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  • 1916
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went on treasuring its traditions, keeping its old customs, century after century. The country instinctively distrusted all novelties; it always preferred old ways to new; it was heartily conservative. Country-folk did not discover America. It was the enterprise of the cities, with their growing industries and commerce, which brought about the Commercial Revolution; and to the development of commerce, industry, and the towns, we now must turn our attention.


[Sidenote: Trade and the Towns ]

Except for the wealthy Italian city-states and a few other cities which traced their history back to Roman times, most European towns, it must be remembered, dated only from the later middle ages. At first there was little excuse for their existence except to sell to farmers salt, fish, iron, and a few plows. But with the increase of commerce, which, as we shall see, especially marked the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, more merchants traveled through the country, ways of spending money multiplied, and the little agricultural villages learned to look on the town as the place to buy not only luxuries but such tools, clothing, and shoes as could be manufactured more conveniently by skillful town artisans than by clumsy rustics. The towns, moreover, became exchanges where surplus farm products could be marketed, where wine could be bartered for wool, or wheat for flax. And as the towns grew in size, the prosperous citizens proved to be the best customers for foreign luxuries, and foreign trade grew apace. Town, trade, and industry thus worked together: trade stimulated industry, industry assisted trade, and the town profited by both. By the sixteenth century the towns had grown out of their infancy and were maintaining a great measure of political and economic freedom.

[Sidenote: Freedom of the Towns.]
[Sidenote: Town Charters]

Originally many a town had belonged to some nobleman’s extensive manor and its inhabitants had been under much the same servile obligations to the lord as were the strictly rural serfs. But with the lapse of time and the growth of the towns, the townsmen or burghers had begun a struggle for freedom from their feudal lords. They did not want to pay servile dues to a baron, but preferred to substitute a fixed annual payment for individual obligations; they besought the right to manage their market; they wished to have cases at law tried in a court of their own rather than in the feudal court over which the nobleman presided; and they demanded the right to pay all taxes in a lump sum for the town, themselves assessing and collecting the share of each citizen. These concessions they eventually had won, and each city had its charter, in which its privileges were enumerated and recognized by the authority of the nobleman, or of the king, to whom the city owed allegiance. In England these charters had been acquired generally by merchant gilds, upon payment of a substantial sum to the nobleman; in France frequently the townsmen had formed associations, called _communes_, and had rebelled successfully against their feudal lords; in Germany the cities had leagued together for mutual protection and for the acquisition of common privileges. Other towns, formerly founded by bishops, abbots, or counts, had received charters at the very outset.

[Sidenote: Merchant Gilds]

A peculiar outgrowth of the need for protection against oppressive feudal lords, as well as against thieves, swindlers, and dishonest workmen, had been the typically urban organization known as the merchant gild or the merchants’ company. In the year 1500 the merchant gilds were everywhere on the decline, but they still preserved many of their earlier and more glorious traditions. At the time of their greatest importance they had embraced merchants, butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers: in fact, all who bought or sold in the town were included in the gild. And the merchant gild had then possessed the widest functions.

[Sidenote: Earlier Functions of the Merchant Gild.] [Sidenote: Social]

Its social and religious functions, inherited from much earlier bodies, consisted in paying some special honor to a patron saint, in giving aid to members in sickness or misfortune, attending funerals, and also in the more enjoyable meetings when the freely flowing bowl enlivened the transaction of gild business.

[Sidenote: Protective]

As a protective organization, the gild had been particularly effective. Backed by the combined forces of all the gildsmen, it was able to assert itself against the lord who claimed manorial rights over the town, and to insist that a runaway serf who had lived in the town for a year and a day should not be dragged back to perform his servile labor on the manor, but should be recognized as a freeman. The protection of the gild was accorded also to townsmen on their travels. In those days all strangers were regarded as suspicious persons, and not infrequently when a merchant of the gild traveled to another town he would be set upon and robbed or cast into prison. In such cases it was necessary for the gild to ransom the imprisoned “brother” and, if possible, to punish the persons who had done the injury, so that thereafter the liberties of the gild members would be respected. That the business of the gild might be increased, it was often desirable to enter into special arrangements with neighboring cities whereby the rights, lives, and properties of gildsmen were guaranteed; and the gild as a whole was responsible for the debts of any of its members.

[Sidenote: Regulative]

The most important duty of the gild had been the regulation of the home market. Burdensome restrictions were laid upon the stranger who attempted to utilize the advantages of the market without sharing the expense of maintenance. No goods were allowed to be carried away from the city if the townsmen wished to buy; and a tax, called in France the _octroi_, was levied on goods brought into the town. [Footnote: The _octroi_ is still collected in Paris.] Moreover, a conviction prevailed that the gild was morally bound to enforce honest straightforward methods of business; and the “wardens” appointed by the gild to supervise the market endeavored to prevent, as dishonest practices, “forestalling” (buying outside of the regular market), “engrossing” (cornering the market), [Footnote: The idea that “combinations in restraint of trade” are wrong quite possibly goes back to this abhorrence of engrossing.] and “regrating” (retailing at higher than market price). The dishonest green grocer was not allowed to use a peck-measure with false bottom, for weighing and measuring were done by officials. Cheats were fined heavily and, if they persisted in their evil ways, they might be expelled from the gild.

These merchant gilds, with their social, protective, and regulative functions, had first begun to be important in the eleventh century. In England, where their growth was most rapid, 82 out of the total of 102 towns had merchant gilds by the end of the thirteenth century. [Footnote: Several important places, such as London, Colchester, and Norwich, belonged to the small minority without merchant gilds.] On the Continent many towns, especially in Germany, had quite different arrangements, and where merchant gilds existed, they were often exclusive and selfish groups of merchants in a single branch of business.

[Sidenote: Decline of Merchant Guilds]

With the expansion of trade and industry in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the rule of the old merchant gilds, instead of keeping pace with the times, became oppressive, limited, or merely nominal. Where the merchant gilds became oppressive oligarchical associations, as they did in Germany and elsewhere on the Continent, they lost their power by the revolt of the more democratic “craft gilds.” In England specialized control of industry and trade by craft gilds, journeymen’s gilds, and dealers’ associations gradually took the place of the general supervision of the older merchant gild. After suffering the loss of its vital functions, the merchant gild by the sixteenth century either quietly succumbed or lived on with power in a limited branch of trade, or continued as an honorary organization with occasional feasts, or, and this was especially true in England, it became practically identical with the town corporation, from which originally it had been distinct.

[Sidenote: Industry: the Craft Guilds]

Alongside of the merchant gilds, which had been associated with the growth of commerce and the rise of towns, were other guilds connected with the growth of industry, which retained their importance long after 1500. These were the craft gilds. [Footnote: The craft gild was also called a company, or a mistery, or _métier_ (French), or _Zunft_ (German).] Springing into prominence in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the craft gild sometimes, as in Germany, voiced a popular revolt against corrupt and oligarchical merchant gilds, and sometimes most frequently so in England–worked quite harmoniously with the merchant gild, to which its own members belonged. In common with the merchant gild, the craft gild had religious and social aspects, and like the merchant gild it insisted on righteous dealings; but unlike the merchant gild it was composed of men in a single industry, and it controlled in detail the manufacture as well as the marketing of commodities. There were bakers’ gilds, brewers’ gilds, smiths’ gilds, saddlers’ gilds, shoemakers’ gilds, weavers’ gilds, tailors’ gilds, tanners’ gilds, even gilds of masters of arts who constituted the teaching staff of colleges and universities.

When to-day we speak of a boy “serving his apprenticeship” in a trade, we seldom reflect that the expression is derived from a practice of the medieval craft gilds, a practice which survived after the gilds were extinct. Apprenticeship was designed to make sure that recruits to the trade were properly trained. The apprentice was usually selected as a boy by a master-workman and indentured–that is, bound to work several years without wages, while living at the master’s house. After the expiration of this period of apprenticeship, during which he had learned his trade thoroughly, the youth became a “journeyman,” and worked for wages, until he should finally receive admission to the gild as a master, with the right to set up his own little shop, with apprentices and journeymen of his own, and to sell his wares directly to those who used them.

This restriction of membership was not the only way in which the trade was supervised. The gild had rules specifying the quality of materials to be used and often, likewise, the methods of manufacture; it might prohibit night-work, and it usually fixed a “fair price” at which goods were to be sold. By means of such provisions, enforced by wardens or inspectors, the gild not only perpetuated the “good old way” of doing things, but guaranteed to the purchaser a thoroughly good article at a fair price.

[Sidenote: Partial Decay of Craft Gilds]

By the opening of the sixteenth century the craft gilds, though not so weakened as the merchant gilds, were suffering from various internal diseases which sapped their vitality. They tended to become exclusive and to direct their power and affluence in hereditary grooves. They steadily raised their entrance fees and qualifications. Struggles between gilds in allied trades, such as spinning, weaving, fulling, and dyeing, often resulted in the reduction of several gilds to a dependent position. The regulation of the processes of manufacture, once designed to keep up the standard of skill, came in time to be a powerful hindrance to technical improvements; and in the method as well as in the amount of his work, the enterprising master found himself handicapped. Even the old conscientiousness often gave way to greed, until in many places inferior workmanship received the approval of the gild.

Many craft gilds exhibited in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries a tendency to split somewhat along the present lines of capital and labor. On the one hand the old gild organization would be usurped and controlled by the wealthier master-workmen, called “livery men,” because they wore rich uniforms, or a class of dealers would arise and organize a “merchants’ company” to conduct a wholesale business in the products of a particular industry. Thus the rich drapers sold all the cloth, but did not help to make it. On the other hand it became increasingly difficult for journeymen and apprentices to rise to the station of masters; oftentimes they remained wage-earners for life. In order to better their condition they formed new associations, which in England were called journeymen’s or yeomen’s companies. These new organizations were symptomatic of injustice but otherwise unimportant. The craft gilds, with all their imperfections, were to continue in power awhile longer, slowly giving away as new trades arose outside of their control, gradually succumbing in competition with capitalists who refused to be bound by gild rules and who were to evolve a new “domestic system,” [Footnote: See Vol. II, ch xviii.] and slowly suffering diminution of prestige through royal interference.

[Sidenote: Life in the Towns]

In the year 1500 the European towns displayed little uniformity in government or in the amount of liberty they possessed. Some were petty republics subject only in a very vague way to an extraneous potentate; some merely paid annual tribute to a lord; some were administered by officers of a king or feudal magnate; others were controlled by oligarchical commercial associations. But of the general appearance and life of sixteenth-century towns, it is possible to secure a more uniform notion.

It must be borne in mind that the towns were comparatively small, for the great bulk of people still lived in the country. A town of 5000 inhabitants was then accounted large; and even the largest places, like Nuremberg, Strassburg, London, Paris, and Bruges, would have been only small cities in our eyes. The approach to an ordinary city of the time lay through suburbs, farms, and garden-plots, for the townsman still supplemented industry with small-scale agriculture. Usually the town itself was inclosed by strong walls, and admission was to be gained only by passing through the gates, where one might be accosted by soldiers and forced to pay toll. Inside the walls were clustered houses of every description. Rising from the midst of tumble-down dwellings might stand a magnificent cathedral, town-hall, or gild building. Here and there a prosperous merchant would have his luxurious home, built in what we now call the Gothic style, with pointed windows and gables, and, to save space in a walled town, with the second story projecting out over the street.

The streets were usually in deplorable condition. There might be one or two broad highways, but the rest were mere alleys, devious, dark, and dirty. Often their narrowness made them impassable for wagons. In places the pedestrian waded gallantly through mud and garbage; pigs grunted ponderously as he pushed them aside; chickens ran under his feet; and occasionally a dead dog obstructed the way. There were no sidewalks, and only the main thoroughfares were paved. Dirt and filth and refuse were ordinarily disposed of only when a heaven-sent rain washed them down the open gutters constructed along the middle, or on each side, of a street. Not only was there no general sewerage for the town, but there was likewise no public water supply. In many of the garden plots at the rear of the low-roofed dwellings were dug wells which provided water for the family; and the visitor, before he left the town, would be likely to meet with water-sellers calling out their ware. To guard against the danger of fires, each municipality encouraged its citizens to build their houses of stone and to keep a tub full of water before every building; and in each district a special official was equipped with a proper hook and cord for pulling down houses on fire. At night respectable town-life was practically at a standstill: the gates were shut; the curfew sounded; no street-lamps dispelled the darkness, except possibly an occasional lantern which an altruistic or festive townsman might hang in his front-window; and no efficient police-force existed–merely a handful of townsmen were drafted from time to time as “watchmen” to preserve order, and the “night watch” was famed rather for its ability to sleep or to roister than to protect life or purse. Under these circumstances the citizen who would escape an assault by ruffians or thieves remained prudently indoors at night and retired early to bed. Picturesque and quaint the sixteenth-century town may have been; but it was also an uncomfortable and an unhealthful place in which to live.


Just as agriculture is the ultimate basis of human society, so town- life has always been an index of culture and civilization. And the fortunes of town-life have ever depended upon the vicissitudes of trade and commerce. So the reviving commerce of the later middle ages between Europe and the East meant the growth of cities and betokened an advance in civilization.

[Sidenote: Revival of Trade with the East]

Trade between Europe and Asia, which had been a feature of the antique world of Greeks and Romans, had been very nearly destroyed by the barbarian invasions of the fifth century and by subsequent conflicts between Mohammedans and Christians, so that during several centuries the old trade-routes were traveled only by a few Jews and with the Syrians. In the tenth century, however, a group of towns in southern Italy–Brindisi, Bari, Taranto, and Amalfi–began to send ships to the eastern Mediterranean and were soon imitated by Venice and later by Genoa and Pisa.

This revival of intercourse between the East and the West was well under way before the first Crusade, but the Crusades (1095-1270) hastened the process. Venice, Genoa, and Pisa, on account of their convenient location, were called upon to furnish the crusaders with transportation and provisions, and their shrewd Italian citizens made certain that such services were well rewarded. Italian ships, plying to and from the Holy Land, gradually enriched their owners. Many Italian cities profited, but Venice secured the major share. It was during the Crusades that Venice gained numerous coastal districts and islands in the Ægean besides immunities and privileges in Constantinople, and thereby laid the foundation of her maritime empire.

The Crusades not only enabled Italian merchants to bring Eastern commodities to the West; they increased the demand for such commodities. Crusaders–pilgrims and adventurers–returned from the Holy Land with astonishing tales of the luxury and opulence of the East. Not infrequently they had acquired a taste for Eastern silks or spices during their stay in Asia Minor or Palestine; or they brought curious jewels stripped from fallen infidels to awaken the envy of the stay-at-homes. Wealth was rapidly increasing in Europe at this time, and the many well-to-do people who were eager to affect magnificence provided a ready market for the wares imported by Italian merchants.

[Sidenote: Commodities of Eastern Trade]

It is desirable to note just what were these wares and why they were demanded so insistently. First were spices, far more important then than now. The diet of those times was simple and monotonous without our variety of vegetables and sauces and sweets, and the meat, if fresh, was likely to be tough in fiber and strong in flavor. Spices were the very thing to add zest to such a diet, and without them the epicure of the sixteenth century would have been truly miserable. Ale and wine, as well as meats, were spiced, and pepper was eaten separately as a delicacy. No wonder that, although the rich alone could buy it, the Venetians were able annually to dispose of 420,000 pounds of pepper, which they purchased from the sultan of Egypt, to whom it was brought, after a hazardous journey, from the pepper vines of Ceylon, Sumatra, or western India. From the same regions came cinnamon-bark; ginger was a product of Arabia, India, and China; and nutmegs, cloves, and allspice grew only in the far-off Spice Islands of the Malay Archipelago.

Precious stones were then, as always, in demand for personal adornment as well as for the decoration of shrines and ecclesiastical vestments; and in the middle ages they were thought by many to possess magical qualities which rendered them doubly valuable. [Footnote: Medieval literature is full of this idea. Thus we read in the book of travel which has borne the name of Sir John Maundeville: “And if you wish to know the virtues of the diamond, I shall tell you, as they that are beyond the seas say and affirm, from whom all science and philosophy comes. He who carries the diamond upon him, it gives him hardiness and manhood, and it keeps the limbs of his body whole. It gives him victory over his enemies, in court and in war, if his cause be just; and it keeps him that bears it in good wit; and it keeps him from strife and riot, from sorrows and enchantments, and from fantasies and illusions of wicked spirits. … [It] heals him that is lunatic, and those whom the fiend torments or pursues.”] The supply of diamonds, rubies, pearls, and other precious stones was then almost exclusively from Persia, India, and Ceylon.

Other miscellaneous products of the East were in great demand for various purposes: camphor and cubebs from Sumatra and Borneo; musk from China; cane-sugar from Arabia and Persia; indigo, sandal-wood, and aloes-wood from India; and alum from Asia Minor.

The East was not only a treasure-house of spices, jewels, valuable goods, and medicaments, but a factory of marvelously delicate goods and wares which the West could not rival–glass, porcelain, silks, satins, rugs, tapestries, and metal-work. The tradition of Asiatic supremacy in these manufactures has been preserved to our own day in such familiar names as damask linen, china-ware, japanned ware, Persian rugs, and cashmere shawls.

In exchange for the manifold products of the East, Europe had only rough woolen cloth, arsenic, antimony, quicksilver, tin, copper, lead, and coral to give; and a balance, therefore, always existed for the European merchant to pay in gold and silver, with the result that gold and silver coins grew scarce in the West. It is hard to say what would have happened had not a new supply of the precious metals been discovered in America. But we are anticipating our story.

[Sidenote: Oriental Trade-Routes]

Nature has rendered intercourse between Europe and Asia exceedingly difficult by reason of a vast stretch of almost impassable waste, extending from the bleak plains on either side of the Ural hills down across the steppes of Turkestan and the desert of Arabia to the great sandy Sahara. Through the few gaps in this desert barrier have led from early times the avenues of trade. In the fifteenth century three main trade-routes–a central, a southern, and a northern–precariously linked the two continents.

(1) The central trade-route utilized the valley of the Tigris River. Goods from China, from the Spice Islands, and from India were brought by odd native craft from point to point along the coast to Ormuz, an important city at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, thence to the mouth of the Tigris, and up the valley to Bagdad. From Bagdad caravans journeyed either to Aleppo and Antioch on the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean, or across the desert to Damascus and the ports on the Syrian coast. Occasionally caravans detoured southward to Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt. Whether at Antioch, Jaffa, or Alexandria, the caravans met the masters of Venetian ships ready to carry the cargo to Europe.

(2) The southern route was by the Red Sea. Arabs sailed their ships from India and the Far East across the Indian Ocean and into the Red Sea, whence they transferred their cargoes to caravans which completed the trip to Cairo and Alexandria. By taking advantage of monsoons,–the favorable winds which blew steadily in certain seasons,–the skipper of a merchant vessel could make the voyage from India to Egypt in somewhat less than three months. It was often possible to shorten the time by landing the cargoes at Ormuz and thence dispatching them by caravan across the desert of Arabia to Mecca, and so to the Red Sea, but caravan travel was sometimes slower and always more hazardous than sailing.

(3) The so-called “northern route” was rather a system of routes leading in general from the “back doors” of India and China to the Black Sea. Caravans from India and China met at Samarkand and Bokhara, two famous cities on the western slope of the Tian-Shan Mountains. West of Bokhara the route branched out. Some caravans went north of the Caspian, through Russia to Novgorod and the Baltic. Other caravans passed through Astrakhan, at the mouth of the Volga River, and terminated in ports on the Sea of Azov. Still others skirted the shore of the Caspian Sea, passing through Tabriz and Armenia to Trebizond on the Black Sea.

The transportation of goods from the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean was largely in the hands of the Italian cities,[Footnote: In general, the journey from the Far East to the ports on the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean was performed by Arabs, although some of the more enterprising Italians pushed on from the European settlements, or _fondachi_, in ports like Cairo and Trebizond, and established _fondachi_ in the inland cities of Asia Minor, Persia, and Russia.] especially Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Florence, although Marseilles and Barcelona had a small share. From Italy trade-routes led through the passes of the Alps to all parts of Europe. German merchants from Nuremberg, Augsburg, Ulm, Regensburg, and Constance purchased Eastern commodities in the markets of Venice, and sent them back to the Germanies, to England, and to the Scandinavian countries. After the lapse of many months, and even years, since the time when spices had been packed first in the distant Moluccas, they would be exposed finally for sale at the European fairs or markets to which thousands of countryfolk resorted. There a nobleman’s steward could lay in a year’s supply of condiments, or a peddler could fill his pack with silks and ornaments to delight the eyes of the ladies in many a lonesome castle.

[Sidenote: Difficulties of European Commerce]

Within Europe commerce gradually extended its scope in spite of the almost insuperable difficulties. The roads were still so miserable that wares had to be carried on pack-horses instead of in wagons. Frequently the merchant had to risk spoiling his bales of silk in fording a stream, for bridges were few and usually in urgent need of repair. Travel not only was fraught with hardship; it was expensive. Feudal lords exacted heavy tolls from travelers on road, bridge, or river. Between Mainz and Cologne, on the Rhine, toll was levied in thirteen different places. The construction of shorter and better highways was blocked often by nobles who feared to lose their toll-rights on the old roads. So heavy was the burden of tolls on commerce that transportation from Nantes to Orleans, a short distance up the River Loire, doubled the price of goods. Besides the tolls, one had to pay for local market privileges; towns exacted taxes on imports; and the merchant in a strange city or village often found himself seriously handicapped by regulations against “foreigners,” and by unfamiliar weights, measures, and coinage.

Most dreaded of all, however, and most injurious to trade were the robbers who infested the roads. Needy knights did not scruple to turn highwaymen. Cautious travelers carried arms and journeyed in bands, but even they were not wholly safe from the dashing “gentlemen of the road.” On the seas there was still greater danger from pirates. Fleets of merchantmen, despite the fact that they were accompanied usually by a vessel of war, often were assailed by corsairs, defeated, robbed, and sold as prizes to the Mohammedans. The black flag of piracy flew over whole fleets in the Baltic and in the Mediterranean. The amateur pirate, if less formidable, was no less common, for many a vessel carrying brass cannon, ostensibly for protection, found it convenient to use them to attack foreign craft and more frequently “took” a cargo than purchased one.

[Sidenote: Venice]

These dangers and difficulties of commercial intercourse were due chiefly to the lack of any strong power to punish pirates or highwaymen, to maintain roads, or to check the exactions of toll- collectors. Each city attempted to protect its own commerce. A great city-state like Venice was well able to send out her galleys against Mediterranean pirates, to wage war against the rival city of Genoa, to make treaties with Oriental potentates, and to build up a maritime empire. Smaller towns were helpless. But what, as in the case of the German towns, they could not do alone, was partially achieved by combination.

[Sidenote: The Hanseatic League. Towns in the Netherlands: Bruges]

The Hanse or the Hanseatic League, as the confederation of Cologne, Brunswick, Hamburg, Lübeck, Dantzig, Königsberg, and other German cities was called, waged war against the Baltic pirates, maintained its trade-routes, and negotiated with monarchs and municipalities in order to obtain exceptional privileges. From their Baltic stations,– Novgorod, Stockholm, Königsberg, etc.,–the Hanseatic merchants brought amber, wax, fish, furs, timber, and tar to sell in the markets of Bruges, London, and Venice; they returned with wheat, wine, salt, metals, cloth, and beer for their Scandinavian and Russian customers. The German trading post at Venice received metals, furs, leather goods, and woolen cloth from the North, and sent back spices, silks, and other commodities of the East, together with glassware, fine textiles, weapons, and paper of Venetian manufacture. Baltic and Venetian trade- routes crossed in the Netherlands, and during the fourteenth century Bruges became the trade-metropolis of western Europe, where met the raw wool from England and Spain, the manufactured woolen cloth of Flanders, clarets from France, sherry and port wines from the Iberian peninsula, pitch from Sweden, tallow from Norway, grain from France and Germany, and English tin, not to mention Eastern luxuries, Venetian manufactures, and the cunning carved-work of south-German artificers.


[Sidenote: Desire of Spaniards and Portuguese for New Trade-Routes]

In the unprecedented commercial prosperity which marked the fifteenth century, two European peoples–the Portuguese and the Spanish–had little part. For purposes of general Continental trade they were not so conveniently situated as the peoples of Germany and the Netherlands; and the Venetians and other Italians had shut them off from direct trade with Asia. Yet Spanish and Portuguese had developed much the same taste for Oriental spices and wares as had the inhabitants of central Europe, and they begrudged the exorbitant prices which they were compelled to pay to Italian merchants. Moreover, their centuries-long crusades against Mohammedans in the Iberian peninsula and in northern Africa had bred in them a stern and zealous Christianity which urged them on to undertake missionary enterprises in distant pagan lands. This missionary spirit reënforced the desire they already entertained of finding new trade-routes to Asia untrammeled by rival and selfish Italians. In view of these circumstances it is not surprising that Spaniards and Portuguese sought eagerly in the fifteenth century to find new trade-routes to “the Indies.”

[Sidenote: Geographical Knowledge]

In their search for new trade-routes to the lands of silk and spice, these peoples of southwestern Europe were not as much in the dark as sometimes we are inclined to believe. Geographical knowledge, almost non-existent in the earlier middle ages, had been enriched by the Franciscan friars who had traversed central Asia to the court of the Mongol emperor as early as 1245, and by such merchants and travelers as Marco Polo, who had been attached to the court of Kublai Khan and who subsequently had described that potentate’s realms and the wealth of “Cipangu” (Japan). These travels afforded at once information about Asia and enormous incentive to later explorers.

Popular notions that the waters of the tropics boiled, that demons and monsters awaited explorers to the westward, and that the earth was a great flat disk, did not pass current among well-informed geographers. Especially since the revival of Ptolemy’s works in the fifteenth century, learned men asserted that the earth was spherical in shape, and they even calculated its circumference, erring only by two or three thousand miles. It was maintained repeatedly that the Indies formed the western boundary of the Atlantic Ocean, and that consequently they might be reached by sailing due west, as well as by traveling eastward; but at the same time it was believed that shorter routes might be found northeast of Europe, or southward around Africa.

[Sidenote: Navigation]

Along with this general knowledge of the situation of continents, the sailors of the fifteenth century had learned a good deal about navigation. The compass had been used first by Italian navigators in the thirteenth century, mounted on the compass card in the fourteenth. Latitude was determined with the aid of the astrolabe, a device for measuring the elevation of the pole star above the horizon. With maps and accurate sailing directions (_portolani_), seamen could lose sight of land and still feel confident of their whereabouts. Yet it undoubtedly took courage for the explorers of the fifteenth century to steer their frail sailing vessels either down the unexplored African coast or across the uncharted Atlantic Ocean.

[Sidenote: The Portuguese Explorers]

In the series of world-discoveries which brought about the Commercial Revolution and which are often taken as the beginning of “modern history,” there is no name more illustrious than that of a Portuguese prince of the blood,–Prince Henry, the Navigator (1394-1460), who, with the support of two successive Portuguese kings, made the first systematic attempts to convert the theories of geographers into proved fact. A variety of motives were his: the stern zeal of the crusader against the infidel; the ardent proselyting spirit which already had sent Franciscan monks into the heart of Asia; the hope of reëstablishing intercourse with “Prester John’s” fabled Christian empire of the East; the love of exploration; and a desire to gain for Portugal a share of the Eastern trade.

To his naval training-station at Sagres and the neighboring port of Lagos, Prince Henry attracted the most skillful Italian navigators and the most learned geographers of the day. The expeditions which he sent out year after year rediscovered and colonized the Madeira and Azores Islands, and crept further and further down the unknown coast of the Dark Continent. When in the year 1445, a quarter of a century after the initial efforts of Prince Henry, Denis Diaz reached Cape Verde, he thought that the turning point was at hand; but four more weary decades were to elapse before Bartholomew Diaz, in 1488, attained the southernmost point of the African coast. What he then called the Cape of Storms, King John II of Portugal in a more optimistic vein rechristened the Cape of Good Hope. Following in the wake of Diaz, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape in 1497, and then, continuing on his own way, he sailed up the east coast to Malindi, where he found a pilot able to guide his course eastward through the Indian Ocean to India. At Calicut Vasco da Gama landed in May, 1498, and there he erected a marble pillar as a monument of his discovery of a new route to the Indies.

[Sidenote: Occupation of Old Trade-Routes by the Turks]

While the Portuguese were discovering this new and all-water route to the Indies, the more ancient Mediterranean and overland routes, which had been of inestimable value to the Italians, were in process of occupation by the Routes by Ottoman Turks. [Footnote: Professor A. H. Lybyer has recently and ably contended that, contrary to a view which has often prevailed, the occupation of the medieval trade-routes by the Ottoman Turks was not the cause of the Portuguese and Spanish explorations which ushered in the Commercial Revolution. He has pointed out that prior to 1500 the prices of spices were not generally raised throughout western Europe, and that apparently before that date the Turks had not seriously increased the difficulties of Oriental trade. In confirmation of this opinion, it should be remembered that the Portuguese had begun their epochal explorations long before 1500 and that Christopher Columbus had already returned from “the Indies.”] These Turks, as we have seen, were a nomadic and warlike nation of the Mohammedan faith who “added to the Moslem contempt for the Christian, the warrior’s contempt for the mere merchant.” Realizing that advantageous trade relations with such a people were next to impossible, the Italian merchants viewed with consternation the advance of the Turkish armies, as Asia Minor, Thrace, Macedonia, Greece, and the islands of the Ægean were rapidly overrun. Constantinople, the heart of the Eastern Empire, repeatedly repelled the Moslems, but in 1453 Emperor Constantine XI was defeated by Sultan Mohammed II, and the crescent replaced the Greek cross above the Church of Saint Sophia. Eight years later Trebizond, the terminal of the trade-route from Tabriz, was taken. In vain Venice attempted to defend her possessions in the Black Sea and in the Ægean; by the year 1500 most of her empire in the Levant was lost. The Turks, now in complete control of the northern route, proceeded to impose crushing burdens on the trade of the defeated Venetians. Florentines and other Italians who fared less hardly continued to frequent the Black Sea, but the entire trade suffered from Turkish exactions and from disturbing wars between the Turks and another Asiatic people–the Mongols.

[Sidenote: Loss to the Italians]

For some time the central and southern routes, terminating respectively in Syria and Egypt, exhibited increased activity, and by rich profits in Alexandria the Venetians were able to retrieve their losses in the Black Sea. But it was only a matter of time before the Turks, conquering Damascus in 1516 and Cairo in 1517, extended their burdensome restrictions and taxes over those regions likewise. Eastern luxuries, transported by caravan and caravel over thousands of miles, had been expensive and rare enough before; now the added peril of travel and the exactions of the Turks bade fair to deprive the Italians of the greater part of their Oriental trade. It was at this very moment that the Portuguese opened up independent routes to the East, lowered the prices of Asiatic commodities, and grasped the scepter of maritime and commercial power which was gradually slipping from the hands of the Venetians. The misfortune of Venice was the real opportunity of Portugal.

[Sidenote: Columbus]

Meanwhile Spain had entered the field, and was meeting with cruel disappointment. A decade before Vasco da Gama’s famous voyage, an Italian navigator, Christopher Columbus, had presented himself at the Spanish court with a scheme for sailing westward to the Indies. The Portuguese king, by whom Columbus formerly had been employed, already had refused to support the project, but after several vexatious rebuffs Columbus finally secured the aid of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish monarchs who were at the time jubilant over their capture of Granada from the Mohammedans (January, 1492). In August, 1492, he sailed from Palos with 100 men in three small ships, the largest of which weighed only a hundred tons. After a tiresome voyage he landed (12 October, 1492) on “San Salvador,” one of the Bahama Islands. In that bold voyage across the trackless Atlantic lay the greatness of Columbus. He was not attempting to prove a theory that the earth was spherical–that was accepted generally by the well informed. Nor was he in search of a new continent. The realization that he had discovered not Asia, but a new world, would have been his bitterest disappointment. He was seeking merely another route to the spices and treasures of the East; and he bore with him a royal letter of introduction to the great Khan of Cathay (China). In his quest he failed, even though he returned in 1493, in 1498, and finally in 1502 and explored successively the Caribbean Sea, the coast of Venezuela, and Central America in a vain search for the island “Cipangu” and the realms of the “Great Khan.” He found only “lands of vanity and delusion as the miserable graves of Castilian gentlemen,” and he died ignorant of the magnitude of his real achievement.

[Sidenote: America]

Had Columbus perished in mid ocean, it is doubtful whether America would have remained long undiscovered. In 1497 John Cabot, an Italian in the service of Henry VII of England, reached the Canadian coast probably near Cape Breton Island. In 1500 Cabral with a Portuguese expedition bound for India was so far driven out of his course by equatorial currents that he came upon Brazil, which he claimed for the king of Portugal. Yet America was named for neither Columbus, Cabot, nor Cabral, but for another Italian, the Florentine Amerigo Vespucci, who, returning from voyages to Brazil (1499-1500), published a letter concerning what he called “the new world.” It was thought that he had discovered this new world, and so it was called after him,–America.

[Sidenote: First Circumnavigation of the Earth]

Very slowly the truth about America was borne in upon the people of Europe. They persisted in calling the newly discovered lands the “Indies,” and even after Balboa had discovered (1513) that another ocean lay beyond the Isthmus of Panama, it was thought that a few days’ sail would bring one to the outlying possessions of the Great Khan. Not until Magellan, leaving Spain in 1519, passed through the straits that still bear his name and crossed the Pacific was this vain hope relinquished. Magellan was killed by the natives of the Philippine Islands, but one of his ships reached Seville in 1522 with the tale of the marvelous voyage.

Even after the circumnavigation of the world explorers looked for channels leading through or around the Americas. Such were the attempts of Verrazano (1524), Cartier (1534), Frobisher (1576-1578), Davis (1585-1587), and Henry Hudson in 1609.


[Sidenote: Portugal]

When Vasco da Gama returned to Lisbon in 1499 with a cargo worth sixty times the cost of his expedition, the Portuguese knew that the wealth of the Indies was theirs. Cabral in 1500, and Albuquerque in 1503, followed the route of Da Gama, and thereafter Portuguese fleets rounded the Cape year by year to gain control of Goa (India), Ormuz, Diu (India), Ceylon, Malacca, and the Spice Islands, and to bring back from these places and from Sumatra, Java, Celebes, and Nanking (China) rich cargoes of “spicery.” After the Turkish conquest of Egypt in 1517 the bulk of commerce was carried on by way of the Cape of Good Hope, for it was cheaper to transport goods by sea than to pay taxes to the Turks in addition to caravan cartage. Lisbon rapidly gained prominence as a market for Eastern wares.

The Portuguese triumph was short-lived. Dominion over half the world– for Portugal claimed all Africa, southern Asia, and Brazil as hers by right of discovery–had been acquired by the wise policy of the Portuguese royal house, but Portugal had neither products of her own to ship to Asia, nor the might to defend her exclusive right to the carrying trade with the Indies. The annexation of Portugal to Spain (1580) by Philip II precipitated disaster. The port of Lisbon was closed to the French, English, and Dutch, with whom Philip was at war, and much of the colonial empire of Portugal was conquered speedily by the Dutch.

[Sidenote: Spain]

On the first voyage of Columbus Spain based her claim to share the world with Portugal. In order that there might be perfect harmony between the rival explorers of the unknown seas, Pope Alexander VI issued on 4 May, 1493, the famous bull [Footnote: A bull was a solemn letter or edict issued by the pope.] attempting to divide the uncivilized parts of the world between Spain and Portugal by the “papal line of demarcation,” drawn from pole to pole, 100 leagues west of the Azores. A year later the line was shifted to about 360 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. Portugal had the eastern half of modern Brazil, Africa, and all other heathen lands in that hemisphere; the rest comprised the share of Spain.

For a time the Spanish adventurers were disappointed tremendously to find neither spices nor silks and but little gold in the “Indies,” and Columbus was derisively dubbed the “Admiral of the Mosquitos.” In spite of failures the search for wealth was prosecuted with vigor. During the next half century Haiti, called Hispaniola (“Spanish Isle”), served as a starting point for the occupation of Puerto Rico, Cuba (1508), and other islands. An aged adventurer, Ponce de Leon, in search of a fountain of youth, explored the coast of Florida in 1513, and subsequent expeditions pushed on to the Mississippi, across the plain of Texas, and even to California.

Montezuma, ruler of the ancient Aztec [Footnote: The Aztec Indians of Mexico, like various other tribes in Central America and in Peru, had reached in many respects a high degree of civilization before the arrival of Europeans.] confederacy of Mexico, was overthrown in 1519 by the reckless Hernando Cortez with a small band of soldiers. Here at last the Spaniards found treasures of gold and silver, and more abundant yet were the stores of precious metal found by Pizarro in Peru (1531). Those were the days when a few score of brave men could capture kingdoms and carry away untold wealth.

In the next chapter we shall see how the Spanish monarchy, backed by the power of American riches, dazzled the eyes of Europe in the sixteenth century. Not content to see his standard waving over almost half of Europe, and all America (except Brazil), Philip II of Spain by conquering Portugal in 1580 added to his possessions the Portuguese empire in the Orient and in Brazil. The gold mines of America, the spices of Asia, and the busiest market of Europe–Antwerp–all paid tribute to his Catholic Majesty, Philip II of Spain.

By an unwise administration of this vast empire, Spain, in the course of time, killed the goose that laid the golden egg. The native Indians, enslaved and lashed to their work in Peruvian and Mexican silver mines, rapidly lost even their primitive civilization and died in alarming numbers. This in itself would not have weakened the monarchy greatly, but it appeared more serious when we remember that the high-handed and harassing regulations imposed by short-sighted or selfish officials had checked the growth of a healthy agricultural and industrial population in the colonies, and that the bulk of the silver was going to support the pride of grandees and to swell the fortunes of German speculators, rather than to fill the royal coffers. The taxes levied on trade with the colonies were so exorbitant that the commerce with America fell largely into the hands of English and Dutch smugglers. Under wise government the monopoly of the African trade-route might have proved extremely valuable, but Philip II, absorbed in other matters, allowed this, too, to slip from his fingers.

While the Spanish monarchy was thus reaping little benefit from its world-wide colonial possessions, it was neglecting to encourage prosperity at home. Trade and manufacture had expanded enormously in the sixteenth century in the hands of the Jews and Moors. Woolen manufactures supported nearly a third of the population. The silk manufacture had become important. It is recorded that salt-works of the region about Santa Maria often sent out fifty shiploads at a time.

These signs of growth soon gave way to signs of decay and depopulation. Chief among the causes of ruin were the taxes, increased enormously during the sixteenth century. Property taxes, said to have increased 30 per cent, ruined farmers, and the “alcabala,” or tax on commodities bought and sold, was increased until merchants went out of business, and many an industrial establishment closed its doors rather than pay the taxes. Industry and commerce, already diseased, were almost completely killed by the expulsion of the Jews (1492) and of the Moors (1609), who had been respectively the bankers and the manufacturers of Spain. Spanish gold now went to the English and Dutch smugglers who supplied the peninsula with manufactures, and German bankers became the financiers of the realm.

The crowning misfortune was the revolt of the Netherlands, the richest provinces of the whole empire. Some of the wealthiest cities of Europe were situated in the Netherlands. Bruges had once been a great city, and in 1566 was still able to buy nearly $2,000,000 worth of wool to feed its looms; but as a commercial and financial center, the Flemish city of Antwerp had taken first place. In 1566 it was said that 300 ships and as many wagons arrived daily with rich cargoes to be bought and sold by the thousand commercial houses of Antwerp. Antwerp was the heart through which the money of Europe flowed. Through the bankers of Antwerp a French king might borrow money of a Turkish pasha. Yet Antwerp was only the greatest among the many cities of the Netherlands.

Charles V, king of Spain during the first half of the sixteenth century, had found in the Netherlands his richest source of income, and had wisely done all in his power to preserve their prosperity. As we shall see in Chapter III, the governors appointed by King Philip II in the second half of the sixteenth century lost the love of the people by the harsh measures against the Protestants, and ruined commerce and industry by imposing taxes of 5 and 10 per cent on every sale of land or goods. In 1566 the Netherlands rose in revolt, and after many bloody battles, the northern or Dutch provinces succeeded in breaking away from Spanish rule.

Spain had not only lost the little Dutch provinces; Flanders was ruined: its fields lay waste, its weavers had emigrated to England, its commerce to Amsterdam. Commercial supremacy never returned to Antwerp after the “Spanish Fury” of 1576. Moreover, during the war Dutch sailors had captured most of the former possessions of Portugal, and English sea-power, beginning in mere piratical attacks on Spanish treasure-fleets, had become firmly established. The finest part of North America was claimed by the English and French. Of her world empire, Spain retained only Central and South America (except Brazil), Mexico, California, Florida, most of the West Indies, and in the East the Philippine Islands and part of Borneo.

[Sidenote: Dutch Sea Power]

The Dutch, driven to sea by the limited resources of their narrow strip of coastland, had begun their maritime career as fishermen “exchanging tons of herring for tons of gold.” In the sixteenth century they had built up a considerable carrying trade, bringing cloth, tar, timber, and grain to Spain and France, and distributing to the Baltic countries the wines and liquors and other products of southwestern Europe, in addition to wares from the Portuguese East Indies.

The Dutch traders had purchased their Eastern wares largely from Portuguese merchants in the port of Lisbon. Two circumstances–the union of Spain with Portugal in 1580 and the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain–combined to give the Dutch their great opportunity. In 1594 the port of Lisbon was closed to Dutch merchants. The following year the Dutch made their first voyage to India, and, long jealous of the Portuguese colonial possessions, they began systematically to make the trade with the Spice Islands their own. By 1602, 65 Dutch ships had been to India. In the thirteen years–1602 to 1615–they captured 545 Portuguese and Spanish ships, seized ports on the coasts of Africa and India, and established themselves in the Spice Islands. In addition to most of the old Portuguese empire,–ports in Africa and India, Malacca, Oceanica, and Brazil, [Footnote: Brazil was more or less under Dutch control from 1624 until 1654, when, through an uprising of Portuguese colonists, the country was fully recovered by Portugal. Holland recognized the Portuguese ownership of Brazil by treaty of 1662, and thenceforth the Dutch retained in South America only a portion of Guiana (Surinam).]–the Dutch had acquired a foothold in North America by the discoveries of Henry Hudson in 1609 and by settlement in 1621. Their colonists along the Hudson River called the new territory New Netherland and the town on Manhattan island New Amsterdam, but when Charles II of England seized the land in 1664, he renamed it New York.

Thus the Dutch had succeeded to the colonial empire of the Portuguese. With their increased power they were able entirely to usurp the Baltic trade from the hands of the Hanseatic (German) merchants, who had incurred heavy losses by the injury to their interests in Antwerp during the sixteenth century. Throughout the seventeenth century the Dutch almost monopolized the carrying-trade from Asia and between southwestern Europe and the Baltic. The prosperity of the Dutch was the envy of all Europe.

[Sidenote: Beginnings of English and French Explorations]

It took the whole sixteenth century for the English and French to get thoroughly into the colonial contest. During that period the activities of the English were confined to exploration and piracy, with the exception of the ill-starred attempts of Gilbert and Raleigh to colonize Newfoundland and North Carolina. The voyages of the Anglo- Italian John Cabot in 1497-1498 were later to be the basis of British claims to North America. The search for a northwest passage drove Frobisher (1576-1578), Davis (1585-1587), Hudson (1610-1611), and Baffin (1616) to explore the northern extremity of North America, to leave the record of their exploits in names of bays, islands, and straits, and to establish England’s claim to northern Canada; while the search for a northeast passage enticed Willoughby and Chancellor (1553) around Lapland, and Jenkinson (1557-1558) to the icebound port of Archangel in northern Russia. Elizabethan England had neither silver mines nor spice islands, but the deficiency was never felt while British privateers sailed the seas. Hawkins, the great slaver, Drake, the second circumnavigator of the globe, Davis, and Cavendish were but four of the bold captains who towed home many a stately Spanish galleon laden with silver plate and with gold. As for spices, the English East India Company, chartered in 1600, was soon to build up an empire in the East in competition with the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the French, but that story belongs to a later chapter.

France was less active. The rivalry of Francis I [Footnote: See below, pp. 77 ff.] with Charles I of Spain had extended even to the New World. Verrazano (1524) sailed the coast from Carolina to Labrador, and Cartier (1534-1535) pushed up the Saint Lawrence to Montreal, looking for a northwest passage, and demonstrating that France had no respect for the Spanish claim to all America. After 1535, however, nothing of permanence was done until the end of the century, and the founding of French colonies in India and along the Saint Lawrence and Mississippi rivers belongs rather to the history of the seventeenth century.

[Sidenote: Motives for Colonization]

One of the most amazing spectacles in history is the expansion of Europe since the sixteenth century. Not resting content with discovering the rest of the world, the European nations with sublime confidence pressed on to divide the new continents among them, to conquer, Christianize, and civilize the natives, and to send out millions of new emigrants to establish beyond the seas a New England, a New France, a New Spain, and a New Netherland. The Spaniards in Spain to-day are far outnumbered by the Spanish-speaking people in Argentina, Chili, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Central America, and the Philippine Islands.

[Sidenote: Religion]

It was not merely greed for gold and thirst for glory which inspired the colonizing movement. To the merchant’s eager search for precious metals and costly spices, and to the adventurer’s fierce delight in braving unknown dangers where white man never had ventured, the Portuguese and Spanish explorers added the inspiration of an ennobling missionary ideal. In the conquest of the New World priests and chapels were as important as soldiers and fortresses; and its settlements were named in honor of Saint Francis (San Francisco), Saint Augustine (St. Augustine), the Holy Saviour (San Salvador), the Holy Cross (Santa Cruz), or the Holy Faith (Santa Fé). Fearless priests penetrated the interior of America, preaching and baptizing as they went. Unfortunately some of the Spanish adventurers who came to make fortunes in the mines of America, and a great number of the non-Spanish foreigners who owned mines in the Spanish colonies, set gain before religion, and imposed crushing burdens on the natives who toiled as slaves in their mines. Cruelty and forced labor decimated the natives, but in the course of time this abuse was remedied, thanks largely to the Spanish bishop, Bartolomé de las Casas, and instead of forming a miserable remnant of an almost extinct race, as they do in the United States, the Indians freely intermarried with the Spaniards, whom they always outnumbered. As a result, Latin America is peopled by nations which are predominantly Indian in blood, [Footnote: Except in the southern part of South America.] Spanish or Portuguese [Footnote: In Brazil.] in language, and Roman Catholic in religion.

The same religious zeal which had actuated Spanish missionary-explorers was manifested at a later date by the French Jesuit Fathers who penetrated North America in order to preach the Christian faith to the Indians. Quite different were the religious motives which in the seventeenth century inspired Protestant colonists in the New World. They came not as evangelists, but as religious outcasts fleeing from persecution, or as restless souls worsted at politics or unable to gain a living at home. This meant the dispossession and ultimate extinction rather than the conversion of the Indians.

[Sidenote: Decline of the Hanseatic League]

The stirring story of the colonial struggles which occupied the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries will be taken up in another chapter; at this point, therefore, we turn from the expanding nations on the Atlantic seaboard to note the mournful plight of the older commercial powers–the German and Italian city-states. As for the former, the Hanseatic League, despoiled of its Baltic commerce by enterprising Dutch and English merchants, its cities restless and rebellious, gradually broke up. In 1601 an Englishman metaphorically observed: “Most of their [the league’s] teeth have fallen out, the rest sit but loosely in their head,”–and in fact all were soon lost except Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg.

[Sidenote: Decay of Venice]

Less rapid, but no less striking, was the decay of Venice and the other Italian cities. The first cargoes brought by the Portuguese from India caused the price of pepper and spices to fall to a degree which spelled ruin for the Venetians. The Turks continued to harry Italian traders in the Levant, and the Turkish sea-power grew to menacing proportions, until in 1571 Venice had to appeal to Spain for help. To the terror of the Turk was added the torment of the Barbary pirates, who from the northern coast of Africa frequently descended upon Italian seaports. The commerce of Venice was ruined. The brilliance of Venice in art and literature lasted through another century (the seventeenth), supported on the ruins of Venetian opulence; but the splendor of Venice was extinguished finally in the turbulent sea of political intrigue into which the rest of Italy had already sunk.


In a way, all of the colonizing movements, which we have been at pains to trace, might be regarded as the first and greatest result of the Commercial Revolution–that is, if by the Commercial Revolution one understands simply the discovery of new trade-routes; but, as it is difficult to separate explorations from colonization, we have used the term “Commercial Revolution” to include both. By the Commercial Revolution we mean that expansive movement by which European commerce escaped from the narrow confines of the Mediterranean and encompassed the whole world. We shall proceed now to consider that movement in its secondary aspects or effects.

One of the first in importance of these effects was the advent of a new politico-economic doctrine—mercantilism–the result of the transference of commercial supremacy from Italian and German city-states to national states.

[Sidenote: Nationalism in Commerce]

With the declining Italian and German commercial cities, the era of municipal commerce passed away forever. In the peoples of the Atlantic seaboard, who now became masters of the seas, national consciousness already was strongly developed, and centralized governments were perfected; these nations carried the national spirit into commerce. Portugal and Spain owed their colonial empires to the enterprise of their royal families; Holland gained a trade route as an incident of her struggle for national independence; England and France, which were to become the great commercial rivals of the eighteenth century, were the two strongest national monarchies.

[Sidenote: Mercantilism]

The new nations founded their power not on the fearlessness of their chevaliers, but on the extent of their financial resources. Wealth was needed to arm and to pay the soldiers, wealth to build warships, wealth to bribe diplomats. And since this wealth must come from the people by taxes, it was essential to have a people prosperous enough to pay taxes. The wealth of the nation must be the primary consideration of the legislators. In endeavoring to cultivate and preserve the wealth of their subjects, European monarchs proceeded upon the assumption that if a nation exported costly manufactures to its own colonies and imported cheap raw materials from them, the money paid into the home country for manufactures would more than counterbalance the money paid out for raw materials, and this “favorable balance of trade” would bring gold to the nation. This economic theory and the system based upon it are called mercantilism. In order to establish such a balance of trade, the government might either forbid or heavily tax the importation of manufactures from abroad, might prohibit the export of raw materials, might subsidize the export of manufactures, and might attempt by minute regulations to foster industry at home as well as to discourage competition in the colonies. Thus, intending to retain the profits of commerce for Englishmen, Cromwell and later rulers required that certain goods must be carried on English ships.

[Sidenote: Chartered Companies]

By far the most popular method of developing a lucrative colonial trade–especially towards the end of the sixteenth and throughout the seventeenth century–was by means of chartered commercial companies. England (in 1600), Holland (in 1602), France (in 1664), Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, and Prussia each chartered its own “East India Company.” The English possessions on the Atlantic coast of America were shared by the London and Plymouth Companies (1606). English companies for trade with Russia, Turkey, Morocco, Guiana, Bermuda, the Canaries, and Hudson Bay were organized and reorganized with bewildering activity. In France the crop of commercial companies was no less abundant.

To each of these companies was assigned the exclusive right to trade with and to govern the inhabitants of a particular colony, with the privilege and duty of defending the same. Sometimes the companies were required to pay money into the royal treasury, or on the other hand, if the enterprise were a difficult one, a company might be supported by royal subsidies. The Dutch West India Company (1621) was authorized to build forts, maintain troops, and make war on land and sea; the government endowed the company with one million florins, sixteen ships, four yachts, and exemption from all tolls and license dues on its vessels. The English East India Company, first organized in 1600, conducted the conquest and government of India for more than two centuries, before its administrative power was taken away in 1858.

[Sidenote: Financial Methods.]
[Sidenote: The “Regulated Company”]

The great commercial companies were a new departure in business method. In the middle ages business had been carried on mostly by individuals or by partnerships, the partners being, as a rule, members of the same family. After the expansion of commerce, trading with another country necessitated building forts and equipping fleets for protection against savages, pirates, or other nations. Since this could not be accomplished with the limited resources of a few individuals, it was necessary to form large companies in which many investors shared expense and risk. Some had been created for European trade, but the important growth of such companies was for distant trade. Their first form was the “regulated company.” Each member would contribute to the general fund for such expenses as building forts; and certain rules would be made for the governance of all. Subject to these rules, each merchant traded as he pleased, and there was no pooling of profits. The regulated company, the first form of the commercial company, was encouraged by the king. He could charter such a company, grant it a monopoly over a certain district, and trust it to develop the trade as no individual could, and there was no evasion of taxes as by independent merchants.

[Sidenote: The Joint-stock Company]

After a decade or so, many of the regulated companies found that their members often pursued individual advantage to the detriment of the company’s interests, and it was thought that, taken altogether, profits would be greater and the risk less, if all should contribute to a common treasury, intrusting to the most able members the direction of the business for the benefit of all. Then each would receive a dividend or part of the profits proportional to his share in the general treasury or “joint stock.” The idea that while the company as a whole was permanent each individual could buy or sell “shares” in the joint stock, helped to make such “joint-stock” companies very popular after the opening of the seventeenth century. The English East India Company, organized as a regulated company in 1600, was reorganized piecemeal for half a century until it acquired the form of a joint-stock enterprise; most of the other chartered colonial companies followed the same plan. In these early stock-companies we find the germ of the most characteristic of present-day business institutions–the corporation. In the seventeenth century this form of business organization, then in its rudimentary stages, as yet had not been applied to industry, nor had sad experience yet revealed the lengths to which corrupt corporation directors might go.

[Sidenote: Banking]

The development of the joint-stock company was attended by increased activity in banking. In the early middle ages the lending of money for interest had been forbidden by the Catholic Church; in this as in other branches of business it was immoral to receive profit without giving work. The Jews, however, with no such scruples, had found money-lending very profitable, even though royal debtors occasionally refused to pay. As business developed in Italy, however, Christians lost their repugnance to interest-taking, and Italian (Lombard) and later French and German money-lenders and money-changers became famous. Since the coins minted by feudal lords and kings were hard to pass except in limited districts, and since the danger of counterfeit or light-weight coins was far greater than now, the “money-changers” who would buy and sell the coins of different countries did a thriving business at Antwerp in the early sixteenth century. Later, Amsterdam, London, Hamburg, and Frankfort took over the business of Antwerp and developed the institutions of finance to a higher degree. [Footnote: The gold of the New World and the larger scope of commercial enterprises had increased the scale of operations, as may be seen by comparing the fortunes of three great banking families: 1300–the Peruzzi’s, $800,000; 1440–the Medici’s, $7,500,000; 1546–the Fuggers’, $40,000,000.] The money-lenders became bankers, paying interest on deposits and receiving higher interest on loans. Shares of the stock of commercial companies were bought and sold in exchanges, and as early as 1542 there were complaints about speculating on the rise and fall of stocks.

Within a comparatively short time the medieval merchants’ gilds had given way to great stock-companies, and Jewish money-lenders to millionaire bankers and banking houses with many of our instruments of exchange such as the bill of exchange. Such was the revolution in business that attended, and that was partly caused, partly helped, by the changes in foreign trade, which we call the Commercial Revolution.

[Sidenote: New Commodities]

Not only was foreign trade changed from the south and east of Europe to the west, from the city-states to nations, from land-routes to ocean- routes; but the vessels which sailed the Atlantic were larger, stronger, and more numerous, and they sailed with amazing confidence and safety, as compared with the fragile caravels and galleys of a few centuries before. The cargoes they carried had changed too. The comparative cheapness of water-transportation had made it possible profitably to carry grain and meat, as well as costly luxuries of small bulk such as spices and silks. Manufactures were an important item. Moreover, new commodities came into commerce, such as tea and coffee. The Americas sent to Europe the potato, “Indian” corn, tobacco, cocoa, cane-sugar (hitherto scarce), molasses, rice, rum, fish, whale-oil and whalebone, dye-woods and timber and furs; Europe sent back manufactures, luxuries, and slaves.

[Sidenote: Slavery]

Slaves had been articles of commerce since time immemorial; at the end of the fifteenth century there were said to have been 3000 in Venice; and the Portuguese had enslaved some Africans before 1500. But the need for cheap labor in the mines and on the sugar and tobacco plantations of the New World gave the slave-trade a new and tremendous impetus. The Spaniards began early to enslave the natives of America, although the practice was opposed by the noble endeavors of the Dominican friar and bishop, Bartolomé de las Casas. But the native population was not sufficient,–or, as in the English colonies, the Indians were exterminated rather than enslaved,–and in the sixteenth century it was deemed necessary to import negroes from Africa. The trade in African negroes was fathered by the English captain Hawkins, and fostered alike by English and Dutch. It proved highly lucrative, and it was long before the trade yielded to the better judgment of civilized nations, and still longer before the institution of slavery could be eradicated.

[Sidenote: Effects on Industry and Agriculture]

The expansion of trade was the strongest possible stimulus to agriculture and industry. New industries–such as the silk and cotton manufacture–grew up outside of the antiquated gild system. The old industries, especially the English woolen industry, grew to new importance and often came under the control of the newer and more powerful merchants who conducted a wholesale business in a single commodity, such as cloth. Capitalists had their agents buy wool, dole it out to spinners and weavers who were paid so much for a given amount of work, and then sell the finished product. This was called the “domestic system,” because the work was done at home, or “capitalistic,” because raw material and finished product were owned not by the man who worked them, but by a “capitalist” or rich merchant. How these changing conditions were dealt with by mercantilist statesmen, we shall see in later chapters.

The effect on agriculture had been less direct but no less real. The land had to be tilled with greater care to produce grain sufficient to support populous cities and to ship to foreign ports. Countries were now more inclined to specialize–France in wine, England in wool–and so certain branches of production grew more important. The introduction of new crops produced no more remarkable results than in Ireland where the potato, transplanted from America, became a staple in the Irish diet: “Irish potatoes” in common parlance attest the completeness of domestication.

[Sidenote: General Significance of Commercial Revolution]

In the preceding pages we have attempted to study particular effects of the Commercial Revolution (in the broad sense including the expansion of commerce as well as the change of trade-routes), such as the decline of Venice and of the Hanse, the formation of colonial empires, the rise of commercial companies, the expansion of banking, the introduction of new articles of commerce, and the development of agriculture and industry. In each particular the change was noticeable and important.

But the Commercial Revolution possesses a more general significance.

[Sidenote: Europeanization of the World]

(1) It was the Commercial Revolution that started Europe on her career of world conquest. The petty, quarrelsome feudal states of the smallest of five continents have become the Powers of to-day, dividing up Africa, Asia, and America, founding empires greater and more lasting than that of Alexander. The colonists of Europe imparted their language to South America and made of North America a second Europe with a common cultural heritage. The explorers, missionaries, and merchants of Europe have penetrated all lands, bringing in their train European manners, dress, and institutions. They are still at work Europeanizing the world.

[Sidenote: 2. Increase of Wealth, Knowledge, and Comfort]

(2) The expansion of commerce meant the increase of wealth, knowledge, and comfort. All the continents heaped their treasures in the lap of Europe. Knowledge of the New World, with its many peoples, products, and peculiarities, tended to dispel the silly notions of medieval ignorance; and the goods of every land were brought for the comfort of the European–American timber for his house, Persian rugs for his floors, Indian ebony for his table, Irish linen to cover it, Peruvian silver for his fork, Chinese tea, sweetened with sugar from Cuba.

[Sidenote: 3. The Rise of the Bourgeoisie]

(3) This new comfort, knowledge, and wealth went not merely to nobles and prelates; it was noticeable most of all in a new class, the “bourgeoisie.” In the towns of Europe lived bankers, merchants, and shop-keepers,–intelligent, able, and wealthy enough to live like kings or princes. These bourgeois or townspeople (_bourg_ = town) were to grow in intelligence, in wealth, and in political influence; they were destined to precipitate revolutions in industry and politics, thereby establishing their individual rule over factories, and their collective rule over legislatures.


GENERAL. A. F. Pollard, _Factors in Modern History_ (1907), ch. ii, vi, x, three illuminating essays; E. P. Cheyney, _An Introduction to the Industrial and Social History of England_ (1901), ch. ii-vi, a good outline; F. W. Tickner, _A Social and Industrial History of England_ (1915), an interesting and valuable elementary manual, ch. i-vii, x-xii, xvi, xvii, xix-xxi, xxiv-xxvii; W. J. Ashley, _The Economic Organization of England_ (1914), ch. i-v; G. T. Warner, _Landmarks in English Industrial History_, 11th ed. (1912), ch. vii-xiii; H. D. Traill and J. S. Mann (editors), _Social England_ (1909), Vols. II, III; H. de B. Gibbins, _Industry in England_, 6th ed. (1910), compact general survey; William Cunningham, _The Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times_, 5th ed., 3 vols. (1910-1912), a standard work; H. D. Bax, _German Society at the Close of the Middle Ages_ (1894), brief but clear, especially ch. i, v, vii on towns and country-life in the Germanies. Very detailed works: Maxime Kovalevsky, _Die ökonomische Entwicklung Europas bis zum Beginn der kapitalistischen Wirtschaftsform_, trans. into German from Russian, 7 vols. (1901-1914), especially vols. III, IV, VI; Émile Levasseur, _Histoire des classes ouvrières et de l’industrie en France avant 1789_, Vol. II (1901), Book V; Georges d’Avenel, _Histoire économique de la propriété, des salaires, etc._, 1200- 1800, 6 vols. (1894-1912).

AGRICULTURE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY. R. E. Prothero, _English Farming Past and Present_ (1912), ch. iv; E. C. K. Gonner, _Common Land and Inclosure_ (1912), valuable for England; R. H. Tawney, _The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century_ (1912); E. F. Gay, _Essays on English Agrarian History in the Sixteenth Century_ (1913); H. T. Stephenson, _The Elizabethan People_ (1910); W. Hasbach, _A History of the English Agricultural Labourer_, trans. by Ruth Kenyon (1908), an excellent work, particularly Part I on the development of the class of free laborers from that of the medieval serfs. Valuable for feudal survivals in France is the brief _Feudal Regime_ by Charles Seignobos, trans. by Dow. Useful for social conditions in Russia: James Mavor, _An Economic History of Russia_, 2 vols. (1914), Vol. I, Book I, ch. iii. See also Eva M. Tappan, _When Knights were Bold_ (1911) for a very entertaining chapter for young people, on agriculture in the sixteenth century; Augustus Jessopp, _The Coming of the Friars_ (1913), ch. ii, for a sympathetic treatment of “Village Life Six Hundred Years Ago”; and W. J. Ashley, _Surveys, Historical and Economic_, for a series of scholarly essays dealing with recent controversies in regard to medieval land-tenure.

TOWNS AND COMMERCE ABOUT 1500. Clive Day, _History of Commerce_ (1907), best brief account; W. C. Webster, _A General History of Commerce_ (1903), another excellent outline; E. P. Cheyney, _European Background of American History_ (1904) in “American Nation” Series, clear account of the medieval trade routes, pp. 3-40, of the early activities of chartered companies, pp. 123-167, and of the connection of the Protestant Revolution with colonialism, pp. 168-239; W. S. Lindsay, _History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce_, 4 vols. (1874- 1876), very detailed. The best account of sixteenth-century industry is in Vol. II of W. J. Ashley, _English Economic History and Theory_, with elaborate critical bibliographies. For town-life and the gilds: Mrs. J. R. Green, _Town Life in England in the Fifteenth Century_, 2 vols. (1894); Charles Gross, _The Gild Merchant_, 2 vols. (1890); Lujo Brentano, _On the History and Development of Gilds_ (1870); George Unwin, _The Gilds and Companies of London_ (1908), particularly the interesting chapter on “The Place of the Gild in the History of Western Europe.” A brief view of English town-life in the later middle ages: E. Lipson, _An Introduction to the Economic History of England_, Vol. I (1915), ch. v-ix. On town-life in the Netherlands: Henri Pirenne, _Belgian Democracy: its Early History_, trans. by J. V. Saunders (1915). On town-life in the Germanies: Helen Zimmern, _The Hansa Towns_ (1889) in “Story of the Nations” Series; Karl von Hegel, _Städte und Gilden der germanischen Volker im Mittelalter_, 2 vols. (1891), the standard treatise in German. On French gilds: Martin St. Leon, _Histoire des corporations des métiers_ (1897). See also, for advanced study of trade-routes, Wilhelm Heyd, _Geschichte des Levantehandels im Mittelalter_, 2 vols. (1879), with a French trans. (1885-1886), and Aloys Schulte, _Geschichte des mittelalterlichen Handels und Verkehrs zwischen Westdeutschland und Italien_, 2 vols. (1900).

GENERAL TREATMENTS OF EXPLORATION AND COLONIZATION. _Cambridge Modern History_, Vol. I (1902), ch. i, ii; A. G. Keller, _Colonization: a Study of the Founding of New Societies_ (1908), a textbook, omitting reference to English and French colonization; H. C. Morris, _History of Colonization_, 2 vols. (1908), a useful general text; M. B. Synge, _A Book of Discovery: the History of the World’s Exploration, from the Earliest Times to the Finding of the South Pole_ (1912); _Histoire générale_, Vol. IV, ch. xxii, xxiii, and Vol. V, ch. xxii; S. Ruge, _Geschichte des Zeitalters der Entdeckungen_ (1881), in the ambitious Oncken Series; Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, _La colonisation chez les peuples modernes_, 6th ed., 2 vols. (1908), the best general work in French; Charles de Lannoy and Hermann van der Linden, _Histoire de l’expansion coloniale des peuples européens_, an important undertaking of two Belgian professors, of which two volumes have appeared–Vol. I, _Portugal et Espagne_ (1907), and Vol. II, _Néerlande et Danemark, 17e et 18e siècle_ (1911); Alfred Zimmermann, _Die europaischen Kolonien_, the main German treatise, in 5 vols. (1896-1903), dealing with Spain and Portugal (Vol. I), Great Britain (Vols. II, III), France (Vol. IV), and Holland (Vol. V). Much illustrative source-material is available in the publications of the Hakluyt Society, Old Series, 100 vols. (1847-1898), and New Series, 35 vols. (1899-1914), selections having been separately published by E. J. Payne (1893-1900) and by C. R. Beazley (1907). An account of the medieval travels of Marco Polo is published conveniently in the “Everyman” Series, and the best edition of the medieval travel-tales which have passed under the name of Sir John Maundeville is that of The Macmillan Company (1900). For exploration prior to Columbus and Da Gama, see C. R. Beazley, _The Dawn of Modern Geography_, 3 vols. (1897-1906).

WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO AMERICA: J. S. Bassett, _A Short History of the United States_ (1914), ch. i, ii, a good outline; Edward Channing, _A History of the United States_, Vol. I (1905), an excellent and more detailed narrative; Livingston Farrand, _Basis of American History_ (1904), Vol. II of the “American Nation” Series, especially valuable on the American aborigines; E. J. Payne, _History of the New World called America_, 2 vols. (1892-1899); John Fiske, _Colonization of the New World_, Vol. XXI of _History of All Nations_, ch. i-vi; R. G. Watson, _Spanish and Portuguese South America_, 2 vols. (1884); Bernard Moses, _The Establishment of Spanish Rule in America_ (1898), and, by the same author, _The Spanish Dependencies in South America_, 2 vols. (1914). With special reference to Asiatic India: Mountstuart Elphinstone, _History of India: the Hindu and Mohametan Periods_, 9th ed. (1905), an old but still valuable work on the background of Indian history; Sir W. W. Hunter, _A Brief History of the Indian Peoples_, rev. ed. (1903), and, by the same author, _A History of British India_ to the opening of the eighteenth century, 2 vols. (1899-1900), especially Vol. I; Pringle Kennedy, _A History of the Great Moghuls_, 2 vols. (1905-1911). With special reference to African exploration and colonization in the sixteenth century: Sir Harry Johnston, _History of the Colonization of Africa by Alien Races_ (1899), a very useful and authoritative manual; Robert Brown, _The Story of Africa_, 4 vols. (1894-1895), a detailed study; G. M. Theal, _South Africa_ (1894), a clear summary in the “Story of the Nations” Series; J. S. Keltic, _The Partition of Africa_ (1895). See also Sir Harry Johnston, _The Negro in the New World_ (1910), important for the slave-trade and interesting, though in tone somewhat anti-English and pro-Spanish; J. K. Ingram, _A History of Slavery and Serfdom_ (1895), a brief sketch; and W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, _The Negro_ (1915), a handy volume in the “Home University Library.”

EXPLORATION AND COLONIZATION COUNTRY BY COUNTRY. Portugal: C. R. Beazley, _Prince Henry the Navigator_ in “Heroes of the Nation,” Series (1897); J. P. Oliveira Martins, _The Golden Age of Prince Henry the Navigator_, trans. with notes and additions by J. J. Abraham and W. E. Reynolds (1914); K. G. Jayne, _Vasco da Gama and his Successors_, 1460- 1580 (1910); H. M. Stephens, _Portugal_ (1891), a brief sketch in the “Story of the Nations” Series; F. C. Danvers, _The Portuguese In India_, 2 vols. (1894), a thorough and scholarly work; H. M. Stephens, _Albuquerque and the Portuguese Settlements in India_ (1892), in “Rulers of India” Series; Angel Marvaud, _Le Portugal et ses colonies_ (1912); G. M. Theal, _History and Ethnography of Africa South of the Zambesi_, Vol. I, _The Portuguese in South Africa from 1505 to 1700_ (1907), a standard work by the Keeper of the Archives of Cape Colony. Spain: John Fiske, _Discovery of America_, 2 vols. (1892), most delightful narrative; Wilhelm Roscher, _The Spanish Colonial System_, a brief but highly suggestive extract from an old German work trans. by E. G. Bourne (1904); E. G. Bourne, _Spain in America_, 1450-1580 (1904), Vol. III of “American Nation” Series, excellent in content and form; W. R. Shepherd, _Latin America_ (1914) in “Home University Library.” pp. 9-68, clear and suggestive; Sir Arthur Helps, _The Spanish Conquest in America_, new ed., 4 vols. (1900-1904). A scholarly study of Columbus’s career is J. B. Thacher, _Christopher Columbus_, 3 vols. (1903-1904), incorporating many of the sources; Washington Irving, _Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus_, originally published in 1828-1831, but still very readable and generally sound; Filson Young, _Christopher Columbus and the New World of his Discovery_, 2 vols. (1906), a popular account, splendidly illustrated; Henry Harrisse, _Christophe Colomb, son origine, sa vie, ses voyages_, 2 vols. (1884), a standard work by an authority on the age of exploration; Henri Vignaud, _Histoire critique de la grande entreprise de Christophe Colomb_, 2 vols. (1911), destructive of many commonly accepted ideas regarding Columbus; F. H. H. Guillemard, _The Life of Ferdinand Magellan_ (1890); F. A. MacNutt, _Fernando Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico_, 1485-1547 (1909), in the “Heroes of the Nations” Series, and, by the same author, both _Letters of Cortes_, 2 vols. (1908), and _Bartholomew de las Casas_ (1909); Sir Clements Markham, _The Incas of Peru_ (1910). On the transference of colonial power from Spain to the Dutch and English, see _Cambridge Modern History_, Vol. IV (1906), ch. xxv, by H. E. Egerton. England: H. E. Egerton, _A Short History of British Colonial Policy_, 2d ed. (1909), a bald summary, provided, however, with good bibliographies; W. H. Woodward, _A Short History of the Expansion of the British Empire, 1500-1911_, 3d ed. (1912), a useful epitome; C. R. Beazley, _John and Sebastian Cabot: the Discovery of North America_ (1898); J. A. Williamson, _Maritime Enterprise, 1485-1558_ (1913); E. J. Payne (editor), _Voyages of the Elizabethan Seamen to America_, 2 vols. (1893-1900); L. G. Tyler, _England in America, 1580-1652_ (1904), Vol. IV of “American Nation” Series; George Edmundson, _Anglo-Dutch Rivalry, 1600-1653_ (1911). France: R. G. Thwaites, _France in America, 1497-1763_ (1905), Vol. VII of “American Nation” Series.

ECONOMIC RESULTS OF THE COMMERCIAL REVOLUTION. William Cunningham, _An Essay on Western Civilization in its Economic Aspects_, Vol. II, _Mediaeval and Modern Times_ (1910), pp. 162-224, and, by the same author, ch. xv of Vol. I (1902) of the _Cambridge Modern History_; E. P. Cheyney, _Social Changes in England in the Sixteenth Century_ (1912); George Unwin, _Industrial Organization in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries_ (1904); G. Cawston and A. H. Keane, _Early Chartered Companies_ (1896); W. R. Scott, _The Constitution and Finance of English, Scottish, and Irish Joint-Stock Companies to 1720_, Vol. I (1912); C. T. Carr (editor), _Select Charters of Trading Companies_ (1913); Beckles Willson, _The Great Company_ (1899), an account of the Hudson Bay Company; Henry Weber, _La Compagnie française des Indes, 1604-1675_ (1904); _Recueil des voyages de la Compagnie des Indes orientales des Hollandois_, 10 vols. (1730), the monumental source for the activities of the chief Dutch trading-company.




As we look back upon the confused sixteenth century, we are struck at once by two commanding figures,–the Emperor Charles V [Footnote: Charles I of Spain.] and his son Philip II,–about whom we may group most of the political events of the period. The father occupies the center of the stage during the first half of the century; the son, during the second half.

[Sidenote: Extensive Dominions of Charles]

At Ghent in the Netherlands, Charles was born in 1500 of illustrious parentage. His father was Philip of Habsburg, son of the Emperor Maximilian and Mary, duchess of Burgundy. His mother was the Infanta Joanna, daughter and heiress of Ferdinand of Aragon and Naples and Isabella of Castile and the Indies. The death of his father and the incapacity of his mother–she had become insane–left Charles at the tender age of six years an orphan under the guardianship of his grandfathers Maximilian and Ferdinand. The death of the latter in 1516 transferred the whole Spanish inheritance to Charles, and three years later, by the death of the former, he came into possession of the hereditary dominions of the Habsburgs. Thus under a youth of nineteen years were grouped wider lands and greater populations than any Christian sovereign had ever ruled. Vienna, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Milan, Naples, Madrid, Cadiz,–even the City of Mexico,–owed him allegiance. His titles alone would fill several pages.

Maximilian had intended not only that all these lands should pass into the hands of the Habsburg family, but also that his grandson should succeed him as head of the Holy Roman Empire. This ambition, however, was hard of fulfillment, because the French king, Francis I (1515- 1547), feared the encircling of his own country by a united German- Spanish-Italian state, and set himself to preserve what he called the “Balance of Power”–preventing the undue growth of one political power at the expense of others. It was only by means of appeal to national and family sentiment and the most wholesale bribery that Charles managed to secure a majority of the electors’ votes against his French rival [Footnote: Henry VIII of England was also a candidate.] and thereby to acquire the coveted imperial title. He was crowned at Aix- la-Chapelle in his twenty-first year.

[Sidenote: Character of Charles]

Never have greater difficulties confronted a sovereign than those which Charles V was obliged to face throughout his reign; never did monarch lead a more strenuous life. He was the central figure in a very critical period of history: his own character as well as the painstaking education he had received in the Netherlands conferred upon him a lively appreciation of his position and a dogged pertinacity in discharging its obligations. Both in administering his extensive dominions and in dealing with foreign foes, Charles was a zealous, hard-working, and calculating prince, and the lack of success which attended many of his projects was due not to want of ability in the ruler but to the multiplicity of interests among the ruled. The emperor must do too many things to allow of his doing any one thing well.

[Sidenote: Difficulties Confronting Charles]

Suppose we turn over in our minds some of the chief problems of Charles V, for they will serve to explain much of the political history of the sixteenth century. In the first place, the emperor was confronted with extraordinary difficulties in governing his territories. Each one of the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands–the country which he always considered peculiarly his own–was a distinct political unit, for there existed only the rudiments of a central administration and a common representative system, while the county of Burgundy had a separate political organization. The crown of Castile brought with it the recently conquered kingdom of Granada, together with the new colonies in America and scattered posts in northern Africa. The crown of Aragon comprised the four distinct states of Aragon, Valencia, Catalonia, and Navarre, [Footnote: The part south of the Pyrenees. See above, p. 8.] and, in addition, the kingdoms of Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia, each with its own customs and government. At least eight independent cortes or parliaments existed in this Spanish-Italian group, adding greatly to the intricacy of administration. Much the same was true of that other Habsburg group of states,–Austria, Styria, Carniola, Carinthia, the Tyrol, etc., but Charles soon freed himself from immediate responsibility for their government by intrusting them (1521) to his younger brother, Ferdinand, who by his own marriage and elections added the kingdoms of Bohemia [Footnote: Including the Bohemian crown lands of Moravia and Silesia.] and Hungary (1526) to the Habsburg dominions. The Empire afforded additional problems: it made serious demands upon the time, money, and energies of its ruler; in return, it gave little but glamour. In all these regions Charles had to do with financial, judicial, and ecclesiastical matters. He had to reconcile conflicting interests and appeal for popularity to many varied races. More than once during his reign he even had to repress rebellion. In Germany, from his very first Diet in 1521, he was face to face with rising Protestantism which seemed to him to blaspheme his altar and to assail his throne.

The emperor’s overwhelming administrative difficulties were complicated at every turn by the intricacies of foreign politics. In the first place, Charles was obliged to wage war with France throughout the greater part of his reign; he had inherited a longstanding quarrel with the French kings, to which the rivalry of Francis I for the empire gave a personal aspect. In the second place, and almost as formidable, was the advance of the Turks up the Danube and the increase of Mohammedan naval power in the Mediterranean. Against Protestant Germany a Catholic monarch might hope to rely on papal assistance, and English support might conceivably be enlisted against France. But the popes, who usually disliked the emperor’s Italian policy, were not of great aid to him elsewhere; and the English sovereigns had domestic reasons for developing hostility to Charles. A brief sketch of the foreign affairs of Charles may make the situation clear.

[Sidenote: Francis I of France and the Reasons for his Wars with the Emperor Charles V]

Six years older than Charles, Francis I had succeeded to the French throne in 1515, irresponsible, frivolous, and vain of military reputation. The general political situation of the time,–the gradual inclosure of the French monarchy by a string of Habsburg territories,– to say nothing of the remarkable contrast between the character of Francis and that of the persevering Charles, made a great conflict inevitable, and definite pretexts were not lacking for an early outbreak of hostilities. (1) Francis revived the claims of the French crown to Naples, although Louis XII had renounced them in 1504. (2) Francis, bent on regaining Milan, which his predecessor had lost in 1512, invaded the duchy and, after winning the brilliant victory of Marignano in the first year of his reign, occupied the city of Milan. Charles subsequently insisted, however, that the duchy was a fief of the Holy Roman Empire and that he was sworn by oath to recover it. (3) Francis asserted the claims of a kinsman to the little kingdom of Navarre, the greater part of which, it will be remembered, had recently [Footnote: In 1512. See above.] been forcibly annexed to Spain. (4) Francis desired to extend his sway over the rich French-speaking provinces of the Netherlands, while Charles was determined not only to prevent further aggressions but to recover the duchy of Burgundy of which his grandmother had been deprived by Louis XI. (5) The outcome of the contest for the imperial crown in 1519 virtually completed the breach between the two rivals. War broke out in 1521, and with few interruptions it was destined to outlast the lives of both Francis and Charles.

[Sidenote: The Italian Wars of Charles V and Francis I]

Italy was the main theater of the combat. In the first stage, the imperial forces, with the aid of a papal army, speedily drove the French garrison out of Milan. The Sforza family was duly invested with the duchy as a fief of the Empire, and the pope was compensated by the addition of Parma and Piacenza to the Patrimony of Saint Peter. The victorious Imperialists then pressed across the Alps and besieged Marseilles. Francis, who had been detained by domestic troubles in France, [Footnote: These troubles related to the disposition of the important landed estates of the Bourbon family. The duke of Bourbon, who was constable of France, felt himself injured by the king and accordingly deserted to the emperor.] now succeeded in raising the siege and pursued the retreating enemy to Milan. Instead of following up his advantage by promptly attacking the main army of the Imperialists, the French king dispatched a part of his force to Naples, and with the other turned aside to blockade the city of Pavia. This blunder enabled the Imperialists to reform their ranks and to march towards Pavia in order to join the besieged. Here on 24 February, 1525,–the emperor’s twenty-fifth birthday,–the army of Charles won an overwhelming victory. Eight thousand French soldiers fell on the field that day, and Francis, who had been in the thick of the fight, was compelled to surrender. “No thing in the world is left me save my honor and my life,” wrote the king to his mother. Everything seemed auspicious for the cause of Charles. Francis, after a brief captivity in Spain, was released on condition that he would surrender all claims to Burgundy, the Netherlands, and Italy, and would marry the emperor’s sister.

[Sidenote: The Sack of Rome, 1527]

Francis swore upon the Gospels and upon his knightly word that he would fulfill these conditions, but in his own and contemporary opinion the compulsion exercised upon him absolved him from his oath. No sooner was he back in France than he declared the treaty null and void and proceeded to form alliances with all the Italian powers that had become alarmed by the sudden strengthening of the emperor’s position in the peninsula,–the pope, Venice, Florence, and even the Sforza who owed everything to Charles. Upon the resumption of hostilities the league displayed the same want of agreement and energy which characterized every coalition of Italian city-states; and soon the Imperialists were able to possess themselves of much of the country. In 1527 occurred a famous episode–the sack of Rome. It was not displeasing to the emperor that the pope should be punished for giving aid to France, although Charles cannot be held altogether responsible for what befell. His army in Italy, composed largely of Spaniards and Germans, being short of food and money, and without orders, mutinied and marched upon the Eternal City, which was soon at their mercy. About four thousand people perished in the capture. The pillage lasted nine months, and the brigands were halted only by a frightful pestilence which decimated their numbers. Convents were forced, altars stripped, tombs profaned, the library of the Vatican sacked, and works of art torn down as monuments of idolatry. Pope Clement VII (1523-1534), a nephew of the other Medici pope, Leo X, had taken refuge in the impregnable castle of St. Angelo and was now obliged to make peace with the emperor.

[Sidenote: Peace of Cambrai, 1529]

The sack of Rome aroused bitter feelings throughout Catholic Europe, and Henry VIII of England, at that time still loyal to the pope, ostentatiously sent aid to Francis. But although the emperor made little headway against Francis, the French king, on account of strategic blunders and the disunion of the league, was unable to maintain a sure foothold in Italy. The peace of Cambrai (1529) provided that Francis should abandon Naples, Milan, and the Netherlands, but the cession of Burgundy was no longer insisted upon. Francis proceeded to celebrate his marriage with the emperor’s sister.

[Sidenote: Habsburg Predominance in Italy]

Eight years of warfare had left Charles V and the Habsburg family unquestionable masters of Italy. Naples was under Charles’s direct government. For Milan he received the homage of Sforza. The Medici pope, whose family he had restored in Florence, was now his ally. Charles visited Italy for the first time in 1529 to view his territories, and at Bologna (1530) received from the pope’s hands the ancient iron crown of Lombard Italy and the imperial crown of Rome. It was the last papal coronation of a ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.

The peace of Cambrai proved but a truce, and war between Charles and Francis repeatedly blazed forth. Francis made strange alliances in order to create all possible trouble for the emperor,–Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, the Ottoman Turks, even the rebellious Protestant princes within the empire. There were spasmodic campaigns between 1536 and 1538 and between 1542 and 1544, and after the death of Francis and the abdication of Charles, the former’s son, Henry II (1547-1559), continued the conflict, newly begun in 1552, until the conclusion of the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559, by which the Habsburgs retained their hold upon Italy, while France, by the occupation of the important bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, extended her northeastern frontier, at the expense of the empire, toward the Rhine River. [Footnote: It was during this war that in 1558 the French captured Calais from the English, and thus put an end to English territorial holdings on the Continent. The English Queen Mary was the wife of Philip II of Spain.]

[Sidenote: Results of the Wars between Charles V and Francis I]

Indirectly, the long wars occasioned by the personal rivalry of Charles and Francis had other results than Habsburg predominance in Italy and French expansion towards the Rhine. They preserved a “balance of power” and prevented the incorporation of the French monarchy into an obsolescent empire. They rendered easier the rise of the Ottoman power in eastern Europe; and French alliance with the Turks gave French trade and enterprise a decided lead in the Levant. They also permitted the comparatively free growth of Protestantism in Germany.

[Sidenote: The Turkish Peril]

More sinister to Charles V than his wars with the French was the advance of the Ottoman Turks. Under their greatest sultan, Suleiman II, the Magnificent (1520-1566), a contemporary of Charles, the Turks were rapidly extending their sway. The Black Sea was practically a Turkish lake; and the whole Euphrates valley, with Bagdad, had fallen into the sultan’s power, now established on the Persian Gulf and in control of all of the ancient trade-routes to the East. The northern coasts of Africa from Egypt to Algeria acknowledged the supremacy of Suleiman, whose sea power in the Mediterranean had become a factor to be reckoned with in European politics, threatening not only the islands but the great Christian countries of Italy and Spain. The Venetians were driven from the Morea and from the Ægean Islands; only Cyprus, Crete, and Malta survived in the Mediterranean as outposts of Christendom.

[Sidenote: Suleiman the Magnificent]

Suleiman devoted many years to the extension of his power in Europe, sometimes in alliance with the French king, sometimes upon his own initiative,–and with almost unbroken success. In 1521 he declared war against the king of Hungary on the pretext that he had received no Hungarian congratulations on his accession to the throne. He besieged and captured Belgrade, and in 1526 on the field of Mohács his forces met and overwhelmed the Hungarians, whose king was killed with the flower of the Hungarian chivalry. The battle of Mohács marked the extinction of an independent and united Hungarian state; Ferdinand of Habsburg, brother of Charles V, claimed the kingdom; Suleiman was in actual possession of fully a third of it. The sultan’s army carried the war into Austria and in 1529 bombarded and invested Vienna, but so valiant was the resistance offered that after three weeks the siege was abandoned. Twelve years later the greater part of Hungary, including the city of Budapest, became a Turkish province, and in many places churches were turned into mosques. In 1547 Charles V and Ferdinand were compelled to recognize the Turkish conquests in Hungary, and the latter agreed to pay the sultan an annual tribute of 30,000 ducats. Suleiman not only thwarted every attempt of his rivals to recover their territories, but remained throughout his life a constant menace to the security of the hereditary dominions of the Habsburgs.

[Sidenote: Charles V and the Holy Roman Empire.] [Sidenote: Possibility of transforming the Empire into a National German Monarchy]

At the very time when Charles V was encountering these grave troubles in administering his scattered hereditary possessions and in waging war now with the French and now with the Mohammedans, he likewise was saddled with problems peculiar to the government of his empire. Had he been able to devote all his talent and energy to the domestic affairs of the Holy Roman Empire, he might have contributed potently to the establishment of a compact German state. It should be borne in mind that when Charles V was elected emperor in 1519 the Holy Roman Empire was virtually restricted to German-speaking peoples, and that the national unifications of England, France, and Spain, already far advanced, pointed the path to a similar political evolution for Germany. Why should not a modern German national state have been created coextensive with the medieval empire, a state which would have included not only the twentieth-century German Empire but Austria, Holland, and Belgium, and which, stretching from the Baltic to the Adriatic and from the English Channel to the Vistula, would have dominated the continent of Europe throughout the whole modern era? There were certainly grave difficulties in the way, but grave difficulties had also been encountered in consolidating France or Spain, and the difference was rather of degree than of kind. In every other case a strong monarch had overcome feudal princes and ambitious nobles, had deprived cities of many of their liberties, had trampled upon, or tampered with, the privileges of representative assemblies, and had enforced internal order and security. In every such case the monarch had commanded the support of important popular elements and had directed his major efforts to the realization of national aims.

National patriotism was not altogether lacking among Germans of the sixteenth century. They were conscious of a common language which was already becoming a vehicle of literary expression. They were conscious of a common tradition and of a common nationality. They recognized, in many cases, the absurdly antiquated character of their political institutions and ardently longed for reforms. In fact, the trouble with the Germans was not so much the lack of thought about political reform as the actual conflicts between various groups concerning the method and goal of reform. Germans despised the Holy Roman Empire, much as Frenchmen abhorred the memory of feudal society; but Germans were not as unanimous as Frenchmen in advocating the establishment of a strong national monarchy. In Germany were princes, free cities, and knights,– all nationalistic after a fashion, but all quarreling with each other and with their nominal sovereign.

[Sidenote: Charles V bent on Strengthening Monarchical Power though not on a National Basis]

The emperors themselves were the only sincere and consistent champions of centralized monarchical power, but the emperors were probably less patriotic than any one else in the Holy Roman Empire. Charles V would never abandon his pretensions to world power in order to become a strong monarch over a single nation. Early in his reign he declared that “no monarchy was comparable though not to the Roman Empire. This the whole world had once obeyed, and Christ Himself had paid it honor and obedience. Unfortunately it was now only a shadow of what it had been, but he hoped, with the help of those powerful countries and alliances which God had granted him, to raise it to its ancient glory.” Charles V labored for an increase of personal power not only in Germany but also in the Netherlands, in Spain, and in Italy; and with the vast imperial ambition of Charles the ideal of creating a national monarchy on a strictly German basis was in sharp conflict. Charles V could not, certainly would not, pose simply as a German king–a national leader.

[Sidenote: Nationalism among the German Princes]

Under these circumstances the powerful German princes, in defying the emperor’s authority and in promoting disruptive tendencies in the Holy Roman Empire, were enabled to lay the blame at the feet of their unpatriotic sovereign and thereby arouse in their behalf a good deal of German national sentiment. In choosing Charles V to be their emperor, the princely electors in 1519 had demanded that German or Latin should be the official language of the Holy Roman Empire, that imperial offices should be open only to Germans, that the various princes should not be subject to any foreign political jurisdiction, that no foreign troops should serve in imperial wars without the approval of the Diet, and that Charles should confirm the sovereign rights of all the princes and appoint from their number a Council of Regency (_Reichsregiment_) to share in his government.

[Sidenote: The Council of Regency, 1521-1531] [Sidenote: Its Failure to Unify Germany]

In accordance with an agreement reached by a Diet held at Worms in 1521, the Council of Regency was created. Most of its twenty-three members were named by, and represented the interests of, the German princes. Here might be the starting-point toward a closer political union of the German-speaking people, if only a certain amount of financial independence could be secured to the Council. The proposal on this score was a most promising one; it was to support the new imperial administration, not, as formerly, by levying more or less voluntary contributions on the various states, but by establishing a kind of customs-union (_Zollverein_) and imposing on foreign importations a tariff for revenue. This time, however, the German burghers raised angry protests; the merchants and traders of the Hanseatic towns insisted that the proposed financial burden would fall on them and destroy their business; and their protests were potent enough to bring to nought the princes’ plan. Thus the government was forced again to resort to the levy of special financial contributions,–an expedient which usually put the emperor and the Council of Regency at the mercy of the most selfish and least patriotic of the German princes.

[Sidenote: Nationalism among the German Knights]

More truly patriotic as a class than German princes or German burghers were the German knights–those gentlemen of the hill-top and of the road, who, usually poor in pocket though stout of heart, looked down from their high-perched castles with badly disguised contempt upon the vulgar tradesmen of the town or beheld with anger and jealousy the encroachments of neighboring princes, lay and ecclesiastical, more wealthy and powerful than themselves. Especially against the princes the knights contended, sometimes under the forms of law, more often by force and violence and all the barbarous accompaniments of private warfare and personal feud. Some of the knights were well educated and some had literary and scholarly abilities; hardly any one of them was a friend of public order. Yet practically all the knights were intensely proud of their German nationality. It was the knights, who, under the leadership of such fiery patriots as Ulrich von Hutten and Franz von Sickingen, had forcefully contributed in 1519 to the imperial election of Charles V, a German Habsburg, in preference to non-German candidates such as Francis I of France or Henry VIII of England. For a brief period Charles V leaned heavily upon the German knights for support in his struggle with princes and burghers; and at one time it looked as if the knights in union with the emperor would succeed in curbing the power of the princes and in laying the foundations of a strongly centralized national German monarchy.

[Sidenote: Rise of Lutheranism Favored by the Knights and Opposed by Charles V]

But at the critical moment Protestantism arose in Germany, marking a cleavage between the knightly leaders and the emperor. To knights like Ulrich von Hutten and Franz von Sickingen the final break in 1520 between Martin Luther and the pope seemed to assure a separation of Germany from Italy and the erection of a peculiar form of German Christianity about which a truly national state could be builded. As a class the knights applauded Luther and rejoiced at the rapid spread of his teachings throughout Germany. On the other hand, Charles V remained a Roman Catholic. Not only was he loyally attached to the religion of his fathers through personal training and belief, but he felt that the maintenance of what political authority he possessed was dependent largely on the maintenance of the universal authority of the ancient Church, and practically he needed papal assistance for his many foreign projects. The same reasons that led many German princes to accept the Lutheran doctrines as a means of lessening imperial control caused Charles V to reject them. At the same Diet at Worms (1521), at which the Council of Regency had been created, Charles V prevailed upon the Germans present to condemn and outlaw Luther; and this action alienated the knights from the emperor.

[Sidenote: The Knights’ War, 1522-1523]

Franz von Sickingen, a Rhenish knight and the ablest of his class, speedily took advantage of the emperor’s absence from Germany in 1522 to precipitate a Knights’ War. In supreme command of a motley army of fellow-knights, Franz made an energetic attack upon the rich landed estates of the Catholic prince-bishop of Trier. At this point, the German princes, lay as well as ecclesiastical, forgetting their religious predilections and mindful only of their common hatred of the knights, rushed to the defense of the bishop of Trier and drove off Sickingen, who, in April, 1523, died fighting before his own castle of Ebernburg. Ulrich von Hutten fled to Switzerland and perished miserably shortly afterwards. The knights’ cause collapsed, and princes and burghers remained triumphant. [Footnote: The Knights’ War was soon followed by the Peasants’ Revolt, a social rather than a political movement. For an account of the Peasants’ Revolt see pp. 133 ff.] It was the end of serious efforts in the sixteenth century to create a national German state.

[Sidenote: Failure of German Nationalism in the Sixteenth Century]

The Council of Regency lasted until 1531, though its inability to preserve domestic peace discredited it, and in its later years it enjoyed little authority. Left to themselves, many of the princes espoused Protestantism. In vain Charles V combated the new religious movement. In vain he proscribed it in several Diets after that of Worms. In vain he assailed its upholders in several military campaigns, such as those against the Schmalkaldic League, which will be treated more fully in another connection. But the long absences of Charles V from Germany and his absorption in a multitude of cares and worries, to say nothing of the spasmodic aid which Francis, the Catholic king of France, gave to the Protestants in Germany, contributed indirectly to the spread of Lutheranism. In the last year of Charles’s rule (1555) the profession of the Lutheran faith on the part of German princes was placed by the peace of Augsburg [Footnote: See below, p. 136.] on an