Here is another background piece I did back when I was writing Farseer. There is actually a Rogue Trader character in Fist of Demetrius so this may still be relevant. Once again, everything here is very old and none of it was ever part of the official 40K background save where it appears in Farseer.
An extract from the basic training lectures of Brother Guillame, Fabricator Scriptorum, Inquisition Library, Stalynheim.
Reference: Light of Knowledge
Clearance Level: Tertius
Unauthorised Viewing May Result In Termination of Library Privileges and Life.
Praise the Emperor.
Brothers, our lesson today deals with those individuals variously known as merchant adventurers, free voyagers or more colloquially Rogue Traders. Most of us have heard of them. Some are great heroes of the Imperium. Who does not know the tale of how Cortezar Bale conquered the Nine Worlds of the Fiery Circle? How many could not name the Golden Tiger, famed ship of Dorian Hyde. These men are often presented in tales, plays and poems as great heroes, adventurers who have added new worlds to the Emperor’s realm, and new lustre to the glory of our Imperium. As we shall see the truth has always been more complex and many of these famous men have ended their days in one of our courts of extreme sanction.
First let us begin by defining our terms. A Rogue Trader is an individual who possesses a commission from the Imperium to trade freely in any area not specifically under Imperial Interdict, including worlds beyond the boundaries of the Imperium itself. This charter is usually known as a Warrant of Trade. Such Warrants are issued in the Emperor’s name, and are normally granted either by an organ of the Administratum or less commonly and legally by a planetary Governor.
The form of words used normally provides the bearer with the right and privilege of recruiting his own troops to act as his personal bodyguard, and to hire ships and navigators to facilitate the spread of mercantile enterprise beyond the boundaries of the Imperium- provided this is done in the approved manner. Once granted, the charter is irrevocable. However, as is stated on all Warrants, if the bearer should prove to be an apostate, a heretic or traitor to the Imperium, or if he should be found guilty of criminal activity in an Imperial court, or by an approved agent of Imperial Justice such as an Inquisitor, the Warrant may be confiscated and reallocated by the appropriate authority.
Warrants of Trade can be sold, traded or passed on to heirs and are valid beyond the life of the one to which they are issued. As you might imagine, all warrants can be seen as the keys to great riches, and in and of themselves are instruments of great value.
It would appear that the origins of these charters pre-date the Imperium itself, and date back to the time of the Great Crusade when they were granted by the Emperor himself in his own hand. Samples of these may be found in the Hall of Relics on Terra. In the time of the Great Crusade the divine wisdom of granting such charters cannot be questioned. The realm of man was smaller, embattled and the many worlds of humanity were isolated. Such traders bore the word of the Emperor to new worlds and joined those worlds in righteous trade. Prosperity provides strength, strength provides unity, unity is the bedrock of the Imperium.
The legal precedent for irrevocable general charters comes from the fact that the first charters were issued by the Emperor himself, often without mentioning the name of the bearer, who was presumably known to the Lord of Mankind himself. None among us has the authority to revoke something written in His Almighty Hand. Since the time of His Ascension there have been many corrupt servants of the Imperium who have enriched themselves by issuing general and irrevocable warrants, and lamentably many of these still exist. In your studies you will come across the example of Luigi The Obese who during the course of his vile career issued some 2000 warrants, far in excess of his sector quota, and used the proceeds to buy an entire planet, Perugia, from the Valerian Combines. Luigi died during the penance of the Thousand Blows. When he died he was the richest man in the Perugian graveyards.
There are records dating back to the Great Crusade of merchant adventurers leading armies numbering into the hundreds of thousands, and conquering entire industrial worlds in the name of the Emperor. Indeed many of our leading families of Imperial Commanders can trace their origins back to a Rogue Trader who brought their fief world into the fold of humanity.
As with many other things, the role of the Rogue Trader was changed by the wickedness and anarchy of the Horus Heresy. In that time, it was wisely seen that the military and naval wings of the Imperium should be kept separate. Private armies and private fleets that could conquer worlds were banned, for many of the traders fell into error and followed the Warmaster in his rebellion. After the Ascension of the Emperor into his golden throne, the Administratum wisely limited the number of followers in a Rogue Traders retinue to no more than one thousand soldiers. This restriction has been violated in a number of ways at a number of different times, but nonetheless, even its sporadic enforcement has helped maintain the stability of the Imperium from the earliest days to the present millennium.
How does one acquire a charter? The answer is simple. One either acquires an extant Warrant of Trade or one petitions the Administratum for a new one. If one is judged worthy and the quota of warrants for that decade has not been exceeded, a Warrant is awarded. Naturally, such a great privilege is not granted to everybody. The task of exploring beyond the Imperium, of bringing new worlds into the fold of mankind, and bringing trade to those who have not known the benefits of being part of the Imperial community is not one that can be entrusted to just anybody. One must be judged tough enough to survive the physical and mental rigours of the task. One must be capable of leading men in battle, and negotiating trade pacts that may later be ratified by the Imperium. One must be a fit representative of Imperial civilisation. One must pass many tests of fitness, and be subject to the most stringent physical and mental examination to prove that one is free from the taint of heresy and the stigmata of mutation. These tests would seem to explain why so many Rogue Traders come from within the ranks of the Adeptus Terra or the military.
Sadly our investigations have uncovered many hundreds of instances where charters were granted in return for huge bribes, or as a result of blackmail or other forms of political pressure. In fairness, it has to be said that some of the greatest and most pious of all the free captains gained their charters by such disreputable means but nonetheless we must frown on such activities and stamp them out whenever we come across them.
It also must be added that in certain times, and at certain places, Imperial Commanders have taken it upon themselves to provide charters to merchants from their worlds. Such charters may not have been strictly legal, but their possessors were shielded by the might of a planetary governor, who used his power and influence to protect them, and thus illegally acquire access to fleets of ships for their own military. It has to be said that where the Commanders were loyal, devout and just men, our Inquisition has often turned a blind eye to such abuses, foolishly in my opinion, for none can be seen to be so mighty as to be above the law, as the Emperor himself remarked when pronouncing sentence on Horus. Once again, several of the most famous of Rogue Traders have been possessors only of such charters, and the two types of charter have become confused in the minds of the public, if not in the eye of Imperial law.
Finally a number of Rogue Traders simply claim the title or acquire false warrants or forge them themselves. Needless to say laying false claim to the possession of a warrant of trade is a crime punishable by ultimate sanction. Forging Warrants of Trade is a capital crime.
Once in possession of a charter, the bearer is free to purchase his own ships, recruit his own men, and chart his own course between the worlds of the Imperium and beyond. Of course, it is the nature of such men that they often already possess ships, or lead great mercenary companies before they apply for their charters. Many have been drawn from the ranks of Adeptus Terra, disgraced nobles who have carved out new fortunes and destinies for themselves in the worlds beyond the Imperium.
Another very common occurrence is for the owner of a Warrant to be merely the front man for a cartel of merchants who receive a share of the profits from any voyages undertaken by the Trader. In and of itself this would superficially seem to be of no concern. After all the money to underwrite these ventures must be found somewhere and this way there is no drain to the coffers of the Imperium itself. However, it should be noted that such men are often more concerned with profit than with the security of the Imperium, and this in itself presents problems.
For, of course, once beyond the pale of our noble realm, many Rogue Traders are exposed to heresy, and the temptations of power without the restriction of Imperial Law. Many have gone rogue themselves, setting themselves up as petty kings on backward worlds, others have become vectors of heresy, bringing the taint of Chaos and xenogen contact back within the fold of the Imperium itself. It is because of this that all such individuals should be investigated and subject to rigorous checks upon return from their voyages.
In the course of your Inquisitorial careers, you may be called upon to confront a Rogue Trader-do not be daunted by his wealth, or his force, or even the fact that he may possess a Warrant of Trade inscribed in the hand of the Emperor himself. Bear in mind that the legitimacy of his possessing that charter is based entirely on the character of its owner- if the bearer is unworthy, it is entirely within your authority to confiscate it and deal summarily with its former owner.
Here endeth this lesson.
All glory to the Emperor.