From the late Middle Ages until the mid-eighteenth century, guilds exerted substantial social\ud control in cities and towns throughout Western Europe. Their functions covered social and\ud cultural affairs, politics and economics and defined social relations within urban communities.\ud The literature reflects various views about the objectives that guilds pursued in the course of\ud performing their functions. Studies on these objectives have focused on guilds in medium and\ud large cities with an export market. Remarkably, however, the vast majority of the guilds\ud existed in small towns with a craft industry that catered exclusively to the local market. Nor\ud do the studies deal in sufficient measure with the foundations underlying the guilds, so as to\ud explore their viability in highly dynamic urban societies.\ud \ud This study addresses the functions and objectives of and the foundations underlying the\ud guilds during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in five small towns in Zeeland, where\ud the craft industries produced almost exclusively for the local market.\ud \ud An inventory of the membership rolls of a few guilds and comparisons of the family\ud assessment registers and the hundredth penny (see Chapter IV) reveal that the guilds were\ud important social forces. Forty percent of the heads of households were guild members, and\ud nearly half the population earned a living at guild-based craftsmanship.\ud \ud Lacking a theoretical justification, I have in this study legitimized the guilds based on the\ud justification that their members provided for the actions (Chapter V). The petitions I\ud examined with respect to both content and the rhetoric invoked identify corporative society as\ud the raison d’être of the guilds and indicate that their continuous emphasis on duties and\ud responsibilities and their grounding in privileges were taken for granted in the social system.\ud In the towns of Zeeland the guilds were virtually insignificant forces in social affairs, culture\ud and politics during the period examined (chapters IX and X). In economic affairs, however,\ud they were extremely important. Rather than establishing a monopoly, the quest for a secure\ud subsistence was the primary objective of the members. They pursued this objective by\ud manifesting themselves as exclusive organizations of artisans that guaranteed quality and\ud continuity. Compulsory specialized training, testing the professional skills of new guild\ud members and permanently monitoring quality and continuity through reactive control\ud guaranteed this exclusivity. Considering the mutual competition relations and the dangers that\ud lurked on the market (chapters VII and VIII), support from the local authorities was\ud indispensable.\ud \ud Town councils, which were responsible for preserving urban autonomy, needed to maintain\ud a decent standard of services. Only guild-based industries could ensure such service. Except\ud where public health and public order, two other responsibilities of the town councils,\ud superseded the interests of the guilds, town councils helped the guilds achieve their objective.\ud This mutual dependence was the foundation for the strategic alliance between guilds and town\ud councils. In addition, the guilds were law-abiding and were not a threat to the authority of the\ud regents. They also supplied a substantial share of the members of the militia. By remaining on\ud good terms with the guilds, the town councils thus earned the loyalty of the riflemen in their\ud effort to keep the peace. The strategic alliance, reinforced by a political one, was the\ud translation of the support base for the guilds
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