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Craft Guilds in the Middle Ages

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Craft Guilds in the Middle Ages

The guilds in the Middle Ages were an important part of Medieval life. A higher social status could be achieved through membership to Craft guilds. There were two main kinds of Medieval guilds - Merchant Guilds and Craft Guilds. The word “guild” is from the Saxon “gilden” meaning "to pay" and refers to the subscription paid to the Guilds by their members.

Craft Guilds in the Middle Ages
The Craft Guilds were formed in a similar way to the Merchant Guilds. A group of tradesmen or craftsmen engaged in the same occupation joined together. There were Craft Guilds for every trade or craft performed within a Medieval city or town. These trades or crafts included:

  • Masons
  • Carpenters
  • Painters
  • Cloth Makers
  • Tanners
  • Bakers
  • Shoemakers, or cobblers
  • Apothecaries
  • Candle makers

For a more detailed list of the names of the Craft Guilds click the link Medieval London Guilds. The Craft Guilds, like the Merchant Guilds, formed organizations for protection and mutual aid. Soon no one within a Medieval town or city in the Middle Ages could practice a craft or trade without belonging to the appropriate Merchant or Craft guild association. The Craft Guilds ensured that their members had similar rules to the Merchant Guilds.

Rules of the Craft Guilds during the Middle Ages
The Craft Guilds applied rules to the way in which trade was conducted during the Middle Ages. These rules were included in the charters of the Craft Guilds and included:

  • A ban on, or fines imposed, on any illicit trading by non Craft Guild members
  • Fines were imposed on any Craft Guild members who violated the charter of their  particular Craft Guild
  • Members of the Craft Guilds were protected and any member who fell sick was cared for by the guild. Burials of guild members were arranged and the Craft Guilds undertook to care for any orphans
  • The members of Craft Guilds also provided protection of their horses, wagons, and goods when moving about the land as travelling during the Middle Ages was dangerous

The Craft Guilds ensured that their craft or trade effectively became a 'closed shop' or monopoly preventing any outside competition. Prices were fixed between members of the Craft Guilds. And the Craft Guilds ensured that high standards of quality were maintained. The number of Craft Guild members were also regulated, allowing a restricted membership in order to ensure that the numbers of Craft Guilds did not exceed the business requirements. As time went by the Craft Guilds became as important in the Medieval towns and cities as the Merchant Guilds and the members of the Craft Guilds demanded that they also shared in civic duties and leadership.

Life in the Middle Ages
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