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This scene shows an"epicier" (grocer or seller of spices) talking with a client.	Source: Lawrence OP/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What Was ‘Middle Class’ in Medieval in England (Video)

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In medieval England, societal structure was rigidly defined, determining everything from one's occupation to their social status and privileges. While the majority of the population consisted of peasants, there existed a notable group—the guilds—that wielded considerable power and influence. Guilds served as a hybrid between modern-day unions and monopolies, regulating access to various industries such as fish mongering, leatherworking, and goldsmithing.

Among the most prominent guilds were the Mercer's, Grocers, and Drapers, each holding sway over specific trades and enjoying political significance. Guild membership was not merely about economic pursuits; it conferred political advantages, granting individuals the opportunity to become city Aldermen and even participate in electing the Lord Mayor of London.

The wealth amassed by guilds was not solely derived from their control over trades but also from their substantial property holdings within London. As property within the city walls was limited, guilds monopolized land, consolidating their power and prestige. Membership in a guild elevated individuals to the status of Freeman, affording them privileges such as exemption from certain taxes and tolls.

Guilds also played a pivotal role in shaping the social fabric of medieval London. They provided a sense of community and solidarity, as seen in the close-knit neighborhoods where guild members resided and conducted business. Apprenticeship served as a common path to guild membership, offering individuals the opportunity to learn a trade and eventually become masters themselves.

Top image: This scene shows an"epicier" (grocer or seller of spices) talking with a client. Source: Lawrence OP/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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