served and themselves enabled to earn masters' wages and to perfect themselves in their mystery.
Bishop Giles defined the guild as follows, “As to the word gild, it is of Saxon origin and is derived from Geldan or Gildan, which means ‘to pay’ because the members of societies so called whether united together for civil or religious purposes ‘were Gildare’ that is to pay something towards support of the brotherhood to which they belong” (Walford, p. 2).
The oldest evidence of guild practice was credited to Numa Pompilius, King of the Romans, who in 714Ð652 B.C. united musicians, carpenters and other artisans to the benefit of the entire community.
The Frith or Peace guild was the first brotherhood to make its appearance.
The Social or Religious guilds were an offspring of the Frith or Peace guilds
The merchant and craft guilds were a great social force
The craft guilds arose when men first made one specific form of industry into the occupation of their lives. Weavers were the pioneers in the work of co-operation. Clothing satisfied a basic, universal need. As a result, the weavers occupation was the first to assume a position of importance and devotion for craftsmen.
Maryanne Basti 'The English Guild Method Of Learning'