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M. Eversberg II

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PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 1:38 am    Post subject: Bladesmiths position in society         Reply with quote

Where the smiths who made the weapons (or for that matter, any man who did something other than farm the lords land or rule) "freemen"? Since what I thought of as medieval society proved to be a bit abstract and too "neat", I've been wondering what craftsmen where in society in the early to high middle ages. Where they peasants tied to the land, or freemen? I figured they had to be something different, as it's easy to be "born" into farming, but I don't think it would be as simple as simply being "born" into a craft requiring good skill levels, training or not.


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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 6:04 am    Post subject: Craft in the Middle Ages         Reply with quote

Hello M.

Difficult to give a precise answer to your question, as there are many variables over the time period and the place you are focused on. The different smiths would have been active on several different levels of the lower and middle classes. In the larger centers of production you would have seen a range of production quality and style of marketing. Some would cater to the high status market, some would range from assemble to taste to off the rack in the same shop to the "big box" retailer, the mass production of munitions grade material. The kind of thing we would think of as "Larry's Discount Armour City" come on in and outfit your local armoury on the cheap.

Much would depend on the area they were located in. The larger production centers would have many smiths of varying qualities. In the smaller cases you might have an itinerate cutler who would do some new sales but would also probably sharpen/repair/replace for his lively hood.

One aspect of the medieval economy that many modern people miss is that the power in economic centers did not rest with the Guilds as is often depicted in modern literature and media. Rather the large cities where often run by councils of merchants. These were the buyers and sellers of products not the producers in most cases. The guilds tried to control the quality and amount of local production in any given city but they where not the ones that dictated trade and laws concerning the trade. This varied across Europe so to get more detailed one almost has to pick a spot and discuss the local area, as broad statements do not usually cover the whole of Europe.

The last bit I will through in is the producers smiths, armourers, polishers and the like where not usually included in the upper levels of society. Even an individual known for being a great blade maker was probably not selling his blades to individual customers but supplying particularly high-end cutlers. In the later Middle Ages you do see the rise of some of the great armorers beyond the level of craftsman to city and regional leaders by virtue that the high end armour was so expensive that they had large enough bank accounts to loan money to the princes for wars and the like. Thus they move from armourer to financier of the royalty.

As to the difference between peasant and other groups in the society most craftsman would not be peasants, they may have fealty to a local noble but the strata of society where complex enough to support the whole range of human desire and drive, to be or not be what you were born to. Almost all societies are like this we just have a tendency to simplify in the retrospective view we have.

Hope this helps answer your question and if you have more specific details I would be happy to try and refine the answer if I can.

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Jared Smith

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PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 7:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am not trying to disagree with you Craig, just wondering if something I read (no reference, did not jot it down, two years ago now) was inaccurate.
The "Guild Master" was described precisely as functioning as the powerful merchant in one article about guilds that I read. "Master's" of a significant production shop could do pretty well (middle to upper middle class for something like an armourer). "Guild Master" in a city like Paris were described as among the highest non royal positions in terms of income. Builders actually did the best of all guilds per the article I am describing just from memory. Some guilds (weavers, more common skills) were basically pretty poor regardless of rank.

I figure the cutlerer that Emperor Maximillian would have employed to produce a beautiful sword, fire guilded, carefully finished, etc. might have been compensated reasonably well for the work. Those mass producing basic munitions weapons described as "base", probably were not.

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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Wed 12 Mar, 2008 5:58 am    Post subject: Context         Reply with quote

Hi Jared

I do not think we are at all contradictory incorporating what you read into the description I gave. One needs to be aware of context in any commentary on these issues as time, place, craft, politics, economics and personality of individuals will dictate the status level and strength of a Guild or individual in the Guild.

As the difference between the Guilds structures in say 1200 to those in 1500 would be significant. As some evolved over time and made it into the Renaissance they become closer to what we would think of as hereditary private clubs, while others stayed viable as craft communities well into the industrial age.

I believe there is more research available on the armorersí guilds as compared to the blade smiths. The smiths would also be more likely to be on the front end of the production flow and the cutlers would be the ones with face time with the public more likely. Your Maxmillian example would most likely be dealing with a "master" cutler who may well have had bladesmiths in his shop.

Also positions such as "Guild Master" in Paris would be a significant post and in some examples the individuals in these posts where there for reasons beyond their particular talents at the work bench. A successful craftsman who runs a large multi tasked production shop maybe more skilled at business management than using a hammer. Happy

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