Amongst the chief towns of the Low countries, only Antwerp grew as its commerce expanded. Its population doubled in size in a matter of two generations from about 15,500 to around 30,000 between 1437 and 1496. Antwerp took the position, over Brussels, as the most populous town in the Low countries. As well as this, though, Antwerp had the largest number of paupers amongst the large towns. No doubt that people were attracted by its growth, but in turn it had not sufficiently grown enough to absorb them right away. In the 13th century nothing could have foretold the rising in fortunes of Antwerp. A little sea trade, especially with England, and a market, essentially limited to foodstuffs for the area between Scheldt and Meuse, was all it had. The trade was based on a staple of fish, oats and salt going up the Scheldt which had to be sold immediately on arrival at Antwerp.
The first signs of Antwerp's destiny date to around 1296. Edward I of England set up the wool staple, in England for political reasons but also with a view to the growing consumption of wool in the Brabantine industry. Despite being shifted away from Antwerp and then moved back on several occasions, Antwerp had clearly become the port for wool imports in mainland Europe. The Dukes of Brabant helped to stimulate this trade by granting concessions to foreign nations and especially by developing the commercial infrastructure if Antwerp by instituting, probably around 1320, 2 fair which were to be held annually: One at Whitsun and the other in October. The fairs prospered. By 1358 Antwerp had acquired the staple for dairy produce and other agricultural goods from Holland. The output of Holland's and Zeeland's fisheries found, in Antwerp, one of its most promising markets. Moreover a Portuguese connection meant that Antwerp was steadily becoming a major market for Mediterranean goods. More and more merchants came there, and this offered the English greater opportunities than anywhere else in the Zeeland Archipelago: Since Antwerp had no significant cloth trade of its own to protect the English merchants were more than welcome.
There are five major factors which contributed to the rise of Antwerp:
The expansion of the Antwerp fairs was nevertheless very important and was the key factor in the laying of the foundations for a sound financial future. Commercial prosperity strengthened the capital position of Antwerp, which was the basis for financial expansion. The emergence of Antwerp as the metropolis of western Europe happened in the 1520's but must be seen against a commercial background.
In conclusion, from the outset Antwerp was a more favourable place for a principal market than, say, Bergen as it had a much larger population and was much more frequented, especially by English merchants. As well as this it was nearer the more populous areas of the low countries than other large towns. Moreover it could count of the powerful support of its rulers who instigated the fairs and Antwerp's commercial and later financial success.