Unseen Hand in British History - Ian D. Colvin




II. A Well-Grounded Dependence

The policy of England under Elizabeth is generally called "mercantile": the name does her policy something less than justice. I would rather call it national, since it was founded less upon the wealth than the strength and security of England. The merchant was supported as "the steward of the kingdom's stock"; he "found a vent" for English cloth, and supplied the kingdom with "treasure." But the policy of England was something more than this, something greater. It was to have "at home a well-grounded dependence"; it was that England should no longer "stand to the courtesy of strangers." It was, in short, to produce within the kingdom the essentials of national life.

We see this policy grow as much naturally as by design out of the circumstances. And especially we find it growing out of that "noble and rich commodity," English cloth.

Cloth, let us remember, was now the staple trade of England. There had been a time when the staple trade of England was mainly wool, a time when England was "the wool farm of the Hansa." For hundreds of years it had been the policy of the National Party in England to "drape" English wool into English cloth, and to market English cloth in English ships. There is no other commodity, says Hakluyt,

"that may set so many poor subjects on work, . . . that doth bring in so much treasure, and so much enrich the merchant, and so much employ the Navie of this realm as this commodity of our wool doth." Therefore, "ample and full vent of this noble and rich commodity is it that the commonweale of this realme doth require."

Here then is one main line of Elizabethan policy, to drape English wool and find a vent for English cloth, not only to "bring in treasure" and to "employ the Navie," but to set "many poor subjects on work." Any injury to the English cloth trade threw the whole realm into confusion "to the spoil," as Hakluyt says, "of the merchant, of the clothier, and of the breeder of the wool, and to the turning to bag and wallet of the infinite number of poor people employed in clothing in several degrees of labor here in England."

When we remember that it was the interest of Flanders to prevent Englishmen from draping their wool, and the interest of the Hanseatic League to prevent Englishmen from selling their cloth, we begin to perceive the origin of the various lines of England's foreign policy.

The story of our English woolen industry is so important to our subject that I may be forgiven for saying a little more upon it. It was the national industry, and yet it had been borrowed from Flanders. Edward III had rendered this great service to England; he had planted Flemish weavers.

"The Bang and State," says Fuller, "began now to grow sensible of the great gain the Netherlands got by our English wool, in memory whereof the Duke of Burgundy not long after instituted the Order of the Golden Fleece, wherein indeed the Fleece was ours, the Golden theirs, so vast their emolument by the trade of clothing. Our King, therefore, resolved, if possible, to reduce the trade to his own country, who as yet were ignorant of that art, as knowing no more what to do with their wool than the sheep that wear it, as to any artificial and curious drapery, their best cloths then being no better than friezes, such their coarseness for want of skill in their making. But soon after followed a great alteration."

By the plantation of what Fuller calls "Dutch men," England got "this treasury of foreigners." It was a gradual process carried on through centuries; even in Elizabeth's time many "Dutch men" were brought over for the "heightening of the manufacturers to a higher perfection." These latest immigrants were settled mainly in the East. Their branch of the industry was called "the New Drapery," and they were appropriate subjects for a church history, since they were obstinate Nonconformists.

But in the meantime I desire only to point out in passing that while it was Elizabethan policy to secure that the control of trade should be in English hands, an exception was made for foreigners who could teach her people either a new manufacture or the heightening of an old. A famous Dutch statesman, writing only a little later, sets forth the Naturalization Policy of Elizabeth:

"And tho," says Jan de Witt, "the Protestant merchants, by reason of the great peace and good situation of England, would have most inclined to settle there, yet were they discouraged from coming into a country where there were no city-excises or imposts on lands, or any other taxes equally charging all, whether inhabitants or strangers, but heavy Taxes and Customs laid on all goods imported and exported, by which foreigners and their children and grandchildren, according to the laws of the land, must pay double as much as the natural English: Yea, in the subsidies of Parliament, which extend to perpetuity on foreigners and their children, they must pay double assessment, besides which all strangers are excluded from their guilds and halls of trade and manufactures, so that none have the freedom there to work, either as journeyman or master workman, save in that whereof the inhabitants are ignorant."

Here then we arrive at an excellent national policy as regards foreigners: they are only to be admitted for the improvement of the national industry. And I find it stated elsewhere that when they were so admitted they were forced to employ English apprentices in order that their secrets might be learnt by Englishmen.

Cloth, then, was an imported industry, which it was Elizabethan policy to bring to greater strength and perfection. England felt herself strong in her cloth industry; her wool was the best; her labor was cheap; her falling rivers gave cheap power for her looms.

Thus Hakluyt, writing of the year 1582:

"The wools being natural, and excellent colors for dyeing . . . here also natural, in all the art of clothing then we want one only special thing. For in this so temperate a climate our people may labor the year throughout . . . and the people of this realm by the great and blessed abundance of victual are cheaply fed, and therefore may afford their labor cheap. And where the clothiers in Flanders by the flatness of their rivers cannot make walk-mills (fulling-mills) for their cloths, but are forced to thicken and dress all their cloths by the foot and by the labor of men, whereby their cloths are raised to a higher price, we of England have in all shires stores of mills upon falling rivers, and these rivers being in temperate zones are not dried up in summer with drought and heat as the rivers be in Spain and hotter regions, nor frozen up in winter as all the rivers be in all the North regions of the world, so as our mills may go and work at all times, and dress cloths cheaply. Then we have also for scouring our cloths earths and clays, as Walker's clay and the clay of Oberne, little inferior to soap in scouring and in thicking. Then also have we some reasonable store of alum and copperas here made for dyeing, and people to spin and to do the rest of all the labors we want not. So as there wanteth if colors might be brought in and made natural but only oil; the want whereof if any man could devise to supply at the full with anything that might become natural in this realme, he . . . might deserve immortal fame in this our Commonwealth."

This pleasant little pastoral of English cloth is taken, I should say, from a letter written by Hakluyt to one of our Merchant Adventurers, the "principal factor at Constantinople." Hakluyt charges him to discover all the secrets of the Turkish cloth trade. He is to send samples of Turkey-dyed cloth to the Dyers' Hall; he is to take with him an "apt young man" brought up in the art of dyeing, or to bring home skilled Turkish dyers and weavers in silk and wool, even if in doing so he has to bribe "some great Bashaw" or "insinuate yourself" into the favor of the French Ambassador (then the chief foreign Power in Constantinople). He is to learn all the secrets of Turkish dyeing,

"be they of herbs, simple or compound, be they plants, barks, woodberries, seeds, grains, or mineral matter, or what else soever." If "anile that coloreth blue" is compounded of a herb, he must get the seeds or roots, so that it may become a "natural commodity of this realm." "For thus was woad brought into this realm, and came to good perfection, to the great loss of the French, our old enemies." Saffron had also been brought into England in this way, and there were hopes that "sumack, the plant wherewith the most excellent blacks be dyed in Spain," might also be naturalized. The naturalization of all dyes was most important "to the benefit of this realm." There was "a wood called logwood or Palo Campechio," which was cheap "and yieldeth a glorious blue," but "our workmen cannot make it sure." He must therefore "endeavor earnestly" to discover the secret. There was also a certain seed called sesamum grown in Egypt and imported into Italy. It yielded oil, and might possibly prosper in this realm.

If, however, any of these dyes could not be grown in England, our merchants might have them planted in some other foreign country of suitable climate. "For if a commodity that is to be had of mere necessity be in one hand, it is dearly purchased." What Hakluyt would have thought of an England content to depend altogether upon one possible enemy country for its dyes we need not trouble to speculate. The Factor must make himself master of the English woolen industry before he leaves England, so that he might know how to modify our manufacture to suit Turkish tastes:

"In England we are in our clothing trade to frame ourselves according to the desires of foreign nations, be it that they desire thick or thin, broad or narrow, long orjshort." There was one "proviso always," "that our cloth pass out with as much labor of our people as may be, wherein great consideration ought to be had, for (if vent might so admit it) as it were the greatest madness in the world for us to vent our wool not clothed, so were it madness to vent our wool in part or in the whole turned into broadcloth, if we might vent the same in kersies. For there is great difference in profit to our people between the clothing of a sack of wool in the one and the like sack of wool in the other, of which I wish the merchant of England to have as great care as he may for the universal benefit of the poor. And the turning of a sack of wool into bonnets is better than both, etc. And also not to carry out of the realm any cloth white, but dyed if it may be, that the subjects of this realm may take as much benefit as is possible, and rather to seek the vent of the clothes dyed with the natural colors of England than such as be dyed with foreign colors."

Here we have a national policy in the woolen industry. Cloth is to be sold rather than wool; finished cloth rather than unfinished; the more highly worked cloths rather than the simpler fabrics; dyed rather than undyed; and dyed with English rather than with foreign colors. And all with the object " that the subjects of this realm may take as much benefit aa is possible."

And we see this policy of Hakluyt's letter translated into numberless statutes and acts of the Privy Council. Thus, for example, alum is necessary to the dressing and dyeing of cloth. The Medici had possessed almost a monopoly of alum giving a great advantage to the Florentine weaver. The alum used for English cloth had come from Italy and Germany a danger from the national point of view. Consequently we find many references to the search for English alum in our Elizabethan archives. Thus under June 1565 x:

"Indenture between Cornelius de Vos on the one part, and others on the part of the Queen, for the working of all manner of mines or ores of alum, copperas, or the 'liquors' of them, specially within the Isle of Wight."

Or, again, James Lord Mount joy writes to Cecil from Poole on May 22, 1566, thanking him for sending Dr. Julio, and reporting progress of the mineral, copperas, and alum works. And so it goes on throughout the reign until the alum industry is established in Yorkshire, and English cloth made secure in this respect.

Wool-cards are another essential of the woolen industry. They had been imported from Flanders, and made of German brass-wire another dangerous dependency. But this brings us into the great enterprise of metal production, for wool-cards, being made of brasswire, latten and zinc and copper must be found and worked, and these were German secrets time out of mind.

"Mining" says Janssen "is an essentially German art, and the German methods have been copied by all other nations . . . It was a German who discovered the veins of ore in Scotland, and taught the Scotch the science of mining. In the year 1452 the King of England imported miners from Weissen, Austria, and Bohemia to work the Royal mines."

Members of the Hanseatic League had farmed the tin mines of Cornwall as far back as the time of the Black Prince. And when Elizabeth required brass for wool-combs and ordnance she had to look to Germany for experts.

The Hochstetters I might describe as the Metall-gesellschaft of the sixteenth century. They were a numerous tribe whose headquarters were Augsburg. They had subjected the copper and silver mines of the Tyrol to what Janssen calls "a most wasteful and oppressive exploitation." They had in fact worked out many of their mines, and they had got into certain other little troubles. Thus, for example, Ambrose Hochstetter had tried to make a corner in quicksilver.

"He had," says Janssen, "bought up quicksilver to the amount of 200,000 florins, but he lost the third part of it, because in the meanwhile large quantities of the article were found in Spain and Hungary." Like some modern financiers he had "put on the semblance of being a good Christian," with the result that "not only princes and noblemen, but peasants, farmers, and servants placed their money with this merchant."

"Numbers of farm servants and others" so writes Clemens Sender of Augsburg "who did not possess more than ten florins, lent it out to him, thinking it would be in safe keeping, and that they should receive a yearly percentage." Janssen makes the pensive comment upon this human little story that "the Town Council built a prison for debtors on the occasion of Hochstetter's bankruptcy."

Whether these little troubles had anything to do with the migration of the Hochstetters, I do not know; but certain it is that we find them busily employed under Cecil. Joachinf Hochstetter, the spendthrift son of Ambrose of quicksilver fame, "often spent from 6000 to 10,000 florins on one banquet, and gambled away at other times ten, twenty, or thirty thousand florins." We may take it that when Ambrose was put in the new prison, son Joachim was glad enough to leave Augsburg. Joachim turns up in Scotland in the year 1526 as head of a group of Germans and Dutchmen who receive a grant for forty-three years of all gold and silver mines. "By 1631," as we are not surprised to hear, "it was necessary to pay the passages of the miners to their homes."

Daniel Hochstetter may possibly have been a son of Joachim. We hear of Daniel Hochstetter in England as early as September 10, 1564, when he goes into partnership with Thomas Thurland, "for working mines and minerals in certain parts of the realm." This was, in fact, a reconstruction of the "corporation for working mines in England" formed by the Queen as early as 1561, when Her Majesty signed an indenture with John Steynbergh and Thomas Thurland. The company in due course developed into the "Society of the Mines Royal," closely related with the Mineral and Battery Works started about the same time. I grieve to say that not only had the miners to be smuggled in from Germany by Gresham, but half the capital had to be raised in Germany. The Elizabethans are not altogether happy about these Germans. Hochstetter and his workmen are suspected of obstructing the search for "calamine stone" the Elizabethan name for the ore out of which spelter is refined; at another time the English shareholders complain that the profits are also absorbed by Hochstetter "and by none other." The work of prospecting was costly, but Cecil kept the Germans in money.

"It is joyful news," writes Hochstetter to Alderman Duckett, "that Mayster Secretary (Cecil) hath shown himself so friendly and forward in this our work of our mineral, and that his money hath been so ready . . . in the works of the mines there must be no want of money."

It is possible to trace a conflict between the English Government and the German capitalist for the control of these infant industries. Thus it is laid down in an indenture between the Queen, William Humphrey of the Mint, and a German called Christopher Shutz for the Mineral and Battery Works that there are never to be more than eight "strangers" in the partnership, and that their total interest is not to exceed one-third. Severe penalties are incurred for any concealment of transfer or ownership of shares. Hochstetter endeavors to evade such precautions with all the arts of the company promoter. He proposes (in 1565) to "join with him in company divers others, and in that respect doth mean to make divident of the commodities and profits" and "to reserve to himself some parts of the same and some parts of good will and friendship to dispose freely unto others." And he offers free shares to the Earls of Pembroke and Leicester, to Cecil, to Tarnworth, and to Alderman Duckett, "desiring that it may please them to accept the same in good part."

Moreover it is eventually discovered that behind Hochstetter and his German miners is the great German firm of Haug, which was eminent in the textile and spice trade but had taken over from the Fuggers mines in Hungary.

But the object with Cecil was something of which Hochstetter's sordid soul did not dream.

"Great cost," the Council writes to Lord Scrope in June 1559, "has been bestowed upon the copper works of the Royal mines near Keswick, far above any commodity that has come to the Company by them; for their desire was that Her Majesty and the realm might be served with that commodity to make ordnance rather than stand to the courtesy of strangers who served the realm as they pleased."

And W. R. Scott, speaking of these two mining companies, shows the national plan that underlay the whole undertaking:

"At first sight it would seem that its operations namely, the making of brass and wire were disconnected, but this was not so in reality, since both were used in the production of wool-cards. What is more striking is the existence in this undertaking of an 'integrated industry.' It owned 'calamine mines' in Somersetshire. Thence the ore was conveyed to Nottingham or London (the company had brass factories at both places), copper was purchased from the Mines Royal Society, and brass was made. In Monmouthshire the company was possessed of iron mines, whence it obtained ore to make 'osmond iron,' which was drawn into wire. Finally the wire, whether of iron or brass, was used in the manufacture of wool-cards."

But more important even than wool-cards, the brass was made into ordnance. At the beginning of the reign the Imperial Power controlled munitions, save for a small proportion made in England. We might trace this dependence through the archives. Thus, for example, a paper without date of the reign of Mary l gives a list of powder and other munitions bought abroad, "for transmission whereof licensse is to be demanded of the King of Spain."

On August 1, 1552, Sir Peter Hoby writes to Cecil that "Mr. Damsell requires money for the King's gunpowder at Antwerp," and in the early years of Elizabeth there are numberless entries concerning "arms, armor, and munitions to be provided by Sir Thomas Gresham," then the Queen's agent at Antwerp. The realm, in fact, "stood to the courtesy of strangers" to such a degree that an independent political policy could hardly be followed.

"Supplies of saltpetre and sulphur for gunpowder, and of iron and copper for ordnance," says Dr. Cunningham, "could only be procured through ports that were controlled by prospective enemies; there is no wonder that the Spaniards should have contemptuously calculated that it would be an easy matter to conquer England, because she lacked armor."

This was a main object of the presence of the Hochstetters, the search for calamine stone, the smelting of latten, on which Cecil kept so close and careful an eye. For this reason he coaxed over German experts, supplied them with capital, and protected the infant industries by patents, monopolies, tariffs, and prohibitions. And Cecil had his reward. By the end of the reign he had so well grounded a dependence in the matter of ordnance that the Spaniards were actually trying to smuggle English cannon into Spain. In 1591 they were offering 19s. to 22s. a hundredweight for English ordnance, "and a pension of forty ducats a month for life to the man who would smuggle them over." Thus in his old age the great Burghley might lean back and rub his hands over the "well-grounded dependence" of England.

I have gone into this matter of metal in some detail because it is a useful example of how one industry hangs upon another. Wool-cards were the key industry of the woolen industry, and they required brass for their manufacture. The profits from the sale of wool-cards gave the means for carrying further the manufacture of ordnance. Moreover in the manufacture of wool-cards the drawing of wire was essential, and thus incidentally England established her wire industry.

"The United Battery and Wire Company," says a pamphleteer, "by joining their long heads and purses together have first, after much puzzling and botching, brought the art of making brass-wire to such perfection as to undermine and almost totally exclude importation thereof from Holland and Germany."

We might trace this policy of a "well-grounded dependence" by taking up any single commodity, and following it through the State Papers of the reign. Gunpowder might furnish another example. The Imperial ports controlled the supply both of sulphur and saltpetre. As late as 1595 we hear of ten Merchant Adventurers procuring supplies of "saltpetre and powder" from the port of Stade, which had been bribed to betray the interests of the Empire, and "underhand by Sir Francis Vere with the merchants of Amsterdam." But as early as March 1561 the Queen had concluded an agreement with one Gerard Honrick, "a German captain who undertakes the making of saltpetre," and all through the reign we find evidence that the saltpetre men are busy refining the earthen floors of cowsheds and stables to extract that villainous commodity. So with salt, necessary to the fishing industry, which had hitherto been got from France and Germany. In 1563 Gaspar Seelar, a German, and in 1565 Francis Berty, a Frenchman, were given grants to make salt in England.

And we find Cecil busying himself with all the furniture of ships, so as to be independent of the Baltic, growing timber, hemp, and flax, planting a colony of Flemish linen-weavers at Stamford in order to furnish the Navy with sail-cloth. There is, in fact, no industry then known which he does not either plant or encourage, so determined is he to make England independent and secure by this national policy of a well-grounded dependence on home production.

Here, then, is the national policy on which England's greatness was founded, a policy of independence, a policy of strength, not a policy of wealth and of cheapness merely. And to this policy we must return if we are to hand down the noble heritage received from our forefathers to our children as their secure possession.