The Wars and the Posies
The Wars and the Posies
The Fifteenth Century and the First Half of the Sixteenth
The problems of the second half of the fourteenth century continued to affect the fifteenth. Sudden death remained a constant threat, and population levels probably did not begin to recover much, if at all, until the 1540s. Instability in England was briefly restrained by the century’s first two Henries, but thereafter losses in France soon began to prove expensive, the Wars of the Roses were resumed, and uprisings in Wales added to the uncertainty. Nor did the new Stewart dynasty bring internal peace to Scotland. Commercial profits could still be made, especially in the cloth trade, but exports rose and fell with alarming rapidity. Population reduction led to much restructuring, not least in widespread abandonment or shrinkage of rural sites and of urban back areas and suburbs. For archaeology there are some compensations; stone-lined rubbish-pits were one response to fears of smell-spread disease, and their final fills are less often mixed up with residual material than those left unlined. But in London the establishment of the stone waterfront means that the dump deposits peter out, so that the place of the capital in setting standards for the rest of the country becomes even more difficult to assess. Although there was enough bullion to sustain a silver currency in England and Scotland and to allow at least intermittent minting of gold coins, sometimes in quite large numbers, the site-find record is an indicator of decreased overall usage. Both silver and gold became available from new sources after 1460, some compensation for the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the consequent extra difficulty of trading with the Near East, but the maritime route that opened up for bringing gold from West Africa may not have increased the quantity coming into Europe as a whole, as trans-Sahara caravans were fewer. Use of the sea, however, put first Portugal and later England in the middle of commercial flow-lines, rather than at their ends. After the fifteenth century gems began to come round the Cape to enter Europe by the same western route, and emeralds even crossed the Atlantic, to be followed by new supplies of gold.
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