Accounts of Medieval Fairs & Markets, c. 998-1250
From The Heimskringla, c. 998: In Svithiod it was the old custom, as long
as heathenism prevailed, that the chief sacrifice took place in Goe month at Upsala. Then
sacrifice was offered for peace, and victory to the king; and thither came people from all
parts of Svithjod. All the Things of the Swedes, also, were held here, and markets, and
meetings for buying, which continued for a week: and after Christianity was introduced
into Svithjod, the Things and fairs were held there as before. After Christianity had
taken root in Svithjod (A.D. 998), and the kings would no longer dwell in Upsala, the
market-time was moved to Candlemas, and it has since continued so, and it lasts only three
days....King Olaf (Trygvason) with his people went out to Nidaros, and made houses on the
flat side of the river Nid, which he raised to be a merchant town, and gave people ground
to build houses upon. The king's house he had built just opposite Skipakrok; and he
transported thither, in harvest, all that was necessary for his winter residence, and had
many people about him there....
From The Heimskringla, c. 1026: When they came to Bjarmaland they
went straight to the merchant town, and the market began. All who had money to pay with
got filled up with goods. Thorer also got a number of furs, and of beaver and sable skins.
Karle had a considerable sum of money with him, with which he purchased skins and
furs. When the fair was at an end, they went out of the Vina river, and then the truce of
the country people was also at an end....
From Matthew of Paris, English History, 1248: The king then declared
it as his pleasure, and ordered it to be proclaimed by herald throughout the whole city of
London, and elsewhere, that he instituted a new fair to be held at Westminster, to
continue for a fortnight entire. He also strictly interdicted, under penalty of heavy
forfeiture and loss, all fairs which usually lasted for such a length of time in England;
for instance, that of Ely and other places, and all traffic usually carried on at London,
both in and out of doors, in order that by these means the Westminster fair might be more
attended by people, and better supplied with merchandise.... But all the merchants, in
exposing their goods for sale there, were exposed to great inconveniences, as they had no
shelter except canvas tents; for owing to the changeable gusts of wind assailing them, as
is usual at that time of the year, they were cold and wet, and also suffered from hunger
and thirst; their feet were soiled by the mud, and their goods rotted by the showers of
Humbert de Romans, c. 1250: Though markets and fairs are terms often used
indiscriminately, there is a difference between them, for fairs deal with larger things
and only once in the year, or at least rarely in the same place, and to them come men from
afar. But markets are for lesser things, the daily necessaries of life; they are held
weekly and only people from near at hand come. Hence markets are usually morally worse
than fairs. They are held on feast days, and men miss thereby the divine office and the
sermon and even disobey the precept of hearing Mass, and attend these meetings against the
Church's commands. Sometimes, too, they are held in graveyards and other holy places.
Frequently you will hear men swearing there: "By God I will not give you so much for
it," or "By God I will not take a smaller price," or "By God it is not
worth so much as that." Sometimes again the lord is defrauded of market dues,
which is perfidy and disloyalty....Sometimes, too, quarrels happen and violent
disputes.... Drinking is occasioned.... Christ, you may note, was found in the
market-place, for Christ is justice and justice should be there....Thus the legend runs of
a man who, entering an abbey, found many devils in the cloister but in the market-place
found but one, alone on a high pillar. This filled him with wonder. But it was told him
that in the cloister all is arranged to help souls to God, so many devils are required
there to induce monks to be led astray, but in the market-place, since each man is a devil
to himself, only one other demon suffices.
From: Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic
History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo
& Tannen, 1965), pp. 113, 117-118, 124-125.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by
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© Paul Halsall, September 1998