The Crafts in Scotland are likely to have existed as informal bodies in towns and settlements from the early Mediaeval period. By the 13th and 14th centuries, craftsmen across Europe were being oppressed and their rights curtailed by the wealthier merchant burgesses and their guild organisations. The response of the artisans was to band together more formally and create their own craft guilds.
The corporate authority of the Crafts in Scotland was derived from their local Town Council. As it was, all craftsmen who wished to trade within a Scottish Royal Burgh had to be Burgesses or Freemen of that Burgh and this privilege was given by the Burgh Council under the rights that had been granted them by their royal charters of incorporation. It was natural, then, that the craft bodies should look to the Burgh authority to grant them rights of incorporation. In Stirling, as in most other royal burghs, the Town Council accepted the applications submitted by the petitioning craft or trade and granted local charters, known as ‘Seals of Cause’, which regulated the constitution and administration of the newly-formed incorporation. The Incorporated Trades had at their head an elected Deacon or Convener and their accounts were kept by an official known as the Boxmaster.
No original Seals of Cause survive for the Seven Incorporated Trades of Stirling, but it is thought that these were granted sometime in the late 14th century, before the surviving records of Stirling Burgh begin. However, there is concrete evidence that such charters were granted in the minutes recorded relating to appeals made by the Incorporations to the Town Council for the confirmation of grants of earlier privileges and the protection of their particular monopolies.
The original Seven Incorporated Trades of Stirling were The Hammermen, Weavers, Tailors, Cordiners (Shoemakers), Fleshers (Butchers), Skinners and Baxters (Bakers). Other associations of local burgesses included those of the Maltman and a group of other trades who gathered together under the title Omnium Gatherum.
The Seven Incorporated Trades acted together when their rights were threatened, and by the late 16th century, this loose association was ratified by the formal creation of the Convener Court where the various Deacons or Conveners sat together to make decisions that affected the rights and welfare of all of the trades in Stirling.
Records of each of the Incorporated Trades and of the Conveners’ Court are held at Stirling Council Archives along with the records of Stirling’s Merchant Guildry.