Medieval Guilds

Only guild members were allowed to trade in the city. They could not work at night or undercharge. By these methods the guild kept production down and prices up. Members who failed to maintain high standards of workmanship were fined or expelled from their guild.

Women rarely became full guild members. Some guilds (for instance the barbers and the dyers) accepted women, and widows were allowed to practise their husbands’ trades, but most guilds tried to exclude them altogether. Women, nevertheless, worked as butchers, ironmongers, shoemakers, hot-food sellers, bookbinders, embroiderers and goldsmiths. Domestic activities such as silkmaking, spinning and brewing were exclusively female occupations.

Many guilds provided a welfare system. The Guild of Mercers (dealers in cloth) in London charged 6d. (6 pennies) a week and used the money to help poor members. Wealthy guilds started schools, ran retirement homes, paid for the funerals of poor guild members and arranged entertainments on holy days.

In some towns leading merchants formed an association called a merchant guild. The guild had a royal charter and took charge of the government of the town.

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