The Progress of the Nation page 8
John of Gaunt established a court of minstrels at Tutbury in Staffordshire, traces of which remained to our own times.
In the Middle Ages, Da Cange says that these men swarmed so about the houses and courts of the great, and princes spent such large sums on them, as completely to drain their coffers. In fact, it would appear in all ages of our history, that a singer would, as now, carry off more in one season, than a popular author would in his whole life. The king in these times had accompanying him, when he went on his warlike expeditions, besides the musicians of the army, and expressly attached to his own train, fifteen or moro minstrels. The nobles had often large bands of them in their houses. We read in the household book of the Earls of Northumberland of the regulations for the minstrels; and Bishop Percy, one of that family, in his "Hermit of Warkworth," says: -
"The minstrels of thy noble house,
Trokelowe the chronicler gives us a very curious passage demonstrating at once the state assumed by minstrels at this period, and the free access which they had to the very presence of royalty. What is more, it shows that women were now accredited minstrels. When Edward II. this year (1316) solemnised the feast of Pentecost, and sat at table in royal state in the Great Hall at Westminster, attended by the peers of the realm, a certain woman, dressed in the habit of a minstrel, riding on a great horse, trapped in the minstrel fashion, entered the hall, and going round the several tables, acting the part of a minstrel, at length mounted the steps to the royal table, on which she deposited a letter. Having done this, she turned her horse, and, saluting all the company, she departed.
When the letter was read it was found to contain severe animadversions on the king's conduct; at which he was greatly offended, and the doorkeepers, being called and reprimanded for admitting her, they replied, *' that it never was the custom of the king's palace to deny admission to minstrels, especially on such high solemnities and feast-days."
The harp was the great and favourite instrument, but we now find a number of others mentioned. The band of musicians in the household of Edward III. consisted of five trumpeters, one cyteler, five pipers, one tabret, one mabrer, two clarions, one fiddler, three wayghts, or haut-bois. In a work of the time, quoted by Sir John Hawkins, there are mentioned the following musical instruments: the organ, the harp, the sawtrey, the lyre, the cymbal, the sistrum, the trumpet, the flute, the pipe, the tabor, the nakyre, the drum, and several others. Some of these were used in martial, some in church music, and others in social and street music.
Chaucer mentions "a ribible," as used by his parish clerk, who must have been a merry fellow: -
"In trousty manir couth he trip and daunce,
The giterne was probably the guitar, and the cyteler, or citole, mentioned by Gower, the zitern, which has always been a favourite instrument on the Continent, and has of late years been introduced into this country. Matthew Paris also speaks of musical instruments called "burdons," which were used in the church of St. Alban's, and probably in others.
Church music, we are told by the old writers, was now as ardently studied by the clergy as secular music by the minstrels and gleemen. Music was taught in all colleges, cathedrals, convents, and capital churches; and Sir John Hawkins assures us that the clergy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries "were by muck the most able musicians, as well in instrumental as vocal music." The learned Robert Grosteste, Bishop of Lincoln, who we are told was also an excellent sculptor and goldsmith, was passionately fond of music as well as of fishing. He wrote a hand-book for anglers, "Manuel de Peche;" and he had always a harper in the next room, and when wearied with his studies, he ordered him to play. Like Saul, he thought sweet music drove away evil spirits. Being asked -
"Why he held the harpe so dere?"
"The virtue of the harpe, through skyle and ryght,
In the churches of this time some of the public offices were considered as musical exhibitions, and were frequented for amusement rather than devotion. The clergy of the Middle Ages sought to amuse the people by their pageants and miracle plays, and to attract them by joyous music. To the various diversions of hunting, hawking, feasting, and dancing, which a king recommended to his daughter to chase away her melancholy, he added: -
"Then shall ye go to your even-song,
Guido Aretini's musical scale, invented in the eleventh century, had been now greatly improved by the addition of several characters for representing the various lengths of musical sounds, and music thus delineated was called cantus measurabilis, or measured song.
Hand-organs of a rude construction were already known and to be seen in the streets of cities, but far more frequently the pipe, the tabor, and the drum, the fiddle, and even the harp, accompanying the feats of dancing dog and bear.
COMMERCE, COINAGE, AND SHIPPING.
Both the foreign and domestic commerce of England appears at this time to have grown and nourished, as it has continued to do almost ever since, from an innate and unconquerable tendency in the people towards trade and commercial enterprise, rather than from any fostering and judicious exertions of the Government. On the contrary, in the reigns of the great Edwards the knowledge of the principles of trade appears to have been as completely absent from the heads of those kings, as their ruinous imposts and restrictions were calculated to crush it. In the reigns of the Edwards the chief articles of export or of raw material were only allowed to be sold in certain places; and sometimes this was one place and sometimes another. Sometimes this staple or place of sale was at home, sometimes abroad. Edward II. ordered that all articles of the staple, as wool, sheepskins, and leather, should not be carried as heretofore to places in Brabant, Flanders, and Artois, but to Antwerp only. Edward III. made Calais the staple when that town was captured in 1348; and in 1353 he removed it again, and ordered wool, woolfells, or sheepskins, leather, and lead to be sold only at New-castle-on-Tyne, York, Lincoln, Norwich, Westminster, Canterbury, Chichester, Exeter, and Bristol for England; at Carmarthen, for Wales; and Dublin, Waterford, Cork, and Drogheda, for Ireland.
This was better than our merchants being obliged to carry all these commodities abroad; but repeated changes followed this. "The condition of the merchants," says Macpherson, in his "Annals of Commerce," "who were obliged to deal in staple goods was truly pitiable in those days of perpetual changes."
But this was not all. Suddenly and arbitrarily the king, when wanting to raise money on tolls, would proclaim a fair in Westminster, and compel all the tradesmen of London to shut up their shops and carry all their goods thither. Matthew Paris tells us that when Henry III. did this, the fair lasted for a fortnight; and during that time all the fairs in the kingdom besides were suspended. He draws a dismal picture of the miseries and losses which the merchants suffered. The weather was dreadfully wet and cold. Their goods, removed from good shops to their tents, were drenched and spoiled, and they themselves were obliged to eat their victuals standing deep in the mud and wet. The people were loud in their complaints, but four years afterwards the king repeated the experiment, when it failed, for very few buyers came to it.
Fairs, indeed, seemed to engross the chief domestic trade of the nation; and people came to them from different countries. A fair at St. Giles's Hill, near Winchester, continued sixteen days. As at Westminster, all trade was prohibited during its continuance at Winchester, Southampton, and at any place within seven miles. Immense crowds from all parts of England and from abroad flocked to it. It resembled a great city, being laid out in regular streets, inhabited by foreign and domestic traders. To such fairs, the kings, barons, great prelates, and gentry of the time sent their agents, or went in person, and purchased jewels, plate, cloth, spices, liquors, furniture, horses, cattle, corn, and provisions of all kinds, men and women not excepted.
One of these fairs must have been a most extraordinary sight. Bartolomeus, a contemporary writer, assures us that men and women slaves were publicly sold in these fairs like beasts, down to the latter part of the fourteenth century.
The internal trade was not only oppressed by the arbitrary appointment of such fairs, and simultaneous closing of others, but by a host of greater and lesser impositions, called lastage, payage, passage, frontage, stallage, and others, now become unintelligible, though far too intelligible to those who were fleeced by them. Some of these taxes were demanded at every fair, and by every baron through whose domain they were compelled to pass.
But if the internal trade of the country was thus oppressed, how much more the foreign. In 1275 Edward I. issued an order compelling all foreign merchants to sell their goods within forty days after their arrival. No foreign merchants were allowed to remain in the country longer than that time, except by special licence from the king. It was not till 1303 that Edward permitted foreign merchants to come and go freely, and to reside under the protection of the English laws; and it was not till fifty years afterwards that they were freed from the oppressive law of being obliged to answer for the debts and offences of every other foreign resident. In 1306 a number of foreign merchants were imprisoned in the Tower, and detained there till they gave security that none of them would leave the kingdom or export anything without the king's licence.
In 1307 Edward prohibited any coin being taken out of the country. In 1335 Edward III. made a like law, prohibiting either money or plate being taken out on pain of forfeiture of all such property. Sworn searchers were appointed at all the ports; and, in 1343, these regulations were repeated, and the searchers were to receive one-third of all the money or plate seized. All foreign cloths were to be reduced to the English measure; all were to be measured by the king's aldnagers, and whatever cloth was found of a less measure in length or breadth was to be forfeited.
How commerce could exist under such absurd restrictions is marvellous. Yet the advantages of trade with this country must, under all these obstacles, have been greater than with most others, for foreign merchants flocked hither in great numbers. They were called "merchant-strangers;" and forming themselves into companies, they soon managed to engross nearly all the foreign trade of the country. The Merchants of the Steel Yard were a most flourishing company of German merchants, who were settled here before the Conquest, but at this period were become much more opulent and powerful. This was owing to their connection with the celebrated confederation of the Hanse Towns, and to the privileges conferred on them by successive monarchs in consequence of that connection.
Then there were the Merchants of the Staple, who were established about this time. Their business was to collect the staple articles, wool, sheep-skins, leather, lead, and tin, and convey them to the staple towns. Englishmen, Irish, or Welsh might do this to the staple towns within the kingdom, but no native could be concerned in exporting them to the staple towns abroad. The great object was to enable the king to collect his customs easily, and that foreign merchants might know where to go for these articles. There were six moderators - two Germans, two Lombards, and two English - appointed to settle all disputes in the presence of the mayor and constable of the staple, for their affairs were not subject to the ordinary magistrates.
The Jews, who had been so fleeced in John's reign for their wealth and usurious habits, were banished from the realm in 1290.
According to Macpherson's "Annals of Commerce," the total exports of England in 1384 were £212,338 5s., and the imports £38,383 16s. 10d., leaving a balance in our favour of £173,945. But Anderson, in his "Annals," makes the balance in our favour more considerable, namely, £255,370.
During this period coals began to be used in England, and were brought by sea to London. The monks of Dunfermline, in Scotland, also obtained leave of a neighbouring baron to dig coals for their own use in his lands at Pittencrief.
Bills of exchange were now much in use, being much encouraged by the Government, under the idea that they prevented money going out of the kingdom, and in 1381 a law was passed recommending, and, in fact, commanding their use in foreign transactions.
One of the most useful and creditable transactions of the reign of Edward III. was the issue of a gold coinage. The coinage of England had till this period consisted of silver, and chiefly in the form of marks and pennies; a mark being two-thirds of a tower pound, the pound not being a real coin, but a pound weight of silver coins. The shilling also was a nominal coin at this time, being the twentieth part of a pound. The penny was the two hundred and fortieth part of a pound, and there were also silver halfpence and farthings; but the people often made these by cutting the pence into halves and quarters - a practice against which various ordinances were issued. At this time a penny was called an esterling, or sterling, whence our word sterling coin.
The gold coins circulated before this period were foreign, and called byzants, or byzantines. Henry I. issued a gold coin of the weight of two silver pennies, which was ordered to pass for twenty silver pennies. The people, however, refused it, as gold being only reckoned nine times the value of silver, the king had thus made it ten times the value, which was one-tenth more than the real value. So completely did this coin disappear, that no specimen, we believe, is now known of it.
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