The Merchant Guildry

The Merchant Guildry of Stirling officially began in 1226 when King Alexander II granted a charter to the Guildry of the town. There had been an association of men of commerce for over a hundred years before this which had attributed to the laws of King David I for the four burghs of Edinburgh, Roxburgh, Berwick and Stirling. The Scottish Merchant Guilds consider a charter granted by David II (son of Robert the Bruce) in 1364 as the foundation of their privileges:

“…. granted to our well-beloved Burgesses of Scotland the free liberty of buying and selling within the Privelledges of their own Burghs, and to prevent any other from buying or selling within the said Privelledges without leave asked and given….”

By 1699, the Guildry allowed unfreemen (non-burgesses) to trade within the burgh or to merchandise upon payment of either a capital sum as a life payment or an annual sum.

A merchant was someone who bought and sold goods. A craftsman both manufactured and sold goods having bought the raw materials. The merchant was considered a more aristocratic class as he did not work with his hands even though craftsmen were often wealthier. The leading trade incorporations of Stirling were the Hammermen, Skinners, Bakers, Weavers, Tailors, Fleshers and Shoemakers. They bound themselves together in a body know as the Seven Incorporated Trades. The  discord between the merchants and craftsmen was the chief feature of burgh life in the 15th and 16th centuries. All of these disputes ended with the Burgh Trading Act of 1846 which abolished all of the privileges and restrictions of both the gild brethren and the craftsmen.

You will heir promeis and swear

  1. That you sall in all tyme cuming during your lyftyme be ane faithfull gildbrither to the deane of gild an hail brethren within this burgh present and to come.
  2. And that you sall not pack nor peill with unfriemen in prejudice of the trade in any time heireftir.
  3. And that you sall not conqueis, buy or purches any lordschip over the deane of gild and brethren or against them in na tyme coming to yr prejudice.

The Stirling Guildry had a well organised system of apprenticeship and apprentices had a recognised place in the Guild. On expiry of an attested Indenture to which they were bound, they had the privilege of entry into the Guild on reduced terms.

Discipline – the Guildry enforced discipline among the members and any disobedience to the Dean was severely punished. There was also a close connection between the Guild and the church. The Guild assisted in enforcing church attendance with contraveners being fined. Members of the Guild were part of the defensive force of the town and part of the national military organisation although they often made a pecuniary contribution rather than be called up for military service.

The Guildry Ring – Tradition says that the ring was given to the Guild circa 1365 by King David II when the Charter granted by King Alexander II was confirmed. It was first recorded in 1630 when John Cowane, Dean of Guild passed it to his successor. The ring is kept in an Edinburgh bank for safekeeping and is gold set with five jewels in the form of a cross. It is inscribed “YIS FOR YE DEINE OF GEILD OF STIRLING”.  A replica of the ring is attached to the Dean’s Chain of Office.

The Reverse 4 Symbol – The Stirling Guildry adopted the old merchant’s mark of a reversed figure 4 as their emblem in the mid 19th century as a symbol of honesty and fair dealing between merchants. The symbol itself is of great antiquity but it has no particular association with Stirling and has had much wider use than merely a merchant’s mark and can be seen on a wide range of objects including the walls and fonts of churches; stained glass windows; carved panels on buildings and gravestones. In the old churchyard in Stirling it can be seen on 25 tombstones, the oldest dating from 1511.