The Merchant Guildry of Stirling cannot trace its origin. The Gilds of Europe stem from the establishment of city life after the end of the Roman Empire with the citizens combining for commerce, defense, emancipation from the feudal superior, and for municipal administration.
Scotland, although a small population, had burghs well established in the eleventh century. Stirling is mentioned in a Grant by King David I in 1126 AD to the Church of Dunfermline of dwelling houses, churches, land and a title to the rent, from the Burgh (this is the date on the Guildry seal).
The famous laws of the Four Burghs of which Stirling was one, along with Edinburgh, Roxburgh and Berwick became the municipal laws for all the Scottish Burghs. It is thought that in the reign of the same King David I, the laws were consolidated and by that time it is clear from the text of the Laws that a Merchant Gild was in existance with teh privilage of excluding non burgesses from trading.
The final evidence of the Guildry appears in the Royal Charter to the Burgh of Stirling in 1226 AD by King Alexander II which inter alia granted 'to the Burgesses of Strivelyn that they shall have a Merchant Gild, except the waulkers and the weavers'.
It confirmed a weekly market in Stirling and forbade any merchant to carry on business within the Sheriffdom of Stirling outside the burgh. There were a number of subsequent Charters from the Kings of Scotland confirming, varying and adding to the privilages and laws of trading including that of Charles I in 1641, up to 1705, which later referred to weekly markets in the burgh.
From the origin of the Guildry no person might engage in commerce unless he was a burgess of the town and therefore took part in its administration. For protection of their trading rights the Guildry had been formed. They kept shops, dealt in wholesale trade at home and abroad, engaged in shipping ventures, lent money, acted as agebts, raised cattle and cultivated crops. They were not manual workers and were forbidden by the laws of the Four Burghs to be so.
These privilages were stenuously fought for and protected through the medium of the Guildry courts, which were in effect Burgh Courts. Action had to be taken not only against the crofts and unfreemen attempting to trade in the town but against outside forces such as Falkirk, when it obtained the status of Burgh of Barony as a result of which the Superior or Landowner would transfer business from Stirling merchants to the shopkeepers and fairs in his own Burgh.
Not until the Burgh Reform Act of 1833 which provided for election of the Town Councils and the Burgh Trading Act of 1846 abolishing the privileges of Merchant Guilds did the Guildry assume its present form as an interesting survival, and a society maintaining the ancient traditions of the town.