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Musée du Compagnonnage
Musée du Compagnonnage

18th century

In the 18th century, the guild system extended to cover other trades and found itself in conflict with masters of corporations.
Guilds are located in towns along the Loire, in the Maine and Nantes, along the Atlantic coast, and in Garonne, Languedoc, Provence, the Rhone Valley, Burgundy, Champagne and Paris.
Thanks to references made in judicial archives, we can add many further guilds to those already mentioned – tanners/curriers, tawers/chamois-leather dressers, coppersmiths, glaziers, saddlers, roofers, cloth shearers, dyers, ropemakers, edge-toolmakers and blacksmiths, cloth-makers, and plasterers.

1786 edict against the Garçons Maréchaux (Companion Blacksmiths)

1786 edict against the Garçons Maréchaux (Companion Blacksmiths)
Brawl. Engraving from “L'Illustration”, 1845

During the first half of the 18th century, a second stonecutters’ guild made its appearance - the Etrangers, united under the banner of King Solomon.
All these associations offer help to their members, find them work, initiate them according to secret rites of introduction, and impose their rules upon them. The Gaveaux (or Gavots), the Etrangers, the Droguins, and even those journeymen who resisted joining a guild (and therefore nicknamed ‘espontoons’, ‘foxes’ or ‘brats’ among other things) are constantly on the receiving end of hostility from other societies, and violent brawling is commonplace between them. Further squabbling breaks out between the du Devoir societies over questions of precedence and customs judged as being too similar.

The guilds seek to obtain a monopoly over employment in the towns where they were located, without having to go through the masters. They negotiate wages collectively, and if employers refuse, do not hesitate to blacklist their shops and workshops. No guild member is then authorised to work for a master, who can only employ less qualified workmen – and even these are often chased away. In 1768-1769, the entire city of Dijon is blacklisted by members of the carpenters’ guild, after the quantity of wine served with their meals is reduced.

There is no lack of such turbulence during the 18th century, and social movements abound. The guilds are active alongside associations similar to workers’ unions. The police take no end of decisions prohibiting them and forbidding innkeepers to refer to themselves as “Fathers” and “Mothers” of guild members. Despite condemnation of their excesses, however, guild members enjoy relative tolerance on the part of the authorities and the masters, as they constitute an essential, qualified workforce, above all with regard to the great construction sites of the 18th century.

The Revolution does them no favours. The Le Chapelier Law (1791) prohibits any kind of workers’ or employers’ association, and the guilds are once again forbidden. They manage to get through the revolutionary troubles, however, without breaking up – but their manner of organisation is changed forever.

Flowing staircase

Musée du Compagnonnage

8 rue Nationale
37000 Tours
Tel: 02 47 21 62 20

Escalier à dessous coulissant (1825) Map
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