1902 Encyclopedia > Guild


GUILD. The spirit of association has in all ages induced men to join together for the pleasures of mutual enjoyment or for the attainment of some common purpose for which the support of numbers was necessary. The idea has taken shape in various ways, influenced by the tem-perament of race, the policy of Governments, the social condition of classes, or the need for a special object. In-dependently of the organization of peoples, of their consti-tution into towns, provinces, and states as units in a system, whether of self-government or of imposed government,—in-dependently too of those great associations or brotherhoods, the church, the orders of knighthood, the greater and lesser monastic orders, and secret societies,—there is a third kind of association upon a basis distinct from these. The public welfare of a community within certain territorial limits is the great object of Governments, local or imperial ; the pur-suit of some great moral, religious, or equitable thought, touching the hearts of men in general without regard to nation, was the animating principle of the chivalric and re-ligious orders ; but when men began to form themselves into guilds, the benefit of each one in his individual and social capacity was concerned, naturally confined within the bounds of neighbourhood. A guild was a voluntary associ-ation of those living near together who joined for a com mon purpose, paying contributions, worshipping together, feasting together periodically, helping one another in sick-ness and poverty, and frequently united for the pursuit of a special object.

The true history of these institutions has been till recently unnoticed, their value and importance, especially in connexion with the life of towns and villages, having been but imperfectly investigated or understood. Guilds have, however, been numerous, and their influence most im-portant, in Europe from an early period; they attained their highest prosperity and development in the Teutonic countries, and especially in England during the Middle Ages, and they have been widely spread among the Romance nations.

The meaning of the word guild or gild is closely con-nected with the origin of the institution. Gild or geld was Old English for a set payment or contribution, from zeldan or zyldan, to pay (whence also the present yield); the primary meaning was payment, and the company of those who paid became known by this chief title to mem-bership. There are also gilde, Danish and Low German, in the sense of a contributory company of this kind; gjalda and gildi, Icelandic, a payment, and gildi, also a banquet. The word therefore, thus derived, is better spelt (as most old authorities have it) without the u ; a colour is, how-ever, given for the ordinary modern form guild, by deriving it (as Wedgwood, English Etymology) from the Welsh or Breton gouil, a feast or holiday, gwylad, keeping a festival.

The essential principle of the guild is the banding together for mutual help, mutual enjoyment, and mutual encouragement in good endeavour. The spirit which di-rected itself to the inner business and life of each society and its members is the true mark, in some degree, of all bodies, ancient or modern, that can claim the character of guilds. The peace-guild of the North in the 10th century had this character in common with the great trading guild of the 13th and 14th centuries, or the little social or reli-gious guild of an English country village of a century later.

Some German scholars find the origin of the first guilds in the banquets and sacrificial assemblies of the heathen German tribes. Wilda, Dr L. Brentano, and others, connect-ing these with what is known of the importance of family relations among the Teutonic nations, find in the family union the germ from which the guild was developed, and show that when Christianity was brought from the south of Europe " the spirit of association received a mighty impulse, and the gilds spread themselves rapidly under the influence of Christian doctrine" (Brentano). It is maintained by others that the guilds have sprung from the collegia, in those countries where the Romans bore sway.

The Romans exercised the right of association from early times; it is attributed to Numa that he encouraged the for-mation of craft guilds, of which Plutarch enumerates nine; there also existed early religious societies among them. Exercised voluntarily under the republic, this right became crippled under the empire, and the collegia were obliged to seek authorization from the state for the narrower objects to which the imperial decrees attempted to limit them. These societies were numerous, not only at Rome, but throughout the empire, especially in the East, in Italy, and in Gaul; a large number were trade corporations, devoted to the interest of their crafts ; others were united for good-fellowship, religion, and many especially to provide for burial. In the provinces, besides merchants and others, the highest persons were glad at times to belong to them ; those in Rome under the empire appear to have consisted principally of workmen, freedmen, slaves, and persons of the humbler classes. All appear to have had the same general features ; they chose their own masters and officers, made rules for self-government, paid contributions to a common fund, met and feasted together at stated periods, —the freedom of social intercourse being particularly appreciated among the poorer companies. They formed rules for good behaviour at table, and admitted women as members ; they " affirmed their existence by a common worship," choosing a patron god. From these and other resemblances Mr H. C. Coote contends that there is an identity between the Roman collegia and the guilds of Saxon growth; and M. Baynouard was an advocate of a similar descent in France and Italy. But though analogous in many respects, as far as is known they lacked the essential element of the guild, that of mutual help in sickness and poverty; the soldiers' colleges, formed in spite of the law which forbade them, approach the nearest to this character, in providing their members with travelling expenses and retiring pensions. The evidence against the connexion between the collegium, and the guild is regarded by the ablest German writers who have investigated the subject as conclusive, but this interesting historical question has not yet been fully worked out.

The Greeks also, in the 2d and 3d centuries B.C., had their associations of the same kind, called Eranoi or Thiasoi, which were numerous at Rhodes, in the islands of the Archipelago, at the Piraeus, and in other important places. These societies partook more nearly of the char-acter of the mediaeval guilds than did the Roman ; the members paid contributions to a general fund, aided one another in necessity, provided for funerals, met in assembly to deliberate on their affairs, and celebrated feasts and religious sacrifices in common. Strict rules against disorderly conduct were to be enforced by fine ; he who did not pay his yearly quota to the society was excluded, unless he could show good cause of poverty or sickness. Women could be members, and were admitted to the meetings. Some of these societies concerned themselves with religion, others with politics or commerce ; in the cause of liberal as opposed to official religion, they appear to have done good service.
It is perhaps of little use attempting to ascribe to any one country or race the special initiative of these institu-tions, any more than it would be to say that the custom of men to congregate in towns originated with this or that nation. Human nature is the same everywhere, and two motives induce men to join together :—weakness, seeking the power of numbers for resisting oppression, or for mutual assistance ; and the affinity which those pursuing the same occupation and possessing the same interests have for each other. These motives are sufficient to account for the existence of the Eranoi in Greece, contem-porary with the Collegia of the Romans ; they are sufficient to explain why, although the collegia opificum, or artisans' guilds, are found as late as the code of Justinian, and that 50 or 60 years later, in the 6th century, we have record of a soap-makers' craft in Naples (Letter of Pope Gregory the Great, lib. x. epist. 26; Migne's Pat. Curs., vol. lxxvii.), the guilds in the towns of Italy should begin a new life in the 10th century (Hegel) ; they can explain why in England we find from the 7th to the 10th century other guilds actively in existence, while in Norway they were instituted in the 11th century. These societies "may thus have one history in China, another in India, another in Greece or Rome, another in the Europe of the Middle Ages ; the like needs will require the like kinds of help, and develop insti-tutions which, amid whatever diversities of outward garb, will substantially fulfil the same ends" (J. M. Ludlow).
1868. and the article CLUB.

In the Middle Ages guilds are recognized as belonging to three or four classes. In the north of Europe the frith or peace-guild was an important form, widely spread in early times. These were associations for defence, based upon mutual obligations, " sworn communities for the pro-tection of right and the preservation of liberty ; " we see traces of them in England from the laws of Ina (7th cen-tury) down to the "Dooms" of London in Athelstan's time (10th century). These statutes of the old London peace-guild are thus shortly described by Prof. Stubbs :—

" A monthly meeting is directed, at which there is to be bytt-fylling and a refection, the remains of which are to be bestowed in alms : on the death of a member each brother gives a loaf, and sings or pays for the singing of fifty psalms Each member pays fourpence for common purposes, towards a sort of insurance fund from which the guild makes good the losses of members, and a con-tribution of a shilling towards the pursuit of the thief. The members are arranged in bodies of ten, one of whom is the head-man ; these again are classed in tens under a common leader, who with the other head-men acts as treasurer and adviser of the hundred members. "

The early English recognized the responsibility of the guild for the actions of its members and their mutual liability, —the fundamental principle of English institutions for keeping the peace; besides this, the rules still exist of Saxon guilds at Abbotsbury, Woodbury, Cambridge, and Exeter, and show by the many points in common with the social guilds of later English growth whence these derived their descent. Abroad, the frith guilds in the 11th and 12th centuries extended over the Continent ; one of the most remarkable was founded at Roeskild, under king Canute, for the suppression of the piracy of the vikings. Others, as in Schleswig, Artois, Flensburg, &c, joined for hindering violence and maintaining peace, by all means that law and custom allowed, even against kings. These guilds became of such importance that in many places their law grew to be that of the commune or town (see BOBOUGH). In France the great development of town governments at this period was frequently but the acknowledgment of an already existing defensive guild, or of the important mer-chant or craft guilds. At Montpellier and Paris, in the beginning of the 13 th century, the trade guilds took part in the watch and ward of the city, and thus were a recog-nized part of the commune. The same was the case in London in early times. Even as late as the 15th century a guild was founded at Ghent, composed of the culverineers, arquebusiers, and gunners, in order to teach the burgesses the use of firearms, so as to be able to defend the town or suppress troubles. It became the chief guild of the city, had public festivities, admitted women as "consœurs," and possessed many of the featuresof both peace and socinlguilds.

In the Frankish empire guilds were numerous for defence,, for conviviality, and for religious and social duties, among the serfs and the clergy as well as others ; but under Charlemagne and his successors they suffered great oppres-sion, and were persecuted by both ecclesiastical and secular authorities. In later times the clergy formed special societies called Guilds of Kalenders, so named from their meeting day having originally been on the kalends of each month (Brentano) ; these were to be found in many towns on the Continent, sometimes we read of the major and minor guilds for the higher and lower clergy. The only company that is known to have partaken of this character in England was the ancient Guild of the Kalenders at Bristol, which kept the records of that town and other places,, and in its later years supported a school for Jews.

A class of guilds widely spread in the Middle Ages,, especially in England, were those which have been distin-guished by the name of Social (Toulmin Smith) or Religious-(Brentano). These were the small and numerous societies that sprung up all over the country in every village, in small or large towns, at different times as the need arose, or for good neighbourhood's sake. Their objects included "not only devotions and orisons, but also every exercise of Christian charity, and therefore, above all things, mutual assistance of the gild-brothers in every exigency, especially in old age, in sickness, in cases of impoverishment,—if not brought on by their own folly,—and of wrongful imprison-ment, in losses by fire, water, or shipwreck, aid by loans, provision of work, and lastly, the burial of the dead. It included further the assistance of the poor and sick, and the visitation and comfort of prisoners not belonging to the gild" (Brentano). These societies were composed of men and women of all ranks, and when, as in some instances, they grew into wealth and popularity, kings and princes did not disdain to become guild-brethren. Henry IV. and Henry VI. were members of the guild of the Trinity at Coventry; Henry VIII. and his queen were members of the guild of St Barbara, of St Katherine's church next the Tower, London. Another prince belonged to the famous guild of St George at Norwich. One guild, however, who said they were " of the rank of common and middling folks," would not admit even a mayor or a bailiff.

Each member took an oath, and paid an admission fee and yearly contribution; they held regular business meet-ings or "morn-speech," and had an annual "guild-day." Every guild had its livery, which the members were expected to wear at funerals, feasts, &c.; and they had strict rules for good life and behaviour. The little parochial guilds met in a room or in members' houses; if the guild was rich enough it had a hall or "guild-house;" legacies and gifts were made to them, and they lent out of their stock to poor members, or devoted it to some public or charitable object. Schools and churches were founded or helped by these private guilds, as some of the colleges at Cambridge, schools at Coventry, Worcester, Brayles, Sleaford, Ludlow, Bristol, and elsewhere; forty guilds of Bodmin (of which only five were craft guilds) joined in the repair of the church there. Bridges and town-walls were repaired, both in England and in France—in which latter country M. Giry finds some relics of these social guilds. The performing of miracle and other plays, setting out of pageants, and providing of minstrels were undertaken by many of the social as well as by the craft guilds, and in many towns formed an important adjunct to the municipal proceedings, as at Coventry, York, Durham, Norwich, &c.; the Lord Mayor's show of London owes its origin to this custom.

These local social guilds were very numerous in England and in the Teutonic countries; it is believed that they were so in France, but little is known of them elsewhere. There' were 50 such guilds in the county of Cambridge, 909 in Norfolk, 42 in Bodmin, 80 in Cologne, 70 at Lübeck, &c.

At the time of the Reformation these guilds were abolished in Protestant countries, under pretence of their being superstitious foundations; in Denmark and North Germany their property was devoted to public service, but in England it was handed over to the king and his courtiers, their guild-halls became poor-houses, their pageants were laid, aside. A very few of these societies escaped; St George's guild at Norwich continued to live on many years.

12th and 13th centuries for keeping the poetic and musical foundation of Le Feste de Pui belonged to the class of social guilds. One of them was set up in London (Riley's Liber Custmnarum).

Wickliffe, in the 14th century, had complained of the abuses among the guilds, including those of trades. In 1389 returns were made into Chancery of the social and other guilds in England ; these, though imperfect, give a valuable body of details, and draw the distinction between the two great classes of social and trade guilds. The trade guilds have in all countries attracted more attention than the rest, on account of their wealth and importance; they are of two orders, guilds-merchant and craft-guilds. The guild-merchant arose in this way; the same men who in the growth of towns became citizens by reason of possessing town-land, frequently were also traders ; the uncertain state of society in early times naturally caused them to unite for protection of their trade interests in a gilda mercatoria, which made internal laws akin to those of other guilds; the success of these private interests enlarged their import-ance ; and when the towns and boroughs obtained confirma-tion of their municipal life by charter, they took care to have it included that the men of the place should also have their guild-merchant. Thus these guilds obtained the recognition of the state; in their origin they had been as other guilds, partaking especially of the character of peace-guilds, but now " the citizens and the guild became identical, and what was guild-law" often became the law of the town. In great cities, such as London and Florence, we do not hear of merchant guilds (Norton); there the separate occupations or crafts early asserted their associating power and independence, and the craft-guilds gradually took a place in the organization of the town government. Many craft-guilds, the heads of which were concerned in the government of the commune, are found in Italy between the 9th and the 12th centuries (Perrens, Hist, de Florence). But in England and the north of Europe the guilds-merchant during this period, having grown rich and tyrannical, excluded the landless men of the handicrafts; these then uniting among themselves, there arose everywhere by the side of the guilds-merchant the craft-guilds, which gained the upper hand on the Continent in the struggle for liberty in the 13th and 14th centuries. In England these companies usually existed side by side with the old town or merchant guild ; until at length their increasing importance caused the decay of the old guilds, and the adoption of these crafts as part of the constitution of the towns (13th to 15th century). The separation of the richer and perhaps the older from the poorer of the com-panies occurred, and thus arose the paramount influence of a few,—as the twelve great Companies of London, the Arti Majori of Florence, and others.

The constitution of the trade-guilds was formed on the model of other guilds; they appointed a master or alderman and other officers, made ordinances, including provisions for religious observance, mutual help, and burial; the town ordinances yet remaining of many places, as of Berwick, Southampton, and Worcester, show traces of the trade laws of the. old guilds-merchant. As their principal objects, " the craft-gildmen provided for the maintenance of the customs of their craft, framed further ordinances for its regulation, (including care against fraudulent workman-ship), saw these ordinances properly executed, and punished the gild brothers who infringed them." "Though the craft-gilds, as voluntary associations, did not need confirmation by the authorities at their birth, yet this confirmation be-came afterwards of the greatest importance, when these gilds wanted to be recognized as special and independent associations, which were thenceforth to regulate the trade instead of the authorities of the town " (Brentano). Hence obtained the practice of procuring a charter in confirmation and recognition of their laws, in return for which certain taxes were paid to the king or other authority. It is therefore erroneous to state, as is sometimes done, that these companies owe their origin to royal charter, or that they required a licence.
Few important towns in Great Britain have been without a more or less number of craft-guilds. London, York, Exeter, Norwich, Bristol, Coventry, (fee, teemed with their life and pageantry. But the Beformation shook these as it destroyed others; the exactions they suffered, and the altered conditions of social economy and labour have contributed to their decay; " all that remains of the ancient gilds in the livery companies of to-day is the common eating and drinking." In the centres of industry of Italy, France, Germany, even in Constantinople, they once formed the strength of commerce, but, abused or decayed, in France they were abolished on 4th August 1789 ; in Germany their last remnants died in 1869. In Constantinople numerous trade guilds were flourishing up till the war of 1877-78. In Russia there are no true spontaneous guilds; the trade companies were imposed by the imperial orders of Catherine and Peter the Great.

Sec L. Brentano, On the History and Development of Gilds, 1870; English Gilds, Original Ordinances, &e., by Toulmin Smith, 1870; Wilda, Das Gildenwesen im Mittelalter, 1831; F. T. Pen-ens, Histoire de Florence, 1877 ; G. Schmoller, Geschichtc der Tucher- and Weber-zunft in Strassburg, 1879 ; G. Schanz, Zur Geschichtc der DeutscJien Gesellen-Verbdnde im Mittelalter, 1877; G. Fagniez, L'Industrie a Paris au lSi"x!et au liemesiecle, 1877 ; Herbert's Twelve great Livery Companies of London, 1836 ; G. Norton's Commentaries on the History of London, 1869 ; works by the German writers Carl Hegel, Arnold, Maurer, and Gierke; and the article CLUB. (L. T. S.)


For a valuable sketch of the Collegia, including trade-guilds and burial-guilds, see "Les sociétés ouvrières à Rome, " by Gaston Boissier, Revue des Deux Mondes, December 1871 ; also "The Friendly Societies of Antiquity," by H. Tompkins, Oddfellows' Magazine, April
The custom of "setting out the watch," or the "marching watch," in London, Bristol, Worcester, &c, on midsummer eve, ori-ginated in the part taken in the defence of the city by the trade guilds or companies of those places; it was a kind of "military muster" (Herbert).

There is, however, a lively movement for the revival of craft-guilds

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