The most impressive fact in the foregoing citation is the early date at which this bourgeois aristocracy was formed. The merchants, bankers, and soon the industrialists, gradually established themselves in "chateaux," became aristocrats, reached their bejeweled hands toward the agricultural nobility -- who felt constrained to shake them. This was one of the great sources of supply for recruitment into the French nobility for centuries. It is erroneous to believe that these new nobles were, as a rule, boorish climbers who forced their way into the nobility with newly found gold. They were the haute-bourgeoisie who had separated very early from the common urban people.Next Page
The early date at which propertied groups assumed dominant positions (indicating an early separation of the business groups into upper and middle classes) in the Low Countries is shown in the following: 52
At Ypres, from the thirteenth century, one hundred and forty drapers (wholesale dealers in woolens) centralized the control of the woolen industry. They controlled the output of the smaller shops and set up something like the domestic or putting-out system that became general only in modern times.
The early power of the merchants in England, indicating the long evolutionary development of the business classes, is shown in a quotation from Law, out of her book, The English Nouveaux Riches in the Fourteenth Century. It reads: 53
How did the insignificant peddling English traders of the eleventh, twelfth, and early thirteenth centuries so suddenly develop into the important political plutocracy of the fourteenth, a plutocracy so powerful that at one time it threatened to furnish the English constitution with a fourth estate, the merchants?
How can families of three hundred years' commercial standing and increased prosperity be called newly rich and plutocratic? And why the designation "insignificant peddling traders?" Ashley has gone into detail to show that the first merchants in England were persons who "held land within the town boundaries . . . burgesses or citizens par excellence, who alone were fully qualified members of the town assembly." 54
The heart of the matter of the social class aspects of the early commercial development is summarized and succinctly stated in the following: 55
Social classes, properly speaking, must be founded at least partially upon the principle of heredity. The old merchant gildsmen had already become a narrow hereditary aristocracy. A son inherited his father's social position with his wealth, just as country aristocratic families handed down their social class with their lands. When large amounts of capital began overflowing into industry, a new industrial aristocracy grew up . . . . This had been true of the exporting industries almost from the beginning, and was merely extended as trade increased.
The foregoing summary reveals a clear understanding of social classes and the mechanisms of social class formation and maintenance. There is no loose talk here about "upstart" businessmen, or nouveaux riches, or of persons without family lines and family backgrounds. When, later, it is seen that merchants sent proud sons to America, who put on airs and wore coats-of-arms, one must not imagine that they were imposters. Behind many a draper family were generations of standing and prestige (if not genuinely noble backgrounds, under the principle of "extra" sons).
Fahlbeck places the merchants of the towns above the master craftsmen and divides them into the retailers and wholesalers. "Out of the latter there grew, finally, an aristocracy based on wealth, which gradually became a real nobility, city nobility and patrician family lines . . . . " 56
The extent to which the old noble aristocracy took part in the new business ventures in northern Europe has not been mentioned. Of this much was seen, as time went on. To the extent that it took place, there was even less opportunity for the lower classes to share in the new enterprises except as laborers. ". . . the journeyman generally remained in a lower class of permanent wage-laborers." 57 In both Italy and the low countries the nobles had lived in the towns and had been very active in trading ventures. To them business was not a strange thing. Nor will it seem strange to find many noblemen among the commercial adventurers of the Elizabethan and later reigns.
52. Knight, op. cit. (9), pp. 220 - 221.
53. Quoted in R. H. Gretton, The English Middle Class (London, 1917) p. 43.
54. Ashley, op. cit., Part I, p. 73.
55. Knight, op. cit. (9), p. 225.
56. Pontus E. Fahlbeck, Die Klassen und die Gesellschaft (Jena, 1922) p. 167; translation ours.
57. Knight, op. cit. (9), p. 226.