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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 commercial transactions.

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.

Commercial Documents

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 for off-loading.

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.

Financial Documents

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 order.

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 story).

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.