Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/545

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that traffic was being diverted to new centres, should emigrate to a town which offered the fewest restrictions to their operations as merchants or financiers. Bruges was completely distanced at the close of the fifteenth century; it continued for a time to be the privileged resort of Spanish merchants; but it lay off the line of Portuguese trading connexions. The German merchants, who had been the distributors of the spices imported by the Venetians, now became the principal intermediaries in connexion with the cargoes brought from the East to Lisbon, which was frequented by the factors of the principal German houses, though Antwerp was the chief centre of their commercial operations.

It followed, almost as a necessary consequence of the commercial activity of Antwerp, that this city soon became a great monetary centre; in this respect again it had the character of a permanent fair. The fairs of the Middle Ages had been the great occasions for financial transactions of every kind; rates for making remittances could be easily quoted, and loans could be negotiated to run to the date of the next fair; there was a sort of clearing-house at each fair for settling the transactions that took place during its continuance. One district after another had been the principal scene of these operations; the fairs of Champagne had given place to those of Geneva; Geneva had been superseded by Lyons, which Charles VIII found a convenient place for making payments to his Swiss mercenaries. In the sixteenth century Antwerp took the lead; it was a money-market where there was less organisation and more freedom for negotiating loans than at Lyons; business was carried on with little variation all the year round and was not restricted by the definite dates fixed by the occurrence of the fair; nor was there any attempt to fix a normal rate of exchange, as had been the practice at Lyons. The merchant had far better opportunities here than elsewhere of borrowing capital at the moment when he required it, and for the precise term desired by him; so that mercantile life at Antwerp had many features in common with the commercial centres of the modern era. The discovery of the New World, with its enormous treasure of precious metals, introduced an extraordinary confusion into economic relations in Europe. There are many unsolved problems as to the course of the distribution of the American silver and the effects produced by it in different countries; but at all events we can see that the money-market at Antwerp was so arranged as to be capable of taking a very effective part in the transference of the precious metals from country to country, and in facilitating the application of capital to new enterprises.

These monetary and commercial conditions were favourable to rapid growth; and Antwerp rose quickly from comparative unimportance to be the leading city of Europe. She was enriched by her connexions with Lisbon and the spice-trade of the Portuguese; she did not, however, remain a mere trading city but became a manufacturing town as well.