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FAIRS AND MARKETS
IN the Middle Ages the greater part of the internal trade portance of mediaeval of the country was carried on at fairs and markets, and the fairs and history of their organization and growth occupies an important chapter in the development of mediaeval commerce. For many centuries they were the chief centres of traffic and the main channels of commercial intercourse. But the period during which their activity was at its height was that of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when England became covered with a network of markets and fairs, of which some rivalled in fame even the great French fairs of Champagne and Lyons. Their importance indeed can scarcely be over-estimated, for at a time when the stream of commerce was fitful and scanty they furnished what was commonly the sole opportunity for the purchase and sale of distant products. They represent in fact a phase of commerce which can best be described as periodic1; where distribution and exchange take place at periodical gatherings and not in permanent centres. In the most primitive stages of commercial activity, when human needs were less intense, the scope of production and distribution alike was restricted to the satisfaction of the most pressing wants. In later stages, commercial dealing gradually became part and parcel of the everyday life of the community. Between the earliest and the ultimate stages lay an intermediate stage, in which the growing desires of society were met by increasing skill in production and an ever-widening circle of distribution. 1 Herbert Spencer, Principles of Sociology (1893), i. 498.
But opportunities of distribution were still confined to fixed periods, for while the exchange of commodities had become a recognized practice, social disorders and the difficulties of transport impeded their rapid and unceasing circulation.
In their first beginnings fairs and markets appear as a Their religious rather than as a commercial institution. They origin. originated in the religious assemblies of pious worshippers who congregated round famous shrines on the feast days of saints. Indeed between the festival and the fair there is a close, almost inseparable, relation: "there is no great festival without a fair, no fair without a festival "1. The concourse of strangers from distant parts afforded opportunities for the exchange of products, and the pilgrim was often also a trader 2. These periodical gatherings became the natural centres for commercial dealings, and merchants were always assured of the presence of buyers in an age when population was scattered and seldom concentrated in large groups. Moreover, the ostensible purpose for which the assemblies were held threw over the trader the cloak of religion, and ensured a degree of security which induced him the more willingly to brave the risks inseparable from his calling. The influence of the Church was undoubtedly a powerful factor in fostering the temporary peace to which the fair usually owed its rise.
In England we get occasional glimpses of a religious Early English origin in the case of some of the fairs. Before the Norman fairs. Conquest there was an annual gathering at the feast of St. Cuthbert in the palatinate of Durham3, and from this gathering sprang the great fair which took its name from the saint. Again at St. Ives in Huntingdonshire the discovery of the bones of the saint led to the institution of one of the greatest of English fairs. Our knowledge of early English fairs and markets is, however, very scanty, and we have only slight indications as to their condition at the 1 P. Huvelin, Essai historique sur le droit des marchés et des foires (1897), 40. Cf. also C. Walford, Fairs (1883), 1-3.
Bibliotheca Rerum Germanicarum, ed. P. Jaffé (1873), vi. 286.
time of the Conquest. Domesday Book records the existence of forty-two markets 1, and their value varied considerably. At Neteham in Hampshire 2 the market was worth as much as eight pounds, and at Okehampton 3 in Devonshire as little as four shillings. References to fairs are extremely rare, nor is their value stated as in the case of markets. One was held at Aspella in Suffolk and another at Matele in Cornwall. The silence of Domesday Book is no proof that fairs did not exist, and, moreover, many important towns, London, Winchester and others, were omitted from the Survey. There is, for example, an early mention of a fair at Chester in connexion with a grant made to the Constable Nigel by Hugo, Earl of Chester, who came over with the Conqueror 5; and William I. conceded an annual fair to Malmesbury Abbey. Again at Arundel in 1071 Roger de Montgomery was seized of the town of Arundel with its fair and market," and all other liberties to the same appertaining". But the really important fairs-St. Giles, St. Ives, Stourbridge and Bartholomew-were founded in subsequent reigns. Whatever their history at an earlier date, by the time of the compilation of the Hundred Rolls, the institution of fairs and markets had struck deep roots and had become an essential part of the economic framework of English society.
The development of markets and fairs was enormously of the fair. facilitated by the protection which the Church and the
monarchy extended to those who frequented them, and the market-cross became the emblem of the peace of commercial intercourse. They constituted the oases of commercialism in "a wilderness of militancy". The importance of the peace of the fair finds expression in the numerous charters in which it was accorded special prominence. In the charter of St. Ives (1110) the king says: "I will and ordain that all who come to the fair, remain at it, and return from it, have
1 Ballard, Domesday Inquest, 181.
2 Domesday Book, i. 38. Ibid. ii. 418 (Aspella); i. 120 b (Matele). 5 W. Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum (1661), ii. 187.
Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum, ed. H. W. C. Davis (1913), i. 65. 7 F. E. Sawyer, 'Sussex Markets and Fairs", in Sussex Archæol. Collections, xxxvi. 182. 8 Huvelin, Essai historique, 47.
my firm peace "1. Henry II. promised that all who attended the market of Nottingham 2 from the eve of Friday to the eve of Saturday should not be distrained except for the king's farm; and the violation of the royal protection involved penalties of forfeiture to the king. The clearest enunciation of the peace of the fair is in the laws of the Scottish boroughs: "This is the ordinance of the peace of the fair-that once the peace of the fair has been proclaimed, no one shall be attached in the fair unless he break the peace of the fair", and unless he were an outlaw, or a traitor or such a malefactor "whom the peace of the Church ought not to protect"; even the fugitive serf was immune from arrest while the peace of the fair lasted 3.
Other factors contributed greatly to the formation of The instimarkets and fairs, and among these was the importance witnesses. tution of attached in Anglo-Saxon law to the presence of witnesses at all purchases and sales, in order to avoid traffic in stolen goods. From the earliest times we find legislative enactments reiterating the prohibition against secret transactions. Already in the seventh century the laws of Ine1 bade the chapman do his traffic among the people before witnesses, while Edward the Elder 5 and Athelstan went a step further in ordaining that no man buy anything out of port, but there do his bargaining with the witness of the port-reeve or other unlying' man. Edgar' instituted official witnesses, thirty-six in large boroughs, and twelve or more if necessary in small boroughs and in hundreds. Canute 8 enacted that no one should buy anything above the value of fourpence unless he had the true witness of four men,
1 Cart. Mon. de Rameseia, i. 240. The charter of Bartholomew fair contains a clause, "And I forbid any of the royal servants to implead any of their persons, or without the consent of the canons. to levy dues upon those going thither": H. Morley, Memoirs of Bartholomew Fair (1874), 12.
2 Records of Nottingham, i. 3. On the subject of immunity from debt in fair-time, see infra, p. 227.
"Leges Burgorum", in Ancient Laws and Customs of the Burghs of Scotland, ed. C. Innes (1868), i. 42, 43.
Liebermann, Gesetze, i. 100 (688-695).
6 Ibid. i. 138 (901-924).
• Ibid. i. 156 (c. 925).
'Ibid. i. 210 (962-963). Kemble (Saxons in England, ii. 338) thought that these witnesses foreshadowed the later municipal council. Liebermann, Gesetze, i. 326 (1027–1034).
and the series of prohibitive enactments was continued in the legislation attributed to William and his successors. These injunctions served to consolidate the market-system by gathering the people together on fixed days in the week or year, for purposes of buying and selling. The effort to concentrate trade in recognized centres rendered the market a natural medium for all commercial dealings. The Exigencies exigencies of the royal exchequer tended in the same direction, of the royal and acted as a powerful lever in forcing the internal trade exchequer. of the country into artificial channels, in order to facilitate the collection of tolls. Henry I. tried to make Cambridge the sole custom-house in the shire: "I forbid that any boat shall ply at any hithe in Cambridgeshire save at the hithe of my borough of Cambridge, nor shall any barges be laden save in the borough of Cambridge, nor shall any take toll elsewhere but only there ". Similarly Henry II. ordered foreign merchants in Lincolnshire to do their trading at Lincoln, "so that my reeves of Lincoln may not lose my royal customs "2. The importance of safeguarding the revenue of the Crown doubtless prompted the law of Athelstan early in the tenth century: "Let every market be within port "3. In a late compilation of laws William I. is made to confirm this: "There shall be no market or fair save in the cities of our realm, and in borough's enclosed and fortified by a wall, and in castles and in very safe places, where the customs of our realm and our common law and the royalties of our Crown, which were constituted by our good predecessors, may not perish or be defrauded or infringed, but where all things may be done rightfully and in public and by judgment and justice "4. At a much later period Edward I. also attempted to confine the trade of North Wales to fixed centres, but the object here was to benefit English burgesses settled in these boroughs by giving them the monopoly of trade. The Welsh traders resisted the ordinance, partly on racial grounds, and partly to avoid the market tolls from which in the past they had apparently enjoyed immunity 5.
1 Cambridge Borough Charters, ed. F. W. Maitland and M. Bateson (1901), 3. 2 W. de G. Birch, Royal Charters of Lincoln (1911), 14. 3 Liebermann, Gesetze, i. 156. 4 Ibid. i. 491 (c. 1210). Lewis, Mediæval Boroughs of Snowdonia, 174-177.