Trade: The Crusaders returning from Palestine and other places brought back with them new luxuries, food and ideas. Many people wanted more of these items. But how to get them? Independent merchants and traders made the oftentimes dangerous journey to gather these items, But how could they find who wanted them? Thus was born the marketplace and later the trade fair.
The Local Marketplace: Many towns and villages set up a marketplace. The marketplace was a spot where farmers could bring their extra food and animals and sell or trade them for other things. The market was usually held once a week. These local markets were very successful. Peasants sold local produce and handmade goods. Their customers were other peasants as well as the maids and servants of the lords and ladies. As time went on, in the villages, the people were looking for a way to buy or barter for some of these new luxury goods. The merchants handling the newer luxury items soon got into the act, even in the local marketplaces.
The New Trade Fairs: A new kind of marketplace sprang up, a traveling market. In this new kind of market, traders and merchants with new and luxury goods set up to sell their wares for a short time. These traveling markets would move from town to town. They would set up and stay for a week or two, selling what they had, then move to the next town.
Merchants had to pay to set up their space. They had to rent their space from the local noble. They also usually had to pay a tax to the king to actually become a merchant at the fair. Anyone who had excess goods to sell could set up at a trade fair, but everyone who set up had to pay the fees. As a merchant, you did not have to go to every town on the circuit. But enough merchants went to each town to make this new kind of marketplace a very big deal. This gave the nobles and the king a new type of income. So everybody got what they wanted. The king and nobles got money to buy luxury goods. The villagers were exposed to new goods, new ideas and different foods.
During the trade fairs, there were many performers. Magicians, jugglers, musicians all appeared at the fairs and performed. They worked for the coins people threw at them, like street performers today. Some people spent the night at inns, sheltered form the weather. Everybody who could get to the fair came to the fair. Fairs were rich with entertainment, excitement, and goods from all over the Western world. No matter what the weather, most sellers slept near their goods to protect them from theft.
Both markets and fairs were held outside, open to the elements. Goods were displayed in the rain, mud, sleet, and snow.