Medieval England - daily life in medieval towns
Towns. A new class emerged during the Middle Ages; the merchant. The growth of trade and the merchant middle class went hand in hand with the growth in towns. Town populations swelled during this period, particularly after the Black Death. Trade routes grew, though roads remained poor and dangerous, so most goods were transported by water.
Towns were built on trade, and the elite of towns were the merchants. Merchant guilds controlled town government, though they often clashed with craft guilds for power. Merchants needed stability for trade, so they supported the king and the establishment of a strong central government against the rule of individual nobles. The king, for his part, encouraged the growth of towns and trade. Town charters became a major source of royal revenue. Eventually the growth of towns and guilds led to the breakdown of the manor-centred feudal society. Merchant Guilds. Guilds controlled the trade in a town. Merchant guilds regulated prices, quality, weights and measures, and business practices. The power of the guilds was absolute in their domain, and to be expelled from a guild made it impossible to earn a living. Each guild had a patron saint, celebrated religious festivals together, put on religious plays, and looked after the health and welfare of the members and their families. Craft Guilds. Separate from the merchant guilds were the craft guilds, which regulated the quality, working hours and conditions of its members. There were three levels of craftsmen; masters, journeymen, and apprentices. Parents paid a fee to place a boy with a master craftsman as an apprentice. There he received food, lodging (often sleeping under the counter in the shop itself), clothes, and instruction in the craft. Apprentices, Journeymen, and Masters. The period of apprenticeship lasted for 2-7 years, after which time the apprentice became a journeyman. The term has nothing to do with traveling; it...
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