Pirenne_MedievalCities

Pirenne_MedievalCities - MEDIEVAL CITIES'I‘l-I EIR...

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Unformatted text preview: MEDIEVAL CITIES 'I‘l-I EIR ORIGINS AND THE REVIVAL OF TRADE BY HENRI mENNE of the University of Ghent TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH A - REY CUMBE ‘ BY FRANK D. HALSEY OXFORD UNIVERSITY pR EEEEGL 386?2 PR IN CET ON PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS 1948' gji-RLQFORNIA STATE POLYTECHNIC COLLEGE LIBRARY SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALiFORNlA Chapter VIII CITIES AND EUROPEAN CIVILIZATION HE birth of cities marked the beginning of a new era in the internal history of Western Europe. Until then, society had recognized only . two active orders: the clergy and the nobility. In taking its place beside them, the middle class rounded the social order out or, rather, gave the finishing touch thereto. Thenceforth its composi- tion was not to change; it had all its constituent elements, and the modifications which it was to undergo in the course of centuries were, strictly speaking, nothing more than different combina4 tions in the alloy. Like the clergy and like the nobility, the middle class was itself a privileged order. It formed a dis- tinct legal group and the special law it enjoyed isolated it from the mass of the rural inhabitants which continued to make up the immense majority of the population. Indeed, as has already been seen, it was obliged to preserve intact its excep- tional status and to reserve to itself the benefits arising therefrom. Freedom, as the middle class 214 MEDIEVAL CITIES conceived it, was a monopoly. Nothing was less liberal than the caste idea which was the cause of its strength until it became, at the end of the Mid~ dle Ages, a cause of weakness. Nevertheless to that middle class was reserved the mission of spreading the idea of liberty far and wide and of becoming, without having consciously desired to be, the means of the gradual enfranchisement of the rural classes. The sole fact of its existence was due, indeed, to have an immediate effect upon these latter and, little by little, to attenuate the contrast which at the start separated them from it. In vain it strove to keep them under its influence, to refuse them a share in its privileges, to exclude them from engaging in trade and industry. It had not the power to arrest an evolution of which it was the cause and which it could not suppress save by itself vanishing. For the formation of the city groups disturbed at once the economic organization of the country districts. Production, as it was there carried on, had served until then merely to support the life of the peasant and supply the prestations due to his seigneur. Upon the suspension of commerce, nothing impelled him to ask of the soil a surplus which it would have been impossible for him to get rid of, since he no longer had outside markets to call upon. He was c0ntent to provide for his CITIES AND CIVILIZATION 215 daily bread, certain of the morrow and longing for no amelioration of his lot, since he could not conceive the possibility of it. The small markets of the towns and the burgs were too insignificant and their demand was too regular to rouse him enough to get out of his rut and intensify his labora But suddenly these markets sprang into new life. The number of buyers was multiplied,- and all at once he had the assurance of being able to sell the produce he brought to them. It was only natural for him to have profited from an oppor+ tunity as favorable as this. It depended on him- self alone to sell, if he produced enough, and forthwith he began to till the lands which hitherto he had let lie fallow. His work_ took on a new significance; it brought him profits, the chance of thrift and of an existence which became more comfortable as it became more active. The situ- ation was still more favorable in that the surplus revenues from the soil belonged to him in his own right. The claims of the seigneur were fixed by demesnial Custom at an immutable rate, so that the increase in the income from the land benefited only the tenant. ' But the seigneur himself had a chance to profit from the new situation wherein the development of the cities placed the country districts. He had enormous reserves of uncultivated land, woods, 216 MEDIEVAL CITIES heaths, marshes and fens. Nothing could be sim- pler than to put them under cultivation. and through them to profit from these new outlets I ‘I Wthh were becoming more and more exigent and - ' - remunerattve as the towns grew in size and mul- tiplied in number. The increase in population would furnish the necessary hands for the work of clearing and draining. It was enough to call for men; they would not fail to Show up. By the end of the eleventh century the move— ment was already manifest in its full force. Mon- asteries and local princes thenceforth were busy transforming the idle parts of their demesnes into revenue~producing land. The area of cultivated ground which, since the end of the Roman Empire, had not been increased, kept growing continually greater. Forests were cleared. The Cistercian Or- der, founded in 1098, followed this new path from its very origin. Instead of adopting for its lands the old demesnial organization, it intelligently adapted itself to the new order of things. It adopt- ed the principle of farming on a big scale and, depending upon the region, gave itself over to the most remunerative form of production. In Flan- ders, where the needs of the towns were greater since they themselves were richer, it engaged in raising cattle. In England, it devoted itself par- ticularly to the sale of wool, which the same cities CITIES AND CIVILIZATION 21? of Flanders consumed in greater and greater quantity. Meanwhile, on all sides, the seigneurs, both lay and ecclesiastic, were founding “new” towns. So was called a village established on virgin soil, the OCCupants of which received plots of land in re- turn for an annual rental. But theso new towns, the number of which continued to grow in the course of the twelfth century, were at the same time free towns. For in order to attract the farmers the seigneur promised them exemption from the taxes which bore down upon the serfs. In general, he reserved to himself only jurisdiction over them; he abolished in their favor the old claims which still existed in the demesnial organization. The charter of Lorris (1155) in the Gatinais, that of Beaumont in Champagne (1182), that of Priches in the Hainault (1158) present particularly in- teresting types of charters of the new towns, which were also to be found everywhere in neighboring countries. That of Breteuil in Normandy, which was taken over in the course of the twelfth century by a number of localities in England, Wales, and even Ireland, was of the same nature. Thus a new type of peasant appeared, quite dif- ferent from the old. The latter had serfdom as a characteristic; the former enjoyed freedom. And this freedom, the cause of which was the economic '215 MEDIEVAL CITIES disturbance communicated by the towns to the or- ganization of the country districts, was itself copied after that of the cities. The inhabitants of the new towns were, strictly speaking, rural burghers. They even bore, in a good number of charters, the name of burgemes. They received _a legal constitution and a local autonomy which was manifestly bOrrowed from city institutions, so much so that it may be said that the latter went beyond the circumference of their walls in order to reach the country districts and acquaint them with liberty. - And this new freedom, as it progressed, was not long in making headway even in the old demesnes, whose archaic constitution could not be main— tained in the midst of a reorganized social order. lilither by voluntary emancipation, or by prescrip- tlon or usurpation, the seigneurs permitted it to be gradually substituted for the serfdom which had so long been the normal condition of their tenants. The form of government of the peOple was there changed at the same time as the form of government of the land, since both were conse- quences of an economic situation on the way to disappear. Commerce now supplied all the neces- saries which the demesnes had hitherto been I obliged to obtain by their own efforts. It was no longer essential for each of them to produce. all CITIES AND CIVILIZATION 219 the commodities for which it had use. It sufficed to go get them at some nearby city. The abbeys of the Netherlands, which had been endowed by their benefactors with vineyards situated either in France or on the banks of the Rhine and the Moselle where they produced the wine needed for their consumption, began, at about the start of the thirteenth century, to sell these properties which had now become useless and whOSe work- ing and upkeep henceforth cost more than they brought in. No example better illustrates the inevitable dis- appearance of the old demesnial system in an era transformed by commerce and the new city econ- omy. Trade, which was becoming more and more active, necessarily favored agricultural produc- tion, broke down the limits which had hitherto bounded it, drew it towards the towns, modernized it, and at the same time set it free. Man was there- fore detached from the soil to which he had so long been enthralled, and free labor was substi- tuted more and more generally for serf labor. It was only in regions remote from commercial highways that there was still perpetuated in its primitive rigor the old personal serfdom and therewith the old forms of demesnial property. Everywhere else it disappeared, the more rapidly especially where towns were more numerous. In 220 MEDIEVAL CITIES Flanders, for example, it hardly existed at all after the beginning of the thirteenth century, al— though, to be sure, a few traces were still pre- served. Up to the end of the old order there were still to be found, here and there, men bound by the law of mortemain or subject to forced labor, and lands encumbered by various seigniorial rights. But these survivals of the past were almost always simple taxes and he who paid them had, for all that, full personal liberty. The emancipation of the rural classes was only one of the consequences provoked by the economic revival of which the towns were both the result and the instrument. It coincided with the increas- ing importance of liquid capital. During the de- mesnial era of the Middle Ages, there was. no other form of wealth than that which lay in real estate. It ensured to the holder both personal liberty and social prestige. It was the guaranty of the privi- leged status of the clergy and the nobility. Exclu- sive holders of the land, they lived by the labor of their tenants whom they protected and whom they ruled. The serfdom of the masses was the neces- sary consequence of such a social organization. There was no alternative save to own the land and be a lord, or to till it for another and be a serf. But with the origin of the middle class there took its place in the sun a class of men whose ex- CITIES AND CIVILIZATION 221 istence was in flagrant contradiction to this tra- ditional order of things. The land upon which they settled they not only did not cultivate but did not even own. They demonstrated and made in- creasingly clear the possibility of living and grow- ing rich by the sole act of selling, or producing exchange values. Landed capital had been everything, and now by the side of it was made plain the power of liquid capital. Heretofore money had been sterile. The great lay or ecclesiastic proprietors in whose hands was Concentrated the very scant stock of currency in circulation, by means of either the land taxes which they levied upon their tenants or the alms which the congregations brought to the churches, normally had no way of making it bear fruit. To be sure, it was often the case that monasteries, in time of famine, would agree to usurious loans to nobles in distress who would offer their lands as security. But these transac- tions, forbidden otherwise by canonical law, were only temporary expedients. As a general rule cash was hoarded by its possessors and most often changed into vessels or ornaments for the Church, which might be melted down in case of need. Trade, naturally, released this captive money and restored its proper function. Thanks 'to this, it became again the instrument of exchange and the 222 MEDIEVAL CITIES measure of values, and since the towns were the centers of trade it necessarily flowed towards them. In circulating, its power was multiplied by the number of transactions in which it served. Its use, at the same time, became more general; payments in kind gave way more and more to payments in money. A new notion of wealth made its appearance: that of mercantile wealth, consisting no longer in land but in money or commodities of trade meas- urable in money. During the course of the eleventh century, true capitalists already existed in a num- ber of cities; several examples have been cited above, to which it is unnecessary to refer again here. These city capitalists soon formed the habit of putting a part of their profits into land. The best means of consolidating their fortune and their credit was, in fact, the buying up of land. They devoted a part of their gains to the purchase of real estate, first of all in the same town where they dwelt and later in the country. But they changed themselves, especially, into money-lenders. The economic crisis provoked by the irruption of trade into the life of society had caused the ruin of, or at least trouble to, the landed proprietors who had not been able to adapt themselves to it. For in speeding up the circulation of money a natural result was the decreasing of its value and by that CITIES AND CIVILIZA'I‘IUN 3.23 very fact the raising of all prices. The period con- temporary with the formation of the cities was a period of high cost of living, as favorable to the business men and artisans of the middle class as it was painful to the holders of the land who did not succeed in increasing their revenues. By the end of the eleventh century many of them were obliged to have recourse to the capital of the merchants in order to keep going. In 1127 the charter of St. Omcr mentioned, as a current practice, the loans contracted among the burghers of the town by the knights of the neighborhood. ...
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Pirenne_MedievalCities - MEDIEVAL CITIES'I‘l-I EIR...

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