A guild is a society of people in the same craft or trade, typically based in a specific town. It usually secures a monopoly and limits the craft or trade to insiders. The guild also protects trade secrets, and sponsors the development of new knowledge. The formation of guilds is usually governed by the town’s laws. Guilds in the same trade in neighboring towns may recognize each other’s rules and qualifications, although there is sometimes aggressive rivalry. Guilds are financed by dues, a small fraction of members’ incomes. A wealthy guild has a guildhouse where the masters keep records and enjoy great dinners; smaller guilds meet in inns or taverns, or even at a guild-master’s home.
Ruler: The Guild Master
Seat: Usually a local guildhall
Origin and History
After the fall of the Old Empire, and rise of the new independent kingdoms that resulted, the growing cash economy gave a tremendous stimulus to the rise of the middle classes. Where a craftsman might previously have worked exclusively for a landowner under a feudal arrangement in exchange for keep and lodging, now he could find a sufficient market for his goods in a nearby town, and earn enough money to support a comfortable lifestyle. Merchants thrived as the market economy began to mature, and long-distance trade along rivers and across the sea became profitable. It was against this background that the guild system arose. Guilds arose as associations for mutual support. They developed into regulatory bodies that held a monopoly on a trade or group of trades in their town, supervised training and apprenticeships, regulated standards, and generally furthered the interests of their members. In many towns it became impossible to do business without joining a guild.
Ranks and forms of address
These are typical of most such guilds, but not universal
- Guild Rank 5: (Master X) The Most Honourable X, Guild Master of the [Trades' Guild/Company/&c.] of [City]
- Guild Rank 4: (Master X) The Honourable X, Councilman of the [Trades' Guild/Company/&c.] of [City]
- Guild Rank 4: Master X, [Officer] of the [Trades' Guild/Company/&c.] of [City]
- Guild Rank 3: Master X, Master of the [Trades' Guild/Company/&c.] of [City]
- Guild Rank 1-2: X, Journeyman of the [Trades' Guild/Company/&c.] of [City]
- Guild Rank 0: X, Apprentice of the [Trades' Guild/Company/&c.] of [City]
A guild performs several functions. It regulates the price and quality of goods or services, to ensure that its monopoly is not abusive to the point that the town demands its revocation. A guild “hallmark” on a product guarantees that it meets standards. The guild discourages its members from competing through bulk discounts or price-cutting, but encourages them to outdo each other in quality. The products of a guild’s master craftsmen are reliable, but often costly.
A guild also provides for its members’ well-being. Guilds regulate apprenticeships (most go to members’ children), and make sure the trade is properly taught. Guild members are also provided with insurance; when they die, the guild takes care of their families. When shops or homes burn down, the guild pays for the rebuilding. When guild members become injured or ill, the guild hires healers. Some wealthy guilds even build hospitals, churches, and schools, or provide dowries for poor members’ daughters.
Finally, a guild represents its members to the government. It seeks exemption from tolls and tariffs, protection along dangerous trade routes, and reduced taxes. For leverage, it relies on its monopoly. A baron trying to fight a war without armorers soon realizes the wisdom in granting the guild’s demands!
A guild can only exist when it has at least a half-dozen members, and will not be powerful unless it has dozens. Thus, small towns have few guilds, while the great cities have scores. This doesn’t mean that craftsmen in small towns are always guildless, but where a town might have a single Clothmen’s Guild, a metropolis has separate guilds for Spinners, Weavers, Tailors, Dyers, and Embroiderers. Guilds are most powerful in the free cities of Imperian kingdoms.
- Charter includes military service; members are expected to take up arms for the city's defense when called
- [Certain trades were available in every town, also in the small ones, especially the food trade of the bakers and butchers. Also very frequently available trades were those of the weavers, the shoemakers and the tailors.]
- The common and for the handicraft typical way of producing and selling products was the so called “Preiswerk”. There the craftsman is the owner of all means of production and he sells the finished product, which is combined out of the invested resources and labour, for a certain price to the customer. That differed the craftsmen from the wageworkers, who only get the money for his work. In some trades the so called “Lohnwerk” was common. There the customer provided the resources and the craftsmen was only paid for the labour. Especially with the beginning of the “Verlagswesen” in southern Germany in late medieval times and with its spread in the renaissance this system was used more often. Normally the craftsmen produced when a customer ordered a specific product or he produced on stocks to sell his products on the market, which takes places regularly. Most of the masters had the right to employ some assistants but for most of them it was not possible due to their economic situation. But if they employed someone, it was common that the employee stayed in the master’s household. In some trades it was different, for example in the building sector. There the journeymen had normally their own household.
Major Craft Guilds
Major guilds are large and powerful enough that they tend to govern the cities they inhabit, almost a nation to themselves, or are spread out amongst many cities.
- Clothworkers' Guild (Sub: Dyers, Embroiderers, Furriers, Hosiers, Silkworkers, Tailors, Woolworkers)
- Builders' Guild (not restricted to any one locality; Sub: Masons, Sculptors)
- Shipwrights' Guild
- Smiths' Guild (Sub: Black/Ironsmiths, Bronzesmiths, Goldsmiths, Silversmiths)
Minor Craft Guilds
Minor guilds are represented in larger cities, but not in every city; some are more common than others.
- Alchemists' Guild
- Armorers' Guild
- Bakers' Guild
- Bookbinders' Guild
- Bowyers' Guild
- Brewers' Guild
- Carpenters' Guild
- Fishmongers' Guild
- Horse Breeders' Guild
- Miners' Guild
- Potters' Guild
- Leatherworkers' Guild (Sub: Tanners, Girdlers, Saddlers, Shoemakers)
- Weaponsmiths' Guild
- Bards' Guild
- Clerks' Guild
- Healers' Guild (Sub: Apothecaries, Barbers)
- Moneychangers' Guild
- Lawyers' Guild
- No "guilds" but some families specialize in a particular craft or trade
Rumor Has It…
- Many guilds meet behind closed doors to guard their "trade secrets," which inevitably leads to speculation about what exactly it is they're doing in there…
Behind the Scenes
- Mostly "historical": ideally, fewer of them, covering somewhat broader, "generic" categories of crafts/trades.
- The rank of "Craftsman" from DF17 is not included, as it is not a historical guild rank; instead, Status 1-2 are both "Journeyman"—call it "seniority"