The Great Weakness of the Guild System

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I shouldn't really be answering this question but I think it is important for you to be aware of the weakness in the system. Just don't go talking about it in earshot of any of the masters. They won't take kindly to any talk against the guild system.

Although the guild system has many obvious advantages such as providing a large measure of social and economic security for its members and supplying the means for guild members to co-operate for social, economic, and political activities, it has a great weakness. This weakness is its inability to adjust itself to technological progress. A guild member can not use a new method of manufacture until it has been accepted by the guild and provided for in the regulations. In practice, this acceptance of new methods is next to impossible. This means that any innovators are forced to work outside the jurisdiction and protection of the guilds.

An example is the wool industry. During the twelfth century the regular method of fulling cloth was to put it in water and stamp on it or beat it with paddles. It occurred to someone late in the century that water power could perform this task more effectively. Fulling mills began to sprout up but the guilds refused to have anything to do with them. Therefore, the fulling mills were built outside the towns away from the jurisdiction of the guilds. By building their mills on land of a powerful Nobel, the millers insured that the guilds dare not refuse to accept the product of their mills. As a result, much of the wool industry of late medieval England grew up in the countryside to avoid the guilds. This scenario continues to repeat itself during the Renaissance period as other technological improvements are developed.


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Created for the Fermilab LInC program sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office, Friends of Fermilab, United States Department of Energy, Illinois State Board of Education, and North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium which is operated by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL).
Authors: Bonnie Panagakis, Chris Marszalek, Linda Mazanek
School: Twin Groves Junior High School, Buffalo Grove, Illinois 60089
Created: November 25, 1997 - Updated: