The Company of Merchants of the City of Edinburgh

Historical Background

The origins of the admission or grant of Burgesship can be traced at least as far back as the year 1406. To become a Burgess was a necessity for anyone wanting to earn a living in Edinburgh and, in return for the right to work in the town, Burgesses had to accept a share of civic responsibilities.

The relevance of the Burgess ticket changed over the centuries, and in the Local Government Reform of 1973 the burgess role in Edinburgh was closed, although the former City of Edinburgh District Council and the current City of Edinburgh Council retained provisions to grant honorary Burgess-ships (Freedom of the City). They exercised these in respect of Sean Connery, Nelson Mandela and others.

Historically, both the Merchant Company and the Incorporated Trades made it a condition of entry that applicants had to hold a Burgess ticket and, until their demise, the Burgess tickets were signed in the presence of the Lord Dean of Guild.

When the system was abolished, the Merchant Company reacted with some ingenuity by taking possession of the office of “Lord Dean of Guild” (now conferred on The Old Master) who, to this day along with the Master, signs the Certificate granted to new Members of the Merchant Company who become members of the Guildry. The Incorporated Trades have had more difficulty in that most of the ten of the original guilds surviving still require applicants for membership to hold a Burgess ticket. Many of the City’s guilds were unable to renew themselves and, as a result, the Incorporated Trades approached the Council with a view to reviving the practice of issuing Burgess tickets.

Position of the Merchant Company

The Incorporated Trades appreciated the historical association with the Lord Dean of Guild and enthusiastically agreed to the Merchant Company becoming involved with them in their proposals, which were agreed by the City of Edinburgh Council in 2007.

Applications & Nominations

Nominations for Burgess-ship will be accepted from either organisation. A committee consisting of representatives of both has been formed as the forum for considering nominations, and this committee includes the Lord Dean of Guild.

Members of the Merchant Company who wish to apply, or who would like more information, should write to me at The Merchants’ Hall or telephone me on 0131 220 9289.

Gregor Murray
Secretary and Chamberlain

The Company of Merchants of the City of Edinburgh’s Website