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In our timeline, the Industrial Revolution spanned from 1760 to 1820...or 1840, depending on which source we're talking about. Bottom line is, this period in modern history was a pretty big deal, perhaps the biggest. Rather than overload this question with a list of what made the Industrial Revolution such a big deal, let me instead link you to 12 Industrial Revolution Facts that Changed the World.

The incentive that gave rise to our Industrial Revolution was the invention of many products that made the production of cloth less tedious:

Starting in the mid-18th century, innovations like the flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, the water frame and the power loom made weaving cloth and spinning yarn and thread much easier. Producing cloth became faster and required less time and far less human labor.

More efficient, mechanized production meant Britain’s new textile factories could meet the growing demand for cloth both at home and abroad, where the nation’s many overseas colonies provided a captive market for its goods. In addition to textiles, the British iron industry also adopted new innovations.

Link right here.

In this alternate history scenario, the Industrial Revolution began in the Middle Ages. Specifically, either the High (1000-1250) or Late (1250-1500) Middle Ages. But what sorts of circumstances would force any European kingdom within that window to switch from rural to industrial?

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There is no single point of departure.

You need access to capital to build the factories. You need banking. You need laws and policies that encourage inventors and experimenters, and protect the rulers from a predatory ruling class. You need educational institutions to train all those inventors and bankers and lawyers and engineers and managers. You need a society that is open to new ideas and permits the social mobility of newly-wealthy inventors and factory owners.

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    $\begingroup$ Before all of those things, they also need enough surplus food production to grow the population enough to be able to afford to have factory workers and then to keep the factory workers fed since they themselves don't produce food. $\endgroup$ Jul 5 at 4:08
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    $\begingroup$ Summarizing: you need bourgeoisie. If you look at the wikipedia page for the flying shuttle, you'll read that it was supposedly invented in Southern France before than England... only to be destroyed by royal officials. The watermill was invented during late roman empire, only for an emperor to sneer at it saying "that's what slaves are for". It was not a problem of science or technology, but of society and economics. You need a proto-capitalist society for an industry to be born. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Jul 5 at 9:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft: The Romans had massive watermill installations. They also had lots of water-powered trip hammers and fulling mills, and hydropowered water-lifting devices. After the 1st century CE slaves became fewer and fewer and more and more expensive... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 5 at 11:39
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An errant campfire

In 1790, a hunter named Necho Allen fell asleep with his campfire burning. He was surprised to find an outcrop of black stone burning when he woke up - a mineral we call anthracite.

A mishap of this type in ancient times would have tempted a civilization with a source of dense, hot burning fuel. The rest is just writing.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this would require the steam engine, otherwise it's hard to put heat to work. Modern forays didn't occur until ~1550. However, the aeolipile was invented in ancient Greece around 50 AD; it sounds like they did not recognize its value, but, again, that's just writing. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Jul 5 at 2:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom exactly. Some motivated, smart young monk stumbles upon a preserved text about the aeolipile (a lot of texts were saved exclusively by monateries, the exact places which would have the resources for experiments), gets curious, build a small one and lets say his model starts moving on its own due to the rotation. It's not that far off a leap $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Jul 5 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom it was the other way round in England's industrial revolution - people wanted cast iron pots, which led to more coke being needed, which led to deeper mines, which led to steam engines to pump them out, led to their use for transport. Having purer fossil fuels near the surface would reduce the need for pumping, and so if anything delay steam engines. $\endgroup$ Jul 5 at 11:12
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    $\begingroup$ Coal wasn't the driving force of the industrial revolution, water was. Coal didn't see widespread use as a power source until every stream and river in England was crowded with waterwheels. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jul 5 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking more that cheap fuel means cheap metal, and cheap metal means clever people of limited means can think up something interesting to do with it, such as a clock or bicycle. It might have been a bit more Song dynasty or Kushite, except that a difference in social circumstances made labor scarce and valuable enough to replace with a gadget. $\endgroup$ Jul 6 at 0:45
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On the assumption that the industrial revolution happened when the population increased to a point where enough people were close enough for synergy, meaning that you could start mass producing iron pots or bolts of cloth and have a large enough market for it to be worthwhile, what you want is for the population to be higher.

Population of England 43 AD to 2009 source

The industrial revolution kicked off at about when the population hit six million.

Want that to happen in the 1400 instead? Just avoid the black death, that big drop around 1350.

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    $\begingroup$ For comparison, I have heard historians argue that cultural changes in response to the black death actually promoted the Renaissance. In particular, cheap serf labor became more valued and expensive, and some traditions limiting growth were ended because people had more opportunities for development because they were more valuable. Disruption of primogeniture because whole families were wiped out caused wealth redistribution that also resulted in positive societal changes. $\endgroup$ Jul 5 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ @GaryWalker That is part of the story, but the other side of the coin was that there were no large-scale organizational structures (except for a monarch, who didn't really control anything except military activity). If the feudal serfs belonging to a landowner became "free" because the landowner's family was wiped out, their default option was just to carry on subsistence agriculture on the same land with the same technology as before. They couldn't start trading with another community unless there was another community who could also start trading with them. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Jul 5 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @alephzero Except that wasn't their default option. Serfdom isn't subsistence agriculture, it's subsistence agriculture plus slave labour for your lord. Leaving your lord to find your fortune elsewhere was literally punishable by death for you and your extended family. This only works when serfs don't have much inherent value though, and when there's a social structure to enforce slavery. After the Black Death, both of those conditions were demolished. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Jul 5 at 18:49
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The printing press

By 1450 Gutenberg had developed a working press based on moveable type. This was a huge technology enabling development allowing much cheaper books, encouraged literacy in general, and made otherwise obscure technical documents cheap enough to be more widely distributed.

This device could have be developed hundreds of years earlier though.

Screw presses had been used since Roman times. Wood block printing date back to at least 868 (in China), and moveable type (wood and ceramic type) date to the 11th century.

Crude metal casting dates back thousands of years.

Gutenberg apparently developed ink that was more suitable for metal type, but this refinement did not require a conceptual break - more of keep trying things until something works well enough.

Moveable metal type was invented in China in the 12th century; they were hampered by their language since so many unique symbols were required for printing.

Movable metal type printing could have been developed and practical hundreds of years earlier, and it would have sparked an earlier Renaissance.

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Keep Rome Alive

Speculate that Rome never fell, and you still have that caste of people who are both obscenely rich and obsessed with some field of science, be it chemistry, physics, mathematics, or just writing an encyclopedia. More importantly, that caste could draw the wealth of a much larger area than what was possible in medieval times, financing much larger scientific and technological projects.

How would Rome survive long enough?
Well, nobody knows why it fell. The empire was very stable, with slight variations depending on what border war was won or lost, it just lost more than it gained over the centuries, and nobody really knows why exactly. One thing that would have allowed Rome to project power better would have been better communications. They had horse couriers, but semaphores are even faster; this might well be enough to tip the balance in favor of Rome expanding more and for a longer time.

Note that an alternate timeline like this might have changed the power structure enough that Rome could have developed in any direction an author would want - except fragmentation into kingdoms. I.e. the whole medieval power structure would never have existed; Byzantium existed until roughly 1500 AD, which was a state of bureaucracy and fierce internal power struggles. I.e. it's not the right answer for every story plan.

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Branko Milanovic has blogged about why the industrial revolution didn't happen in Byzantium; the short answer is that, like most of the states in the High Middle Ages, it's feudal economic order wasn't exactly conducive to development.

If you want to tell a story that's got some academic backing, maybe you could say the Venetians or Portuguese "discover" the Americas much earlier. Kenneth Pomeranz has a theory that the "ghost acres" of the Americas after the epidemics of the Columbian Exchange. I don't think this is particularly compelling—the Industrial Revolution didn't begin in Spain and Portugal, but perhaps the influx of specie and new crops paved the way for the development of mercantile states in the Netherlands and England and the financial institutions developed there then funded the inventions of the Industrial Revolution. Also potatoes were an efficient form of food production that allowed people to move out of agriculture and into cities (Nancy Qian and Nathan Nunn have a paper on this). But it just seems like a bankshot thing to me: the Industrial Revolution was the invention of industrial technologies and the reason it didn't happen in other places with deep financial systems or lots of food or lots of wealth was that they didn't figure out that you can use coal to power turbines (Britain's GDP didn't reach the levels of the Dutch Golden Age or Italian city-states until after the invention of many of the technologies of the first Industrial Revolution.)

So if you said a couple hundred nobles in the High Middle Ages somehow got into invention and business (which would be WAY out of character, but maybe they fell under the influence of some bishop obsessed with technological progress), and invented some key industrial technologies, I'd find that more persuasive than a story about "discovering" the Americas or increased financialization and capitalism.

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I think the big enabler of the Industrial Revolution was the solution to Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox (490 - 430 BC), in part by Isaac Newton using estimation (1642 - 1726), and more fully in Squeeze Theorem by Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777 -1855).

Derivatives and integrals (calculus) made first an impossible, then merely very tedious class of problems extremely easy to work with. These kinds of problems are used in much of the industrial design underpinning the Industrial Revolution.

Examples:

Calculus is used to compute stresses and strains over spans when under distributed load. (Euler-Bernoulli Beam Theory, 1750)

Calculus is used to compute friction, frictional heating, and how much cooling is required to keep a material being worked from breaking. (Benjamin Thompson, Lord Rutherford. 1798)

Calculus also helps you explain the otherwise mysterious losses in pressure of pipes over a distance (boundary fields) and why fluid in pipes may not flow any faster than a certain amount, no matter how hard you push (choked flow). (Claude-Louis Navier, 1823; with additional work by George Stokes)

Calculus also gives us the definition of infinity, and a tangible many way of identifying when a system should, “blow up” (Pierre Simon Laplace, 1799)

These insights were, I think, original and not building on any other idea or work. I think they could have happened any time after Zeno initially described the problem.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you say what that class of problems is, and give a couple examples of key problems? Yours is a fascinating suggestion, but I'll admit to some skepticism. And you know what Carl Sagan said about extraordinary claims about the preconditions for the Industrial Revolution. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Jul 5 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ Sure. Calculus is used to compute stresses and strains over spans when under distributed load. Calculus is used to compute friction, frictional heating, and how much cooling is required to keep a material being worked from breaking. Calculus also helps you explain the otherwise mysterious losses in pressure of pipes over a distance (boundary fields) and why fluid in pipes may not flow any faster than a certain amount, no matter how hard you push (choked flow). Calculus also gives us the definition of infinity, and a tangible many way of identifying when a system should, “blow up” $\endgroup$ Jul 5 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ The fact that the industrial revolution started two thousand years after this problem was formulated, and two centuries after it was partly solved would point to other problems besides math. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Jul 5 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JamesMcLellan Would you please consider listing those examples directly in your answer? Comments have a tendency to disappear. $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Jul 5 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft actually two centuries from breakthrough to practical engineering application is pretty normal. E.g. group theory exists since 1846 (or 1771 if implicit usage counts), but its modern use in as diverse fields as cryptography, quantum theory, etc. etc. pp. started around 1980 or so, i.e. 150-200 years after discovery. And remember that calculus was invented in a time when there were no mass universities, so progress was much slower today; in that light, 200 years from invention to widespread use is pretty fast. (Of course, other factors did exist. But it's indeed a major point.) $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 5 at 14:01
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Early democratic projects

Early steam engines

The industrial revolution began with the invention of productive steam engines in the 18th century. However, precursors to those engines existed as early as the 1st century. Even though those machines were not exactly fit for productive application, it seems plausible that the necessary technological progress could have been made relatively quickly. Why didn't that happen, then? Most probably because of social reasons.

Democracy kills cheap labor

Engineers of ancient Rome knew of the Aeolipile, and would have had the knowledge and resources to make it production-ready. However, they were quite busy with designing military applications and infrastructure, as well as bringing water to the sizeable (and growing) population of Rome. Additionally, there was simply no need, because Rome's economy was based on slave labor, which was exceedingly cheap.

A medium article states:

The missing component, perhaps, was the will [emphasis in original] to find a source of greater power than what was offered by domesticated animals, the wind or water streams. The Roman world was a slave economy, employing abundant and cheap muscle power provided by human captives. Practically none of the great thinkers of the classical age, no matter how thought out their perspectives on other ethical issues, dared question the legitimacy of slavery.

Now, if we could remove slave labor from that environment, the pressure to find a technological replacement should further the development of steam engines quickly and drastically. How do we do that?

The easiest way seems to lie in early democratic movements, providing certain protections and liberties to the common people. For the time period you want, an obvious candidate is the Magna Carta, which was signed in 1215. We know now that it still took several hundred years for democracy to be established in Europe, but it the ideas were there, and therefore history could have gone differently (I don't know if you would like to describe that process in any detail, in the worst case you could probably just handwave it, as it is often done in alternative-timeline stories).

As Philipp pointed out in the comments, it should be noted the economy in the middle ages is not slave-based as it was in ancient Rome, but it is based on a very similar system of servitude. This is what I based my reasoning on, but I failed to make it explicit, before.

Caveats

If you already have a strong democracy established, the industrial revolution will certainly look differently than the one in our universe (consider the social impact as well as criticism leveled against industrialization), so if you want to keep it similar, the democratic project must not be too succesfull (enough to prevent slavery, but not enough to prevent huge gaps in wealth and power between owners and workers).

This is of course not too far from what happened in England in the 18th century: Even though steam engines were more expensive and less powerful than water mills for quite some time, they allowed the building and operation of factories in densely populated areas, independently from any rivers. So if you want to go down that road, our own history might just give you what you need.

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    $\begingroup$ It might be interesting to point out that the economic system of medieval Europe was also largely based on indentured servitude, just like the system of ancient Rome. The main difference was that the relationship between lords and serfs was less personal and more administrative than that between masters and slaves. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serfdom $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Jul 5 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ thank you for your comment, @Philipp I edited it in $\endgroup$ Jul 6 at 15:15
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Move the Renaissance Forward

The Roman Empire already had elements of the industrial revolution when it fell. It had water powered mills that could automate the mass production of flour, it had corporations that used production lines to increase productivity, they had mechanical clocks, they had cranes for lifting bulk loads cargo, and all sorts of other stuff that we do not really think of as being invented until the industrial revolution. Based on what we do know about how mechanized the Romans were and how little stuff survives for 2000 years, it is likely that they were even much more mechanized than we can prove.

If Rome did not fall, it is very likely that the industrial revolution as we know it would have happened well before the high medieval period; so, for you timeline to work, you still need Rome to fall and the Church to seize totalitarian control over the flow of knowledge, but you need to shorten the amount of time that the Church is able to maintain that control by a few hundred years.

The Renaissance period happened once the accumulated knowledge of the church began to spread to the general population. It was this time of rediscovery where scholars quickly advanced civilization not just through new inventions, but through the rediscovery of these things that had been invented in the ancient world. Once you trigger the Renaissance movement, it is a pretty straight line to the early Industrial Revolution as Roman technology is rediscovered.

The Caveat:

While the Early Industrial Revolution is easy to move around because it was mostly just the revival of the Roman way of life, how long it would take people to reach the full knowledge of the Later Industrial Revolution is completely unknown. Many of the discoveries that made the Late Industrial Revolution possible took place during the medieval period; so, if you just skip that part of history, it is unclear if knowledge of things like chemistry, physics, and material sciences would actually be accelerated or not.

My opinion is that you would still reach the Late Industrial Period ahead of schedule due to a higher interest in science that the Renaissance created, but that the Industrial Revolution would span a significantly longer period of time before moving into the modern age. So what was for us less than 100 years of rapid development could in your world start in 1000AD, but take several hundred years to reach its maturity.

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Plague.

Better termed an epidemic or pandemic. Bubonic plague was the reason the industrial revolution happened in Europe but not in Africa and the Americas. The Black Plague did affect Asia, so I'm not sure how that compares with Europe.

Gunpowder was known but firearms were much inferior weapons to archery. When there is plenty of labor, scribes provide no problem which needs a printing press. Likewise people didn't see a problem with laborious weaving. It took a while after the plague to develop the steam engine but the pressure to use it and other labor saving devices comes from the plague.

The quick drop in population disrupted solutions which relied on plenty of labor. This started our favoring labor saving whenever possible.

More Detail:

On the plus side, repeating the development from the Black Plague has verisimilitude as it actually happened. On the negative side, it actually happened in our timeline so what makes the new timeline different?

There were earlier plagues in recorded history, including the Plague of Justinian, so you also have to consider how things made the Black Plague the right time to set off the events leading to industrialization.

Before the Black Plague there was the Medieval Warm Period where agriculture flourished into areas previously unable to support it and population swelled. Following that was the Little Ice Age which reversed the success of agriculture, the farm land expanded into failed to be productive and there was much starvation. This made the Black Plague much worse than it might have been because people who grew up during the famine had their immune system compromised at the age where the immune system develops. (See The Great Mortality by John Kelly.)

Prior to the Renaissance had been the Mongol Empire. By the way, the globalization from that empire was a big factor in triggering the plague pandemic. After the collapse of the Mongol Empire the Renaissance was driven to re-establish eastern trade to return to access to eastern products such as silk and spices.

So looking at factors which brought about the Industrial Revolution in our timeline includes the confluence of drive to re-establish far away trade with the upheaval of the social and political structure (ending Feudalism) from the great die off from famine due to drop in temperature from favorable to unfavorable and from deaths from a pandemic. This led to the Enlightenment, then the Renaissance, then the Industrial Revolution.

As other answers have said, the Industrial Revolution took very big societal factors over centuries, so it might be a struggle to insert into an alternate timeline. It still may be worth considering the above in how it came about in our timeline.

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  • $\begingroup$ The black plague DID his way earlier than the industrial revolution in our timeline...what makes this timeline different? $\endgroup$
    – Pureferret
    Jul 6 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ I'd assume the opposite: The Black Plague was a huge setback. It has been argued that it was necessary to disrupt power structures that impeded progress (e.g. suddenly you had to pay specialists because they had become rare, and it disrupted the idea that the world is organized by God As It Should Be), but it's not really possible to validate such assumptions. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 7 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Pureferret That is a good point, I considered it but did not expand on it in the answer. In our timeline the Black Plaque was a driver for the Industrial Revolution happening when it did, so how could it be earlier? An earlier plague? The Plague of Justinian was earlier, why didn't it happen then? There are more things to consider why it would be the right time for a plague to disrupt the power structure and make specialists expensive and burdensome which would also have to be explored. $\endgroup$ Jul 7 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ @toolforger Historians have made that argument and it only has to be validated to be good enough for a worldbuilding fiction. $\endgroup$ Jul 7 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ @MarlinPierce unfortunately, no such validation is possible. Essentially, it's arbitrary - plague, organized Church with its "truth" monopoly, population gain, population loss, availability of milk as an everyday nutrient, absence of tropical parasites - all of these have been argued to be significant factors contributing to Europes ability to steam ahead of all other regions. Of if "good enough for worldbuilding" it is, then the whole list would do - including "we didn't know", or Rome never died, or one of the Migration Period tribes just happened to found West Constantinople... $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 8 at 14:53
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Either the Mongol Invasion is stopped before it gets off the ground, or it's taken a much more serious toll by the time it reaches Baghdad.

Without this major disruptive event, the Islamic Golden Age could continue and the unification of knowledge into a single lingua franca (though you'd no longer call it that), could spark it as early as the 11th century.

From this list of technologies discovered during this period:

8th century: Geared Gristmill

9th Century: Algebra ... Automatic Controls ... Kerosene ... Programmable Machine ... wind power

10th Century: Scientific Method

By the 9th Century all the necessary precursor technologies were in place in the Islamic world, you just needed someone with a problem that only machinery could solve.

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    $\begingroup$ Oooooh, this is an excellent point. It was very anglo-centric of me to unconsciously assume the Industrial Revolution had to happen in the same place. I could with this answer was fleshed out just a bit more, because there's a better-than-average argument that the Industrial Revolution could have occurred in the Middle East had just a few tweaks of history not left them behind. Great point! $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 2:58
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A quick off the cuff thought as it seems you're angling for the textiles/cloth aspect rather than "muh industry".

Baron McBaronson wants to inspire the loyalty of his peasants and improve their quality of life, reasoning that a happy peasant is a productive peasant. After a walk through his village he notices that their clothing is often dirty, torn and poor quality. Upon returning to his castle he calls his advisory team/wizards/alchemists/engineers/flavourful smart dudes and promises a title/land grant to the one that can produce cheap clothes for the peasants.

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    $\begingroup$ And the most effective way to produce cheap clothes for the peasants, taken that the serf labor is virtually free at the time, is to make the said peasants to produce clothes in home. Exactly what they do already. Peasant's clothes price is exactly zero: you can't get lower than that. $\endgroup$
    – rs232
    Jul 5 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ Could be the Baron wishes to free them up to do farming, or militia duties. Whilst they're making clothing, they're not making anything else. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Jul 5 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ @rs232 About 90% of a medieval lord's wealth was actually not stored as cash but as trade goods and textiles were one of the most common trade goods a lord would accept in lue of cash as an acceptable tax. Since a lord can only tax what textiles are produced in excess of what his peasants need; then enabling his peasants to produce more textiles means that he can collect a much larger textile tax. So, it is not a question of if peasant labor is free or not. It is a question of how much profit you get out of each peasant. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 6 at 16:44
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There is another aspect to this. The Protestant Reformation broke the monopoly on "truth". Throughout the 1200-1500's, the Roman church tied political control to its control of "truth". Gutenberg enabled the Reformation by breaking the monopoly on books. The combination was a political challenge to the Holy Roman Empire (which is why there was a 30 years war.) But the result was support for free thinking in parts of Europe - the parts of Europe where first the Scientific revolution happened and then, the industrial revolution. (There are those that claim that the Protestant Reformation built on the rights of the free man in ancient German culture.)

We needed first political support for free thinking, then the banking reforms to allow that free thinking to build new business structures, and then, we had the industrial improvements.

Even today, we can see that towns in the US with the tradition of allowing free thinking tend to have far more new businesses spring up (Austin TX, SF CA). Contrast that with a university town such as College Station, Texas which celebrates Tradition.

Contrast that political environment with the how the Roman Church dealt with differences of thought such as the massacre at Béziers where we got the expression "Kill them all and let God sort them out." Or the massacre of the French protestants in Florida in 1565. The trial of Galileo is just part of the attempt to control the "truth".

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Let's face it, the Industrial Revolution, like all great moments in history, was honking complex. Deconstructing it and then trying to reconstruct all those myriads of threads is unreasonable! Let's instead look at two of the pivotal discoveries that changed the world and see what can be done with them.

Gunpowder

China is believed to have invented it about A.D. 850 and it's believed to have arrived in Europe somewhere during the 13th century.

Coal

In Europe, the Romans turned Britain into a 2nd Century A.D. coal hotbed, seeking to exploit as much of Roman Britain’s coalfields as possible. Archaeological excavation over the following centuries has discovered the remnants of coal stores at numerous forts along the famous Hadrian’s Wall. The nearby fort, Longovicium, houses evidence of the Romans having a smelting industry set up in Northern England. ... Coal in Britain became far less prevalent a resource following the decline of the Roman Empire until the Industrial Revolution, whose apex hinged on the mass availability of coal to power intrepid steam engines, heat buildings, and not long after, begin being used to generate electricity. (Source)

Why I picked coal is obvious, although we need a reason to reinvigorate its use post-Roman-Empire, but why gunpowder? Because we need a reason to put coal to serious use at a much, much earlier date. And for that, we need two events.

  1. We need the little ice age, which occurred in Europe from about 1300 to 1850, to be colder, maybe even a lot colder, and occur between 850 and 1050. This will drive people to demand heat long before the pre-industrial (and yet quite industrialized) infrastructure existed. (This allows an excess of energy to be available for industrialization.)

  2. We need gunpowder, and the inevitable changes to war that would ensue, to arrive at about year 900.

Why, do you ask?

Construction

The industrial revolution happened, if we simplify it to the point of making angels weep, because people needed stuff. They needed clothes and transportation and a bazillion other things, and they needed that stuff in quantity and they needed it yesterday! We need your medieval people to need stuff. A lot of stuff. But what would an agricultural high-to-late medieval society need?

Walls to protect them from invaders and the worsening cold.

The result is the foundation for an industrial revolution. Coal is being used to warm buildings and your society suddenly needs more of it. A lot more of it. Then those cannoneers (because the tech for guns hasn't really arrived yet) show up and start pounding on the castle walls, giving invention the mother it desperately craves. Now we need to build, build strong, and build fast! That means mining, moving, cutting, shaping, tons and tons of stuff. Wood, stone, metal... stuff.

And that's when some bright monk sitting with a friend in front of his coal-fired fireplace discussing how his hobby trip hammer (currently being used to bedazzle his favorite frock) could be modified to build armor faster, looks at the the whistling iron teapot over the fire and, noticing the lid gently rotating on the pot as the excess steam escapes, says the most dangerous thing anyone on earth can say to another...

Here, hold my beer.

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    $\begingroup$ If cold were necessary and sufficient to spark an industrial revolution, it would have happened in Russia, which has cold, coal, and iron ore. We know that didn't happen, so other factors must be as important. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 7 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ @toolforger Not just cold. Read my answer more closely. The goal is to not just keep coal usage from dropping away after Roman occupation, but to expand its use. It isn't the cold that's the trigger, it's the prevalent use of coal as a cheap and versatile energy source. The cold simply overcomes the lack of more industrialized triggers that actually existed during the real Industrial Revolution. $\endgroup$ Jul 7 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ Still your answer would make any state with coal (and iron) a potential cradle of the Industrial Revolution, yet it didn't happen in, say, China, or the native tribes of North America. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 8 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @toolforger I don't understand that last comment... are you suggesting that an answer that doesn't reflect exactly how it actually happened is naturally without value? All I did (all anyone is frankly supposed to do unless the hard-science tag is involved) is present a rationalization for a point of departure that met John's needs. $\endgroup$ Jul 8 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ I think that if an author is to offer (or merely use) an explanation why the industrial revolution happened earlier, then the factors should also grant plausibility what it happened in Europe and not anywhere else. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jul 9 at 16:30

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