DEVELOPMENT OF TRADE IN ENGLAND IN THE 13th-14th CENTURIESCategory: 14th century
In the 13th-14th centuries the inhabitants of the bigger towns had to rely more and more on the neighbouring country-side for their foodstuffs and raw materials for their crafts.
Trade between the town and the country-side began to develop.
Now we shall learn more about:
- the trade connections between the town and the village;
- the towns as centres of trade.
The separation of crafts from agriculture and the growth of towns brought about great changes in the economy of the country. The town artisans produced commodities, that is, goods made for sale; they sold their goods for money and bought foodstuffs and articles of other craftsmen for themselves, and raw materials for their workshops. In this way commodity production began to develop in towns, that is, the system of production under which goods were produced for sale and not for consumption. The master-craftsmen paid wages to his journeymen, who also bought what they needed with the money they earned. In this way there gradually grew up in the towns a system of payment by money instead of by services, as was the case under the manor system.
The use of money in towns gradually began to affect the country-side. With the separation of crafts from agriculture not only crafts but also agriculture began to develop quicker and its productivity went up. As a result, some surplus of agricultural produce above what was consumed on the manor was produced. Now, after a certain part of the produce was paid as quit-rent, some peasants had something to sell, such as surplus animals or spare wool from their sheep. The towns needed the surplus produce of the manors and were prepared to pay for it in money. And though the majority of the peasants still produced all the handicraft articles themselves and each village was mainly self-sufficient, gradually more and more peasants produced goods for sale. In this way commodity production began to develop in the country-side also. Villagers would take their produce to the near-by town market and having sold their sack of corn or their pig, they would buy with the money well-made implements and other articles produced by the town craftsmen. Often merchants would come to the villages and buy up grain or wool from the peasants. These buyers were the middlemen between the villagers and the town market and tliey favoured the development of money relations in the country-side. Thus money began to circulate throughout the country.
In the 13th-14th centuries with the growth of the towns and crafts the demand for agricultural products increased, and more and more foodstuffs and raw materials were produced by villagers for sale. With the development of crafts the articles of the town artisans became much better than anything made by the villagers. The feudal lords were not satisfied now with the goods produced by their serfs. They wished to have their armour, weapons, footwear, clothing and other things well made by a town armourer, shoemaker, weaver, tailor and other skilful craftsmen. They wished to have luxury goods which were brought from overseas and sold at the town markets. The feudal lords needed money to buy these things and many of them replaced or commuted the peasant’s duties of corvee-work and payments in kind with quit-rent in cash. This replacement of feudal services and payments formerly made in kind with money payments became known in England as the process of commutation. Now that the peasants were to pay their lords a certain sum of money each year, they had to take more of their produce to the market to sell.
Some lords would rent out the land which had been cultivated by the villeins before the commutation. The tenant had to pay rent and perform some other feudal obligations, sometimes, even week-work. Other lords would hire cottars as agricultural labourers who, in return for wages, would do the work formerly done by villeins. In the 14th century this change from payment in kind and corvee-work to payment in money was already taking place in the country-side.
Some great lords, however, often found it more profitable to have their land worked by the villeins than to get a fixed amount of rent. But these feudal lords were also involved in money relations. They sold grain, wool, meat, leather and other agricultural products at the market. And the great landlords, particularly the rich greedy clerical landlords, very often tried to cultivate more land and made their villeins work harder on their domains so as to have more produce to sell at the market and buy high-quality articles made by skilful town craftsmen. Already in the 13th century in some districts of England money payments became the usual form of payment.
The artisans in towns also produced an increasing number of goods for sale and the towns began to carry out trade not only with the near-by villages but also with distant localities and even with other countries.
Thus, as a result of the development of commodity production both in towns and in villages trade began to develop in England on a larger scale than before. It is true that most of the necessities of life were produced by the villagers themselves and those who produced for sale were not numerous, that is, natural economy still existed in England. But the development of money relations in the 13th-14th centuries meant the beginning of the decay of natural economy. The early decay of natural economy and the development of commodity production were characteristic of feudalism in England.