Trust, capitalism and contract in English economic history (1500-1750)

International Social Science Journal (Chinese Edition)

No.3, 2021


Trust, capitalism and contract in English economic history (1500-1750)



Craig Muldrew


The increase in consumption after 1550 led to an expansion of credit, which brought about fundamental social and cultural change in English society. The result was that the amount of debt and contractual litigation which came before the courts in all parts of England increased dramatically as marketing and credit expanded. The sudden barrage of litigation made trust socially problematic. In both medieval and early modern England such reliability was based primarily on the universal stress on the rightness of Christian belief.  In Christian terms, such trust originated from belief in God. The increased emphasis on conscience and honesty introduced by humanism and the Reformation increasingly became more normative as litigation increased. What came into being in the early modern period might be termed the juridical community whereby the group co-operation and dispute settlement of neighbourhoods villages and guilds was augmented by a set of nationally similar legal institutions whereby disputes could be resolved and co-operation could continue.