Reply To: 1360s Doublet Project

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Hans Hellinger

Yes I suspect we disagree on the demographics. But it’s a complex enough subject that you can support many different perspectives.

My main comment regarding your point about the ratio of ‘comfortable’ guild members vs. servants etc., is that while the ratio does vary substantially by town, in the larger towns in Central Europe about half of the population overall are servants or apprentices or day laborers of some kind, and about half are sufficiently well off as to be taxable.

Yeoman is an English term for a more well off peasantry to middling member of the country gentry. In England there was a very different pattern from Central Europe in that the country was relatively peaceful and (so long as you had a somewhat fortified estate) was considered generally safer and a better life than the cities, which tended to be dirty, crowded and subject to both internal unrest and sackings or crackdowns by princely or Royal authorities.

In Central Europe it was the opposite, the princes were comfortable enough but the lower to middle nobility, let alone the peasants, felt a great sense of unease and lack of security and comfort. The towns by contrast were fare better organized and the larger ones at least were comparatively safe. Even when Europe was devastated by horrific religious wars in the 16th and 17th Centuries, the larger towns offered the best hope of safety and security (unless they made the mistake of allowing “allied” troops to garrison within their walls).

Towns, as you may be aware, generally had a majority female population, and these people were the bulk of the servants – washer women, cooks and maids, wet nurses and so on. Even relatively poor families often had a servant. Male servants included guards, carters and porters, horse grooms, clerks and scribes (also sometimes a role women took on). Most day-laborers actually didn’t live in the towns, and often came in from the countryside.

The apprentices were almost always young, and as they aged they tended to move up in rank. Social mobility was fairly brisk. Towns had a much lower birth rate than the country, rarely achieving demographic replacement. Journeymen were kind of an estate of their own, and by definition were roaming around.

There is a lot of confusion about the role of apprentices and journeymen because of changes in their role in the Early modern and modern era (17th -18th Centuries, usually ending after the French revolution or Napoleonic Wars, but in some cases well into the 19th) particularly in places like England. By the 1750s, say, it wasn’t unusual for apprenticeships to last 10 years or longer, and journeymen might never acquire the title of master, or only in middle age.

In the medieval world, this was very unusual. Apprenticeships rarely lasted past the age of 16, typical duration was 2-3 years, sometimes up to 5, very rarely for highly elite crafts like goldsmithing maybe up to 7. Journeymen were expected to go on the ‘walz’, roaming around from town to town, typically for 1 year, sometimes up to 3. Part of the point of moving around was finding a niche. They cold also change specialization – a cutler or some other type of metalworker could be come a lockmaker or a clockmaker, or a gunsmith, for example, if they found the right opportunity on the road.

If you look at the craft guild alderman rolls for a town like Strasbourg or Augsburg, many of them were in their 30’s, a few in their 40’s. Older than that they tended to move on into the town council or back toward semi-retirement. Most retired by their 60’s. Militia obligation typically ended for the able-bodied at age 64.

Most artisans who lived long enough and didn’t get into serious legal trouble achieved master status and were able to set up a workshop in their 20’s. How soon they were making a good income depended greatly on the craft and the individual economy of the town, and the skill of the individual artisan. Also things like how industrious and helpful their family was. Did the wife help with the books and brew beer or run the storefront? Did the kids stay in the craft and help the dad out or move on to something else? Most master artisans had 1-2 apprentices and 1-2 journeymen, depending on the craft and the town. The numbers were strictly regulated. Journeymen had their own societies and social clubs and would routinely riot if pay and conditions were not sufficient. Often food was the major issue.

The really rich people in a town of course were the merchants, especially the long distance merchants. But compared to a typical 30 year old American in 2021 who has $80k in debt, and a median net worth (by household) of also about $80k in assets, the typical artisan who was usually debt free or carried very little debt, and owned their own workshop and a relatively small house (typically three stories – bottom for the workshop, 1st floor living space, top floor storage), tools, and inventory, had the right to vote directly on all major community decisions (like raising taxes, joining an alliance or going to war) I’d say they were doing better. Merchants of course, much better.

But no smart phones, washing machines or cars.

On the other hand, probably much nicer clothes. And all organic / better food.