Among the smaller crafts, it is said, where little capital was involved, the apprentice became the journeyman and the journeyman became master. But who were the apprentices? The sons of the masters? Or could every young man enter into the first step of this ladder that pointed upward? What is to keep the little independents also from have aristocratic notions as to who owned their businesses and who ran them?Next Page
Not being regulated, as are present day civil service examinations, the competition for places must have followed the line of personal relationships and connections, which was, then, the social class method. No master was forced to accept apprentice "A" or "B" or any other. No apprentice was sent, after a physical and psychological examination, to Meister Sachs for placement. The masters selected their own apprentices. For this reason, if for no other, the idea of an open struggle at that time (something on the order of the opening of the Cherokee strip), or of an orderly and regulated selective process, like the civil service, is incomprehensible.
There are only two ways in which competition can in any sense be open and fair: either by being controlled from above, as in a track meet, or by being a free-for-all scramble. In the latter case "chance" plays a part, by which is meant that the factors of causation remain concealed, as Fairchild has logically demonstrated. The "struggle" to become an apprentice was neither a struggle nor fair competition. It was a smoothly regulated series of personal relationships, controlled by the customs of social class election.
This latter aspect is emphasized by Geiger, who says that the "strongly exclusive character of the medieval gilds was based not so much upon their nature as productive groups (Schaffensgruppen) as upon the caste spirit which characterized the social life of the Middle Ages altogether." 28
Ashley, whose two-volume study includes one of the most scholarly of all written records about the development of the gilds, says that the thirteenth century marked the rise of the craft gilds. 29 But, by 1321, the London weavers were already accused of misusing the power to demand heavy entrance fees, thereby unduly limiting the number of licensed workmen. Ashley shows that "before the middle of the fourteenth century, there are unmistakable traces of the desire to limit competition by diminishing the influx of newcomers." 30
From the foregoing it can be judged (1) that not many persons lived in the towns and were therefore free and able to set themselves up in a craft business in the thirteenth century; (2) that before there could possibly have been any considerable increase in the number of artisans, the gilds had become bulwarks of protection for insiders. This latter tendency evidenced itself more rapidly in some places than in others, but everywhere (in the Low Countries, certainly in southern Europe centuries earlier, and in England) as soon as a craft became a thing of power and prosperity, ("at its height") it was organized by exclusive groups or cliques.
In 1364 wealthy traders, like the drapers, obtained letters patent "which directly ordained that 'no one should use that mistery unless he had been admitted by the common assent of the same mistery.' " 31 By 1450, all pretense at open opportunity in the English gilds was abandoned and the crafts candidly sought protection from the competition of newcomers. 32
The greatest barrier to the individual outside the "master class" was the penalty imposed upon the newcomer, whereas the family of the master was exempt from restrictive regulations. In 1398, when no one could become a leather-seller who had not been apprenticed in the trade, "they still excepted from this rule a master's own wife and children." 33
Far from being the open sesame to the oppressed fugitive from the manor, the crafts were specifically barred to the poor. Ashley reports: 34
. . . the Act of 1406 -- which was avowedly intended to lessen the influx from agricultural labor to industrial pursuits, -- merely enacts that no persons unable to spend twenty shillings by the year should apprentice their children.
28. Theodor Geiger, Die Gestaltung der Gesellung (Karlsruhe, 1928) p. 67; translation ours.
29. Ashley, op. cit., p. 76.
30. Ibid., Part II, pp. 75 - 76.
31. Ibid., pp. 77 - 78.
32. Loc. cit.
33. Ibid., p. 84.
34. Ibid., p. 85.