The Economic Organisation of England: An Outline History

By William Ashley | Go to book overview

LECTURE IV
The Rise of Foreign Trade: the Advent of
Capital and Investment.

In turning now to consider the beginnings of England's foreign trade, we must steadily bear in mind that, though the interest of the subject is great, both for the light it casts on the conditions of the time and also because of the dominant part which foreign trade was destined ultimately to play in English development, its bulk was relatively very small throughout the Middle Ages, in comparison with the total economic activity of the nation. England remained on the whole a self-sufficing country: export carried away only such surplus raw produce as the land did not itself require, especially wool; and import brought chiefly luxuries, such as silks, furs, fine and dyed woollen cloth, and French wines, purchased by a very limited upper class, together with the spices which rendered more palatable the food and drink of the well-to-do. Probably the only imported article in general use among the masses of the people was the Norwegian tar which was employed as dressing for sheep in cases of scab: this seems to have been introduced at the end of the thirteenth century. Down to the close of the Middle Ages, England was far inferior to certain other parts

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