CHAPTER IV: THE DECLINE OF FEUDALISM
SECTION 1: TRADE AND TOWNS
The 13th Century in England saw the marked decline of feudalism in both economic and political terms.
By the 14th century, this decline became rapid and disintegration occurred, caused by an increase in commodity production of agriculture.
The large scale production of wool for the Flemish market led to trade on an international scale. For instance, salt came from Bordeaux and wine from Gascony.
Towns grew and merchant guilds were set up, bringing together men of craft, including smiths, saddlers, bakers and tailors. These traders employed workers and took on apprentices.
The guilds aimed at controlling and regulating the whole of industry, laying down prices, quality, conditions of work, etc.
These guilds, like the first trade unions, were forced to work in secret as they were discouraged.
“It is forbidden that the servant workmen in cordwaining or other shall hold any meeting to make provision that may be to the prejudice of the trade.” (Cordwainers were leather workers.)
Both Edward I and Edward III encouraged alien merchants and gave them concessions that led to conflicts with town burgesses.
Another factor that helped to breakdown the exclusiveness was the trade done at fairs. These fairs were outside the control of the guilds. What is more important was that they encouraged traders from all over Europe.
It was for the purpose of international trade that the first gold coins (florins) were struck at Florence in 1252, but in England the first regular gold coin, the noble, was issued soon after the capture of Calais in 1347. It was sometime before gold coins were in common use in England.
The decline of feudalism and the growth of trade led to changes in taxation that had important consequences.
In Norman times, the king was expected to “live off his own” like the barons, raising only special taxes, but, with the growth of towns, taxes were imposed on forms of property other than land. This gave other classes besides barons a direct interest in affairs of state.
Prices rose sharply under Henry III, and the ordinary revenue of the Crown became increasingly insufficient, especially as the state tended to do more and more things that were previously carried out by the barons: roads, harbours. etc.
Increasing taxes was unpopular, and the opposition led to the granting of the Magna Charta.
The medium through which this opposition was expressed was parliament.
The Crown on one hand and the nobles on the other were evenly matched and were both anxious to secure an ally.
It is at any rate to this clash of class that we look to the origins and development of parliament.