go to table of contents  CONCLUSION and APPENDIX 

 The personal dimension of the commercial network

Keywords: market fairs participation commerce transactions livestock food drink wool cloth fuel contracts grain wine conviviality marketplace conflict assault intimidation punishment churches priests baptism gifts record keeping travel middlemen purveyors robbery death misadventure shipwreck Dudley Tetbury Ravenserodd Wimborne Minster Blandford Forum Wearmouth

Historians tend to be primarily interested in markets as economic institutions; not least because it is their economic aspect which features most prominently in surviving records. For much of the Middle Ages they were the primary location where commerce occurred, in all its variety: disposal of produce by small-scale farmers, retail acquisition of household necessities or raw materials for artisanal businesses, disposition of second-hand and even stolen goods, sales or exchanges of livestock, preliminary discussion of wholesale, partnership or credit arrangements, offers of services. Yet markets also played a large role in the social life of a community, for the marketplace was the principal site within a town where members of the community-at-large interacted and negotiated (not just commercially) with each other – with the possible exceptions of churches, though places more for passive congregation, or taverns and gildhalls, more limited in their clienteles – as well as with outsiders, in both sociable and adversarial contexts. They were also places suitable to designate for pre-arranged meetings for business purposes, such as payment for commercial transactions agreed at some previous date or for the payment of rents.

Some of this interaction between individuals is evidenced in legal records, documenting commercial agreements, disputes, or frauds. A good deal of the aggression that took place in towns, whether verbal or physical assault, occurred in the marketplace or at the houses and taverns facing onto it, and women seem to have played almost as large a part as men in such incidents; to take a few instances from the Colchester court rolls for the period November 1310 to the same month the following year: Hugh de Stowe was charged with having, on multiple occasions, so harangued and harassed stall-holders in the market that they and their customers were driven away; Peter Faber and wife Christina were accused of breaking down the door of Joan Holtone's house in the marketplace and striking her with a flail; Catherine la Bawe complained that John Bolex had thrown her down in the market and assaulted her with fist and foot; Richard le Bowyer defended himself against John le Celer's charge of assault in a marketplace shop by saying that he had come across John striking his (Richard's) wife and had intervened to protect her; and the sister of Walter Taverner accused Alice la Rede of attacking her with a fork in the marketplace. Marketplaces may have deliberately been chosen as the venue for assaults in some cases, such as that of the three Aston brothers who, in 1306, were presented by a Stafford jury, at a gaol delivery session, for having, on the occasion of a formal market day, swords drawn, chased a royal bailiff into the town's marketplace in order to give him a beating there, until the town authorities were able to intervene. Whether the intent was to humiliate the victim in full public view, or to intimidate the community at large is not evident, but the Astons were noted as being frequent offenders, in terms of administering beatings in fairs and other public settings, and this case is not an isolated instance in the records of Staffordshire judicial proceedings. Indeed, we hear of small gangs who rode, armed, around the county to frequent fairs and market events, and there brazenly manifest violence and terrorize the general populace.

Marketplace conflict was, naturally, not the preserve of locals; in 1353, the steward of the high-handed John Fitz-Walter, whose barony was seated in Essex at Little Dunmow, was accused of numerous offences including that, while at Colchester, where he was accustomed to visit to make purchases for his master's household, in the marketplace he took fish, meat and other goods not, as was the habitual practice, by buyer and seller agreeing on a price, but by use of intimidation to essentially purvey goods at prices he dictated [Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1350-54, p.412]. By contrast with such episodes of aggression, the friendly encounters of neighbours in the marketplace, the gossip passed from one resident to another, the drinks together in the taverns, the civil exchanges between buyer and seller, of course tend to leave little mark in records. For good or bad, markets were people places; it was the needs, the sociability, and the patronage of people on which their success was built and on which the development of a market network is premised.

Yet few primary sources offer historians much of a look at market participation by individuals in smaller communities, and our knowledge tends to be based on piecemeal evidence. Financial accounts can shed light on disposition strategies (as regards demesne produce) and locational purchasing preferences of manorial lords or religious houses, while manorial court rolls provide some illustration – usually at a fairly generic level – of marketing activity by small farmers or villagers engaged in reprocessing raw materials into consumables. Kathleen Biddick has used taxation data to make inferences about villagers marketing livestock ["Medieval English Peasants and Market Involvement", Journal of Economic History, vol.45 (1985), pp.823-831].

A source evidencing, anecdotally rather than quantitatively, a different range of market frequentation or uses than seen in court rolls is proof-of-age proceedings taken by royal escheators. These were required to ascertain whether a feudal heir had attained age of majority, and they relied on the individual recollections of persons from a fairly wide social spectrum whose evidence, both first-hand and hearsay, was taken under oath. The sets of jurors may have been partially self-selecting, but equally possibly contacted in advance by the heir or his or her husband or guardian, which raises the question of coaching as to testimony, but is just as explicable by the need to track down those who had authentic memories of an heir's birth or baptism – memories that specific actions were often taken, at the time of such events, to induce or reinforce. These jurors were typically, and necessarily, men between 40 and 70 years of age and residents of the area in which the inquisition was held – usually that of the birthplace of the heir in question, or of a nearby settlement. They may have attended the heir's birth or baptism, witnessed a record of such events being made in some volume possessed by the family or the church, or have been told of these matters in a context that had some unusual feature, making it more memorable; or again, the birth or baptism may have coincided with an occurrence more directly meaningful to a juror, such as a personal windfall or mishap, or some significant family incident. Parents sometimes gave gifts – essentially mementos or souvenirs – to select persons in hopes of establishing a memory that might be later called upon to prove the heir's age – or, rather, evidence that the heir was at least 21 years old, if male, 14 if female, which were the ages of majority (i.e. when able to be treated, in the eyes of the law, as an independent adult); it seems unlikely they would have bothered with such gifts if they expected proof-of-age inquisitions to be presented with fabricated evidence.

It was often this mental association of contemporaneous but otherwise unrelated events – that pertaining to the heir, with one that was extraordinary, or had strong emotional resonance, for the juror – which enabled a durable memory to be formed and held in the brain; the association with a strong emotion served a purpose analogous to that of a fixer in photographic processing. Today neurological science would cast doubt on the brain's ability to retain memories uncorrupted over an extended period; corruption, some of which takes place during memory recall, can take the form of fabricating contextual details that add credibility to the story inherent in a memory. Bearing in mind that the aim of jurors was to make their assertion regarding the age of an heir trustworthy in court, reliable core memories may have been elaborated with details that are less reliable. However, we may note that such memories, unlikely to have been regularly recalled during the period between the event and testimony of it, were relatively less susceptible to corruption; furthermore, what we know of the way modern brains function is not amenable to testing on medieval counterparts. At the very least, the recollections of proof-of-age jurors may not be entirely historical, but provide anecdotes that would have seemed plausible to their contemporaries.

In an epoch when there was less reliance on written memoranda or other artificial substitutes for memory (although there are, in the proofs, a surprising number of references to documentary evidence as aides-mémoire), personal recollections were retained with an appearance of accuracy across periods often spanning several decades, even though the complex process of forming memories, and the malleability of those memories, as they undergo future re-working to mesh into an evolving experiential framework and general world-view, has the potential to introduce bias, artificial emphasis, or even error. In response to the requirements of the law, there may have been a growing tendency for jurors to invent or stylize recollections or for escheators (or their clerks) to regurgitate testimony from earlier inquisitions. Other than where such forms of standardization or clear error can be identified, however, we must take most of the recorded statements of jurors at face-value; certainly none of the criticisms levelled at this type of historical evidence have general applicability [for some discussion of the reliability of statements, see John Bedell, "Memory and Proof of Age in England 1272-1327," Past and Present, no.162 (1999), pp.4-12, 20-24; William Deller, "The texture of literacy in the testimonies of late-medieval English proof-of-age jurors, 1270 to 1430," Journal of Medieval History, vol.38 (2012), pp.208-11].

When the occasional confusion or discrepancy is discernible in regard to details, this is probably due more often to faulty recollection than false testimony. But it might also stem from the potential for error at various points in the process of inquisitorial procedure in reporting and recording the evidence (not to mention subsequent transcription and translation by historians), or perhaps to what we now understand as the vulnerability of the chemical structure of memories to degradation over time. There were also uncovered rare instances of fraud perpetrated – and what the courts detected might represent only the tip of an iceberg. Furthermore, some jurors' statements have a certain formulaic character, which puts them under suspicion as the product of collusion or fabrication. However this too may be due more to the reporting and recording phases of a conservative legal process which placed much emphasis on procedurality and legal formulae, rather than to deceit by jurors. Many pieces of testimony are far too elaborate to be mere conventions. Furthermore, the frequency of repetition of certain types of occurrence, such as accidental injuries, as the associative factor – criticized as improbable and fictitious – owes as much to the perception of the researcher as to the evidence of the jurors; such traumatic experiences are precisely what we should expect to form strong associative memories, and therefore to appear in testimony more frequently than everyday incidents, which would have no such potency.

Despite the often formulaic appearance of the written records of proof-of-age inquisitions and other defects of the testimony, in the large majority of cases they appear to preserve the essence of personal recollections, in brief but sometimes vivid terms. They show that a central role in everyday lives was played by lifecycle and other special events as well as by social encounters or gatherings, notably at church, but also in secular contexts such as markets and other forms of commercial transaction – particularly given that very few of these proceedings related to residents of larger towns, and that persons pursuing commerce as a livelihood are more likely under-represented than over-represented among the jurors. From this kind of record we obtain slice-of-life insights that are not normally forthcoming from other types of documentation (albeit that the slices have to be reconstituted from croutons). This source evidences not only licensed markets and fairs as places of commerce, it also documents what Christopher Dyer has termed the 'hidden trade' of medieval England [Everyday Life in Medieval England, Hambledon, 2000, pp.283-303] – unlicensed events, contractual arrangements, deals between friends and neighbours, and other private transactions. Within such everyday market uses and other commercial activities lay a network of interpersonal relationships – some short-lived, some long –which was one of the driving forces behind the development of a institutional network of markets. It is therefore worth reviewing some examples (all from the Calendars of Inquisitions Post Mortem), to better understand how markets fitted into the lives of medieval men and women.

A number of jurors reported frequenting markets at the time of an heir's birth or baptism, and their attendance at these markets took place at all times of the year, including the dead of winter.

For example, in 1348 three men – one self-described as a chapman – then in their 20's and 30's, were in Barton-upon-Humber (Lincs.), to attend its market, when they learned of a baptism from one of the godfathers; this occurred over a drink in the house of that godfather, a Barton man, at the invitation of the other godfather, one John Baxter; though whether this was a ritual drink such as sometimes concluded important commercial transactions, a toast to the health of the infant in question, or just a social occasion, we do not know. The trio may have arrived in advance of the market to conduct some private business, for the date they assigned to their conviviality was a Saturday, whereas Barton's market was held (since 1202) on Mondays; the names of two, including the chapman, suggest they may have come down from Yorkshire, though one had roots in Barton.

At a hearing in 1326, Ranulph Skot remembered that in 1304 he had been in a tavern with some companions when news of the birth of an heir was made known. Modern credulity may be stretched by the notion that a drink in a tavern combined with news of a birth could instill an enduring memory; but we must not discount the possibly greater strength of, through greater reliance on, memory in the Middle Ages, while yet retaining a healthy scepticism as to the accuracy of details, even though the dating of events in proof-of-age proceedings appears generally achieved through consensus. The birth and the tavern were both at Bawsey (Norf.), for which a fair is documented but no market; though if an unlicensed market existed it is likely a local tavern would have been close at hand. This almost ubiquitous association is referenced in a medieval poem describing peasant behaviours and attitudes which, though satirical, may reflect a common perception, along with the bias of its monastic author:

They go every day to market, carrying their sacks of tares on their shoulders, lest they should weary their pack-horses .... After market is over they go straight to a tavern and keep on drinking what we call 'buslusse'. After they are tipsy they don't know how to speak; and, reeling about, are unable to mount their pack-horses." [Richard Howlett, "Translations of the 'Descriptio Norfolciensium,' and the 'Norfolchiae Descriptionis Impugnatio,'", Norfolk Antiquarian Miscellany, vol.2, pt.2 (1883), p.369]
Though this extract perhaps casts further doubt on the reliability of recollections.

Since Bawsey was just a few miles from Lynn, it may not have been felt worthwhile licensing a market there; the site was, centuries ago, deserted and given over to farmland, so we know too little of the settlement's medieval topography to judge whether it might have incorporated a marketplace. Archaeological evidence, however, points to Bawsey having been an important 'productive site' from the Middle Saxon period and a large number of (non-hoard) coins have been found there; industry continued into the post-Conquest period with the production of tiles and pottery. It has even been suggested that Bawsey may have been one focus of commerce in western Norfolk before Lynn emerged [A. Hutcheson, "The Origins of King’s Lynn? Control of Wealth on the Wash Prior to the Norman Conquest," Medieval Archaeology, vol.50 (2006), pp.75, 89].

Another birth also came out in conversation that was part of an encounter (1355), social or business, when Adam de Blenkow had travelled to Penrith (Cumb.) to attend its market. Adam thought it had been a Tuesday, although he was a little uncertain about the date, and Penrith's market is recorded as taking place on Wednesdays; but he recalled the father, John de Eglesfeld – who lived near Castle Carrock, some fifteen or so miles distant, and had perhaps also come for the market – expressing disappointment that his wife had given birth to a daughter, as he would have preferred a son.

Another role served by markets is documented in William Anneys' statement that he learned (1336) of a birth through a public proclamation made by a messenger in the marketplace at Beccles (Suff.); this was on a Saturday, which remained Beccles' market-day up until 1813, even though the original market had been transferred to a new location later in the fourteenth century. News of the birth did not reach Beccles until a couple of weeks after the event, but perhaps the family had, during that period, been despatching the same messenger from their home, at Fritton (Norf.) to various towns of the region on their respective market-days.

William Jones remembered being, on a Monday in July 1381, at the market in Dudley (a borough then in Worcs.), to buy four oxen for his plough; on the same day he learned of a birth at Yardley, a dozen miles distant. If he received the news at Dudley, it would more likely have been through gossip than public proclamation, since the birth and baptism had taken place that very day, but possibly he heard on his way home. Although Dudley's unlicensed market is thought to have been held on Saturdays, this does not preclude commerce having gone on there on other days, or the market-day having been changed, perhaps in the context of known conflict with a rival market at Wolverhampton. William Rouke, another juror at the same inquisition, held at Redditch, recalled being robbed that day of 20 marks on the Ridge Way. Possibly a stretch of Roman Icknield Street, the Ridge Way was a route passing through Redditch and connecting Alcester with Birmingham. It seems probable Rouke was on his way to some market. In 1401 the king appointed a commission to investigate reports of a gang of masked bandits waylaying merchants and others using that road to frequent markets at Dudley and elsewhere in the region, though the gang's purpose, or modus operandi seemed to be more in the way of intimidation than robbery.

Another possible discrepancy in date is encountered in the proof-of-age hearing on an heir (descendant and namesake of the famous Sir Geoffrey Luttrell) born at Irnham (Lincs.) in 1383; juror John de Corby asserted he learned of the birth in the market at the neighbouring village of Corby Glen, where the inquisition took place many years later. The birth was said to have occurred on a Tuesday, but Corby's market was licensed for Thursdays; yet John should have had a clear idea when Corby's market was held, and it is conceivable enough that John heard through gossip or proclamation a couple of days after the birth; memory impairment through expansion or compression (telescoping) of the time lag between events is a known phenomenon in cognitive psychology. A different, later inquisition at Corby produced testimony that two men were attending Grantham's market on the day of the birth and baptism of the subject of the proof-of-age, which birth occurred at Grantham in 1387; juror John Armstrong declared he witnessed the newborn being carried from the church following the baptism, but John Hogg only learned of it from his neighbours after he returned home to Bassingthorpe, some five miles south of Grantham. Grantham was a Domesday borough and needed no licence for a market, whose day is unknown, though the date given for the birth/baptism fell on a Saturday and this is when markets are held in present-day Grantham, still in and near the street named Market Place, which is not far from the parish church of St. Wulfram, where the child must have been baptized.

Four Gloucestershire jurors, probably all of Tetbury (Gloucs.), where the proof-of-age proceedings took place, agreed that they could recall the birth-date, in 1363, of a daughter of John Basset, because on that day a local man had killed an outsider in Tetbury's marketplace; whether they were themselves witnesses to the homicide, or heard the news second-hand, is unclear. Tetbury's market was ancient enough not to require a licence and we do not know its day, although in the sixteenth century it was Wednesday; the homicide was said to have occurred on a Thursday, but it is not certain that a market was underway at the time.

Presence at a market is also implicit in the recollections of two residents of Laceby (Lincs.) that on the day of a birth in 1384 they were among a crowd who witnessed John Cook, a suspected robber, attempt an escape from the stocks that ended when he broke his leg while fleeing. Laceby is known to have had a fair, but no market is documented; yet an informal market would explain why so many witnessed the escape. Similarly, while London's markets were too ubiquitous to be memorable in themselves, we have jurors recalling punishment of the pillory there in 1375; the pillory stood at Cornhill, at the east end of London's chief market street. Three jurors described Thomas Sprotburgh, a cook, being so punished for selling an eel pie and other foods unfit for consumption, while four remembered a second cook, Roger Spaygne, punished for like cause, notably in regard to a rib of beef. Such punishments were not everyday occurrences, but sufficiently uncommon as to stick in memory; Sprotburgh's may have been particularly notorious, for it is also recorded in the city's Letter-Book H, which indicates that a large quantity of foul eels were burned under the offender's nose while he was in the pillory. The second case was reported (by different jurors) in two separate inquisitions and, curiously, both proof-of-age hearings were for the same woman, but four years apart – it appears some over-estimation of her age was suspected in at the earlier proceedings.

Another informal, or at least unlicensed, commercial event is suggested by the testimony of several jurors at an inquisition held at Southam in regard to a birth on 3 March 1392 (a Sunday) at Wappenbury (Warks.), just a few miles from Southam. Richard Draper of Ladbroke stated that on that day he purchased at Wappenbury six oxen, of which one died later in the day; William Galewey of Kenilworth bought there a hundred sheep, but two were dead before he could drive the flock out of the village; William Budde of Napton likewise purchased twelve pigs, of which two died very shortly after the transaction; and John Swynton of Bubbenhall sold twelve cows to Robert Glover, although apparently subsequently had to refund the value of one, which proved unhealthy. All these places lay well within a ten-mile radius of Wappenbury, and it seems clear that a market or fair was taking place there with sufficient predictability to draw buyers and sellers from all around that region of the shire. Of the jurors' places of origin, Napton had a licensed Thursday market and Kenilworth one on Tuesdays; a livestock market at Wappenbury on Sundays would have been unlikely to arouse objection from either of those places. A fair is the less likely option, for any such would most probably have been held around a festival associated with the dedication of the parish church, which was to St. John Baptist; no festivals pertaining to that saint are in March. Occurrence on a Sunday points more to the kind of trading that often followed congregations at church. Wappenbury was a village situated near the River Leam, within the bounds of an Iron Age hill fort, on a route between Warwick and Rugby; the name of the Domesday manor suggests the hill fort was later reused as a burh. It had a large population – some 200 are said to have died of plague in the mid-fourteenth century, and the village shrank as a result. Where the through-road swung around the probable manor-house, at the north end of the village, a junction took a secondary road southwards into the village, and where this forked near the church the topography suggests a plausible site for market activity.

A less clear case appears in an inquisition at Hedon in Holderness (Yorks.) in 1333, regarding a birth at the now-lost town of Ravenserodd in 1310. Juror Stephen de Neuton – likely from one of the Holderness settlements with Newton in its name – gave evidence that in the week of the birth he had gone there to buy timber for building a grange, while Thomas de Wyneton came to Ravenserodd a few days after the birth to conduct some unspecified business with one of its burgesses and, receiving hospitality in the house of the father, gave a gift of 12d. to the newborn. Whether either of these was using the town's market, held twice weekly, is not certain.

A different kind of attendance at a market is seen in the case of Richard Trabbe, who associated a birth with his appointment (1297), as bailiff of the father's market of Chipping Lambourne (Berks.); whether Richard still held that post at the time of the inquisition (1319) is not stated, he then being about 60 years old.

Further evidence of frequentation of markets comes through recollections of journeys. Travel featured in many jurors' memories, although the commonest related to informing or fetching a party associated with the baptism, or to departures on pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela (above all), Canterbury or elsewhere. But some of the journeys pertained, explicitly or implicitly, to travel to or from a market and to associated vicissitudes. Many people were quite clearly prepared to risk travel in person, or send someone on their behalf, to market towns beyond their local area to get the kinds of items desired. Travel to large towns or cities – whether successfully accomplished or thwarted by accident or encounter with bandits – is quite often reported, although its purpose is not always indicated, so that we cannot assume, in most cases, that it was to a market.

To begin with one of the more straightforward examples, Robert Bodman said that he had the news of a birth, in March 1383, from a servant who was en route to Launceston (Cornwall), having been despatched by his knightly master to buy victuals there. The weekday on which fell the date given does not correspond either to that stated in the record or to the weekday on which Launceston's market took place, but this is of no consequence, as some foodstuffs were likely available in the marketplace on most days of the week. Victuals, and also wine, were the intended purchases of Ralph Smyth when, in late January 1385, he travelled from Stony Houghton (Derbs.) to Nottingham, some fifteen miles to the south. The heir who was the subject of the proof-of-age was daughter to a friend, lord of Nettleworth manor, which lay just west of Stony Houghton, and she was baptised on a Thursday; but Ralph learned her name only upon his return, so he may have been absent for at least one night's stay and perhaps more. The same inquisition heard from Peter de Kestewon that he learned of the daughter's birth on the same day he bought 50 quarters of pease at Langwith, which neighboured both Nettleworth and Stony Houghton; no market is evidenced at Langwith, but Upper Langwith (whose church is twelfth-century) straddled the road at a fork leading to Bolsover and would have been a likely spot for a small informal market. On a Thursday in October 1389 John Pyle, accompanied by tanner John Wroxhale, made the short trek from Sturminster Marshal (Dorset) to Wimborne Minster for the purpose of buying undressed hides in the market there; it was in the market that John heard of the birth that was the subject of the inquisition. Wimborne was a Saxon monastic centre and fortified royal residence; however, it was not identified as a borough in Domesday, by which time the town had been divided into two manors held in separate lordships, one by the Dean of the Minster, the other (known as Kingston Lacy) having been granted by the king into secular hands. The Saxon town's ancient market was probably held on Saturdays from 1219; but by the fourteenth century a rival borough had come into existence on the second manor, with its own market (day unknown) – the two became distinguished as East Borough and West Borough, respectively. This provoked a legal battle between the Prior of Wimborne and the Earl of Lincoln.

One of the more detailed pieces of testimony we have in proof-of-age records also concerns a visit to a market. This was part of the same inquisition as that in which John Pyle (above) was a juror. Fellow-juror William Smith related that on the Saturday following the birth in question he rode (apparently from Wimborne) to Blandford Forum (Dorset), another ancient market town just a few miles away, where he bought 20 stone of wool from one Simon Storke for 10 marks; Saturday had become Blandford's market-day in 1218, when changed from Sunday. But before Smith could remove his purchase to Wimborne, the Blandford bailiffs arrested the wool, demanding customs be paid on it, on the grounds that the was a resident of the West Borough in Kingston Lacy, which by then had become one of the estates of Duchy of Lancaster, and so had no blanket exemption from tolls throughout England. Smith, however, was able to show a copy of letters patent of the duke granting something comparable, and he was discharged; that he carried about such a document suggests he was regularly engaging in commerce. The same inquisition generated a third instance of commercial activity: John Nywebury asserted that, at the time of the birth, he was butler of the Earl of Salisbury and had, on that day, ridden the mile or two from Canford Magna to Wimborne Minster to purchase a barrel of red wine for the earl's consumption.

We have already noted, above, one case of highway robbery in the context of a probable journey to market. Another such was reported by Robert the clerk of Kneesall (Notts.) who, one Saturday in 1313, while returning to Kneesall from the market at Retford, about twelve miles away, was robbed of 20s. he had received for a horse he had sold at the market; the borough market at Retford was indeed recorded in 1329 as being held on Saturdays. William Burnell, William son of Robert, and Richard de Stebynton gave as their reason for remembering a birth in March 1358 that on Monday 21 May of that year they had just set off from Ludlow to Shrewsbury when, just outside the former, they were accosted and robbed of their horses and 20 marks. There is no direct evidence their intent was to visit Shrewsbury's market, but with a fifty-mile journey each way facing them (necessitating an overnight stay), and that much cash pooled between them, it seems likely that commerce was at least part of their agenda. A number of the remembrances of jurors concerned their loss, during travel, of large sums of money to robbers; commerce was not, however, the only reason why travellers might be carrying such sums.

An even longer journey to reach a suitable market, and possibly in poor weather, was necessary for Robert de Milneburne in 1313, but he was then in the prime of life and such a journey would not have daunted him. His uncle, the vicar of Branxton (Northumb.), a village near the border with Scotland, had just died, and Robert needed wax for lights to place around his uncle's corpse. On the last day in October he set out for Newcastle-upon-Tyne – some fifty miles, as the crow flies – knowing that only in a large market town could he be sure of obtaining the necessary material. It was a multi-day journey, and it was probably on the return leg, on the third day after he had set out, that he passed through Cramlington (a few miles north of Newcastle), where he witnessed the baptism of the subject of the proof-of-age. Another multi-day journey at a poor time for travelling was undertaken by Richard Hewstre in early January 1386, when he set off from Derby for London on the day of the birth of a daughter of Sir Ralph Meynyll of the former town; his aim was to purchase dyes or pigments for his craft – at Chester hewsters are mentioned in conjunction with dyers and with shermen, but by this date we cannot confidently rely on surname as an indicator of occupation – and Sir Ralph had asked him to buy various fowl for him, were they for sale.

Long journeys were fraught with risks, although short ones were not necessarily safer. Alice Cotty, probably in her early twenties, was returning from the licensed market at Thrapston (Northants.) to her home in Woodford – barely three miles separating the two places – in late September or early October 1347 when caught unprepared by a sudden and intense snowstorm; her brother (the juror) found her lifeless body buried in the snow the following day. Most others whose commercial travels are mentioned in proof-of-age testimony were more fortunate than poor Alice. John Cooke, for example, testified to 10 May 1372 being the date of an heir's birth, which he remembered because on that day he was riding from his home at Coningsby (Lincs.) to Spilsby with some cow-hides when his horse fell; Cooke came away unscathed but the horse, worth 40s., broke its leg. The date was a Monday and this was the day for which Spilsby's market had been licensed in 1255, so that we may reasonably assume he was taking the cow-hides to sell in that market; we can, however, only speculate on whether the hides might have been the remnant of a larger stock which he could have taken to Boston – a journey of no greater length – to offer at the Saturday market there. William de Parys set off, in October 1384, for Beverley from his home in York – about twenty-nine miles as the crow flies, so requiring at least an overnight stay – but did not get far before he fell from his horse at Barmby on the Moor, breaking his arm, so that he was laid up for some while thereafter; perhaps he had imbibed too much buslusse (possibly watered-down wine) before departing. We do not know if his journey was business-related, but William was a cordwainer when he took up citizenship at York in 1391/92. Similarly, in 1390, William de Bretby, while riding to Penrith market, broke his left arm in a fall from his horse.

September 1384 saw Geoffrey Brokere travelling in a group and transporting his (unspecified) goods through Pevensey Marsh, en route to Worthing (Suss.), when he fell into a deep drainage ditch and almost drowned. In support of an interpretation that it was commercial goods he was transporting, although Worthing is not known to have had a market, it was a coastal fishing community with a beach-based harbour and a hamlet within the parish of Broadwater, where a market is recorded (as unlicensed) in 1245 and chartered in 1312, though its day was adjusted several times over the following centuries. Brokere's goods may have been intended for that market or for shipment down the coast, but we cannot draw any confident conclusion. A final example is that of Richard de Laton who in February 1355, had attended the market at Penrith and was returning home towards nightfall – one suspects he may have remained after the market closed to have a few drinks in a local tavern – when he became lost in the woods around Castle Carrock; about midnight he stumbled across the house of John de Eglesfeld (whom we have already met, above, and who had evidently left Penrith earlier in the day) and obtained shelter there with John, his wife, and newborn daughter.

Attendance at fairs is also evidenced in proof-of-age testimony, although not as often. Since fairs were less frequent than markets and consumed a smaller portion of the year, they were less likely to coincide with births of heirs. There are more seeming inconsistencies in the testimony touching on fairs than that related to markets, but this may possibly be due to our incomplete knowledge of the real number of small, one-day fairs that were taking place throughout the countryside; this could be partly due to the heyday of licensing commercial events having been the pre-plague period, whereas the bulk of the richest proof-of-age records are from the post-plague period, when formal multi-day fair events were not as lucrative for their owners and a number were reduced in length or even abandoned.

Juror Henry de Wode claimed that his brother John had been killed at a Newcastle fair in early September 1286, several days after the birth under investigation. As the inquisition pertained to Staffordshire, it was likely Newcastle-under-Lyme that was meant, rather than Newcastle-upon-Tyne; but no matter, for in the case of neither town is there any evidence of a fair at that time of year. Perhaps Henry's memory was faulty, or had conflated the two events, or we are dealing here with an otherwise unrecorded or unlicensed annual event. We are on firmer ground with the assertion by two jurors that they were attending a fair at Eastbourne (Suss.) on Michaelmas eve 1304, when an heir was born on the manor. Robert Jop and William atte Toune, neighbours in Willingdon (just a couple of miles north of the historic core of Eastbourne) had witnessed the baptism when taking a break from their fair activities to hear mass. Although in the Late Saxon period a port and a good-sized village on a royal estate, with a probable minster church, Bourne, as it was known up to the early fourteenth century, did not go on to become a town. For its post-Conquest lords, the de Mortains, relatives of the Conqueror, focused their efforts on developing instead nearby Pevensey – already a borough with market and port by the time of Domesday – by turning it into a key military and administrative base and sea-link to Normandy, introducing a castle and a mint. Following rapid growth, Pevensey became a Cinque Port and a plan was formulated to relocate it closer to the shoreline as its haven silted up, though the new town was never founded. Though later declining, Pevensey thus overshadowed Bourne and the latter's later lords did not bother licensing any informal market there until 1315. But the treasurer of Chichester Cathedral had already been granted (1232) a Michaelmas fair, the parish church having been appropriated by the bishop ca.1150 to maintain the office of treasurer. By the time of the visit of Jop and atte Toune, Eastbourne's economy was doing well, based on the area's success in grain cultivation and sheep-farming, though its role as a port was negligible and the local fishing community was minor.

Henry Watenholte's evidence in support of an heir's age was that he had been returning from a fair at St. Margaret at Cliffe (Kent), when, a short distance along his road, he encountered the heir's father and went with him into his house at Guston, where he saw the infant and estimated his age at around two years old. St. Margaret at Cliffe was a coastal village on St. Margaret's Bay, and the year was about 1356 (there being some imprecision in the record), though the time of year was not specified, nor do we know how far Henry had travelled to the fair. It was unlikely to have been very far, for the fair in question must have been a minor event, there is no record of it having been licensed, and it it would be dangerous to assume it the same fair held there in July into modern times. At another inquisition, Robert Spenser of Brunne and Thomas Brunne of Bainton – whom we may tentatively posit as old friends or one-time neighbours – stated they learned of an heir's birth while attending a fair at Aldbrough in Holderness (Yorks.); they claimed this was on the same day as the birth itself, and since the baptism occurred at Lockington, less than twenty miles to the north-west, it is just about plausible that the news could have reached Aldbrough the same day. Yet the baptism was said to have taken place on the feast of St. Bartholomew (24 August) in 1377, while the only fair known for Aldbrough (licensed 1281) was at Michaelmas. However, Aldborough in North Yorkshire had a fair (licensed 1332) around that festival, so the jurors may have been mixed up, although Aldborough was too far from Lockington for same-day transmission of news. On the other hand, the jurors' home villages – assuming Brunne to be Burn, near Selby – were in locations that could have routed them through Lockington, or even overnighting there, on their way home; they might have picked up the news at that time, with that memory subsequently becoming conflated with that of the fair.

Another small country fair makes an appearance in the testimony of four jurors who all declared themselves to have been attending a Midsummer fair at South Petherton (Somers.) on a Sunday in June 1380 when they were asked to come into the church of St. Peter to witness a chaplain register a baptism in the missal. The four men probably lived in the village or its vicinity, but there is no indication they had any connection to the family of the newborn heir. South Petherton's fair was a single-day event on the festival of St. John Baptist, originally licensed (1213) to maintain a chaplain in the Chapel of St. John Baptist, a royal endowment; it was, however, re-licensed in 1252 to Ralph Daubeney, whose father had been granted the manor in 1225 but had mortgaged it, so that Ralph had to reacquire the rights, which he accomplished by 1243. South Petherton lay at the heart of what had been a large Saxon royal estate – possibly remembered in the area known today as Kingsbury – with minster church and a royal mint; it can therefore be viewed as proto-urban. But the estate was broken up around the time of the Conquest. This may have been why it failed to develop into a town, along with the fact that the village of South Petherton itself was not situated on any important through-road whose traffic would have stimulated economic development; market and fair revenues were estimated at only 6s.8d each in 1294, and in 1305 the market received the same valuation, though the fair was now thought worth 13s.4d. Although they built themselves a manor-house within South Petherton, there is no indication the Daubeneys tried to develop the village with any planned extension. Ralph's re-licensing was apparently motivated by a desire to lengthen the fair to three days and to acquire control over the commercial institutions – he having substituted other manorial revenues to support the chapel, of which the family were patrons. In 1448 William Daubeney would acquire a new licence, to extend the fair to six days. There is other evidence of economic advancement at South Petherton, and it had characteristics of a small market town by the close of the Middle Ages. The local roads converged on the parish church of St. Peter and the marketplace, the latter located beside a road junction in front of the former; the street along the north side of the marketplace was referred to as Cheap Street in 1443, and the marketplace was accessed from the south-east by what was, in the sixteenth century, known as Market Hill. The location of the Chapel of St. John is not now known for certain, though suspected to lie at the periphery of the village, rather than near its centre, possibly reached by the descent down Market Hill. That its fair was (at least after transfer of the license) held close to the parish church, however, and probably in the marketplace, is suggested by recruitment of the four witnesses from there, their selection being determined simply from the fact they were close at hand.

Since marketplaces were often adjacent, or close to, a church, it is easy to imagine that their users were sometimes called on to witness baptisms, which tended to be hasty and impromptu affairs, due to the understandable desire, in an age of high infant mortality, to baptize a newborn as soon as possible after birth. A case very similar to the above occurred on 22 June 1383 when five men, according to their individual depositions in 1408, had been attending a fair at Beaminster next Netherbury (Dorset) when requested to bear witness to the age of an heir by being present when a chaplain recorded name and date in the missal of Netherbury church, where the baptism had taken place. In this case the men could not have been plucked directly from the fair, as Netherbury lay a mile south of Beaminster. Furthermore, the only Beaminster fair for which we have other evidence was licensed by the canons of St. Mary's Salisbury in 1284 for a September date (Nativity of St. Mary). Nor does it seem the jurors could have confused Beaminster's market with a fair, for market-day at Beaminster was licensed for Thursdays and the above date fell on a Sunday. The date of the licensed fair might have been changed at some point during the century it had been in existence – though we might expect one of the June or July festivals commemorating the same saint to have been substituted – or the event referred to by the jurors was a separate, less formal fair. An error or falsehood in the testimony is also possible, but for five men to collude in such reduces the likelihood of either fraud or memory degradation, and the commissioners could have (if wished) checked the facts easily enough.

A further case of an unregistered fair may be that which John Streyk remembered attending at Fakenham (Norf.) in November 1387, he having purchased three horses there. Fakenham, a village focused around church and adjacent marketplace, where local roads converged, had two licensed fairs granted to different owners: one at Easter to Hempton Priory (1201), the other at the beginning of August to the king's mother-in-law (1244). If we trust Streyk's memory of a November event, it may have been something less formal, perhaps just a one-day livestock fair.

A rather more involved case dates to the beginning of November 1305 or '06 (there being some confusion in the record), when Roger de Weston set out on a journey south from his home, location unspecified but probably somewhere along the Northumberland coast. His destination was the fair at Darlington (County Durham). Possibly a planned Saxon burh, Darlington became the administrative centre of one of the pre-Conquest shires preceding Durham; it came under the manorial lordship of the Bishop of Durham in 1003, and it was likely Bishop Puiset who developed part of the manor into a chartered borough in the latter decades of the twelfth century [Christine Newman, "The Foundation and Development of Early Darlington", formerly online at http://www.englandpast.net/darl/main.html; viewed 1 July 2005]. By 1293, and probably from the time of the borough's foundation, the bishops had a market and fair there, to supply the episcopal palace and generate revenues, though the date of the fair is otherwise undocumented. Roger broke his long journey by overnighting at a location known at the Pavilion, by South Wearmouth (possibly Bishop Wearmouth), where he encountered the recuperating mother who had given birth earlier that day to a son baptized that same day in the church of Wearmouth, an adjacent portside settlement which the same Bishop Puiset had also (ca.1180) converted into a borough, through a charter of liberties and introduction of a market street fronted by burgage plots; this borough was later, and is today, known as Sunderland. While at Wearmouth, Roger purchased a horse from Peter de Morpath, described as a horse-dealer (we will encounter him again), for 6 marks. Peter issued Roger with a bond, doubtless to guarantee that both Peter and Roger had come by the horse legitimately, and it was this document that reminded Roger of the date of his journey and the birth of the heir.

Much more in evidence than journeys to fairs were voyages overseas on commercial business, and it is perhaps not surprising that such travels fixed more in the memories of men who were probably not, in most cases, professional merchants. Henry de Ardern was the only juror within the scope of this study to describe himself as a merchant, or at least of having been a merchant in October 1300 (he then being in his early twenties), when he had at his disposal £100 cash to apply to commerce. Of this he paid out £6 to servants of John de Grey (an Oxfordshire gentleman whose son was the subject of the proof-of-age in 1321) for cloth – it is not clear whether he purchased cloths from them, or gave them the money to purchase cloth on his behalf; with the remainder he traded in person and then took his trade goods to Flanders, where he and nine other English merchants had their merchandize arrested, to a combined loss of £1,000, and subsequently prevailed upon the king to order an arrest of Flemish goods in England in retaliation. This tale is corroborated by a royal letter of August 1302 [Calendar of the Close Rolls, 1296-1302, pp.555-56] to the authorities of Ghent: Ardern and other London merchants had been imprisoned and their goods seized in relation to a debt owed by London to Ghent; a settlement of disputes had been negotiated, in principle, between the king and the count of Flanders, but the Flemings had not followed through on what must have appeared an inflated English estimation of compensation due, leading to further reprisals.

Most other testimony referring to overseas voyages is much terser. For instance, in early October 1307 Alexander de Oxeneye was sent from Kent to Ypres to buy cloth for robes that the father and mother of a newborn heir would wear at the mother's churching. Gilbert de Haldeclogh's voyage with his merchandize in 1315, from north-western England to Ireland, where he remained for a year, was the occurrence in that part of his life that enabled him to remember the age of an heir. For Robert de Crakenthorp it was a journey in 1318 from north-eastern England to Gascony, again specified as for purposes of trade. And for John Biketon, an outing from Southampton to Rouen in 1334 to purchase unspecified merchandize. All these men were in their twenties at the time of their trips; Biketon was probably the Winchester citizen whose property dealings and role in civic government, later in his life, are well-documented. It was to Bordeaux that William Frenssh – probably a Surrey man – went in 1360 or '61 to buy wine, while a group of Gloucestershire jurors recalled a baptism because on that day (Sunday 22 July 1369) John Yaweyn's ship the Mary Cog set sail for Bordeaux, doubtless also on a wine-buying mission; the day may have been considered propitious for that particular ship, since it was the festival of St. Mary Magdalene, though whether Yaweyn was on board is not revealed. In October 1384 Robert de Swaffeld set out from York with a quantity of wool he intended to sell at Calais; this was probably the Robert who had taken up citizenship in 1362, as a young man, when described as a draper.

Richard Westfale of Toft (Lincs.) was in his mid-thirties when, at the beginning of November 1330, he set out for Flanders with wool to sell, first putting his lands in the hands of a neighbour, presumably as a trustee, in the event Richard should die during his venture. It was February 1334 when John Baillif of Dunsby (Lincs.) did the same, taking wool to Flanders and first turning over his real estate to trustees. Neither of these men lived in communities known to have market or fair; whether the wool was from their own flocks, or whether they were agents for other sheep-farmers of the region, or middlemen who bought up wool to sell to their own profit, we do not know. The William Baillif who gave proof-of-age testimony that in 1343 he had gone to Gascony to fetch wines back to England was a Northamptonshire man and unlikely to have been related to John.

Long-distance commerce is also evidenced in juror's references to their ships. Kentishman Simon Lot was able to recall, in 1329, a birth that had occurred in 1307 because in that year his ship was sunk in the sea – likely in rough weather, as it was November. Thomas de Multon, of Norfolk, lost his ship and the cargo it was carrying in February 1348, another risky season for sailing, while Essex resident John Eyr's like loss of ship and merchandize occurred in October of the previous year. The loss of John Dallyng of Lincolnshire was on the same day as a birth in March 1362 and he considered the ship to have been worth £40. In 1400 the ship The Trinity co-owned by John Haresfield and William Stoughton of Gloucestershire was wrecked and sank in the port at Cardiff. It is understandable that financial blows such as these would leave their stamp on memory. Yet others than the owners could also recall such mishaps; in 1407 William Wylkynson, who lived in the vicinity of West Lutton (Yorks) was able to recall an heir's birth because a few days later a ship jointly owned by the heir's father and godfather had been lost, off Whitby, to a great storm while transporting coal from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

But it was not all bad memories. What a Lincolnshire pair, Robert de Toynton and William, son of John son of Geoffrey of Layceby, recalled was that roughly six weeks after the birth of an heir they, being around 21 and 17 years old respectively, began to build themselves a ship at Grimsby, which they named la Maudelayn; they completed the work about three months later and were able to launch her in the Humber two weeks after that. It was probably only a coastal vessel, but Robert and William must have felt a deep sense of accomplishment.

Such reflections of international commerce as related above are slight, compared to information available from customs accounts or export licences. Yet those sources tell us mostly about men engaged in wholesale trade for a living. Those shown through the proof-of-age depositions seem a slightly different sort, on the whole. None of those travellers was going abroad so regularly or routinely that they had become blasé about it, so that voyaging left no strong imprint on memory.

The case of Alexander de Oxeneye, mentioned above, is an example of commercial activity stemming from the births of heirs. Baptisms involved sharing food and drink with participants after the ceremony and probably feasting at home, as well as, in at least some instances, gift-giving to friends, neighbours, or household servants to help them remember the date of the heir's birth. The later churching ceremony was another occasion for feasting; although this originated as a ritual to purify the mother from any defilement from giving birth, it had transformed more into a thanksgiving for her survival.

At the birth of the first son of William de la Pole (a Marcher lord of Mawddwy, himself a younger son of a Prince of Powys and not related to the mercantile de la Poles of Hull) at Machynlleth (Montgomeryshire) in 1290 Hugh Loty fetched two barrels of ale from his house at Welshpool for the use of William, his landlord; they must have been small barrels, as he transported them by horse alone, but the journey stuck in his mind, as well as that of a second juror, who recalled it because Hugh, en route, gave him news of the birth. It is not evident whether this involved a commercial transaction at the time, or rather the collection of items previously purchased and in storage. A clearer case is that of Boston resident Walter de Stykenaye, who gave evidence that he and his brother John, who was at that time steward of Sir Roger de Huntyngfeld's manor of Toft by Freiston (Lincs.), worked together to provide wine and victuals to celebrate the churching of Sir Roger's wife in January 1330; the food and drink was apparently bought at Boston, and Walter could affirm the date of birth of the heir based on the expense account he submitted to Sir Roger.

Documentation was again useful in this regard in 1364, when six Devon jurors were agreed that Sir John de Carru, on the day of the birth of his son on St. George's Day 22 years earlier, bought from them at Dartmouth eight tuns of red wine and gave them a bond for future payment. This was hardly a market transaction, for the date in question fell on a Tuesday, while Dartmouth's market was initially on Wednesdays and later on Mondays, and its fair was not until June; besides, it is unlikely that wine was sold in large volume at markets, due to the need to keep it stored underground. The jurors, two of whom came from the same family, may have been vintners or taverners, and it is interesting that Sir John had to call on the stock of six men to meet his needs. The need of John Botiller, of Pembridge (Heref.) for a tun of red Gascon wine to celebrate his wife's churching in 1387 was to the financial benefit of its supplier, Roger Bailly of Monnington on Wye, ten miles south of Pembridge; as the Botiller family had a share in the lordship of Weobley, it is perhaps surprising they did not turn to that closer source for wine. In 1391 Henry Dunston rode to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to purchase three casks of wine, on behalf of Henry de Heton, lord of the manor of Chillingham (Northumb.) who had that day acquired a new daughter – the wine cannot have been needed urgently, for it was about a fifty-mile journey each way and could be expected to take a few days by cart; we do not know Henry's relationship to the family, but he was probably a manorial official. Likewise, in 1395 the same Henry despatched Wayland Maudit from Chillingham to Newcastle to buy wine, on the occasion of the birth of another daughter. It was the butler who was sent, by his master, the Earl of Salisbury, from Canford Magna (Dorset) to nearby Wimborne Minster, to buy a barrel of red wine from Thomas Scote in 1289; this was likely intended as a gift for Thomas Romesey, as the earl despatched his butler promptly after receiving news of the baptism of Romesey's son. And in 1399 the statement made to an inquisition by John atte Priours, then of Middleton on the Wolds (Yorks.), was that on the day of an heir's birth in 1377 he had transported two gallons of sweet wine from Beverley to a manor at Lockington – a distance of only a few miles – for the benefit of the mother.

It was not just wine that was needed. For the churching of the mother of the Luttrell heir, whose birth in 1383 has already been mentioned, William Bocher remembered selling the father various cuts of meat, while William Taillour that the clothes in which the mother was churched were bought from him. Thomas Broune remembered selling, in 1381, a Flanders chest to William Kylkenny for the use of Elizabeth, the second wife of John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby, a distinguished soldier and royal administrator; Elizabeth, the daughter of Baron Latimer, had that day given birth to a son at Middleham (Yorks.), and Kylkenny was presumably a family servant.

Some purchases seem less directly pertinent to births. On the day of a daughter's birth at Gainsborough (Lincs.) in 1362, David Strathbogie, 13th Earl of Atholl, bought a horse there from juror William de Crosby; he had cause to feel some self-satisfaction, for he had produced no sons and this daughter, his second, would make possible a marriage alliance with the Percy family through a younger son of the Earl of Northumberland. Henry de Heton, mentioned above, likewise spent 20 marks on a grey horse on the day his daughter was born, while John Botiller, also already encountered, bought himself a white horse on the day of his son's baptism, and later a red cow for the churching of his wife. On the day of his son's birth in 1387, Robert de Asshefeld of Stowlangtoft (Suff.) bought for his personal use a chestnut horse, paying Robert Knyth of Stonham (about twelve miles to the south-east), a horse-dealer, 5 marks. Whether these purchases reflect a need related to the births or the associated church ceremonies, or just buoyant fathers indulging themselves is hard to say; nor are there enough of such instances to suggest some kind of tradition, although we may wonder whether horse-dealers kept their ears to the ground about pregnancies in gentry families. A newborn girl's maternal grandfather, lessee of the manor of Nettleworth (Notts.), where the child was born in 1385, bought himself a black horse that day for 40s., perhaps at the neighbouring vill of Market Warsop where the infant was baptised; though whether this was a form of celebration or just a coincidence is unknown. It was the horse's seller who gave this evidence; he was perhaps a horsedealer, for he was from Scarcliffe, some miles distant and does not show any association with the family of the newborn, yet there was neither market nor fair going on at Warsop on the date in question. Another juror at the same inquisition bought a palfrey from the chaplain celebrating in Warsop's church, though this was for his hostess, Lady Longford. On the other hand, new father Thomas Kelly, lord of a small Devon vill from which he took his surname, was of more limited means and satisfied himself with the purchase of a red cow on the day his wife was churched in 1387. It may have been that the cows mentioned above were used as gifts to the church, although possible the intent was rather to furnish a source of milk for the infant – superstition attributing particular efficacy to milk from red cows.

When Lady Katherine de Swynford produced a son, the future Sir Thomas Swynford, at Lincoln ca. 1372, her steward – Sir Hugh, the supposed father (for Katherine may already have become Gaunt's mistress) being absent and perhaps dead – instructed Richard Colvill of that city to bring two dozen bows to the family residence; which, being done, the steward purchased and distributed as gifts to family servants, so that they would better remember the date of the birth. In 1392 Sir William Bonevyle, lord of Shute (Devon), in anticipation of his daughter-in-law giving birth (her husband being dead), had invited Thomas Bower to bring a dozen hunting bows to Shute for his viewing; Thomas's surname suggests him a maker of, or perhaps just a dealer in, bows. Thomas arrived just as William's newborn son was being baptised and he showed his merchandize to William, who bought the bows on the spot for 40s. Bows were common gifts to baptism witnesses.

Gentry fathers of newborns were not only purchasers, however, but also sellers, bearing in mind that their estates tended to be rich in raw resources of various kinds. Some of these sales were transacted at the time of the birth or baptism of an heir; fathers tended to keep a distance when their wives were in labour, so they needed something to occupy their time away from the domestic household. To what extent, however, manorial lords were pro-active in their marketing of demesne produce or other resources – including industrial – of their estates (that is, engaging in this systematically to generate a portion of a needed annual income) and all that implies about strategic development and exploitation of those estates, or to what extent re-active (that is, selling, as opposed to reserving for household use, either in response to particular opportunities for profit that presented themselves or when not occupied with other concerns) is a matter of debate among historians [reviewed by Fredrick Taylor,"The Catesby Estate: Production for the Market as an 'Opportunity' or an 'Imperative' in Mid-Fifteenth Century England," Midland History, vol.32 (2007), pp.21-22]; manorial accounts seldom survive in series sufficiently complete or detailed as to provide both good data sets and good contextual information.

The instances found in proof-of-age proceedings of course cannot answer that question, though they give some idea of the kinds of transactions possible. Henry de Broke of Holditch (Devon, now Dorset) sold a stack of corn for £20 to John Bateman, who was able to give evidence to Henry's heir's age thanks to the date on the letters of acquittance he received for paying the sum; this transaction was stated as taking place in June 1308, several months after the birth, and presumably at Henry's manor, for it was left to a descendant of Henry to acquire (1408) licence for a market and fairs at Holditch, though this does not preclude the prior existence of unlicensed institutions. Two months before his wife gave him a son, in 1332, John de Erlegh of Durston (Somers.) sold 40 quarters of wheat to three local men, who were subsequently able to serve as inquisition jurors in 1354, because the documentation drawn up in relation to the sale jogged their memory as to the age of the heir. Durston is not known to have had a market, so again the transaction likely took place at the manor-house. Similarly, two months before his son was born, Ralph Horsy of Rawridge (Devon) arranged to sell three men100 quarters of oats from that year's crop, and his bond guaranteeing the oats, in return for a cash down-payment, assisted the men to give evidence years later. At some point in 1335 (it is not stated whether before or after the birth) Robert Grym of Sibthorpe (Hunts., now Cambs.) sold 60 oaks and 20 ash trees from his woods there to enable purchaser Richard Caunt, a young man, to build himself a new hall at Buckworth.

It was on the day of his daughter's birth that Oliver de Dynham of Hemyock (Devon) contracted with four men to sell them all the wool sheared that year from sheep on his Devon demesne, with the cost to be determined by weighing every sack on a trone; this was supposedly in July 1347, although the date given did not fall on the day of the week stated in evidence. The unnamed husband of Christina Alkham, while his wife was in labour at Guston (Kent) in September 1354, sold two quarters of wheat to William Moumbrey, whose memory of this relatively modest transaction may have been fixed by hearing Christina's cries of pain. It was on or shortly after the birth of his first daughter that John Frechevyle of Palterton (Derbs.) sold a small quantity of oats to John Symson, as horse-feed, and gave him the news of the birth; Symson may have been one of Frechevyle's tenants, for he lived just a few miles off at Pleasley and, when Frechevyle's second daughter was born, sent a lamb to the mother as a gift.

As already noted above (in relation to purchases of wine), commercial agents of manorial lords make an appearance in proof-of-age testimony on a few occasions. For instance, Roger de Ewelme was qualified to give evidence in 1321 because at the time of an heir's birth, in October 1300, he was – and would continue to be for many years more – purveyor of victuals of the father, John de Grey, lord of the manor of Rotherfield Greys (Oxon.); Roger was based in nearby Henley-on-Thames, and relied mainly on its market, shops, and merchants to supply his employer. John Clerc, the Earl of Atholl's purveyor of victuals at Gainsborough, is reported to have, on the day of the birth of the earl's daughter in 1362, been making plans for feasting at the time of the mother's churching, by placing an order for five lambs belonging to John de Skydgate, and paying Richard Barker's brewster wife 13s.4d for ale to be consumed, as well as obtaining all the fish that were in John Jollayn's fish-pond for a meal for the infant's godmothers. A less clear-cut case is that of Richard Wylche of Hawton (Notts.) who recalled buying, on 13 August 1387, 20 quarters of pease from William Leek, for the use of Sir Godfrey Foljambe, and seeing Godfrey's newborn daughter when he delivered them to the Foljambe manor-house at Cotham. This transaction was conducted not far from Cotham, at Screveton, which is not known to have had a market – though several country roads converged at Screveton and a green on the road running south from it was a likely spot for an informal market; however, the seller's surname was the same as that of the maternal side of the newborn's family, so it may simply have been a private transaction.

In 1369 we run across William Whasshe of Grasby and Richard son of Ralph de Stalingburgh who, at the time of the birth of the heir of Hugh Cokheved of Barton-on-Humber (Lincs.) in 1348 were employed by Hugh as, respectively, his butler and his agent for marketing the produce from his estates and for collecting wool from various regions and counties for Hugh's use. Hugh was one of a number of Lincolnshire and East Midlands merchants who were involved in a big way in buying up wool and shipping it to Dordrecht; in 1340, for example, he was not only, during the period when William de la Pole was the leading figure in organizing the wool trade, a purveyor of wool for that venture but also, after the fall of de la Pole, an agent exporting wool he purveyed for the king, and was additionally allowed (in a time of export restrictions) to send large quantities of his own wool abroad. In 1343 he was a member of a syndicate farming the national customs from the king, remaining active in a reduced version of the same during the following year [Edward Miller and John Hatcher, Medieval England: Towns, Commerce and Crafts, 1086-1348, London: Longman, 1995, pp.244-47]. The William Bonevyle already mentioned above did not juggle with the large sums of money that Cokheved could, for he had the wool only of his own sheep to sell – though his flocks were evidently fairly large, for the bailiff of just two of his Somesert manors could report the birth of two hundred lambs over the course of 1391/92 – but still a land-owner important enough in the West Country to hold shrievalties there and to be able to send for an abbot to baptize his newborn grandson. While attending the baptism, Bonevyle's reeve of Shute manor delivered to him £23 4s. 4d. proceeds from the sale of wool, of which Bonevile, buoyed by the birth of an heir, let the reeve keep £3 4s. 4d.

Royal officials associated with purveyance also put in an appearance. The king's purveyors were notoriously unpopular and for twenty years juror William the clerk of Gritton (Cambs.) had nursed a grievance that in 1298 one of the purveyors took two hogs of his, worth 20s., but he received no compensation for it. On the other hand purveyed victuals, if they proved not to be needed by the king, could be resold; this being an avenue of commerce (probably wholesale rather than retail) that has received relatively little attention from historians. In 1347 four northerners were able to testify at Newcastle-upon-Tyne to an heir's age because, during a visit to Newcastle in 1326 they had encountered the godparents and relatives carrying the infant out of the church after his baptism. This encounter occurred while the four were en route to the house of Henry de Shirakes, keeper of the king's victuals, to buy victuals from him – or .rather, to give him an indentured obligation guaranteeing their payment for what they purchased.

Many of the transactions evidenced in proof-of-age testimonies were, like some of those already noted above, conducted privately, rather than through the core commercial institutions of markets and fairs. Friends and neighbours dealt with each other directly, at need, while traders kept their ears and eyes open for opportunities in their region – such as those provided by baptisms and churchings – were prepared to travel to where business might lie, rather than wait for it to come to them, and were aware of sources from which they might obtain quantities of raw materials. Unsurprisingly, for proceedings that primarily concerned rural residents, the most commonly remembered private transactions were in real estate, not least because these usually generated documentation which helped remind purchasers, when later serving as jurors, of the date; for our purposes, however, we are interested in commerce in moveables. Yet minor purchases in weekly markets were hardly likely to leave an indelible mark on memory.

More memorable were commercial transactions involving livestock, particularly horses; some of these took place at markets or fairs, but one suspects most did not. Horses were personal possessions of value and, sometimes, status, and they had an important role in economic development generally. These versatile assets enabled (or, at very least, facilitated) long-distance travel for various purposes, including commerce, and the transportation, whether by pack, cart, or boat, of larger volumes of trade goods, as well as helping power productivity in both industrial (mills) and agricultural sectors – the latter especially in the case of peasant farmers [on this see John Langdon, "The Economics of Horses and Oxen in Medieval England", Agricultural History Review, vol.30 (1982), 31-40]. And they could generate a little revenue for owners by hiring them out to others for short-term travel. They were consequently among the more heavily traded types of livestock, not only in public venues but also in much the same private and casual manner as second-hand cars today, often between acquaintances. A number of horse trades have already been noted above; though fathers of newborn heirs naturally loom large as purchasers in proof-of-age documentation, more than these are evidenced. For instance, in 1387 Sir John de Leek, the grandfather of a baby girl, sold a horse to Adam de Eyleston, a more distant kinsman of the girl; the deal was evidently transacted at the girl's baptism in the church at Cotham (Notts.). Similarly, in 1313 John de Backworth sold a horse to Peter de Morpath at the chapel in Cramlington (Northumb.) in which an heir's baptism was taking place that date, a day of the week that does not correspond to market-day at Cramlington. Horse-dealing was Morpath's trade and the fifteen miles between Cramlington and Wearmouth, where we met Morpath before (above) suggests his occupation required him to be itinerant within at least a region of the shire. Perhaps churches were as much his haunts, and those of other horse-dealers, as markets; or more so, for no toll was leviable at churches. The obligation for the 6 marks due from buyer to seller was drawn up inside the chapel, to provide extra insurance that Morpath would follow through; there may always have been a measure of concern about the honesty of itinerant horse-dealers. A savvy, or unscrupulous, horse trader may be evidenced in 1390 in the person of Somerset man Benet Chaumberleyn who recalled (one suspects with some satisfaction) buying a black horse the day following a baptism, for 10 marks, and selling it to someone else the next day for twice that amount; if either transaction took place at a market it is not mentioned. On 12 November 1380 Richard de Beaulieu was at the chapel in Winderwath (near Penrith, Cumb.) where he saw a baptism and purchased a horse from Richard Corsoun; Beaulieu did not indicate which was his primary reason for being there.

Despite the proliferation of markets and measures to improve the security of commercial transactions, there remained a strong sentiment favouring the divine oversight offered by churches; churches were, after all, centres of community life in something of the sense that public libraries today try to claim that role. The Church was not comfortable with mixing commerce and worship, and occasionally churchmen were prepared to take action to discourage this. William Quyntyn testified in one proof-of-age inquisition – without any indication of shame or embarrassment, it seems – that the rector of the church of Conington (Cambs.) excommunicated him for selling an ox on Trinity Sunday 1290; one wonders if the severity of the response of the scandalized cleric was partly because the sale may have taken place in the churchyard (Conington having no market, to our knowledge), over which the beast trampled, or whether it had something to do with the fact that William's wife had died that same day. But despite progress in evicting markets and fairs from churchyards and the former at least from Sunday occurrences, the assembly of parishioners, from the immediate locality and its surrounding area, at foreseeable times of the week made churches natural points at which to transact private sales, and not just of horses. At a baptism on 24 February 1373, John Limnour of Lincoln (the surname suggesting him a manuscript illuminator) took two books, one of them a missal, along to the city church of St. Margaret in the Close, where a baptism was underway, and sold them to one of the godfathers. Artisans involved in manuscript production would likely have lived and worked in the vicinity of the cathedral close. It is not clear whether John had prearranged the deal with the godfather or whether he regularly took samples of his wares, on spec, to city churches, knowing that the families of baptized infants liked to have a record of the event and that these records might be entered in missals or a variety of books produced for other purposes.

Parish priests could not complain too vociferously about business dealings conducted at churches, however, for they were sometimes the beneficiaries; periodically they had goods to dispose of or a need for specialist products that might not normally be available locally. In August 1362 the vicar of Combe St. Nicholas, while at nearby Wambrook (Dorset, now Somerset) to attend a baptism, struck a deal with Thomas Bosard and brothers John and William Larkestoke that they would farm from him all the tithes and other revenues of his church, for a year; the written contract was read out to the congrgation in St. Mary's church at Wambrook that same day, for better assurance that both parties would keep to the agreement. In 1296 four Huntingdonshire men collaborated to contract with the rector of the church of Glatton (now Cambs.) an advance purchase of all its grain – presumably meaning tithes, along with crops from any farmland with which the church may have been endowed – that year for 104 marks, the rector himself drafting the contract; this arrangement appears to have formed an enduring memory because they had miscalculated and ended up losing 16 marks on the deal. Richard Hayward gave evidence that in November 1347 he contracted with the bailiff of the prebend of the church of Cudworth (Somers.) to buy a tithe barn full of corn; Richard was in his sixties at the time and was probably more interested in the corn, for resale, than the barn itself. October 1348 saw a group of four Somerset men strike a deal with the parson of Henton St. George (on the same day he performed a baptism to whose proof-of-age they were later witnesses) by which they purchased all the tithe sheaves his rectory had received, or would receive, over the course of a year, and gave him a bond as assurance of payment. And in November 1355 a written contract was drawn up by which Oliver Mulborn bought 20 quarters of wheat from the rector of the church at Corston (Somers.). At Michaelmas 1328 a brother of the Knights Hospitaller, who was then master of the Mayne preceptory – that order's house in Dorset, in what is today Broadmayne – sold 200 quarters of wheat to John de Warmewelle and John de Kyngeston; they paid what they owed in November, receiving a written acquittance from the master and were present when neighbours brought the news of a birth to him.

Another of this type of transaction – which must have been quite common, for we can hardly imagine parish priests, monks, or friars selling in a marketplace produce received as tithes – took place in July 1374, when the parson of Saxlingham (Norf.) sold to John Kensale of Blakeney all the produce belonging to his rectory and granted him free access for the next several months to the building used for storing that produce. Grain bought up from clerics and manorial lords by enterprising individuals or temporary (?) consortia doubtless thereafter moved on to some other node in the distributive network. Jennifer Ward ["Noble Consumption in the Thirteenth Century: Supplying the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare (d.1360)", Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, vol.41 (2008), p.448] notes that when there was need for more grain than was available from demesne crops, the tendency was for the lady's purchasing officials to buy from the markets of de Burgh manors or, increasingly, directly from individual farmers or churchmen who presumably had tithes to sell. Cross-cutting the market network were other, but less perceptible, networks of interpersonal connections between buyers and sellers, based on local knowledge, family connections, word-of-mouth, and other factors. Purchasing agents for manorial lords may even have preferred ongoing business relationships with sellers of known reputation, tried and trusted, to the sometimes more anonymous sellers frequenting markets.

Tithe offerings were not the only resource at the Church's disposal, however. Contracts to sell the wool of monastic flocks to merchants are well-known, although none of these are documented in the proof-of-age records. Religious houses also might sell grain, produced on the fields with which they had been endowed, surplus to their internal community's needs, and consequently saleable; again this is not exemplified in proof-of-age records, but for an example we can look at Colne Priory's financial accounts rendered in 1440 and 1442 [ERO, D/DPr17, D/DPr18], which itemize sales of wheat to a Colchester man in both years, oats and peas to a priest associated with the Colchester abbey almshouse, peas to several men and women of Earls Colne and one Coggeshall man, and barley to an Earls Colne man and woman, as well as a sale of sheep pells; this was quite apart from the corn tithes due the priory, which were contracted out to laymen. Returning to the proof-of-age documentation, we discover that in March 1322 the newly-appointed warden of the Bishop of Winchester's wood at Ivinghoe (Bucks.) received authorization from the bishop to seek out buyers of the underwood there; the warden was apparently going round Aylesbury, knocking on the doors of those he thought might possibly be interested, when news of a birth came to him. Underbrush was commonly sold off each year by manorial administrators, and tree debris sold as firewood or collected into faggots, which might also be sold from the manor, to tenants or others, or carted to some nearby market for sale. It does not seem that churchmen were much engaged with marketplace commerce – and this should hardly surprise us – except through lay agents, although more inclined to participate in fairs, both as buyers and sellers; their preference was for private sales, and it was left to their customers to then resell in markets.

Other examples of private transactions are more of a mixed bag. Yorkshireman Thomas Newel remembered having, in May 1345, sold a small quantity of timber from his land to a Leeds man, the same week in which an heir was born; it is hard to fathom why such an apparently innocuous event should instil an enduring memory that included the name of the buyer, who was not a local man and probably not someone Newel did business with again. Richard Grossyl's memory of a baptism at Horndon-on-the-Hill in 1413 was tied to his recollection of having bought 20 quarters of malt from one Thomas Norman – there being no indication this occurred in any marketplace – rather than one of two considerably more tumultuous events alleged to have taken place in the vicinity that same day; admittedly it was a moderately large transaction, costing £5 and requiring a train of 10 horses to carry half the goods back to Richard's house – the collapse and death of two of the horses under their load being what imprinted the transaction firmly in his mind. Three Shropshire men fishing in the River Tern (a tributary of the Severn) one April Sunday in 1361 caught 20 eels, and knew just the abbot who would buy them for his table, though his name is now lost to us; they received for them 40d. and a little conversation, which included news of the birth of an heir, from whose baptism the abbot had just returned. Again, it does not seem so striking an event, but such small satisfactions sometimes fix themselves in memory (I still have a vivid recollection of a bumper crop of water-snails I and a friend harvested from a pond and sold to a pet shop some fifty years ago, though the date evades me). Another trio of Shropshire men gave, as their reason for remembering the birth of heir Thomas Tope at Bourton in 1358, that some ten weeks later they gave one Richard Toggeford a written guarantee that they would pay him 100 marks for wool purchased from him; one of the trio, John Tuppa, may have been a kinsman of the heir, which would have helped him make the connection in his mind. On the other hand, William de Bagshawe's memory of purchasing an ox at the house of Hugh Kynder, in or near Glossop (Derbs.) in 1363 (a slight discrepancy in the precise date need not detain us), may have been reinforced by the fact that the transaction delayed Hugh, who was expecting to act as a newborn's godfather, in setting out for the church; Hugh arrived too late, someone else had been assigned that role, and William perhaps felt guilty thereafter.

The information about markets – and on commerce in general – available from proof-of-age proceedings is not sufficiently vast that we can derive from it meaningful statistics that might then indicate trends or patterns in commercial activity across the medieval centuries; it is strictly anecdotal, and the richest information tends to lay largely within the fourteenth century. This source of evidence may seem sparse, and even flimsy, but there is no reason to think that the activities and behaviours evidenced are atypical or unrepresentative. That evidence serves to reaffirm the multi-faceted nature of medieval commerce: local, regional, and long-distance trade; formal and informal markets and fairs; persistent reliance on private transactions, both retail and wholesale; and the range of agents involved, only some of whom earned their living by trade. What it does not show us – the everyday small purchases from market stalls, shops, pedlars and hucksters – is in part because of a rural bias in this type of record, or at least a bias that has less to say about the larger towns than it does about the markets of villages and small towns; yet this near-silence is itself telling, for it suggests that such daily purchases or sales were so routine as to be unmemorable or unremarkable.

But what is perhaps most valuable about proof-of-age evidence is that it reminds us that commerce is not simply the mass statistics that reflect on patterns of international commerce and matters of national economic growth or decline; nor is it solely the story of the great entrepreneurial merchants of the Late Middle Ages, who wrested dominance of English trade away from foreign hands, invested in the development of early forms of large-scale industry, and helped finance the dynastic ambitions of kings. It and its growth were the product of the effort, enterprise, daily habits, and social behaviours of vast numbers of individual people from all levels of the social hierarchy, whose growing and changing needs and demands cumulatively helped shape the development of networks of markets and of personal interrelationships based on business transactions. This was the underlying driving force of commercialization. Markets are seen not merely as places to buy and sell, but as public spaces of social contact and, sometimes, conflict. Their users obtained news there, whether from criers and heralds or from gossip with neighbours or outsiders; they witnessed the application of formal justice to fraudulent traders, and informal justice in the playing out of neighbours' quarrels; they socialized with each other, whether over a drink, in each other's nearby houses, or just standing around chatting; they might be called on to participate in the life-cycle ceremonies of their betters. All this contributed to solidifying a sense of community, even if a community in which not all were created equal.

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Created: December 31, 2018. Last update: June 28, 2019 © Stephen Alsford, 2018-2019