Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/531

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were content to abide by the old routes and methods of business were being rapidly deposed from their former supremacy.

As compared with the conditions which prevail in modern days, society in the fourteenth century was very definitely organised in recognised groups. Personal relations were not easily alterable at will; there were few opportunities for change of employment or even for change of residence from one place to another. In rural districts the peasantry were everywhere practically attached to particular estates as serfs; and the artisan classes had but little encouragement to migrate from place to place, though in some callings, such as that of masons, special provision was made for undertaking work in any locality where building was required; while in other instances there seems to have been a recognised period of Wanderjahre. Even the merchants engaged in active trade were forced, as we have seen, to keep to certain routes of commercial connexion, and at other times their operations were confined to transactions in some one class of goods and no other; there was comparatively little freedom for change in any department of trading activity. In the most advanced communities such restrictions had not been swept away entirely even at the beginning of the seventeenth century; but they were much criticised, and the difficulty of enforcing them was increasing.

The deeply-marked social distinctions and strong local attachments of the Middle Ages were closely connected with another economic feature, the importance of which is sometimes overlooked. The use of money was not nearly so general in the ordinary affairs of life, as it has come to be in modern times. In many rural districts the peasant's payment for the use of his holding was rendered in service or in kind; labourers were often remunerated, in part at least, by being provided with rations of food, shelter, and necessary wearing apparel. Even when these vestiges of natural economy had passed away and payment in money had been introduced, the terms of exchange were frequently the subject of regulation. There was often a recognised rate at which dues in service, or in kind, could be commuted for money; or attempts were made to determine the prices of goods and the rates of wages by authority, either in the interest of the consumer or, at other times and places, in that of the producer. All sorts of rates, which are now reached by bargaining and by the higgling of the market, were then regarded as the proper subject of official regulation. The circumstances of the day and the limited character of the markets rendered this system convenient; but it had also very strong support in the current morality of the time. So long as theorists maintained that every article had an intrinsic just price which was ordinarily ascertained by "common estimation," and which was, as a matter of fact, closely related to the expenses of production, the strongest prejudice was excited against those who made a living by taking advantage of variations of price