- In Brussels, the word "guild" was at first reserved solely to designate the association of those engaged in the production and sale of cloth. Only at the end of the 14th century did the term begin to signify, in its plural form of guilds, the various companies of tradesmen that regulated economic life.At its origin, the cloth guild (Lakengilde) — it is first mentioned in 1282—admitted only members of the lignages and wealthy bourgeois. By an ordinance of 1497, whoever participated in producing cloth was obliged to become affiliated. Admission fees were lowered over time. Since the city's economy depended heavily on the cloth trade, the guild assumed a preeminent importance. It would continue to serve as an essential cog in urban life until the end of the 18th century.The cloth guild and all subsequent guilds set production standards and, with municipal officials, they set commercial terms. The guilds regulated working conditions, including salaries, of workers in the trades.Management of the cloth guild devolved to a college of directors whose membership and mode of election fluctuated. Beginning in 1306, the college consisted of the "Eight," individuals chosen annually by an alderman from among the lignages together with two deans (doyens, dekens) chosen by the Eight and the city government. A decree of 10 June 1423 stipulated that the lignages and the nations would each furnish one dean and four of the Eight. A privilege of 4 June 1477 gave the nations all powers of election and membership. Too radical to be sustained, it was replaced by a decree of 22 June 1480 requiring that one dean and four directors were to be chosen from among the lignages by aldermen representing the lignages and one dean and four directors were to be selected from among the nations by the city's two burgomasters and the members of the nations.A tribunal of members from the Eight ensured that the "law of the guild" was enforced. Two treasurers tracked finances and rendered an account of the guild's financial status to the city's receivers.Craft guilds in other trades grew gradually and, following the rising of 1303, they were opened to members of the bourgeoisie. In 1306, they numbered 36 and included painters, embroiderers, tapestry weavers, goldsmiths, sculptors, and metalworkers. Cabinetmakers, carpenters, furriers, and others appeared by 1356. Their rights were secured by the 15th century. There were 59 craft guilds distributed among the nine nations by the 16th century.Guilds were formed to obtain greater economic security for their members in confronting market fluctuations. Strict rules as to membership, training, dues, and standards of craftmanship were maintained. Each guild was generally divided among apprentice, journeyman, and master classes, with entrance to the latter subject to a test, the successful passing of which admitted the individual into the guild as a practicing member.Individual guilds built guildhalls on the Grand' Place, at first modest structures that were later replaced by architectural masterpieces. The guilds declined in importance in conjunction with the growing obsolescence of this form of economic organization and the rise of protocapitalism beginning in the late 17th and 18th centuries. They were abolished during the French regime.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.
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