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Medieval Fairs

Medieval life and Times

Medieval Fairs - Definition
Definition and description of Medieval Fairs: Medieval Fairs were a gathering of buyers and sellers, assembled at a particular place with their merchandise at a stated or regular season, or by special appointment, for trade.

Medieval Fairs - Religion and Commerce
The Latin world “feria” meaning holy day was the origin of the word “fair.”

Each feria was a day when large numbers of people would assemble for worship. The commerce and trade of the Medieval fairs meant money.  The church took an active part in sponsoring fairs on feast days, and as a result, fairs came to be an important source of revenue for the church. Commerce, by way of the Medieval fairs and religion became closely entwined.

Medieval Fairs Franchise in England
Medieval Fairs in England, from a strictly legal point of view, required a franchise. Without a franchise there could be no fair or market. A franchise of fair or market could only be exercised by right of a grant from the crown or by the authority of parliament. In the earliest times periodical trading in special localities was necessitated by the difficulties of communication and the dangers of travel. Public gatherings, especially religious but also military or judicial, brought together widely scattered populations and were utilized as opportunities for commerce and ideal locations for Medieval Fairs.

Medieval Fairs in England - Grants of Franchise
In England it was only after the Norman conquest that fairs. became of capital importance. Records exist of 2800 grants of franchise markets and fairs between the years 1199 and 1483. More than half of these were made during the reigns of King John and King Henry III, when the power of the church was in ascendancy.

  • The first recorded grant, however, appears to be that of William the Conqueror to the bishop of Winchester, for leave to hold. an annual "free fair" at St Giles's hill
  • The monk who had been the king's jester received his charter of Bartholomew fair, Smithfield, in the year 1133
  • In 1248 Henry III granted a like privilege to the abbot of Westminster, in honour of the "translation" of Edward the Confessor

Sometimes fairs were granted to towns as a means for enabling them to recover from the effects of war and other disasters. For this reason King Edward III granted a "free fair" to the town of Burnley in Rutland.

When were Medieval Fairs held?
Medieval fairs in Europe were generally held during the period of a saint's feast and in the precincts of his church or abbey However, in England this was seen as the desecration of a church or churchyard and therefore forbidden by the Statute of Winton  during the reign of Edward I (1239–1307). Medieval Fairs in England were therefore held on Village Greens or open land near or within towns. Medieval fairs were not permanent and merchants set up their wares in temporary tents.

Fun at Medieval Fairs
Although the main objective of the Medieval fairs were trade and commerce, every fair contained some element of merry-making. Possibly starting from merchants trying to sell their goods, people were determined to attract the most customers to their stalls. Therefore, from a very early date, there was always fun at the fair. Any entertainment to attract a crowd, singers, musicians, acrobats, stilt walkers and fools. Fairs included various contests such as archery tournaments. Medieval tournaments sometimes coincided with Medieval fairs. Fast food and other refreshments were available. There were lots of opportunities for fun at the Medieval fairs.

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