History of Economic Thought

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Impacts of Medieval Fairs on Feudal Society

Steve Zhang
Franklin and Marshall College

November 18, 2012

Abstract

This paper presents insights on the Medieval fairs. In particular it looks into the impacts of Medieval fairs had on the socioeconomic transformation of feudal society. It argues that although fairs had little impact on the social patterns of serfs from early to high Middle Ages because they were created to complement feudal lords’ growing needs for more and diversified goods, development of fairs were crucial to the decline of serfdom. In addition, I show that the development of fairs not only led to the decline of serfdom, but also had a significant effect on the transition from a land-based economy to a money-based economy, which was also the root to the decline of feudalism.

I. Introduction
Fairs were arguably always huge events for the feudal society during Medieval times. After conducting extensive researches on the relationship between Middle Ages fairs and the feudal society, I believe that the impact of fairs was distinctively different from early to late Middle Ages. Therefore, in this paper, I will argue that fairs were created by the feudal system to complement its growing needs for larger quantity and more diversified goods from the early to high Middle Ages, but the rapid development of fairs was also the root to declines of serfdom, as well as dissolutions of feudal society during the late medieval period. Medieval fairs were well recognized by historians and economists for their tremendous contributions to both social and economic development. However, what interested me was the disparity of influences fairs had on the same feudal society during different stages of Medieval times. In my opinion, fairs established during early Middle Ages were simply by-products of the feudal system, and were created to meet the growing demands for luxury goods by the wealthy lords. However, during the late Middle Ages, fairs became a destructive force that inevitably led to both the declines of serfdom and feudal system. Thus, it was my quest to ascertain the reasons, which altered how fairs changed from serving the feudal society to destroying it, and what was the force behind such a dramatic change. There will be three sections in this paper. In the first section, I will discuss early charter fairs in detail as well as how it was created specifically in response to the feudal society’s growing needs for rare and luxury items. In the second part, I will to discuss the development of fairs through the 7th century to the 13th century, and also examine the socioeconomic impact they had on the feudal society. The third section presents an analysis of why the impacts of fairs dramatically differed from one period to another. In addition, I will also present the conclusion on the driving force that brought about such a change in the last section.

II. The inception of Saint Denis fair
In order to trace the outlines of the historical evolution of fairs, it is necessary to gain a thorough understanding of feudalism – the socioeconomic system that dominated Middle Ages from 5th century to the 15th century. The decline of the Roman Empire left Europe without the laws and protections. which the empire used to provided. According to Hunt and Lautzenheiser, this vacuum was filled by the creation of a feudal hierarchy, the serf or peasant was protected by the lord of a manor (secular lord) or bishops (religious lord), who were also protected by a higher overlord established in either the catholic church or the king (Hunt and Lautzenheiser 9). This protection also came along with obligations on the serfs’ side, such as raising crops for food or tending sheep for wool and clothing., in addition to any taxes they had to pay to their overlord (Hunt and Lautzenheiser 9). In...
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