The Medieval Review 17.09.16


Jullien, Eva, and Michel Pauly, eds. Craftsmen and Guilds in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods. Vierteljahrschrift Für Sozial-Und Wirtschaftsgeschichte-Beihefte, 235. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2016. pp. 316. ISBN: 978-3-515-11235-2 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Leah Tether
University of Bristol
leah.tether@bristol.ac.uk

Scholarship, in recent times, has been more open to the idea that guilds in the Middle Ages and Renaissance looked outside of their walls, and did not necessarily operate in seclusion and isolation. This book, the product of a conference held under the same name in Luxembourg in September 2013, provides a series of fourteen chapters (plus introduction) that attempts to address some of the key questions concerning how guilds interacted with other agents, corporations and institutions in their day-to-day business.

The geographical spread of enquiry is a bit spotty, though broadly speaking covers the Low Countries, Spain, France, Germany, and Italy, while the period discussed runs from the fourteenth through to the eighteenth century. Whilst I am not sure that the title given to the volume is entirely appropriate given the focus on the latter century in as many as four chapters, this does not mean it is not useful to have the opportunity to look at developments beyond the early-modern period. Indeed, the merit of this volume lies in the opportunity to step back and compare analogous practices, roles and responsibilities amongst craftsmen and guilds across both borders and centuries. It is also true that this book offers an opportunity to make such comparisons across trades, too, for several are covered here, including textiles, firearms, gold, painting, construction, and there is genuine balance in terms of the actors studied--women, children, men, young, old, widowed, working and middle class. I could go on--but it is enough to say that, in terms of social and political breadth, this volume does an excellent job of covering ground.

The blurb of the book proclaims the volume to be trilingual in its contents and, indeed, French, German, and English all find themselves represented here--there is, however, only one French chapter and the balance of English to German is eight to five. It seems peculiar, given this ratio, that the paratextual apparatus of the volume (the title and the blurb, as well as the online marketing) should be in English, while the introduction--designed to cohere the inevitably disparate elements of a proceedings volume--should be written in German. That it is runs the risk of the book being rather more difficult to access for the unwitting reader who, whilst perhaps accepting that not all of the contents might be at their disposal, would find making sense of the whole without the introduction rather trickier than they had bargained for.

As it is, the introduction does well to set out the scope and nature of recent scholarship, but does not do quite enough to justify the internal cohesion of these chapters, and this is borne out when one reads the chapters themselves. The book feels rather uneven, as proceedings volumes so often do, because the chapters were not written with one another in mind--though how to avoid this in such publications is a question that is always difficult to circumvent satisfactorily. But it is nonetheless possible to find interesting and helpful connections which help to recast our view of the operations of guilds. I have not space here to look at, and do justice, to all chapters in detail. Instead, I propose to give a brief indication of the what the chapters cover, whilst pausing on some particular examples of the ways in which certain chapters find themselves in dialogue, even if it is not obviously by design.

Rudolf Holbach's chapter provides a useful springboard for the book with its consideration of guilds and craftsmen under the light of economic, social and cultural theory, and were it explicitly followed up and referred back to by other chapters, its usefulness would be all the more evident. As it is, what we hear throughout are implicit echoes which serve to underline the broader applicability of Holbach's contribution, even if the potential of this is not fully exploited. Arie van Steensel and Tineke van Gassen's contributions, by contrast, work together really very well in their consideration of the ways in which political and social standing, alongside technical mastery, both helped and hindered craftsmen and their guilds as they traversed society's hierarchical structures. Van Gassen's analysis is particularly insightful; it is trained on the city of Ghent, but very clearly sets out the ways in which the situation in Ghent serves as an index for the broader situation. Ricardo Córdoba de la Llave's chapter then takes us to late-medieval Spain. On its own, this is a meticulous and fascinating enquiry which demonstrates the crucial agency of veedores [in essence, agents of quality control] in the configuration of guilds, but here is precisely where comparison with the preceding chapters would have helped the reader to understand the broader European context. François Rivière then turns the focus towards women in craft organisations in Rouen in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, before Muriel González Athenas looks at how much room for manoeuvre on policy and regulation existed in the city of Cologne in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries--similar to the chapter on late-medieval Spain, these analyses provide a wealth of information, particularly in the tables and appendices provided by Rivière, but since this section of the book seems to attempt a more general overview, this focus on Rouen and Cologne, which does not broaden out, seems oddly placed, particularly in light of the gap between the periods of time under scrutiny. We then move to a chapter with a broader geographical focus which looks at how widows of craftsmen would endeavour to keep the business going following the death of their husbands. Maija Ojala's approach here works really very well, offering case studies of three different women that offer a wonderful insight into their struggle--but surely this gender focus might have done better to work along side Rivière's analysis more explicitly? This said, there is a neat dovetailing of Ojala's chapter with that of Sabine von Heusinger, who provides a nicely illustrated and clearly argued assessment of families and the roles of constituent family members in the context of guilds, which demonstrates, on the basis of Strasbourg as an index, that boys were more likely than girls to continue the family trade.

Once again, though, just as a narrative appears to be emerging, we move to something more specific--in this case, a chapter by Danica Brenner on painters' guilds. Whilst the example given by the city of Augsburg works well to demonstrate the heterogeneity of guilds, connecting this chapter with what has gone before is tricky. There is, however, a connection to be found between this analysis and the subsequent chapter on the gold trades in Florence by Katalin Prajda, even if the chronological sequencing does not make perfect sense (Brenner writes on the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, while Prajda's focus is 1378-1433). These two chapters interconnect since they both consider aspects of social mobility, though the first is more concerned with people than the second, which looks at products. Knut Schulz takes us forward in time again, but sticks with the theme of focusing on a particular trade, in his analysis of the firearms trade and the ways in which it both drove and was influenced by knowledge exchange across national borders. The focus on the sixteenth century onwards remains in place for the final chapters of the books, but thematically we return to a sense of disconnectedness. Reinhold Reith offers a solid, qualitative analysis of issues around wages in Bamberg in the eighteenth century--however, wages in a more general sense would have offered fascinating contextual information that could, perhaps, have been more neatly included amongst the opening chapters. The same is true of Eleonora Canepari's wonderful chapter on 'mature' apprenticeship. Her eminently readable piece looks at the situation Rome in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but offers broader conclusions about perceptions of adult apprentices that could, perhaps, have been exploited in other chapters. The final chapter, by Nicoletta Rolla, returns the reader to a specific trade--construction, with a particular focus on eighteenth-century Turin. Whilst this neat little analysis itself is quite self-contained, we do at least see here echoes of issues brought up elsewhere, such as social mobility--although the connection is not made explicitly. As a closing chapter, it does not really draw the volume together, but then it seems clear that Rolla was not tasked with such a responsibility.

On the whole, this book has fascinating information to offer, even if it is not quite as cogently constructed as a collective enterprise as one might like--a linearity of narrative is missing, with chapters jumping around in terms of theme, scope, chronology and geographical focus. It is fair to say, however, that the individual contents are generally excellent--and the editorial execution is also very good. Whilst a couple of stylistic conventions did not translate in the English chapters (such as the format of numbers), the copy-editorial was almost faultless (I must admit to being less well equipped to evaluate the level of accuracy in the German and French contributions, though I did not notice anything obviously amiss). In respect of making the volume work better as a whole, several thoughts come to mind. First, a slightly broader trade focus might have helped--many are missing, and whilst I recognise it is not possible to cover them all, I was keenly aware of the absence of, for example, stationers, tanners and fishmongers. Second, I felt the geographical focus sat in the middle of where it needed to be: it wanted for either tighter conjunction (a particular section of Europe, perhaps) or broader dispersion, so as to include other key cities and countries--the obvious one, of course, being London, where the guilds of the Middle Ages still exist today as livery companies. I, for one, would have been fascinated to learn how practices differed across the Channel. Third, more thought as to the order and interrelationship of the chapters, perhaps starting with general concerns and gradually moving towards more specific ones (or splitting the book into clearly designated sections) would have helped the reader to identify connections more readily.



Copyright (c) 2017 Leah Tether



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