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What were the Guilds?

What is the meaning of the word 'Guild'? The word “guild” is from the Saxon “gilden” meaning "to pay" and refers to the subscription paid to the Guilds by their members. Other words associated with the term guild include association, society, brotherhood, company, fellowship, fraternity and livery. The guilds of the Middle Ages were licensed from 1170 and were similar to modern labour unions where the guilds set standards for their professions and protected the interests of their members.


The Reasons why Guilds in the Middle Ages were established


The system of Feudalism during the Middle Ages allowed the lords and owners of the land to tax the towns people and their trades. As trade increased during the Middle Ages the taxes became excessive. In Medieval England which was run to the feudal system it was impossible for just one man to make objections to the rate and amount of tax that the lord demanded. The idea of forming a Guild was born.


The Purpose of Guilds in the Medieval times of the Middle Ages

The Purpose of Guilds in the Medieval times of the Middle Ages was originally based on the protection of the Guild members but consumers also benefited from the introduction of guilds. The purpose of the guilds were therefore twofold:

Protection for workers - the members of the Guilds

Protection for consumers


Guilds in the Medieval times - Protection of Workers / Guild Members

The Guilds in Medieval times protected the workers, or the guild members as follows:

Members of Guilds in Medieval times received protection form excessive taxes imposed by the lords and land owners

Competition between members was regulated by fixed pricing policies - advertising and price cutting was banned

Illicit trading by non Merchant Guild members was banned

All members of guilds were obligated to retain all trade secrets

The number of Guild masters and members of guilds were restricted to ensure there was sufficient business for each of the guilds

Sickness Protection

Protection for their members, goods and horses when travelling

Help with funeral expenses. Orphans of members of guilds were also cared for

Guilds funded the first non-religious schools of the Middle Ages

Working conditions and hours of work were regulated


Guilds in the Medieval times - Protection for Consumers

The Guilds of the Medieval times in the Middle Ages also protected the consumers. The spin-offs from the regulations of the guilds led to:

Fair pricing policies - all prices were regulated by the guilds

Quality of goods or workmanship. Goods and services were inspected and members of guilds were expected to undertake long apprenticeships

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