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In Schaffhausen the guilds were the basis of the political structure of the canton. In 1411 there were twelve guilds in Schaffhausen. The guild master and six members of each guild elected by fellow members then became members of the “Gross Rat,” the Grand Council, which was the legislative branch of Schaffhausen government. Twenty-four of these eighty-four were also chosen as members of the “Klein Rat”, or the Executive Branch. The mayor presided over both branches.
Over time many descendants of original guild members took on other trades, but remained members of their ancestral guilds. Sometimes men renounced their ancestral guild and transferred to a new one, only having to pay half the normal entrance fee. Guilds made money with membership fees and also by fining guild members for infringement of guild rules, such as cheating on quality of merchandise. With this money they undertook projects such as building new meeting halls. Some of this money also went to social events. Although guilds were trade organizations, they were also fraternal groups which often drank and held parties.
During Napoleon’s occupation of Switzerland he created a new Constitution of the Confederation which centralized the Swiss national government. Thereafter the importance of the guilds in canton government diminished. In 1847 the political privileges of the guilds were abolished.
Honorable Ancestors, The Role of Guilds
Margaret Amman Durrer
US 973 C45s v. 42 no. 2 June 2006