Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 23, 1641 – Merchant Royal Puts in for Repairs

After having spent three years trading with Spanish colonies, the Merchant Royal and her sister ship, the Dover Merchant, returned to Europe laden with cargo. The long voyage had made her weathered and leaky, but she safely made port in Cadiz in Spain. England and Spain were at peace, and the English were welcome to trade their goods.

By happenstance, a Spanish ship in Cadiz intended for payroll caught fire. Captain Limbrey of the Merchant Royal volunteered to carry the pay, which was in various ingots of gold and silver as well as coinage. It was some fifty tons of gold, but Limbrey felt certain that he would be able to deliver the pay to Antwerp in the Spanish Netherlands (Flanders) on his return to England.

After setting out, rough weather began to show. Limbrey initially planned to risk a storm, but the concerns of his men finally convinced him to put ashore in France. Hasty repairs were made, just enough to sail again, and the Merchant Royal set off for Flanders. The pay was delivered, and Limbrey and his crew were sent off again with a handsome reward.

Officials in Flanders quickly used the money to pay their soldiers, who were eager to spend the cash, flooding the market and causing skyrocketing prices. To the north were the Dutch, who had been at war with Spain for decades in what would become known as the Eighty Years' War or Dutch War of Independence. They understood this market bubble from their own experiences with land speculation, housing, cargo futures, and, most infamously, tulips. Trade, both legal and illegal, soared between the two countries. When the soldiers' money ran out, debts were called and property bought cheaply, winning a vast stake in the Flanders economy for the Dutch.

Spain, meanwhile, became increasingly disinterested in the Spanish Netherlands. France had declared war in 1635, Portugal had declared its independence in December of 1640, Catalonia was rebellious, and the massive army sent in 1639 to finish off the Dutch had been utterly destroyed, leaving the Netherlands as having the most powerful navy in the world. Peace negotiations began, but were slow to move forward. With the great stake in Flanders economically as well as colonial successes in the East Indies and Brazil, the Dutch gained a significant upper hand.

Finally, in 1648, the Peace of Münster was signed. The Spanish evacuated the Netherlands and freed the territory to be picked up by the Dutch United Provinces or returned to German princes. France made a bid for their share, but the Dutch assured them diplomatically that war would be fought. Fearing a bitter multi-front war, France conceded and returned to fight Spain in the Pyrenees. Secure and growing, the Dutch turned their interests back to colonialism (fighting, specifically, the Portuguese) and strengthened their banking system.

Over the course of European history, the Dutch state would continue to play a significant role. After defeating the English navy in the First Anglo-Dutch War, they would continue to battle the English until the conquest by William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution. Dutch colonies would continue in North America as well as the Caribbean and every discovered continent. While they did not have the population alone to man their colonies, they developed an intricate system of citizenship for foreigners and inclusion of cooperative natives. Much of the eighteenth century was spent solidifying its position in Europe and keeping the French at bay to maintain their independence.

With the success of the American Revolution (much aided by the colony of New Amsterdam, where George Washington had secretly stored goods and hidden spies), Europe began a fever of revolution that also affected the Netherlands. Massive devastation had come from the Fifth Anglo-Dutch War in the 1780s, but the navies from the colonies had kept the defeat from becoming a rout. The spirit of republicanism spread, and the Dutch joined the French in securing the rights of man. Wars against the monarchs of Europe would bring forth the great general Napoleon, with whom the Dutch allied to preserve their republic. The gamble would prove faulty, though, as Europe's coalitions eventually destroyed Napoleon and forced the Netherlands into a monarchy of its own. Belgium, much of what had been Flanders, would break away, and the Dutch glory had come to an end.

By this time, however, so much Dutch influence over the world had been set that the old adage went, “There are two languages in the world: money and Dutch, and the latter only talks of the former.” A commonwealth would build up over the course of the nineteenth century, sending great aid to Europe in the German invasion during Second World War with Operation Torch led by Dutch battalions liberating the homeland in 1942.

In reality, the Merchant Royal sank off the coast of Land's End after its pumps broke under the strain of stormy seas. Eighteen men were lost, but Captain Limbrey and forty of his crew survived. Some believe that the ship was purposefully sunk with the gold safely transported to the Dover Merchant and made to be presumed lost. Whatever the fate of the treasure, the soldiers and merchants in Flanders went without their pay for a while longer, keeping the Spanish Netherlands low key in the coming decades.

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