Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/530

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of Philip the Fair and the accession of Henry of Navarre; but during that time the methods of commercial practice had been fundamentally altered, and the institutions which controlled industrial activity had been remodelled. Although the processes of manufacture and agriculture remained almost the same, there was a veritable revolution in commerce at the close of the Middle Ages; and as its result, every aspect of economic life and every member of the body economic was transformed. The drastic character of these changes will be more easily understood, if we try to compare economic life in the earlier part of the fourteenth century, when medieval institutions were at their best, with the state of affairs at the opening of the seventeenth, when the modern period was already beginning.

The area traversed by fourteenth century merchants was very restricted, when compared with the voyages of Dutch or English traders in the seventeenth century. Medieval Christendom was hemmed in on the east and south by Mohammadan lands; and though Europeans ventured to the borders of these territories and founded factories at many points in them, they could not penetrate into the interior or establish direct commercial connexions with the distant regions which supplied spices and silk. Maritime intercourse was confined to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the Baltic and the North Sea, and the eastern border of the Atlantic. Within these narrow geographical limits, each commercial community aimed at obtaining a profitable monopoly in some line of trade, and at ousting competitors; this policy gave rise to arbitrary restrictions on trading voyages. The Genoese and the Venetians contended for the possession of the commerce of the Black Sea; Venice succeeded in controlling the trade on the Adriatic and in the valley of the Po; the merchants of the Hanse towns would not admit any rivals in the Baltic. The command of particular harbours carried with it a supremacy in neighbouring waters, and secured the exclusive possession of particular routes so long as coasting voyages were in vogue. The geographical discoveries of the fifteenth century not only opened new regions to maritime intercourse, but they also gave a new form to commercial rivalry. The maintenance of privileged rights at particular ports was less important in the new era when the compass had come into common use; with the wide field for their activities presented by the New World and the now accessible East, merchants no longer confined themselves to struggling for a share of the limited trade which had grown up at special points; statesmen learned to vie with each other in trying to extend the market for goods by establishing factories in remote lands and planting colonies, for this seemed to be the secret of commercial success. Political and commercial considerations were so closely mingled at the opening of the seventeenth century that it is difficult to distinguish the trading enterprise from the military ambition of this period; but at least it may be said that the merchants who