Old English Guilds and Trade Unions
WHEN the Duke of Gloucester, uncle of Richard II., of England, had shown his overpowering affection for the young king by cutting off the heads of Richard’s most intimate friends and advisers and driving the remainder of his faction from the court, he bethought him of a way to prevent unpleasant consequences to himself from such arbitrary proceedings. A Parliament was summoned in the king’s name, by the duke’s authority, whose business was to correct the evils of the state and establish order. This was effected by legalizing all the acts of the duke against the king’s friends, and by sending more of the unfortunates to the scaffold or into banishment. This was in February, 1388.
The “ Wonderful Parliament,” or the “ Unmerciful Parliament,” for by both names it is known in English annals, had not been dispersed many months when it was summoned to meet again, this time more to look after the social and industrial condition of the commonalty than to deal with the turbulent and disaffected nobles. The masses needed this looking after. During the preceding ten years they had not only proclaimed their conviction that society was constructed on an erroneous and unjust plan, but had endeavored to reconstruct it on a system of their own devising. Thousands of them had taken the field, with a determination to right the wrongs of centuries in a few weeks. The first point for which they contended was the abolition of slavery. The great mass of agricultural laborers were bond-slaves to the land-owners, as much a part of the estates as the oaks that grew on them, and were transferred with the land from one owner to another. Somehow it had crept into or been driven into their labordulled brains that this was not a natural order of affairs. One Langland had put forth a long poem in the homely language of the people, so that it could be recited and understood by the common folk, in which the wickednesses of the great in church and state had been painted in glaring colors, and the sufferings and virtues of Piers, the humble plowman, placed in sharp contrast. John Ball, the “ crazy priest of Kent,” chanted as text the couplet, —
Who was then a gentleman? ”
following it with the argument that as in the beginning of the world there were no slaves, so ought there to be none now; that the laborer was worthy of his hire; and that it was cruel wrong for the masters to be dressed in velvet and furs, fed daintily, and lodged in handsome mansions, whilst the laborers were barely clad, fed on rye and the refuse of the straw, with only water to drink, and compelled to brave the wind and rain in the fields. Wat Tyler and Jack Straw led their hungry and ragged hosts to London and forced from the king himself a promise that their grievances should be redressed — a promise which lie hastened with kingly speed to break as soon as the deceived peasants had gone home. It was true that the insurrection had been drowned in blood; that the audacious Walter the Tiler had been murdered as he talked to the king, and John Ball and Jack Straw beheaded and then hung in chains; and that the lot of the unhappy serfs was made, if possible, harder than before the insurrection. In spite of this the governing classes were far from being satisfied with the condition of the commonalty. The peasants who had left their miserable homes to join the insurrection did not all return. Some roamed the country as “ beggars and common nuisances.” Others took refuge in towns, where a residence of a twelvemonth and a day released them forever from the claims of their former lords. Of these many sought employment in the crafts practiced in the towns, and thus deranged the prices of artisan labor and caused complaint among the trade operatives. The whole mass of “workers in town and country was in the state of ferment and unrest preceding a gieat social and industrial revolution.
The annalist says this Parliament at its autumn meeting passed “sixteen good acts,” touching among other things the condition of laborers and the regulation of beggars and common nuisances. Good the legislation may have been as seen from the stand-point of the ruling class; certainly there were few errors on the side of mercy to the poor folk. Among other acts passed was one designed to elicit information in regard to the nature and condition of the associations of burgher-folk and artificers in the towns. These associations were numerous; the members were closely banded together, and had more than once manifested a spirit of independence that the nobles disliked. Many a serf who had escaped from the estate on which he was bora thrall, and had in course of time become a dweller in town and member of a guild, defied the powerful noble from whom he had fled, and found security in the protection of his brother guildmen. It was important to know the numbers and real character of this independent and possibly dangerous element, so writs were sent out to every sheriff in England, calling for returns of all details as to the foundation, statutes, and property of guilds, and also for copies of the charters or letters patent of all mysteries or crafts. The writs were to be issued November 1, 1388, and all the returns were to be made before the 2d of the following February. How many returns were made is not known, but the fact that more than five hundred are still extant gives some idea of the extent and importance of these associations. Some of the charters and regulations contained in the returns have been preserved and published in local histories, but by far the greater number, and the most valuable as throwing light on the social and industrial history of England in one of its most interesting transition periods, slept for centuries in obscurity in the Public Records Office in London, until a few years since Mr. Toulmin Smith, a zealous literary antiquary, was moved by curiosity to unfold three bundles of parchment and paper, when he found a historical treasure, the existence of which had been hitherto unsuspected. A number of the documents were transcribed with great care and printed for the use of those interested in such social studies.
Two kinds of guilds were recognized in the act of Parliament calling for the returns: the guild proper, or what may be called the social guild; and the associations of mysteries and crafts, or craft guilds. An interest other than merely antiquarian is given the subject by the fact that the social guild is the original of the modern benevolent societies, friendly associations, and organizations such as the Odd Fellows, Good Fellows, church guilds, and others of that class; whilst the craft guild is the parent stock from which have sprung into existence all the industrial organizations of to-day, whether trades unions, international unions, or employers’ associations. A study of these old returns, for which we are indebted to the jealous inquiries of the Parliament of 1388, will therefore not only reveal curious phases of English social life five centuries ago, but will furnish the student of the social problems of to-day light from the past that may aid him in his task.
The guild was an institution of English origin. Long before the associations of similar nature appeared on the continent of Europe their existence was recognized in English laws and records. In the latter part of the seventh and beginning of the eighth century a body of AngloSaxon laws was formed, among which are found two concerning the liability of the brethren of a guild in the case of slaying a thief. A hundred years later the laws of Alfred recognized the guild. When a kinless man committed manslaughter, the guild helped him to pay the decreed price of blood; when a man without relatives was slain, the guild had a claim on part of the blood-money paid by the slayer. A body of laws for the city of London dating in the time of Athelstan, in the first half of the tenth century, contains ordinances for the keeping up of social duties in the guilds. From that time down to the period of the returns of the guilds in answer to the demand of the Parliament of 1388 there is frequent mention of these organizations, and some of the returns made in that year speak of the existence of the societies as “ from time whereunto the memory of man runneth not.”
The leading features of the guilds of Anglo-Saxon times were the establishment of friendly feeling among the members, assistance in misfortune, relief to the family in case of death, and — though this was not insisted upon in all guilds — the promotion of religion. The members of the guild were “ brothers.” They gave their “ wed ” or pledge to each other to stand together as brethren of the same family, and to care for the common interest as for their own. They undertook to pay their “ gylde ” or stated contribution to the common chest, and to perform the duties required of them by the regulations of the guild. The agreement of the Guild of Exeter, dating in the Anglo-Saxon period, runs thus, the original being in Anglo-Saxon: —
“ This assembly was collected in Exeter for the love of God and for our souls’ need, both in regard to our health of life here and to the after days which we desire for ourselves by God’s doom. Now we have agreed that our meeting shall be thrice in the twelve months: once at St. Michael’s mass; the second time at St. Mary’s mass, after midwinter; and the third time on Allhallows massday after Easter. And let each guildbrother have two sesters of malt, and each young man one sester, and a secat of honey. And let the mass-priest at each of our meetings sing two masses, one for living friends, the other for the departed; and each brother of common condition two psalters of psalms, one for the living and one for the dead. And at the death of a brother, each man six masses, or six psalters of psalms; and at a death each man five pence. And at a house-burning, each man one penny. And if any one neglect the day, for the first time, three masses; for the second, five; and at the third time let him have no favor, unless his neglect arose from sickness or his lord’s need. And if any one neglect his contribution at the proper day, let him pay twofold. And if any one of this brotherhood misgreet another, let him make amends with thirty pence. Now we pray for the love of God that every man hold this meeting rightly, as we rightly have agreed upon it. God help us thereunto.”
Here we have provision for regular meetings to which the members must bring contributions of malt and honey, suggesting the subsequent brewing of ale and luscious mead, sweet to the thirsty throats of the guild brethren; religious services with which to celebrate their meetings; aid in case of fires, which in the days of wood and thatch were common misfortunes; relief for families at death; penalties for default of meeting or of prompt payment of dues, and a heavy penalty in ease of unbrotherly treatment of a member. These features, or their equivalents, are to be found in nearly all the later guild-ordinances. Another guild, at Cambridge, added to the customary articles of association provision for the members’ standing by each other with money and weapons when occasion required.
In looking over the collection of returns made in answer to the order of the Parliament of 1388, we are particularly struck by one fact: the presence of women in the guilds. Out of more than five hundred of these organizations making return, only about five fail to recognize the membership of women. In nearly all of them perfect equality of the sexes is established. Their admission fee and yearly dues are the same as those of men, the same penalties for default or misbehavior are imposed, the same privileges are granted, except that possibly they were not eligible to office, though of this there is no positive evidence one way or the other. They could vote for officers if they could not be voted for; no ordinances could be adopted without their assent as well as that of the male members; they wore the livery of the guild, marched in its processions, at-. tended its feasts, and drank the festival ale with as little restraint as the men. Everywhere and in everything it was “ the bretheren and sisteren,” and not merely the brothers. Here is a fresh text for the advocates of the equality of the sexes.
The objects of the organizations as set forth in answer to the questions put under this head were numerous and varied. Some professed no other object than “ to nourish good fellowship;” others were organized for a special purpose; whilst still others charged themselves with certain works, though these were not the special occasion of their banding together. The Guild of the Young Scholars of Lynn originally was formed with the purpose of maintaining an image of St. William in the parish church and supplying it on each festival day with six tapers of wax. The Poor Men’s Guild of Norwich was designed to “ help and amend the parish church.” Several guilds of the Norfolk sea-side town of Wygnale were formed for the sole purpose of praying for all sorts of people, including shipmen and travelers by sea, and of searching for drowned brethren and burying them. The fact of there being five of these guilds in one small place is suggestive of the dangers of the coast in that vicinity. At York an organization was formed for the annual performance of the play of the Lord’s Prayer, “ in which play all manner of vices and sins were held up to scorn, and the virtues were held up to praise.” This, like the Passion Play at Oberammergau, was considered as a religious observance rather than a dramatic amusement, so that, as set forth in the preamble to the rules, “ as those who remain in their sins are unable to call God their father, therefore the brethren of the guild are, first of all, bound to shun company and businesses that are unworthy, and to keep themselves to good and worthy businesses.” The Guild of the Blessed Mary, at Chesterfield, was established in 1218, “ to hold certain services, and the better to assure the liberties of the town.” This must have been one of the town-societies that were looked on with such disfavor by the raiding knights and nobles whose chief law was that of the strong hand. One guild was established for the promotion of minstrelsy, another for the ringing of the church bells, another for the proper keeping of the parish records. Whatever their original object, the same general features characterized the rules of them all.
The “ bretheren and sisteren ” were required to be persons of good repute, not rioters or brawlers, or men or women of evil life. Some of the documents specially and very minutely prohibit unchastity in any form. Occasionally restrictions as to the class admitted to membership are found, though in some the extremes of society met on the roll of members. The Guild of Corpus Christi, of York, notable for its gorgeous pageants and curious “ mystery plays,” was originally restricted to the clergy, though lay members might be admitted and allowed to pay the dues, but not to share in the management. Ultimately it was liberalized, both sexes were admitted, and nearly fifteen thousand names were at one time on its rolls. The Guild of St. Michael on the Hill, Lincoln, was so jealous of the rich and powerful getting control, that its rules forbade any but those of common and middling rank being admitted to membership. The Guild of the Annunciation, Cambridge, was peculiar in its antipathies. No parson, nor baker, nor wife, without her husband was already a member, could be admitted. The prohibition of wives of non-members was probably owing to a fear of the guild-secrets being divulged at home, but why parsons, and above all bakers, should have incurred the special enmity of the fraternity is an unsolved problem.
Various regulations existed as to the manner of electing members, but however admitted the new brother or sister was obliged to take the oath of brotherhood and obedience. In no case could a new member be received except on one of the stated days of general meeting. The customary proceeding is set forth in detail in the rules of the Guild of St. Katherine, Stamford. It is there ordained that on the Eve of St. Katherine, after evening prayers in the chapel, “ the alderman [master of the guild] and his brethren shall assemble in their hall, and drink, and there have courteous communication for the welfare of the said guild. And then shall be called forth all those that shall be admitted brethren orsistren of the guild; and the alderman shall examine them in this wise: ‘ Sir, or sirs, be ye willing to be brethren among us in this guild, and will desire and ask it in the worship of Almighty God, our blessed Lady St. Mary, and of the holy virgin and martyr, St. Katherine, in whose name this guild is founded, and in the way of charity?’ And by their own will they shall answer ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’ Then the alderman shall command the clerk to give this oath to them in form and manner following: ‘ This hear ye, aiderman; I shall true man be to God Almighty, to our Lady St. Mary, and to that holy virgin and martyr, St. Katherine, in whose honor and worship this guild is founded; and shall be obedient to the alderman of the guild, and to his successors, and come to him and to his brethren when I have warning, and not absent myself without cause reasonable. I shall be ready at scot and lot, and all my duties truly pay and do; the ordinances, constitutions, and rules, with the counsel of the same guild, keep, obey, and perform, and to my power maintain, to my life’s end; so help me God and Holy Dame, and by this book; ’ and then kiss the book, and be lovingly received with all the brethren ; and theu drink about; and after that, depart for that night.”
Two things will be noticed in this order for making new members: the oath to keep “ the counsel ” or secrets of the brotherhood, and the drinking ceremonies. The obligation of secrecy is to be found in all the guilds, whether social or of crafts. Heavy fines were levied by some as penalty for revealing the business of the meetings. Drinking occupied a prominent place in everything connected with the meetings of the fraternities. We have seen how the oldest rules that have come down to us from Anglo-Saxon times provided for liberal contributions of malt and honey for the festal carouse. The Guild of St. Katherine, which was more largely of a religious character than most of these organizations, began proceedings with a general drinking, and closed with drinks all around. The “ time of drinking ” is the expression used in nearly every instance for the festival gathering, but the several guilds of each town had their peculiar observances and rules for those occasions. Thus the numerous guilds of Lynn agree in paying the fees of the officers in good home - brewed. The usual payment was two gallons of ale to the alderman, one gallon to the steward, whilst the clerk and dean were put off with a bottle each. One guild makes the gimss amount the same, but distributes it differently, giving all the officers a gallon apiece. The Beverly guilds went to mass on their feast-day, and after service repaired first to their homes and then reassembled in the guildhall to “ eat bread and cheese and drink as much ale as is good for them.” That they sometimes took a little more ale than was good for them is indicated by the rule in several guild - ordinances that if any become unruly during the time of drinking they shall be compelled to hold in their hands for a stated period a rod of disgrace, or pay a fine. Falling asleep during the carousal was an offense held in great detestation by the numerous guilds of Lynn; but a still greater enormity in their eyes was letting the cup stand. “ A hearty swig and pass to your neighbor ” was the rule of practice among the jolly “ bretherein and sisteren ” of the Lynn societies, and as they sat on the long benches down the hall some musical brothei probably struck up the ditty, —
Nor bring us in no white bread, for therein is no game,
But bring us in good ale.
Bring us in no beef, for there is many bones,
But bring us in good ale, for that goeth down at once;
And bring us in good ale.”
The whole company of brothers and sisters — for all English people were singers in those days — would join in the rousing chorus, —
For our blessed Lady’s sake, bring us in good ale.”
It was ruled, too, that none should come to the feasts or meetings without being decently attired. “ No one shall come before the alderman and guild bretheren or sisteren in time of drink in tabard or cloak, of bare-legged or bare-footed,” say the ordinances of several guilds, on penalty of a pennyworth of wax for the festal candles to be paid by each cloaked or tabarded or bare - legged offender. Whilst the members were having a jolly time in the guildhall, the poor without were not forgotten. At Stratford-onAvon, two centuries and more before that town earned its place on the roll of fame by becoming the birthplace of the “ Swan of Avon,” it was provided that every brother and sister should bring to the feast a great tankard — none of your small, pinched-up affairs, but a portly vessel that afforded a good many long pulls before the drinker could see its bottom. These tankards were to be filled with nappy ale, devoutly prayed over, and given to the poor. So all the guilds of Lynn provided that tankards of ale be given on feast-days “to the poor who most need it.” The thoughtful tailors added money to a bottle of ale for the relief of those in distress, whilst brothers or sisters absent “ in time of drinking,” on account of sickness. were to be remembered, some with a bottle and others with a gallon of ale with which to comfort their hearts at home. But in case of shamming, the one who thus obtained the ale on false pretenses was condemned to pay half a bushel of barley as fine. So great was the love for ale that sometimes the brothers and sisters — for not only these ordinances but a great number of contemporary evidences show that the women could hold their own with the hardest male heads in the way of ale-tippling — slipped into the “ ale-chamber ” and took sly draughts from the brotherhood’s casks. Several ordinances solemnly prohibiting the entry of any unauthorized persons into the ale-chamber are found, and to make matters sure, every person was ordered to leave the place of the feast before the departure of the alderman, or master, whose duty it was to lock up.
In nearly all the social guilds there was provision for one religious service, generally on the day of the patron saint of the organization. At these services wax candles were burned and offerings of money made, sometimes of a fixed sum, at others of as much as the members could each afford. The offerings were generally invested in bread, which was given to the poor and was washed down by the draughts of ale given during “ the time of drinking,” the same day or the following Sunday. Most of the fines exacted during the year were in the shape of payments “ to the wax,” being either contributions of wax or candles for the festival mass, or money towards purchasing the lights.
An entrance fee was exacted from each member, sometimes of a stated sum, six shillings and eight pence being the amount most generally mentioned, and in other eases such as may he agreed upon by the candidate and the master of the guild, the payment being thus graded to the applicant’s means. As before explained, no distinction is made between men and women either in the entrance fees or in the annual payments. There is one exception to this. The Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at Hull, provided that if the wife of any brother died in her husband’s life-time, and he married again, “ as is natural and often done,” the second wife shall become a sister of the guild without any fine or payment. That was, an encouragement to widowers. The payments were gathered by the wardens and deposited in a strong chest. The duty of collecting and keeping the funds was usually divided among four officers. Two collected the money and placed it in the chest; another locked the chest and kept the key; whilst the fourth retained the chest in his keeping. On the day of annual gathering the account was rendered, the chest was opened with, due ceremony, and the money counted. Stated sums were exacted for annual payments, but it was enjoined on the members that all should contribute according to their means in addition to the stipulated sum.
The money thus collected in the strong box was applied to various uses in time of need. In case of old age or sickness, members of seven years’ standing, according to the rules of some brotherhoods, received a weekly allowance until recovery or death. Others imposed no requirement of long membership. Those suffering false imprisonment were aided in the same way, and their cause taken up by the brotherhood. Those whose sickness or trouble was brought on byr their own fault, folly, or dissipation were not entitled to help. The young who were able to work but unable to obtain employment were to be helped by the brethren according to their means, either by immediate assistance or by providing employment. A Chesterfield guild had a curious provision for the care of the sick or destitute members. It ordains that “ if any brother is sick and needs help, he shall have a half-penny daily from the common fund of the guild until he has got well. If any of them fall into poverty, they shall go, singly, on given days, to the houses of the bretheren, where each shall be courteously received, and there shall be given to him, as if he were master of the house, whatever he wants of meat, drink, and clothing, and he shall have a half-penny like those who are sick; and then he shall go home in the name of the Lord.” The Guild of the Palmers of Ludlow recorded that “ if any member becomes a leper, or blind, or maimed in limb, or smitten with any other incurable disorder (which God forbid!) we wish that the goods of the guild shall be largely bestowed upon him.” The same guild ordained that if any good girl of the membership, of marriageable age. could not have the means of her father either to marry or enter a convent, sufficient funds should be given her that she might make her choice. Whenever a member died, a funeral with all proper ceremonies and lights was provided, and all the membership were required to be present on pain of heavy penalties.
In some cases it was permitted to lend to a brother from the spare funds in the common chest on good security. In most instances the regulations in regard to repayment were liberal, the debtor not being hardly pressed. But a Chesterfield guild shows no such liberality. Shylock-like, it stands upon its bond: “ When any one has borrowed any money from the guild, either to traffic with or for his own use, under promise to repay it on a given day, and he does not repay it, though three times warned, he shall be put under suspension, denunciation, and excommunication, — all contradiction, cavil, and appeal aside,— until he shall have wholly paid it. If he has been sick, the claim of the guild must be the first to be satisfied. And if he dies intestate, his goods shall be held bound to the guild, to pay what is owing to it, and shall not be touched or sequestrated until full payment has been made to the guild.” After that it is refreshing to come across the provision in like case of the Guild of St. Benedict, of Lincoln: “ If he cannot repay, let him keep it as a free gift.”
No money was permitted to be wasted in lawsuits unless by express consent of the master and the brethren. In some of the brotherhoods no member was allowed to give pledge or become surety for another in any plea or suit, without similar consent. No new statutes or ordinances were to be made except on meeting-day and with the assent of all the brotherhood, and in several instances there is a prohibition of any ordinances against the king’s right or common law. All quarrels must be laid before the wardens for arbitration. In case one of the parties to the quarrel was contumacious after the award, he must be expelled, and the other defended with the whole power of the guild “ against the rebel and unbuxom.”
All the brethren and sisters of a guild were to have one livery suit a year, paid for by themselves, and not to be sold to others within the year, nor then until after alteration. The men’s suit was to be of cloak and hood and the women’s of hood, all to be of uniform color.
In these days when the doctrines of spiritualism have revived the old belief in ghost - raising, one ordinance of the Guild of the Palmers of Ludlow has a curious interest. It reads, “ If any man wishes, as is common, to keep nightwatches with the dead, this will be allowed, on the condition that he neither calls up ghosts, nor makes any mockeries of the body or its good name, nor does any other scandal of the kind; lest, by such scandals, the discipline of the church may be brought into contempt, and the great Judge may be provoked to heavier vengeance, who ought rather, by reason of the sins of the people, to be asked for love and mercy. And never shall any women, unless of the household of the dead, keep such a nightwatch.” What would Saircy Gamp and Betsey Prig do under such an order?
In most of the guilds an important feature of the regulations was that concerning the annual procession or pageant. The Guild of Corpus Christi, at York, has already been referred to as established with especial reference to the annual pageant in honor of the real presence. Other guilds, of various descriptions, united with this one in its annual pageant and vied with it in splendor of display. The local records of York show that on one occasion, in the year 1415, no less than ninety-six organizations joined in the procession, and fifty-four distinct pageants were prepared and presented by the craft guilds, while ten guilds carried blazing torches to make the show more glorious. Eleven of the fifty - four pageants had their subjects taken from the Old Testament, the remainder being taken from the New Testament. The Guild of St. Elene, at Beverly, provided that on the festival of St. Elene there should be a procession of the brethren and sisters in livery, with a boy dressed as a queen, to represent the saint, and before him should go two old men, one bearing a cross and the other a shovel, to typify the finding of the cross by St. Helena, or St. Elene, as she was called in the guild-ordinances. By the rules of another Beverly guild the brethren and sisters were to march in procession on the festival of the Purification with a pageant of the Virgin. The “ stage direction ” for this pageant, made in 1355, is so quaint that it may be well to reproduce it in full: —
“ Every year, on the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Mary, all the bretheren and sisteren shall meet together in a fit and appointed place, away from the church; and there one of the guild shall be clad in comely fashion as a queen, like to the glorious Virgin Mary, having what may seem a son in her arms; and two others shall be clad like to Joseph and Simeon; and two shall go as angels, carrying a candle-bearer, on which shall be twenty-four thick wax lights. With these and other great lights borne before them, and with much music and gladness, the pageant Virgin with her son, and Joseph and Simeon, shall go in procession to the church. And all the sisteren of the guild shall follow the Virgin, and afterwards all the bretheren; and each of them shall carry a wax light weighing half a pound. And they shall go two and two, slowly pacing to the church; and when they have got there, the pageant Virgin shall offer her son to Simeon at the high altar; and all the sisteren and bretheren shall offer their wax lights, together with a penny each. And all this having been solemnly done, they shall all go home again with gladness.” The ordinance carefully prescribes that after the procession and dinner at their homes “ the bretheren and sisteren shall meet together, and shall cat bread and cheese and drink ale, rejoicing in the Lord, in praise of the glorious Virgin Mary.” Nothing could be done in those days unless washed down with ale. One of the oddest of demonstrations on the annual festival was that of the Guild of St. Martin, at Stamford. The return of 1389 from this guild says that by custom beyond reach of memory a bull was hunted by dogs on St. Martin’s Day, and when caught sold, after which the brethren and sisters sat down to feast, with the invariable accompaniment of ale in plentiful supply.
Besides the special objects for which the several guilds were originally founded, and the obligations incurred to their members, many of these organizations charged themselves with other duties. Thus the Guild Merchant of Coventry kept four chaplains, supported thirtyone men and women unable to get their living, and maintained a lodging-house with thirteen beds, a governor, and women to wash the feet of the poor folk lodged free when going through the land on pilgrimage or other work of charity. Many of the guilds charged themselves with the assistanee of pilgrims, or sent pilgrims to represent them at famous shrines. In York, beds and attendance for poor strangers were provided; almshouses were maintained in Birmingham; money and provisions were distributed to the poor; some took certain highways under their charge and kept them in repair; town walls and bridges were kept in good condition; churches were mended and beautified; schools were established, and school-masters paid.
The picture of the social guilds presented to us in the reports of themselves to the Parliament of Richard II. is that of organizations of middle-class citizens, based mainly on the principle of goodfellowship and mutual assistance, whose members went to church on the festival day even if they were not due attendants on other Sundays and holy days, and then had a jolly time, men and women together, over the ale-cup. They helped each other when sick or distressed, buried their dead with due solemnities, stood by each other when in any way wronged, never forgot in their feastings the claims of the poor, and did what other good work lay in their way and was in their power. The social guilds survived the civil strife that overthrew Richard II. and lasted through the reign of his successor. They were unshaken by the French wars of Henry V. They were not drowned out in the rivers of blood that flowed in the disastrous Wars of the Roses, though their jollity must have greatly decreased in those troublous times. They recovered during the quieter reign of Henry VII., hut were utterly crushed at the same time with many of the craft guilds when Henry VIII., under pretense of necessity “ for the maintenance of these present wars,” seized on their moneys and other properties and took them for the use of the king.
In their leading characteristics the craft guilds were similar to those just described. Their organization was the same, and the rules of government and arrangement for benefits were generally of like character. There were the same provisions for meetings and the annual pageants, the same regulations for the collection and care of the moneys and other properties of the body, in general a like liberality with regard to the admission of women, and with scarcely an exception an equal appreciation of the merits of ale. The additional features were the special rules for the management of each “ mystery ” or craft. These present a curious similarity, in some respects, to the rules of modern tradeunions, but in others differ widely, not to the advantage of the modern organization in comparison. It was forbidden in some crafts for a craftsman belonging to a guild to work with a non-member so long as a member remained unemployed. The number of apprentices was limited, the maximum being determined in each place by the decision of the guild or its officers. In some eases the power of a craft guild was such that no craftsman was permitted to remain in the town unless he was a member. Here we have the principles of modern trade-unionism, as the public are occasionally made acquainted with them through a strike and the exposition of the circumstances causing it. On the other hand, the rules of the old craft guilds enjoined the performance of good, honest work, strict faithfulness to the obligations resting on employer and employed towards each other, whether as master and servant or workman and customer. Complaints from any party in this regard were heard by the chief officers of the guild, and the injustice was redressed. Strict honesty enjoined, the detection of the smallest theft being sufficient for expulsion. Runaway apprentices were to be returned, and those harboring or employing them were subjected to heavy fines. The workmen were to be paid in money, and not in “ truck ” or “ orders,” as is even now sometimes the case. Good tools were to be used and honest materials employed in any work; “ scamping,” such as is now too common, was strictly forbidden. The officers of the guild had power to make examinations of tools and materials when any doubts arose. When the craftsman failed in the payment of his dues or fines, or in any other way became delinquent, his tools could be seized by the officials and held, or sold in case of continued refusal or neglect to make satisfaction.
The original principle of the craft guild was a community of interest between all members of the craft, whether employer or employed. The struggle between capital and labor had not then begun, because few of the craft masters were capitalists, the greater number working with their journeymen and apprentices. In time the masters grew rich, a gap appeared between them and their hired workmen, which gradually widened, and at last the journeymen and apprentices were shut out from membership of the craft guilds and formed organizations of their own. The craft guilds became more like the employers’ associations of to-day, and the journeymens’ associations and apprentices’ clubs took their place as the ante-types of the nineteenth century labor unions.
J. H. A. Bone.