The Notarius and Commercial Transactions on Hârn
By: Scott Pfeiffer
Hârn, though medieval in environment, has a very late medieval
feel to its guild and commerce structures. Because of this, I felt it would be
helpful to document the legal complexities of commercial transactions on Hârn.
The following is an attempt at this:
Hârnic Commercial Practices
By: Frydric of Fifer*
The Litigant's Guild serves a great purpose in assisting the flow
of commerce on our great island. I am speaking, of course, of the duties of the
Notarius. The Notarius is a person licensed by the Crown, or a designee of the
Crown, to witness and validate legal documents - known as Bills. This person must,
in all the Kingdoms of Hârn, by a freeman and of the age of majority. In
nearly all cases other than political appointment, the Notarius is a member in
good standing of the Litigants Guild.
The Crown in each Kingdom has the right to make Notarius. This
right is often delegated to free towns, and every free town on Hârn has such
right at this time. The prospective Notarius must apply to whatever officer of
the crown or town has been designated, and each town and kingdom has its own particular
requirements. Most all involve payment of an initial fee, as well as yearly fees.
The Notarius is given an oath yearly by a designated magistrate, and receives
a seal (which the Notarius must purchase) for the sealing of documents.
Generally, all towns have several Notarius on staff, and most
medium to large merchant houses have a Notarius in their employ, as do all Usurers.
In addition, there are Notarius in the employ of all crown governments and most
Shrievalties and Earldoms. There are also a great number of independent Notarius,
including some groups of Notarius practicing together in large towns.
Notarius draft, witness and seal a great many legal documents,
including wills, affidavits and such. However, in recent years the importance
of the Notarius has been greatly enhanced by his increasing role in international
The role of the Notarius is best explained by giving a list of,
and explanation for, the various documents currently in use in trade on Hârn.
For those who are unschooled in trade, a Bill is the general term for a legal
document that has been drafted by a Notarius, sworn to by the client, and sealed
with the seal of the Notarius. The swearing of matters to a Notarius is a matter
of a swearing to the crown, and a false swearing is, in all jurisdictions, a perjury.
For that reason, only a free man may swear a Bill.
Bill of Lading: A Bill of Lading is a listing of the cargo of
a vessel. It generally is sworn by the Master of the vessel, or a Supercargo.
It will set forth the items with particularity, their quantity, destination, and
a value. The Bill is then sealed by the Notarius. The Bill is presented upon making
the final port of call, and is the basis for the Hawking or Bonding taxes to be
levied thereon, although it may be verified by inspection. After the tax is paid,
the Harbor Master or Bondsman "marks" the Bill of Lading with his seal to indicate
the taxes are paid, and then the "Marked Bill" may be presented to the Longshoremen
Bill of Goods: Also known as a Bondsman's Receipt, this document
is given by the Bondsman for goods placed in storage at the Bonding House, or
by any other storage facility holding goods on behalf of the owner. Such a Bill
may be made either to "Bearer" or to a specific individual or firm. Bearer Bills
are transferable without further documentation - the new owner simply shows up
and presents the Bill to receive the goods. This makes them convenient for trade,
but subject to theft. Bills made to an individual must be negotiated by that individual,
or may be negotiated by a third-party, if they can also produce a Bill of Sale.
The Bill of Goods is sworn by the Bondsman.
Bill of Sale: A document evidencing the transfer of title to movable
property (goods). Not in common use in the markets of Hârn, it is used primarily
between mercantylers in large transactions, and is for the protection of the buyer.
The Bill is sworn by the seller and states the goods sold and their value. It
may be presented to prove title, and is used, for example, to get goods out of
bond (when accompanied by a Bill of Goods) or to arrange lading.
Grand Bill of Sale: An interesting subcategory of the Bill of
Sale, the Grand Bill is used between mercantylers to transfer a ship on the high
seas, along with its entire cargo. This is an Azeryani invention, newly come to
Hârn and not often used.
Bill of Debt: Also known as a "Note", the Bill of Debt is an instrument
used to denote the owing of money from one person to another. In its most basic
form, it says "I owe you some amount of money". There are many variations. The
Bill can be made to an individual or to "Bearer", as discussed above. The Bill
can be payable on sight, or at a specific time in the future, or upon the occurrence
of some event. The Bill of Debt is used by Mercantyler Usurers to evidence a loan
and the obligation of repayment. Such Bills usually require the repayment of more
money than was lent, and are called "Bills Penal". The penalty may be a fixed
amount or a variable amount. The Bill of Debt is sworn by the debtor.
Bill of Exchange: This is similar to the Bill of Debt, but is
a three-party document. In this document, the "maker" swears the document, which
instructs the "drawee" to pay a certain sum of money to the "payee". The Drawee
is someone who owes money to the Maker - often a Mercantyler/Usurers who has agreed
to "bank" the money. The Payee receives the Bill and later presents it to the
Drawee for payment. Again, this document may be made to bearer, or to the order
of an individual. It can be payment on sight, or only upon the occurrence of some
event (like presentment of a marked Bill of Lading for a certain cargo.)
In addition to these Bills, there are Mercantyl Letters. These
Letters, also drawn by Notarius (but generally sealed with the seal of the Mercantyler
alone) have been in common use for a long time, but certain types of Letters are
becoming form letters, understood across the world. Two such are listed below:
Letter of Advice: This is a form letter posted by a Drawee to
a Maker after a payment on a Bill of Exchange has been drawn. It informs the Maker
that payment was made, and may include a copy of the cancelled Bill.
Letter of Credit: This is a letter which states that the undersigned
will pay the debts of the person holding the letter, up to a certain amount. This
generally facilitates the giving of credit by other persons. This is a new device.
For those of you unfamiliar with trade, an example or two is in
Gerd of Welslyn is a Mercantyler in Aleath. He wants to broker
some wool. He has contacts with several manors in Kaldor who raise sheep, and
thinks he can do a brisk business. The problem is he doesn't have enough ready
capital. So, he goes to Ygarth of Balor, the Usurer. Ygarth likes the plan, and
loans Gerd 2,000d. Ygarth's Notarius draws up a Bill of Debt, which says Gerd
owes Ygarth 2,150d in three months (because it includes interest, it is a Bill
Penal). Ygarth keeps the original, and gives Gerd a copy. Gerd then deposits the
money with Ygarth, and Ygarth draws Gerd a Bill of Debt for 2,000d - charging
him a fee of 20d for the privilege.
Gerd goes to the various farmers and buys their wool, spending
his entire 2,000d. He gives each farmer a Bill of Exchange drawn on Ygarth, which
is backed by the Bill of Debt. Each time a Bill of Exchange is made backed by
the Bill of Debt, the Notarius makes a mark on the Bill of Debt to show that much
credit used. The Farmers, who have come to town to transport the wool, go to Ygarth
and cash their Bills (some may get Bills of Debt themselves, but that is another
Gerd now has wool, no money, and owes Ygarth on the Bill of Debt.
Gerd's own Bill of Debt is cancelled when the last credit is used. Ygarth sends
Gerd several Letters of Advice showing that the monies are all drawn.
Gerd takes all the wool to the Bonding House, where he stores
the wool and receives several Bills of Goods. He tries to break the wool into
lots he thinks he can sell. He decides on ten lots and gets ten Bills of Goods
from the Bondsman. The Bonding Fee is due on sale (Because Gerd is well known).
Gerd takes his Bills of Goods to the Hall of the Mangai, where
he meets several Supercargo's of ships just put in from Thay. The negotiates a
sale of his wool, and transfers the Bill of Goods to the buyer by executed a Bill
of Sale. He receives from the Buyer a Bill of Debt or a Bill of Exchange drawn
on a local or foreign mercantyler. If the Bill of Debt is on a foreign mercantyler,
Gerd discounts its face value appropriately. Gerd has now sold his wool, and has
Bills of Debt for 3,000d. He goes back to Ygarth, and negotiates the Bills of
Debt. From the proceeds, he pays Ygarth and pockets the rest.
Turin of Talos is a Mercantyler Supercargo from Thay. He is in
Aleath with some cash (from the recent sale of his cargo) and a Letter of Credit
from a Thay Mercantyler. He takes the cash and the Letter to Ygarth. He deposits
the cash and the Letter. Ygarth discounts the letter, and gives Turin a Bill of
Debt for the cash plus the discounted Letter. So armed, Turin goes to the Hall
of the Mangai. At the Hall Turin negotiates to purchase some wool. He eventually
buys the wool from Gerd. He draws a Bill of Exchange on Ygarth, backed by his
Bill of Debt, which is then marked. He receives the Bill of Goods and a new Bill
of Sale, transferring the wool to his name. He takes these documents to the Bonding
House, where he pays the Bonding Fee and gets the wool, surrendering the Bill
of Goods. He shows the Bill of Sale to the longshoremen, who lade the ship with
his wool. He then swears a Bill of Lading before the Harbormaster's assistant,
who co-seals the document. He sets out for Cherafir.
In Cherafir, he shows the Bill of Lading and pays Bonding Tax
on the goods, which are offloaded and stored. He receives a Bill of Goods from
the Bondsman and his Bill of Lading is cancelled. He then reports to the Hall
of the Mangai where he sells the wool to a Supercargo bound for Lythia. He again
transfers the Bill of Goods with a Bill of Sale, and receives a Bill of Exchange
drawn on a local Mercantyler.
Perhaps this has helped you to understand the basics of trade
documentation and the role of the Notarius. Thank you.
Frydric of Fifer 720 T.R.
Editors Note: One unlooked for side effect of this new era of
documentation is the brisk trade in false Bills by the Lia-Kavair. In certain
ports, this is becoming a crisis.
* Meester Fifer is a Master of the Litigants Guild and a Viran
of the Guild of Arcane Lore. Meester Fifer practices as an independent Notarius
in Thay and lectures on Law at Guild of Arcane Lore, Cherafir.