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  • How did one go about starting a guild?
  • Were guilds usually formed by a group of individuals or just a single person?
  • What restrictions existed on starting a guild?

What I'm mainly interested in is how a guild decided who its initial master craftsmen would be. Were the founders the initial masters? What was required to be taken seriously when declaring that you wanted to start a guild?

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1 Answer

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Guilds were not formed by individuals, but by working cultures. Their backdated claims of venerability are pretty indicative that they formed as a group exercising economic and political power.

Burghers, or "the bourgeoisie," acted collectively to establish town and city charters, market rights, and guilds. The advantage in a feudal economy to allowing this to occur, was that guilds provided access to goods and services that were not otherwise available in the feudal household or through direct extraction from peasants. The benefit of guilds to the nascent bourgeoisie was standardised income setting and clear markets (avoiding gouging that would be a detriment to all members of the market). Additionally, as bourgeois households were directly reliant upon their production and trade, beggaring your neighbour would beggar those who married your daughter (or in some cases, your daughter herself).

Mastery of arts wasn't a key component, as many journeymen and apprentices had the capacity to conduct the work. Mastery is about the capacity to establish a household in a free city.

There was no original master craftsman. In the feudal fashion, groups with a shared capacity for violence (ie, in the case of guilds, urbanity) banded together to enforce their views on the rest of society (largely by claiming that they had ancient freedoms), and then subsequently claimed that things had always been that way, at least as far back as anyone could remember. All of the venerability was invention. As proletarians did not exist, there was no difference between "trade" and "labour" guilds. The idea of a single individual originator isn't valid when dealing with economic history.

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If I understand correctly, labor guilds (different than trade guilds) were really just groups of master craftsmen who agreed not to sell their product for low prices -- thus keeping the price of goods at a reasonable level. How were the original master craftsmen of a guild selected? –  BrewerOnRails Aug 28 '12 at 1:22
It is likely to be as simply as knowing the area. If there were half a dozen people all selling a product it would not be difficult for them to meet up and organise themselves. –  Stefan Jun 27 '13 at 12:06
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