Choice of Trade | Exploitation/Abuse | Fees | Girl Apprentices | Master-Apprentice Relationship | Other


Choice of Trade

  • Youngsters rarely had any choice in their apprenticeship, which was often decided based on their family’s connections (e.g. a blood relative, a godparent, or even a neighbor)
    • Lack of choice included what trade they would learn, and what Master they would work with
  • Affluent families had better connections, and thus could aspire to better trades (e.g. the son of a wealthy town family was far more likely to learn the goldsmith trade than a country boy)



  • Exploitation/abuse of an apprentice by a Master might be physical (e.g. if a Master constantly beat them), or situational (e.g. if the Master took advantage of an apprentice by having constantly having him do menial tasks while teaching him the craft only slowly)
    • For affluent craftsmen, servants would often perform the unskilled tasks they needed done in the shop, not the apprentice (although apprentices did do menial tasks for those Masters who could not afford servants). It was in a Master’s best interest to teach their apprentice the skills of the trade quickly, so that the apprentice could begin to help them properly with their work. It was the hidden “mysteries” of the trade that might take an apprentice some time to acquire.
  • Exploitation/abuse of a Master by an apprentice often had its nexus in an apprentice who would steal from them, or even engage in violent confrontations with them
  • Extreme cases of abuse could sometimes end up in court



  • Guilds required that the apprentice’s sponsor (the one who made the arrangements for the apprenticeship) pay a fee if the apprentice failed to fulfill expectations (such as if they ran away or failed to progress in the trade due to laziness)
  • Sometimes, the sponsor (or the apprentice himself) would pay the Master a fee in order to take on the youth as an apprentice
    • This fee was intended to help a Master cover the expense of caring for the apprentice during their apprenticeship (most apprentices left home to live with their Master, who was required to provide them with food, shelter, and clothing)


Girl Apprentices

  • Girls could be apprentices just like boys, although far fewer girls than boys chose this route (or had it chosen for them)
  • Girl apprentices were usually trained by the Master’s wife, rather than the Master himself. That didn’t mean their training was inferior, however, as the wife often knew as much about the trade as her husband did (and sometimes knew more)
  • Girls often learned trades that taught skills they could take into marriage, such as sewing (the seamstress trade), but they weren’t limited to these trades
  • Some girls chose to give up their jobs once they got married, but many continued to ply their trades even after they had said their wedding vows


Master-Apprentice Relationship

  • The relationship between a master and an apprentice was often much more like that between a parent and a child than master and a servant. The apprentice lived in their Master’s house, (usually) ate with the Master’s family, (often) wore clothes provided by their Master, and were subject to their Master’s discipline. The often formed close bonds with the Master and their family
  • Apprentices often ended up marrying one of the Master’s daughters
  • Masters often remembered their apprentices in their wills, even if the apprentice did not end up marrying into their family



  • Apprenticeship began in the teens and lasted from 7-10 years
  • Guild law automatically accepted the sons of master craftsmen into the Guild. Even so, many of these youth still chose to apprentice under someone other than their fathers, for the experience and the training it offered
  • At the end of their training, and apprentice became a “journeyman” and was qualified to go out and start their own practice. Still, many chose to remain with their Master as an employee

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