Blanche's Stalls for the Fairs of Champagne


New York, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Smith Documents 0005.

By the 13th century, the county of Champagne had become one of the most dynamic principalities in France, particularly under the rule of Count Henry I the Liberal (1152-1181) and the regencies of Countess Marie of France (1179-1181, 1190-1197). When Thibaut III became count in 1198, he inherited a rich territory with a thriving literary scene, new and effective bureaucracy, and a set of legal and administrative techniques that could generate new obligations to the counts for aristocrats throughout Champagne.

Thibaut III died young in 1201, and his pregnant wife, Blanche of Navarre, became regent for 21 years (1201-1222) during the minority of her son, Thibaut IV. Ruling as the countess palatine, Blanche continued Thibaut’s program and expanded it in many directions. She vastly increased comital influence in Champagne, particularly along the fluid eastern boarder and in the fortified and allodial lands (family lands that came without feudal obligations) of the baronial aristocracy. Thibaut had used his chancery to record the new baronial obligations to the counts; Blanche continued to insist on receiving letters patent recording agreements among the aristocracy and oversaw the production of the first comital cartularies of Champagne. Finally, she successfully resolved a succession conflict beginning in 1216, instigated by her nieces Philippa (married to the powerful Champagne noble Erard of Brienne) and Alice against Thibaut IV.

The document here concerns a fairly routine interaction between Blanche and Bartholomeus, the dean of St-Étienne of Troyes, and some of the profits from the famous fairs of Champagne. The counts of Champagne had a particularly close relationship with St-Étienne. It had been rebuilt and greatly enriched by Henry I, who even tried unsuccessfully to have it recognized as his own private chapel (and therefore not under the authority of a bishop). It served as the chancery and treasury of the counts, and was adjacent to the comital palace itself on the palace's north side.

A circuit of six fairs brought merchants and goods from across Europe and the Mediterranean to Troyes, Provins, and other towns in Champagne for weeks at a time. The fairs were enormously important economically both to foreign merchants and to the counts and countesses of Champagne, who profited from rents on stalls and taxes, which they closely controlled. Blanche’s cartulary includes a document settling a dispute with a monastery that had built a stall without her permission. This charter is a chirograph concerning the rents of one such stall.


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