How Were Markets and Fairs an Important Part of Medieval Life
Lesly Kurian 8 June 2007 “First of all, there are the hucksters who sell food to the public, the beer sellers, the publicans, and then the weavers. Not far off are the drapers, and then the parchment sellers’ pitch. Then the open space where they sell uncured skins and wool…Here comes the people leading the animals- cows, oxen, ewes and pigs, and men selling horses, the best you can buy, mares, foals, and palfreys, suitable for counts and kings.
” Many people came to buy items from markets and fairs, including the 13th century poet who described a typical market (Pierre and Sabbagh 54).
Markets were important to daily life because most of the items people bought there, they couldn’t grow or make themselves. People also made a living by selling goods there. Going to markets also gave people a chance to see goods produced in other towns (MacDonald 8). Markets were held once a week and usually lasted for a day or two (9). Since many towns were built near rivers, merchants could easily come to them and set up stalls and tents (Grant). In the center of town, there was a large space for stalls to be set up. In wealthy towns, markets were held in grand halls or covered by a canvas roof from the weather.
In the market, officials checked and measured items and identified fake money (Mac Donald 9). Merchants sold an incredible variety of items for daily life; food, utensils, tools, clothing, art, and combs (“Markets and Fairs”, MacDonald 8). Rich merchants set up stalls to sell these items. However, peasants who came to sell their goods couldn’t afford stalls, so they were forced to display on the ground. Even worse, they had to pay a tax if they displayed on the ground (“Markets and Fairs”)! Superstitions were strong in markets too!
In a typical market, a cross or holy statue was placed in the center to protect customers from any danger (MacDonald 9)! Eventually, merchants started visiting and trading in other areas. By the 12th century, many became traders and used ships on trade routes (Langley 46). Most traders used ships because they could carry large loads over a long distance versus carts on roads (Grant, MacDonald 11). Items usually transported on ships were wool, metals, timber, oil, wine, and salt (“Markets and Fairs”). As trade increased, major castles and cities became wealthy. New towns were created during the High Middle Ages because of this immense wealth.
Some even became independent of a lord or king’s rule by paying him a tax (Langley 48). As new towns were created, the population grew and some towns grew into major cities, like Paris, Venice, London, and Florence. The increase of trade also provided jobs for many and helped spread ideas around the world. Cities often became contacts and allies because of this (MacDonald 10). One group of contacts was called the Hanseatic League. It linked over 100 towns with each other. This group dominated Northern European trade from the 13th to the 15th centuries (Pierre and Sabbagh 54, Grant).
Trading among towns led way to fairs. Fairs were very special occasions because people got to look at and buy foreign and expensive items not sold at markets (MacDonald 9). They gave people a chance to take a break from daily life and enjoy themselves. They were held once a year on a saint’s feast day (Langley 54). Fairs were usually located on the outskirts of town because there was enough grassland for traders to set up their tents and graze their animals (MacDonald 9). Traders from many different lands sold specialty items at fairs.
Valuable furs, such as lynx and leopard, were popular. People also took interest in special foods like pig meat and onions. Tools and weapons were also available (Pierre and Sabbagh 54). Entertainment and refreshments was also a large part of fairs. Jugglers, stunts men, acrobats and musicians performed there. Gambling was also part of fairs. Men bet on who would win a fight; wrestlers and dogs against bears and cockfights were popular (“Markets and Fairs”). Refreshments, especially during hot weather, were enjoyable. Bakers and brewers served pies, or chewets, and beer (Langley 54).
There was special fair called the Fairs of Champagne, in France. It went on throughout the whole year without stop. Merchants, traders, and customers alike all flocked there to sell and buy goods. Unfortunately, it ended during war in the 15th century (Pierre and Sabbagh 54). As anyone can see, markets and fairs during Medieval Times were an important part of daily life. They provided needed items for life and occasional luxuries, too. However, not everyone appreciated markets and fairs. Preachers often complained that fairs were held on holy days so people would shop instead of pray!
They also believed that markets and fairs were places that people sinned the most; cursing, boasting, lying and arguing all happened there (MacDonald 9). Imagine that! Bibliography Grant, Neil. Everyday Life in Medieval Europe. North Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media, 2001. Langley, Andrew. Medieval Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. MacDonald, Fiona. Town Life. North Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media: 2005. Pierre, Michel and Morgan-Antoine Sabbagh. Europe in the Middle Ages. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1998. N/A. “Markets and Fairs” N/A. Online. http://www. xtec. es/crle/02/middle_ages/alumne/index. htm. 20 May 2007.