Saxon Guilds and Livery Companies

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Livery Companies

Saxon Guilds and Livery Companies

Saxon Guilds and Livery Companies and how they Benefited Society

The idea of society helping those in need has its origins in our Saxon past. The ‘guilds’ formed then, were usually of a religious type and were designed to provide a scheme of mutual assurance for their members. The Livery Companies were originally of the nature of the Saxon guilds.

  • They were formed as communities began to be settled and realized that mutual support was a beneficial system for the whole of society
  • The early English guild took the form of an institution of local self help, before the earliest poor laws were introduced.
  • The aims of these guilds were set high, to join all classes together in a care for the needy and for all objects of common welfare, whilst not neglecting the form and practise of religion, justice and morality.
  • Each member was a ‘brother’ or a ‘sister’ and was treated as a member of one large family.

So what help would it have extended to the family and how was it funded?

The word guild is from the Anglo Saxon, meaning ‘geldan’ or ‘gilden’, which means to pay and signifies that each member was expected to contribute something towards supporting the brotherhood to which they belonged.

  • If a member became ill, poor or infirm, or if his property or animals were injured or damaged in some way,, then the guild would come to his or her aid and help.
  • Dowries for marriages and funeral expenses were also paid for by the guild.

The importance of the religious aspects of the guild should not be underestimated.

If any members of Saxon Guilds and Livery Members wanted to undertake a religious pilgrimage say to Canterbury or maybe even Rome then financial help would be found. Some guilds even provided lodging houses on the pilgrimage route. They would undertake the repair of parish churches, roads and bridges, walls and city gates. The nature of guilds varied, some were exclusively religious, some were social promoting good fellowship, benevolence and thrift. Others were frith guilds for the promotion of peace and the establishment of law and order. The most important were Merchant guilds, which formed for the purpose of promoting particular trades, for regulation of their respective industries. Their rules were incredibly strict.

They formed to protect the rights of artisans and craftsmen.

Many of the Livery Companies of London can trace their pedigrees back to Saxon times, when communities became more settled and people saw that it was in their own best interests to support others. That working together for the greater good was better than working in isolation.

The ancient rules and regulations, for many at least a thousand years in the making, were to inculcate respect for the law, commercial honesty and a high standard of conduct, along with kindness and consideration of their members and for the poor.


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