May 11th, 2015

Indentures for medieval village apprenticeships: medieval urban apprenticeships cut short

A vaguely European, vaguely 14th-15th-century AU setting

Two questions:

1.       How did rural craftsmen such as millers, village blacksmiths, potters etc. take on apprentices in the late Middle Ages? An apprenticeship was a major legal commitment on both sides, I can’t see late-medieval people being satisfied just with a verbal agreement. (And even if they were, anyone who had been apprenticed that way, and afterwards wanted to take their skills elsewhere, would have no means of proving that they had been through a legit apprenticeship.) Who would draw up the indenture? Who would witness it and be responsible for adjudicating any disputes that might arise?

I’ve tried Googling various combinations of ‘medieval, village OR rural, apprenticeship OR indenture’ but all I keep getting is info about apprenticeships in towns, where of course the appropriate craft guild would have done all that. How did it work in the countryside where there wasn’t a craft guild?

2.       And in towns, where guilds had responsibility for admission to crafts: I know that when a master craftsman died , his wife or heir would carry on the business, or sell it on, so that responsibility for any apprentices would go to whoever was now running the business. What happened when a business packed up (e.g. the master went bankrupt or something) so that blameless apprentices were left having served anything up to 6 years? Surely they can’t have been expected to start over again. Was it standard practice for them to be allowed to get an indenture with another master for the remaining part of their time? Might the guild, having admitted them on to the lowest rung of the craft fraternity, take any degree of responsibility for sorting out a means of completing their apprenticeship?

I’ve Googled things like ‘medieval apprenticeship cut short’ but got no leads.

As it’s AU I have wiggle room, of course, but I’d rather base this on actual medieval practice if possible. Not necessarily English practice; I’m happy to have pointers from anywhere from the Baltic to Spain!