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Uniting the Kingdoms? 1066-1603

 
   

France

Towns and Trade

After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, many Breton and Norman merchants set up businesses in English towns. Replacing the English merchant elite, they came to dominate local trade. After 1290, the arrival of other Europeans helped to supply the commercial skills lost through the expulsion of the Jews from England in that year.

Although merchants from the continent gradually assimilated with the local population, they were also crucial in the developing trading networks between England and France. Many towns grew prosperous on the proceeds of continental trade, although the ports benefited most.

The GasconGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window wine trade was extremely profitable. Ships would cross from Bordeaux and unload their cargoes of wine in ports such as Southampton and Bristol. The decline of domestic wine production in England in the late twelfth century led to an ever-increasing demand for wines from abroad. The English crown actively encouraged the trade in Gascon wines, the taxes generated helping to fund its foreign ambitions. Since Gascony belonged to the king, this trade strengthened ties between two very different regions under English control.

 

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Grape pressing

 

Dispute over the Gascon wine trade

English wool was an even more profitable commodity. Large quantities were exported to the Flemish weaving towns of Ghent and Ypres, and cities such Norwich grew rich on the trade. Under Edward III, a number of staplesGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window emerged both within England and on the continent. These were highly unpopular and in 1353, the Ordinance of the StapleGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window, which was intended to remove the system of narrow monopolies, was passed. This arrangement quickly collapsed, however. In 1399, the Staple of Calais was confirmed. Wool could now only be exported from England via Calais. Taxing the wool trade was extremely profitable for the crown, and largely financed Edward III's wars in France.

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Detail from Henry VI presenting the Earl of Shrewsbury with the sword of the Constable of France, 1442. By permission of the British Library.
 
Detail from Henry VI presenting the Earl of Shrewsbury with the sword of the Constable of France, 1442. By permission of the British Library.