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A guild is an association of professionals with similar economic interests based on a certain craft or trade, devoted to the protection of their rights, training of new members, protection of trade secrets, and furthering of their political, economic, and trade interests. Such trades included, but were not limited to, tannery, metalworking of various sorts, tailoring, and shoemaking.
Guilds operated on the apprentice, journeyman, and master principle. A young man was assigned to work with a master for several years. During this time, he learned the basics of the trade. After the apprentice attained a certain level of knowledge and skill, he was promoted to journeyman. At this time, he was to travel the land in search of masters in his field for whom he could work and from whom he could learn the requisite skills to become a master himself. When he completed his journeyman time with appropriate skill and knowledge, he would be promoted to master. This was an important step. He could then set up his own shop and work in his field. The guild system insured that learners attained a certain level of competence in their fields, as they had to pass certain levels with an accomplished master.
Guild records were created by the guilds themselves, they belong to the guilds and reflect what that guild deemed important. They are extremely varied and the researcher should not assume that such records will contain any standard type of information. Some of these records are still in the possession of the guilds, others have been collected into regional archives.
Click here for a general article on guilds.
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