Unseen Hand in British History - Ian D. Colvin

VIII. The Mountain of Gold and the Mountain of Iron

How far Charles had been in the power of the Dutch it would be interesting to know. We know that he borrowed money from them. In 1625 he authorized the Duke of Buckingham to borrow £300,000 from the States General on the security of his Crown jewels, which were sent to Amsterdam as the Crown jewels of the Plantagenets had been sent to Cologne. In the one case as in the other we may suppose that royal policy was influenced by royal necessities. In 1629 he sold English iron cannon, weighing four thousand tons in all, to the States General in order to redeem his Crown jewels. The transaction could hardly have pleased a British public jealous both of its economic independence and its naval power.

In the speeches which were made at the time of the great crisis between King and Parliament we find references to a foreign hand; but whether the influence indicated was Dutch or French or Spanish I am unable to say. Clarendon accuses the French of stirring up strife in England for their own purposes: but naturally does not suggest that the Dutch had any hand in the business. Yet that there was some understanding between Charles and the Dutch is clear, and not only between Charles and the Prince of Orange, but between Charles and the Burgher Party. Perhaps the whole truth is disclosed in the report of Sir John Henderson to the Commonwealth: "Their principal reason was if Monarchic continued, then the general engrossing of trade by the Hollanders would also continue."

However that may be, the Netherlands, both Prince and States General, secretly and openly favored the cause of Charles. They gave the Royalists refuge, raised money for them and entered into negotiations with the King for the lease of the Scillies. When St. John and Strickland went over to The Hague in 1651 they were insulted in the streets and put off with illusory negotiations.

The Dutch had other ends in view. They were using the English troubles as the Hanseatic League had used the Wars of the Roses, and their design was to get the trade of the world into Dutch hands.

In 1649 the Dutch Minister at the Russian Court told the Tsar that as the English had murdered their King, the only course for a self-respecting monarch to take was to close his country to English trade. This trade, said the Dutch, could be done by them with more profit to the Tsar, and they made good their words by offering to pay 15 percent, upon imports and exports.

"Whereby the Hollanders reaped such advantage that the Polish envoy, in the year 1689, affirmed they had in that year two hundred factors in Archangel."

But the Sound was even more important. In September 1649, Strickland writes from The Hague:

"The treaty is ended between the States and the King of Denmark; they pay him about five and thirty pound a year for all the custom of their ships which are to pass through the Sound. Those of this country who trade thither shall pay here to the States the same rates they paid there before they go out, and upon the States certificate are to pass without any stop. The King of Denmark is to have about four score thousand advanced, which is to be paid back again by six thousand pounds a year without interest, they to pay themselves out of what they are to pay him. I am told one secret of this agreement is, that the King of Denmark is obliged not to grant this privilege or make any such bargain with any but them; in particular not with England, France, Sweden nor any else. The Swedes do more than any dislike this agreement of the States about the Sound."

Strickland adds that all the Dutch are reading a book about "the misfortunes of the House and Family of the Stewards," and adds: "it is not amiss that your honors see and observe the working humors of other States."

The Commonwealth liked so little these "working humors" of the Dutch that they proceeded to negotiate an alliance and commercial treaty with Sweden and to impose, or rather to reinforce, the Navigation Laws.

Now the Navigation Act of October 9, 1651, was neither the first nor the last of its kind in English history. The principle which it embodied may be traced back through many statutes to the reign of Richard II, an unhappy monarch who engaged in a hopeless struggle with the Hanseatic League.

The sensation caused by the Act of Cromwell was because Cromwell enforced it without fear, corruption, or hesitation against the greatest maritime power in the world. It was thrown down like a gauntlet.

Moreover the Act covered all the territories of the Commonwealth, whether in the New World or the Old, so that it hit hard the Dutch carrying trade between Europe, the West Indies, and North America. It forbade the importation of the produce of any country, save the country to which the ship belonged, except in vessels owned by Englishmen or the inhabitants of English colonies, and manned by crews of which more than one half were Englishmen. It was a heavy blow, and it was directed not only against the carrying trade of Holland, but against her fishing and whaling: salt fish and oil were only to be imported in English ships.

There has been some attempt by our Liberal historians to represent the Dutch as the pioneers of the freedom of the seas, to which is opposed the barbaric tyranny of our Navigation Laws. Even Gardiner, who ought to have known better since he knew all the facts, rather leans to this view. The truth is that where the Dutch had the power, as in the Indian Ocean, they enforced a mare clausum; where they were weak, as in the Channel, they upheld a mare liberum. Grotius was a lawyer-politician who tried to substitute treaties for naval expenditure. If the Dutch theory was in Grotius, the Dutch practice was in Amboyna and in the farming of the Sound.

Then Gardiner sheds tears over the declension from "the spiritual and ideal aims" of the Civil War to the "new commercial policy which did not profess to have more than material aims."

"The intention of the framers," he goes on, "by the very nature of the case, was not to make England better or nobler, but to make her richer." And he is encouraged to proceed to the hazardous generalization: "During the century and a quarter which preceded the Treaties of Westphalia religion had been, if not the exclusive cause, at least the frequent pretext of the wars by which Europe had been desolated. In the wars which raged for nearly a century and a half after the signature of those treaties questions of commerce took the place formerly occupied by questions of religion."

If Gardiner took his stand on the word "pretext" there would be nothing to argue, for pretexts do not or should not matter either to the historian or to the moralist. But in so far as he seems to urge a radical difference in the motives of mankind, and to claim a sort of moral superiority for a war upon a point of doctrine over a war fought for mastery in commerce, there might be something to say. There are religious and moral pretexts in plenty after as before the Treaties of Westphalia, for after as before men sought to put the best face on their actions. Yet if we look into the heart of events, the struggle for existence between nations, the attempt to exploit on the one side, the refusal to be exploited on the other; the competition for world-trade and for territory these are the constant factors and principal motives in all wars, not excepting the Crusades.

We need not apologize for Cromwell: his intention in the Navigation Acts was not merely to make England "richer," as Gardiner says; but to make England strong, independent, and secure. These are the highest objects of statesmanship. A statesman who forgets these aims in spiritual ideals and religious or moral enthusiasms betrays his trust: he is like the director of a brewery who uses his position to further teetotal principles.

The Navigation Act struck a shrewd blow at Dutch commerce. And it was only part of the protective policy which England opposed to the commercial policy of the Dutch.

"There are now in Holland," says De Witt, "many more English commodities which we could very well spare, that are transported and used by us than Holland hath wares in England, because the Holland and other manufactures have for the most part long since been prohibited, and since the prohibition in England of importing any goods save those of the growth and manufacture of the country by foreign ships into England, all our navigation to that kingdom is at a stand."

In the enforcement of the Navigation Act, Ayscue seized fourteen Dutch ships at the Barbados, and as Cromwell had issued letters of reprisal against France, Dutch ships were also seized on the suspicion of carrying French goods. The Dutch were almost forced to fight although they had no desire that way. Their policy was trade for trade's sake; they had taken all power from their Stadtholder, and had no less than five Boards of Admiralty. "The English," said the Dutch Ambassador who was sent over to mediate, "are about to attack a mountain of gold; we are about to attack a mountain of iron."

The Dutch were fat; the English poor, hungry, and athletic after their Civil Wars. And the Merchant Adventurers, the Muscovy Company, the Eastland Company, and the East India Company were determined to settle accounts. "I believe," said Thomas Scot, "we are rivals for the fairest mistress in all Christendom trade." The Dutch had shut the English out of Russia, the Baltic, and the Spice Islands, and were oppressing the cloth trade with the Netherlands and Germany. The English determined to reply in the Channel.

Before the war began, Samuel Avery, the Governor of the Merchant Adventurers, had petitioned Cromwell to enter into negotiations with Spain for the transfer of the mart town of the cloth trade to Bruges, the reason given being "the multiplied encroachments and violations both of the provincial States of Holland and of the general States of the whole land upon the petitioners' ancient rights and privileges."

The Dutch were at the same time "practising" against the English cloth trade in Germany.

"There is," writes one of Cromwell's agents at The Hague, "a business hatching between the States and the King of Denmark about hindering all trade between England and Hamburg, to which end either a fort must be built on the River of Elbe, or the King of Denmark must for a time upon conditions give the town of Gulick into the States hands."

The Dutch moved the King of Denmark to seize twenty English ships in the Sound. On the south they arranged terms with Spain so as to prevent English cloth passing through the Scheldt. The English reply was the enforcement of the Navigation Act, the seizure of Dutch shipping, treaties with Sweden and Portugal, approaches to Spain, and the naval war by which Blake and Ayscue drove the Dutch herring fleet into harbour, destroyed or captured a great fleet of merchantmen, defeated the Dutch navy in a long running fight off Portland, 1 and secured command of the Channel.

Thus the Mountain of Iron defeated the Mountain of Gold.

The terms showed the extent of the victory. The Dutch promised to expel the Royalists and exclude the Prince of Orange. The Dutch East India Company was condemned to pay the English East India Company £85,000 with £3615 for the families of the Englishmen who had suffered at Amboyna. The island of Pulerun went to the English. Our Baltic merchants were awarded £97,973 0s. 10d. for the seizure of their ships in the Sound.

These terms are given by Gardiner, but this excellent historian has overlooked the richest fruits of the victory the terms secured for the Company of the Merchant Adventurers. In the completeness of their triumph and the humiliation they imposed on the Dutch I can compare them with nothing but the Treaty of Utrecht of 1474, by which the Hanseatic League confirmed their commercial privileges in England. All the

"ancient privileges, immunities and franchises" of the Merchant Adventurers are confirmed; all "invasions, violations, and elusions" "rectified and amended"; all "impositions, taxes, convoys, tolls, customs, and other payments whatsoever contrary to the said grant of Philip the Good anno 1446 . . . since imposed . . . utterly and for ever renounced, abolished, disclaimed, and discharged."

It is in fact a Free Trade treaty as far as Holland is concerned:

". . . it shall be lawful for the said Merchant Adventurers of England from henceforth to import into the said United Provinces, or any of them, . . . any cloths, kerseys, bays, or other woolen manufactures made in England or any the Dominions thereof, drest or dyed in the cloth or otherwise, without any manner of prohibition whatsoever, and the same or every part thereof therein to put to sale as they shall think fit."

So completely did the Dutch surrender the cause of their weavers in the cause of their merchants. The reasons of this surrender, as we gather from the correspondence, were in the main two the naval victories over the Dutch and the threat to transfer the mart town of the English cloth trade to the Spanish Netherlands. This threat was almost as dreadful to Holland as Blake's Navy, for English cloth had become so important an article of trade to the Dutch that they could not get along without it.

"I can testify to have heard through the mouths of one of the Governors themselves," says one of Cromwell's intelligencers, "that they would rather assault all the world by sea without any distinction than suffer their commerce to be diverted or that it should be carried or transmigrated into any other part as in effect formerly the commerce through the assistance of the English was driven out of Flanders."

A party continued to agitate against the terms; but the Dutch were now too devoted to commerce to found themselves upon industry, and their bitter party politics was another cause of weakness.

"The Orange Party," says Cromwell's correspondent above quoted, "will only laugh if the English should give a check to the commerce of Holland, to verify the prediction that the deceased Prince Henry and the Orange Party have so often said, that England coming to be a Commonwealth would ruin the commerce of Holland and draw it wholly to themselves."

The Dutch were, in fact, so divided between agriculture and commerce, between prince and burgher, between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, between one province and another, that they had no longer a national party or the unity and power to protect their interests. Despite occasional efforts, showing power and heroism, they were destined to sink gradually into weakness and decay such weakness and decay as overtakes a nation which betrays its industries for the sake of its trade, and relies on the treatises of its lawyers more than on the power of its Navy.