|Connoisseur †††||Connoisseur †††||Connoisseur †††|
|Game Face (O)||Weapons ** 3)||Linguist (P)|
|Presence (O)||Boatman (P) OR||Trader’s Tongue|
|Chaffer/Haggle||Horseman (P)||Foreign †|
|Coerce||Linguist (P) †||Social Graces (P)|
|Silver Tongue||Foreign||Secretary/Acct. (P) ** 2) OR|
|Perception (O)||Literatus * (P)||Grammar School (P) ** 2)|
|Savvy||& Mathematics * (P) ** 4)||Brawler/Wrestler (O)|
|Social Graces (P)||& Scrivener * (P) OR||Game Face (O)|
|Domestic||Secretary (P) ** 4)||Perception (O)|
|Secretary/Acct. (P) ** 2)||Social Graces (P)||Savvy|
|Grammar School (P) ** 2)||Game Face (O)||Chaffer/Haggle|
The earliest merchants were essentially little more than traveling peddlers, the Chapmen represented on the trade rosters are a hold-over from that early time, but also necessary for servicing the more remote rural regions too far from any major market to be able to easily obtain the goods he carries. This trade encompasses every stripe of Merchant, from the lowest street rabble hawker of used mended clothing to the finest wealthiest purveyor of gems and spices. Street criers in a continual chorus of anything the householders might be lacking : piemakers with pies; costardmongers with their apples; pears; cherries; bundles of kindling; sacks of charcoal; grinders to sharpen knives; chimney sweeps; figs; melons; herbs; old clothes; cobblers with old shoes, and the like.
Chapmen, Packmen or Pedlars are Merchants, too, but usually the poor or only marginally successful, carrying their rather meager stock on their backs or on a mule or packhorse. Due to the numbers as a mass they accounted for a fair amount of the trade carried on. They fill in the gaps in the regular channels of distribution of goods, even in the towns circulating in the streets for the common residents, but mostly in the surrounding and remote villages and hamlets. Where the pedlars and Chapmen dominate trade, however, the region will be economically backwards, usually far from the regular routes of trade and travel through the kingdom. When the Chapman finally puts by enough to open a shop of his own he settles down in the major market town he likes best from his travels, purchases his license to trade and enlists in the guild and begins trade in earnest. The Chapman’s yearly trek was commonly made to a distant region or foreign country while the more pleasant weather reigned.
The thrust of the Merchant’s trade is business, buying and selling at home and abroad, keeping accounts, and sending their goods where they will fetch the best price, by ship or cart service. the society of the merchants is the group that controls the greatest concentration of wealth and property in the towns and dominates society, government, and the courts in the towns. The common merchant was always engaged in long-distance trade. Merchants are managers of money and commodities. They may travel and find the best disposition for their own goods and take those of investors along by cart or ship, or may send his goods to be sold by a colleague, or give them over as a long term in vestment either in coin or kind. With their fingers on the pulse of commerce, the successful merchant families are the first to be tapped for service in logistical planning, making sure the troops are properly victualed in time of war, with ample opportunity for reward by the Crown afterward in return for prompt and responsive transport of goods where needed.
The market catered to by the average town businessman/craftsman did not extend beyond the walls of his town, certainly not beyond the surrounding villages comprising the “farm” which served its needs. A static society was the ideal, prices and the flow of goods stable and predictable, and every man knowing and keeping his place in society. The pursuit of wealth for the purposes of standing well in his class and for the good care and maintenance of his family, his wife, and children, for the relief of the widows, orphans, and the poor, or for the public good that the people of the realm be supplied with the necessaries of life, are all justifiable and understood, but to seek wealth for gain, so to rise above one’s place, is condemned as avarice. The Merchant walks a fine line between work and religious dictates.
The intricate rules of trade in the towns are the Merchant’s business, the rules with which the local guilds hem the foreign and alien Merchants about to control the flow of traffic through the local streets and squares. The knowledge of taxes, tariffs, and tolls between and in order to gain access to the various markets are just as integral to his trade, “murage” on the rivers to get through the feofdoms of great nobles municipalities who have the right of toll, “hedage” to tie off at a wharf in town, “pontage” for bridge passage to maintain the structure, and “pavage” to help maintain the good paved thoroughfares inside the towns and cities. When setting their wares out in a foreign market they know the customary fee for the board on which they lay their wares on for the day is 1d., or 4d. when renting an actual enclosed stall in the marketplace.
The knowledge of the merchant’s trade also revolves around goods, materials, weights, measures, logistics and cartage or shipping, rates for shipping by land or by water, and the often very intricate rules of the marketplace.
Typical Guild Market Rules
The following is a representative cross section of a number of rules and regulations that can be encountered in a market town presented to give the PC Merchant an idea of what to expect, and to provide the GM with tools to recreate the environment, as well.
- No citizen to buy from foreign merchants before dawn (Prime).
- Any wares offered for sale after the prescribed hours of the day were subject to forfeit.
- Shellfish in London were only to be sold by wandering street hawkers called “birlesters”, not in shops, and they could have their wares confiscated if they were caught selling from a fixed location.
- Codfish caught west (upstream) of London Bridge were to be sold only in the vicinity of the Conduit (main public water source), and only after 10am.
- Thames fish caught East (downstream) of London Bridge had to be sold in Cornhulle (Cornhill). Cornhulle market was held between the hours of Matins and Nones.
- Native poultry must be sold at the west wall of the Church of St. Michael in Cornhill (“Cornhulle”), OR near the Church of St Nicholas “Flesshameles” (Flesh-shambles)
- No cook (for making ready-made foods) or Regrator was to buy any of the chickens from the stalls at Ledenhall before Prime (dawn). From Matins to Prime the wholesaler could sell only to end users, “reputable” men for their households, not to retailers.
- No professional piebaker, cook, or Regrator shall leave the city before 10am to purchase for resale victuals from foodmongers coming into city markets.
- On the third conviction of breaking the Assize of Bread, the baker or brewer was forced to forswear trade in London thenceforth.
- Le Stokkes (The Stocks), no cutting of meat after Nones, and all meat cut to be sold by Vespers (6pm), and NO selling of meats by candlelight.
- Fishmongers take their places at Les Stokkes in Fish days, Butchers to take their place on Flesh days.
- On penalty of prison, all taverners must keep the wine-cellar doors open for the enquiring public, who had the right to inspect not only the measures by which the wares were sold to them, but also the tuns it came out of. Foreign haymongers were to sell their hay by Nones or forfeit the balance of their stock.
- Imports and “foreign” goods were always sold separate from local goods, and they could only be sold as whole goods wholesale to local merchants. The local produce was sold retail to the end user and afterwards to the wholesaling merchant to be sold again later or sent elsewhere.
- Red and white wines of France are not to be sold in the same shops as sweet wines of Crete.
- No French, Spanish, or any other nation’s wine to be sold where Rhine wines were laid.
- Foreign cheese sellers must sell their wares by Nones, and they are forbidden to store their wares after Nones’ ringing; no huckster is to buy from foreign cheese mongers before the Prime bells at dawn.
- Lampreys from Nantes, France must be sold at St Margaret’s Place within 4 days of arriving; Foreign poulterers to “the carfukes” at Ledenhall, except for those arriving from Neugate or Aldrichesgate, who must sell on the pavement near the fountain before Friars Minor.
- All gardeners sold their wares together, however, native and foreign.
The central market/port at which all goods or goods of a particular type are gathered for shipment or received from abroad is called a Staple. Any given country may have a number of Staple towns for various goods or for good being received from particular countries or foreign ports. The specific Staples for particular goods being gathered to leave the country and for taking in specific goods or all those from various foreign ports into the country, the cost of “cocket” seals to get his goods through customs either in or out are all the Merchant’s business, and the going rates for the goods he deals, where he can get the best profit for the goods he deals, and where to go if he should invest in some new form of goods.
The system of medieval weights and measures was highly specialized, astonishingly accurate, effective, and standardized, and a must for every Merchant to be well-versed in. City or borough measures were kept by each municipality and used by their assayers and keepers. The Small Beam or balance, weighs finer lighter goods : silk; spices; coloring agents, and other commercial goods sold or taxed and measured by the pound. It was granted to a Keeper, often a woman, for a specific period of time or for her lifetime, weighing all wares of that particular type of measure, for a fee. A large quantity of spices used special weights in which a hundred-weight equaled 112lbs, in which one pound equaled 15oz, except for powdered or confected spices for which the 12oz pound or troy measure was used.
The Great Beam or Tron will be used for heavier goods, usually sold by the hundred-weight. The Steelyard has arms of unequal length moving on a fulcrum with a sliding counter-weight for heavier goods, the Tron will sometimes be of this type.
The Beam belonging to the Chamber of the City [of London] was rented for £10 payable in quarterly installments.
Most large merchant houses have weights and measures of their own for their pantries and storehouses. A 1300’s merchant estate inventory included one beam with scales, four pair of balances, 1 brass “auncer” (ouncer, a very small balance measuring in ounces). Regulated measures for use of the merchants and craftsmen were guaranteed by the official seal of the town/city or Crown directly. The borough Keeper will also be official calibrator for personal and commercial beams and his, in turn, must conform to “the King’s Weight” the standard for the whole country.
Being constantly engaged in the exchange of goods for fair value, whether in trading one sort of goods for another or trying to get a fair price in coin, the Merchant’s eye is trained to Assess the value of marketable goods, and is on the lookout for goods which might be marketable elsewhere for a profit.
The Merchant’s ability to assess goods will also extend to guess-timating the measures commonly used with the goods he most frequently trades in (GM’s discretion), so he can more easily estimate whether the measure he is being given when buying is true or should be examined more closely, measured against the official standards.
The character’s AV for this ability will be equal to his TR, with an att. mod. based on the character’s AWA score, plus a bonus based on his Connoisseur SL (as it applies to the goods he is dealing in), as applicable.
The character’s ability to assess goods, whether quality or quantity as described, will be covered with the assessment skills of the rest of the trades, as applicable in the description of AWA checks in Chapter 1. of Part II.
The mercantile monopoly of the business conducted in the towns is organized in the Guild Merchant. This is the association of the qualified merchant traders who owned by charter the exclusive right to buy and sell within the town, wholesale or retail, on market days and at all other times, free of toll or custom.
The right or power of forming a guild rests in the charter of rights of the towns, from either the crown directly or from the town’s feudal lord. In medieval England c. 100 towns had such guilds, over 36 shires, or counties. The reader will please note that while all guildsmen are residents of a given town, and not all guildsmen are citizens or burgesses, owning property there. The Merchant resident need merely be able to pay his scot and lot (yearly tax) to join the guild, once he has paid to enter the freedom of the town.
To make those goods needed within the town available, “foreign” merchants were allowed to bring those goods in for sale and to buy for export those goods produced or gathered in the town in surplus, but only allowed to deal wholesale and only to native merchants, and to pay the tolls, unless hailing from a town exempted by royal charter. Only those from the surrounding hinterlands coming to the town’s weekly market were exempted from the restriction on retail sales, though they were still required to pay the market toll. The length of time any Merchant could spend in a foreign market was also limited to 40 days, and during that time he must be hosted by a native (which might be by a local colleague, but more commonly by an innkeep in a region bordering the market/waterfront district where many such inns for harboring foreigners will be found). The host is responsible to the local constable or bedell for reporting the presence of his guest and keeping tabs on the quality of company the foreign Merchant keeps, to make sure he is a man of “good repute”, even searching out false coin.
The guild sets the prices and none violate them. Historically, a merchant who sold his wares at a lower price than his fellows who were following the rate set by the guild :
“… assaulted him, beat him and ill-treated him, and left him for dead, so that he despaired of his life.”
The guild also set the price they would pay for any foreign goods brought in, and all members of the guild had a right to share in all merchandise purchased by their brethren at the same price he paid for it. (though to claim this right, the guild brothers may be required by charter to be present at the sale). This tradition referred to the days when the captain was a Merchant-adventurer himself, and the hands onboard were his Journeymen merchant associates in their own right, having a right to a certain quantity of the goods carried to sell on their own account.
The Guild as a body sometimes had the right of first bid for wholesale purchases of import cargoes, especially the officers of the guild, who would then retail them to the rest of the guild members. Sole rights to the sale of one’s imports could be obtained to increase profits, a charter or license from the guild or the grantor of the charter, for a price.
London masters were limited to 2 apprentices at a time, and it was common to limit the number of Journeymen a master took on as well, to control the size of operation an energetic master might put together. It served also to regulate the rate at which competitor Merchants could engage in commerce on their own account. It will be very common for the guilds to limit the masters’ opportunities to get ahead of their fellow guildsmen, limiting the degree to which they cut into the others’ opportunities for making a living, as well.
Guild elders elected by the masters, had to be ratified by the town council, and sworn in by them :
“… hold faith with the council and show obedience, make neither revolt nor alliance against it, desire the best for it and shield it from the worst, so help me god and the saints.”
These reached their pinnacle in the Hanseatic League, which was divided into 3 companies : Wendish or Lower Saxon administered from Lübeck; Westphalian or Prussian administered from Danzig; Lavonian or Gotlandish administered from Visby. Each of these was headed by 2 elders, advised by a council of 6. Rights and duties were divided into 3 classes : Master; Journeyman; and Apprentice. Each of the three classes had their own eating, sleeping, and meeting chambers.
Their stations in cities in foreign countries consisted of an Alderman and 2-4 councilors, and Courthouse, Brewery, Bath House/Hospital, Latrine House, Storehouse(s) and Church. The church in mid-compound was built of stone (with a cellar, three naves, and no choir) and was also used as the largest warehouse in the compound, strictly watched and guarded. No natives were allowed to see the stores, much less enter the warehouses. The priest acted as the clerk for the station. The entire compound was enclosed by a palisade.
The larger the town the more commerce and industry, resulting in the multiplication and specialization of the guilds. The advantages of these single craft/trade guilds is obvious. For example, a guild such as the cordwainers bought their leather as a group by the “last” or great bundle in which they were shipped, in order to command a lower price, in the same manner the Horners and Pewterers banded together in the guild to purchase raw horn and tin, The more well-to-do Merchants in the guild would likely invest with the craftsmen to aid in making a larger purchase so they would have raw materials to farm out to other craftsmen to be worked, thus keeping even more of the brothers busy. It is not uncommon for the merchant to invest in a local craftsman or men by delivering bales of raw materials to be worked in anticipation of taking the finished goods and exporting them. Thus the Merchants may be rather specialized according the primary form of goods in which they deal. Just as often, the Merchant’s business may be trade oriented rather than manufacturer oriented, in which case the Merchant will deal in the goods coming from a particular foreign port or town.
In addition to the guilds merchant in the towns, which are corporations concerned with conducting commerce, Merchants form corporations or fraternities over the course of time as they become acquainted with others who travel the same road or make use of the same markets and/or seaports in conducting their business, as in the case of the Fraternitas Danica for those patronizing the Danish ports, These fraternities are just like the ones formed by pilgrims who have shared a road, and will not necessarily be limited to Merchants in their memberships, but only to those who travel a common road or trade route, especially if they do so on any sort of regular basis.
These organizations are primarily social and religious, but over time evolve into smaller cliques within the merchant guilds who are joined by their common interests in specific trade routes and markets. The fraternities can provide receptions for visitors, convivial entertainments from feasts and drinking to Shrovetide and May Day celebrations. The members commonly spend evenings at the company house, the same as at an inn for beer, games, music, dancing. The Society of the Black Heads was for well-respected bachelor merchants. These fraternities charge yearly dues which are directed towards maintaining a chapel specifically for the members, generally within a block of the fraternity’s hall but always within the parish, and will also be used to take care of their members’ widows, orphans, and provide masses for the benefit of the souls of their deceased members in their chapel. The older fraternities with large memberships may also provide lodging and care for those members in need of a place to which to retire.
The player of the Merchant character must understand in setting the prices he will charge for his goods that the marketplace is governed primarily by the concept of the “reasonable price” promulgated by the Church and for which the Church provided a formula : (cost of raw materials) + (25% for the craftsman’s labor) + (10% profit). The profit gained by craftsman or merchant is only intended for his reasonable living according to his station in life. The only variation on this formula was allowed for worked metals, for which the allowance for labor was 100% of the value of the metal in the finished item.
Because the middleman added nothing of value, for any middleman to add to the cost was considered abhorrent, nearly as evil a practice as usury. This does not mean that the profit margin might not be pushed by a few percentage points, though, especially when the merchant has gone to the trouble of transporting the goods where they are needed at his own expense.
The three type of middleman merchant craft that will be most commonly practiced are known as “engrossing”, or the purchase of goods before they were produced as in grain while it still stood in the field or even before it was sown, or wool before the sheep were sheared, then holding the produce back until the price rose to ensure their profit; “forestalling” is the purchase of goods on their way to market, getting a lower price by saving the producer the trip, then selling them again at market for the full price; “regrating” is the practice of purchasing goods in the market and then reselling them at a higher price, with the very real danger of their cornering the market in that commodity and charging whatever they liked, if not checked.
Historically, these were fought by not only town ordinance but by royal statute (mostly disregarded) all through the period of the game.
Negotiating for the best possible price of purchase and selling as dearly as possible is the crux of the Merchant’s business. He is closely schooled in Chaffering or Haggling and negotiating terms of sale. The player will please note that in order to Haggle or Chaffer for a better price he must buy in quantity, by dozens or more. The cheaper the per unit price, the more the buyer must commit to in order to get a break on the price. Buying wholesale generally requires a purchase by the ton, last, hundred-weight, tun for liquids, or similar mass shipping quantity.
While the Church stipulates a 10% margin for profit, as much as 15% may be tolerated before the commons start hollering about gouging and making noises about charges in the canon court for usury, which can have dire consequences for the Merchant’s estate when he dies, despite any arrangements made for the estate for the benefit of his family. In the case of goods the Merchant has had to pay to have shipped, the profit margin is normally figured after the charges for shipping have been added, before the price is broken down on a per-unit basis.
Costs for carriage of goods will be 1d. per ton of cargo per 5 miles when sent by water, regardless of whether river, lake, or sea, or 1d. 1hp. per ton per mile of carriage by cart over land. These costs are well known by the people of the period, that is why they tolerate higher prices for imports. The higher price is one of the reasons why imports have the cache that they do among the wealthy.
When the Merchant is selling wholesale, the profit margin will start at 5-7%, and the guild he is dealing with if he is foreign to the town where he is selling will set the price they will pay for his goods. To sell retail he must be in his home market, and he may press for no more than 10-15% without significant social backlash. Historically, spices were retailed at a profit margin of about 40%, however, but because of the mystery of their origins, the fact that they were largely considered a luxury, and the high demand, this was tolerated.
The rate may be adjusted from the base for selling upwards or from the limit downwards when buying according to roleplaying and the use of the Chaffer/Haggle abilities.
The GM should make an Encounter Reaction check, using the Merchant’s CHM and BTY normally, to see what the population’s reaction is when the Merchant presses for 15% or higher. If it is significantly negative, the Merchant would be advised to lower it. If he persists, either his Merchant colleagues or the crowds themselves will confront him to force him to comply. Failure of compliance could lead to local violence either in the marketplace or in a personal confrontation elsewhere.
It is the Merchant’s business to build in his head a mercantile map of not only his home kingdom, the different regions and what they produce in raw materials as well as finished goods, and the networks of roads, canals and ports by which the goods are gathered to be redistributed or sent out of the kingdom, but also the nations with whom his people trade for their needs. A town builds a reputation for what it produces or something that marks it as outstanding. Within the kingdom of England, Bath was renowned for its Roman baths/spas; Tilbury was noted for its ferry; Oxford for its universities and colleges; Northampton for its bachelors (important when women outnumbered men 6 to 4); Grimsby for cod; Doncaster for its belts, Haverhill for gloves, Tickhill for shoes, and Carlisle for horn; Colchester for russet cloth; Brideport for hempen cables (rope for sailing ships); Wilton for needles, Leicester for razors, and Huntingdon for scissors; Coventry for soap, Reading for tiles; Corfe for marble.
On the international market, Spain and Portugal sent sweet wines, figs, honey, raisins, almonds, licorice, iron, hard soaps of Castile, wax rosin, tar, cork, the renowned leather of Cordova, oranges of Valencia; Ireland sent herring, salmon, hides, furs/pelts, timber, linen and linen yarn; Gascon wine; dyestuffs from Picardy and Toulouse, France; glass from Italy and France; alum from Italy; gems, ebony, ivory, spices, and drugs from the East via Italy; fine cloth from the Low Countries.
- The best steel came from Toledo, Spain or Damascus in the Middle East.
- The armor of the masters in Nüremburg, Germany was rivaled only by that of the duchy and city of Milan, Italy.
- The finest red leather came from Cordova, Spain – hence, Cordovan leather.
- Good olive oil could be had from any Italian merchant.
- For wool the buyer went to see the English merchants, but the wool of Scotland was even more valuable.
- Citrus fruits came from Spain – hence, Valencia oranges.
- One looked to Flanders, Ghent, Arras, or Yprés in the Low Countries for the best in woven woolen cloth, but Italy held the secrets of the finest dyes (stolen from the Germans) and cloth of silk (stolen from the Middle East).
- From the Rhine River valley in Germany, and Bordeaux, Burgundy, Gascony, or Champagne in France came the finest wines (although the expensive sparkling wine that took the name of the duchy of Champagne came much later).
- Spices, glasswares, carpets and fine ceramics were among the finest luxuries to be had from the Middle East and Far East, by way of the Italian merchants.
- The city of Arras in Flanders became so famous for the quality of heavy Gobelin-style tapestries that all tapestries were called “arras”, regardless of the city in which they were woven, just as a tissue is called a “Kleenex”® and a photocopy is called a “Xerox”® today, regardless of the actual brand.
- Although it did not come into being as modern folk know it until the 1400’s, the cities of Brussels, in Flanders, and Chantilly in France, each became renowned for their own patterns of fine, needle- and hand-tatted lace.
This was all common knowledge in medieval Europe. The GM should prepare a similar list for the use of the PC’s for their native countiry(-ies), but an even more detailed one for character’s of the Merchant trade, especially detailing the specific type of goods in which the character specializes (if any).
The attention to detail required by the Merchant’s trade makes him very sensitive to both quality of materials and skill in workmanship, and gives him intimate knowledge of such things as hallmarks, allowing him to assess the quality of the goods he sees, whether in a merchant’s stall, being worn in the street, or resting in the solar of a client he is visiting, its place of origin, to distinguish the genuine article from the imitation or even forged replica. It is not at all unusual to find a Merchant who has specialized in a particular type of goods who has become a Connoisseur, especially those finely-worked goods of particular craftsmen.
The Merchant’s knowledge of the details of the regions comprising the balance of the kingdom can be filled in as he travels about buying and selling, as desired. His skills are aimed at navigating foreign markets in the realm and also alien markets outside the kingdom, securing permission to leave the country, for obtaining safe-conducts from alien princes, easing his way into the mercantile stream no matter the corner of the kingdom he finds himself. With the judicious application of some grace and kindness, the Merchant can quickly get a run down on all the local gossip and, from there, trade news and cultivate contacts to fill in any gaps in his knowledge of the locals, who to speak to in order to get any information he desires.
In game terms, the character will have social circle in which he was raised, of which his parents are a part, and one also for this Merchant friends and gracious colleagues, as well as a network of associates, factors, acquaintances and even friends he has cultivated in various positions in town government where it touches on the business of his Merchant craft, especially clerks in the government and the courts, but just as importantly, those involved in the production of various raw materials in his home region, the refining of those materials, and the craftsmen responsible for rendering those materials into a finished form. The people in his various circles and networks should be the first the Merchant character turns to when he seeks information about goods or resources, when he wishes to pick up materials to consign and craftsmen to whom to give them to make goods for him to export to other towns or out of the country. These are his natural partners to be approached when he has goods to consign to a larger market for sale, when seeking goods to bundle with his own to ship out of the country, when seeking a partner in whose business to invest.
The character may use his information network to catch wind of local events and keep abreast of new developments and persons of interest, as he makes his interests known to his people. It will also be of use for sending and receiving messages and as a source of information against which to bounce his questions, even anonymously, as desired. Each of these social circles and the network of informers may consist of up to (CHM) + (BTY att. mod.) members, and may be increased by (TR) through the character’s efforts during play.
As the character progresses in TR he will no doubt want to bring new candidates into his network or social circle. These he will have to seek out and recruit through his own efforts during play. Whether he is able to win a NPC to his cause will be determined by how well he plies his Presence skills.
The exact position in society of a contact can be determined the same as randomly creating any NPC, but it is recommended that the GM ask the player of the Merchant character to make a list of half the number of contacts he is allowed to suggest the sorts of people he is interested in having as contacts. Taking those as his leads, the GM can fill in the rest. Overlapping social circles or networks of contacts are a great way to give PC’s in the same party common ground. They may be directly associated before active play begins. The need for and uses of contacts in the various positions of shire and central Crown government is one of the greater reasons the breakdown of those offices is provided in Chapter 2.
At the GM’s discretion, some traveling may be assumed prior to the commencement of active game play, and a few of the merchant’s contacts located in foreign markets around the kingdom. It is recommended that contacts in markets or Staples of alien realms not be included at the start of play, but if alien factors or merchant contacts are desired, the PC should be required to travel to those markets, meet them, make them good cheer, ply them with small gifts and recruit them himself in active roleplay.
The AV’s and DV’s for bringing a new member of the social circle or information network into the fold and the process itself are discussed under the descriptions of the Player and Presence skills and in the text on Encounter Reactions in Chapter 5. of Part II. extensively.
The amount of time that elapses between the transpiring of an event and the character hearing of it should be based on the proximity of the event to one of his social circle or network members, and how many steps removed the station of those who are the subject of the news are from both his people and himself, according to the class and station tables in Chapter 2., approximately 1 hour per step removed.
The GM should then also look at the location at which a given event of interest took place. It is possible the character will hear news more quickly despite differences in class/station due to proximity. If in the same general neighborhood (two streets in any direction), the character should hear of it within the hour unless he has isolated himself from the company of any who have been out to hear of it. For every neighborhood by which the location is removed from his lodgings, one half-hour should be added to the time for the news to reach him.
Both parameters should be used to determine how quickly news filters through town. The nature of the news, who it affects by trade and station and class will all determine how quickly it will filter down, and also to whom the information will be considered to be of interest, where that information might be found.
If the event or the subject of news be in a hall or house where the character has a contact, it is simply a matter of travel time for the contact to send word.
If the character himself is out circulating, it is quite possible he will hear of the news personally before any of his people can relate it to him, before that news arrives at his lodgings.
To send messages and receive a reply and to get answers to inquiries, the GM should use the same parameters for distance, and ignore class and station. The character’s contacts all have lives and concerns of their own.
As far as information regarding the markets dependent on his own town’s market and their suppliers of raw materials, the GM should treat lesser surrounding markets and their hinterlands as adjacent neighborhoods and the neighborhoods beyond.
To maintain his friendships and associations, whether their services are needed or not, the character must contact every one of these one way or another no less than once every season, around the major holidays of the seasons (spring sowing, midsummer, harvest, midwinter) will be expected. The longer the character neglects of the people in his circle. the more they will come to believe they have been dispensed with or forgotten and require the relationship to be reestablished with conciliatory words and gifts to continue the relationship. Otherwise the character will need to seek a replacement.
Through his own social circle and his agents and their social circles, the character can pick up rumors and gossip as they circulate, send out requests for specific pieces of information or send messages anywhere within town or its immediate environs. So long as he maintains a connection, by correspondence or otherwise, with his agents at home and has established a means of verification so both ends will be assured of the provenance, the character can keep abreast of events at home and receive continued intelligence while exploring other areas, no matter the distance. If unable to secure a means of reliable communication, if he is gone more than a full season (three months), the character will have to take the time to re-acclimate to his surroundings when he returns (GM’s discretion).
How long it will take to get the character re-acclimated will be determined by how long it takes him to reach each of the people in his circles and network and reestablish a friendly footing. If the character left town precipitously or without notifying his friends and acquaintances he is either going to need to appear humbly bearing gifts or offer apologies and explanations with gifts, depending on their rank and importance to him.
The character will have to pay close attention to the allegiances of those he is friendly with and those of his contacts. Meddling in the affairs of national trade and the Crown’s interests and prerogatives may be profitable but can be very dangerous. The tides of fortune, of favor and disgrace, can make old contacts invaluable or destroy the Merchant socially if the tie is not severed. Disfavor is contagious, the Crown’s ire ultimately not worth the risk.
An Apothecary is the medieval equivalent of a modern pharmacist, though in the period of the game formal education beyond the Merchant’s normal schooling in mathematics, reading and writing is by no means a requirement. The Apothecary trade may be gained through formal university education, but more commonly the trade will be passed on through traditional apprenticeships. Most Apothecaries will have served an apprenticeship in the service of a master Apothecary in some merchant-dominated town.
Otherwise, the Apothecary must have learned this trade as a field of study as a Scholar-Sage under the Magister trade through formal education at one of the assorted Church-run universities. Regardless of the source of his trade training, the Apothecary character will have had the opportunity to learn the Foraging skill to go out in the field and collect the mineral substances that lie within the scope of his trade knowledge. In order to be able to extract the important parts of animal carcasses, the Apothecary must also be trained in anatomy as a Surgeon.
The Apothecary is largely a merchant first, engaging in import and export with connections far and wide both within the country and to many foreign countries as well, to obtain all the rare substances in the world for which his clients come to him. His guild is prominent in local politics. His knowledge and the commodities in which he deals extend to many mineral and animal substances. He will have knowledge of all the herbs with medicinal value, as much so as any Herbal, but his knowledge extends to ALL mineral or animal products reported to have medicinal value, as well, and also includes those that bear any sort of magickal significance, or are in demand for ANY sort of mundane use, too. The Apothecary does not usually make his own preparations, trafficking normally in ready-made substances, but he can and does know how to make and administer them when an order is presented from a Physicker. The Apothecary always does a brisk business in common cures for everyday aches and pains, upset stomachs, and the like, as well, so usually has a small stock of these made up and ready on hand, commonly buying them in lots already made, usually from the Herbals in the countryside who gather the herbs, or from other Apothecaries who specialize in making their own preparations.
Apothecaries are most commonly involved in merchant ventures with their Surgeon and Physician colleagues, often becoming too wealthy to care much about the constant internecine squabbles in the field of medicine, generally speaking. Apothecaries, along with their well-educated colleagues the Physicians, are the most common among those employed for service at the royal court and, when successful, are commonly considered rather influential. On the other hand, when the king travels, especially on campaign, Surgeons and Barbers figure far more prominently.
If the Apothecary character has a university education, the player must accept some sort of association with the Church. The character may be some sort of lay-member, with only a nodding relationship with the clergy, able to claim benefit of clergy at law, and a few clergyman friends from his school days, or he may choose a closer relationship, as some sort of wandering mendicant friar, or even a tonsured priest in orders (player’s choice).
Those taught through common apprenticeship who have the Literatus and Scrivener skills, especially those coming from university education, will have had a book-centered education, otherwise they will have had all their knowledge ingrained in their memories by rhyme and rote.
If the character has the Literatus and Scrivener skills, he will have been required to put those skills to work in scribing a “Speculum” to aid the practice of his craft.
The Apothecary’s Speculum is a compilation and overview of all the substances in which he deals, whether locally obtained or traded over long distances, rare and common of use, whether a compound he makes himself or one he receives already in usable form. It details with samples and diagrams what part or parts of animals (as applicable) or amounts of substances of the earth are generally used in, and as nearly as can be ascertained, to what uses they are put, what trades will come to him seeking them. In the realm of plant matter, the Apothecary bows to the Herbal, and while his own Speculum does go into some detail on many of the same herbs, the Herbal’s knowledge is generally far more comprehensive.
Upon reaching the Warden LoA, the Apothecary will cease to receive any advantage from his TR as an Apothecary towards the knowledge of herbs. In order to overcome this stumbling block, the Apothecary will have to find an Herbal willing to teach to complete his education in regards to plant matter.
Apothecary characters will have access to the portfolio of trade skills of the Merchant in addition to those specifically listed for his trade.
Merchants’ Partnerships & Contracts
The details of the legalities by which his trade is conducted are also the province of the Merchant’s knowledge, the various forms of contractual partnerships and means of documenting investments in merchant ventures to safeguard those investments. It is the Merchant’s business to determine the sort of terms he requires when buying or selling, and whether he will stand alone, use the temporary services of a colleague, or go into a limited or more comprehensive partnership. The most common transaction in trade, especially between merchants regardless of whether native, foreign, or alien, is a mutual contract, in which a certain value in goods are exchanged for an equal or similar value in the other merchant’s goods in order to eliminate the need for coin to change hands, or at least reduce the amount of coin changing hands to an amount easily carried.
Beyond the mutual contract, there will be three main types of business relations between merchants and either other merchants or those outside the trade who wish to consign goods or invest with them. These were known by the Italians who were the leaders in commerce : Commenda, Collegantia, Compagnia, but several different forms were involved covering a number of different uses, as follows, some known from among the merchants of the Hansa.
In the commenda, a merchant who had goods to be sold at some distant place would entrust them to a factor or agent to travel there in his stead to sell them on his behalf. One partner provides goods or money, known as the commendator, while the tractator runs the business, usually taking the goods or money personally to market, risking his own safety. The commendator provides the capital but no labor, the tractator labor but no capital in return for 1/4th the profits, in the commenda’s simplest form. If the tractator can put up 1/3rd of the capital for the venture, he can collect 1/2 the profits in return for his labor and investment. The goods remained the property of the commendator, and the tractator was to be trade on his behalf.
Any time a servant, factor, or Journeyman is hired in a managerial capacity such as this it will be accomplished by the use of a contract of commenda in which the goods put up by the commendator constitute the stock managed by the tractator, like the “sendeve”. Any given tractator could collect a number of lots of goods to go with him to a given port “on Sendeve” to be sold on the investor’s behalf, but could just as easily constitute a means of investment when the tractator is given coin. In the participatio form of commenda, money or goods was accepted by the commendator from other investors in return for a share of the profits of one of his ventures,
The commenda can be used to create a client-service relationship, or to establish either a short-term or long-term investment. The relative status of the parties to the commenda determine its nature. If the tractator is a merchant with a large and thriving business, the commendator was most likely simply an investor, when the commendator is a wealthy merchant, it was more in the nature of a contract for the tractator’s services. Where the stock is goods or coin too small in amount to comprise a complete business unto itself, or where it comprised only a part of the tractator’s business, then we know it is a commenda for investment. Otherwise, it may be stipulated that the goods are surrendered to be sold to the best advantage of the owner, and a sum advanced to cover the fee and expenses of the factor or tractator, so all profits are sent back to the owner.
The commenda were commonly used as instruments for securing credit, as well. The Crown tried to restrict to extension of credit in trade but it was so deeply entrenched as common practice among the merchants that those efforts, most clearly in the case of international wool sales, were swept away by the Staple in Calais.
The credit was always extended from the seller to the buyer, and usually from the supplier of the raw materials to the processor, manufacturer, until the goods could be moved, so to promote the flow of business. For example, the smelters’ deputy buyer rode through the field buying up the ores of the free miners. They extended him credit for the value he received of them until he could process and sell the metals, for which they had a guarantor or “compurgator” for the pledge. Should the debt be defaulted on, the guarantor could be held liable for repayment.
Societas maris or collegantia : all participants provided some investment in goods or coin, while only one tractator or a few provided the labor to run the business venture. In the German “Vera Societas” (Selschop, Kumpanie), one partner providing the capital, one partner running the business affairs, similar to a commenda, but the profits and losses both shared equally.
Compagnia : every partner contributed and the business was run jointly in profit and risk, parallel to a Hansa “Wedderlegginge”. The Wedderlinge was also used as a fiction whereby the portion of the capital invested by the journeyman merchant as servant tractator was borrowed from the commendator master merchant, thus establishing the right of the servant to a portion of the profits, but at the same time preserving the capital itself in the hands of the master merchant as commendator. The “Fürleggang” fulfilled the exact same function, contract of service in the form of a partnership. The “Volle Mascopei” (full or complete trading company) drew on all the wealth of the partners (as a guarantee), rarely used except by inheritors of a father’s estate as it is used to stake their entrance into trade.
In the pursuit of these relationships, there were a number of legal instruments used by the mercantile community. These were used to register financial relationships and transactions in various ways so in case of default the debt recorded could still be recovered.
A recognizance of debt could be used to register a debt in the event that the recipient defaulted on repayment. however, the record was only valid for an action of recovery through the court of the borough in which it was recorded. If necessary, however, the case could be removed to the royal court, either the Exchequer or the court of equity of the Chancellor, but those are lengthy measures requiring investment in writs to enact.
By bailment the debtors goods and chattels could be delivered by a token livery of seisin to the creditor, but retained against the claims of all others even at law so he still had benefit of them, like a craftsman’s tools and stock in trade, unless the creditor demanded them back.
Bills obligatory, of the merchants own hand, are informal promissory notes. With a letter of obligation, privately authenticated at the time the debt was contracted (witnessed, sealed by a notary), the terms remain private unless the debtor defaults and has to be taken to court. Unless special circumstances can be alluded to by the defendant, the judgement will automatically be passed in favor of the plaintiff.
A bond of debt is a species of carta or charter, the only difference being its subject matter. It was irrefutable unless it could be proved a forgery, and was good for the collection of the debt until it was destroyed or until the debtor was released with an equally solemn acquittance. Co-debtors could each be pursued for the full amount of the debt. An unscrupulous creditor could also present the debt as many times as he wished for payment until he had obtained the acquittance or seen the bond destroyed.
The player will need to decide on which side of the equation he wishes his Merchant to be, taking other investors’ goods along with his own on his travels to make the best profit he is able, or sending his goods or parcel of funds along with a colleague as an investment for him to make them both a short term profit, or as a prolonged investment in partnership.
Because they are, by and large, the ones with the most ready coin, one of the main duties of the merchants to act as moneychangers. Merchants are commonly needed to make change for foreign currency, especially in the port towns and great market towns, but just as frequently breaking down gold coins for silver or large silver for smaller denomination coins in the local money so it may more readily be used for small local purchases.
Merchants are also responsible for taking false coinage out of circulation when they find it. The rates of exchange are set by the Crown as often as is necessary according to the changes made in the content of precious metals in the coins, which may vary from one mint to the next from one year to the next, and the rates that may be charged for exchanging coin are set in the same decrees.
Charges for changing money range from 1fg. per c. 9d. value of the coin changed for the largest denomination coins (1335, gold “Parisiensis” valued at 6s. 3d.) to 1fg. per c. 7d. value of the coin changed (1335, gold “Agnelle” valued at 3s. 7d.), or a rate that varied from 2.7% to 3.5%. The greater the number of coins changed at one time, the lower the rate. Of course, for those countries from whom a good deal of coin is imported, as in the case of the gold brought in by the great volume of business done with the Italians, a better rate should be available, as in the case of gold florins of Florence, valued at 3s. and changed at a rate of 1fg. per 9d. value in coins. The greater the number of coins changed at one time, the lower the rate customarily charged.
Recognizing coins, their country of origins, the names by which they are called, the city in which minted, and their value in exchange with the coins of his own realm will be considered part of the basic Lore of the Merchant trade, but also one he will be expected to take an active interest in and do his best to keep current with the full range of coins being issued in his part of the world. This especially so if the Merchant intends to do any sort of regular business in changing coins.
The GM could easily stretch the representative range given to as high as 4% on small transactions (1fg. per 6d. value changed) to 2.5% (1fg. per 10d. value changed) for large transactions. These examples are for changing large denomination (foreign) gold coins down to silver for local purchases, as might be done while travelling.
The GM will need to consider if the rates for changing smaller foreign coins will be less, or if they will be accepted as is in the marketplace but perhaps at a different value.
The deniers of Le Mans were taken as double the value of those of Anjou or Tours in western France. In southern France the deniers of Le Puy were taken as half the value of those of neighboring Clermont; in the Rhineland the pfennige of Cologne were taken as double the value of those of neighboring Aachen; in Tuscany, the denari of the principal cities were all equivalent to one another.
Such relationships frequently existed between the coinages of adjacent principalities, and by the end of the 12th century they were more or less fixed. If the GM wishes to play this way with the currency it can be just this easy, and he may do so as much or as little as he likes
The business dealings of the Merchant are not necessarily dominated by ready coin, however, except when it comes to the merchant acting as banker farming out his hoarded coin, especially when acting as pawnbroker, taking in fine goods of all sorts, or jewels and plate and making advances of coin against their value. This aspect of the Merchant’s business was so dominated everywhere in the medieval world by the Lombards of Italy that the three gold balls of the arms of the kingdom of Lombardy became the universal symbol for pawnbrokers, still to be seen today. The Merchants with the plate they accumulate in the course of their business keep the mints busy smelting and coining when the Crown comes looking for metal, and the most successful among them use their great wealth and the massive amount of credit they can command on behalf of the Crown. This can be a dangerous road to tread, however, for monarchs are poor credit risks and do not believe in budgets. More than one Italian banking family was ruined by a king defaulting on repayment.
Historically, the charging of interest on loans of money – called the “making of money from nothing” – or “usury”, was sharply condemned by the Church among its adherents, and this was upheld by the secular authorities in their legislation, so that those who were condemned of it would forfeit all of their property and moveable goods to the crown upon death, the claims of any surviving widow or heirs notwithstanding.
This put the burden of the much needed service of moneylending in the hands of the Jews who had no such restrictions against charging a fee to strangers to their faith for the privilege of borrowing their money. For the purposes of the game, it is suggested that the adherents of the Olde Ways take the place of the Jews in this role.
In the mid-1200’s, groups of Italian merchants, particularly the Cahorsins and Lombards, invented legal fictions to get around the Church ban on usury. One of these was the “Contractum Trinius”.
The Contractum Trinius is a set of three separate contracts which were drawn up (with all the requisite charges for seals, registration, and the labor of the clerks) and presented to the client seeking a loan. They consist of an investment contract, a “sale of profit” and an insurance contract. Each of these is allowed under Church law, but used in concert they allowed the establishment of an interest-bearing loan.
In practice, the lender would invest a sum equal to the amount of financing required by the borrower for one year. The lender would then purchase insurance for the investment from the borrower, and finally sell to the borrower the right to any profit made over a pre-arranged percentage of the investment. This system replicated the effects of a loan with whatever interest rate was agreed between the two parties. Being made up of documents that had full legal standing, they provided protection to the lender against default, while the borrower remained under the protection of the law when it came to collection of the money by threats or force (loan sharking).
Those involved in implementing these legal fictions will be commonly known as “the [Light’s] Usurers”. This is an interesting wrinkle caused by the power of the overwhelming faith of the people of the period and the resulting power of the Church to effect legislation. The GM is encouraged to use it, but it may just as easily be omitted.
Historically, these practices were established by the later Middle Ages, and merchants lent money with interest freely in Christendom. As a result, the Jews lost their special position as moneylenders and the importance of the Jews to the European monarchs was much reduced. Edward I of England expelled the Jews in an edict of 1290, confiscating all their goods and property and defaulting on his loans to them. In France it waited until 1394, and in Spain until 1492.
Rather than resulting in confiscation and expulsion (which might occur in a realm ruled by Vice and Darkness), it is suggested that the merchants of the Olde Ways and those of the Light work on a level playing field together in the marketplace, in healthy competition. This will be the official state of affairs assumed to prevail in the gameworlds of RoM in general.
Of course, this aspect of the faith of the Light and its effects on commerce could be completely omitted, but that would be a sharp blow to the importance and position of the Merchant trade in commerce, eliminating one of the primary functions of the members of the trade, and definitely part of the fun of playing them as PC’s.
In the early 1200’s, the early days of banking, interest rates were commonly about 20%. As the system gained credibility, however, commercial rates dropped to between 8% and 10%, rather a low figure and comparable to modern terms. These rates illustrate the stability of the system. Naturally, princes and noblemen and others considered to be bad risks paid a higher rates. Princes and noblemen were notorious for defaulting on loans and little could be done to make them pay due to their political clout and strength of arms in their home locales.
The interest permitted by the crowned heads of Europe varied considerably, from modest to ridiculously high. King John of England allowed the astronomically exorbitant rate of 86.6% in 1360. In France under Philip Augustus (1165-1223), the Jewish moneylenders were allowed 2d. per week on £1., amounting to 43.3% per year. Frederick II of Sicily (1194-1250) allowed only a modest 10% (1231). In Spain, Alfonso X of Castile (1221-1284) allowed 25%, under Philip III of Navarre (1330) up to 20% was allowed, while in Aragon the Cortes of Tarragona it was 20%, but reduced to 12% in 1231. Alfonso IV of Portugal (1350) fixed the maximum interest at 33.33%.
The extremely rapid increase of indebtedness due to the high rates of interest caused ordinances to be passed to prevent interest being counted on interest – but with little or no effect.
For example, the abbot of St. Edmund borrowed 40M from Benedict the Jew (1173), and in 7 years this had grown to £880.
This should give the player and the GM an idea of what the standards of the industry are, and provide the GM with enough information to make an informed choice in setting his own rates for his gameworld, regardless of whether he includes the religious wrinkle attached.
The loans will be made against “pledges”, most commonly secured against property of some sort, and nearly anything might be used as security from clothing to jewelry or land, but the use of sacred vessels or objects belonging to the Churchis expressly forbidden. The penalty for use of such sacred objects as security against loans will be the confiscation of that property.
Historically, Pope Eugenius declared that all interest charges were null and void if the debtor went on a crusade. The GM might extend this principle to include those going on a lengthy pilgrimage, as well.
On the other hand, while the Church complained for many years about trade with “The Enemy” – the Moslems who resisted the Crusaders so staunchly in the Holy Land and who had finally ejected them – the traders of the Mediterranean were war profiteers, supplying the Moslems with war materials (iron, slaves used to swell the armies, timber for ships), and prospering handsomely from the trade. The Church turned this around, however, and for most of the 1200’s and early 1300’s actually sold “absolutions” for their sins to the guilty merchants, charging them large fines as “penance”, thus making a good profit of its own on the very trade they condemned.
For example, the Bishops of Tortosa and Barcelona (1297) routinely charged 20% to 25% of the profits of the Aragonese/Catalan merchants trading with the Moslems, with the explicit permission of Pope Boniface VIII to do so. King Jaime II of Aragon immediately took responsibility for enforcing the Papal decrees, and levied the fines himself. Thus, he became a shareholder profiting in the condemned trade which he was also actively promoting on the other end through his ambassadors in Egypt. Venice typically ignored the Pope, and Genoa reimbursed its merchants for all such fines levied on them.
In 1326 Pope John XXII issued much stronger demands to stop trading with Egypt under penalty of excommunication. Greed and hypocrisy soon triumphed, however. Immediately thereafter, the Vatican itself began selling “trading licenses”. Sometimes these were issued to whole cities for the term of a year, while others were issued to individual captains for one or two voyages.
A post mortem determination of usury will result in the confiscation of all moveable goods, all land and real property escheating to the Crown. The GM may allow the Church of the Light to follow these practices, or not. They do not fit well with the presence of a religion and faith in which miracles are preformed with some regularity, which might well be withheld in the presence of such Vice, the Mystics removing themselves from contact with the Church as a social institution.
There will be a perceivable hierarchical order among professional merchants; at the top were the bankers who did business with heads of state, in the middle were the city exchanges (moneychangers), and at the bottom were the pawnshops (common moneylenders).
At the great trade fairs of the 13th century, moneychangers issued documents or “notes” which represented debts to be made good at other fairs.. These “notes” could then be presented at another fair in a different country or at a future fair in the same location for payment in coin. If redeemable at a future date, they would commonly be discounted. These “notes” evolved into “Bills of Exchange”, which could be redeemed at any office of the issuing merchant-banker. The great merchant companies of the period often had offices in every great mercantile city across all of Europe, and some in the Middle East and Asia, too.
These Bills made it possible to transfer large sums of money without the difficulty of packing and transporting large chests of gold and silver and the hiring of armed guards to protect the gold from bandits, brigands and thieves.
Within certain major mercantile cities some moneychangers extended their activities from the manual exchange of coins to taking deposits of wealth for safe keeping “on account”, and then to transferring sums from one account to another according to the instructions of the depositors.
It was customary (by the 1300’s) amongst merchants within these particular mercantile cities to make payments for transactions by assignment on their bank accounts (per ditta di banco) as far as possible. Such assignments were initially normally made by oral instruction by the account holder in person at the bank. It was normal practice for merchants in Venice (to which so much un-minted silver came in the course of the 1200’s) to be paid for the bullion that they brought to the city by means of crediting them with its value in a bank account. Its importers could then immediately pay for their purchases of spices and other merchandise by assignment on their bank accounts.
In Genoa, by far the most inventive and forward-thinking or precocious city for local banking facilities, the notarial register of Guglielmo Cassinese indicates that as early as 1190 local payments could not only be made by transfer between accounts with the same bank, but also between accounts in different banks in the city. This was possible because the bankers maintained accounts in each others’ banks so that funds could be transferred between them. The largest of this sort of “inter-locking” system of banks was at Florence, where there were as many as 80 banks (e.1300’s).
Genoa led the way in such banking by transfer. In Venice, for example, the earliest direct evidence of a money changer running bank accounts is as late as 1274. Even then it is not clear if they were current or deposit accounts, indirect evidence suggests that such banking activities had by then already been going on for several years. Outside Italy, the earliest evidence is a little later still. The “Privilege of Barcelona” (1284) implies that current account banking, with credit transfer between accounts, already existed at that date, and the register of the treasure of Aragon for 1302-4 shows that it then also existed at Valencia and Lerida.
The evidence for money changers acting as local bankers in Bruges also begins around 1300. They were also acting in this way in the course of the 1300’s in Liège, Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Constantinople, and London. Indeed, the practice was general by that date, well within the period of the game.
By 1321, some Venetian merchant-bankers were actually reluctant to pay out cash instead of making transfers between accounts, as the Great Council found itself moved to legislate in that same year that bankers would be compelled to pay out cash within 3 days if asked to do so. Indeed, the bankers’ account holders commonly complained in Barcelona, Genoa and Venice, as well, of being sent by their banks to other banks to look for cash.
In addition to these accounts, on which no interest was paid, the moneychanger bankers also administered deposit accounts on which interest accumulated. These were effectively savings accounts for keeping sums which would not be required for several years, such as the dowries of orphan girls or apprenticeship fees for orphaned boys. As such, the banker was free to invest these funds in long-term enterprises. Some Venetian bankers invested directly in trading voyages.
A complete round trip from Venice to the Levant, back to Venice, onwards to Flanders, and back to Venice again, took two years. To make an investment in such a voyage the banker had to be certain that his depositors would not call for their money before the ship(s) had returned.
In the course of the 1300’s, written instructions, “orders of payment” or “cheques”, supplemented and eventually supplanted oral instructions.
The earliest surviving Florentine cheque so far discovered was drawn on the Castellani bank by two patrician Tornaquinci in November 1368 to pay a draper, Sengnia Ciapi, for black cloth for a family funeral. Two Pisan cheques of 1374 are illustrated as document 155 in Federigo Melis, Documenti per la Storia Economica.
Although historically beyond the period of the game, the GM should note that, within 100 years, cheques were in use in Florence by very modest men for modest purposes. A Florentine haberdasher wrote a cheque to pay for the emptying of a cess pit (1477). It is certainly possible the practice could become general in a perpetually medieval world, though likely only in the great towns and cities of any given country, and assuming that such countries are economically strong and active enough to allow the Merchants to establish and maintain it.
Similar written orders to pay came into use in Genoa and Barcelona, but Venetian banks continued to insist on the presence of the payer, or of an agent with a notarized power of attorney, to give oral instructions. Following a more conservative practice, they greatly diminished the possibility of fraud.
By allowing overdrafts on transfers and thus letting their cash reserves fall below (often well below) the total of their deposits, however, such local deposit bankers not only facilitated payments, but also increased the effective supply of “money”. Bank accounts were quite clearly part of the money supply by the early 1300’s and legislation was introduced to protect those who used them.
In Venice, a guarantee of 3,000 lire was required before a money-changer banker was allowed to set up and open for business (1270). This was increased to 5,000 lire (1318) to compensate for the decline of the lira. In Barcelona, book entries by credit transfer legally ranked equally with original deposits among the liabilities of bankers (1300).
Those merchants who failed financially were forbidden ever to keep a bank again, and were to be detained on bread and water until all their account holders were satisfied in full.
The legislation in Barcelona was greatly increased in severity in 1321. Bankers who failed and did not settle up in full within 1 year were to be beheaded and their property sold for the satisfaction of their account holders. In fact, Francescho Castello was beheaded in front of his bank in 1360.
Historically, only in a limited number of cities was there a sufficiently developed system of banche del giro or banche di scritte for payment to be made frequently and easily by transfer in the books of the bank, and these were among the greatest mercantile cities in Europe. Even in these cities, banking facilities were only available to relatively few – no doubt of ample financial means, but also of good character and repute. Perhaps 4,000 out of a total adult male population of 30,000 in Venice had current bank accounts by 1500, only about 13%. Thus, roughly 87% did NOT have such accounts and, of those who did, a high proportion were noble, exactly 50% when the members of that class formed only 1-2% of the overall population.
The GM should keep these facts in mind when determining if and where this system might be employed in his gameworld. Certainly, with the money involved, the presence of magick in the fantasy gameworld will make the practice easier to facilitate, the late date quoted above not so much an issue.
The practice of taking out insurance is handled by the Merchant bankers, also, and in the period of the game will have been in practice for about 100 years already. The first insurance company to specifically receive a charter was in Bruges in the Low Countries in 1310. Fire insurance for warehouses and against shipwreck for goods in transit are commonly available from the bigger, more successful Merchants, or through the guild, and against injuries and other misfortunes, as well. Life annuities are also available, but generally only through the religious houses. They are called “Corrodies”, and entail a purchase of a grant of food and shelter for the rest of one’s days, any special privileges spelled out in the contract, in return for a fixed, one-time payment.
The Statute of Merchants (1285)
Forasmuch as Merchants, which heretofore have lent their Goods to divers persons, be fallen in poverty, because there is no speedy remedy provided, whereby they may shortly recover their debt at the day of payment; and for this cause, many merchants do refrain to come into the realm with their merchandise, to the damage of such merchants and of all the realm; the King and his Council at his Parliament held at Acton Burnell, after the Feast of St. Michael, the eleventh year of his reign, has ordained these establishments thereupon for the remedy of such merchants; which ordinances and establishments the King commands that they shall be firmly kept and observed throughout this Realm, whereby merchants may have remedy and less trouble and business to recover their debts, than they have had heretofore: But forasmuch as merchants after complained unto the King, that sheriffs misinterpreted his statutes, and sometimes by malice and false interpretation delayed the execution of the statute, to the great damage of merchants; the King at his Parliament held at Westminster after Easter, the thirteenth year of his reign, caused the said Statute made at Acton Burnell to be rehearsed; and for the declaration of certain articles in the statute aforesaid, has ordained and established that a merchant who will be sure of his debt, shall cause his debtor to come before the Mayor of London, or before some chief warden of a city or of another good town, where the King shall appoint; and before the Mayor and chief Warden, or other sufficient men chosen and sworn thereto, when the Mayor or chief Warden cannot attend, and before one of the clerks, that the King shall thereto assign, when both cannot attend, he shall acknowledge the debt and the day of payment; and the recognizance shall be enrolled by one of the clerks’ hands being known, and the Roll shall be double, whereof one part shall remain with the Mayor or chief Warden and the other with the Clerks, that thereto shall be first named; and further, one of the said clerks with his own hand shall write an obligation, to which writing the seal of the debtor shall be put with the King’s seal, provided for the same intent; which seal shall be of two pieces, whereof the greater piece shall remain in the custody of the mayor or chief warden, and the other piece in the keeping of the foresaid clerk.
And if the debtor do not pay at the Day of Payment limited unto him, then shall the Merchant come to the Mayor and clerk with his obligation; and if it be found by the Roll or writing, that the debt was acknowledged, and the day of payment expired, the Mayor or chief warden shall cause the body of the debtor to be taken, if he be Lay, whensoever he happens to come into their power, and shall commit him to the prison of the town, if there be any, and he shall remain there at his own costs until he has agreed for the debt. And it is commanded that the Keeper of the Town Prison shall retain him upon the delivery of the mayor or warden; and if the Keeper shall not receive him, he shall be answerable for the debt, if he have whereof; and if he have not whereof, he that committed the prison to his keeping shall answer. And if the debtor cannot be found in the power of the mayor or chief warden, then shall the mayor or chief warden send unto the Chancery, under the king’s seal, the recognizance of the debt; and the Chancellor shall direct a writ unto the sheriff in whose shire the debtor shall be found, for to take his body, if he be Lay, and safely to keep him in prison until he has agreed for the debt; and within a quarter of a year after that he is taken, his Chattels shall be delivered him, so that by his own he may levy and pay the debt; and it shall be lawful unto him, during the same quarter, to sell his lands and tenements for the discharge of his debts, and his sale shall be good and effectual.
And if he do not agree within the quarter next after the quarter expired, all the lands and goods of the debtor shall be delivered unto the merchant by a reasonable extent, to hold them until such time as the debt is wholly levied; and nevertheless the body shall remain in prison as before is said; and the merchant shall find him bread and water; and the merchant shall have such seisin in the lands and tenements delivered unto him, or his assignee, that he may maintain a writ of novel disseisin, if he be put out, and re-disseisin also, as of freehold, to hold to him and his assigns until the debt be paid; and as soon as the debt is levied the body of the debtor shall be delivered with his lands. And in such writs as the Chancellor does award mention shall be made, that the sheriff shall certify the justices of the one bench or of the other, how he has performed the King’s Commandment, at a certain day; at which day the merchant shall sue before the justices, if agreement be not made; and if the sheriffs do not return the writ, or do return that the writ came too late, or that he has directed it to the bailiffs of some franchise, the justices shall do as it is contained in the latter statute of Westminster.
And if in case the sheriff return that the debtor cannot be found, or that he is a Cleric, the merchant shall have writs to all the sheriffs where he shall have land, and that they shall deliver unto him all the goods and lands of the debtor by a reasonable extent, to hold unto him and his assigns in the form aforesaid; and at the last he shall have a writ to what sheriff he will, to take his body, if he be Lay, and to retain it in manner aforesaid. And let the keeper of the prison take heed, that he must answer for the Body or for the Debt. And after the debtor’s lands be delivered to the merchant, the debtor may lawfully sell his land, so that the merchant have no damage of the Approvements. And the merchants shall always be allowed for their damages and all costs, labors, suits, delays, and expenses reasonable. And if the debtor find sureties, which do acknowledge themselves to be principal debtors, after the day passed, the sureties shall be ordered in all things as is said of the principal debtor, as to the arrest of the body, delivery of lands, and other things. And when the lands of the debtors be delivered unto the merchant, he shall have seisin of all the lands that were in the hand of the debtor, the day of the recognizance made, in whose hands soever that they come after, either by feoffment or otherwise. And after the debt paid, the debtor’s lands and the issues of lands of debtors by feoffment shall return again, as well to the feoffee, as the other lands unto the debtors.
And if the debtor or his sureties die, the merchant shall have no authority to take the Body of his Heir, but he shall have his lands, as before is said, if he be of age, or when he shall be of full age; until he has levied of the lands the amounts and value of the debt. And a Seal shall be provided, that shall serve for Fairs, and the same shall be sent unto every Fair under the King’s seal by a clerk sworn, or by the Keeper of the Fair, and of the Commonalty of the merchants of the City of London two merchants shall be chosen, that shall swear, and the Seal shall be opened before them; and the one Piece shall be delivered unto the foresaid merchants, and the other shall remain with the clerk; and before them, or one of the merchants, if both cannot attend, the recognizances shall be taken, as before is said. And before that any recognizance be enrolled, the pain of the Statute shall be openly read before the debtor, so that after he cannot say that any did put another penalty than that whereto he bound himself.
And to maintain the costs of the said clerk, the King shall take 1d. of every £1., in every town where the Seal is, except Fairs, where he shall take 1d. 1hp. of the £1. This Ordinance and Act the King wills to be observed from henceforth throughout his realm of England and Ireland, amongst the which people they that will may make such recognizances, except Jews to whom this Ordinance shall not extend. And by this Statute a Writ of Debt shall not be abated; and the Chancellor, Justices of the one Bench and the other, the Barons of the Exchequer, and Justices Errant, shall not be estopped to take Recognizances of Debts before them acknowledged and made. But the Execution of Recognizances made before them shall not be done in the Form aforesaid, but by the law and manner before used, and otherwise provided in other statutes.