A three-layered system
In Flanders a three-layered system emerged during the 11th and 12th century:
- Grand Fairs in the county of Champagne
- Regional Fairs in most major towns
- Local Markets in most villages
Local markets were organised in almost each and every village and several of these markets grouped together
would form almost permanent trading centres. There would a market in yet another village close to your home almost each and every day of the week.
The second layer was formed by a number of regional fairs that gained in importance during the 12th century. These
fairs were organised in sequence at each of a group of towns, allowing the merchants to attend all possible fairs in their region. The sequence of fairs
lasted throughout most of the season when the merchants could travel and do business. Merchants visiting these fairs would generally travel together
with their goods and did not really plan meetings with other merchants until they arrived at the fair. The Flanders fairs declined with the rise of the towns
as trade centres in the 13th century, but the sequential fair system did not disappear until well into the late Middle Ages.
The very top layer of the 13th century trade system were the grand fairs of Champagne. These were the most notable
and commercially important trade fairs on the European continent and provided the necessary link between the Low Countries and Italy, which were
the two main commercial hubs in the known world. During the late 12th century a cycle of six fairs emerged, each lasting six weeks. Two fairs each
were held in Provins and Troyes, one each in Bar-sur-Aube and Lagny. Generally speaking there was an interval of about two weeks in between fairs.
The grand fairs of Champagne clearly aimed at the international businessman. The organisation of a grand fair was strict
and well defined. The first week was spent setting up trading stalls along the town streets. This was followed by a ten-day cloth sale, an eleven-day leather
sale and nineteen days when various other goods were allowed to change ownership. A number of days devoted to the settling and closing of all accounts
ended each fair.
The role of the merchant changed slightly. He still travelled together with his merchandise, but usually arrived at a fair
after it had opened. They employed a number of couriers riding out in front of the baggage carts at much greater speed. Their task was to arrive on the
opening days of the fairs to announce the varieties and quantities of goods en-route to the fair. Goods were soon sold without being seen and during
the 13th century it became common practice not to pass coin at this stage.