chapter  VII
THE ECONOMIC CHANGES OF THE FOURTEENTH AND FIFTEENTH CENTURIES
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T h e beginning of the fifteenth century may be considered as the end of the period of medieval economic expansion. Up to then progress was continuous in every sphere. The progressive enfranchisement of the rural classes went hand in hand with the clearing, drainage and peopling of uncultivated or waste lands, and with the Germanic colonisation of the territories beyond the Elbe. The development of industry and commerce completely transformed the appearance and indeed the very existence of society. While the Mediterranean and the Black Sea on the one side and the

North Sea and the Baltic on the other became the scenes of a great trade, and the ports and trading posts sprang up all along their coasts and in their islands, continental Europe was covered with towns from which the activity of the new middle-class radiated in all directions. Under the influence of this new life, the circulation of money was perfected, all sorts of new forms of credit came into use. and the development of credit encouraged that of capital. Finally, the growth of the population was an infallible indication of the health and vigour of society.1