Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/393

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

imported in large quantities, and prices trebled. The evil was further increased by disturbances among the industrious Moriscos, by bad seasons, and by the ruinous policy of fixing a maximum price, which still further depressed the greatest national industry and drove the country population to the towns, which overflowed with beggars.

Spain's position made her a natural half-way-house for sea-borne trade between the Mediterranean and Atlantic. Her exports were chiefly raw products-silk, fruit, and oil from the south; iron, wool, wine, and leather from the north. By prohibiting the export of gold and silver, and by the imposition of heavy export and import dues, it was sought to encourage manufactures and to prevent the necessity of buying back home products manufactured abroad. In spite of repeated protests of the Cortes, the settlement of foreign artisans was encouraged by the Kings. Manufactures, chiefly wool and silk, increased tenfold in the course of a century; the great fairs drew buyers from foreign lands; it seemed as though the inborn Spanish dislike of commerce and industry had been overcome. But the progress which thus manifested itself was not destined • to endure. The Revolt of the Comuneros, to be noticed below, ultimately resulted in the partial ruin of a rising middle class; the most enterprising of the population emigrated as soldiers or settlers; and the great discoveries of precious metals in America raised prices to such a pitch that Spanish goods could no longer compete in foreign markets. A mistaken economic policy led to a neglect of the objects in favour of the means of exchange, and encouraged the accumulation of unproductive wealth. Nevertheless, a fictitious prosperity was for a time maintained. The period of Spain's greatest commercial energy falls within the reign of Charles I.

It has been supposed that Spanish population sank rapidly during the first half of the sixteenth century. The data on which this calculation was made have, however, been proved to be misleading. It is probable that population remained nearly stationary at about eight millions, or somewhat less than half its present amount.

Trade was hampered by a coinage made up of foreign pieces of various values, and of debased money issued from local and private mints. Ferdinand and Isabel asserted their exclusive right of minting, and established a high standard in their ducats (1476). These ducats were coined at the rate of 65^ from a mark of gold of the standard of 23£- carats. The silver coin of these sovereigns was the real (67 to the mark of silver, the standard being 67 parts out of 72). The maravedi (3 fa of the ducat) was the basis of calculation; there was, however, no actual coin of this value or name, but the real was worth 34 maravedis. In 1518 the money of Aragon was made uniform with that of Castile.

The chief sources of revenue were the dues and rents of the Crown lands, and the cdcabala. The last-named, a tax of a tithe on all sales, was in 1494 commuted for a fixed sum assessed on districts. Isabel's will