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Types of Jobs

In the Manorial System, the most prominent occupation was a peasant farmer. Each estate contained several hundred thousand acres of which most was used to farm and to make food for the people living on that land. Each farmer was bound to the land and had to continually work to make enough food and money to live. Besides farming, most of the peasants herded sheep. Peasant women sheared sheep, spun the wool, and sewed clothing. This helped the women to acquire jobs as laundresses, seamstresses, and embroiderers. Each manor needed artisans to make many of its necessary crafts. Some of the important craft occupations on the manor were blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, shoemakers, tailors, tanners, and weavers. Other occupations were based on food such as bakers to bake bread, millers to grind grain, brewers to make ale and beer, and vintners to make wine. During the 10th and 11th Centuries, the bakers of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London annually produced 40,000 loaves while the brewers produced 67,000 gallons of ale. Because of an increase in trade and money toward the end of the Middle Ages, merchant and goldsmith occupations became more important. Many occupations dealt with services to help people such as barbers, teachers, dentists, and surgeons.

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The Guild System

What is the Guild System?

Guild System
A hierarchy of people who make up the work force or play an important role in the economy of a trade or trades

People in the Guild System

The heads of each craft guild were the masters. Each master owned his own shop, tools, and raw materials. He would also have assistants to help make the goods he sold. In order to become a master, a person had to start off as an apprentice. Apprentices were usually young boys who were starting to learn the trade. They lived with the master and worked for the master without pay. The master would take care of the boy as if he was his own son, and the boy was expected to faithfully serve his master. Apprentice ship could last anywhere from two to ten years, however between three to eight years was most common. When an apprentice improved, he would become a journeyman and receive pay, however, as a journeyman, he was still required to work under a master. A journeyman was basically like an employee because he was able to work for any master how wanted to hire him. A journeyman’s salary came from the amount of labor he accomplished, and he could not leave work until he finished his task. Most people remained journeymen until they had enough money to start their own business. If a journeyman wanted to become a master, he would have to submit a sample of his work to the craft guild for approval. If this sample was approved, the journeyman could become a master and setup his own business.

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The Guild System's Role

The guild system was an improvement to original system in the medieval Europe. During the Early Middle Ages, people who sold the same product would live very close together. In fact, medieval London organized groups of occupations by street. The bakers would live on Bread Street and the goldsmiths on Goldsmiths Row. Eventually, this led to them organizing themselves into groups that sold the same product, however some problems resulted from this. The first was that if one of the artisans reduced his price, the others would also be forced to the same in order to keep selling products. This would eventually lead to extremely low prices that would be bad for the producers of the product. The other problem was that if one artisan worked extremely hard at his business, his business would build up much faster than the other artisan's business in that group. People in the Middle Ages frowned upon a man who got ahead to far or too fast with his business. These problems helped develop the guild system. Each guild maintained a monopoly over a specific aspect of the market, and had strict rules for their members to follow. All of the artisans who made a specific craft would join into a guild. There were at least 157 different crafts that a person could specialize in. The artisans would establish a uniform price for their craft, and restrict foreign trade. Thus, people would be forced to buy their specific good at their price, which gave the guild a monopoly over that aspect of market. On the other hand, strict rules prevented buyers from being taken advantage of. Middle Age technology was not able to detect what materials went into making each product. This could lead to the possibility that a goldsmith could use copper instead of gold in his jewelry, or a dyer could use poorer colors in his cloth. The strict rules set up by each guild helped the buyers be sure of what kind of quality they would receive for their money. The guild system also helped the government. When collecting income tax or inspecting the quality of products, it was easier to collect from a group with the same profession rather than going to each individual.

The following are the statutes of the White Tawyers (leather dressers) guild of 1346 London. This is a very good example of how the guild system was like back then.

Statues of the White Tawyers (in London, A.D. 1346)

  1. The members of the trade are to provide a candle to be kept burning before the shrine of Our Lady in the Church of All Hallows near London Wall. Contributions toward the cost shall be put in a box.
  2. From this charity box 7 pence a week is to be provided for any member of the trade of good repute who shall fall into poverty and for any widow of a member.
  3. Persons from outside the city, except apprentices, are not to work as White Tawyers.
  4. No member shall hire away the serving men of another without permission.
  5. If any member has so much work that he cannot finish it and is in danger of losing the work, the others shall help him.
  6. If a member dies, the others shall go to the Vigil for him. If he leaves no money for the funeral expenses, they shall be borne out of the common box.
  7. If any serving man acts rebelliously or improperly, no one shall hire him till he has made amends.
  8. If any member of the trade speaks or acts amiss in regard to the aforementioned points, he shall not follow the trade until he has made amends.
  9. If any member disobeys these statutes and is convicted by his fellows, he is to be fined 2 shillings the first time, 3 shillings and 4 pence the second, 6 shillings and 8 pence the third, and 10 shillings the fourth. For the fourth offense he shall be excluded from the trade.
  10. A general meeting shall be held each year. Two overseers shall be chosen. They shall have charge of all things connected with the trade. They shall take an oath before the Mayor and Aldermen. They shall search diligently and report any defaults in the trade to the Mayor and Aldermen, not sparing even their friends. If any one disobeys the overseers, or hinders their search, or refuses to attend the meetings, he shall be fined 3 shillings and 4 pence for the first offense, 6 shillings and 8 pence for thesecond, 13 shillings and 4 pence for the third. For the fourth he shall be fined 20 shillings and be excluded from the trade forever.
  11. If the overseers are lax, or partial, or accept bribes, or if they neglect to hold the annual meetings, they shall be punished in the same manner.
  12. The overseers shall confiscate any skins falsely or deceitfully worked which they find on sale, and the worker thereof shall be fined in the same manner.
  13. No one who has not served an apprenticeship in the trade shall practice it unless the overseers or four members of the trade testify that he is sufficiently skilled in it.
  14. No member of the trade shall charge higher prices than the following for working up hides of the various sorts:
    • 10 Scotch stags’ hides 13 shillings and 4 pence
    • 10 Irish stags’ hides 13 shillings and 4 pence
    • 10 Spanish stags’ hides 10 shillings
    • 100 goat skins 20 shillings
    • 100 roe deer skins 16 shillings
    • 100 calf skins 8 shillings
    • 100 kid skins 8 shillings

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This page was written by Nikhil Jariwala.

Last revised: 12/5/1998