Well, today is the fourth and
final of the contextual lectures introducing sixteenth-century
England. We’ve looked at the social
order, we’ve looked at households,
institutions and relationships in local communities,
and now I want to look at the networks of connection that tie
the whole thing together, joining up the dots as it were,
so it’s a bit of historical geography or if you like a kind
of guided tour of sixteenth-century England,
a bit of historical tourism. Well, last time I stressed that
local communities had a certain distinctive local peculiarity or
local particularity, which was partly constructed
out of their local customs and institutions.
But it was also something that
was influenced by the different ways that they were linked
together into the larger world. The myriad of tiny local
communities in this period was on the one hand a kind of
complex of places which were distinctive entities in their
own right, but on the other hand they were
also integral parts socially and politically of larger spaces,
and it’s those larger spaces and the ties that bound them
together that I’m most concerned with today.
Well, amongst the most
significant of those larger spaces are what contemporaries
referred to as “countries”.
They used that word not in the
modern sense of a territorial state but to mean a distinctive
area, a landscape,
a society, in some respects a local culture.
These countries as they thought
of them could be quite localized,
for example on the Scottish border Teviotdale,
or down in Gloucestershire the Vale of Berkeley.
These were regarded as
distinctive countries. Or they could use the term more
broadly. People talked about the North
Country, they talked about the West Country;
areas with less distinct boundaries.
When someone said in a letter,
or in a political speech, or whatever,
that he was referring to the opinion of his country he was
referring to such a local area. Such countries are usually
discussed by historians in terms of contrasting landscapes,
physical geography, and to a certain extent
economic activity. If you look at map one,
the small relief map, you’ll find that agrarian
England was customarily divided up into,
on the one hand, the highland zone of the north
and the west– you have all the high land
represented there, the highland zone–and on the
other hand, the lowland zone of the south
and east. That’s one way of perceiving
these–the broad distinctions that were noticed at the time
and subsequently. On the other hand,
people sometimes make distinctions between what they
called the ‘fielden’ areas, areas that practiced mixed
agriculture, mostly lowland,
and various pastoral zones practicing mainly animal
husbandry, and they could be of various
types. There were the open hill
pastures of the highland. There were the woodland
pastures. Much of the west of England was
still pretty densely wooded, some parts of East Anglia as
well, and they practiced a distinctive pastoral husbandry
focusing on dairying. And then finally there were the
pastoral practices of the fenlands,
the areas of eastern England which were waterlogged in winter
and where for the most part the inhabitants practiced pastoral
husbandry. It’s a very distinctive area in
this period, flooded during the winter,
the inhabitants regarded as having an extremely distinctive
culture of their own. In fact, shreds of that
continue. It’s often said that people
from the fens have webbed feet.>
This is not true.
I had a roommate from the fens
when I was a student and he definitely didn’t have webbed
feet–though he was a good swimmer.
Well, this kind of distinction
in the physical geography can be extended to Scotland and Wales
but there’s less variety. Scotland–two thirds of
Scotland is highland. Only the lowland zone between
the Forth and the Clyde is really very good for
agriculture, for arable agriculture, and areas around
the coast. Wales again dominated by the
central Cambrian massif, very difficult in this period
to travel north to south in Wales unless you go around the
coast. Most of the major routes
traveled east to west because of the mountains.
So it’s less varied.
If we turn to another kind of
distinctiveness, there’s that associated with
the practice of various industrial activities in the
countryside. That was a matter not so much
of the physical geography – though that could influence
their location–but dependent upon other factors.
We think of this as the
pre-industrial age, and yet there were already some
areas which were rendered distinctive by,
for example, the practice of mining and
quarrying that clearly depended upon geographical factors.
You get lead being mined in the
hills of Derbyshire or in the hills of Somersetshire–
down here–iron in the Forest of Dean and down in Sussex,
down here, and coal was produced especially around the
River Tyne in the northeast and in a scattering of other places
across the countryside and in South Wales.
These industries were already
established, and then there was metal working.
There was a great deal of metal
working around the town of Birmingham in the west Midlands
which later grew into a great city,
one of England’s greatest centers in the industrial
revolution for light engineering.
That was based on its earlier
metal working trade. When Henry VIII invaded
Scotland in 1523, he placed bulk orders for
arrowheads from the smiths of Birmingham.
They supplied him.
Sheffield was also very well
known for its metal working; the knives of Sheffield were
very famous as indeed to some extent they still are.
Most people carried what they
called a Sheffield whittle– a whittle– a little knife that
you carried around with you to cut your food and it’s from that
name of course that we get the practice of whittling–
whittling wood–from a Sheffield whittle.
Above all, there was on a much
larger scale the manufacture of woolen cloth,
usually manufactured in the putting-out system which I
described to you; raw materials put out by
capitalist clothiers to workers who spun the wool into yarn,
wove the yarn into cloth in their own cottages scattered
across the villages around a major urban center.
And that kind of organization
in the putting-out system of the cloth industry was very
widespread indeed. Many of the villages of East
Anglia were heavily involved. Parts of Kent,
lots of places in the West Country,
and a number of places scattered across the north were
heavily involved in manufacturing England’s most
famous product at this time, high-quality woolen cloth.
All that’s fine as a brief
descriptive typology of different kinds of areas and
their distinctiveness. Physical geography goes only so
far in explaining all this variation.
It’s also to do with the–not
only the physical attributes of the area but also invisible
factors; the patterns of connection,
the patterns of interaction, the flows of goods and people
which gave areas distinctive qualities.
So, for example,
to indicate what I’m trying to express here,
the fact that the coal industry was centered on Tyneside (up
here in the northeast of the country) was not simply because
coal was found there and was found near to the surface where
it could be reached with relatively simple technology.
It was also to do with the fact
that it lay very close to the River Tyne,
a major navigable river, so the coal,
which was bulky and difficult to transport,
could easily be put onto small boats called ‘keels’,
brought down the river on to–and loaded onto collier
ships– which then transported it
easily down the coast to the cities along the coast and above
all to the city of London. London could never have grown
as it did in this period if it hadn’t had regular fuel supplies
brought at a reasonable price by coastal routes from the
northeast. That’s why the northeast became
the center of the coal industry whereas other areas which had
coal deposits were not yet exploited;
they were too inaccessible. Well, that’s one example.
One could think of others,
but it’s examining flows of that kind that’s crucial to
understanding how particular localities developed their
special qualities and also the way in which they got
articulated into larger national systems.
So to understand all of that
one needs to look at these connections and the flows which
linked local societies together into the national whole.
One could look–one can
look–at those connections in many ways.
There are the connections which
have to do with the state and we’ll look at them next week
when I look at the early Tudor monarchy and the reassertion of
royal authority. There were connections to do
with the church and we look at them a lot in dealing with the
Reformation, but today I want to focus
principally on connections through markets and through
flows of people, demographic flows across the
countryside, and in particular looking at
them through the pattern of the urban system,
the towns which helped to organize and to some extent
channel these flows. Well, for analytical purposes
you can distinguish various levels of connection.
There were local market areas
based on a small market town linking together the activities
of the villagers within particular countries.
Secondly, there were regional
and interregional patterns of trade,
and finally there were trading systems of national or even
international significance. Some–I’ll touch on each of
them in turn. Local market areas were based
upon small market towns. Within a particular country the
rural and the urban were not separate spheres.
It’s helpful to think of them
as being bound together by connections to a particular
market town. All towns needed the country’s
products of food and raw materials.
The country depended upon the
towns to provide a place to trade and also for specialist
manufactures, specialist services of various
kinds. So the essential unit to think
of is the market town and its hinterland, and one can
distinguish various kinds of market town.
Some of them were really very
tiny. The smallest ones were not very
impressive as urban entities. They were just large villages.
They’ve been described as
villages with an overlay of urban activities,
market villages. One person rather poetically
has described these market towns as being “foci in
time”. They just came alive on market
day. The rest of the time they’re
pretty much just like any other village.
Well, those are the settlements
that provided weekly markets and a range of specialist services.
Most rural villages would have
a smith, a carpenter,
a wheelwright, but there were other crafts
which needed a bigger market and so they tended to be located in
the market towns, people like coopers who made
barrels or joiners who made furniture and so forth.
To give you a specific example,
there’s an area of the county of Suffolk called Babergh
Hundred. There’s the name.
That’s how it’s spelt.
It’s a delightful area of the
country. A recent survey by the Royal
Commission on Historical Monuments found that in that
area no less than 24% of the houses date back before 1700.
It’s got a remarkable level of
survival of late medieval and early modern buildings,
which makes it delightful. You’ve probably seen it many
times in BBC shows. If you want an ideal English
village, that’s the kind of place you’d go to film it.
Well, Babergh Hundred:
in 1522, there was a survey done of able-bodied men which
led them to listing the inhabitants and their trades and
occupations. There were thirty-two
settlements in the area. Twenty-seven of them had only
between two and fourteen different occupations.
Four of them had between
eighteen and twenty-seven occupations.
They were the market towns.
And finally there was one place
which had as many as forty-nine occupations.
That was a big market town,
the town of Sudbury, the name which will be familiar
to you no doubt. There are many Sudburys in the
United States. Well, all market towns,
then, were essentially closely connected and part of the
countryside they served, they gained their living from
it, but they also served to bind those settlements into what you
can think of as a kind of social area around which people move on
a regular basis. Just to take an example of
this, there was a small village called Kibworth Harcourt.
It’s in Leicestershire,
around about there. A study of Kibworth Harcourt’s
been done which shows that Kibworth Harcourt lay within a
day’s walk of a variety of small market towns.
So here we are in Kibworth
Harcourt; people who had different things
to sell on any given day of the week virtually could go out to a
market town nearby and in turn people were coming in from other
villages to those market towns on different market days.
What you get is the
interconnection of the whole area of course.
All the villagers from these
different communities are gradually intermingling in the
marketplaces of these market towns.
That’s how a local society
meshed together. Contemporaries were very aware
of this. In the course of the
Reformation when the attempt to Protestantize the country was at
its height, a good deal of attention was
paid for example to preaching in market towns.
Preachers were appointed to
preach in market towns. That was how you reached the
people. That’s how you penetrated an
area. Well, in addition,
some market towns had a stronger role,
the bigger ones like Sudbury which could articulate patterns
of interaction over a significantly larger area.
One historical geographer has
described these as what he calls “cardinal markets,”
really important ones linking countries into sub regions.
A very good example is the town
of Richmond in North Yorkshire which has been quite well
studied. Richmond was placed between the
hills of the Yorkshire Dales, beautiful high country,
sheep country, wonderful place to go walking
or hiking, and the Vale of York,
the lowland Vale of York. It channeled the relationship
between those two areas, the sheep and the dairy produce
of the dales including the famous Wensleydale cheese which
you may have encountered. It’s available in some places
in America; recommend it.
A big wedge of Wensleydale on
top of a slice of apple pie eaten together is definitely one
of life’s more fulfilling experiences.
I would recommend it.
It’s a sort of–it’s a sort
of–crumbly white cheese, tangy.
The best Wensleydale is still
made from sheep’s milk, originally made by monks from
the monasteries in that region but still produced.
wool coming down to Richmond where they meet the grain and
cloth and other products coming up from the Vale of York and
that’s the main center for exchange.
In 1536, when the north rose
against the Reformation in the rebellion known as the
Pilgrimage of Grace, Richmond was one of its major
centers. Proclamations of the rebellion
took place at the market cross in Richmond.
Again it makes perfect sense.
This is how you reached people.
Actually, speaking of Richmond,
only if you’ll forgive a small divergence,
when people visit Britain they very often go to London,
Oxford, Cambridge, maybe Canterbury Cathedral,
and then skip up to Edinburgh or whatever.
It’s well worth taking the time
to go to some of the provincial regions where you can see some
lovely places. The north is a very good
example and Richmond is a splendid place to visit.
It’s an almost perfect market
town for the twelfth-century castle perched on a bluff above
the River Swale, delightful streets,
mostly seventeenth- and eighteenth-century,
built in sort of yellowish sandstone,
monastery ruins. It’s got everything and
people–tourists–don’t visit places like this very often.
It’s well worth doing.
If you happen to go to Richmond
I would recommend near the marketplace there’s an inn
called the Black Lion which does excellent lunches
>and, as you’d expect in that
part of the country, the roast lamb is terrific but
then they have modernized. They do now have vegetarian
options and they have wonderful beer.
The Black Sheep Brewery is a
small brewery in that area which is very well known and they
produce Black Sheep Bitter and also a most unusual bottled beer
which is called Riggwelter, which needs explaining.
It’s a dialect word.
A riggwelter in the dialect of
this particular area of the north of England is a sheep
which has fallen on its back and can’t get up again.
This happens with sheep.
They trip, they roll on their
backs and then they lie there waggling their feet,
>and the shepherd has to come
and turn them up again. Well, that is–in the dialect
of the area a sheep like that is riggweltered;
it’s a riggwelter, and they call this bottled beer
because if you consume it in
it has exactly the same effect.
Anyway, I tell you this not to
encourage you but to, you know–if you did happen to
go to that part of England to warn you against the possible
Well, to get back to the point,
so we have significant market towns and they connect villages
into localities, localities into countries,
countries into sub regions. And that role is revealed in
their recorded patterns of population mobility.
As you know,
village populations were not rooted and immobile.
People moved about finding work
as servants, marrying, taking up a tenancy
of land that was available and so forth,
and to some extent you can trace the distances people moved
from their place of birth in the course of their lives.
One study has been done of
Worcestershire, over here on the Welsh border,
and that suggests that people were generally living within ten
miles of the place they were born,
so kind of moving around their country,
and there are other similar studies.
A very good one was done of
Kent of the geography of marriage,
and it found that half of the people in the study married
people from their home parish, 70% married people from under
five miles, 84% married people from under
ten miles, and 95% married people from
under fifteen miles from where they were born,
and again it gives a sense of the area in which people were
moving around and where they of course met marriage partners.
Well, distances like that
reflect the area of regular social interaction and movement
shaped by local markets and the towns where they were located,
which created social areas with their own distinctive identities
and their own particular orientations.
I’ve noticed since living in
Connecticut that there’s an invisible wall across
Connecticut which seems to divide Red Sox fans from Yankees
fans, which presumably has something
to do with the kind of orientation of people to
different parts of the state, towards New York or towards
Boston so– and it’s an example of the kind
of thing I’m talking about, the way in which people’s
connections, where they go shopping,
where they go for business and so forth orient them in
particular directions, and that’s what created these
countries in sixteenth-century England too.
Okay. Let’s move on.
there were some longer distance flows.
The key commodities that one
finds in these interregional systems of connection and of
interdependence were of several kinds.
There were foodstuffs.
Not every area produced enough
food to feed its local population.
You tend to get a flow of grain
from the south and east towards the north and west.
A lot of it went up the coast
for example from East Anglia, and in reverse you get flows of
animal products from the pastoral areas of the north down
to the south heading usually towards the cities.
Many cattle and sheep were
driven in great herds having been assembled in the market
towns of the north and the west and Wales,
driven down to London in particular where they’d be
fattened up in the villages around London by graziers before
being sold to the butchers of the city.
So you get flows of that kind.
You get flows of raw materials.
The wool which was produced in
East Anglia or Lincolnshire or the north would find its way
down to the woolen industry in the west and the southeast.
And one gets other things too.
The luxury products which were
traded over long distances, things like wine and spices,
fine-quality fabrics. They would tend to come in
through London or one of the major ports like Bristol and
then be disseminated across the countryside.
Longer distance flows of
foodstuffs, raw materials, luxury goods,
and indeed some less significant manufactured goods.
The knives of Sheffield were
found everywhere in the country. If you visit London and are
standing by the river at low tide,
you might notice people on the mud banks by the side of the
river putting mud into sieves and sieving it.
They’re known as mudlarks.
They’re amateur archeologists.
What they’re doing is finding
stuff in the mud which fell out of people’s pockets in London
long ago. As you probably are aware,
the taxi system of sixteenth-century London
was–were little boats on the river.
Watermen rowed people hither
and thither and Shakespeare in Love is a good example of
that kind of thing if you’ve seen that movie.
Things fell out of people’s
pockets when they were on the river and they can be found in
the mud. Anyway, one of the most common
things the mudlarks find are Sheffield knives.
People carried a knife all the
time and they would fall in the river and they can be found and
they end up in museums. Well, longer distance flows
then. Any town could have a role in
distributing goods over the longer distance,
but some had a particularly important role and they were of
greater than sub-regional significance.
And the greatest of them are
sometimes described as being provincial capitals,
places which in the early sixteenth century would have a
population over 5,000 or 6,000, which seems paltry to modern
eyes but was quite significant at the time,
and which exerted influence over a whole area of the
country. To give a good example,
York, effectively the capital of the north of England.
York was a city of ancient
origin and considerable importance.
It was the great ecclesiastical
center of the north. The Archbishop of York was
based there in York Minster, the wonderful cathedral.
It was the center of royal
government for the north. The king’s Council of the North
sat at York in the King’s Manor, and York was also a natural
point of exchange for the largest county in the kingdom.
If you look at your map of
towns and counties, you’ll see that Yorkshire–up
here–by far the biggest county. Well, York dominated the
trading networks of the entire area.
It provided also all kinds of
specialist services for the whole of the north of England.
If your church needed new
bells, York was the only place you could get a bell cast.
If you wanted to buy a clock,
you would probably need to go to York.
Not many clocks were
manufactured, it was a very specialist
occupation, a tiny number of the greatest cities.
If you wanted a book
beautifully bound, you would go to York.
York had people like
bookbinders serving the cathedral and so forth.
Its position on the River Ouse
meant that it was also a town which controlled a major artery
of long-distance trade. The River Ouse runs up from the
city of Hull on the coast up into North Yorkshire and along
the river would pass many goods being landed at Hull and coming
up into the area, or coming down the river and
then being shipped to national and international markets.
Any of the really great cities
of the time had that same kind of role.
Norwich was in effect the
capital of East Anglia and was the second largest city at the
time. Bristol, in effect the capital
of the West Country. Chester, very significant also
to the north of Wales and controlling trade with Ireland,
and so one could go on. Newcastle up in the northeast
also very significant, strategically important,
close to the Scottish border. Just as patterns of population
mobility within particular localities indicate the local
social areas within which people moved,
so the patterns of migration to the really great cities tell us
about their regional and interregional significance.
for example, there are surviving lists of
apprentices and where they came from, the young men who came in
to learn a trade. They came from all over East
Anglia, the whole region, and indeed from further afield.
Norwich was important enough to
pull people in from the Midlands, and the same sort of
thing is true of other areas that can be studied in that way.
In Bristol a similar study
shows that the apprentices came from all over the west Midlands
and they came from– let me just check the
figure–thirty-seven different towns and villages of which
twenty-five were actually located on the River Severn
which runs up like that. It’s pretty obvious what was
going on here. These places were particularly
connected to Bristol through the river trade and people were
coming down river to start their careers in Bristol as
apprentices. Bristol also drew apprentices
from Wales and from the southwest of England.
Cities such as Bristol or York
or Norwich were already places of national significance.
They focused entire regions and
bound them together into the national unit and they channeled
inter-regional trade, but the final element of the
kind of articulation that I’m talking about,
of course, is at the ultimate national level and that’s
provided above all by the capital city,
London. As you know from your reading,
the English urban system in this period was rather
polarized. There was only one city with
more than 15,000 population in the early sixteenth century and
that was London. Nowhere else could come near
rivaling London. In the 1520s,
London already had a population of 55,000, which made it
something like four times the size of Norwich,
and it was growing. Indeed, it was to grow to a
population of something like 200,000 by the last decades of
the sixteenth century. London was the biggest
marketing center for food and raw materials.
London–supplying London meant
farmers all over eastern and southern England were sending
their goods towards the capital city.
There was a lot of road traffic.
There was also river traffic
down the River Thames, coastal traffic bringing goods
to where they could be landed to supply London.
London was also the biggest
supplier of goods that were desired elsewhere in the
kingdom. It was the biggest center of
manufacturing of all kinds of things which would be sent out
to cities and towns elsewhere in the kingdom.
It was the biggest supplier
also of all kinds of specialist services which weren’t readily
available elsewhere. London had a lot of lawyers for
example. If you wanted legal business
done, London was the place to go.
London was where the royal
courts met, hearing the most important court cases.
London was the place which had
a lot of proper university-trained physicians if
you had medical problems. It was very rare to find a
physician like that out in a small town.
So it was the place to go for
all kinds of things. An almost ridiculous example:
if you were a great nobleman or a gentleman and you wanted to
have a grand renaissance tomb erected in your parish church in
preparation for your death. And lots of them did this.
They even wrote the
inscriptions themselves while they were still alive saying
what wonderful guys they’d been,>
and if you wanted something
like that and you could afford it, London was the place that
you got it. That’s where the stone masons
were who would do something like that.
They were manufactured in
London, to order, and then shipped out in pieces
to wherever they were to be erected and then they would be
erected by local masons in a parish church somewhere else in
the kingdom, just–it’s true but it’s a
silly example in a way, but it makes the point.
Above all, London was the great
center of international trade. The dominance of London was
based upon the fact that it was so close to the crossing across
to the Netherlands. You can have a short voyage
across the North Sea to the cities of the Netherlands and
above all the city of Antwerp, which should be marked on the
bottom corner of your map but seems to have gotten lost in the
Xerox machine in some cases. London was the major market for
English cloth which was exported abroad and it was the principal
place where imports were landed. In fact, woolen cloth alone
made up two thirds of English exports in the early sixteenth
century. Two thirds of English exports
were woolen cloth, and at least half of that cloth
went to the Continent through London.
It was gathered in London from
all over the north and the west of England and from Wales and
exported in fleets of ships organized by a company called
the Merchant Adventurers. In return, all kinds of goods
were brought back especially from the Netherlands:
luxury textiles, fine-quality linen,
silk, miscellaneous manufactures which were not made
in England, pins for example.
They didn’t manufacture pins in
England. They came from Holland.
Starch–they didn’t manufacture
starch; that came from the Netherlands
too. Paper–there were no paper
manufacturers in England. The book trade,
based in London of course, depended upon imports of paper
from the Netherlands and then there were all sorts of
groceries, olive oil, fruit,
spices, sugar, wine.
A great deal of this came via
the Netherlands. The Netherlands was the great
trading area of northern Europe with its cities,
notably Antwerp, and they connected the trade of
Scandinavia, the Baltic in the north,
to trade down the Atlantic coast and to the Mediterranean.
And also the river routes of
Europe which culminated in the Netherlands, like the Rhine,
all brought in goods. The Netherlands was the center
and England was connected to world trade via the Netherlands.
I keep mentioning Antwerp.
Antwerp was the center of all
of this and its importance was very well recognized.
It was with Antwerp that the
English traded above all. It’s no accident that when Sir
Thomas More in 1517 wrote his book,
Utopia, he sets it in Antwerp where he presents
himself on an embassy to Antwerp,
which actually took place, talking to the sailor Raphael
Hythloday who tells him the story of the wonderful land of
Utopia which he’s located in his voyages to the west.
Other things came from the
Netherlands too; ideas.
It was one of the major centers
for the smuggling of early Protestant books into England
from the 1520s onwards, for example.
So London’s dominant position
was reflected in the fact that it had a truly national
migration field. A study’s been done of 1,000
new freemen of the city in 1551 to 1553, young men completing
their apprenticeship and becoming freemen of the city.
Only a fifth of them had been
born in London or the metropolitan area itself.
A quarter of them came from the
southeast and East Anglia, a quarter of them came from the
Midlands, a quarter of them came from the
north, and then there were a
scattering of others from different parts of the kingdom,
relatively few from the southwest.
Probably the importance of
Bristol meant that young men from the southwest went there
rather than to London, but London’s catchment area was
truly national. Well, this description and
analysis of marketing structures and the way they’re articulated
perhaps gives a sense of the integrated nature of a system of
exchange already in the early sixteenth century,
and so it was. It’s not difficult to imagine a
merchant sitting in his counting house in Bristol perhaps eating
some salt fish which would have been caught off the coast of
North Wales. It would have been packed into
barrels which were made with barrel stays which probably were
imported from Ireland via Chester.
It would be salted with salt
which was produced in the county of Cheshire nearby.
If he’s accompanying it with a
little wine, that would have come from southwestern France
and was probably landed in Bristol.
If he was drinking that out of
a pewter goblet, the pewter would have been made
with lead from the Mendip Hills and tin from Cornwall probably
actually produced by craftsmen working in Bristol itself.
And maybe he’s wearing a nice
gown to keep the drafts off which would be fine-quality
worsted cloth from Norwich. And if he’s got a fine linen
shirt because he’s very well off, it would be Netherlandish
linen. That was the best;
the cheap stuff came from England and Lincolnshire.
And if he’d starched his
collar, the starch would have come from Antwerp probably.
Let’s have him cut his fish up.
He uses a Sheffield knife.
Well, it’s easy to imagine that.
That–it mattered that those
connections existed and they did exist,
but we also finally just have to appreciate the limits of that
kind of sophisticated commercial interconnection.
Remember what I’ve said before:
this was still primarily a rural world in which people
lived within relatively contained areas and focused
mostly on a little bit of local exchange and producing their own
subsistence. So most people most of the time
had only limited connections to these larger flows,
to these larger commercial networks.
The people who were really
involved with them were distinctive groups in society:
townspeople of course, especially the inhabitants of
the greater cities; to a lesser extent also the
inhabitants of those areas like the industrial areas which were
producing goods for longer distance trade;
the big commercial farmers who were involved in longer distance
marketing of grain or cattle, and a variety of middlemen who
conducted that trade. And finally deeply involved in
all of this were the social elites.
They were the people who
consumed the luxuries. They were the people who went
down to London to attend the royal court from time to time.
They were the people who had
truly national social networks with their equals as members of
the elite. But the point is that the
intensity of the integration varied a lot.
It varied socially;
it varied geographically. Some areas were probably pretty
densely connected and commercialized,
the southeast in particular. It has more towns,
it’s more heavily populated, it has a better road system,
and so forth. Other areas were less closely
interconnected. Some of the longer distance
connections I’ve described were flowing across areas where
people’s lives were in fact much more contained on a day-to-day
basis. When historians try to
conceptualize the whole thing they have to try to express both
the reality of the interconnections and their
importance but also their limits,
the continuing importance of localism within your country.
People talk about an elaborate
mosaic of interlocking local societies.
They talk about what was still
a highly territorialized society, although a national
society also. They talk about an amalgam of
different local societies at different stages of development
all influencing each other, and yet often a world in which
old ways coexisted with the new. Well, both dimensions of the
picture have validity. Commercial relations have a
vital place, and yet many local societies and economies were
still to a great degree autonomous or semiautonomous.
All in all, it could be
described as not yet a fully integrated commercial society
but a traditional agrarian world with a limited commercial
sector. Within that commercial sector
the predominant flows tended to be from the north and the west
towards the south and the east, but to imagine it as being
simply a dynamic advanced southeastern core and a rather
backward northern and western periphery doesn’t do justice to
the more distant provinces. It’s better,
I think, to think in terms of certain core activities which
are to be found all over the kingdom though they tend to be
somewhat more concentrated in the south and east.
But those outposts and those
connections really mattered. They exercised a degree of
leverage in local economies, on local cultures,
and on local politics. So we have a set of local
societies, local economies, even local cultures with
important elements of linkage. It’s those links,
those connections, that get activated and get
elaborated by some of the really significant developments of this
period, the commercial developments,
of course, most obviously perhaps,
but it’s also through those same links and connections that
people in distant areas of the kingdom became involved in some
of the other major changes of the period,
the so-called educational revolution,
the growth of literacy, religious change,
political change. What I’ve been talking about
really is essentially a framework of communication which
is central to economic life, to cultural life,
to the political dynamism of the period.
And finally the national
society as a whole was one which was created not only by those
ties, vital as they were,
but also by other forces, by political forces and by
religious forces, and it’s those that I’m going
to turn to next week when we come at last to look at the
activities of the early Tudor kings and to what was going on
in the church on the eve of the Reformation.
So context done,
hopefully it will help you to understand the dynamics of
change which we turn to next.