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Last updated: Tue 8 Jul 2014

The Nunney fair charter

The Henry III Fine Rolls Project has helped solve problems around the Nunney fair charter.

By Ken Lloyd, Project Director, Friends of Nunney Church

Nunney Street Fayre charter

Discovering just one entry in the Fine Rolls on the Henry III Fine Rolls Project website has solved two vexing questions for the Nunney fair charter.

Local nobles and churchmen could draw a considerable profit from hosting fairs and markets, and in turn the crown benefited from the payments given for the original charter. Over 2,200 charters were issued for markets and fairs by English kings between 1200 and 1270.

Although the main objectives of the medieval fairs were trade and commerce, every fair contained some element of merry-making. People were determined to attract customers to their stalls. Therefore, from a very early date, there was always lots of fun and food at fairs.

We knew that the lord of the manor of Nunney, Henry de Montfort, was granted a charter to hold a market every Wednesday in Nunney and an annual 3-day fair on the feast of St Martin (11 November). The villagers had therefore decided to make a big event of the 750th anniversary of the Nunney Fair this year on the assumption that it was first granted in 1260.

Nunney royal market charter (1260)We discovered that the original document was in the Somerset county archives in Taunton. After photographing it and deciphering the Latin it did not give the year, but stated that it was granted “in the 44th year of our reign”.

Back in 1959 a Celtic market cross in the village was restored and re-positioned by the river to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Nunney fair charter; a bronze plaque was affixed to the cross showing a date of 1259 for the Nunney fair charter. There are other references giving 1259 as the charter date.

The charter in the county archives has been labelled by the archivist as 1260. The confusion comes in because Henry III’s father died on Oct 19 in 1216; the charter was signed on October 24th “in the 44th year of our reign” – which could therefore be interpreted as 1259.

Henry III Fine Roll

Henry III Fine Roll for 28 October 1259 – 27 October 1260, with the entry for Henry de Montfort’s payment.

The coronation of Henry III was on October 28 and regnal years are counted from that date. The Fine Roll entry clearly shows that the fine for the charter was paid on October 25th 1260 in the 44th regnal year. We are all relieved that we have not in fact missed the 750th anniversary of the Nunney fair charter!

The other question to which we could not find an answer was how much our lord of the manor had paid for the privilege of obtaining a Nunney fair charter. We knew that the king charged a fee to grant the charter and that the lord of the manor in turn made money from the stallage fees and sales tax – but how much?

Adrie van der Luijt, Editor of Visit Nunney, discovered during research a puzzling entry in one of Henry III’ fine rolls. This information was until recently not easily accessible to researchers.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and combining King’s College London’s Department of History and Centre for Computing in the Humanities with The National Archives and Canterbury Christ Church University, The Henry III Fine Rolls Project is a unique and pioneering enterprise which makes the fine rolls freely available in an English translation with a sophisticated electronic search engine, the first medieval source to be treated in this way.

The fine rolls entry says that, “Henry de Montfort has made fine with the king by half a mark of gold for having a charter of market and fair” (CFR, 1218–19, no. 747). So now we know.

Although the entry does not mention Nunney specifically, it didn’t take long between the project’s research team and us to put two and two together.

The entry on 1.1.1. C 60/57, Fine Roll 44 Henry III (28 October 1259–27 October 1260), membrane 1 (1.1.1.1. 747) reads:

“For Henry de Montfort. Henry de Montfort has made fine with the king by half a mark of gold for having a charter of market and fair, which he paid in the king’s Wardrobe to Aubrey de Fécamp and Peter of Winchester, clerks and keepers of the aforesaid Wardrobe, and is quit.”

Henry III fine roll

As a result, we know know that the engraved text on the Nunney market cross wrongly states that the royal charter was granted in 1259. Henry de Montfort paid for his market and fair charter in 1260, a day after the king and his senior advisers – the Cabinet of its day – met in Westminster and approved this and other royal charters.

Being able to connect the fine roll entry and the Nunney market and fair charter fills in an important blank for the project team as well as for Nunney.

For more information, go to the Henry III Fine Rolls Project’s website at www.finerollshenry3.org.uklink.

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