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Originated sometime after the foundation of the Shire in III 1601;1 continued into the Fourth Age
Held on the White Downs in the Westfarthing of the Shire
Held close to the Shire's chief town of Michel Delving
The fair was 'free' in the sense that merchants could freely trade there


About this entry:

  • Updated 24 August 2019
  • This entry is complete

Free Fair

A Midsummer festival in the Shire

A regular event in the Shire, held at Lithe or Midsummer on the White Downs in the Shire's Westfarthing, near its chief town of Michel Delving. The fair was a place of commerce and trade, and indeed the 'free' in its name came from the fact that any merchant who wished could set up a stall without charge. The Free Fair wasn't merely given over to trade, however, and there was also an important element of festival and celebration.

The Free Fair also served as a focus for the politics of the Shire, such as they were, as the Mayor of the Shire would be elected there once every seven years. We know that there was an election in the Shire-year 1420 (or III 3020), so it is possible to work out when these elections normally fell. The election preceding the War of the Ring must have been in 1413 (III 3013), and so on.

It is difficult to be absolutely sure how often the Free Fair was held. Our only specific statement on the matter comes from the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings, where we're told that the Mayor '...was elected every seven years at the Free Fair'. This is slightly ambiguous: it might mean that the Mayor was elected at every seventh annual fair, or it might mean that the fair itself was only held once every seven years.

Historically, it was usual for fairs of this kind to be held annually and, quite apart from this, it is difficult to imagine the convivial Hobbits of the Shire only holding a celebration every seven years when they could do so every Midsummer. On the other hand, it is perfectly reasonable to read the Prologue's reference as describing a fair held every seven years (and indeed some secondary sources state this as a simple fact). There does not appear to be any recorded statement from Tolkien himself that settles the question one way or the other.



The Shire was founded in III 1601 (or year 1 by the Shire-reckoning) so this is the earliest possible date for the first Free Fair. If we assume that the Fairs were always held seven years apart rather than annually, the earliest date would have been Shire-year 6 (or III 1606), and the Free Fair that we know was held in 1420 (III 3020) would have been the two-hundred-and-third in history.

Realistically, the Fairs were probably not established immediately after the Shire's foundation (and the fact that the dates fail to match the seven-year election cycle is a strong hint that there were no Fairs in the Shire's early years). We have no more direct information than this, though it is perhaps notable that the first Thain of the Shire was elected in the Shire-year 379 (III 1979), five years after the fall of the kingdom of Arthedain. While later elections - at least to the office of Mayor - were held at the Free Fair, the year 379 would not hold to the sequence (the seven-year Fairs following Arthedain's fall should theoretically have been in 377 and 384). It's hard to be sure how relevant this might be (after all, the choice of the first ever Thain was hardly comparable with the regular election of a Mayor). It could be taken to imply, though, that the tradition of the seven-year election did not yet exist in the fourth century of the Shire-reckoning (or at least that elections followed a different periodic cycle).

See also...

Deputy Mayor


About this entry:

  • Updated 24 August 2019
  • This entry is complete

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