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The Progress of the Nation page 16

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It was not long, however, before Henry was called on to check the effects of monopoly in his English companies. The Merchant Adventurers of London soon, showed so strongly these effects that they compelled the king to interfere.

The markets of Europe were now fast growing in importance and demand. The wealth of South America was flowing into Spain, in the shape of gold, to the amount of a million sterling annually, and the spices and riches of the East Indies into Portugal, since the discovery of the way round the Cape. Amsterdam became a great mercantile depot of these commodities as central in Europe, and the benefit of it was felt nowhere more sensibly than in England. Henry VII., who had let slip the opportunity of securing South America and the West Indies by neglecting the offers of Columbus, now endeavoured to repair the mischief by granting patents to the Gabots and others for the discovery of new lands. He could not open his heart or his coffers sufficiently to assist the adventurers with funds, but he was ready to reap his share of the benefit, which was to consist of all the countries discovered, and a fifth of the Immediate proceeds. Under such patents the Gabots, father and son, in the course of several voyages, discovered Labrador, in 1497, and afterwards ran along the whole coast of North America, to the Gulf of Mexico.

From this moment the spirit of mercantile enterprise rapidly developed itself. In 1530 we find Captain Hawkins trading to Guinea for elephants' teeth, and to Brazil, to which coasts voyages soon became common. Trading to all parts of the Mediterranean was frequent during the reign of Henry VIII.; taking out wool, cloth, and skins, and importing silks, drugs, wines, cotton-wool, spices, and Turkey carpets. The voyages of Cabot had opened up a new trade - that of cod-fishing - on the coasts of Newfoundland, which was eagerly engaged in; and the voyages of Willoughby and Richard Chancellor, by exploring the White Sea, at the suggestion of Cabot, opened a new trade with Russia. A Russian company was formed by Edward VI., and fully incorporated by Mary, who vigorously prosecuted that trade; and in 1550 an ambassador arrived at London from the Czar. Jenkinson, an agent of this company, afterwards descended the Volga to Astracan, and crossing the Caspian Sea, reached Bokhara, the great resort of the merchants of Russla, Persia, India, and China. He is said to have made six other voyages to Bokhara by that route - a striking proof of the growing enterprise of the English merchant. The loss of Calais by Mary, and her restoration of the monopoly of the Steelyard Company, who were Hanse Town merchants - the withdrawal of whose charter by Henry VIII. had been most beneficial to freedom of trade - were circumstances which acted adversely on commerce in her reign.

The earliest European trade with India was Venetian, and was conducted by way of the Black Sea. On the discovery by Vasco de Gama of the passage by the Cape of Good Hope, in 1497, the Dutch claimed the exclusive right of navigating these seas. The Spaniards again were equally exclusive with regard to their own subsequent discovery of a passage by the Straits of Magellan. These monopolies, so strange in their contrast to our modern conceptions and practice, left the English the sole alternative of a north-west or north-east passage. About 1500, a Portuguese named Corte Real attempted to discover a north-west passage, which was followed by a similar effort on the part of the English in 1553. The idea received the greatest encouragement from Queen Elizabeth, and a company was formed in 1585 called the "Fellowship for the discovery of the North-West Passage." Sir Hugh Willoughby's last voyage, which was entered on with a view to discover a north-east passage to China, was fatal to him and his brave comrades, who perished in the ice. The instructions given to Sir Hugh by Sebastian Cabot, Grand Pilot of England by appointment of Henry VII., are extant, and furnish a curious and interesting specimen of naval regulation. No dicing, carding, tabling, nor other such practices were to be allowed on ship-board; morning and evening prayers were to be diligently observed. On the other hand, the natives of strange countries were to be "enticed on board and made drunk with your beer and wine, for then you shall know the secrets of their hearts;" and they were to be cautious with regard to "certain creatures with men's heads and the tails of fishes, who swim with bows and arrows about the fords and bays, and live on human flesh."

During the long reign of Elizabeth foreign trade made gigantic strides. Among the very first acts of this queen was one to abolish the restriction of English merchants to English bottoms in the transport of goods. The Act states that this restriction had provoked the natural adoption of like restrictions by foreign princes, This was the first acknowledgment of the mischief of meddling with the freedom of trade; and our foreign trade had now acquired an importance which demanded respect. With the Netherlands alone our trade was extraordinary, its value amounting to nearly two millions and a half sterling annually; and we find at this time the first mention of insurance of goods on their voyage. In 1562 we hear also of that detestable commerce the slave trade, which was introduced by John Hawkins, so well known afterwards as the daring compeer of Drake and Frobisher, and one of the heroic conquerors of the Armada. Hawkins carried out English goods, called at the Guinea Coast, and took in slaves, sailed to Hispaniola, and brought thence sugar, ginger, hides, and pearls.

During the reign of Elizabeth the many voyages which. were made in order to discover a north-west passage to India, led to a more intimate knowledge of the North American coasts. In these Frobisher, Cavendish, and Davis distinguished themselves. From 1576 to the end of Elizabeth's reign, Raleigh and his step-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, made repeated attempts to colonise North America, and particularly Virginia - so called in honour of Elizabeth - but in vain. Equally strenuous and unsuccessful efforts were made to open a direct sea communication, with India by the English; and it was not till the close of Elizabeth's reign that the incorporation of an East India Company, destined to establish that trade, was effected. The charter was granted by Elizabeth in 1600. Elizabeth also chartered a company in 1579 for the exclusive right of trading to all the countries of the Baltic.

As regarded the domestic manufactures of this period, the woollen manufactures were the most important, and extended themselves greatly on account of the foreign demand. This manufacture had to contend with many old charters and restrictions which were introduced to monopolise the practice of it to certain towns and persons; but these were gradually broken through after much contest, and people in both town and country were allowed to make cloths and other woollen goods. Originally London, Norwich, Bristol, Gloucester, and Coventry were the privileged places. Essex became a clothing county; but by degrees the trade spread into those quarters where it still prevails. Berks, Oxford, Surrey, and Yorkshire made coarse kerseys for exportation; Wales manufactured fringes and coarse cloths; but Tiverton, Bridgewater, Chard, and other towns of Wilts, Gloucester, and Somerset were famous for their broad-cloths; those of Kidderminster, Bromwich, Coventry, Worcester, Eversham, Droitwich, as also of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, were in esteem. Manchester and Halifax were already noted for rugs and fringes, Norfolk for coverlets, and Lincolnshire and Chester for what were called "cottons," but which were a species of woollen. There was much complaint at that day of the adulteration of these fabrics by intermixture of inferior yarns, and by not taking the proper means to prevent them running up on being exposed to wet. Norwich had manufactures of woollen different to ordinary cloth, in which it excelled all other places; and in Elizabeth's reign the Norwich manufacturers introduced new kinds under the name of Norwich satins and fustians. The art of dyeing received a new impulse and new colours from the discovery of Brazil and other distant countries. Soap-making was also introduced, soap having before 1524 been chiefly imported. Many new manufacturing processes, both in weaving, dyeing, and cleaning cloths, were brought over by the refugees from the Netherlands, driven hither by the Spanish persecutions. During Elizabeth's reign the smelting of iron, which had been chiefly carried on in Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, became restricted there on account of the consumption of wood. Copper mines and alum pits were discovered in the time of Elizabeth, in Cumberland and Yorkshire, which contributed to the extension of the manufacturing arts.

Sir Thomas Gresham, the great financial leader of the day, although a protege of the Duke of Northumberland's, -was received with great favour by Elizabeth on her accession. The great merchant then gave her advice - the following of which may well be called an epoch in the history of this country. He told her that all the debased coin should be converted into fine coin of a certain weight; that their monopoly should not be restored to the Steelyard merchants; that licences should be granted as seldom as possible; that she should incur no debt, or as little debt as possible, beyond the seas; and that she should keep her credit with her own merchants, as they would be her best and most powerful friends. These wise measures of reform were gradually carried out. Elizabeth probably perceived their value in a great measure, but she could not find it in her heart to act altogether with the necessary self-denial and liberality. Thus, she would not yield her power to reward and punish favourites by means of special grants and licences. The monopoly of sweet wines which Essex enjoyed is an instance of her influence in this respect.

Gresham himself superintended the restoration of the coinage, and his advice with regard to the Steelyard merchants was also carried into practice. It was to him that the merchants of that day owed their first place of meeting for the transaction of business; before that, being "constrained either to endure all extremities of weather, viz., heat and cold, snow and rain, or else to shelter themselves in shops." He built, therefore, a house for them, which the queen visited in 1570 and called the Royal Exchange. This building, like many others belonging to the City companies, was destroyed in the great fire. It was designed after the model of the Bourse of Antwerp, and was Flemish also in its architect, its workmen, and its materials.

During this century much progress was made in the improvement of London. Henry VIII. passed various Acts for the paving of the thoroughfares, which before were horrible sloughs, "very foul and full of pits."

The commerce of Scotland during this century was affected by precisely the same circumstances as that of England.


The public amusements of the nation underwent as great a revolution during this century as its religion or its literature. The fall of the Church and the introduction of fire-arms were fatal to the spirit of chivalry, and the whole host of religious pageants and plays. Henry VIII. and Elizabeth exerted themselves to prolong the exercises of chivalry, but they had lost their real soul, and fell lifeless to the ground. In vain was the tournament of the Cloth of Gold, or the jousts at which Elizabeth presided at Greenwich. They were become mere mockeries of what once had been the all-engrossing contests of knightly honour. In vain did they endeavour to keep alive the long bow and the feats of archery. The musket and the sportsman's gun had made the bow and quiver mere playthings. The tournament gave way to the joust, in which the contest was conducted with headless lances, and fighting at the barriers with blunted axes; and that gave way to "riding at the ring," in which the gentlemen did not run their lances through theii antagonists, but through a ring suspended for the purpose. The last of the ancient exercises was the contest with the sword and buckler; but the sword was deprived of both edge and point; and as the combatants were not allowed to lunge, but only to strike, the practice was perfectly harmless. In the time of Henry VIII., however, the art of fencing was introduced; and in the time of Elizabeth the use of the rapier and the deadly thrust rendered the acquirement of the art of fence a matter of the first importance.

But though the chivalric exercises went out in this age, never was the love of pageant and display more alive. The revival of the Greek literature brought forward a crowd of gods and goddesses, who figured in public processions and galas; and the strangest allegoric absurdities were gazed upon by grave princes and their counsellors, as well as by the ladies, with all the enthusiasm of country lads and lasses gaping at a strolling theatre or a puppet-show.

"We have described the strange masquerading and allegoric pageants got up in London for Queen Mary and Elizabeth; and any one who will wade through worthy Laneham's description of the nineteen days in which Queen Bess was entertained at Kenilworth by Leicester, will find plenty of giants, distressed Ladies of the Lake, "salvage men," presents from Bacchus, Pomona, Ceres. &c., floating islands, and sham Arions riding on sham dolphins. More healthy but little less romantic were the holiday sports which had survived the Church, and were mingled in by both princes, nobles, and people. The old Mystery did not for some time disappear before the secular drama, and the Coventry Play was played before Elizabeth at Kenilworth. May-day had its grand maypole still; and Henry VIII. did not disdain, on May-day, 1515, to go a-maying to Shooter's Hill, with his queen and his sister, the Queen-Dowager of France. May-day was also the great day of the milkmaids, who danced from door to door with a pyramid of plates on their heads. Stubbs - who, Puritan as he was, seems to have enjoyed what lie describes so well - gives us the following description of the amusements of the merry gentlemen of the Temple in those days: -

"First, all the wild heads of the parish covening together, choose them a grand captain of mischief, whom they ennoble with the title of My Lord of Misrule, and him they crown with great solemnity and adopt for their king. This king anointed chooseth for him twenty, forty, threescore, or a hundred lusty guts like to himself to wait upon his lordly majesty and to guard his noble person. Then every one of these his men he investeth with his liveries of green, yellow, or some other wanton colour. And, as though they were not gaudy enough, they bedeck themselves with scarfs, ribbons, and laces, hanged all over with gold rings, precious stones, and other jewels; this done, they tie about either leg twenty or forty bells, with rich handkerchiefs in their hands, and sometimes laid across over their shoulders and necks, borrowed for the most part of their pretty Mopsies and loving Bessies..... Thus all things set in order, then have they their hobby-horses, dragons, and other antics, together with their pipers and thundering drummers to strike up the devil's dance withal; then march these heathen company towards the church and churchyard, their pipers piping, their drummers thundering, their stumps dancing, their bells jingling, their handkerchiefs swinging about their heads like madmen, their hobby-horses and other monsters skirmishing amongst the throng; and in this sort they go to the church (though the minister be at prayer or preaching), dancing and swinging their handkerchiefs over their heads in the church like devils incarnate, with such a confused noise that no man can hear his own voice. Then the foolish people they look, they stare, they laugh, they fleer, and mount upon forms and pews to see these goodly pageants solemnised in this sort. Then, after this, about the church they go again and again, and so forth into the churchyard, where they have commonly their summer halls, their bowers, arbours, and banqueting houses set up, wherein they. feast, banquet, and dance all that day, and peradventure all that night, too. And thus these terrestrial furies spend the Sabbath-day in the country."

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