Originally Posted by GraaEminense
Point taken. My previous statement also carried a strong North-Western European bias where I would expect the situation to be different than in the Mediterranean trade cities, though I might well be wrong there as well.
France and England are a little behind the rest of Europe technologically through most of the Medieval period, though there are some exceptions. The most important art / technology / production centers in order of importance are the cities of Northern Italy (Florence, Milan, Venice, Genoa, Brescia, Padua, and so on), the cities of Flanders and the Low Countries (Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, Liege, The Hague, Amsterdam and so on in what is today Belgium and Holland), the North-German Hanse cities (esp. Hamburg, Bremen, and Lubeck), the central German Rhine and Swabian cities (Cologne, Strassbourg, and Augsburg), the Catalan cities (Barcelona and Valencia), and the Baltic north/central European cities of Prussia, Poland, Northern Hungary and Bohemia (Danzig, Krakow and Prague being most important).
So a lot of important industries were dominated by a few of these towns. For example, almost all the top quality armor used in Medieval Europe from the 14th Century onward (the era of plate armor) was made in three cities: Milan, Brescia, and Augsburg in Swabia (Germany - then part of the Holy Roman Empire). This continued from the 14th C through the early 16th.
Some of the English towns were part of the Hanseatic league, York and London were pretty sophisticated in certain ways... and they had Oxford and Cambridge Universities... Paris was also a hugely important University. Generally speaking though France and England were much more rural and Feudal, with strong Monarchies, and as a result they lacked the economic and technological dynamism of the Italian and Central European city-states.
On that note: I was under the impression that one of the limitations of early gunpowder weapons was the availability of gunpowder -the ability to make it in quantity, to store it and to transport it, and the availability of salpeter.
Can anyone enlighten me as to whether or not I am embarrasingly mistaken?
No reason to be embarassed to ask questions, and sorry for my snarky tone earlier. I get grumpy about some persistent cliches but shouldn't be a jerk about it! I apologize.
The gunpowder question is quite valid. So gunpowder appeared in Europe in the mid-13th Century, first published in cypher form by the English Monk Roger Bacon. Early gunpowder was a mysterious alchemical substance equally intended for use as a flame-weapon as a propellant of bullets or arrows. It gradually got better and more useful, with numerous innovations. The (arguably) most important one took place around the mid-15th Century when they invented corned powder.
Until that point, the powder would tend to seperate out as you moved around, and could change it's composition over time. Corned powder was made of consistent kernels which retained their composition and size, different sizes being ideal for different weapons. This allowed them to make all their powder long before battle (instead of making it with mortar and pestle on the battlefield!) and quickly led to the use of cartridges, in the form of little bags of pre-measured powder (exactly the amount for one shot), primer, and a bullet.
From that point it's basically pretty good until you get to smokeless powder Centuries later. This is why most historians call the period from 1500 AD the 'Early Modern Era' because technologically, in war, they had almost all the same stuff they had centuries later. In fact in some cases they had reached the high-water mark in the 15th or early 16th Century on some stuff they wouldn't do as well for a long time to come. Like armor, or early field-guns such as those used by the Czechs, which arguably were not really improved upon until Gustavus Adolphus in the 17th Century.