Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2008
The Sixteenth-Century Prospect
The Economic Situation of Europe after 1500 was to favour the growth of industrial production more than at any time since the Black Death. Population growth and the exploitation of Europe's overseas possessions created wider markets and new sources of raw material. The commercial prosperity and the social changes of the sixteenth century led to higher standards of living and a greater measure of comfort – even, for some, of luxury. How far these factors challenged existing European industries and helped to develop new ones is the subject of the following study.
The word industry' can bear many meanings and shades of meaning. Its use in this chapter needs some definition: viz. the exploitation of raw or semi-finished materials and their processing on a scale so large that the working artisan could not organize production by himself or sell to the consumer. In practice this means we shall be largely discussing those crafts which served more than a purely local market. For the most part it is ‘industry’ in its ‘domestic’ or ‘putting-out’ stage of development that we shall encounter.
Many factors contributed to the development of industrial activity in certain areas of Europe in the later Middle Ages. Adequate supplies of raw materials – water, power and fuel as well as the primary product – the presence of an entrepreneurial class and a sufficient supply of cheap labour were all essential. The means of transport in a given area, by land or water, and the policy of the government, regional or municipal, also exerted an important influence on industrial location and progress.