Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/539

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From this brief survey of the nature of the revolution and the causes which occasioned the decay of the old order, we may now turn to look for the first signs of reconstruction. No part of Europe had been more ruthlessly devastated than France, during the fourteenth century and the earlier part of the fifteenth; but a turning-point was reached at last, and the reviving prosperity of the country shaped itself upon new lines. Control of industry and commerce was now exercised by national rather than civic authority, while the financial and commercial business of the realm was no longer left to Italians and other strangers, but was organised by native merchants of enterprise and resource. In this new class one figure is preeminent; no other French merchant attained to wealth at all comparable to that of Jacques Coeur of Montpellier; and few experienced such a sudden reverse of fortune as he suffered when the royal master whom he had served so faithfully imprisoned him and allowed him to die in exile. Apart from these elements of romance, the story of Jacques Cceur's rise is interesting because of the important part which he took in the political life of France. By helping to reorganise the finances of the realm he brought the Crown and the bourgeoisie in all parts of the country into much closer relations, and contributed to the remodelling of economic life and to the rise of one great nationality. His extraordinary commercial prosperity, though transitory, helps us to understand the circumstances under which a merchant class came into prominence in lands where the active trade had hitherto been prosecuted by aliens; the rapid rise of one man to a pinnacle of greatness as a merchant prince throws considerable light on the opportunities for forming capital and investing it available in his day.

Jacques Cosur's work as a statesman had a permanent value for his country; he was for a time the most influential of the royal advisers; he did much to improve the financial administration, and instituted a reform of the coinage. There can be little doubt, when we regard his position, his preponderating influence, and his financial ability, that the creation of the permanent tattle was due to his initiative. During the Hundred Years' War France had been subjected not only to the ravages of her enemies, but to pillage by her undisciplined soldiery, who were unpaid and had no other means of obtaining supplies. With the view of removing the excuse for these outrages, the Crown, at the meeting of the Estates in 1439, announced its intention of maintaining a standing army; and the taille became a permanent source of income which was practically levied at the royal pleasure. The project answered the immediate expectations of those who devised it; the regular troops, well-disciplined and restrained from the habitual pillage which had proved the ruin of France, expelled the English, and helped to bring large districts of the old Burgundian kingdom within the boundaries of France. But the ulterior effects of the measure were far more important; the basis on which French finance rested was altered so as