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A Tale of Two Theories: Monopolies and Craft Guilds in Medieval England and Modern Imagination

  • Gary Richardson (a1)

Popular texts typically assert that guilds of craftsmen “monopolized” markets in medieval England. Norman Cantor's Medieval Reader declares “craft guilds' … main purpose and activity was narrow regulation of industrial productivity in order to restrain competition” (Cantor 1994, p. 278). Douglass North's Structure and Change in Economic History asserts “… guilds organized to protect local artisans … [and their strength] in preserving local monopolies against encroachment from outside competition was frequently reinforced by the coercive power of kings and great lords” (North 1981, p. 134). Henry Pirenne's Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe proclaims:

craft guilds, under a diversity of names, officium or ministerium in Latin, metier or jurande in French, arte in Italian, ambacht or neering in the Netherlands, amt, innung, aunft, or handwerk, in German, craft-gild or mistery in English, … fulfilled the need of economic protection. The pressing necessity to stand by one another, so as to resist competition from newcomers (Pirenne 1937, pp. 177–79).

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