Subtypes Guilds - Craft Guilds - The Netherlands and Belgium

Craft guilds in the Low Countries originated mainly from the southern part in the eleventh century and spread in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (De Munck, Lourens, Lucassen, 2006, 34-5). The northern part followed suit in the fourteenth century, but for this region the real foundation peak is to be situated between 1600 and 1650 (Van der Vleuten and Van Zanden, 2010, 4-5). Within the Low Countries, a general picture can be drawn of three different regions with three different patterns of guild organization. Craft guilds in the southern part had significant economic and political power, while at the same time they remained religiously active throughout their existence. Access to the guild was based on religion and gender (women were excluded), and entrance fees were high (Lucassen and Prak, 2006, 227-30). The craft guilds in the west of the Dutch Republic were quite the opposite of their southern counterparts. These guilds had no political power and their religious functions dwindled after the Reformation.

Access to these guilds was easy, relatively inexpensive and religious affiliation was not a barrier (except for Judaism). Even women were sometimes allowed into the guild. Limited data seem to imply that social polarization was of less consequence limited here (Lucassen and Prak, 2006, 227-30). Craft guilds in the east of the Dutch Republic formed a middle ground between these two forms of guild organization. Guilds were indirectly represented within the urban governments. Though access was easier and less expensive than in the southern part of the Low Countries, it was more difficult than in the west. Women were not excluded per definition, but admission was harder for them than in the west and access was based on ‘proper’ religious affiliation (Lucassen and Prak, 2006, 227-30).

In the Low Countries, craft guilds were mainly associations of masters, but exceptions existed: some guilds accepted journeymen, some journeymen’s associations (see journeymen’s guilds and journeymen’s boxes) existed alongside a master guild or were made up entirely of journeymen in sectors which had no masters, as was the case with peat-porters or heavers, for example (Lourens en Lucassen, 1994, 55; also Thijs, 2006, 160-1).

At the time of their abolition in 1795 (the Southern Netherlands) and 1798 (the Northern Netherlands), craft guilds were still important players within the political economy of the Low Countries, although they had become discredited over the course of the eighteenth century. The issue was perhaps more pressing in the Southern Netherlands, where guilds were more powerful both economically and politically (and French influence was perhaps more important). On the one hand, their political privileges grew outmoded. While guilds who had lost all economic relevance continued to be represented in local political councils (Van Honacker, 1994, 185-186), a discourse developed in which ‘privileges’ were contrasted with the ‘natural order’ and natural rights. (Heirwegh, 1981; also: Kaplan, 1986; 2001) From an economic perspective, guilds continued to justify their privileges with the superior quality of their products, while consumer preferences shifted towards cheaper and fashion-sensitive products, so that guilds became increasingly relevant stopped being necessary for customers, retailers and wholesalers alike (De Munck, 2008). On top of that, guilds in the Southern Netherlands had massive debts, which in turn caused higher entrance fees and, hence, contributed to the perception of guilds as closed and exclusivist bulwarks (De Munck, 2007b, 97-113).

 

 

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