Merchant Guilds in the Middle Ages
The system of Feudalism during the Middle Ages allowed the lords and owners of the land to tax the people and their trades. As trade increased in the Middle Ages the taxes became excessive. A single person had no chance of making any objections to the rate and amount of tax that the lord demanded. The idea of Merchant Guilds was born. 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 regulations agreed between the Merchant Guild and the lord resulted in a Merchant Guild charter. The Merchant Guild charter allowed the merchants to pay an annual payment, or fixed sum, to the lord who owned the land where the town was based.
Rules of the Merchant Guilds during the Middle Ages
The members of the Merchant Guilds became powerful. The Merchant Guilds controlled the way in which trade was conducted in the town. The merchant Guilds applied rules to the way in which trade was conducted during the Middle Ages. These rules were included in the charters of the Merchant Guilds and included:
- A ban on, or fines imposed, on any illicit trading by non Merchant Guild members
- Fines were imposed on any Merchant Guild members who violated the Merchant Guilds charter
- Members of the Merchant Guilds were protected and any Merchant Guild member who fell sick was cared for by the guild. Burials of guild members were arranged and the Merchant Guilds undertook to care for any orphans
- The members of Merchant Guilds also provided protection of their horses, wagons, and goods when moving about the land as travelling during the Middle Ages was dangerous
Members of the Merchant Guilds in the Middle Ages
The leading members of the Merchant Guilds became very important members of the Medieval town community of the Middle Ages. Leading Merchant Guild members adopted the role of spokesperson for all of the members. The introduction of the Merchant guilds in a town or city lead to its own hierarchy and involvement in civic duties:
- The chief spokesman of a Merchant Guild became the mayor of the town, or city
- The leading delegates of the Merchant Guilds became the Aldermen of the town or city
- The other members of the Merchant Guilds became the burghers of the town or city
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. The Merchant Guilds were imposing regulations on the individual traders or craftsmen to regulate prices and supply. The individual workers of trades or crafts followed the example of the Merchant Guilds who had objected to the lords of land and in turn raised objections to the Merchant Guilds. The individual crafts and trades established their own guilds. The Craft Guilds in the Middle Ageswere then established in the Medieval town or city of the Middle Ages
such as the
Medieval London Guilds.