Several hypotheses have been suggested to explain the origin of the compagnons’ societies. They cannot all apply to all crafts. Concerning the stonemasons, it is possible that they organised in this form quite early: the building of large edifices required qualified labour, which architects sought well beyond the vicinity of the building sites. Such journeying of craftsmen in the kingdom, and sometimes abroad, could have favoured the practice of Mutual Aid, appointed stopovers, secret forms of greetings and ritualised admission in a group.
An established fact is the appearance of most of the compagnons’ brotherhoods around the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern history. The period was characterised by profound economical, social, religious and political transformations.
It is possible that the trade communities (corporations or guilds) neglected their charitable duties towards journeying workers, bringing the latter to organise independently.
According to another theory, the craft brotherhoods were formed by qualified workers who could not afford the high fees imposed by the corporations to access mastership, and consequently tried their luck in hopefully more favourable regions. Helping one another to fight for their salary, the compagnons would have created associations similar to workers’ unions.
Another supposed origin draws a parallel between the compagnons’ brotherhoods and the youths’ societies of the Old Regime: the young workers would have devised the journey and the rites of passage to adulthood.
Similarities have also been pointed out between the religion-based confraternities and the early compagnons’ societies: the latter could have originally been a form of confraternity promoting Christian principles in the practice of a craft and bestowing charity towards the young journeymen.
None of these hypotheses contradict the others and, depending on the craft and the period, the diverse compagnons’ brotherhoods may have appeared for one or another of these causes.