Studies in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century

Studies in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century

Studies in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century

Studies in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century

Excerpt

The subject of this book is the result of something more than that almost accidental choice, which often decides the direction of historical research. The writers whose work is here united were drawn into the field by two irresistible attractions. On the one hand they were tempted by the unusual abundance of the material awaiting investigation in the collection of customs accounts preserved in the Public Record Office, on the other by the great importance and almost equally great obscurity of the history of English trade in the century before the accession of the Tudor dynasty.

The pioneer work of Schanz and Dr. Hubert Hall, and later of Professors N. S. B. Gras and H. L. Gray, had long revealed the customs accounts as a fertile source of new historical information; and a preliminary survey made independently some years ago by Professor H. L. Gray and by a London seminar under the leadership of the editors of this volume, showed that for no other period was the material as copious and as complete as for the fifteenth century. But it was the subject itself, and the various problems suggested by it, which tempted the writers most. Of all the activities of the most neglected century in English history, England's trade has received the least attention in proportion to its importance. It was obviously in the course of the later Middle Ages, and more particularly in the fifteenth century, that there took place the great transformation from mediaeval England, isolated and intensely local, to the England of the Tudor and Stuart age, with its world-wide connections and imperial designs. It was during the same period that most of the forms of international trade characteristic of the Middle Ages were replaced by new methods of commercial organization and regulation, national in scope and at times definitely nationalist in object, and that a marked movement towards capitalist methods and principles took place in the sphere of domestic trade. Yet beyond a number of general accounts of the activities of the Staplers and the Merchant Adventurers, little has been written concerning either the development or the organization of English trade in the last century of the Middle Ages.

It is hoped that this volume may do something to fill the gap. We can claim at least to have performed one task which is indispensable to the future historian of English trade, in compiling statistical tables of the enrolled customs accounts from 1377 to 1482. These accounts provide an essential measure of the nature, volume, and movement of English foreign commerce. How exact the measure is . . .

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