Boston fair of St Botulph in the time of Henry III
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
The town of Boston in Lincolnshire today holds a major fair on May Day (1st May) every year. This fair has been every year since about 1125. Yet in the early days it was not held on 1st May but in mid-June to coincide with the feast of St. Botulph. The feast day of St. Botulph is held on 17th June in England and on 25th June in Scotland. When Henry III had the Boston fair of St. Botulph prolonged for eight days from the feast of St. John the Baptist (24th June) in June 1218 it would seem that many people regarded the 25th June as the better date for St. Botulph.
St. Botulph was a preaching saint in 7th century England. He travelled widely along the east counties from Suffolk in the south to Yorkshire in the north before he died around 680. Over fifty churches are dedicated to his name. St. Botulph is regarded as the patron saint of travellers and certain farming activity. What information we possess about him is mainly derived from a short biography by Folcard, monk of St. Bertin and Abbot of Thorney, who wrote in the eleventh century (Hardy, Catalogue of Brit. Hist., I, 373). According to him St. Botulph was born of noble Saxon parents who were Christians, and was sent with his brother St. Adulph to the Continent for the purpose of study. Adulph remained aboard; where he is stated to have become Bishop of Utrecht (other sources say it was Maastricht).
Botulph's church by Martin Calrk
St. Botulph returned to England where he found favour with a certain Ethelmund, "King of the southern Angles", whose sisters he had known in Germany. In 654 St. Botulph was permitted to choose a tract of desolate land upon which to build a monastery. This place was called Ikanhoe (Ox-island), and is commonly identified with the town of Boston in Lincolnshire, mainly on account of its name (Boston=Botulph's town). There is, however, something to suggest that the true spot may be the village of Iken in Suffolk which of old was almost encircled by the little river Alde, and in which the church is also dedicated to St. Botulph.
Bede’s master at Wearmouth, Ceolfrid, "journeyed to the East Angles in order that he might see the foundation of Abbot Botulphus, whom fame had proclaimed far and wide to be a man of remarkable life and learning, full of the grace of the Holy Spirit". The monastery at Ikanhoe was destroyed by the Danes. The saint’s relics were recovered and divided by St. Aethelwold between Ely, Thorney Abbey, and King Edgar's private chapel. When the Normans came, the little settlement of Boston (Botulph’s town) didn’t figure much in the Botulph story yet this was soon to change.
Early history of Boston
The settlement of Boston was too small to register in the Domesday Book of 1086. Instead the general area came under the name of Skirbeck parish. Before the Conquest the land was held by Ralph the Staller who was Earl of East Anglia for King Edward the Confessor. After the Conquest the land was given to Count Alan Rufus of Brittany.
Count Alan Rufus developed commerce, most notably the wool, salt and lead trade through Skirbeck. Yet the port and town of Boston quickly grew to overtake Skirbeck. By 1204, Boston had become the second port of England, providing customs duty revenues of £780, only slightly behind London's £836.
The Boston fair in 1218
In June 1218 Henry III issued an order to the sheriff of Lincolnshire and the merchants and others attending the fair of St. Botulph at Boston to be respectful to the king’s bailiffs. Shortly before this order, the king had appointed Henry de Pont-Audemer, Henry of Boston and Richard of Lynn to be the king’s bailiffs for the fairs at Lynn (later King’s Lynn) in Norfolk and at Boston.
A further order to the sheriff of Lincolnshire was issued relating to the previous bailiffs of the Boston fair. The sheriff was to distrain these people from the start of October 1217 and deliver any issues and pleas, determined or not, by these people to the three king’s bailiffs.
One month before, in May 1218, Henry de Pont-Audemer made a pledge of ten marks, at court, for the fine of Robert Marmion, junior. The town and district of Pont-Audemer is in the Eure Department of Normandy, just south-east of Harfleur. The Beaumont family, Earls of Warwick, descend from Thurolf de Pont-Audemer, seigneur of Pont-Audemer (c.950-c.979). For more on Henry de Pont-Audemer see = http://celtic2realms-medievalnews.blogspot.ie/2013/12/henry-de-pont-audemer-royal-official-of.html
The Boston fair in 1226
At the Boston fair of 1226. Also known as the fair of Holland, the royal officials were out in force to ensure that the laws of the land as they related to commerce were observed. Arnold son of Hamo and John of Cardiff, burgesses of Bristol, had gone to the fair to sell cloth but their cloth was not the correct breadth as prescribed in the law. Therefore William de Haverhill and William le Taillur seized 50 cloths belonging to the two merchants. Arnold and John acknowledged that they were at fault and agreed to pay the king 4 tuns of wine for the return of their cloth. Alan, master of the Knights Templar, stood as pledge that the wine fine would be paid and King Henry ordered the return of the cloth.
On 25th July 1226 William de Haverhill and William le Taillur was ordered to return 6 pieces of cloth that was not of the correct breadth on payment of 2 tuns of wine. The culprits this time were 8 burgesses of Beverley, namely; Robert Palmer, William Borlot, John of York, Alan of Hunmanby, William Testard, Paulinus Sherman, William Swalewe and Richard of Cranswick.
On a third occasion at Boston fair that summer of 1226 William de Haverhill and William le Taillur seize cloth of the incorrect measure. This time it was 3 pieces of cloth from Adam Vintner of Coventry. For the return of his cloth Adam agreed to pay a fine of one tun of wine. William le Taillur was well placed to identify these cloths of incorrect measure as he served a number of years as the tailor to King Henry.
These above merchants were quick of the mark to acknowledge their error on the measurement of cloth and pay the fine to get their cloth back. Other people were not so quick. William Cachehare of Thetford had 5 pecks of cloths seized at Boston fair by Haverhill and Tailllur but did not agree to pay one mark as a fine until October of 1226.
Boston fair by James Bateman
Later that same October of 1226 Adam Heirun of Northampton agreed to pay 20s for the return of 2 cloths seized at Boston fair while Robert of Casterton and Luke Knight, merchants of Stamford, agreed to pay 2 tuns of wine for their 15 pieces of cloth. William de Haverhill and William le Taillur were again ordered to return the cloth. After all this activity at Boston fair William de Haverhill went on to serve the King as keeper of Bury St. Edmunds, collector of the tallage in Cumberland and Northumberland and as keeper of the archbishopric of Canterbury.
Boston fair after 1226
The Boston fair of St. Botulph continued after 1226 with merchants coming from many parts of England and the near Continent. The eight day fair was also a great social occasion with people off work and exchanging news, enjoying entertainments and other activities. Wardens were appointed to oversee the fair such as William de Bydik, mayor of Boston in 1305, was warden of the fair in 1306 and watch for any persons breaking the rules as William de Haverhill and William le Taillur did in 1226
End of post
 Paul Dryburgh & Beth Hartland (eds.), Calendar of the Fine Rolls of the Reign of Henry III (Boydell Press & National Archives, 2007), Vol. 1 (1216-1224), no. 2/119
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