Medieval Fairs of Champagne
Gustave Carré mentions the existence of fairs in Troyes as early as in the 5th century: the Gallo-Roman city Augustobona was indeed located on the famous Roman Agrippa Way, which connected Milan to Boulogne; it was already a stop for many European travellers. However, it was not until the enlightened management of the Counts of Champagne during the 12th and 13th centuries that the fairs gained their international fame.
|The calendar of the fairs was devised by the Counts so that throughout the year, trade would take place on the Champagne territory; this calendar in the middle of 13th century started with the fairs of Lagny Sur Marne, in January, then, on the last Tuesday before mid-Lent those of Bar Sur Aube. In May, there were the fairs of Provins, then in July and August the "hot fairs" of Saint Jean in Troyes, then again in Provins in September to finish in October with the "cold fairs" of Saint Remy in Troyes. Each fair lasted from three to six weeks, and this calendar changed on several occasions though centuries. This clever timing ensured the County a continuous economic activity from January to December.
It was Thibaud II The Great (1125-1151) who first planned the organisation of already existing fairs on his territory, motivated by his desire to increase his autonomy from his lord, the King of France. To attract merchants, Thibaud offered a protection on the Champagne grounds and on roads which lead to it; and indeed, the Count had to defend the rights of several merchants held by the Lords of surrounding Counties. This protection came with an organised welcome in his cities; he removed tents and precarious accommodation in the fields outside the walls of the cities and encouraged the availability of attics, warehouses and housing for merchants. New currency started being minted to make trade easier; from then on, the "denier provinois" was found on the tables of all the European money changers.
Thibaud's son, Henri 1st (the Liberal), carried on his father's efforts to enable the expansion of the fairs; covered markets appeared ("grange aux Dîmes" in Provins), Hotel Dieu accommodated the merchants and their goods; the calendar was maintained and later extended. Until the end of the 13th century, each Count would have protected this prosperous economic activity which gave a new power to the County. King Philippe 4th, after his marriage with Jeanne de Navarre, the last heiress of the Counts, wasted no time in suppressing them; he thus supressed the "denier provinois" in 1284 and created new fairs in Paris, while reducing the importance of those of Champagne.
During the 12th century, merchants came from all medieval Europe for this unique international meeting; from Lombardy, Piedmont, Tuscany, Rome, Genoa and Venice in Italy, from Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut, Holland in the North, from Cologne, Basle, Constance, Augsburg, Ratisbone or Lübeck for the East. The French merchants were also numerous; they came from Burgundy or Ile de France, but also from Provence, Limousin, Lyon, Clermont and Languedoc. Merchants tended to gather according to their geographical origin, and one can find street names which testify to this; the Rue de Hollande in Provins, the Rue de Montpellier (currently rue François Gentil) and the rue des Allemands, Hotel des Maurs (in rue Saint Pantaléon) in Troyes, Rue du Poids aux Lombards in Lagny...
Each of the four cities gained prosperity from the fairs; religious buildings, which offered their attics and sometimes accommodation to merchants, multiplied, the fortifications developed, houses and inns were built where foreign merchants rented rooms, entire districts were organised to accommodate this event.
Bar Sur Aube
Below ; Church Saint Pierre and its covered market
above : Church St Maclou, maison des Hospitaliers et an old street in Bar sur Aube
|The first district to hold fairs was located around the castle of the Counts and Saint Maclou's church. The fairs took place in March, with merchants arriving from Lagny where the fairs had just ended. Their goods were stored in various storerooms; among which one was the house of "Hospitaliers de Saint Jean de Jerusalem". A second area was soon dedicated to fairs, close to the church Saint Pierre, where a "halloy" was built to shelter more stalls. The fairs brought a new prosperity to the small city, where fortifications were set up, and where nearly 3000 inhabitants lived in 13th century.
below ; cellier Saint Pierre, Church St Rémy, Rue François Gentil and Church St Jean
Above ; rue Champeaux, rue Aristide Briand, place du Marché au Pain
|Two large fairs were held in Troyes; the hot fair at Saint Jean (in July and August) and the cold fair at Saint Remy (in October and November). The Saint Jean district was entirely dedicated to trade at these times of year, while the streets around Saint Pantaléon and Saint Nicolas provided accommodation to foreigners. Around the church Saint-Jean-au-marché stalls were set up, arranged according to the type of goods sold or to nationalities. The current place du marché au pain accommodated the money changers and the goldsmiths. The goods were generally stored in storerooms of religious establishments, like the Grange aux Dîmes of Montier La Celle in rue des Greniers, or the storeroom of the Canon of the cathedral, place Saint Pierre's church. Some small houses which were built against the walls of Saint Jean sheltered the merchants and their goods. The Rue de l'Epicerie (Grocery street - now Rue Emile Zola) sheltered grocers, from which its name came.
below ; place du Châtel, Church St Ayoul and Tower César
Above ; Hotel Dieu (former Palace of the Countesses) and the grange aux Dîmes
|In Provins, two districts were mainly concerned with
the fairs; the Place du Châtel and the Place St Ayoul, formerly Place des Changes.
Warehouses were numerous in Provins, thanks to a very wide network of underground passages
used to store goods. The famous Grange aux Dîmes was established by the Count Henri 1st;
its cellar was used as warehouse, its ground floor as market hall, and upper floors as
lodging for merchants. There were two periods of fairs in Provins; the May fair, and St
Ayoul's fair, in the autumn. As such, the fairs brought richness and prosperity to the
city; the religious monuments increased (St Quiriace, Couvent des Cordelières,
transformation of the Palace of the Countesses into Hotel Dieu, extension of St Ayoul...)
and the ramparts still bear witness today of the power of the small city, which at the
beginning of 14th century had 10,000 inhabitants.
Lagny Sur Marne
|Below ; Gate of the first St Peter Abbey and its church Notre Dame des Ardents
|Above ; Halle des Marchands d'Ypres and St Fursy Fountain
|Lagny sur Marne was located very close to the border between the Champagne County and the Royal territory; it was a strategic place, which closed the line of the 4 towns of fairs. The fair began in the beginning of January and was located close to Saint Peter's abbey. A Money market was also established in rue des Poids aux Lombards. Another building still remains; the former "halle des marchands d'Ypres", "the five gables" which shelters the city's tourism office today.
Royal seals for the Champagne Fairs , 1) Charles' seal, 1327 & 2) Philippe's seal, 1333. Document kept at Centre historique des Archives nationales à Paris, Cote AE/II/246 (c) ARCHIM