A 16th Century Galleon. Artist: Pearson Scott Foresman
1517 – Martin Luther writes his Ninety Five Theses attacking the Catholic Church. He is ex-communicated by the Pope. His teachings spark the beginnings of the Protestant reformation. Under Catholic teachings, the lending of money for the generation of profit is a sin, the sin of usury. As the basis of capitalism is the investment of money in the hope of making a profit, capitalism cannot develop as an economic system under the rule of the Catholic Church. Protestant forms of Christianity are more tolerant of the practice of loaning money at interest. The Protestant reformation creates a moral view of the world under which early forms of capitalism can flourish.
1529 – Henry VIII separates the Church of England from Rome.
1536 – John Calvin publishes The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvinism encourages the idea of the purposeful investment of wealth, as opposed to spending money on luxuries and indulgences.
1554 – The first tulips arrive in Europe from the Ottoman Empire. Tulips quickly become a coveted item. The Dutch create a market for tulip bulbs.
1555 – The first chartered joint-stock company is established in England, the Muscovy Company. The first capitalist ventures are concerned with ocean going trade. Ocean voyages are both expensive and risky, but the potential profit is very high. A new economic model is required to support them. The joint stock company enabled a group of investors to contribute variable amounts towards supporting a voyage. The investors split the profits of the voyage in proportion to their original contributions. The charter grants the merchant a monopoly on trading with a particular geographical area.
1600 – Founding of The East India Company.
1604 - The first Enclosure Act is passed. The Act enables a landowner in Radipole in Dorset to fence off his land into individual fields, which could then be sold or rented.
1618 – First English Puritans arrive in America.
1634 – The price of tulips rises steadily. Merchants start to sell ‘tulip futures’ – florists and tulip traders sign contracts to buy tulip bulbs at the end of the growing season. These contracts themselves start to be traded. Tulips are now traded without any bulbs changing hands. The Netherlands is gripped by tulip fever.
1637 – In February, the tulip futures market collapses suddenly. The price of the contracts has become vastly inflated in comparison to the price of the actual bulbs themselves.
1670 – The Hudson Bay Company is granted a royal charter to trade with the new American colonies.
1694 – The Bank of England is founded. It is originally set up as a joint stock company. It has a monopoly on arranging and managing loans to the British government. Merchants buy shares in the company by contributing funds to provide the bank’s initial loan to the British government.
1698 – John Castaing establishes the first brokerage for trading in shares at Jonathan’s Coffee House in London’s Change Alley. Here merchants can sell their shares in various ventures to other merchants at a profit. The broker receives a cut of the profit from the sale.
1711 – The South Sea Company is founded. It was set up as a public-private partnership between private investors and the British government. It was created in order to reduce the cost of the national debt. It was granted a monopoly on trade with South America, despite the fact that it was extremely unlikely that any trade with South America would actually be possible. At the time, Spain controlled South America and Britain was involved in the Spanish War of Succession.
1720 – The price of shares in the South Sea Company rise in value. This is due to ‘insider trading’. Rather than making money from trading with South America, the founders of the scheme, instead, used their inside knowledge of when government debts were about to be consolidated to make huge profits. Shareholders use company money to deal in the company’s own shares. In August 1720, the share price peaks at £1000 a share, before suddenly collapsing.