Explain the following: In the seventeenth century merchants from towns in Europe began employing peasants and artisans within the villages

In the seventeenth century merchants from towns in Europe began employing peasants and artisans within the villages 

Merchants from the towns in Europe started going to the countryside in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Merchants supplied money to artisans and peasants, and successfully persuaded them to produce for an international market.

  • There was large-scale industrial production for an international market, even before factories began cropping up in Europe including England.
  • This mass production for the international market was not based on factories.
  • This phase of industrialisation is referred to as proto-industrialisation, by the Historians.
  • It was under the control of merchants and the goods were produced by a large number of producers, not in factories, but producers working within their family farms, 

Reasons behind Merchants Moving to Countryside

  • The demand for goods began growing, with the acquisition of colonies in different parts of the world and expansion of world trade.
  • In towns, these were associations of producers that restricted the entry of new people into the trade, regulated prices and competitions, maintained control over production, and trained craftspeople.
  • In towns, the trade guilds and urban crafts were powerful, hence merchants could not expand production within the towns.
  • The monopoly of right to trade and produce and trade in specific products were granted to different guilds by the rulers.
  • Hence it was very tough for new merchants to set up business in towns, so they found an alternative by turning to the countryside.

Peasants – Reasons Behind Working for Merchants

  • In the countryside merchants provided work for poor artisans and peasants.
  • Shrinking income from cultivation was supplemented by the income from proto-industrial production.
  • This was a time when open fields were disappearing and commons were being enclosed.
  • Poor Peasants and Cottagers had to now look for alternative sources of income, who had earlier depended on common lands for their survival, gathering their vegetables, firewood, straw, hay, and berries.
  • All members of the household could not find work as many of them had tiny plots of land. 
  • Peasant households eagerly agreed, when merchants came around and offered advances to produce goods for them.
  • Fuller use of their family labour resources was possible due to this new work given by the merchants.
  • Poor peasants could continue to cultivate their small plots and they could continue to remain in the countryside by working for the merchants.

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