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Late Medieval Ipswich

Late Medieval Ipswich: Trade and Industry

Nicholas R. Amor
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Late Medieval Ipswich
    Book Description:

    Ipswich in the late Middle Ages was a flourishing town. A wide range of commodities passed through its port, to and from far-flung markets, bought and sold by merchants from diverse backgrounds, and carried in ships whose design evolved during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Its trading partners, both domestic and overseas, changed in response to developments in the international, national and local economy, as did the occupations of its craftsmen, with textile, leather and metal industries were of particular importance. However, despite its importance, and the richness of its medieval archives, the story of Ipswich at the time has been sadly neglected. This is a gap which the author here aims to remedy. His careful study allows a detailed picture of urban life to emerge, shedding new light not only on the borough itself, but on towns more generally at a crucial point in their development, at a period of growing affluence when ordinary people enjoyed an unprecedented rise in standards of living, and the benefits of what might be termed our first consumer revolution. Nicholas Amor gained his doctorate from the University of East Anglia.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-995-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-27)

    This history of Ipswich examines the fortunes of the town in the late Middle Ages, and in particular the fifteenth century, a period that has long fascinated economic historians. Writing in 1933, Power and Postan describe it as one of ‘great transformation from mediaeval England, isolated and intensely local, to the England of the Tudor and Stuart age, with its world wide connections and imperial designs’.¹ Some Marxist historians regard these years as the age of transition from feudalism to capitalism. Although not unreservedly adopting this line, Hilton points to the rise of the yeoman farmer and the small industrial...

  7. 1 Economic Context
    (pp. 28-46)

    The next six chapters trace the chronological course of Ipswich’s trade and industry, both at home and abroad, during the fifteenth century. But first it is necessary to consider more general factors that influenced the economic well being of the town. In order to provide an appropriate sense of context, this chapter examines, in turn, the five basic topics of population, supply and demand, business organisation, investment and innovation, and regulation and competition.

    Medieval population levels have long fascinated urban historians because they are so important as an indicator of relative prosperity, and yet they can prove so elusive. As...

  8. 2 The Produce of Many Lands
    (pp. 47-81)

    Anyone setting sail from Ipswich to the Continent in 1400 could do so with confidence. ‘The whole period was peaceful and international conditions conducive to trade.’¹ The perils of the sea did not, of course, all go away. In 1398 Ipswich merchants were ordered to assemble and man all available ships, barges and boats and proceed to attack, arrest and commit to prison pirates, robbers and other malefactors.² Nevertheless, the additional dangers to shipping posed by the Hundred Years’ War had been temporarily lifted by the truce made by Richard II with the king of France in 1396. For a...

  9. 3 A Flourishing Town
    (pp. 82-113)

    Notwithstanding some encouraging trends in overseas trade, by 1400 many towns were beginning to feel the cold winds of recession. Declining population and monetary constraints meant less overall demand for goods which harmed networks and markets inland. Urban trade and industry were feeling the strain. How Ipswich coped with these pressures in the opening years of the century is the subject of this chapter. We begin with Ipswich’s trading links with other English towns, particularly with London, the east coast ports and, nearer to home, the growing cloth town of Hadleigh. The extent of Ipswich’s hinterland is examined through the...

  10. 4 Merchants of Cologne
    (pp. 114-138)

    As we have seen, the closing years of the fourteenth century were favourable to English overseas trade in general and the merchants of Ipswich in particular. The good times were not, however, to last. One modern British Prime Minister reputedly described his greatest anxiety in office as ‘Events dear boy, Events’.¹ The fifteenth century provided a superabundance of events which challenged the political leaders of the time and very often overwhelmed them. The middle years witnessed major developments in international relations with the Hanse, Burgundy, France and Spain, making this a roller-coaster period of hostilities interrupted by the occasional truce...

  11. 5 The Town in Troubled Times
    (pp. 139-176)

    That the middle years of the fifteenth century were particularly difficult for the English economy is now beyond doubt. Whatever side historians may take in the debate over urban decline, on this they all agree. Even Bridbury acknowledges that progress may not have been continuous during the later Middle Ages and warns against ‘the enticing assumption of a steadily ascending curve of growth’.¹ Coining the phrase ‘The Great Slump’ in his 1996 essay, Hatcher summarised much of the research that had already been published on this period. On top of many other economic woes, he identified ‘a sharp contraction in...

  12. 6 Calmer Waters
    (pp. 177-190)

    The closing thirty years of the fifteenth century are generally considered to have been propitious for overseas trade. Edward IV pursued a foreign policy that was more sympathetic to merchants, mending fences with the rulers of some of England’s most important overseas markets (Appendix 1). The wine trade with Gascony began to recover in the 1480s, while trade with Spain continued to grow, and that with Iceland was formally reopened by a treaty that Henry VII negotiated with the king of Denmark in 1490.¹ Henry also encouraged English shipping with early Navigation Acts, requiring the wine of Gascony and the...

  13. 7 Recovery Begins
    (pp. 191-226)

    If the overseas trade of Ipswich gave some grounds for optimism in the closing years of the fifteenth century, how fared the home front? The mid-century slump in trade and industry and its impact on the town have already been considered. By the 1470s there were reasons to hope for recovery. In this decade Edward IV gradually restored the authority and finances of the Crown, and in the next Henry VII ushered in the Tudor Age and finally brought to an end the civil unrest that had plagued the country for so long. Political stability was not, however, in itself,...

  14. 8 Inventiveness and Enterprise
    (pp. 227-230)

    The fortunes of many late medieval towns were blighted by ‘the Great Slump’ of the middle years of the fifteenth century. Ipswich appears to have fared rather better than many comparable towns, such as the east coast ports of Hull, Lynn and Yarmouth, or, even closer to home, Colchester. Its population in 1524/5 was very similar to what it had been in 1377. The borough continued to attract immigrants, including political and economic refugees from the Low Countries, who introduced new industries and helped to keep the local economy buoyant. Nevertheless, the burgesses of Ipswich, like all their contemporaries, worked...

  15. Appendix 1 Timeline
    (pp. 231-233)
  16. Appendix 2 Fifteenth-Century Bailiffs of Ipswich
    (pp. 234-235)
  17. Appendix 3 Fifteenth-Century Ipswich People Mentioned in the Text
    (pp. 236-268)
  18. Appendix 4 Surviving Memorials to Medieval Ipswich Burgesses
    (pp. 269-269)
  19. Appendix 5 Merchants Shipping Wool from Ipswich, 1396–1413
    (pp. 270-273)
  20. Appendix 6 Exports and Imports by Ipswich Merchants, 1396–98
    (pp. 274-276)
  21. Appendix 7 Denizen Merchants Active in Overseas Trade from Ipswich, 1459–66
    (pp. 277-278)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-288)
  23. Index
    (pp. 289-300)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-301)