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5.4: The Resulting Financial Revolution

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    12464
  • To sum up, gunpowder inaugurated a long-term change in how wars were fought. In the process, states found themselves forced to come up with enormous amounts of revenue to cover the costs of guns, mercenaries, and new fortifications. This undertaking was extremely expensive. Even the larger kingdoms like France were constantly in need of additional sources of wealth, leading to new taxes to keep revenue flowing in. Royal governments also turned to officials drawn from the towns and cities, men whose education came to resemble that of the humanist schools and tutors of Italy. Humanism thus arrived from Italy via the staffing of royal offices, ultimately in service of war. It is also worth noting that most of these new royal officials were not of noble birth; they were often from mercantile families.

    The practical nature of humanistic education ensured that this new generation of bureaucrats was more efficient and effective than ever before. Likewise, whereas members of the nobility believed that they owned their titles and authority, royal officials did not – they were dependent on their respective kings. Kings could not fire their nobles, but they could fire their officials. Thus, this new breed of educated bureaucrat had to be good at their jobs, as they had no titles to fall back on.

    The major effort of the new royal officials (despised by the old nobility as “new men”) was expanding the crown’s reach. They targeted both the nobles and, especially, the church, which was the largest and richest institution in Europe. One iconic example was the fact that the French crown almost completely controlled the French church (despite battles with the papacy over this control), and directly appointed French bishops. In turn, those bishops often served the state as much as they did the church.

    The very idea of the right of a government, in this case that of the king, to levy taxes that were applicable to the entire territory under its control dates from this period. Starting in the fourteenth century, the kingdoms of Europe started levying taxes on both commodities, like salt, that were needed by everyone, and on people just for being there (a head tax or a hearth tax). The medieval idea had been that the king was supposed to live on the revenues from his own estates; it was the new monarchies of the Renaissance period that successfully promoted the view that kings had the right to levy taxes across the board.

    That being noted, nowhere did kings succeed in simply levying taxes without having to make concessions to their subjects. Different forms of representative bodies from the nobility, the church, and (typically) the cities had the right to approve new taxes; kings were able to secure approval by rewarding loyalty with additional titles, gifts, land, and promises of no future changes to taxation. An institution of this type was the English parliament, which strongly asserted its control over taxation, a role played in France by several different parlements distributed across the kingdom.

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