ML&T: Shop like it’s 1155

MedievalLifeAndTimesTime travel. If you could travel to the past for a few days, where would you go? What time period would you like to visit? Is there a person from history you’d like to talk with? Is there an event you’d like to attend?

If I could go back in time to the middle ages, I would like to attend a medieval fair. I imagine them being an exaggerated mix of farmer’s market, flea market, livestock sale, and food court.

Certainly, they were dirty, noisy, crowded affairs, often with thieves, pickpockets, and other (shall we say) workers of ill repute. But just think of all the varied and interesting wares you would find — better than today’s flea market!

People often use the terms market and fair interchangeably, but did you know they were, in fact, quite different?

Markets were local events that occurred frequently in towns and villages. Fairs, on the other hand, were large events that lasted for a few days, in the early middle ages, and grew to last sometimes for up to two weeks. Fairs happened annually or sometimes semi-annually.

Just like today, the government had their hand in such ventures. Charters were issued by the king to persons (knights or manor lords) or organizations (towns, churches, or monasteries) who wanted to hold a fair. Charters gave the right to collect fees from sellers and traders that provided sizable revenues. Knights were sometimes granted charters as reward for service to the king. By doing this, the king no longer had to pay the knight from his coffers — the people paid him. Sweet deal for the king!

Goods were brought from far away places like the Mediterranean and other distant regions of Europe and Asia. Fairs were particularly essential to remote towns where certain commodities were not available in the local region. People traveled from near and far to stock up on supplies.

Some of the wonderful wares found at fairs for purchase or trade included spices, wool, tin, brass, wine, animals, leather goods, glassware, knives, toys, cloth, jewelry, cattle, sheep, horses, and all manner of food. Can you smell the fresh-baked bread and roast meat?

Mock battle at a medieval tournament. Image: Public domain.
Mock battle at a medieval tournament.
Image: Public domain.

Many fairs also had entertainment that may have included music, featuring minstrels (jongleurs) who sang and played instruments; juggling; shows with monkeys, dogs, or bears; athletic events, such as races and archery; acrobatics; puppet shows; and tournaments with jousting and mock battles.

So, if you ever get the chance, meet me at the fair. What better place to buy, sell, barter, and be entertained. Just keep an eye on your money pouch!

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2 thoughts on “ML&T: Shop like it’s 1155”

  1. History tells us the fairs and markets could be wild old places and yes you needed your hand on your purse the whole time. I think I’d love to go back and see the Globe Theatre in action, with Shakespeare’s Macbeth being performed. Theatre then was very different to now. I can’t but imagine but they were wild rollicking affairs with more noise than we might expect in this day and age. Thankfully we do know a lot about how the plays were performed, but being part of the audience in the groundlings would be an unforgettable experience.

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