What Are Apprentices & Journeyman in Medieval Times?

Updated April 17, 2017

During the Middle Ages, the merchant class emerged. Town populations grew swiftly after the Black Death, and the demand for goods was met by the apprentices' and journeymen's craft guilds. These guilds regulated working hours and conditions for their members. Apprentices and journeymen belonged to and were trained in these craft guilds.


The apprentice was an unpaid student to the master of a particular craft, such as a baker, a carpenter, a harness maker, a cobbler or a stone mason. He studied for 2 to 7 years, depending on the complexity of the craft. An apprentice was a male adolescent who lived with a master, usually in the attic of a three-story home. Parents paid the cost of an apprenticeship. This fee included food, lodging, clothing and teaching of the craft. An apprentice was not allowed to marry during his apprenticeship.

Guild Membership

The teaching of a craft was not the only goal of the apprentice guild. Membership in the appropriate guild soon became mandatory, and the unity of apprentices in their guild provided a monopoly against outsiders in a particular craft. Apprentices patrolled the medieval streets and built public buildings and walls to defend their towns. When an apprentice completed his training, he progressed to the rank of journeyman.


The term "journeyman" had nothing to do with travel; it meant that the journeyman was paid by the day, based on "journee," the French noun for "day." The journeyman was expected to make a masterpiece in his craft that would satisfy the guild's master. This was a difficult task; the journeyman had to work on his masterpiece on his own time, and he could not work on Sunday. He had to supply his own tools and all materials, which may have been very costly.


After several years, a journeyman would submit his best work to the guild. If it was accepted, he could become a master craftsman, own his shop and become a powerful civil agent in the medieval town. The power of the guilds was complete; if an apprentice was expelled, he could never again earn a living in that guild.

Worker Supply and Demand

Admission to the master guild was governed by factors other than the apprentice's or journeyman's work. The guild controlled the economy by ensure that the number of journeymen was not so high as to drive down the cost of goods. Foreign goods were kept out by meeting commercial demand with the output of the local craftsmen and journeymen. To further control supply and demand, journeymen or masters could not buy large supplies of raw materials.

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