From brotherhood community to civil society? Apprentices between guild, household and the freedom of contract in early modern Antwerp
Faculty of Arts. History
Social history. - London
, p. 1-20
University of Antwerp
This article examines the nature and impact of late medieval and early modern guilds through the lens of the master-apprentice relationship. Starting from a conceptual distinction between the 'guild ethos' and 'civil society', it is shown that Antwerp craft guilds stopped being 'brotherhoods' and 'substitute families' and retreated into a sphere separate from household and family. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, masters can no longer be considered to have wielded a type of corporative mandate and to have acted in loco parentis. While parents had the final word in matters of discipline, masters' sons had gradually lost their privileged entrance (i.e. they stopped being 'born' within the guild), thus suggesting that the private sphere of the family prevailed over the public sphere of the guilds. The guilds' costumes and collective activities, moreover, respectively disappeared or became obsolete. From at least the 'long sixteenth century' onwards, Antwerp guilds appear to have transformed from confraternities or brotherhoods into juridical and institutional instruments, which did not aim at disciplining or socializing apprentices into an organized social group. In the end, the relationship between masters and apprentices was based on (oral and other) contracts rather than guild rules (whether formal or informal).