Guilds & Trade Incorporations

Purpose of Guilds and Trade Incorporations

In Scotland, the purpose of Guilds and Incorporations were connected with the monopoly over foreign and domestic trade granted to Royal Burghs.

In return for this monopoly the Royal Burghs had to provide taxation to the King. Within these Burghs, some inhabitants who could afford it, paid a fee to the Town Council to become Burgesses or Freemen. In addition these same people paid taxes to the Town Council but demanded that they then benefit economically in return. This meant that they alone benefited from commercial activity within the Burgh’s boundaries. They too were the only ones eligible to become Town Councillors.

In order to protect their commercial activity or trade, these Burgesses required a body to enforce this monopoly position, and Guilds and Incorporations resulted. These Trade Incorporations and Guilds ensured that craftsmen from out of town paid extra fees/levies or were prevented from competing with local craftsmen and local businesses who were members of their Trade incorporation.

Within each trade within the Burgh, the owner of each business was called a Master. A Master would take on apprentices to train them up in their craft or trade. Once they were trained and time served, the apprentices became journeymen or craftsman. In many cases the journeymen would save up and set up their own business and become their own Master.

By paying his fees to his Trade Incorporation, he earned the right to be a “freeman” as well, and practice his trade in the Burgh. One of the primary jobs of the Trade Incorporation was to make sure that work within the Burgh went mainly to those who were members of the Trade Incorporation of that Burgh.

If you weren’t a master you couldn’t own your own business, and without any form of business then a craftsmen couldn’t earn a living.

Looking after the Tradesmen and craftsmen and their families also involved looking after them in bad times as well as good. To this end, it was a key function of every Trade OR Guild to ensure that if members or their families fell on hard times, that they were provided for. To this end, many Trades and Guilds used their collective buying power to buy "meal" or food in bulk- at reduced prices for their members to benefit from. In addition, a poor fund was run as well, distributing charitable support to needy members and their families.

This latter function remains today as one of the key functions of the Trades and Guildry- albeit their acts of charity are no longer run exclusively for members or past members.