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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

His factories of the Hanseatic League in London


"gilds" were for the most part full of business energy, which showed itself in the twofold way of making such regulations as they believed would insure good workmanship, and of securing facilities for the sale of their wares. All the workmen, it was believed, were interested in the production of good articles, and the bad workmanship of one artisan was regarded as bringing discredit upon all. Hence, as a rule, every article was tested in private before it was exposed for public sale, and various punishments were devised to check the production of inferior goods. Thus in Bremen every badly made pair of shoes was publicly destroyed at the pillory of the town. Such regulations belonged to the private administration of the towns, and differed in different places. Indeed, the whole municipal government of the German cities presents an endless variety, due to the local history and other conditions affecting the individual towns. While the production was a matter for private regulation in each centre of industry, distribution involved the towns in something like a common policy. It demanded safe means of communication between one town and another, between the towns and the rural districts, and safe outlets to foreign lands. It needed roads, bridges, and security of travel. The towns banded themselves together, and made alliances with powerful feudal nobles to secure these advantages. Such was the origin of the great Hanseatic League, which had its beginnings in Flanders, spread over
North Germany, included the Scandinavian countries, and grew to be a European power.(48) The less known leagues among the cities of South Germany did equally good service, and they commonly secured outlets to Venice, Florence, and Genoa, by alliances with the peasantry in whose hands were the chief passes of the Alps. All this meant an opposition between the burghers and the nobles--an opposition which was continuous, which on occasion flamed out into great wars, and which compelled the cities to maintain civic armies, composed partly of their citizens and partly of hired troops. It was reckoned that Strassburg and Augsburg together could send a fighting force of 40,000 men into the field.

The area of trade, though, according to modern ideas, restricted, was fairly extensive. It included all the countries in modern Europe and the adjacent seas. The sea-trade was carried on in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, in the Baltic and North Seas, and down the western coasts of France and Spain. The North Sea was the great fishing ground, and large quantities of dried fish, necessary for the due keeping of Lent, were despatched in coasting vessels, and by the overland routes to the southern countries of Europe. Furs, skins, and corn came from Russia and the northern countries. Spain, some parts of Germany, and above all England, were the wool-exporting countries. The eastern counties of England, many towns in Germany and France, and especially the Low Countries, were the centres of the woollen manufactures. The north of France was the great flax-growing country. In Italy, at Barcelona in Spain, and at Lyons in France, silk was produced and manufactured. The spices and dried fruits of the East, and its silks and costly brocades and feathers, came from the Levant to Venice, and were carried north through the great passes which pierce the range of the Alps.

Civic statesmen did their best, by mutual bargains and the establishment of factories, to protect and extend trading facilities for their townsmen. The German merchant had his magnificent _Fondaco dei Tedeschi_ in Venice, his factories of the Hanseatic League in London, Bruges, Bergen, and even in far-off Novgorod; and Englishmen had also their factories in foreign parts, within which they could buy and sell in peace.

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