Chapter 2

The Book of Trades (1268)


Having been appointed Provost of Paris, in 1261 with major responsibilities for justice, police and administration of the city, Étienne Boileau (c.1200-c.1270) soon began to codify the regulations, customs and practices of the different corporations of craftmen and workers having their trade in the capital of the French kingdom. Up to that point, most regulations were simply traditions handed down by word of mouth and therefore subject to the vagaries of memory or deliberate misinterpretation for personal gain.

Boileau ordered the trade leaders – masters, jurors (arbitrators) or prud­hommes – to report to the Grand Châtelet, the seat of the Prévôt royal (Royal Provost) of Paris to list the rights, privileges and requirements of their professions in order that a Book of Trades could be compiled from direct testimony of those involved. When written this Book identified in detail over 100 of the 150 crafts practiced within the walls of Paris and was presented to the King in 1268.

Place and context - In the second half of the 1200s, Paris – founded 1,400 years earlier on the Ile de la Cité (Isle of the City) with the name of Lutetia – stood, with its 150,000 inhabitants, as the most populous city of the Christian World. Its location, on the banks of the river Seine, in the centre of a prosperous agricultural region and at the crossroads of major thoroughfares, made it an important economic center. 

Its craftsmen and traders were grouped into guilds or corporations, who were jealous of their territory and their prerogatives. This led to legal and physical conf­lict. At the time, the courts were clogged with internecine claims and disputes, while on the streets there were public clashes and fights between sedentary residents and itinerant foreigners.

Faced with the unrest, Louis IX (1214-1270), decided that new regulations constituted the best form of pacification and control of all local activities, and the best way to ensure regular income through royal taxes. Étienne Boileau’s regulations governed the French Craftsmanship for the next 500 years.

The document - The Book of Trades is divided into six parts, the last including among others the Potters and Platers, as the Bricklayers, Stonemasons, Plasterers and Mortarers. It is this section that is of interest to modern Freemasons and is thus cited in this publication. 

It is to be noted that the first codex of the Book of Trades, also called White Book or First Book of Crafts, has been destroyed by a fire at the Chamber of Accounts (Chambre des Comptes) in 1737 – but copies of its contents have been preserved up to this day. 

Modern transcription from medieval French.

The Text

Étienne Boileau, the Provost of Paris, to all the bourgeois and residents of Paris, and to all those who will come within the bounds of this same place, and who will be concerned, Oyez  (1)...

On Masons, Stone Masons, 

Plasterers and Mortarers (2).

These are the statutes and rules of the Trade Union of the Master Masons, Plasterers and Mortarers, made in honor of God.

1. - In the city of Paris anyone who wishes to be a Mason may be one, provided he knows his trade and works according to the practices and customs of his profession, which are defined thus:

2. - No one may have more than one apprentice in his business, and if he has one he must keep him for six years of service. He may well keep him beyond this time if the man is available, but for pay. If he keeps him less than six years he will be fined (3) twenty Paris cents (4), payable to the chapel of Saint Blaise (5), unless the apprentices are his own sons born to him in wedlock.

3. - The Mason may lawfully take a second apprentice on the same terms as he took the first one after the first one has completed five years.

4. - The King who now rules, to whom may God grant long life, has entrusted, for as long as he may see fit, authority over all Masons to Master William de Saint-Patu. The said Master William swore in Paris in the palace lodge (6) that he would protect the Guild of Masons as best he could, with honesty and justice to the poor as well as to the rich, to the weak as well as to the powerful; as long as the King wished him to serve that Guild. 

Master William then gave his oath in the presence of the Provost of Paris in the Grand Châtelet (Grand Chastelet) (7).

5. - Mortarers and Plasterers come under the same conditions and organization as the Masons.

6. - The Master who in the name of the King heads the Guild of Masons, Mortarers and Plasterers of Paris may have two apprentices only under the same conditions, as above stipulated. Should he have more apprentices he shall be fined as above stated.

7. - Masons, Mortarers and Plasterers may have as many helpers and servants (8) in their business as they please as long as they do not show any of them the fine points of their craft. 

8. - All Masons, Mortarers and Plasterers must swear to protect their Craft by committing themselves to work loyally and well and to report to the Master of the Guild any case of infringement on the usage and customs of the Craft which may come to their attention.

9. - Masters with apprentices whose term of apprenticeship is fulfilled must come before the Guild Master and testify to the fact that their apprentice has accomplished his term faithfully and well, whereupon the Guild Master shall ask the apprentice to promise under oath to observe the practices and customs of the Craft loyally and well.

10. - No one may practice his Craft after Nones [3 pm] have been rung at Notre-Dame on Saturdays, at any time during the year or after vespers [6 pm] are sung at Notre-Dame unless he is about to close an arch or a stairwell, or is about to lay the last stones of a doorway leading to the street. 

Should anyone work beyond these hours, with the exception of the above-indicated or similar work that cannot be postponed, he must pay a fine of four deniers [a small coin worth about one penny] to the Guild Master and the Guild Master may take away the tools of him who repeats the offence.

11. - Mortarers and Plasterers are under the jurisdiction of the Master who, in the name of the King, heads the above-mentioned Guild.

12. - If a Plasterer delivers plaster for use by anyone, the Mason who is employed by him to whom the plaster is sent is under oath to watch that the measure be right and honest. If he is in doubt, he must remeasure it or have it measured before his eyes. 

If he finds the measure to be wrong, the Plasterer has to pay a fine of five sous: two sous to the above-mentioned chapel of Saint Blaise, two sous to the Guild Master, and 12 deniers to him who will have measured the plaster. 

It must, however, be proven that the same amount of plaster was missing from every donkey-load delivered for the specific job as was missing from the sack which has been measured; one sack-load by itself cannot be measured.

13. - Nobody may be a Plasterer in Paris unless he pays five Paris sous to the appointed Guild Master. After having paid he must promise under oath not to mix any other material with the plaster and to give good and honest measure.

14. - If a Plasterer mixes material with his plaster which should not be used, he must pay a fine of five sous to the Guild Master every time he repeats the offense. If the Plasterer makes a habit of cheating and does not improve or repent, the Guild Master may suspend him from the Craft; and if the Plasterer will not obey the Guild Master, the latter must inform the Provost of Paris, who must in turn force the Plasterer to abandon the craft.

15. - Mortarers must promise under oath and in the presence of the Guild Master and other Masters of the Craft that they will not make mortar of other than good binding material and, should they make it of other material so that the mortar does not set while the stones are being placed, the structure must be undone and a fine of four deniers must be paid to the Master of the Guild.

16. - Mortarers may not take on an apprentice for less than six years of service and one hundred Paris sous to teach him.

17. - With the King’s authorization the Guild Master has jurisdiction over minor infringements and fines of Masons, Plasterers and Mortarers and of their helpers and their apprentices. Furthermore, he has jurisdiction over the enterprises of their trade, over unauthorized builders and over claims, with the exception of property claims.

18. - Should anyone from the above-mentioned Crafts, when summoned before the Guild Master, fail to obey, the fine to be paid to the said Master is set at four deniers; if he appears on the designated day and is guilty, he makes a pledge, and if he does not pay within the designated time he has to pay [an additional] fine of four deniers to the Guild Master. 

If he denies any wrongdoing but is [found to be] at fault he also pays four deniers to the Guild Master.

19. - The Guild Master may levy only one fine per quarrel. If the one who has to pay the fine is so furious and so beside himself that he refuses to obey the order of the Master or to pay his fine, the Master may bar him from the Craft.

20. - If anyone belonging to any of the above-mentioned Crafts who has been excluded by order of the Guild Master but continues to work beyond the date of exclusion, the Master may take away his tools until he has paid the fine.

And if he resists with force, the Guild Master should inform the Provost of Paris, who should put down his violence.

21. - Masons and Plasterers must do guard duty and pay the taxes and other dues that all other citizens of Paris owe the King.

22. - Mortarers have been exempt from guard duty since the time of Charles Martel, as wise men have heard it said from father to son.

23. - The appointed Guild Master is ex­empt from guard duty as reward for the services he renders as Master of the Guild.

24. - [Also] exempt from guard duty are those who are over sixty years of age, and he whose wife is in bed for as long as she is there, provided they inform the overseer of the guard appointed by the King.


1. - Oyez... which means “Hear Ye” was used in medieval time as a call for silence and attention, particularly when a major statement was about to be read aloud. It should be noted that most of the people affected by the Book of Trades were unable to read and write.

2. - Mortarer - Craftman who has in charge the making of mortar for layer Masons.

3. - In Medieval times, it was a rule that at the time of signing a contract of apprenticeship, the Master would receive a fee (the price of service) to cover the initial costs of the apprentice; he would have then considered him as his son, and ensure for him cover, shelter and clothing. The apprentice was not paid for his work.

4. - In the old French time:1 livre (pound) = 20 sous (cents) = 240 deniers. In 1360, the livre (pound) became: “franc”.

5. - St. Blaise - Patron saint of stone Masons and layer Masons.

6. - Palace Lodge - Room or chamber in a palace. Other meanings in old language: shelter, tent, cabin or small house; a lodge could also be an area of ground where a monument or a building was constructed.

7. - Grand Châtelet - Royal fortress located in the center of Paris; the city headquarters for justice and police personnel.

8. - At the time of Étienne Boileau, trades were generally divided into three distinct classes: Apprentices (apprenticeship lasting five to eight years), Craft men (who had finished their training but did not have the means to create their own work), and Masters. Then came the laborers and servants.

© Guy Chassagnard 2016