The greater the commercial and industrial prosperity of a town, the more rapid was the multiplication of craft gilds, which was a natural result of the ever-increasing division of labour.
The old gild merchant remained longest intact and powerful in the smaller boroughs, in which, owing to the predominance of agriculture, few or no craft gilds were formed.
This transference of the authority of the latter to a number of distinct bodies and the consequent disintegration of the old organization was a gradual spontaneous movement, - a process of slow displacement, or natural growth and decay, due to the play of economic forces, - which, generally speaking, may be assigned to the 14th and 15th centuries, the very period in which the craft gilds attained the zenith of their power.
GILDS, or Guilds.
Medieval gilds were voluntary associations formed for the mutual aid and protection of their members.