The Medieval Fair

Medieval Fairs were not what we think of as a fair today more like a Market with fun added.   Buyers and  sellers, assembled at a particular place with their merchandise and ours was held annually on the Feast of St Margaret.   Medieval Fairs in England, from a strictly  legal point of view, required a franchise from the Crown.

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 1500s-Brueghel-Pieter-the-younger-Flemish-artist-c.1564-1637-8-Village-Fair-FestivalIII, 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.    Our fair was granted in 1241 by Henry III and is an early fair, Our right to a market is even earlier and dates to 1215 from King John

The wares varied from those in the markets: You were more likely to find precious metals and stones, silk, spices, and perfumes from distant countries at fairs – very like our Bric a Brac stall today

All the fun of the fair

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 attr1590_Mostaert_Dorfkirmes_anagoria scaledact a crowd, singers, musicians,  acrobats, stilt walkers and fools. Fairs included various contests such  as archery tournaments. Medieval tournaments sometimes coincided with  Medieval fairs. strength contests were common so I guess our Tug of War would have fitted right in.   Fast food and other refreshments were available. There  were lots of opportunities for fun at the Medieval fairs.

So our fete today carries on this tradition.   Stalls were you can buy goods,  games of chance, Food and drink prepared at the fete and entertainment by players or musicians.   We no longer have the cock fights or bear baiting but our dog show still brings an animal interest into the proceedings.
You’ll find much more information about Markets and Fairs in medieval times in the GAZETTEER OF MARKETS AND FAIRS IN ENGLAND AND WALES TO 1516

Established by Royal Charter in 1241