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Merchant and Craft Guilds
A History of the Aberdeen Incorporated Trades
Part I. Chapter II - Continental Guilds


In a series of papers obtained by the Royal Commission of 1880 from different authorities on the Continent on the origin and development of Guilds in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Russia, and Turkey, much valuable historical information is to be found; and it brief summary of their main historical features may be given for the purpose of showing the striking resemblance that exists between the Continental Guilds and the Craft Guilds in our own country. One of the most interesting papers is that furnished by M. E. Levasseur, of the French Institute, on the Guilds in France, where at the close of the 12th century the Trades had in most of the large towns their organised Corporations. The Hundred Years' War proved very disastrous to the Corporations, and although there was a revival of them from 1450 to 1550, many passed out of existence altogether. In 1673 an ordinance was issued by which all trades were formed into communities, and at this time the number of Corporations was again increased, the system of Trade and Craft Guilds becoming in the municipality the recognised mode of industrial organisation until the Revolution of 1189, when, by an Act of the Assemblee Constituante, the regimen of Corporations was finally made to give place to the system of free labour. Before admission to the Corporations it was necessary to have been received as master, the qualification for which was the execution of a masterpiece, and its acceptance by a jury. In most of the trades the candidate before attempting the masterpiece had to show that he had served for a certain term as a journeyman. In many trades the number of freemen (maitrise) was limited by statute, and, with few exceptions, admission to the freedom could only be made where there was a vacancy. The king could under certain circumstances make grants of the freedom of any of the Corporations, and these, being sold to the highest bidders, considerably augmented the Royal revenues. Although the sons did not necessarily succeed their fathers, nevertheless, in almost all the Corporations they enjoyed special privileges, such as exemption from the masterpiece, reduction of the fines payable on admission to freedom, dispensation from the probationary clause, and right of admission by special favour on a vacancy arising, in preference to the other journeymen. In a small number of Corporations the sons alone, or with them the sons-in-law and some other relations, were allowed to succeed. But membership in the Trade Guild was always conditional on the exercise of the trade. After the suppression of the Corporations in 1791 the State took possession of their real property, refunding to the freemen a part of their freedom fine, and charging itself with the winding-up of their affairs. At one time some of the French Guilds were very wealthy. Besides the common fund, they owned property consisting of houses which served as meeting places, or the headquarters of the Corporations ; but, in the 18th century they fell into decay, and the liquidation of their debt, which was not completed until 1789, absorbed the whole of their funds.

Several valuable papers were furnished regarding the Guilds of Italy. "The Craft Guilds (Corti, d'arte) in Italy," says Allessandretti, "are of great antiquity, and, in addition to their original purpose, more especially during the mediaeval period, they acquired a purely political character." In the Middle Ages they served to counterbalance the power of the nobles; but in course of time, owing to reforms effected by the State, this became less necessary, and the associations (sodalia) in question "devoted themselves to the regulation of their crafts and the performance of friendly offices to their members." The right of entry into a Corporation was not hereditary, but was conferred on any one actually following the trade, provided that he was of good reputation and character. The craftsmen were divided into apprentices and masters, with occasionally the intermediate grade of journeyman; and before passing from one grade to another, a period of service was at least necessary, and more commonly the production of a masterpiece was also required. The Craft Guilds also formed in most cases religious brotherhoods, who chose for themselves a patron saint whose effigy they bore on their standard. As they came into existence first in Italy, so also they appear to have been the first to disappear. From the time that they began to lose sight of their primary purpose, and to undertake industrial enterprises on a large scale, they began to decline. The Italian economists of the eighteenth century frankly pronounced themselves opposed to the regium of Corporations of Arts and Misteries, which were finally abolished in Tuscany in 1841, in Naples in 1821, and in Lombardy, Venetia, and Parma in 1813. But, although legally abolished, several of them still survive, especially at the ports and frontier towns. At Genoa, for instance, there still exists the Corporation of the "cadrai" or bumboat men (vivanduri), in whom is vested the right of selling eatables to the ships in the port; the "calafati " (calkers) of the canal, whose duty it was to remove and stow in the warehouses all the merchandise; the porters (imballatori), barrel porters (barillari), box carriers (cassari), and the porters at custom-houses or free ports—a society somewhat similar to the Pynours or Shore Porters of Leith and Aberdeen. The by-laws of all the Guilds were originally taken from one model, which was in great part based on the Communal Ordinances. Every Corporation had its chief or master, "capo," "ill massaro," a vice-master, "sotto massaro" or syndic, and two assistants who acted as the Syndic's Deputies. No citizen could aspire to the Council and Magistracy, or any public office, unless affiliated to one or other of the Corporations or Colleges. As Lucca had what was known as a Guild of the Seven Arts (the same number as now exist in Aberdeen), it will be of interest to quote entire what is said regarding them:-

They existed from very ancient times, and were inaugurated in the 12th century. Of one, entitled the Guild of the Seven Arts (intillotata Belle Bette Arte), which included all the arts concerned in the building and finishing of a house, we have records which go back to the year 1194. The origin of others was considerably less ancient, but it is certain that there was no handicraft, trade, or profession in Lucca which had not at one time or another a society or company where its members might meet. The administration of these societies varied according to the times. Their chief object was originally the imposition on the members of certain trade regulation-, but with their growth or reorganisation they acquired the aspect of religious associations, recreative assemblies, or mutual aid societies, while interference with the trade in most cases either became a secondary consideration or was altogether neglected. By the law of 1808 these harmless societies were legally suppressed, but on the downfall of the Napoleonic rule a few of them recovered their former standing, and resumed the possession of their property. This remnant of the ancient Corporations, reduced in number and activity, and limited to the performance of certain devotional functions, have survived to the present day. Judging from those statutes which remain to us, the old societies in Lucea had a great variety of regulations, but in none of them is it expressed that the right of membership descended from father to son. Sometimes, however, to a son who followed his father's trade (il mestiere paterno), and wished to enter the Guild of which his father had been a member, certain advantages were conceded.

In Portugal nearly all the trades were organised as societies (embandeirados). Under one flag and one patron saint were united several trades. Each band chose one or more representatives, amounting in all to 24, who were elected annually, and forming together a corporation known as "The House of the 24;" they chose from amongst themselves the judge of the people, their notary; and the trades, which in Lisbon were four in number, formed part of the Council and assisted at its deliberations, though their vote was not of equal weight with that of the municipality.

The Guilds in Holland were abolished in 1798. The right of membership was not hereditary qua talis, but was dependent upon the actual practice of the craft or trade. The freedom of the town was also a condition precedent to admission to a Guild. The children born in lawful wedlock to a free citizen were, from the moment of their birth, free citizens likewise. "Burgerrecht," however, was obtainable in more ways than one, and he who had it not by birth-right might petition the magistrates of the town to be pleased to grant him the freedom. Citizens thus created were called "cooked" burghers. After the suppression of the Guilds, the funds in a few instances were allowed to remain in their possession, and were administered for charitable purposes by a committee under the inspection of the local authorities. By a decree issued in 1820, it was directed that the money should be employed for the support, in the first place, of necessitous ex-members of the former Guilds and their widows and children, and in the next place, of other indigent craftsmen.

Special interest attaches to the information supplied concerning the Guilds in Germany on account of an attempt, begun in 1881, to revive a number of their ancient privileges. The Guilds, or Zunfte and Innunaen, were abolished in 1859-60, but a reaction was caused by the fact that on account of the removal of the old laws and customs new evils sprang into existence. A large number of young men established themselves in business with neither the requisite technical knowledge nor a sufficiency of capital, and, consequently, were soon obliged to go into liquidation. The adherents of the old system made use of the stagnation of trade caused by the crisis in 1873 as a ground for demanding a revision of the statutes relating to trade. In consequence of this agitation a change was made in the commercial laws of Germany, by which the system of Guilds and masterpieces became again operative, though not compulsory. Owing to this change, by the spring of 1883, no fewer than 500 Guilds were re-founded and their statutes registered by the Courts. The right of membership in Germany is not hereditary, but is acquired by fulfilling the necessary conditions—the apprentice test, the three years' "wanderzeet," and the masterpiece. When the original Guilds were abolished they had little property to dispose of, and it was never looked after.

The first Guild ordinances granted in Norway are dated 4th Nov., 1682, but the Guilds were in existence in very early times. The members were required to be thoroughly trained in all manual skill and dexterity belonging to their trade. On the one side were exclusive privileges connected with the pursuit of their industry; and, on the other, all approach to an alliance with other organised bodies was forbidden. In the country districts, industries were as a rule only free in the case of the most necessary crafts, such as the tailors, the shoemakers, the blacksmiths, and the carpenters. In the towns the manual industries were affiliated to a particular Guild composed of freemen, journeymen, and apprentices, and to pass from one grade to another, it was necessary after a certain period of service in the subordinate position to produce a "masterpiece." In 1539 it was decreed that no new Craft Guild might be established, and that every Guild should be abolished when all the masters or freemen admitted to the Guilds previous to 1840 were dead, or the survivors were agreed to dissolve the Guild. Craft masters are now compelled to enter into a written contract to teach any apprentice they may take, which contract must not last more than five years, and to provide at the same time for his perfecting himself in the trade, so that at the end of his apprenticeship he can exhibit the above-named voluntary masterpiece or test work. The insignia, plate, cash, and furniture owned by the Guilds have been given, some of it to the public museums, and the remainder sold. There are still, however, voluntary associations of craftsmen who, even now, appear in religious processions with banners and the emblems of their craft displayed.

Russia seems to have been as far behind in the matter of Guilds as in everything else. The Guilds in that country were founded in the first instance in the 18th century, in the reign of Catherine the Great. They did not spring up concurrently with social progress, but by legal enactment. They are not a national institution, and have not the characteristics of those in Western Europe. In instituting the Guilds, we are told by Professor Yanson that the Empress wished to encourage industry in the towns by granting a quasi-monopoly, their introduction being in fact a political measure. The principle of the Russian legislation is that persons applying for membership must have previously exercised a trade in order to qualify themselves. Admission to the Guilds in Russia is free, on compliance with the following conditions:—(1) Service of three years as a journeyman; (2) age must be not less than 21; (3) the applicant must possess sufficient means to open a shop and (4) qualify as a "master" by showing a specimen of his work.


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