Tuesday, June 21, 2005

08: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 8

Things changed drastically in 1688. In that year, His Most Catholic Majesty, King Philip II of Spain, who was embroiled in a decades long war to impose Catholicism on Protestant Holland, launched a fleet of 130 ships to invade England and overthrow Elizabeth I, a protestant who had declared for Protestant Holland. Philip had the backing of Pope Sixtus V. It took over six weeks for this vast fleet of ships to sail north past France, and round into the English Channel. By the time they arrived off the southern coast of England, Elizabeth’s spies at Philip’s court had already alerted her to the attempt.

While she gathered an army and posted it along England’s channel coast, she relied most heavily on her Sea Hawks as her first line of defense. These Sea Hawks were master mariners, sea captains with a long history of exploration, and undaunting courage in “freeing the Spanish of the burden of transporting treasure from the new world.” The names of Howard, Frobisher, Drake, and Hawkins will forever live in the annals of British history for what they did to the great armada.

Queen Elizabeth gave a speech to her troops waiting for the invasion at Tilbury. On August 8, 1588, she said:

"... I am come amongst you as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too...”

While the Sea Hawks did grave damage to the Armada, and harried its progress through the English Channel, the worst damage to the Spanish effort came at the hands of Mother Nature. Certainly the Royal Navy can lay claim to diverting the Armada from its intended action to embark troops from Holland and escort them across to England, but disease wiped out thousands of the men on both sides, from typhus, and dysentery. But the worst blows were dealt by the storms. After facing Drake and Lord Effingham’s fleets in the Channel, the fire ships off the French port of Calais, and the Battle off the Gravelines, the Spanish ships gave up all hope of executing their orders to invade England. Rather than again face the gauntlet they had just run in the Channel, they chose to sail up the North Sea, round the tip of Scotland, and, clearing Ireland, sail into the Atlantic, and south to Spain. But storms and hurricanes intervened and many more ships were lost along the way. Many of the ships foundered in heavy weather off the west coast of Ireland, with a few sailors surviving long enough to reach the rocky shoreline.

A medal was struck for Elizabeth to give to her heroes, the Sea Hawks. It was inscribed, “Flavit Deus et Dissipati Sunt” – “God blew with His wind and they were scattered”.

What does this have to do with Trade and the advance of civilization? Only this: Over the next century Britain and Spain would be embroiled in two more wars, and the Spanish would maintain supremacy over the oceans, while England would be forced to focus inwardly to deal with crises in the line of succession to the throne, and the national religion of England. But, by the end of the 17th century, the Royal Navy would be master of the seas, and despite what challenges the French could muster to that title in the Napoleonic Wars, they would remain the master of the waves for more than two hundred years. Only into the 20th century would the Royal Navy begin to lag behind the United States Navy in maritime naval supremacy. The exploits of Drake, and Hawkins, Frobisher and Howard, would serve as a basis for a proud service that allowed the tiny nation of England to grow into the largest Empire the world has ever seen, and likely will never see again. At its height, it controlled most of North America, nearly all of India, and laid claim to Australia, and quite a few smaller “Crown Colonies” along the way.

The British East India Company, and other trade houses, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company, for example, financed the follow on behind the conquest, the colonization of the new lands, and the set up of the trade arrangements. Furs, cotton, and minerals, from the Americas, spices, ivory and lumber from India, and a place to send their convicts in Australia. That trade, especially the trade with Canada and the American Colonies, and later with the United States, pushed both the U.S. and Britain into the Industrial Revolution, as goods being shipped both ways in their raw state required processing. In particular, this was the case in textiles, as mills sprung up all over both countries. That required machinery, and machinery required ever greater skills at milling metals, and refining them.

And with this supremacy new trade routes were established.

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