Chapter IV: Of Fairs And Markets

There are (as I take it) few great towns in England that have not their weekly markets, one or more granted from the prince, in which all manner of provision for household is to be bought and sold, for ease and benefit of the country round about. Whereby, as it cometh to pass that no buyer shall make any great journey in the purveyance of his necessities, so no occupier shall have occasion to travel far off with his commodities, except it be to seek for the highest prices, which commonly are near unto great cities, where roundand speediest utterranceis always to be had. And, as these have been in times past erected for the benefit of the realm, so are they in many places too, too much abused: for the relief and ease of the buyer is not so much intended in them as the benefit of the seller. Neither are the magistrates for the most part (as men loath to displease their neighbours for their one year's dignity) so careful in their offices as of right and duty they should be. For, in most of these markets, neither assizes of bread nor orders for goodness and sweetness of grain and other commodities that are brought thither to be sold are any whit looked unto, but each one suffered to sell or set up what and how himself listeth: and this is one evident cause of dearth and scarcity in time of great abundance.

I could (if I would) exemplify in many, but I will touch no one particularly, sith it is rare to see in any country town (as I said) the assize of bread well kept according to the statute; and yet, if any country baker happen to come in among them on the market day with bread of better quantity, they find fault by-and-by with one thing or other in his stuff, whereby the honest poor man (whom the law of nations do commend, for that he endeavoureth to live by any lawful means) is driven away, and no more to come there, upon some round penalty, by virtue of their privileges. Howbeit, though they are so nice in the proportion of their bread, yet, in lieu of the same, there is such heady ale and beer in most of them as for the mightiness thereof among such as seek it out is commonly called "huffcap," "the mad dog," "Father Whoreson," "angels' food," "dragon's milk," "go-by-the-wall," "stride wide," and "lift leg," etc. And this is more to be noted, that when one of late fell by God's providence into a troubled conscience, after he had considered well of his reachless life and dangerous estate, another, thinking belike to change his colour and not his mind, carried him straight away to the strongest ale, as to the next physician. It is incredible to say how our maltbugs lug at this liquor, even as pigs should lie in a row lugging at their dame's teats, till they lie still again and be not able to wag. Neither did Romulus and Remus suck their she-wolf or shepherd's wife Lupa with such eager and sharp devotion as these men hale at "huffcap," till they be red as cocks and little wiser than their combs. But how am I fallen from the market into the ale-house? In returning therefore unto my purpose, I find that in corn great abuse is daily suffered, to the great prejudice of the town and country, especially the poor artificer and householder, which tilleth no land, but, labouring all the week to buy a bushel or two of grain on the market day, can there have none for his money: because bodgers, loaders, and common carriers of corn do not only buy up all, but give above the price, to be served of great quantities. Shall I go any further? Well, I will say yet a little more, and somewhat by mine own experience.

At Michaelmas time poor men must make money of their grain, that they may pay their rents. So long then as the poor man hath to sell, rich men bring out none, but rather buy up that which the poor bring, under pretence of seed corn or alteration of grain, although they bring none of their own, because one wheat often sown without change of seed will soon decay and be converted into darnel. For this cause therefore they must needs buy in the markets, though they be twenty miles off, and where they be not known, promising there, if they happen to be espied, (which, God wot, is very seldom), to send so much to their next market, to be performed I wot not when.