go to table of contents  INTRODUCTION 

 Market rights, revenues, competition, and the licensing system

Keywords: attributes market licences administration licence fees commerce regulation manorial court seigneurial rights court jurisdiction franchises revenues stallage tolls competition disputes nuisance legal procedure town-founding urban design burgage tenure tensers market holders Lakenheath Welshpool St Neots Frome

Richard Britnell has stated that "New markets in the thirteenth century had to be created – they did not just spring up" ["The Making of Witham,", History Studies vol.1 (1968) p.16]. The chronological delimiter in this statement is important, for the thirteenth century was the great period of deliberate market creation; but we know too little about that phenomenon in the pre-Conquest period to allow us to make quite so confident a pronouncement. The significance of the statement is that it distinguishes between two key aspects of markets: as natural products of a practically essential communal activity; and as a type of formal institution, or franchise, put in place at selected locations by planned intent, in the context of a society whose hierarchical relationships, based upon ownership of land, were primary determinants of a social organization from which neither markets nor towns could be independent, nor towards which could they afford to be antagonistic.

From the former perspective a market can be seen as a collection of commercial activities (i.e. interactions of buyers and sellers to establish valuations and effect or arrange exchanges of goods and payments), regularized somewhat through taking place in a specific fixed and commonly known location, at a particular and commonly known time, and regulated by allowing site owners to extract revenue from such activities and to exercise judicial jurisdiction over participants' adherence to pertinent standards and laws. It was the consistency and convenience that enabled traders and consumers to congregate in a pre-planned manner (so as not to detract excessively from other calls on their time), allowing consumers to take advantage of the heterogeneity of goods and some potential for competitive pricing, while traders would benefit from higher demand and the greater security offered by doing business in a public setting. In this sense markets could neither be authorized nor effectively inhibited by a monarchy with limited instruments of control; the principal concerns evinced by Anglo-Saxon rulers was to prevent fraudulent transactions and trafficking in stolen goods. Some of their legislation assumed that towns would incorporate at least one space designated for market activity, and it remained in later centuries the assumption that long-existing towns could host markets without requiring an explicit royal grant, even though such grants were sometimes explicit in borough charters – though whether as approval of existing situations or inception of new institutions is not always easy to tell. Some charter grants of borough status or fee farm included a general statement that existing liberties, customs, markets and fairs were included.

From the latter perspective the market was an institution to facilitate the implementation, or enforcement, of government policies, such as the policing of commerce and the distribution of necessaries to the populace, raw materials to industrial manufacturers, and coinage to those who needed it to pay taxes. As such, it embodied regalian rights or prerogatives that could, through a licensing process, be delegated to local authorities (notably manorial lords), giving them the authority, and indeed the responsibility, to develop infrastructure, administer market activity – with a view to (for example) upholding the use of standard weights and measures, and preventing or punishing abuses such as forestalling – and be compensated by extracting revenue streams from that administration and from the commercial activity itself.

The more medieval of the perspectives was that holding a market in order to profit from commercial activity, was a royal right that could be granted to others. Ludwik Ehrlich has noted that "we can roughly define a right as the legally recognized possibility of enjoying something and excluding others from enjoying it." ["Proceedings Against the Crown 1216-1377", in Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History, vol.6 (1921), p.10]; thus, grant of a market not only delegated the right to profit from commercial activity but also placed limitations on competition from other markets for that same activity. By the time of the quo warranto proceedings of Edward I's early years, the position taken by the king's attorney was that no manorial lord should have a market without explicit royal licence – i.e. that markets were a privilege derived from the Crown rather than an inherent right; yet urban markets were not challenged under this legal assault, which was only a new phase of an existing effort to bring the developing market system under closer royal control.

A formal system requiring new markets to be licensed – if their owners desired the right to extract revenues from the administration of commerce, and the protection for such administration that registration might offer – was developed under the Plantagenets, in part as a new source of revenue (licence fees), but also in order to exercise some control over the growth of the market network. Historians are grateful for this new expression of bureaucratic intervention since it has provided a richer source of documentation about the establishment of markets, and one susceptible to at least cautious statistical analysis; However, the Charter Rolls, the principal source in which licenses are recorded, are known not to be a comprehensive set of copies of market grants; furthermore, grant of a licence did not necessarily assure that a market was subsequently established in the near future, if ever, nor did it guarantee that an established market would remain operational throughout the remainder of the medieval period [Bradley McLain, "Factors in Market Establishment in Medieval England: Evidence from Kent 1086-1350," Archaeologia Cantiana, vol.117 (1997) p.85]. Similarly, we can rarely know whether licensing – which in some, perhaps many, cases simply formalized existing market activity – immediately had significant effect on local economies. Yet we can reasonably speculate that the additional security provided to transactions, in terms of oversight and jurisdiction over market misdemeanours, ought to have increased trader confidence and thus stimulated market business.

Nonetheless, the historian has to work with what is available, and assume the surviving record to be representative, as well as indicative of key events in economic development. Statistical analysis indicates that demand for licences grew rapidly and peaked during the years of Henry III's majority, as the system became useful for policing [R.H. Britnell, "The Proliferation of Markets in England, 1200-1349," Economic History Review, n.s., vol.34 (1981), pp.210-11], although it is not quite as clear how many of the licences were for new foundations and how many to legitimize existing markets that were otherwise undocumented through royal grants. Statistics also suggest that the earlier a licensed market was established and captured the patronage of regional traders, the better the chance it had to survive through to the close of the Middle Ages, [ibid., p.219.] while the reduction in licensed foundations in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries may point to a more tempered, cautious approach by market-founders, giving more sober thought to the prospects of capturing a share of commerce in an environment where trading habits had already been formed and new markets might need some particular advantage to compete; these later market foundations seem, consequently, to have received less investment in infrastructure from their founders.

Despite a long-standing interest, on the part of the Late Anglo-Saxon kings, in suppressing illegal commercial transactions by requiring them to be witnessed, preferably in some public space – a concern that, though not developed in early post-Conquest legislation, is later reiterated in Bracton – it does not appear that there was any fixed Norman policy of market creation, still less any attempt to monopolize licensing of markets. Granting market rights, or approving such grants by other lords, is a feature that is little evidenced before the Conquest. Britnell ["English Markets and Royal Administration," pp.189-90] argued that royal control over market foundations arose naturally, not only as a concomitant of the Crown's responsibilities in the areas of food supply, maintenance of standards (currency, weights and measures), and law enforcement, but also because of the value of commercial facilities, through which coin could be put into circulation, to the fiscal administration of the realm, particularly through the hundreds. There was probably little concern at first with excessive market competition becoming a regular problem, and so no sense of a need to regulate that. This is not to say that competition was not already being felt: a few years after the Conquest the Bishop of Thetford complained that his Saturday market at Hoxne, in existence before 1066, was being out-competed by another taking place on the same day at Eye, where William Malet had established a castle-town, and that even changing the day of the former to Friday had not prevented continuing loss of business. That the two markets were some twenty miles apart suggests a scarcity of such events, relative to later centuries. It is unknown whether any action was taken by the king to remedy the problem; Eye's market continued to be evidenced in the twelfth century, and if that at Hoxne went under, it was revived as a Wednesday event by royal licence in 1227.

Certainly there are some early examples, prior to the thirteenth century, of royal grants limiting competition – perhaps stretching back to Anglo-Saxon times; although King Edgar's charter granting Medhamstead minster the right to hold a market at Oundle and to collect tolls there, while prohibiting any other markets between Stamford and Huntingdon, is a twelfth-century forgery, it may preserve elements of tradition. A more authentic example is a clause in Colchester's 1189 charter, although this is a unique example in which local protectionism was felt strongly enough to warrant prohibition of rival markets. A grant of Henry I to Cambridge in the 1120s (perhaps as early as 1118) aimed at giving it a limited market monopoly – or at least the sole right to impose tolls on water-borne commerce – by requiring that all river traffic in the county load or discharge cargoes only at Cambridge's quayside and that tolls on such merchandize be levied only at that town; while this may have helped the borough's market prosper, we may doubt how long such a provision, which did not affect road-bound commerce, endured – though whether it was to future burgesses or future monarchs that such a concession proved undesirable, we do not know – for it found no place in the more formal charters later issued, confirming and adding to the borough privileges, even though the charter of 1201 seems to address obliquely the issue of competition by forbidding anyone to interfere with traders taking merchandize to Cambridge. A similar kind of monopoly, claimed by Yarmouth, was the subject of a drawn-out legal contest in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.

Most competition arose from some natural advantage possessed by one market over another, from deliberate manipulation of conditions to gain an advantage, or by both markets targeting much the same clientele or commercial traffic. For instance, Brian de Insula and his wife obtained in 1222 a provisional licence for a Wednesday market at Saleby (Lincs.), which stood on the road between Alford and Louth, and after Henry III came of majority (1227) this licence was confirmed. That in 1233 the sheriff was ordered to publicly proclaim the licence, and ensure the market was held, may point to opposition from a competitor; this seems confirmed in the following year, when the king ordered that if Saleby's market proved to be detrimental to that of the Bishop of Lincoln at Louth (about ten miles north-west) then the sheriff was to close it down. Meanwhile, de Insula complained that a market at Burwell, a few miles west of Saleby, was harmful to his because held on the same day; in fact, Burwell's licence (1233) had been obtained for a Tuesday event, and in 1234 the king instructed the sheriff not to prohibit the Burwell market unless it was found to be held on the same day as Saleby's. However, de Insula apparently continued to press his defence of his own market rights, exasperating the king, who gave firm instructions to the sheriff to quash the Saleby market. Evidently any effort at suppression was ineffective, at least over the long-term, for in 1285 Sir William de Hardreshull, kinsman and heir of de Insula's wife and now owner of the Saleby market, complained that a market at Alford (licensed 1283), just to the north, was proving a nuisance and had reduced the value of his own market by 53s.4d annually. The grounds for complaint were said to be that: the road down the slope of the Wolds to Alford was firm and level (i.e. easily travelled), whereas that to Saleby was 'deep' (suggesting a narrow and muddy holloway); Alford's market was only a league distant from Saleby's, was held the day before it, and had the advantage that no tolls were being levied there. The result of the legal challenge is unknown, but Alford's market licence was still valid in the fifteenth century.

It became common for market and fair licences to incorporate a clause making the grant provisional upon the institutions not proving to the detriment of others already in existence. This clause was not universal, for the king does not seem to have imposed the restriction on markets he instituted on his own manors. We might infer from this clause that the onus was on licensees to ascertain in advance that their plans would be unlikely to harm other markets in the region; if a complaint subsequently arose and the licence had to be revoked, the licensee had no grounds on which to seek reimbursement of the licence fee, or to alter the market day without an additional fee.

Just as sheriffs were charged with public announcements of newly-licensed markets – or alternatively of changes of date or ownership, and (less frequently) relocations, or cessations of a commercial event – and with ensuring that licensees were able to proceed with implementation unobstructed, they were responsible for investigating complaints of undue market competition and dealing with markets found detrimental to others. Perhaps they even held inquisitions on potential competition prior to announcement of a market. An example of such pre-emptive enquiry is documented in the case of Great Dunmow, while a better-known case concerns a Tuesday market at Wingham (Kent), a village straddling the road connecting Canterbury and Sandwich, issue of whose licence was preceded by the king ordering an inquisition as to whether it would be a nuisance to other markets in those parts; the sheriff reported back the jury's findings that not only did it pose no threat – there being no other Tuesday market near Wingham susceptible to damage, nor any within 20 leagues (perhaps meaning Bracton's 20 miles, on which see below), except that of Lenham – but it would actually prove beneficial, as merchants frequenting it could subsequently proceed a few miles in either direction to a Wednesday market at Canterbury or Sandwich [Hubert Hall, ed. A Formula Book of English Official Historical Documents, Part II, Cambridge: University Press, 1909, pp.89-90]. Evidently the jurors were sufficiently familiar with markets of the region to be able to assess the situation, and understood how itinerant merchants liked to operate. What is unclear in these proceedings, however, is whether such inquisitions were held as a matter of course, or whether the king ordered this one as a favour to the Archbishop of Canterbury, applicant for the licence.

The major county court sessions, attended by those landholders likely to have markets of their own, was the most appropriate place for sheriffs to announce new market licences – royal orders to sheriffs sometimes specifying that they should have charter grants read out therein – and for objections to be raised, although often detriment only became apparent (as loss of revenue) over the course of a few years of operation. The authority of the sheriffs in this regard perhaps explains why we do not have more records of cases in royal courts over competitive markets. Quite how a sheriff would go about suppressing a disfranchised market is unclear – an initial and preferable step might be to ascertain whether the matter could be resolved simply by changing the day of the offending market. If such mediation failed to satisfy parties to a dispute, public announcement of a ban was a necessary next step, but not by itself sufficient.

More pro-active efforts to prevent commercial transactions may have followed (though perhaps not a common step), for in April 1252 the king explicitly authorized the sheriff of Shropshire to arrest anyone who came to the market at Welshpool, on the grounds that business there was prohibited. Situated on the edge of the Severn valley, Welshpool acquired a castle and a borough charter in the first half of the thirteenth century, then licence for a Friday market by the beginning of 1252, but a complaint was soon lodged by Henry III's favourite, Guy de Rupe Forti, then bailiff of Montgomery, that it was detrimental to the Thursday market there (licensed 1227). The king ordered that if an enquiry upheld the complaint, the market at Welshpool should no longer be held and, at Guy's pressing, approved the sheriff's physical intervention to shut down market activities. An attempt at a more diplomatic resolution to the conflict later that year came with the issue of a new licence to Welshpool's lord, Gruffyd ap Gwenwynwyn, prince of Powys and military ally of Henry III against the king of Wales; this changed the market-day to Monday and ordered the sheriff to see that no-one impeded merchants or others taking their goods to do business with, at Welshpool on that day. This must have proven insufficient, for fresh complaints from Montgomery prompted Edward I, in 1279, to allow Gruffyd a Monday market (and two fairs) at another of his manors in the region, Trefnant, in lieu of that at Welshpool. The legal battle evidently continued, and a fresh enquiry concluded that Welshpool's market was not injurious to Montgomery's, so in 1282, King Edward cancelled the Trefnant market and restored the Monday event at Welshpool; the ageing Gruffydd was still too valuable an ally in the Welsh War to alienate.

Naturally we should beware of assuming that markets in close proximity to each other necessarily were, or were perceived as, competitive. Such markets were sometimes situated on different through-routes with distinct termini (to take the most obvious case, one might be on an east-west route, the other on a north-south route), and thus capitalized on somewhat separate sets of commercial travellers. In such a case it could actually benefit a single landlord to own neighbouring markets, and a few instances of this are known. But, on the whole, market operators must have been concerned that any new market in the vicinity would siphon away at least some of both local trade and long-distance commerce, for overland routes could shift if their users saw economic benefit or if there was some pro-active intervention (such as building a bridge to supersede a ford at a new location along a river). A manorial lord could order his tenants to use a particular market under his ownership [example in W. Bradbrook, "Manor Court Rolls of Fenny Stratford & Etone", Records of Buckinghamshire, vol.11, pt.6 (1924), p.299], but I have yet to find an instance of this being enforced through a manorial court. Enforcement of market use was something more developed in boroughs; an early instance is found in High Wycombe's borough court ordinance (1313) that butchers of the town must take the heads and hides of animals they slaughtered into the market, to the shambles, to be "shown there, to be seen by all, and to be publicly exposed by the vendors in good faith", and only if they could find no local purchasers there could they take them elsewhere and offer them to outsider merchants; butchers at the court session were obliged to take an oath to adhere to this provision and the town bailiffs were enjoined to keep a careful watch out for, and inform the mayor of, any infringements.[R.W. Greaves, ed., The First Ledger Book of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire Record Society, vol. 11 (1947), p.6]

There are cases – including some covered by the present study – where it is fairly clear that a new market was established specifically to try to steal trade from an older market. It is notable that the anti-competition proviso, which became a standard feature of market and fair licences, was absent from those borough charters which included clauses granting such institutions; on the other hand, we occasionally find clauses prohibiting impediments to, or molestation of, anyone bringing merchandize to a town to sell (e.g. Stirling in 1226, Wearmouth in 1247, Berwick in 1302), although these might reflect particularly disordered contexts or just the general concern for preservation of order, rather than a degree of market competitiveness which expressed itself through physical obstructionism, intimidation, or coercion.

Complaints about commercial competition seem to have been few enough in the twelfth century that no effort was made to find a generic solution to the problem, though cases may have created some awareness of the impending problem for development of a standard bureaucratic formula for a market licence. The key missing component was a phrase making grant of a market conditional: "that it not be harmful to any other market of the vicinity". Such a proviso was probably taken for granted in the decades when complaints about rival markets were few, but as they became more frequent the need must have been felt to spell it out, as a deterrent to ill-conceived market foundations, to reassure existing licensees that their investment would not be jeopardized by endorsing unfair competition, and to protect the king from any demand for refund of licence fee for a market suppressed following a challenge [Richard Britnell, "King John's early grants of markets and fairs", English Historical Review, vol.94 (1979), pp.95-96]. A phrase to this effect had already been inserted in a couple of fair grants prior to 1200, and in that year was tried out in the grant of a market in Normandy, which also spelled out the implication (subsequently omitted) that any market owner feeling aggrieved about new competition could put his case before the king's court. The proviso began to be a common element of the grant formula in England during the same year, and around 1202 was also applied to permissions to change the day of existing markets, for changes of day or location obviously risked creating a conflict where none had existed before, as illustrated in the cases of the markets at Wainfleet and Gedney (Lincs.) [Record Commission. Placitorum in Domo Capitulari Westmonasteriensi Asservatorum Abbreviatio, 1811, vol.1, pp.71-72]. Thus it was important for licences to specify when and where a market could be held – and these attributes of a licence show that markets were understood in the Middle Ages both as locations and events; any future change required a reissue of the licence. That the proviso was still not a universal feature of licences by mid-century could conceivably indicate that there may have been an extra cost for obtaining this protection, though there is no direct evidence of this, and on the whole it seems unlikely.

There remained some issues to be worked out, notably defining the conditions under which one market could be adjudged wrongfully harmful to another; it would not be enough for a market-owner to complain that another market was drawing away business, and therefore profit, from his own. That is, economic competition might prove harmful to some competitors, but this, though a nuisance, was not necessarily a wrong, or tort. The procedure developed, over the course of the thirteenth century, by royal justices to deal with complaints of market competition had to be initiated by a writ of nuisance. It does not seem that licensed markets could successfully challenge others so long-established as to predate the licensing system, while to challenge new but informal (unlicensed) markets that came into being was not cost-effective; for since such were not authorized to collect tolls and the amount of business from potential toll-payers must normally have been low, at least initially, their harm to the profitability of licensed markets made a challenge fruitless.

Work on an objective definition of what could reasonably be considered wrongfully harmful is evidenced in the legal treatise known as Bracton, dating to the minority of Henry III (1216-1226/27); those years, following the end of civil war and restoration of peaceful conditions more favourable to commerce, saw quite a few markets licensed provisionally, or fostered without licensing, making the problem of competition a pressing one, and prompting Henry, once he came of age, to issue (with uncertain effect) a general prohibition of markets raised during his minority. It is clear that Bracton's chapter on markets was driven by a need for guidelines on interpreting the proviso that was, by his time, becoming standard in market licences; Bracton clearly classed such cases as a type of nuisance, but different enough from other types that he felt himself not in a position to suggest a specific judicial procedure for dealing with that type, having available few precedents [Some are discussed by James Masschaele, "Market Rights in Thirteenth-Century England", English Historical Review, vol.107 (1992), 83-85]. From what information Bracton supplies we can infer how the developing market network was envisaged by the central government and the reasoning behind a definition of what constituted wrongful harm in competition between what we shall call market A and market B, both having legal grounds for existence (whether by prescription or by royal grant), but B being the more recent to come into existence and thereby possessing an advantage. Bracton deals with the matter as a nuisance that has recently arisen to impinge upon a existing lawful liberty. What Bracton has to say seems based on a belief that a multiplicity of markets was essentially beneficial to buyers and sellers; but that if markets occurred in so close a proximity, either in time or place, that their users could choose on any given day to patronize market B instead of market A, then the owner of A could consider B harmful to its profitability, though not so as to constitute a tort requiring remedy by the suppression of market B. At the same time, he made provision for two neighbouring and potentially harmful markets to co-exist through an out-of-court agreement between their owners; we know of such settlements – some are described within the present case studies – and possibly Bracton did too, while there were very likely others which have left us no record.

Underlying Bracton's reasoning are two related premises. One is that, based on established knowledge, a same-day return journey (presumably on reasonably traversable roads, in reasonably clement weather), could cover a total travel distance of no more than twenty miles; the other that this journey, together with an adequate amount of time at the market to conduct business, had to take place during the safety of daylight hours. The former may have been based on an understanding of average walking speed which, for people of our own era (allowing for factors such as age and health) is considered to be about 3 miles per hour-- although some can walk faster, pedestrians generally prefer to walk at speeds that are cost-efficient, in terms of travel time versus expenditure of energy or impact on their physical condition. The average speed of a horse being kept at a steady but not exhausting pace is not much more, perhaps 4 miles per hour, although even this modest increase, combined with the growing number of markets, would have improved choice for many consumers and traders. David Farmer's study of Deverill manors found that manorial grain surpluses were mainly sold at markets within a ten-mile radius (e.g. Hindon, Mere), except when believed higher prices could be realized further afield, and comparable figures are known from other locations, while buyers of the manors' wool were mostly from towns within a twenty-mile radius; manorial purchases of scarcer, heavier, or more valuable items warranted slightly longer trips, such as to fairs, but even then only those of the immediate region ["Two Wiltshire Manors and their Markets", Agricultural History Review vol. 37 (1989), pp.2, 7, 10-11].

Bracton apparently envisaged two possible scenarios: one in which the market was patronized by a user – from within what historians today would define as the primary hinterland of a market – going to market to purchase household necessaries, or to sell within a relatively short space of time a moderate quantity of goods, then returning home the same day; the second in which an itinerant merchant – whether a panier-carrying pedestrian, or one leading/driving a packhorse or horse-and-cart – would attend a market with the intention of selling and/or buying throughout the course of the market-day (that is, conceivably renting stall space for the day), then would require the next day to travel to another market location in order to be ready for a full day of business when the market opened early in the morning of the day following that. It appears that Bracton imagined merchants as on the road for a good part of the week, and even that local consumers might make more than one weekly visit to a market. The first premise dictated a market catchment area, for the first type of user, within a radius of ten miles; so that if two markets lay close enough to each other that their catchment areas overlapped, even slightly, the potential existed for one to be wrongfully harmful to the other. This risk would of course be counteracted, for the first type of user, if the two geographically proximate markets were held on different days of the week; but to avoid the second type of user having to choose to patronize either market A or market B, there had to be a chronological gap of at least one whole day between the two events. Thus Bracton was able to conclude that if market A and market B were situated within six and two-thirds leagues (twenty miles) of one another – the league and mile were not yet synonymous and Magna Carta, though endorsing standardization of measures, did not address those of distance – and if their events took place on the same or consecutive days, then market B should be suppressed as wrongfully harmful. On the other hand, if the two markets were a greater distance apart, regardless of their day of occurrence, and the newer was drawing business away from the older, this was simply fair competition.

It being impracticable for the central government to monitor the growth of the market network and the location and days of all its nodes, it was incumbent on the owner of a market – who could reasonably be expected to keep informed of new markets established within the same vicinity – to raise any complaint of nuisance; Bracton's coverage of the issue concludes with the recognition that market B could not be considered harmful to market A if the owner of A acquiesced in B's existence, whether explicitly through an agreement between the two market owners, or presumably tacitly by failing to make a complaint. Bracton's inclusion of the market competition issue within the broader category of novel disseisin suggests he expected such complaints be made as soon as the nuisance became apparent to the complainant, although this aspect of the markets issue remained imprecisely undefined, and it seems evident from instances of complaints that harm was often slow to occur, depending on changing fortunes of markets over time, or to be fully appreciated by the owner of market A, and it is possible that delays – sometimes several years – before a complaint was made may have accommodated time for the failure of negotiations over a settlement. It is also evident that the owner of market B could not complain of market A being harmful, since if harm were proven it would be market B that was subject to closure; it was thus incumbent on the founder of any new market to assure it was not established in an overtly competitive situation. Useful though Bracton's elucidation or the issue of market competition ought to have been, and as influential on the shape of the market network as it might have been, we cannot be certain whether, or how rigidly, it was applied in courts dealing with such cases; such evidence as we have from cases (some discussed in this study) suggests that Bracton's general criteria were the basis for judicial determinations, but not necessarily applied over-rigorously – although they could be, as the challenge of Bury vs. Barrow shows – and that conflicts may often have been resolved through out-of-court settlements. Less formally documented market forces – that is, shifting behaviours of traders and consumers – probably had a greater influence than court battles on which markets prospered, or at least survived, and which contracted or failed.

The nuisance question was practically the only aspect of market operation to engage Bracton's attention, other than the circumstances determining which of two conflicting royal liberties – a market grant (which included the right to take tolls) versus an exemption from tolls – should take precedence. However, in describing the matters to be investigated by royal eyres, Bracton does include those of any markets established without licence, or unlicensed alterations in market-days (unless from a Sunday – consequent to the Church's campaign, during John's reign, to have Sundays freed from mundane activities). All this assumed that the proliferation of markets (or fairs, to which similar principles applied) might result in unfair competition, from the economic perspective. Historians in their turn have to assume that challenges brought into court, or settled out of court, were based on one party suffering, or alleging to have suffered, financial loss.

In some cases, however, there are indications that rivalries were not based solely, or even primarily, on economic issues (see, for example the cases of Earls Colne and Petersfield), and this may have been more often so than is readily detectable. McLain [op.cit., p.98] has argued that "by the late thirteenth century the grant of a licence in Kent probably had more to do than royal favour than economic necessity", being one expression of royal patronage, and he suspected the same applied to other counties. Emilia Jamroziak ["Networks of Markets and Networks of Patronage in Thirteenth-Century England," in: M. Prestwich, R. Britnell, R. Frame eds., Thirteenth Century England, 10, Boydell and Brewer, 2005, pp. 41-49.] similarly argues that, as a royal franchise, market grants were a useful patronage tool. She points, as an example, to the cash-strapped and politically-embattled Henry III as prone to issuing market licences without fee to loyal servants and officials and to nobles whose support he courted, while raising money by selling them to others; during Henry's military expedition to Gascony (1254-55) he issued a number of grants to servants, knights and nobles who were to accompany him, while the political crisis of the late 1250s and the aftermath of the civil war also saw increases in grants of markets and other privileges. At other times too, licensees often had good access to the king, either being frequently at court, or (particularly in the case of religious houses) hosting the king on his itinerations. Edward II was similarly prone to granting market licences to those who fidelity he wished to assure.

The cases in those counties here studied also encourages a tentative conclusion that some, perhaps many, royal grants of licences – and not just those of the Late Middle Ages – were influenced little by any need to improve the market facilities of a region, nor solely by an applicant's ability to pay the related fee, but more by the degree to which the applicant was in favour at the time – the king's aim being to reward or retain loyalty, and some applicants may have been capitalizing on that fact. Something similar may have had an influence, if less pronounced, on the timing of challenges to rival markets. But in the cases of minor manorial lords of the lower knightly class, who were not influential at court – though some were connected to, and their applications sponsored by, individuals who were – obtaining market rights may have been more a matter of convenience, the desire to developthe revenue generation potential of a manor, and perhaps gave it higher prestige, reflecting a slight rise in owner's social standing.

Whether Bracton's definition was ever adopted by any courts or, if so, remained in force precisely as he intended, is not clear. The figures in his treatise are not cited in arguments or judgements of specific legal cases, although perhaps we should not expect them to be. Yet there was obviously a sense of excessive proximity in the minds of market-owners, even if they defined it simply by any reduction in the business of their own markets after some new market had come into being in the region. Seven leagues was a figure occasionally being used in Edward III's reign as the radius within which competitive markets were banned, at London and Yarmouth, and all off-site commerce banned for the duration of St. Giles fair at Winchester. At the farther end of the thirteenth century from Bracton, Fleta [Bk.4, ch.28] follows Bracton, as usual, but Britton's legal treatise [Bk.II, ch.32], while following Bracton in many regards, gives six and two-thirds leagues as the separation distance. Yet it corrupts the gist of Bracton's argument, and whereas Bracton differentiated leagues and miles, clearly seeing the separation distance as equivalent to a return journey totalling twenty miles, Britton identified a one-day journey as covering twenty leagues, with a single leg of that journey (i.e. going or returning) equivalent to a third of that distance; Nichols, in translating Britton into English (pub. 1865), felt obliged to render 'leagues' as 'miles'. Although this apparent shrinkage of the separation distance between two markets was probably the outcome of the emergence of English culture from out of the shadow of that of Norman French, it is tempting to see it as a governmental reaction against the constraints that Bracton's definition would have placed on the licensing system – or perhaps one should say on the ability of manorial lords to securely establish new markets, out of range of competitors, as the market network densified. If the growing demand for market licences were to be frustrated by Bracton's definition, it would either have limited a source of income for the Crown, or brought into being an increasing number of markets vulnerable to challenge. In this regard we may note that Britton also modified Bracton's specification of the chronological distance between markets, reducing it to a prohibition of same-day occurrence.

Professor Britnell has argued ["King John's early grants of markets and fairs", pp.90, 94] that a dispute of 1202 over market competition between the abbeys of Bury St. Edmunds and Ely, concerning the latter's foundation at Lakenheath in Suffolk, whose licence (March 1201) included the invalidating proviso, may have been a landmark case in establishing some of the principles behind this safeguard for existing markets. However, his opinion was based on a misunderstanding of Bracton (and if one of the brightest minds to have studied medieval economic history did not perceive the underlying rationale of Bracton's guidelines, then contemporaries of Bracton may also have misconstrued them). He argued that, since the complaint was upheld despite Bury and Lakenheath being seventeen miles apart, Bracton's definition, which Britnell understood as specifying six and two-thirds miles as the distance, could not yet have been adopted into judicial administration, for Bury would then have lost the case. As indicated above, however, Bracton's specification actually amounted to a twenty mile separation, so that Bury and Lakenheath could, on those grounds, be considered neighbouring; furthermore Bracton held that proximity was not by itself sufficient grounds for condemnation. Whether Bracton's second requisite condition applied, that the two markets were held on the same or consecutive days, we do not know – Lakenheath's market licence was for a Thursday, but Bury's market was prescriptive, later royal confirmations of the market do not identify a specific day, and it may have taken place on more than one day of the week – so we cannot tell if the decision against Lakenheath market was informed by Bracton's guidelines. The Lakenheath market was presumably suppressed after losing the case; yet, according to Letters' Gazetteer, in 1250 the earl of Gloucester obtained a market licence for his manor at Lakenheath for the same day, without challenge. Using Britnell's logic, it is conceivable that the conversion from leagues to miles occurred prior to that date, placing Lakenheath out of the danger zone; but such a conclusion would be highly tentative, not least because Letters relied on the printed calendar of the Charter Rolls, but damage to the entry in question makes it uncertain even if Lakenheath was the location of this market grant. Britnell is doubtless correct that the Abbey of St. Edmund's acquisition in August 1201 of a royal grant prohibiting harmful markets or fairs within its extensive territorial liberty, although coming too late to be useful in the legal battle against Lakenheath, must have been insurance against future rivals arising, additional to the mainstream of Common Law; however, his suggestion that the grant's omission of the criterion of 'neighbouring' is further indication that Bracton's guidelines had not yet taken root overlooks the fact that geographical proximity is clearly specified by defining the area of applicability as the Liberty of St. Edmund.

By 1270, however, both the criteria of geographical and chronological proximity were being applied by royal courts. The Abbot of Bury challenged the manorial market of Barrow (licensed 1267), about four leagues distant, on the grounds the Saturday event drew long-distance traders who might otherwise have gone to Bury to trade on the Monday. A jury concurred with the proximity issue, although the king attempted to support the licensee, a widow, by ordering a more precise measurement of the distance. If Bracton's principles were applied, the challenge would have failed on the basis of timing, unless merchants were considered unable to travel on Sundays; the outcome of the case is not known, but in 1291 the king confirmed the licensee's transfer of manor and market to her daughter and son-in-law. There is no indication the abbey invoked its 1201 grant in this case, but that would still have required harm to be proven, in terms of timing.

The criteria of distance and timing were still the grounds for complaints late in the Middle Ages. In 1403, for example, a royal commission was appointed to determine by inquisition whether a Saturday market at Burgh-in-the-Marsh (Lincs.), licensed 1401, was detrimental to others in the vicinity; a market held at Wainfleet – said (not entirely accurately) to be just two miles away – on Tuesdays and Saturdays (the latter event licensed 1305), was alleged to have lost 20‰ of its value and be facing ruin unless the situation were remedied. Burgh was also challenged by owners of somewhat more distant markets at Spilsby (on Mondays, relicensed 1305), Alford (Tuesdays, licensed 1283), and a Saturday market at Partney that had existed since at least 1086, all of whose owners claimed to be losing business to Burgh's market. The only known competitive advantage that Burgh had over its rivals was that it lay on a road heading inland from the sea-port of Skegness – its marketplace adjacent to that part of the road serving as the village High Street – and so had first claim on merchants transporting imported goods into the region where the rivals were situated. It is not known what solution, if any, was found, there being no indication Burgh's market-day was changed, or the event suppressed. This concerted challenge to a newcomer is a reflection of how dense the market network was becoming, in parts of England, by this late date.

That the number of market grants appears to increase dramatically from the beginning of the thirteenth century, commensurate with expansion both in commerce and in industrial activity (especially cloth-finishing, which, as a commercial activity, is more often associated with urban than rural settlements), can hardly be attributed to the addition of the protective proviso. Our impression of the increase is due in part to improved royal record-keeping, notably in the introduction of specialized records to keep track of royal grants and of payments due for them, although non-royal sources (e.g. monastic cartularies) give much the same impression. The Charter Rolls and Fine Rolls compiled by the king's scribes show grants of the right to hold markets and fairs becoming increasingly routine under the Angevins, whose need for money encouraged them to exchange favours for 'gifts' (or, more strictly, guarantees to give), whether cash or goods – a palfrey being a common payment for a market licence, though sometimes two were offered. Initially these gifts were not fixed but negotiable; during the early years of Henry III a palfrey was the most common payment. If cash, then 5 marks (being considered the value of a palfrey) was a common amount for a new licence or confirmation of an existing one, whether just for a market or a fair, or for both in one grant; yet 5 marks may have been considered a nominal payment, the size of the fee perhaps being influenced by the extent of royal favour shown the applicant, for the gift could range from 3s. to 100s., while in 1224 one market-owner was charged 10 marks to extend his fair at Mitford (Northumberland) from four to eight days, his ancestor having paid 50 marks for a market grant in 1157. To give the value of such payments a little perspective, we may note that the Abbot of Coggeshall paid, in 1256, 5 marks for a market licence, but the following year he paid the king 55 marks for the right to enclose, with ditch and hedge, areas of woodland and heath on certain of the abbey's Essex manors, which entailed surrendering much of the royal foresters' jurisdiction there to the abbey; evidently tighter control of such lands, – even though it did not give the abbot carte blanche there or any rights to venison, nor exemption of those areas from inspection by the foresters – was considered more valuable than a market.

Socio-economic status of the licensee may have been taken into account in the agreement on amount, but no detailed analysis has yet been undertaken that would identify factors influencing variations in cost. By the last part of the reign the cost seems to have risen slightly, but it is hard to tell as there was a tendency to have market/fair grants mixed in with other grants or confirmations. A rarer transaction is exemplified by the payment of 20 marks by the Bishop of Lincoln in April 1227 in return for the abolition in perpetuity of a market at Warden (Northamptonshire), for which Henry de Braybrooke had purchased a licence the previous month; no reason was given but when the bishop again intervened, after a later owner of the manor took out a new licence in 1238, the county court was ordered to determine whether Warden's market was detrimental to the bishop's market at Banbury (Oxfordshire). In association with grant of a licence it was frequent, and perhaps typical, to issue orders, to the sheriff in whose county a newly-licensed market was to be established, to ensure the licensee was able to proceed without obstruction and to obtain some surety for the licensee's payment of the agreed price, unless the market was to be held in a liberty exempt from shrieval jurisdiction. The sheriff may also have been expected to make public announcement of new markets, not just in their shire courts but possibly also in hundred courts, and keep an ear open for any concerns from owners of other markets in the region. One of the side-benefits of purchasing a royal licence was the publicity obtained, though it is hard to assess the precise value of this.

While the king may have personally approved such licences to some of his favourites, it seems unlikely that every petitioner made requests directly of the king. The minority of Henry III saw an unusual amount of activity in pursuit of licences from the caretaker administration – much of it from members of that administration – most of which were issued only on the proviso that confirmation would need to be sought once Henry came of age; it is not clear whether all licensees bothered to follow up on this – at least not promptly – and the rolls record only confirmations. It is possible that refusals to confirm (i.e. cancellations) would not have been recorded, but the earlier issuing of provisional licences was probably in case royal policy changed once Henry had the reins of power, and did not assume the king would subsequently be expected to decide on every instance. Paul Dryburgh argues that the transfer of licence grants from king to bureaucracy was a policy change that took place in the latter half of John's reign ["The Language of Making Fine", Henry III Fine Rolls Project; http://www.finerollshenry3.org.uk/content/month/fm-06-2007.html; last accessed 13 February 2016]. There was no real need for kings to be directly involved in this type of transaction, and it is probable that many licences were sought from and issued by a Chancery official. It was the licence fee that principally interested the king and the issue of over-growth of the commercial network was dealt with not by discretionary decisions on petitions but by a standard clause in licences that the newly-licensed market or fair not be detrimental to any other in its region; there is no reason to think a readily consultable master-list of licensed events was maintained for cross-referencing when new licences were sought. Thus the regulation of the network was addressed reactively rather than pro-actively – although there is the odd instance that suggests concerns might occasionally arise during the process of issue of a licence, perhaps because someone present in court at that time had knowledge of a snag. Similarly, instances of licence fees subsequently being pardoned – mostly in cases of ecclesiastical licensees – suggest the king might be directly involved, at the petition of some licensees (or their attorneys).

The penchant for town-founding in the twelfth and, more pronouncedly, thirteenth centuries, is often portrayed as a wave of speculative investment; initiatives that sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed, in the sense of surviving into later times as urban places. While judgement on that basis may introduce a modern bias – Richard Goddard has pointed out that we might judge at least some foundations rather as "manorial enterprise zones wherein craft production and exchange were encouraged" ["Small Boroughs and the Manorial Economy: Enterprise Zones or Urban Failures?" Past and Present, vol.10 (2011), p.3] – our present concern is the development of a network of market towns, and it seems clear enough that the 'borough' model was chosen by lords because they recognized the link between urban communities and commercial vitality, in terms both of the connectedness of towns within the communications network and of the value of towns as collection and distribution points for the agricultural and pastoral commodities of the rural hinterland, supplemented by the products of local industry, which repurposed the rural raw materials. Large towns, while dependent on their hinterland for foodstuffs and supplies for the most fundamental industries (notably leather, wool, and grain for brewing), were not so integrally tied into the rural economy as were most small towns; on the other hand, with their relatively complex social and economic structures, large towns needed the jurisdictional freedom and administrative flexibility to allow them to operate within a national and even international context, whereas small towns could function well enough with a limited amount of independence from the seigneurial system.

Yet we must not ignore that the borough model was not universally adopted; some of its topographical and morphological characteristics can also be identified in settlements that otherwise seem purely rural, where manorial lords sought to enhance their income by substituting a block of rental properties for a field, for example, without pursuing a formal market licence or instituting burgage tenure. The case of Mercheforde (Cambs.) has been argued as a planned layout of compact tenements without a market grant or borough status [Susan Oosthuizen, "A ‘truth universally acknowledged’?: morphology as an indicator of medieval planned market towns" Landscape History, vol.34 (2013), pp.51-80]. Furthermore, in the twelfth century the Bishops of Durham were reorganizing villages, or adding to existing villages extensions focused on the parish church, along consistent lines: a plan form in which houses were grouped around a green; each housewith a linear plot of land at rear for small-scale cultivation and/or industry; the green was used for grazing animals but also (sometimes) market activities, with plots allocated for temporary stalls, but no permanent buildings permitted there except those for communal use (e.g. smithy, alehouse).

The same sort of thing is seen in the south, too, as for example at Ditchling (Suss.) where the village was expanded in the thirteenth century by laying out, to one side of the crossroads, a series of small cottage plots which, since they were not afforded rights of common, were probably for artisans and traders; a market licence was obtained in 1312 by the manorial lord, and in the course of that century we hear of tailor, tawyer, tanner, and other trades there. Ringwood in Hampshire is another example of a market-focused settlement, with licence (1226), and a series of long, narrow plots laid out along one side of the marketplace (a widened stretch of the High Street) as well as further along the High Street, yet without any indication that these were held by burgage tenure or that Ringwood ever had borough status – the plots on the opposite side of the marketplace are not of the burgage type; though the market licensee, the future Earl of Pembroke, must have had the means to establish an urban unit at Ringwood; he had not inherited from his more powerful father, William Marshall, any tradition of town-founding. Chertsey Abbey, in Surrey, also appears to have, around mid-twelfth century, pursued an improvement policy of converting a number of its manorial villages in that county from dispersed into nucleated settlements, each close to an existing or newly-built church; in the following century, these villages were reorganized by being laid out in the form of two rows of regular-sized strip-plots along what later became a High Street (sometimes with back lanes evidenced) [See the EUS Surrey reports]. Several of these later attained urban status (e.g. Egham, Epsom) while some, such as Bookham, Cobham and Chertsey itself – the last appears a deliberate town foundation outside abbey gates – were furnished with formal market licences in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. On the other hand, those not so well-located within the road system never became truly urban, despite some being known to have had unlicensed markets (e.g. Chobham). Whether any of these, other than Chertsey, could be considered planned towns, rather than just planned villages, is a matter of interpretation in the absence of clear documentary evidence; however, abbey policy of replacing labour services with rental tenancies may have been aimed at stimulating trade in a similar, if less efficacious, manner to burgage tenure.

At Folkingham (Lincs.) the residents settled to service the prescriptive market, since they could not be considered burgesses, were referred to in 1298 as 'markethemen'. Even places whose residents could produce a minimalist seigneurial charter as a basis for their status as burgesses in a liber burgus might only be a step or two beyond a village community; this seems particularly true for burghal units within or adjacent to existing village communities, founded by monastic institutions, which often preferred to keep a tight rein on the degree of autonomy acquired by burgesses. For example, at the Hampshire town of Whitchurch, where in the 1240s such a unit (comprising 57 burgage plots) was introduced into the manor contemporary to the acquisition of a market licence, it was treated as if little more than a tithing within the manor: grant of burgage tenure did not result in complete freedom from customary services; burgages were not necessarily transferrable without permission of the manorial court and payment of entry fines; burgess status was tied to tenancy of a burgage and not extended to others; and the borough court was simply a specialized session of the manorial court [Alison Deveson, "Medieval Whitchurch: failed new town or successful village?", Hampshire Studies, vol.55 (2000), pp.169-171.] Immature boroughs like Whitchurch, along with planned development of villages (sometimes with the introduction therein of burgage tenements), can thus muddy the picture for urban historians; it is evidently an error to maintain too rigid a conceptual distinction between 'town' and 'village' for, in at least certain respects, they are only somewhat nebulous points along a spectrum whose subtle gradations we are still coming to appreciate.

Medieval Eardisley
Plan of medieval Eardisley, drawn by Alexandra Millward; reproduced by kind permission of the artist.
Organization of the settlement around a through-road – passing the church, linked to the castle, and with burghal component added around a widened stretch of the road, ending at possible marketplace – is a not uncommon type of layout for castle-towns of the Welsh Marches (allowing for variations on a theme, such as castle and church being at opposite ends of the settlement).

Some of the places falling under this present study lie on that borderline of uncertainty as to whether they can truly be classified as urban. In Essex there are several cases of what we might consider burghal units, or districts, within larger rural communities, where burgage tenements near or around a marketplace represent a quasi-urban unit that the manorial lords – often ecclesiastical – were reluctant to characterize as boroughs; at Manningtree this unit was described as 'free burgage', apparently to distinguish it from a full-fledged borough. Perhaps such districts would be better thought of as proto-urban – the kernels or catalytic cores of communities that later became more conspicuously urban, even if only temporarily. Although there is some consensus among historians as to the characterizing features of a town, there is none on precisely which, or how many, of those features need to be present before we can say that a community was urban.

We should not play up too much the speculative character of market licensing; it was in some ways more promising as a calculated business venture than was the effort to marry one's sons to potential heiresses, which sometimes gambled on male heirs dying out, a process that might take generations before it paid off. While a small minority of market ventures may have been so risky or uncertain as to be ill-judged, in general we should understand from the acquisition of a licence not that the licensee intended to introduce commerce where little or none was already taking place, but rather an intent to foster and profit from an existing commerce – whether occurring at the site, or in the locality, of the market, or simply being a growing regional commerce of which the licensee hoped to capture a share. Licensees must have expected that the revenues they could skim off the top of commercial activity would more than repay any investment in purchase of a licence and re-allocation of land (both to the marketplace and to residences of settlers qualified to service commerce) that might otherwise have generated other kinds of revenues, and in the administration of commercial activity. A market that served, or was intended to serve, little more than local needs was hardly worth licensing, while in the case of markets catering to traders from farther afield, the proliferation of exemptions from tolls – even though these sometimes applied only to places over which the king had immediate dominion – must have reduced the value of licences over the course of the Late Middle Ages. Yet it did not generally reduce value to the point where an owner was inclined to abandon a market; at least, complaints about dwindling tolls are not explicitly documented as factoring into market failures.

Nor were royal grants of exemption the only cause of diminution, for it must have been more cost-effective for outsiders anticipating making if not regular then repeated use of a market to purchase an annual permit to trade there, free of toll, rather than make smaller but multiple payments for each visit. Ipswich was not unique in providing estate-owners of the region some degree of exemption in its own markets through the sale of foreign burgess status, while even village communities, which could not afford royal grants, might make direct agreements with market-owners to obtain exemption in return for an annual fee; most of such agreements have left no surviving record, but we know that the Earl of Surrey was, in the reign of Edward III, receiving 5s. annually from the residents of Honington for their exemption from tolls at his market at Grantham (Lincs.), while the men of Sedgebrook and Allington were paying him 6d. for the same, all these villages being close to Grantham but lacking markets of their own. At Exeter the fee for much the same sort of thing was known as chapgavel, indicating that the right to buy and sell – something inherent to holders of burgages in the city – could be rented for set periods [J.W. Schopp, ed. The Anglo-Norman Custumal of Exeter, Oxford: University Press, 1925 p.20].

Market trading permits have not left us much by way of records, and itemized receipts of local tolls even less. But there is a fortuitous survival of two lists of proceeds from the market at Aylesbury, undated but from the early years of Edward IV's reign, in a town official's rather unorganized notebook of financial receipts, kept either for personal reference or, more likely, as a rough copy from which the borough's formal annual accounts were compiled at the end of each term of office. An important place within Buckinghamshire since Saxon times, Aylesbury's market pre-dated the licensing era and the town's growing prosperity had helped it supplant Buckingham as the county town by the thirteenth century. The longer of the list of receipts [Elizabeth Elvey, "Aylesbury in the fifteenth century: A bailiff's notebook," Records of Buckinghamshire vol.17, pt.5 (1965), pp.324-25], possibly incomplete, comprises 28 items recording, under the heading "for the market", the names of payers, their place of origin, and the amounts each paid, which ranged from 6d. to 2s. These might have been tolls from a brief period within a year, but that no name appears more than once in the list, and that most payments are in amounts of 12d. or 8d. suggest they were purchases of trading permits by outsiders who expected to be using Aylesbury's market with sufficient regularity during the year to warrant a licence. Although one Aylesbury man is among the purchasers – presumably a resident who did not hold a burgage there-- the others (of those place-names now confidently identifiable) were, unsurprisingly, mostly from other locations in Buckinghamshire or from neighbouring counties, with a couple possibly from the southern Midlands or West Country. Itinerant traders from further afield were less likely to frequent Aylesbury's markets often enough within the year to benefit from a licence.

Moreover, the profitability of markets was affected by more general economic conditions, which fluctuated, chronologically and geographically, based on factors largely beyond the control of market founders. So there were few sure bets, and market-holders were reliant to a large degree on the capabilities, ambition, and business sense of others who played a more central role in commerce. Acquisition of royal licences for additional market days or additional fairs, changes in market day or the dates or duration of fairs, failure of new manorial lords to renew licences, are all potential indicators of adjustments to business strategy, responding to developments in the competitive environment, market demand, mercantile habits, the legal framework, and other factors – some of which may remain invisible to the historian.

The location of a new town, whether on a site not at that time inhabited, or whether an expansion of an existing village, was probably the most significant factor in determining the outcome of a seigneurial venture. Good communications are of course essential to long-distance trade, and most market communities able to maintain urban status through and beyond the Middle Ages were located on, or close by, a river or road that connected them to one or more upper-scale marketing centres. Preserving or improving navigability of rivers was one of the preoccupations of urban administrations. Convenience of access for peripatetic traders was a major asset, so that – given that the period between the Viking incursions and the Hundred Years War saw much of inland England relatively free from external threats (the Welsh and Scottish border regions being the notable exception) – hill-top towns became slightly disadvantaged, whereas ports or settlements on one or more of the country's major land routes to long-established cities, were in a strengthened position.

As discussed above, the competitive environment was another factor, and legal battles were fought between market owners when market towns were established in too close a proximity to one another. Since it was the king who licensed markets, disputes between owners were fought out in royal courts; such battles added unexpected costs to market investment. That centering on Lakenheath's market has already been mentioned. In 1202 the Abbot of St. Edmund's paid 13s.4d for the court to hold an inquest into his complaint that his market at Bury St. Edmund's, in existence prior to the requirement for licensing, was being caused so much injury by the Bishop of Ely's market at Lakenheath, some fourteen miles distant, licensed the previous year, that it ought to be prohibited. The inquisition jury agreed that fish, meat, grain, livestock and other merchandize which used to be taken to the market at Bury were now being sold at Lakenheath instead, so that the abbot had lost income from tolls (although the jurors said they had no way of knowing how great his losses). Presumably the market, held on Thursdays – whereas that at Bury seems to have taken place on Friday – was suppressed; just over a century later Ely cathedral tried again, obtaining a licence for a Wednesday market at Lakenheath.

Similar in some regards is the case of Ramsbury in Wiltshire, where Bishop Richard Poore of Salisbury obtained in 1219 grant of a Friday market; this presumably thrived, for in 1227 he secured licence for a Tuesday market too. However, two years later, upon a complaint from Marlborough, a royal borough whose market had been authorized in 1204, that its commercial profits were being eaten into by Ramsbury's market, the king ordered the sheriff to suppress the latter at once. It seems that market trading may have persisted at Ramsbury, however, for disputes continued between the two, and in 1240, after another order to suppress it, the Ramsbury market was quitclaimed to the king by Poore's successor, in return for licence to hold two fairs at Ramsbury, and for the men of Ramsbury to continue to sell bread, ale and other foodstuffs without opposition. In 1300 the bishop once more obtained licence for a market at Ramsbury; Marlborough – which in the meantime (1275) had been complaining, apparently unsuccessfully, about damage to its market from an unlicensed one held at Swindon since 1260 – seems to have raised no further objections to Ramsbury.

Conflict between neighbouring markets did not always result in legal battles, however. The matter could be settled through negotiation between owners, although the settlements might then be given greater legal security through registration in formal court records as final concords. Thus, for example, in 1258 Hugh de Neville, concerned that his market at Great Wakering, Essex, was being harmed by one more recently initiated at neighbouring Shopland, reached a financial settlement with the owner of the latter. Hugh, or an ancestor of the same name, had been granted by the king a fair and a Friday market in 1200, but perhaps he neglected to exercise his market rights – Great Wakering being in a rather isolated part of coastal Essex, and unlikely to attract much long-distance trade – and this may be why he described his market as a 'free market'. The settlement accepted the market at Shopland – which may have had a geographical advantage, being located closer to the mouth of the Thames – in return for an annual payment (due from rents at Shopland) to Hugh; probably the problem lay partly in both markets taking place on the same weekday, for in 1265 Hugh obtained royal licence to shift the Wakering market to Monday. A similar arrangement was made in 1254 when the Earl of Oxford, in return for a number of Halstead rents, accepted the existence of a market at Halstead (licensed November 1250) which lay close to the earl's market at Earls Colne (licensed March 1250), and less close to his market at Hedingham. Discussion, or even negotiations, between market owners may well have taken place in many cases of conflict, prior to having to resort to the expense of a lawsuit.

Nor should we assume that neighbouring markets necessarily resulted in unwelcome competition. In 1330 Robert de Clifford, hereditary sheriff of Westmorland, took out a market licence for Brough-under-Stainmore, where a prescriptive market, mentioned in an earlier Clifford's debt recognisance of 1281, had presumably been held since before 1196/97, when we hear of burgesses there; the town became known as Market Brough. This town was likely a planned extension to neighbouring Church Brough, where a royal castle had been built around 1092 and whose layout suggests it a Norman castle-town with marketplace [W. Douglas Simpson, "Brough-under-Stainmore : The Castle and the Church," Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society Transactions, 2nd. ser., vol.46 (1946), p.230]. Planted at the junction of its through-road with an important east-west route connecting York and Carlisle and serving the Irish trade, Market Brough eclipsed Church Brough, economically, but was dangerously close to the Scottish border. The Pipe Roll for 1201[Record Commissioners, 1883, pp.72-73] records the burgesses themselves paying 20 marks, plus 5 marks in lieu of a palfrey, for permission to hold a Sunday market and a short fair in June. The licence obtained by Clifford, who had become lord of Brough in 1327, may have been occasioned by a change of market-day to Thursday and the addition of a September fair, itself conceivably part of an effort to revive the town's fortunes after a devastating Scottish raid in 1319, as well as bad harvests and livestock plagues in surrounding years. Yet in 1353 Robert's son, Roger de Clifford, acquired a licence for a Friday market and two fairs (in April and October) for his town of Kirkby Stephen, just seven miles south of Brough. This Roger evidently felt that the volume of trade in that region, where there were few other markets – Appleby's (also on the Stainmore road) being almost ten miles west of Brough and Kendal's much further away – had now revived sufficiently to support two markets on different days of the week. An early eighteenth century lord of Brough, the Earl of Thanet, had a different perception, for when the residents petitioned him to apply for a renewal of the market licence, his refusal was on the grounds that a revival of the market might jeopardize his income from tolls of the Brough fairs and the commercial institutions at Kirkby Stephen [Daniel Scott, "Recent Discoveries in the Muniment Rooms of Appleby Castle and Skipton Castle," Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society Transactions, 2nd. ser., vol.18 (1918) p.194].

Although ports were not subject to licensing, the legal precepts governing market competition could also be applied to them. For example, in 1290 the mayor of the royal borough of Grimsby complained that seigneurial officials and residents of the new town of Ravenserodd, established at the mouth of the river that gave access to Grimsby, were using intimidation or force to divert ships bringing wine, fish and other goods bound for Grimsby and compel them to unload and sell at an unlicensed market at Ravenserodd, so that Grimsby was deprived of tolls that helped it pay its fee farm and some of its traders had left town, so great had been the reduction of its commerce. A decade earlier another market town near the Humber, Hedon, had also complained it was losing population to Ravenserodd. Market was here defined as a place where tolls on merchandize were collected; a similar clear connection between the formal definition of 'market' and the right to take tolls is evidenced at Marlborough and Crossthwaite. An inquisition jury confirmed that this kind of forestalling was taking place, although not through compulsion so much as persuasion: that is, arguments to convince ships' captains that their cargoes would fetch a higher price at Ravenserodd – the jurors confirming that Grimsby's merchants had at one time manipulated purchase terms to their advantage. Further evidence comes from a clause in the borough charter granted to Scarborough in 1256, prohibiting any rival port or quay to be established along that part of the east coast between Scarborough and Ravenser. That such a clause was unique to Scarborough does not mean other ports around England's coast did not have similar concerns about rivals; indeed, English urban history is littered with examples of rivalry for coastal commerce.

Markets and fairs were not the embodiment of medieval commerce, but simply the most prevalent forms in which commerce was institutionalized. The purpose of royal licensing of markets and fairs was not to authorize commerce, an activity too widespread for the monarchy to regulate directly, but to institute a royal franchise whereby owners were authorized to tax or otherwise extract profits from commercial activities taking place at pre-determined, and therefore supervisable, times and locations. These profits could take various forms: most commonly tolls on the volume or value of the goods traded (payable by those lacking a formal exemption); but also, in some towns, fees for the issue of trading permits to those whose local residence did not qualify them for toll exemption, fees for rental of trading sites or facilities, and possibly fees for official weighing of goods as part of the sale process; also, fines pursuant to the oversight of trading behaviours through judicial jurisdiction. This delegation of regalian right of extracting revenue from markets – a right occasionally seen exercised or granted by Saxon kings – was generally a given that did not need to be specified in a market licence, and it is a right for which we have some documentary evidence as far back as the ninth century [R.H. Britnell, "Commerce and markets", in Julia Crick and Elisabeth van Houts, eds. A Social History of England, 900–1200, Cambridge University Press, 2011, p.183]. That the right to collect tolls was restricted to the licensed market-day – support for the interpretation of markets as events rather than places – is suggested by a complaint at the hundredal enquiries of the 1270s regarding the market at Hailsham [Suss.], licensed to Peter de Savoy in 1252, though that manor had since become part of the queen's holdings; the jurors stated that: "fifteen years ago Peter of Savoy founded a Wednesday market in the vill of Hailsham, in the Rape of Pevensey, and had tolls collected on that market-day, [but] now the queen's bailiffs unjustly take toll there every day of the week, greatly aggrieving the people of the region" [Rotuli Hundredorum, vol.2, pp.204-05; my translation]. It seems likely enough that, as commercial activity outgrew the chronological bounds of the formal licence, as it must have done at many market locations, the desire of licensees to extract revenue expanded commensurately. Just a few years later the bailiff at Hailsham was convicted of levying stallage on market vendors who ought not be liable to pay it (perhaps the queen's local tenants) [L.F. Salzmann, The History of the Parish of Hailsham, Lewes: Farncombe, 1901, p.31]

Letters, in her introduction to the Gazetteer, suggested that "a model for market practice was provided by the customs followed at the divers markets belonging to the king"; this was on the basis of a grant by Henry II in the earlier part of his reign (known from Henry VI's confirmation) to the priory of St. Neots (then Hunts.), to whose re-founding in the early twelfth century at Eynesbury, close to the boundary of three shires and on the east bank of the River Great Ouse – which ran from central England through East Anglia into The Wash, its diversion to Lynn playing a large role in the development of that town as a maritime port – the founder of the de Clare family, Richard Fitz-Gilbert, and his wife Rohais were party, the latter giving the priory a manor at Eynesbury; it may well have been the Clares who sponsored the priory's receipt of grants from Henry I for a Thursday market and a July fair on the manor of Eynesbury, where a like-named lay settlement had probably developed somewhat south of the original (Late Saxon) priory. Stephen's confirmation of his uncle's market grant declared that those frequenting the market, coming or leaving, did so under protection of the king's peace and were to be allowed their customary rights – perhaps meaning rights that the Normans customarily associated with markets in Normandy – anyone disturbing the same being threatened with the hefty fine of £10. Henry II reiterated his predecessor's grant, but subsequently elaborated, in an order to sheriffs of the region: "you are to ensure that the monks of St. Neots receive, from those who shall come to their market and their fair, toll and stallage and all their other customary rights such as I receive in my various markets" [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1436-41, p.174; also Recueil des Actes de Henri II ed. L. Delisle and E. Berger, vol. 1 (Paris, 1916), p.509; my translation] These charters were cited in evidence in quo warranto proceedings of the 1270s to justify the priory's ownership of market and fair.

A reorganization of residential layout, roughly contemporary with the rebuilding of the priory, resulted in the creation, approved by charter of Henry I, of a separate and planned nucleus of lay settlement, immediately south and east of the priory and named after it, encompassing a marketplace at the west end of what became the High Street and just east of a river-crossing; a bridge built across the Great Ouse at about the same time, superseding an earlier ford, assured that commercial travellers using roads from Huntingdon, Bedford and Kimbolton, which converged at the west end of the crossing, would be channelled through the marketplace on the east side. Despite proximity to the river exposing it to flooding, so that its site had to be artificially raised in the Late Middle Ages, the market achieved some success, as suggested by its extension northwards, probably in the late twelfth century, with a row of shops subsequently developing against the priory wall. Though it is not until the thirteenth century that we first hear of burgages at St. Neots, they were likely an original feature of the market settlement, intended to attract new settlers who would service the market, though whatever burgess community may have been present remained under the administrative thumb of the priory.

We should not think, however, that the above-noted terms of Henry II's charter to St. Neots were implicit in market grants or licences in general. The key feature of the grant was not so much its specification of seigneurial revenues stemming from the market as the instruction to sheriffs to enforce collection of the same, and it may have had something to do with jurisdictional disputes between the priory and the owner of a secular manor at Eynesbury, which led to a redefinition of the boundary between the two manors. Yet stallage, once it appears in manorial records, does not not look like an inherent right of a market (or fair), but a right derived from seigneurial ownership of the land on which they took place, enabling the owner to rent out plots for long-term or short-term use. As such it would have been a universal feature of royal markets, and a normal feature of seigneurial markets, since these were licensed for, or otherwise held on, real estate of the licensee, but not dependent on the franchise acquired through licence. On the other hand perhaps there were, or became, two forms of stallage: one an imposition on visiting traders, whose presence at the market was only occasional, for the right to station themselves in the marketplace; the other a rent, or licence, to hold a fixed pitch for market trading, both regularly on the official market day and on other days of the week when market was not formally in session. This is a topic that requires further study. Markets on ancient royal estates may have served as a model on which to base grants of privileges to later foundations, but was not the only model; as was the case with charters of urban liberties, which often specified a particular existing town as the model, the same approach could be taken with markets – for instance, in 1106 Henry I granted the monks and lay community of Battle the same market customs that William I had given to Hastings.

Tolls on the other hand are more clearly tied to market operation. In his questionable interpretation of pre-Conquest laws of England, Andrew Horn associated tolls with the principle of commerce being conducted in public view:

It was ordained, that fairs and markets should be in places, and that the buyers of corn and cattle should pay toll to the lords bailiffs of markets or fairs ... so that no toll exceed a penny for one manner of merchandize: and this toll was given to testify the contracts, for that every private contract was forbidden.
[The Mirrour of Justices, Washington: John Byrne, 1903, p.29]

As a member of London's governing class, Horn may have felt this retrospective justification in the city's interest; tolls were fundamentally a seigneurial tax on persons who made a living from commerce – not on their transactions, but on the goods that were to be the objects of such transactions – even if they might be viewed as compensating market or fair owners for providing supervised facilities so that traders could do business with greater confidence. Interestingly, though market (or fair) tolls were a benefit subject to royal grant, the imposition of tolls of passage – that is, on commercial goods as they passed along highways or rivers – was not a privilege systematically granted out by the Crown, and by the end of Edward I's reign it was explicitly stated that the king could not grant out such tolls [Ehrlich, op.cit. p.129]

Market owners (such as Guy de Rocheford) seem often to have assumed that the right to regulate a market – or, in marketless manors, hold view of frankpledge – included administration of the assize of bread and ale, and to a lesser extent the assize of weights and measures, after these had been promulgated; an inquisition jury at Cirencester in 1400 certainly saw it as part of the jurisdiction of courts administering view of frankpledge. Administration of the assizes was within the authority of the royal clerks of the market, but these were initially officials accompanying the king on his travels throughout the realm, and their authority was limited to commercial suppliers within a twelve-mile radius of the king's person, for their purpose was to ensure that the king's local supply needs were met without being exposed to fraud, in terms of quality, quantity and prices of goods, though over time their role, in regulating weights, measures, and prices came to be for the protection of consumers generally [Neville Williams, "Sessions of the Clerk of the Market of the Household of Middlesex" London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, vol.19 (1958), p.77].

Edward II's charter to York in 1316 is one source indicating that holding these assizes were part of the authority of the clerk of the market, but that in the absence of such official from the city (which must have been most of the time) the citizens had exercised the duty, and the charter formally transferred that power to them – though should the mayor be negligent in exercise that duty, complaint could be made to Chancery. Later, mayors of other cities were also delegated the regulatory and judicial powers of the royal clerk of the market – perhaps technically subordinate to the king's clerk, but in practice administration was transferred to borough executives, part of a more general trend to free boroughs from what was seen as interference in local affairs by royal officials. Many unchartered, or proprietary, towns or the owners of manorial markets may have simply assumed the power to administer the assizes – which provided a source of revenue, in fines, doubtless seen as inherent in market rights; on rural manors this is usually seen as a component of the jurisdiction exercised by leet courts. The hundredal enquiries of the opening of Edward I's reign, to survey royal rights and private liberties and investigate disturbances in administration of the same after the civil war of his father's reign, challenged a large number of market-owners in this regard, but in most cases they seem to have been able to defend successfully.

Markets did not have to be licensed, and the majority probably were not, for license grants are the principal source of documentary evidence of markets, and so some (perhaps many) of the unlicensed – amounting to little in terms of extra-local business or of annoyance to licensed markets of the same region – may yet remain undetected by historians. A market that had long existed before the monarchy introduced a formal licensing system could justify its existence, including (less certainly) the right of toll collection; this historians classify as 'prescriptive', a category into which the older chartered boroughs are generally considered to fall. Furthermore, there also existed unlicensed markets – sometimes called 'free markets' – whose owner-operators did not attempt to impose tolls. These owners could presumably still profit from them by charging stallage fees, or 'stall-pennies' as called at Hertford and some other places. Thus, for example, the 1373 manorial court roll for the Buckinghamshire village of Fenny Stratford (market licensed 1204, burgesses mentioned 1370) includes the entry:

"It is granted by the Lord that John Russell may have and hold a place for one stall in the market place for putting and selling meat namely that place which Edward Ironmonger held formerly, having and holding the same John to hold for his life by service, four pennies annual rent, paying at the terms usual in the vill. and he gives to the Lord for a fine 5s. by pledge of William Hostiler and he does fealty to the Lord and seisin is delivered to him." [W. Bradbrook, "Manor Court Rolls of Fenny Stratford & Etone", Records of Buckinghamshire, vol.11, pt.6 (1924), p.299]

Manorial court records are a source of market information that remain to be fully exploited. An entry in the 1481 roll from the manor of East Garston (itself licensed for a market in 1238) implies the persistence of a prescriptive market, held by the Crown, in the borough of Hungerford a few miles to the south.

"To the same court comes William Dudley and takes of the lady the Queen one stall in Hungerford, late in the tenancy of William Mayowe, deceased. To have to him for the term of his life, according to the custom of the manor, by rent and service therefrom formerly due, and he does fealty and is admitted tenant." [Nathaniel Hone, "Berkshire Court Rolls", Quarterly Journal of the Berkshire Archaeological and Architectural Society, vol.3, no.7 (1893), p.176]
A survey of the manor and borough in 1552 remembered Dudley as the former tenant of two market stalls, for which his successor was still being charged the traditional rent of 4d. per stall.

We should, however, think of stallage less as the rental of a stall (i.e. a structure), but of a pitch on which the renter had the right to place, or erect, facilities from which goods for sale could be exposed. Some market owners erected stall structures to service traders from outside the locality wishing to sell in the market, but small traders and farmers were likely to sell from baskets, other portable containers, or sometimes from wheeled carts, and it is less clear whether they were charged for a spot from which to do so, though probable. Renting a stallage plot did not, unlike a burgage rental, entail any enhancement of personal status. In 1329 the manorial lord of the new town of Winslow (Bucks.) allocated John Halden a stallage plot, eight feet wide by twelve feet long, for life, but when he gave it up in 1336 (then described as a covered stall) it was re-allocated to John le Coweherd in villeinage; other stallage plots, as well as residential plots facing onto the marketplace, were also held in villeinage, even though we know that some plots in Winslow were held by burgage tenure.

If a market proved successful in attracting extra-local commercial business, tolls would normally have provided, in the thirteenth century at least, a more lucrative income, justifying the purchase of a licence; for instance, at his death in 1298 William de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, was said to be receiving £20 from market tolls, compared to 30s. from stallage. The cumulative evidence from inquisitions post mortem suggests that some markets may have taken tolls, some imposed stallage fees, some both; however, we cannot rely on this source, since presentations by local juries varied in their completeness (or perhaps the clerks were selective in what they entered into the formal record]. It is not clear whether seigneurial income from legal administration of market-related disputes was contingent upon a licence or not, but it seems improbable, since difficult to police; in most cases market offences seem to have been dealt with through leet courts, which were a manorial perquisite, not the outcome of market licences. Unlicensed markets do not seem to have come much under royal scrutiny; but any market where revenues were extracted by its lord might be subject to a royal demand to justify its warrant for operating.

Nor is it clear whether the authorization of markets was considered solely a royal prerogative long before the licensing system was instituted in the thirteenth century. Only gradually did markets become seen as legal entities with attributes that lay solely within the king's grants. At initially informal gatherings where commercial transactions took place, such transactions might subsequently become subject to tolls imposed by the local lord, who might also rent plots to vendors. Anciently disputes and other matters relating to illicit behaviours of parties to transactions might have been susceptible to jurisdiction of borough or manorial courts but increasingly demanded a more specific market jurisdiction that included powers to police and instruments for punishing offenders. Such things came to be seen as necessarily delegated, under licence, by the Crown.

We have instances of Anglo-Saxon kings approving markets – perhaps mainly those extraneous to the general approval for commerce to take place in towns – and Domesday Book both mentions some recently established markets (such as that by Queen Matilda at Tewkesbury, and a 'new market' set up at Cirencester) and points the finger at unauthorized markets or unwarranted tolls. Since Domesday was really only concerned with markets that provided, or ought to provide, revenue to the king, historians suspect it may show us only the tip of the iceberg – some sixty markets are mentioned or can be inferred, about a third of them in boroughs – although a scarcity of other evidential references makes it difficult to estimate an adjusted figure. Many pre-Conquest gatherings for the conduct of commerce might have been informal and unregularized. Any effort by Anglo-Saxon kings to control the proliferation of informal markets would have been difficult to police; yet, by the time of the investigations of the thirteenth century, there were plenty of places prepared to defend their right to a market on the grounds of possession from time immemorial (a concept not considered to stretch back to the pre-Conquest period). Though these earlier market grants probably included the right to levy tolls, it is less likely they entailed any delegation of new judicial jurisdiction.

Licence to levy tolls on commerce did not give the owners of markets carte blanche to use this privilege in an extortionate fashion; though there were no prescriptive standards for tolls on different commodities, traders had a good understanding of the levels of tolls typically demanded at London or elsewhere around the country, and would either complain about markets where tolls were considered excessive or would boycott such places. It was therefore contrary to the best interest of market-owners to be greedy, if they wanted their market to remain competitive, although abuses did occur on occasion. Chapter 31 of the First Statute of Westminster (1275) threatened deprivation of market rights to any town where excessive tolls were charged, unless this was solely the initiative of a local official, in which case 40 days imprisonment would be the penalty. In the case of murage tolls exceeding the mandate (which sometimes provided an authorized list), the murage grant would be cancelled and the town severely fined.

Licences must, moreover, have implied not only the right to assess tolls, but to enforce payment, including through the prosecution of those who tried to evade their obligations. The ability to levy tolls must necessarily have involved some means to assess those tolls in a reasonably consistent and objective manner. In many cases the volume of goods could be visually assessed from their container, such as a cartload, a saddlepack, a basketful ...but in others weighing devices may have been necessary; licences for markets, and perhaps more certainly fairs, may therefore have implied the right to have standards-compliant weights and measures and to enforce their application in evaluating commercial commodities. In addition, and more importantly, licences offered their holders a measure of protection from unreasonable competition, as discussed above.

In the great majority of cases we must assume that some degree of periodic commerce in a public setting is likely to have been going on at a location prior to a licence being obtained, although whether that commerce was sufficiently intensive and regular to warrant describing it as a 'market' is generally impossible to tell; in a few cases, particularly involving the foundation of new towns on virgin, or greenfield, sites, it may be that commerce was being speculatively introduced for the first time in conjunction with such foundation, or through redirection from some other location. Taking out a licence would not necessarily have an immediate effect on the volume or character of commerce already happening at a licensed site, although imposition of the tolls permitted through licensing – a direct taxation on commerce – might. The licensing system should rather be understood within the context of the development of the national legal system aimed both at standardizing across the realm and at encompassing all facets of social and economic interactions. Tighter regulation of commerce, and provision of mechanisms to enforce such regulations, was itself a stimulant to commerce, by reducing the risks faced by traders and encouraging trade to take place at times and locations when oversight of adherence to regulations could be more effectively implemented. It was recognized that trade was such a widespread and everyday activity that it could not be restricted to towns – even Anglo-Saxon legislation appearing to do that probably had in mind only sales of livestock (because of the problem with stolen goods) and perhaps wholesale transactions – and so most licences for markets were issued to rural settlements, although these probably mostly dealt in necessities and had a relatively localized consumer base. Likewise, a royal decree of 1187, known only through Roger of Wendover's report of it, that dyeing cloth in any colour other than black should be restricted to cities and boroughs cannot have been effective for long, as the native cloth-making industry developed; certainly dyeing was an activity commonly found by the fourteenth century in non-burghal towns and even villages, and there is nothing to suggest their product was restricted to any particular colour.

Similarly, trade could not entirely be contained within designated sites or set time-limits, although the licensing system must have helped market-holders to focus the activities of long-distance traders, while regulations against forestalling (which potentially deprived market-owners of tolls) could have no meaning without markets defined geographically and temporally. Trading by locals went on, in marketplaces and elsewhere, on days other than those licensed as official market days, because it met needs; but – certainly in those towns where burgesses were exempted from toll – there was no profit to the lord of the place from minor transactions involving locals and so little benefit in trying to confine them to market locations and times. The purpose of authorized locations and times for official markets was – allowing for the facts that farmers could only allocate a small part of their time to marketing, and that long-distance traders needed to plan their itineraries – partly to make it widely known to outside traders when and where would be most efficacious for them to gather to do business in a relatively secure environment, and to locals when they could take advantage of such assemblies; As well, partly (from the perspective of market owners) to capitalize on these gatherings, particularly the longer-distance trade subject to tolls and arguably more at risk of generating disputes requiring mediation. Only the revenues from such activities warranted the effort and investment incurred by a market owner. Owners thus had obligations and costs alongside the financial benefits: a subject to be taken up again in the next section.

Incomes from markets and fairs varied; although figures recorded in valuations required for inquisitions post mortem can only be taken as estimations – and sometimes perhaps rough ones at that – they at least give a sense of scale. Figures from Oswestry indicate a thriving business, but those from smaller towns in Shropshire, like Albrighton, must have disappointed their owners. That many such inquisitions – particularly later ones – do not even mention market revenues may indicate they were just not producing profits worth reporting (as toll exemptions became increasingly widespread, so that profits are not necessarily a good reflection of volume of trade); but it is just as likely that the small amounts generated were rolled up with other reported sources of income. It is tempting to think that the absence of mention of markets in extents of places where we know markets were, or had been, in existence, might mean such markets had ceased to operate or were not generating any profit of note; but such a suspicion is thrown into doubt by the extent of Hanworth, a Norfolk village, in 1382 which specifically stated that the market was worth nothing because it had been discontinued over thirty years earlier.

This seems to reinforce that a 'market' was not coordinate with its seigneurial revenues. While tolls might dwindle and perhaps even stallage might dry up if commercial activity became centered around farmers' carts, pedlars' baskets, or residents' shops, commercial activity remained likely to give rise to infringements and disputes which could bring cases and fines to the market-owner's court. Steady returns from investment in a market licence could also be anticipated in the form of rents from new settlers attracted to the place. These might be allocated virgin plots, laid out on waste land or on former fields, on which they were expected to erect homes within a set period, or face a fine for default, as documented in Egremont's borough charter of 1202, or sometimes take over and improve peasant dwellings. An example of the latter comes from Winslow (Bucks.), for which St. Albans Abbey was issued a market licence in 1235, where ten burgesses (i.e. payers of burgage rents of 3s. annually) are named in the hundred roll of 1279, and which is frequently described in its court records from mid-fourteenth century as a 'new town'; in 1327 John le Shoemaker and his wife were assigned a cottage on one side of the marketplace and required to add a solar to it, which suggests it was to be upgraded to a combined dwelling and shop more suitable for a burgess tenant.

From the perspective of long-distance traders, the proliferation of markets – particularly those well-situated within the communications network – made it easier for them to pursue itineraries that would take them to and through resource-producing regions and their markets [Unwin "Rural marketing in medieval Nottinghamshire," ," Journal of Historical Geography, vol.7 (1981), pp.240-44 attempts to define determinants of such circuits]. The licensing of markets benefited them by providing trading places where commerce was not only conducted in public settings but had access to administrative and judicial institutions expected to support the fulfillment of contractual obligations. Market courts may have been held in most market towns – probably as special, civil sessions of the manorial court, though not necessarily in the regular courthouse, as a location close to the marketplace would have been more convenient – but few records survive of such sessions.

Peter May ["Newmarket and its market court, 1399-1413" Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, vol.35 (1981), pp.31-39] has reported on a short but continuous series of court rolls extant from a small town which came into being as a foundation on the London-Norwich road along the Suffolk-Cambridgeshire border; this was on a site at one end of Exning manor, after a new owner, Richard de Argentein, obtained in 1223 license for an early September fair and, in 1227, permission to change the date to late October. At some point within that period he was also authorized to transfer Exning's market to the new site, an act which furnished the name for the new settlement. Newmarket did not become a chartered borough, but burgage-type plots were laid out along the north side of the main street, to either side of a wider central stretch that functioned as marketplace, though the focus of this had somewhat shifted – whether through expansion (a cross within the High Street denoting its continued hosting of market stalls) or, just as likely, encroachment is less clear – into a roughly rectangular area, slightly north of the street, before the close of the Middle Ages, probably in response to much of the High Street frontage being given over to a dozen or so taverns and inns for servicing travellers. One of the burgage blocks was flanked, at its northern end, by common fields, and the other by fields and what later became the parish church, although originating as a chapel of ease for the market community; it looks as though the market settlement was laid out, as a planned burghal component, near the boundary of two parishes (and perhaps also of two manors), on previously agricultural land of Exning manor, with a lane connecting the manor-house to the north side of the marketplace. Although market court sessions were held on the same day as the market itself, they were not held every week of the year (harvest-time particularly being avoided). The surviving court records are from the last years of the Argentein lordship. In some cases there was provision of the speedy justice that was a hallmark of merchant law, and the name of piepowder came to be applied to these sessions, but in others it was considered sufficient to postpone proceedings to a future session; the use of stall-holders for jury selection was more in line with the special procedure of the lex mercatoria and the description of parties to cases as mercator emphasizes the special character of the court. Matters dealt with by the court were mostly pleas of debt (not necessarily incurred in the market), but also breaches of contract, charges of toll evasion, transfers of stalls and shops to new renters, and matters concerning unsatisfactory quality of goods sold or sub-letting of stalls. Breaches of the assizes of bread and ale or use of false measures were not dealt with by the market court, but by the twice-yearly leet sessions of the manorial court.

From Halesowen (Shropshire in the Middle Ages, though now Worcestershire), a discontinuous series of borough court rolls survives from 1272 onwards – this being not long after a burghal component was introduced into an existing manorial settlement, under the lordship of an abbey a mile distant. The borough court was, technically, distinct from courts of the manor proper, even though the authors of the VCH account of Halesowen perceived little difference between the matters dealt with in each. We are presented with a somewhat similar picture to the Newmarket court, though capturing the wider range of business typically dealt with by borough authorities, including entrances to burgess status and issue of annual trade licences, either of which enabled the recipients to trade toll-free in the market. The court convened roughly every four weeks, with two leet sessions a year, and ad hoc piepowder sessions to deal with pressing business, usually arising out of market or fair activities [Rodney Hilton, "Small Town Society in England before the Black Death," Past and Present, no.105 (1984), pp.57-59]. From the lord's perspective, the market court was a facility that encouraged market use by providing some security to transactions, while at the same time generating revenue in the form of amercements (e.g. for false accusations, sale of sub-standard goods, or jurors failing to attend). But it is not clear what proportion of market settlements had a dedicated market court, as opposed to perhaps dedicated sessions of a manorial court or simply dealing with market offences in the context of the relatively infrequent leet court sessions.

When a town was founded in conjunction with a market it seems to have been one of the advantages of burgage tenure that market tolls were not demanded of burgesses. It is difficult, in the absence of borough charters for most market towns or burghal components within villages, to be certain how general this was, for sometimes exemptions were specifically stated, sometimes not; toll exemption would have been an incentive to take up a burgage tenement, while the benefit for the lord was to populate the marketplace with local producers of goods that would attract outsider customers and merchants. Non-burgess residents were sometimes, perhaps usually, provided the option of purchasing market trading permits, which is reflected in the name 'stallagers' occasionally given them, although such individuals were more often known as censarii or tensers – a term with broader application to payers of periodic customary dues; in some parts of the country these license fees were known as cheping-gavel. We have few details about these licensees from medieval records, though more from a later period, when treatment of them had developed in ways that we cannot posit as being medieval. It is conceivable they were originally expected to pay the equivalent of a burgage rent to obtain certain trading rights – though not necessarily equivalent rights to those of burgesses – but by the Late Middle Ages the fees were tending to go higher, in order to pressure traders to take up citizenship. A similar goal of accommodating commerce by those who were not burgage holders, or members of a merchant gild where such existed – it not being commonly found in small towns – is seen in some towns in the admission of foreign burgesses, a kind of honorary burgess status, and by leet courts resorting to en masse fining of dealers in low-cost items, as a form of indirect licensing of their activities. A definitive study of this trading element within urban communities has yet to be made, despite useful discussions by Aidan Hibbert ["Tensers", Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, 2nd. ser., vol.3 (1891), pp.253-64], James Tait [Mediaeval Manchester and the Beginnings of Lancashire, Manchester: University Press, 1904, pp. 95-97], and Robert Weeks ["Making sense of the censarii: licensed traders in medieval sources," The Local Historian, vol.34 (2004), pp.113-17].

Market licences were not de rigueur at first. The Crown naturally encouraged licensing, not least because it thereby obtained an additional source of revenues. But it must have become increasingly clear at both national and local levels that, as the market network grew, some system of controlling that growth was desirable to assure provision of commercial venues across the country while preventing unnecessary competition. An anti-competition proviso was not just a matter of fairness to the purchasers of licences, who would not want to invest in a 'pig in a poke'. It also assured credibility to the licensing system, thus protecting the revenue stream from the same, as well as protecting royal revenue in other ways: in 1187 a sizable reduction in the farm of the manor of Bampton – the only location in Oxfordshire where Domesday explicitly referenced the existence of a market – was being sought from the king, on the grounds that its market was suffering from unauthorized competition. It may have been instances such as this that suggested a control on excessive competition be built into the licensing system.

The location specified in a licence grant was therefore an important constraint. Licences were usually issued for a particular manor, which gave the owner freedom to select a site within the manor and, if necessary, to relocate in the future to some more convenient spot within the vicinity – the latter point may have been subject to challenge, for the first explicit mention of the ancient market at the borough of Reading (Berks.) is when (1253) the burgess community's objections to their overlord, the abbot, included that he had moved the market from its customary location, something against which they obtained an injunction from the king, though the matter was subsequently settled in the burgesses' favour by an out-of-court agreement. However, a market licence was certainly not transferable to a different manor of the grantee without further royal licence.

Although most English licences were for manors, a noticeable minority (roughly 150 cases listed in the Gazetteer) authorized a market, fair, or combination to be held in, or at, some named town.

In a few instances a more detailed statement of location was given. Although a fair licence of 1270 for Frome (Somers.) indicated it be held at the manor (possibly of Frome Braunche), the 1494 licence for a later manorial lord dictated, rather vaguely, that the market be held "at the said town of Frome Selwode and in other places and fields adjoining the said town and within its bounds" [Calendar of Charter Rolls, vol.6 (1427-1516), p.270], which would seem more appropriate to the two fairs licensed at the same time. Frome benefited from being a royal estate centre in the county's largest and like-named hundred, situated close to borders with Dorset and Wiltshire, though the king's manor there underwent fragmentation post-Conquest; medieval Frome prospered from the wool trade and, subsequently, cloth manufacture. Already by the eleventh century some urban characteristics are indicated, including a substantial market; however, local tradition notwithstanding, Frome never seems to have been accorded borough status during the Middle Ages. Possibly the licence specification about location was prompted by the steep and uneven hillside setting of Frome, sloping down to the like-named river, with the marketplace at the core of the original settlement proving problematic for large events; it was probably around the time of this licence that Cheap Street, connecting market-place and parish church, was laid out with residential plots along both sides, perhaps as an extension of, or encroachment on, the market-place; in 1500 a gentleman of Frome Selwood leased an empty plot at one end of this street to a butcher and his wife, on condition they erect there, within four years, a house incorporating a shop, and a survey of Frome in 1785 shows butchers absent from the market-place but predominant among the shopkeepers of Cheap Street. On the other hand, the reference to Selwood, which originated as a neighbouring village, would later be absorbed into Frome as a suburb, and its name sometimes appended to that of Frome, may indicate a market separate from that in Frome proper, in a different manor from that out of which central Frome developed. Despite that the 1494 licence was for a Wednesday event, in contrast to the Saturday market heard of in 1349 – these also being the modern market-days – (while the 1494 fair was in a different season to that licensed 1270), and despite the late date of emergence of a rival, it might be expected that a competitor so close at hand should have provoked a legal challenge, conceivably from Cirencester Abbey, which seems to have acquired at least partial manorial and market rights in Frome; but there is no evidence of a complaint having been lodged.

Examples of more precise indication of siting include: outside a particular chapel in Abingdon, or in certain streets of urbanizing Buntingford – there being, at the date of the latter grant (1360), informal market activity but no dedicated marketplace there. Or again, in the case of Waltham Holy Cross, held anywhere the licensee wished, so long as not in the churchyard. The grant of two fairs in 1235 to the abbey at Bury St. Edmunds – where commercial institutions were one bone of contention between the monks and burgesses – stated that both should be held in the suburbs, one by a hospital just outside the north gate, the other outside the south gate; these locations were chosen probably because offering more open space for large gatherings and so that charitable/hospitable institutions there could benefit, financially, from the influx of visitors, but they also served to insulate the abbey precinct from the events. In 1215 a market licensed 1209, for a manor just outside Old Winchelsea, was authorized to be transferred to a spot within that town, in front of the parish church; this was possibly due to the worsening coastal flooding that would, by 1262, oblige the king to instruct the town bailiffs to find another, drier site for the market, prefiguring the relocation of the entire town. In 1246 the king, instituting a fair at Old Sarum, stipulated it should be held in the town (villa) next to his castle; by this time most of the population had relocated to New Salisbury and we may doubt whether the fair had any success in countering the refocusing of commerce around that new town. Most often, however, the precise location of a commercial event was left up to the licensee.

Licences for such events to be held in a town are a somewhat heterogeneous category. In some, probably most, cases 'town' actually means vill within a manor – there is no evidence, for example, to support the notion that the Essex market settlement of Goldhanger was urban when its licence (1348) specified market and fair were to be held 'at the town', nor can we imagine that little Bridgend, a hamlet within Horbling parish (Lincs.), had urban characteristics when the impoverished local priory was charitably given licences in 1355 and again in 1356. In other places an urban settlement is clearly intended, as in the case of a Bristol fair, or the fair licensed in 1201 for the newly-founded borough of Chelmsford, whereas its market grant, pre-foundation, had been for that part of the vill which pertained to the licensee's manor. At Ledbury a fair was licensed to be held in the town (ca.1150), a century before Ledbury's borough status is evidenced,, even though a market granted a decade earlier was for the manor, whilst such status is indicated a century earlier than the 1408 licence for Mere's market and fair to be held in the town – and many more examples could be given of both circumstances. We must make some allowance for imprecision either on the part of the scribes drafting these documents or the licensees in communicating their desired pecifications.

Nonetheless, it is notable that the term borough is only infrequently used in the locational element of licences (9 cases), even when the place had been a Domesday borough, or when a burgess community was the licensee, or when we have independent evidence that the place, or a neighbourhood within it, was already, prior to the licence grant, being treated as a borough in some regard or other. Westbury for example, had market licences issued for the manor in 1252 and 1291, but for the town in 1460, by which date we have references to burgages and a portmoot there; its market does not seem to have acquired much prominence in the region, however, and the situation is muddied by a 1515 licence renewal specifying manor rather than town. The reasons for this paucity of 'borough' as a locational specification may be complex, but could include that most of the few cases were applications by communities of burgesses, or other residents, whereas licences were more commonly sought by manorial lords, whether individuals or ecclesiastical institutions; and that in the Late Middle Ages, when by far the largest number of 'in the town' cases are found (more for fairs than markets), manorial lords were not uncommonly engaged in power struggles with their burgess tenants, and had often become reluctant to acknowledge, within legal documents, the existence of burghal components on their manors.

Although borough charters authorized or confirmed commercial institutions in a number of instances, explicit association, in a licence, between grant of a market and the foundation of a market settlement was an exceptional circumstance. A notable case is that of Swinderby (Lincs.). The king (or, rather, his son, acting as regent during a royal absence) was informed in 1345 that travellers along an uninhabited stretch of the Fosse Way connecting the boroughs of Newark and Lincoln were plagued by highwaymen, operating from Swinderby Moor, adjacent to the road. About mid-way between the two boroughs, Swinderby was a village with a twelfth-century church (although a previous such structure is referenced in the tenth century); Stephen granted to the Templars the ancient demesne manor of Eycle (now Eagle), a little north of Swinderby and close to Swinderby Moor, to found a preceptory and infirmary for aged and sick members of the Order; it was transferred to the Hospitallers in the early fourteenth century. In response to the allegations of 1345, the prince authorized the Prior of the English order of Hospitallers (the apparent complainant) to establish a new settlement on his manor and on part of the moor; that is:

"to found anew a certain chapel in honour of the Holy Trinity in the said place, to build a town and houses about it, to enclose plots of ground and to demise these at his will to men ready to inhabit them for the entertainment of travellers on that road" [Calendar of Charter Rolls, vol.5 (1341-1417), p.40]

In furtherance of which initiative, the prince granted to that settlement a market and two fairs, and to the Prior permission to fortify the manor-house; perhaps the problem was not a new one, for Swinderby's church tower was once a stand-alone structure that could have served as refuge. We do not know how well the project progressed, bearing in mind the visitation of the Black Death just a few years later, but in 1449 the commercial events were felt valuable enough for the Hospitallers to renew the licences, with a change in location to Swinderby proper.

The Swinderby case suggests (though nothing more) that the royal administration was not unaware of the advantages to having market settlements fairly evenly distributed through at least the more populous parts of the realm. Such a consideration – we can hardly call it a policy – may have factored into official receptivity to licence applications, although perhaps not playing so influential a role as financial and political motivations in the issue of licences.

Although 'in the town' locational specifications are found in market grants as early as the reign of Henry I, their number increased during the fourteenth century (42‰ of the total number of cases), and remained at much the same level (38‰) in the fifteenth century (up to 1501); the variation in terminology is more conspicuous where there exist earlier licences indicating events at the same location were to take place in manors, such being the distinction between Halstead fair licences of 1330 and 1437, for instance. To some extent, the increase may reflect no more than the progress of urbanization during the Late Middle Ages, particularly the proliferation of manorial centres into which market-focused burghal components had been introduced. The numbers of incidences varied geographically – plentiful in Lincolnshire and Norfolk, but scarce in Oxfordshire or the Marches, for example – but little significance may be found in this without more sophisticated statistical analysis accounting for the number of licences as a whole and perhaps urbanization data. Licences issued for the larger, longer-established towns and cities were mostly for fairs, not markets, and consequently those urban entities do not feature so greatly in the present analysis; their communities or seigneurial lords infrequently required market licences, relying instead on borough charters or long, customary practice to legitimize market activity.

Similarly, a large minority of the 'in the town' specifications pertain to licences issued to religious institutions or Church dignitaries (35‰ of the total cases), though it is not clear whether there is any particular significance to this. Possibly the intent was to clarify that commercial events should not take place within ecclesiastical precincts, but more likely it simply reflects the degree of episcopal engagement in developing diocesan estates, and how common it was for lay communities to develop close to, and under the patronage of, monasteries.

For the similar reason of countering a potential for confusion, uncertainty, or conflict, the market day assigned was selected to avoid risk of undue competition; owners who changed the day without further licence committed an offence that was finable by the king's travelling justices, who could instruct the owner to revert to the approved day. One consequence, not necessarily foreseen, of the licensing system was to reduce risk of clustering of markets in particular regions or on particular days; this helped spread out the network of market and fair events, geographically and chronologically, and so ensure most parts of the country were served by at least one market within a day's reach, as well as make it easier for itinerant merchants to develop planned and reliable itineraries, moving efficiently from event to event, knowing in which markets certain goods should be plentiful to buy at low cost, and where scarce so that they could be sold at a profit. Often they may have bought cheaply in rural markets, or directly from farms where goods were produced, then sold more dearly – to allow for transportation and other costs as well as a profit margin – in urban markets where demand was greater and wealth-levels higher. Something vaguely similar is seen today in the group tourism industry, with small towns or villages, second-tier attractions, being programmed as intermediate stops within a day's coach drive between major stops.

Although most licences were transferable to the direct heirs of the owner – at the least where the grant was specified to the licensee and heirs – they were not transferable to any new manorial lord who acquired the manor by purchase or grant; the latter were expected to purchase a renewal. Nor was transfer to male heirs always clear-cut. For example, the manor of Odell (Beds.) was held for several generations by the Wahull family (the surname a variant of the place-name), descended from the Domesday holder, Walter the Fleming, and the market there was first licensed in 1221 by William Fitz-Warin, second husband of Agnes de Wahull, who had succeeded her brother in the barony and was in turn succeeded by John de Basingham, her son by her first husband. After John's death in 1239, apparently without male issue, there may have been some dispute over inheritance, for in 1245 the market licence was reissued to Saer de Wahull, who shared a grandfather with Agnes. Why Saer did not inherit manor and market after the death (ca.1217) of Agnes' brother is not clear, but he was likely a minor. Being no blood kin to Fitz-Warin, he had no claim to the original market licence; there was no change of market day that might have necessitated his purchase of a licence renewal. Saer's new licence was evidently passed down through several generations of his descendants.

While a market could be considered appurtenant to a piece of real estate, the same could not be said of its operating licence. A woman could take a licence to her marriage, so long as she had inherited it before marrying, but the case was muddier if she inherited after marrying and might depend on royal favour to allow continuance of the licence, rather than renewal. Special cases might be made, as in the case of Chipping Warden when Gerard de Furnivall married the heiress of the previous licensee, her previous husband having already obtained (1227) a licence renewal; but the king in 1238 allowed Gerard the licence only for his lifetime; perhaps this was on the grounds of 'courtesy of England', and had nothing to do with a change of market day or an existing objection to the market by the Bishop of Lincoln, which seemed likely to lead to a revocation. When a risk of objection, due to competition, existed it was highly advisable for a market-owner to take out a licence or a renewal. Acquiring a licence, which recorded the location, market day, and date of the grant, facilitated efforts by a holder to protect, in the courts, his established market from new rivals felt too close for comfort. It became increasingly risky for markets to be unlicensed and even those which had rightfully existed from ancient (that is, pre-licensing) times might find it advisable to secure a licence, especially if ownership changed.

Licensing was, however, no guarantee of a market's success, in terms of volume of trade and profitability to the owner. The principle of 'survival of the fittest' had greater determination over how the market network evolved. Although historians, looking back at the shape eventually taken by that network, theorize within it a hierarchy of nodes – notably markets that catered mainly to local consumers, those frequented regularly by itinerant traders aggregating goods, and major markets in large towns and ports where not only the needs of local non-farming populations were met but where goods might be further aggregated by merchants in preparation for export [for a concise summary of current theory see Zvi Razi and Richard Smith, eds. Medieval Society and the Manor Court, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996, p.461] – we must beware of imagining any conscious design or planning behind such a network, either on the part of licensing authorities or of the many owners of markets; neither body could acquire a sense of the overall picture of market-oriented commerce, although local market-holders would have had some sense of regional competition and may have been able, to some extent, to sculpt their own market ambitions to fit better into the larger picture. The shape of the network – in terms of geographic distribution and periodicity of events – emerged gradually, through more of an evolutionary process, influenced in part by shifting patterns in mercantile visitation and opportunism, and by scaling up or down of individual markets in response, as well as by the competitive process, including the legal contests based on licensing principles.

While some market towns were able to survive on a modest amount of business, others declined and their markets or fairs were eventually abandoned or restricted to a particular branch of trade (e.g. livestock). We should, however, beware of assuming that commerce itself had necessarily declined significantly, for the case was rather that the profitability of the events, in terms of toll revenues, had dropped to the point where the costs of seigneurial administration were no longer warranted; such situations may have been part of the reason for alienation of plots within the marketplace for use as permanent shops/residences, so that what we think of now as encroachment was more a process of a different avenue of financial exploitation by the market-owner, and could be considered a reflection of the success of a marketplace rather than of loss of original purpose. For example, one item in a list of complaints by Cirencester's burgesses, in 1400, against long-standing oppressions of their landlord, the abbot, was that one had (ca. 1202) built houses in the middle of the borough's marketplace, generating rents worth 10s. in total, and enlarged the plots allocated to stalls (presumably to raise stallage fees or attract new stall-holders), which also reduced space in the marketplace. David Andrews has suggested that marketplaces were most vulnerable to encroachment during periods when market activities were discontinued – at the decision, presumably, of the manorial lord; yet, as he acknowledges, this did not necessarily reflect either economic decline or prosperity, but rather the lord's preference for rent revenues rather than the market revenues more subject to fluctuation, and "the life cycle of markets can be complex." ["An Archaeological Sequence at the Edge of Old Harlow Marketplace," Essex Archaeology and History, ser.3, vol. 22 (1991), p.113]

A number of factors were involved in the decline that many markets experienced over time. To some degree markets were undercut and superseded by the growth in the number of shops, each of which might be thought of as a kind of limited, specialized market, while collectively they acted as a dispersed marketplace. Some market towns, like Richard's Castle, were artificial entities, their fate too closely tied to the fortunes of, or business generated by, an adjacent castle or a manor that was for a time the caput of larger estates, where the surplus produce and livestock of those estates was gathered for redistribution, some reaching the hands of local craftsmen for whom they were raw materials for secondary products, and to where wealthier tenants came periodically to attend court sessions; or they were too dependent on the active support of their lord, which seldom was sustained beyond a single generation. As time went on, the proliferation of toll exemptions undercut the value of markets to their owners, trade in bulk and luxury goods increasingly gravitated towards the provincial towns or major seaports, particularly London, and commerce became a more ubiquitous kind of activity, making the sometimes aggressive competition between markets within the same region superfluous.

The numerous complaints registered, in the course of the hundredal enquries of the 1270s, about unlicensed markets, or the damage being caused to some market by another too close at hand (or sometimes even some distance away), represent almost the last gasp of efforts to confine the spread of commerce. The objection from the old and declining provincial centre of Wilton to trading taking place daily at up-and-coming Salisbury exemplifies the conflict of world-views: the old Saxon notion, later embedded in borough customs, that commerce should and could be restricted to public markets defined by time and place, versus the growing commercialization of society in which pervasive shop-based trading, along with private wholesale arrangements, were on the road to becoming characteristics of a new paradigm. The history of commerce in the Middle Ages has not only the proliferation of markets as one of its key themes, but also the proliferation of shops, some evolving from market stalls – a process still going on in the twentieth century, as the development of Norwich's market – whose vendors transitioned from more conventional and individual stalls to a series of steel-walled units, each enclosing the businesses of four stallholders – nicely exemplifies. The gradual emergence of shops [explored by John Bennell, "Shop and office in medieval and Tudor London", London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, vol.40 (1989), pp.189-206] may have varied from place to place, but probably followed two, roughly contemporaneous developmental courses: the elaboration of market stalls into more permanent structures, and the use of street-facing ground-floor rooms within domestic buildings, whether by adaptation/extension or an integral part of the architectural design; both processes were prone to produce rows of shops and, thereby, shopping streets – most notably reinforcing the character of the High Street (which became the most common street-name in England, though not an exclusively urban characteristic) as the commercial focus of a settlement.

Commercial competition was not really measurable by proximity of markets so much as judged according to disruption of habits of purchasers and sellers. By the fourteenth century it was unrealistic to think that commerce could be restricted to markets, even though the notion had not been entirely abandoned: Hugh le Despenser's charter to Cardiff (1340) attempted to protect his toll rights by forcing all merchants and traders in artisanal products within his lordship to reside in boroughs, and ordered that goods should be traded exclusively in towns or in rural markets and fairs, and be transported to such places only via the king's highways. In practice, channelling a large percentage of commerce into markets and fairs relied more on the willingness of buyers and sellers to appreciate the convenience of assembling both a range of goods and a quantity of consumers in specific locations at pre-determined times, and the protections against fraud afforded by trading conducted in public view. It is largely thanks to that convenience that markets still exist in the twenty-first century, although their share of commerce is now relatively minor in the great majority of cases.

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Created: December 31, 2018. Last update: April 29, 2019 © Stephen Alsford, 2018-2019