Medieval Champagne Fairs
The medieval Champagne fairs are regarded as the classic exemplars of beneficent historical institutions that hold important lessons for modern economic development. These trade fairs operated as the undisputed fulcrum of international exchange and financial settlements in Europe from c. 1180 to c. 1300 and were central to the ‘Commercial Revolution’, the huge growth in long-distance trade during the Middle Ages.
The fairs were supported by a rich array of public order institutions/ One was a dedicated public law court which operated throughout each fair. The fair wardens who decided the cases in this court were princely officials, not private judges. International merchants also used other levels of the princely justice system to enforce their contracts – the high tribunal of the ruler of Champagne, the courts of the ruler’s bailiffs, and the courts of the ruler’s district provosts. The towns where the fairs were held operated their own municipal courts, and local abbeys operated special courts at the fairs – international merchants made use of both. The jurisdiction of these various legal tribunals which guaranteed property rights and contract enforcement at the Champagne fairs emanated not from the merchants, but from the public authorities, since even the municipal and abbey courts operated under devolved jurisdiction granted by the rulers of Champagne.