products were not strong or good, they might be expelled. So in
those old days a man who bought anything. mjght be sure he was getting his "moneyís worth," but there were few "bargains."
A boy who wanted to be a member of a guild must first become an apprentice of some master. He went to live in the masterís house and was treated very much as a member of the family. While he learned the business he was subject to the master and might be harshly punished if he was lazy. But he ate at the masterís table and talked and played with his masterís sons and daughters.
The length of the apprenticeship depended on whether the trade of that guild was hard or easy to learn. It was usually three years. Then the apprentice, now a young man, became a journeyman. He was paid wages and might live at his own home. But he still worked beside the master on the bench, and could not have a shop of his own. The journeyman was satisfied, however, and worked hard and tried to become more skillful, for he now hoped soon to be admitted a master.
Finally, if he was fortunate, he became a full member of the guild. But first he must prove that he was a satisfactory workman by making his "masterpiece," that is to say, the finest article his hands could construct. How bard the young man must have labored to show that he was worthy to rank with the best of them all! Once a master, he could have a shop and apprentices, and hire journeymen of his own. In time he might become rich. But he must always obey the rules of the guild and not try to find new and cheap ways of doing things.
The guilds did other things besides making rules about work. They erected fine halls where their meetings were held. In wealthy old cities like London, Paris, or Bruges in Belgium these quaint and beautiful buildings are still regarded by the citizens with pride and admiration. The guilds were charitable societies also. If any member died poor, the guild provided for his widow and children. If any were sick or injured, their expenses were paid. They had festivals, too, in which all the members took part. Sometimes the whole society went to worship together in some great church. In some ways the guild was like a great family.
When we see the great factories of our day, with their huge engines and furnaces, and thousands of toiling men and women, and then think of the old ways of the guild, we wonder sometimes whether, after all, the new way is better. In the Middle Ages the master worked beside his men and knew them all well. Though sometimes the journeymen and apprentices grumbled against the hard rules of the guild, and even "struck," they all knew that in time they also might be masters. The guild members were friends. Now the owner of a great factory seldom knows very many of his workmen, and they know that not one in ten thousand of them will ever own a mill. Many are the great struggles between capital and labor.
Yet now we can all buy for a few cents things that in
the Middle Ages only very wealthy people could own; and clever men are always trying to invent new machines
So the world has both gained and lost.
The Beginnings of Commerce. When the cities were still small their chief business was with the peasants, who brought as much of their produce as they did not need for their own use to sell or exchange for articles made in the town. Even now the market day is a busy time in European towns. But as the cities grew, the packhorses of merchants trading with places farther distant became a sight more and more common.
To carry on distant trade in those days was difficult. Not only were there no railways, but even ordinary highroads were almost unknown. It is no wonder, therefore, that carts and wagons were of little use, and that everything sent by land had to be strapped on the backs of horses. Wherever possible, trade was carried on by water. The rivers were great highways of commerce, and though the vessels of that day were not well fitted for long voyages on the ocean, land-locked seas like the Mediterranean and the Baltic were everywhere plowed by merchant ships.
But there were many other dangers besides those of nature. Pirates swarmed the seas. Often, also, people who lived on the seashore displayed false lights and signals so that vessels would be wrecked and they might seize the cargoes.
On land it was even worse. In the dark forests lived
But the townsmen of the Middle Ages were a strong and sturdy people who did not tamely submit even to the nobles. Now and again the citizens would arm themselves and march forth against the castle of some robber knight who had plundered them. Too late the wrongdoer often repented amid the blazing rafters of his fortress.
The towns also did their best to help the king in his efforts to bring the nobles to order and make them keep the peace. It was owing very largely to their aid that in France and England the rulers succeeded in overcoming feudalism. But since even a strong town could not do much alone, the cities soon began to form leagues. All the cities which joined agreed to protect each other and to unite against their enemies. Such leagues had laws and rules almost like those of a nation. Sometimes they raised armies and kept war vessels to guard their merchant ships.
The greatest of all the leagues was formed by the cities of northern Germany. It was called the Hanseatic League, and at one time comprised nearly seventy towns. The three leading towns were Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen, the two latter of which are still among the greatest seaports of Germany.
The merchants of the Hanseatic League traded everywhere in northern Europe. In Norway, Sweden, and even in distant Russia they had trading stations, or "factories" as they are often called. They also had a famous trading place in London.
Belgium was then the greatest country for making all kinds of cloth. In its quaint cities, such as Bruges and Ghent, was heard on every hand the rattle of the looms. Here, too, the Hanseatic merchants came for peaceful commerce.
Southward, up the beautiful river Rhine, the Hanseatic merchants carried on a great trade. This route led to the flourishing cities of Nuremberg and Augsburg in southern Germany, with their high chimneys and peaked roofs showing far above their strong walls.
Thence they journeyed to the foot of the Alps, which with their snowy peaks and glaciers cut them off from Italy. These they crossed by the steep mountain passes, the favorite way being the famous Brenner Pass, which led to Venice. Here they exchanged their northern goods for the wonderful things Italy had to give or which bold Italian seamen had brought home from the Far East.
Northern Italy in those days was a great land of flourishing towns. First among them was Venice, which sent her ships to Egypt for rich trade with the East. This strange city was built on a group of small islands situated in the middle of a large, shallow bay. A great number of her streets were, therefore, canals, and the people of Venice to this day go from place to place in long, graceful boats called gondolas. Because she could not be easily attacked from the land, the city had prospered wonderfully, and many of the tall buildings which lined her watery streets were truly palaces, though owned by merchants instead of kings.
On the other side of Italy was the strong rival city, Genoa, stretching back on the hills.from her long, curving harbor. Genoa, too, carried on a mighty commerce with the East, and many were the fierce battles when her numerous fleets met those of the Venetians. To Americans this old city is especially dear because here was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
Then there was Milan, famous for her wonderful cathedral, which rose amid the green plain of Lombardy, the most fertile land in all the world. Farther south was Florence, noted for her manufactures, her great wealth, and the turbulent character of her people. Especially prized was the beautiful jewelry made by Florentine goldsmiths.
Besides these Italy bad dozens of other great towns, all flourishing in trade and manufacture. Yet unlike the cities of the north, the Italian towns only too often engaged in war with their neighbors instead of joining interests for the common good.
In England the ancient town of London grew to be a flourishing city whose merchants vied with the nobility themselves in wealth and influence. More and more "London towne" became the center of everything that went on in England. Other important places were Bristol and Norwich. France, too, had growing cities, though, except for Paris, they are hardly as well known to us as the wonderful towns of neighboring lands.
Thus a kind of life new to the Middle Ages came. Successful merchants grew rich and intelligent. The fierce nobles who delighted only in war now had rivals in the race for power and influence, and even the clergy began to find that they themselves no longer had all the learning of the world. When men meet every day in business and in talk, they soon make each other think. After the towns appeared, progress in every line was much more rapid than ever before.
SUGGESTIONS INTENDED TO HELP THE PUPIL
The Leading Facts. 1. The peasants lived on great estates called manors. 2. They were serfs, bound to work a part of their time for the lord of the manor. 3. Their lives were hard and it was almost impossible for them to improve. 4. In the latter part of the Middle Ages towns and cities began to grow. 5. The cities got charters from the lords which gave more or less freedom. 6. The townspeople made their living by manufacturing articles and selling them. 7. All the people who made the same article belonged to a society called a "guild." 8. Only a few people were allowed to join a guild, and they must have a long course of training. p. In time, the cities began to carry on distant commerce. 10. To Overcome the great dangers to commerce, many of the cities formed leagues like the great Hanseatic League of Germany. II. Germany, Italy, and Belgium were especially noted for their flourishing cities. 12. The townspeople made great progress in learning and civilization.
Study Questions. 1. What sort of place was a peasant village in the Middle Ages? 2. How many different occupations went on? 3. What was a "serf"? 4. Tell how the serfs carried on their agriculture. 5. Why did not the peasants learn better methods? 6. What things which we have to eat and drink were unknown in the Middle Ages? 7. Why did the peasants look forward to attending the fair? 8. Why were not the peasants always unhappy? p. Why did towns and cities grow? 10. Why did the townspeople ask for charters? 11. What were free cities? 12. Tell how the towns of the Middle Ages looked. 13. What kinds of people came to visit such towns? 14. How did the ways of making articles in these cities differ from those of our day? 15. Why did young men wish to be members of guilds? 16. Explain what a man must do to become a guild member. 17. Why were few new methods of manufacturing discovered in the Middle Ages? 18. What were some of the good things about the guilds? 19. What were some of the bad things? 20. Tell some of the dangers to be met by merchants who carried on distant trade. 21. How did the towns try to overcome some of these? 22. What was the Hanseatic League? 23. Name some of the chief towns of the Middle Ages in Germany; Belgium; Italy; England. 2. What strange things would you have seen had you visited Venice? 25. Why did the people of the towns become intelligent and make progress?
Suggested Readings. Tappan, When Knights Were Bold,
102-121, 206-275, and European Hero Stories, 125-135; Harding, The Story of the Middle Ages. Also: Retold from "St.
Nicholas": Stories of the Middle Ages, 107-131.