Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/541

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of a great monopoly and to trade at an enormous rate of profit; but he did not stand entirely alone. His case was not altogether solitary; though, like William de la Pole and William Canynges, he was preeminent among a considerable number of wealthy men. It is not easy to see how this class could have come into being in so many places during this particular period; but this difficulty must be faced. An increasing scarcity of the precious metals would seem to have involved a steady fall in prices; so that, apart altogether from the effects of war and pestilence, the monetary conditions were singularly unfavourable to successful trade. Commerce between Europe and Asia was carried on by means of a constant drain of silver from the West; there was . no other suitable commodity for export in return for silks and spices, nor was the stock of bullion being adequately replenished from European mines. The trade with Morocco did not result in an importation of African gold, but involved an additional demand on the European supply of silver. It appears that the value of silver was steadily rising from the middle of the fourteenth century onwards, though the fall of prices was not so great as might have been expected; a counteracting influence was at work which affected the currency and prices in much the same way as an additional supply of silver bullion; there seems to have been a greatly increased rapidity of circulation. Money was not laid by in hoards to the same extent as formerly; and masses of bullion, which had been stored for public or private purposes, were being regularly utilised. The treasure of the feudal monarchs had been withdrawn from circulation for years; Charles V of France had accumulated a reserve of not less than 17,000,000 livres. But the Kings who borrowed from Jacques Co3ur and his contemporaries were less thrifty; they only obtained money when they had need to spend it, and there was no reason that it should ever lie idle. In the same way it would appear that, as the monopoly of the aliens was broken down, the hoards of humbler citizens were drawn upon and employed in active commerce.

By increased rapidity of circulation the diminishing stock of silver seems to have been rendered available to meet commercial demands, and Europe was saved from the embarrassment of severe financial depression. It is certainly remarkable that, during the century which immediately preceded the discovery of America and the importation of bullion from the New World, there should have been so many instances of men who rose to considerable wealth, and who in some cases amassed very large fortunes. This phenomenon should be borne in mind, even if we are dissatisfied with attempts to account for it; but it seems to be at least partially accounted for by the shifting of trade into new channels and into the hands of native merchants, and partly by the practical increase of the available currency which resulted from the manner in which hoards of bullion were being brought into circulation.