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The History and Historiography of Guild Hierarchies in the Middle Ages*

  • Étienne Anheim (a1)


Philippe Bernardi’s Maître, valet et apprenti au Moyen Âge. Essai sur une production bien ordonnée, examines the traditional triptych of master craftsman, journeyman, and apprentice, considered to be characteristic of medieval production. By focusing on “work statuses,” Bernardi moves away from an overly narrow legal approach to social status, in which production tends to go largely unanalyzed or else is considered only in curtailed form—as in the model of the three orders where, applying solely to “those who work,” forms of production play only a minor role in social ordering. The originality of his approach lies in the way he constructs his object of study: work hierarchies. These are systematically addressed both in historical terms, on the basis of medieval archives (using the example of Provence in from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century), and in historiographical terms, by examining the models according to which these archives have been interpreted since the nineteenth century. Applying tools drawn from the history of science to medieval history, Bernardi thus uncovers the mechanisms that have shaped our knowledge of medieval society since the nineteenth century, showing that the master-journeyman-apprentice triptych is a representation originating in normative sources that has become a historiographical model, but which does not account for medieval production as it appears in sources relating to practice. Moving beyond this normative view, Bernardi shows that work statuses were mostly relational and functioned as a series of binary oppositions—a reality concealed behind a historiographical discourse woven not only through intellectual experience and critical thinking, but also by beliefs, values, and forms of activism.



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On Philippe Bernardi, Maître, valet et apprenti au Moyen Âge. Essai sur une production bien ordonnée (Toulouse: CNRS/Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail, 2009). I wish to thank Valérie Theis for her comments and observations.



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1. Charles-Victor Langlois and Charles Seignobos, Introduction to the Study of History [1898], trans. George Godfrey Berry (New York: Henry Holt, 1904), 317-18.

2. Bernardi, Maître, valet et apprenti, 26.

3. Ibid., 54-55.

4. Mathieu Arnoux, Le temps des laboureurs. Travail, ordre social et croissance en Europe, XIe-XIVe siècle (Paris: Albin Michel, 2012); Catherine Verna, “Entreprises des campagnes médiévales. Innovation, travail et marché (XIIe siècle-vers 1550),” (Professorial thesis, Université Paris I, 2008). See also: Bernardi, Philippe, Bâtir au Moyen Âge, XIIIe-milieu XVIe siècle (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2011); Arnoux, Mathieu and Monnet, Pierre, eds., Le technicien dans la cité en Europe occidentale, 1250-1650 (Rome: École française de Rome, 2004); Braunstein, Philippe, Travail et entreprise au Moyen Âge (Brussels: De Boeck, 2003); Le Goff, Jacques, Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages, trans. Goldhammer, Arthur (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Bernardi, Philippe, Feller, Laurent, and Beck, Patrice, eds., Rémunérer le travail au Moyen Âge. Pour une histoire sociale du salariat (Paris: Picard, 2014). For an overview of guilds in the early modern and modern eras, see Steven Kaplan and Philippe Minard, La France malade du corporatisme? (XVIIIe-XXe siècles) (Paris: Belin, 2004).

5. For further discussion of this notion, in particular as used by Jean Andreau, see the article by Nicolas Tran in this issue.

6. For recent discussion of how the question of the three orders as developed by Georges Duby and Jacques Le Goff relates to the issue of growth and social hierarchies, see Arnoux, Le temps des laboureurs, which also provides an overview of the vast bibliography about the orders.

7. Bernardi, Maître, valet et apprenti, 22-83.

8. For the presentation of the corpus see ibid., 147-56.

9. Ibid., 28-29, where Bernardi provides the available estimates. According to Robert Fossier the figure stood at 13 percent in Picardy, whereas Alain Belmont puts the figure for the Dauphiné at 10-15 percent, occasionally rising as high as 40 percent.

10. See in particular Verna, “Entreprises des campagnes médiévales.”

11. Bernardi, Maître, valet et apprenti, 56-60.

12. Louis-Henri Parias, ed., Histoire générale du travail, vol. 2, L’âge de l’artisanat (Ve-XVIIIe siècles), ed. Philippe Wolff and Frédéric Mauro (Paris: Nouvelle librairie de France, 1960), 132. Cited in Bernardi, Maître, valet et apprenti, 61.

13. Ibid., 64, quoting Le Play and his disciple René de la Tour-du-Pin, as well as Albert de Mun, who considered the guild system to be the “organization of work that best conforms to the principles of the Christian social order, and the most favorable to the reign of peace and general prosperity,” and Leo XIII, who affirmed that in terms of the social question, “the most important of all [were] working men’s unions.”

14. Ibid., 76.

15. Ibid., 73.

16. Boileau, Étienne, Le livre des métiers, ed. Lespinasse, René de and Bonnardot, François (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1879), with a foreword by Lazare Maurice Tisserand, pp. i-xviii .

17. Bernardi, Maître, valet et apprenti, especially 66-69.

18. Ibid., 67.

19. Émile Coornaert, Les corporations en France avant 1789 (Paris: Gallimard, 1941; repr. Paris: les Éditions ouvrières, 1968). Cited in Bernardi, Maître, valet et apprenti, 69.

20. Ibid., 68. The word “classic” is used on numerous occasions.

21. Ibid., 85-137.

22. Ibid., 17 for the presentation of the documentary corpus.

23. Ibid., 85.

24. Ibid., 135.

25. Jean-Yves Grenier, L’économie d’Ancien Régime. Un monde de l’échange et de l’incertitude (Paris: Albin Michel, 1996). See also the critical analysis of this work by Guerreau, Alain, “Avant le marché, les marchés: en Europe, XIIIe-XVIIIe siècle,” Annales HSS 56, no. 6 (2001): 1129-75 , as well as his Le féodalisme, un horizon théorique (Paris: Le Sycomore, 1980) which raises a similar question in relation to the same chronology.

26. Bernardi, Maître, valet et apprenti, 134.

27. For a similar approach applied to the early modern era, see the work of Simona Cerutti, in particular her recent work on the question of status during the ancien régime, Étrangers. Étude d’une condition d’incertitude dans une société d’Ancien Régime (Paris: Bayard, 2012).

28. For a valuable perspective on historiographical issues within recent work on the history of science, viewed in an extensive timeframe running from the eighteenth century, see Brian, Éric, “Le livre de la science est-il écrit dans la langue des historiens?,” in Les formes de l’expérience. Pour une autre histoire sociale, ed. Lepetit, Bernard (Paris: Albin Michel, 1995), 85-98 .

29. For discussion of this topic and the underlying genealogical issue that it implies, see Lilti, Antoine, “Rabelais est-il notre contemporain? Histoire intellectuelle et herméneutique critique,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 59, no. 4bis (2012): 65-84 , and Anheim, Étienne, “L’historiographie est-elle une forme d’histoire intellectuelle? La controverse de 1934 entre Lucien Febvre et Henri Jassemin,” ibid., 105-130 .

* On Philippe Bernardi, Maître, valet et apprenti au Moyen Âge. Essai sur une production bien ordonnée (Toulouse: CNRS/Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail, 2009). I wish to thank Valérie Theis for her comments and observations.

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  • Étienne Anheim (a1)


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