Suppression of Cistercians Did Not Delay Industrial Revolution

(p. 138) . . . , the Cistercians’ proven ability to produce substantial quantities of high-quality iron not only fails to prove that they were about to ignite an Industrial Revolution when they were suppressed in the early sixteenth century, it actually demonstrates the opposite–and for two reasons. First, the iron of Laskill and Fontenoy was evidence not of industrialization, but of industriousness. The Cistercians owed their factories’ efficiency to their disciplined and cheap workforce rather than any technological innovation; there’s nothing like a monastic brotherhood that labors twelve hours a day for bread and water to keep costs down. The sixteenth-century monks were still using thirteenth-century technology, and they neither embraced, nor contributed to, the Scientific Revolution of Galileo and Descartes.

The second reason is even more telling: For centuries, the Cistercian monasteries (and other ironmakers; the Cistercians were leaders of medieval iron manufacturing, but they scarcely monopolized it) had been able to supply all the high-quality iron that anyone could use, but all that iron still failed to ignite a technological revolution. Until something happened to increase demand for iron, smelters and forges, like the waterpower that drove them, sounded a lot like one hand clapping. It would sound like nothing else for–what else?–two hundred years.

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

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