French were directing their attention to the oriental trade, in which Jacques Cceur and the Beaune family founded their fortunes. Breton sailors went far afield, traded with the Canaries and Madeira, and were fishing cod off Iceland, perhaps on the Banks of Newfoundland, long before the recognised discovery of the New World. But internal trade was more prosperous than foreign. In spite of paralysing tariffs on the frontiers of provinces and the myriad peages which the Kings in vain attempted to keep down, steady progress was made. The misfortunes of Bruges and Ghent, Liege and Dinant, left a gap in home markets which French traders partly succeeded in filling. The silk trade took root at Tours and Lyons, and was encouraged by Louis XI. Reviving agriculture stimulated commercial and industrial life in many a country town, and small fortunes were frequently made. The marvellous recuperative power of France was never more clearly seen than in the half century after the English wars.
The middle of the fifteenth century saw a national revival of art in France. French miniaturists had long explored the resources and perhaps reached the limits of their charming art. The Hours of the Duke of Berry, dating from the early fifteenth century, are hardly to be surpassed. But Jean Foucquet (1415-80) was not only a master among masters of miniature, but a painter prized even in Italy. His work is interesting as showing the taste for classical architecture in works of fancy long before it had begun to influence the constructions of French builders. It is probable that the competition of Italian painters for the patronage of the great, which begins immediately after the Italian wars, checked the growth of an indigenous French school of painting, which might have fulfilled the promise of French miniaturists. In sculpture a school arose at Dijon under Charles VI, which is original and fruitful. In this school was trained Michel Colombe (who died in 1512); his masterpiece is perhaps the tomb of Francis II at Nantes.
Gothic ecclesiastical architecture had lost itself in the meaningless elaborations of the decadent "Flamboyant." But in domestic architecture the corps de metier were still capable of producing such masterly work as the house of Jacques Coeur at Bourges, and, in.the reign of Louis XI, the castles of Langeais and Le Plessis Bourre, still standing solid and reminiscent of the necessities of defence. Amboise, of a still later date, shows the same characteristics. Gradually classical influence begins to modify, first detail, then construction. The results may be seen in Louis XII's part of the castle of Blois. But the golden age of , French Renaissance architecture is the reign of Francis I, when first the castle put off its heavy armour, and assumed the lightness, grace, and gaiety, so well known to travellers on the Loire.
In literature, the excellence of the best is so great that it makes us the less willing to remain content with the dull mediocrity of the mass.