Ch 05 The End of the Middle Ages

Ch 05 -A Century of Paradox

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THE 15th CENTURY WAS TO SOME A PERIOD OF GENERAL DECLINE, OF RUINED TOWNS AND OF POLITICAL CHAOS.

FOR OTHERS, HOWEVER, IT REPRESENTED AN INCREASE IN REAL PROSPERITY FOR THE MASS OF THE PEOPLE, THE GROWTH OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF PARLIAMENTARY INSTITUTIONS FROM 1399 to 1450.

THE DECLINE OF FEUDALISM NOT ONLY AFFECTED THE BARONAGE AND AGRICULTURE, BUT ALSO THE TOWNS AND GUILD ORGANISATIONS.

THERE WAS THE BLACK DEATH, HEAVY TAXATION AND GENERAL DECAY OF HOUSES, STREETS AND HARBOURS AND ALSO POPULATION DECLINE, WHICH LED TO RAIDS BY PIRATES AND OTHERS IN COASTAL TOWNS.

PRESSURE OF TAXES BY HENRY IV ON THE TOWN CRAFTSMEN DROVE THEM OUT INTO THE VILLAGES AND SUBURBS.

SO, WHILE MANY OLD TOWNS WERE IN A STATE OF DECAY, NEW TOWNS WERE GROWING WITH A NEW CAPITALIST OR SEMI CAPITALIST SYSTEM OF TRADE AND PRODUCTION, RESULTING IN A NEW FREEDOM.

IN CONTRAST, THE NOBLES IN THE COUNTRYSIDE WERE BECOMING MODERN LANDOWNERS AND ALSO GANGSTER CHIEFS,  EACH WITH A BAND OF RETAINERS DRAWN FROM UNEMPLOYED SOLDIERS WHOSE JOB IT WAS TO TERRORISE WEAKER NEIGHBOURS.

DURING THE FEUDAL AGE, THE NOBLES HAD THEIR OWN COURTS OF LAW, BUT NOW THEY USED THEIR ARMED FOLLOWERS TO DEFY THE LOCAL COURTS.

NOBODY, FROM PARLIAMENT DOWN TO THE OBSCURIST BENCH OF MAGISTRATES, WAS SECURE FROM THESE BANDS WHOSE OPEN INTIMIDATION PREVENTED VERDICTS BEING GIVEN AGAINST THE INTERESTS OF THEIR EMPLOYERS.


IF TWO NOBLES WERE INVOLVED, PROCEEDINGS OFTEN ENDED IN A PITCHED BATTLE.

ONE THE MOST CHARACTERISTIC FEATURES OF THE AGE WAS THE PERVERSION OF THE LAW BY THE RULING CLASS FOR THE PURPOSE OF LAWLESSNESS RATHER THAN A MERE OPEN DISREGARD OF LAW.

CLOTHING AND ARMOUR BECAME INCREASINGLY OSTENTATIOUS AS LORDS VIED WITH EACH OTHER.

HERALDRY AND TOURNAMENTS REACHED THEIR HIGHEST PITCH, JUST AT THE TIME WHEN THEY WERE LOSING ALL RELATION TO THE BUSINESS OF WAR.

HOWEVER, THE REAL RICHES WERE BEING ACCUMULATED BY THE MERCHANTS.

THE EXTRAVAGANCE OF THE AGE ENABLED MANY OF THESE MERCHANTS TO SECURE A FINANCIAL HOLD OVER THE NOBILITY THROUGH USURY, AND SOME ENTERED THE RANKS OF THE NOBLES.

THE DE LA POLE FAMILY MERCHANTS OF HULL ARE ONE EXAMPLE. THEY WERE FAR MORE LITERATE, NECESSITATING THE INVENTION OF PRINTING.

THE FORMER LITERATE CLASS, THE CLERGY, PRODUCED BOOKS AND COPIED MANUSCRIPTS AS THEIR MAIN OCCUPTAION OF MONASTIC LIFE.

FIRST BOOKS BY CAXTON WERE MAINLY OF A LEISURE TYPE TO SUIT THE NEEDS OF THIS NEW PUBLIC.

DURING THE NEXT GENERATION, THE BOURGEOISIE BEGAN TO USE THE PRESS AS A WEAPON, AND, DURING THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION, A TORRENT OF RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL POLEMICAL WORKS APPEARED, SPREADING IDEAS OF THE REFORMERS WHERE OTHERWISE THEY WOULDN’T HAVE REACHED.

THOUGH ENGLAND WAS NOT A HAPPY PLACE, THE LARGE PROPORTION OF PEASANT FARMERS CULTIVATING THEIR LANDS AS FREEHOLDERS OR TENANTS PROSPERED AND LAND PRICES ROSE.

THE POPULATION INCREASED, AND SO DID THE MARKET FOR WOOL.

LABOURERS ENJOYED RELATIVELY HIGHER WAGES.

THE STATUTES OF LABOURERS WAGES WERE FIXED AT 3d OR 4d A DAY, BUT THEIR WAS NO TELLING HOW REGULAR EMPLOYMENT WAS.

A MAN HIRED FOR THE YEAR RECEIVED 20s 8d PLUS FOOD AND LODGINGS AND A WOMAN 14s.

BOTH LABOURERS AND PEASANT FARMERS WERE TAKING UP SPINNING AND WEAVING AS DOMESTIC INDUSTRIES, AND IT WAS THIS AS MUCH AS AGRICULTURE THAT CAUSED PROSPERITY.

THIS TIME OF CHAOS AND PROSPERITY MARKED THE TRANSITION FROM FEUDAL TO BOURGEOISIE SOCIETY.

THE GROWTH OF PEASANT AGRICULTURE WAS THE RESULT OF THE DECLINE OF MANORIAL ORGANISATION IN A PERIOD WHEN THE ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL WAS INSUFFICIENT TO ALLOW THE DEVELOPMENT OF A FULLY CAPITALIST AGRICULTURE, BUT ONCE THIS ACCUMULATION REACHED THE NECESSARY LEVEL, AS IT DID IN THE 16th CENTURY, THE EXTINCTION OF THE PEASANT FARMER WAS INEVITABLE.

THE ANARCHY OF THE PERIOD WAS ALSO DUE TO THE DECLINE OF FEUDALISM AND THE FORM OF STATE POWER WHICH REPLACED IT.

INTERNAL WARS DESTROYED THE POWER OF THE NOBLES IN WHAT WAS AN UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPT TO SECURE CONTROL FROM THE STATE.

THE STRUGGLE LEFT THE STATE AND BOURGEOISIE STRONGER THAN BEFORE, AND THEY MADE AN ALLIANCE MUCH TO THEIR MUTUAL ADVANTAGE.

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