In The Expansion of England, based on a series of lectures delivered in Cambridge and published in the late Victorian period,1 Sir John Seeley expressed what was to become the central item of belief of a whole school of early modern history. Although Seeley’s concerns were political and imperial, his perception of the fundamental changes in the overall structure and balance of power in Europe was profoundly important in shaping the way in which many economic historians in the century which followed the book’s publication saw the development of the economy of Europe between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Their version of Seeley stated that, in the Middle Ages and the Age of the Renaissance, the centre of Europe, economically as well as politically and culturally, lay south of the Alps, in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean, that is, southern France, eastern Spain — especially Catalonia — and above all, northern and central Italy. These regions, and the trade to the Levant and Asia which they dominated, had been the key to economic growth and development in Europe since the Ancient period. Through them flowed all Europe’s trade with Asia and to them flowed all the wealth which that trade generated. In particular, in the cities of the South there developed Europe’s first bourgeois societies and bourgeois patterns of consumption. Around this concentration of wealth and consumption grew up industry, finance and long-distance commerce within Europe. The connections of the Mediterranean system extended throughout Northern and Western Europe, reinforced by the political and religious position of the Papal Court in Rome. The Mediterranean was truly and decisively the centre of the European economy.
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