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Champagne fairs

Champagne fairs

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The Champagne fairs were an annual cycle of trading fair
Fair
A fair or fayre is a gathering of people to display or trade produce or other goods, to parade or display animals and often to enjoy associated carnival or funfair entertainment. It is normally of the essence of a fair that it is temporary; some last only an afternoon while others may ten weeks. ...

s held in towns in the Champagne
Champagne, France
Champagne is a historic province in the northeast of France, now best known for the sparkling white wine that bears its name.Formerly ruled by the counts of Champagne, its western edge is about 100 miles east of Paris. The cities of Troyes, Reims, and Épernay are the commercial centers of the area...

 and Brie regions of France in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. From their origins in local agricultural and stock fairs, the Champagne fairs became an important engine in the reviving economic history of medieval Europe, "veritable nerve centers" serving as a premier market for textile
Textile
A textile or cloth is a flexible woven material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibres often referred to as thread or yarn. Yarn is produced by spinning raw fibres of wool, flax, cotton, or other material to produce long strands...

s, leather
Leather
Leather is a durable and flexible material created via the tanning of putrescible animal rawhide and skin, primarily cattlehide. It can be produced through different manufacturing processes, ranging from cottage industry to heavy industry.-Forms:...

, fur
Fur
Fur is a synonym for hair, used more in reference to non-human animals, usually mammals; particularly those with extensives body hair coverage. The term is sometimes used to refer to the body hair of an animal as a complete coat, also known as the "pelage". Fur is also used to refer to animal...

, and spice
Spice
A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for flavor, color, or as a preservative that kills harmful bacteria or prevents their growth. It may be used to flavour a dish or to hide other flavours...

s. At their height, in the late 12th and the 13th century, the fairs linked the cloth-producing cities of the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

 with the Italian dyeing
Dyeing
Dyeing is the process of adding color to textile products like fibers, yarns, and fabrics. Dyeing is normally done in a special solution containing dyes and particular chemical material. After dyeing, dye molecules have uncut Chemical bond with fiber molecules. The temperature and time controlling...

 and exporting centers, with Genoa
Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

 in the lead. The fairs, which were already well-organized at the start of the century, were one of the earliest manifestations of a linked European economy, a characteristic of the High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

. From the later twelfth century the fairs, conveniently sited on ancient land routes and largely self-regulated through the development of the Lex mercatoria
Lex mercatoria
Lex mercatoria is the body of commercial law used by merchants throughout Europe during the medieval period. It evolved similar to English common law as a system of custom and best practice, which was enforced through a system of merchant courts along the main trade routes. It functioned as the...

, the "merchant law", dominated the commercial and banking relations operating at the frontier region between the north and the Mediterranean.

The towns



The towns in which the six fairs of the annual circuit were held had some features in common, but none that would have inexorably drawn the commerce of the fairs: each was situated at an intersection or former way-station of Roman road
Roman road
The Roman roads were a vital part of the development of the Roman state, from about 500 BC through the expansion during the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. Roman roads enabled the Romans to move armies and trade goods and to communicate. The Roman road system spanned more than 400,000 km...

s and near a river, but only Lagny had a navigable one. Troyes
Troyes
Troyes is a commune and the capital of the Aube department in north-central France. It is located on the Seine river about southeast of Paris. Many half-timbered houses survive in the old town...

 and Provins
Provins
Provins is a commune in the Seine-et-Marne department in the Île-de-France region in north-central France.Provins, a town of medieval fairs, became a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site in 2001.-Administration:...

 had been administrative centers in Charlemagne's empire that developed into the central towns of the County of Champagne and the Brie Champenoise; the fair at Bar-sur-Aube
Bar-sur-Aube
Bar-sur-Aube is a commune of France in the Aube department, of which it is a sub-prefecture.-Population:The inhabitants of the commune are called Baralbains.-Culture:*Market every Saturday morning in the halls...

 was held just outside the precincts of the Count's castle there, and that at Lagny in the grounds of a Benedictine monastery. The self-interest and the political will of the Counts of Champagne was the over-riding factor.

Organization


The series of six fairs, each lasting more than six weeks, were spaced through the year's calendar: the fair of Lagny
Lagny
Lagny is the name or part of the name of three communes of France:*Lagny in the Oise département*Lagny-le-Sec in the Oise département*Lagny-sur-Marne in the Seine-et-Marne département...

 began on 2 January: the fair at Bar-sur-Aube
Bar-sur-Aube
Bar-sur-Aube is a commune of France in the Aube department, of which it is a sub-prefecture.-Population:The inhabitants of the commune are called Baralbains.-Culture:*Market every Saturday morning in the halls...

 on the Tuesday before mid-Lent
Lent
In the Christian tradition, Lent is the period of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer – through prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial – for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and...

; the "May fair" of Provins
Provins
Provins is a commune in the Seine-et-Marne department in the Île-de-France region in north-central France.Provins, a town of medieval fairs, became a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site in 2001.-Administration:...

 on the Tuesday before Ascension; the "fair of St. John" or the "hot fair" of Troyes
Troyes
Troyes is a commune and the capital of the Aube department in north-central France. It is located on the Seine river about southeast of Paris. Many half-timbered houses survive in the old town...

 on the first Tuesday after the fortnight of St. John's Day
St. John's Day
St. John's Day may refer to:Feasts celebrating the Nativity of St. John the Baptist:* January 7, an Eastern Orthodox feast* June 24, Midsummer Day**an Eastern Orthodox feast celebrating his birth**a Roman Catholic feast celebrating his birth...

 (24 June); the fair of St. Ayoul of Provins on the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September);the "fair of St. Remi" or the "cold fair" of Troyes on the day following All Saint's Day (that is, on 2 November). Each fair began with the entrée of eight days during which merchants set up, followed by the days allotted for the cloth fair, the days of the leather fair, and the days for the sale of spice
Spice
A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for flavor, color, or as a preservative that kills harmful bacteria or prevents their growth. It may be used to flavour a dish or to hide other flavours...

s and other things sold by weight (avoirdupois
Avoirdupois
The avoirdupois system is a system of weights based on a pound of 16 ounces. It is the everyday system of weight used in the United States and is still widely used to varying degrees by many people in Canada, the United Kingdom, and some other former British colonies despite the official adoption...

). In the last four-day period of the fairs, accounts were settled.

In actual practice, arrivals and departures were more flexible and efficient, relying on flexibly formed and dissolved partnerships, which freed the "silent" partners from actually undertaking the arduous journey on each occasion, delegated agents (certi missi) who could receive payment and undertake contracts, and factors, integrated with communications and transportation, and the extensive use of credit instruments
Credit (finance)
Credit is the trust which allows one party to provide resources to another party where that second party does not reimburse the first party immediately , but instead arranges either to repay or return those resources at a later date. The resources provided may be financial Credit is the trust...

 in the trade.

The towns provided huge warehouses, still to be seen at Provins
Provins
Provins is a commune in the Seine-et-Marne department in the Île-de-France region in north-central France.Provins, a town of medieval fairs, became a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site in 2001.-Administration:...

. Furs and skins traveled in both directions, from Spain, Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, and North Africa in the south via Marseilles, and the highly-prized vair
Vair
Vair is the heraldic representation of patches of squirrel fur in an alternating pattern of blue and white. As a tincture, vair is considered a fur and is therefore exempted from the Rule of tincture . Variations of vair are laid out in different patterns, each with their own name...

, rabbit
Rabbit
Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, found in several parts of the world...

, marten
Marten
The martens constitute the genus Martes within the subfamily Mustelinae, in family Mustelidae.-Description:Martens are slender, agile animals, adapted to living in taigas, and are found in coniferous and northern deciduous forests across the northern hemisphere. They have bushy tails, and large...

 and other skins from the north. From the north also came wool
Wool
Wool is the textile fiber obtained from sheep and certain other animals, including cashmere from goats, mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, vicuña, alpaca, camel from animals in the camel family, and angora from rabbits....

ens and linen
Linen
Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. Linen is labor-intensive to manufacture, but when it is made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather....

 cloth. From the south came silk
Silk
Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The best-known type of silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity...

, pepper
Black pepper
Black pepper is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is approximately in diameter, dark red when fully mature, and, like all drupes, contains a single seed...

 and other spices, drug
Drug
A drug, broadly speaking, is any substance that, when absorbed into the body of a living organism, alters normal bodily function. There is no single, precise definition, as there are different meanings in drug control law, government regulations, medicine, and colloquial usage.In pharmacology, a...

s, coinage and the new concepts of credit and bookkeeping
Bookkeeping
Bookkeeping is the recording of financial transactions. Transactions include sales, purchases, income, receipts and payments by an individual or organization. Bookkeeping is usually performed by a bookkeeper. Bookkeeping should not be confused with accounting. The accounting process is usually...

. Goods converged from Spain, travelling along the well-established pilgrim route from Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia, Spain.The city's Cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James...

 and from Germany. Once the cloth sales had been concluded, the reckoning of credit at the tables (banche) of Italian money-changers effected compensatory payments for goods, established future payments on credit, made loans to princes and lords, and settled bills of exchange (which were generally worded to expire at one of the Champagne fairs). Even after trade routes had shifted away from the north-south axis that depended on the Champagne commodities fairs, the fairs continued to function as an international clearing house for paper debts and credits, as they had built up a system of commercial law
Commercial law
Commercial law is the body of law that governs business and commercial transactions...

, regulated by private judges separate from the feudal social order
Feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

 and the requirements of scrupulously maintaining a "good name", prior to the third-party enforcement of legal codes by the nation-state
Nation-state
The nation state is a state that self-identifies as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign entity for a nation as a sovereign territorial unit. The state is a political and geopolitical entity; the nation is a cultural and/or ethnic entity...

.

Reaching the Champagne fairs


To cross the Alps
Alps
The Alps is one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west....

, the caravans of pack mules made their way over the Mont Cenis Pass, a journey that took more than a month from Genoa to the fair cities, along one of the varied options of the Via Francigena
Via Francigena
The Via Francigena is an ancient road between Rome and Canterbury, passing through England, France, Switzerland and Italy. In mediaeval times it was an important road and pilgrimage route...

. Professional freight-handlers might make the trek, under contract to merchants. P. Huvelin documented the existence, by the second half of the thirteenth century, of a faster courier service facilitated the transfer of letters and market information between north and south, one organised for the particular advantage of the Arte di Calimala
Arte di Calimala
The Arte di Calimala, the guild of the cloth finishers and merchants in foreign cloth, was one of the greater guilds of Florence, the Arti Maggiori, who arrogated to themselves the civic power of the Republic of Florence during the Late Middle Ages...

, the cloth-merchants' guild of Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

, others organised by cities of Siena
Siena
Siena is a city in Tuscany, Italy. It is the capital of the province of Siena.The historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. It is one of the nation's most visited tourist attractions, with over 163,000 international arrivals in 2008...

 and Genoa
Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

 and by the mercantile houses. In early February, 1290, it took a courier no more than twenty days to make the journey from Lagny to Florence, R. D. Face noted. Alternatively, north Italian goods were shipped to Aigues-Mortes
Aigues-Mortes
Aigues-Mortes is a commune in the Gard department in southern France.The medieval city walls surrounding the city are well preserved.-History:...

 then up or along the Rhone
Rhône
Rhone can refer to:* Rhone, one of the major rivers of Europe, running through Switzerland and France* Rhône Glacier, the source of the Rhone River and one of the primary contributors to Lake Geneva in the far eastern end of the canton of Valais in Switzerland...

, Saône
Saône
The Saône is a river of eastern France. It is a right tributary of the River Rhône. Rising at Vioménil in the Vosges department, it joins the Rhône in Lyon....

 and Seine
Seine
The Seine is a -long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. It rises at Saint-Seine near Dijon in northeastern France in the Langres plateau, flowing through Paris and into the English Channel at Le Havre . It is navigable by ocean-going vessels...

.

Dominance and decline


The fairs were also important in the spread and exchange of cultural influences—the first appearance of Gothic architecture
Gothic architecture
Gothic architecture is a style of architecture that flourished during the high and late medieval period. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture....

 in Italy was the result of merchants from Siena
Siena
Siena is a city in Tuscany, Italy. It is the capital of the province of Siena.The historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. It is one of the nation's most visited tourist attractions, with over 163,000 international arrivals in 2008...

 rebuilding their houses in the Northern style. The phrase "not to know your Champagne fairs" meant not knowing what everyone else did.

It was in the interest of the Count of Champagne
Count of Champagne
The Counts of Champagne ruled the region of Champagne from 950 to 1316. Champagne evolved from the county of Troyes in the late eleventh century and Hugh I was the first to officially use the title "Count of Champagne". When Louis became King of France in 1314, upon the death of his father Philip...

, virtually independent of his nominal suzerain, the King of France, to extend the liberties and prerogatives of the towns, which were founded in the increased security of the feudal settlement
Feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

 following the feudal disorders of the tenth century. The predominance of the Champagne fairs over those of other cities has been attributed to the personal role of the Counts in guaranteeing the security and property rights of merchants and trading organisations attending the fairs, and in ensuring that contracts signed at the fairs would be honoured throughout Western Christendom
Christendom
Christendom, or the Christian world, has several meanings. In a cultural sense it refers to the worldwide community of Christians, adherents of Christianity...

. The counts provided the fairs with a police force, the "Guards of the Fair", who heard complaints and enforced contracts, excluding defaulters from future participation; weights and measures were strictly regulated. Historian Jean Favier
Jean Favier
Jean Favier is a French historian, who specializes in Medieval history. From 1975 to 1994, he has been director of the French National Archives...

 has written "the success of the Champagne fairs can be attributed solely to this intelligent policy of applying public order to business." The Counts' concern for protection of this profitable trade extended beyond their borders: Thibaut II
Theobald II of Champagne
Theobald the Great was Count of Blois and of Chartres as Theobald IV from 1102 and was Count of Champagne and of Brie as Theobald II from 1125....

 negotiated a treaty in which the kings of France pledged themselves to take under royal protection all merchants passing through royal territory on their way to and from the Champagne fairs. Eventually even the king became involved; in 1209 Philip Augustus granted safe conduct within France to merchants traveling to and from the Champagne fairs, increasing their international importance.

Traditional historians have dated the decline of the Champagne fairs to the subordination of Champagne to the Royal Domain brought about by the marriage alliance of Philip the Bold
Philip III of France
Philip III , called the Bold , was the King of France, succeeding his father, Louis IX, and reigning from 1270 to 1285. He was a member of the House of Capet.-Biography:...

 in 1273. In 1285 Champagne became an integral part of France. "When the special motivation was removed in 1285", Janet Abu-Lughod observes, "the Champagne fairs lost their edge." Around the same time, a series of wars in Italy, most significantly the conflicts between the Guelphs and Ghibellines
Guelphs and Ghibellines
The Guelphs and Ghibellines were factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively, in central and northern Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the split between these two parties was a particularly important aspect of the internal policy of the Italian city-states...

, disrupted the overland trade routes that connected the Italian cities with France, and Genoese
Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

 and Venetian
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 merchants opened up direct sea trade with Flanders
Flanders
Flanders is the community of the Flemings but also one of the institutions in Belgium, and a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France and the Netherlands. "Flanders" can also refer to the northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp...

, diminishing the importance of the fairs. Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel was a French historian and a leader of the Annales School. His scholarship focused on three main projects, each representing several decades of intense study: The Mediterranean , Civilization and Capitalism , and the unfinished Identity of France...

 also saw the decline as due to the increasing sophistication of communications and distance credit, changing the medieval merchant from a person engaged in constant arduous travel to one who mostly controlled his affairs by correspondence.

As the Champagne fairs dwindled to insignificance, their place was assumed by the fairs of Bruges
Bruges
Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country....

, to which the Genoese ships sailed, and Cologne
Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

, a Hansa town
Hanseatic League
The Hanseatic League was an economic alliance of trading cities and their merchant guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe...

, of Frankfurt-am-Main, of Geneva
Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

 and, more locally, of Lyon
Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....

.