Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/465

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ignoring the apprehensions of Bruges as to the sanding-up of the Zwyn. To this pernicious jealousy was added the ill-will of the large against the smalle steden, and the tyrannous arrogance of the towns towards the rural districts; nor was it till 1438 that Duke Philip restored the rights of the Vrije (le Franc) of Bruges as a "fourth member" of Flanders.

The economic decline of Flanders in the fifteenth century has been obscured by the glowing descriptions of luxurious life in which the Court chroniclers of Philip and Charles abound. The great industry which had filled the famous Cloth-hall of Ypres steadily declined; till about the time of the death of Mary a city population which had formerly amounted to something like 100,000 had fallen to about one-twentieth of that total. Ypres, like some other of the Flemish towns, had suffered from special causes, but there was one which fundamentally affected them all. The fabrication of cloth in England had endangered the chief industry of Flanders already at the close of the fourteenth century; and, profiting alike by the instruction derived from the Flemish immigration which the troubles of the fifteenth century had superadded to earlier immigrations in the twelfth and fourteenth, and by the facilities of export offered by the Hanseatic merchants, she gradually drove Flemish cloth from the staple at Calais. The crucial question whether it were better to attract to the Flemish market the sale of this exported English cloth, or to exclude it altogether from competition with the native industry, was settled by a sort of compromise in favour of protection. But the repeated prohibitions of the importation of English cloth (1436-64) remained ineffectual, and the cloth industry was paralysed in the Flemish cities; though it maintained itself for a considerable time in the open country. Ghent was able to some extent to fall back upon its resources as a staple of corn; and at Bruges, where the banking business of Europe was in the hands of foreign merchants, a busy traffic continued to be carried on. In the struggle pertinaciously maintained by the latter city, from the close of the thirteenth century onwards, against the transference of her foreign trade to Antwerp, interest in the end prevailed over habit. The English Merchant Adventurers, who had set up a house at Antwerp early in the fifteenth century, by the middle of it had transferred themselves thither in a body. While the great transmarine trade was thus drawn away from Flanders proper to Brabant, and the depopulation of the former, which assumed alarming proportions under Charles the Bold, had begun already in the last years of his predecessor, the prosperity of the Northern Netherlands continued to increase. Navigation, with the great fishing and other industries, flourished; and little troubled by the remote wars of Charles the Bold, the Hollanders and their neighbours took consolation for his exactions in the cheapness of comforts which they came to reckon among the necessaries of life.