FOREIGN TRADE: HANSARDS, STAPLERS AND THE CLOTH EXPORT

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FOREIGN TRADE: HANSARDS, STAPLERS AND THE CLOTH EXPORT

FROM the eleventh to the thirteenth century English foreign trade was largely, though not entirely, in the hands of non-Englishmen, and they retained 'a great part in it till the end of the sixteenth century. Nor is this surprising if we consider the relation of England to Europe at this time. She was what we are accustomed to-day to describe as a backward country; she was situated at the very edge of the civilized world, beyond which there was nothing but a mysterious and fearful ocean. Her kings before Edward I were foreigners in blood, speech and outlook; Henry II was a Frenchman who spent only fleeting periods in England; Richard I used the kingdom to finance the fight of Mediterranean Christendom against Saladin; Henry III made himself unpopular because he employed counsellors from Poitou instead of Norman "backwoodsrnen ", and tried to gain the kingdom of Sicily for his son. In thinking Sicily worth more than England, Henry was right - at the time. For then the Italian cities were reaching their zenith. Venice and Genoa and Pisa were sending their fleets to the Levant, and bringing back silks, spices, new fruits, and strange philosophies. Lombardy was the seat of banking and finance, Bologna the centre of legal thought, Salerno the greatest medical school. Innocent III, assisted by the new Orders of Preaching Friars, had brought the Papacy to its greatest height of influence. In Germany, France and the Low Countries the same ferment was going on. Every decade colonists pushed farther into what are now Prussia, Saxony and Brandenburg. The great rivers of Europe - the Rhine, the Rh�ne, the Elbe, the Garonne - were great trade routes, and the towns on their banks were hives of industry. Bruges, situated in a strategic position on the trade routes between North and South, Was the great entrep�t where spices, wine and fine cloth from Italy. and the East exchanged against the fur, wool, fish, tar and other materials from the Baltic and Scandinavia. The fairs of Champagne were world-famous, and everything - even slaves - could be bought there.

Compared with the great towns of Europe, like Bruges or Venice, England had little to show.

English Wool and Foreign Buyers. What brought England into the ambit of international trade was her wool-production, which had been greatly fostered since the Conquest, particularly by the Cistercians, and which was rapidly expanding during the thirteenth century. Spanish wool alone could compete with English, then and later, and its quality was acknowledged to be inferior. It was on English wool that the cloth industry of the Netherlands and Italy depended, and the cloth from it went all over the Western world. Wool, in fact, was to thirteenth-century England what coffee is to Brazil, or nitrates are to Chile; and these countries, economically at least, are to Europe and U.S.A. very much what England was to medieval Christendom. It was therefore natural that merchants from more civilized parts should come to England in search for raw materials.; natural also, in a turbulent age and one in which even a Yarmouth man might be an object for suspicion and extortion in Norwich, that the "foreign devils" should seek the protection of the King of England from enmity and what Magna Carta termed "evil tolls". The King, as a foreigner accustomed to travel, was not likely to share the prejudices of his English subjects; and the Flemings and Italians and Germans not only brought the foreign luxuries he would otherwise go without, or buy through native middlemen, but were willing to pay for the privilege they sought in loans and customs duties.


More - Progress Of Trade Unionism.

Freedom or Security?

On the other hand, freeholder and copyholder were still subjected to the rules of common husbandry in most districts; and the standard of living of the masses does not seem to have risen very much, if at all.

Owing to centuries of ineffectual manuring, the productivity of the soil seems to have fallen off, so that the people, for all their freedom, may have been poorer in the fifteenth century than their ancestors in the thirteenth.

Moreover, many copyholders were less secure than the villein had been; for the tenant's freedom from labour services had another side.

The lord was... see: Freedom or Security?


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