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Posts Tagged ‘Trade’

A guest post by Rebecca Rideal.

In April 1664, a House of Commons committee was set up in Westminster to investigate the nation’s declining cloth industry. It didn’t take long, however, for committee members to widen their focus to the deterioration of English trade more generally. Over the previous few years, mercantile tensions between the England and the Dutch Republic had grown steadily (erupting into the First Anglo-Dutch War, 1652–1654) and much of the blame for this perceived deterioration in trade was levelled at the Dutch. Throughout committee meetings, influential London merchants were encouraged to voice their grievances. With their companies venturing further afield for mastery of trade in gold, silver, sugar, tobacco, silks and spices, key complainants were the Levant Company, the East India Company, and the Royal Adventurers for Trade in Africa, whose headquarters and boards were all based within the capital and whose ships docked and delivered along the Thames. They complained that the Dutch had taken possession of all the former Portuguese territories, especially along the West African coast where they had severely inhibited England’s ability to trade.

capecoastcastle1682

Cape Coast Castle in 1682.

In fact, that same year, a forty-three-year-old Irish-born sea captain named Robert Holmes had been sent by the London-based benefactors of the newly-formed (and state-backed) Company of Royal Adventurers to facilitate the company’s expansion. Founded by the Duke of York and Prince Rupert of the Rhine on the belief that there were rich gold fields along the Gambia river, the company regularly came into conflict with Dutch trading bases along the West African coast. As the small fleet set off from the Thames, its primary goal was the acquisition of gold but Holmes also had explicit orders, for the first time, to establish a trade in slaves, with the aim of acquiring 3,000 per year to sell to the West Indies. He was instructed to ‘kill, take, sink or destroy such as shall oppose you’, but the unwritten truth was that in order to achieve these ends, he would need to take possession of Dutch trading bases.

In his forty-gun flagship, the Jersey, Holmes led a taskforce of English vessels to capture the Dutch fortress of Carolusborg, on the northern part of the Gulf of Guinea. He took with him a new spring-based pendulum watch, designed by the illustrious Dutch scientist and inventor Christiaan Huygens and refashioned by the Royal Society ready for the sea. It was hoped that the watch might enhance the accuracy of navigation. A cunning man who, by his own admission, looked ‘his enemies in the face with as much love as his friends’, Holmes was also a determined military leader and knew these waters well. With the support of his loyal crew and aided by the latest naval weaponry and navigation equipment, he seized a cluster of trading bases before setting his sights on the main prize, Carolusborg. It took Holmes eleven days of hard bombardment to capture Carolusborg, which was renamed Cape Coast Castle under English control.

His actions on behalf of Royal Adventurers for Trade in Africa far exceeded what the company’s backers had expected and Holmes found himself in the unanticipated situation of being reprimanded for capturing Dutch vessels. That said, his achievements were not unwelcome and, along with the wider grievances raised by London merchants and influential war-hungry court factions, they would trigger the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667). The Dutch eventually managed to win back many of the African trade posts Holmes had taken, but they never again had control of Cape Coast Castle; a fortress that, over the next two centuries, morphed into the rotten heart of the British Transatlantic Slave Trade.


revised-1666_Bpb.jpgAdapted from 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire. Rebecca Rideal is a writer, former TV producer and historian. Her first book 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire is published by John Murray and out in paperback today, 23rd February.

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trinity house

Trinitas in Unitate.

Many happy returns to Trinity House which was granted its Royal Charter this day in 1514 by Henry VIII, early in his reign when he was yet young, handsome and worthy.  Trinity House is the charity which takes care of all of our lighthouses and coastal buoys, ensuring the safety of thousands of mariners down the ages.

As with many ancient organisations, Trinity House has a religious foundation and a wonderfully convoluted name: The Master, Wardens, and Assistants of the Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity, and of St. Clement in the Parish of Deptford-Strond in the County of Kent. Deptford, of course, was in times gone by London’s major centre of ship building and maritime marine. The initial function, according to the Charter, was “so that they might regulate the pilotage of ships in the King’s streams”.

As a fraternity, the top of the organisation comprises 31 Elder Brethren, led by a Master. Today’s Master is HRH The Princess Royal, the latest in a long line of senior royals who have held the position. Former non-Royal Masters have included Samuel Pepys (as you’d expect), The Duke of Wellington and William Pitt the Younger.

The Trinity House HQ is in Trinity Square, overlooking the Tower of London and the Tower Hill Memorial which commemorates all merchant seamen and fishermen lost in the two world wars. All Hallows by the Tower, which also remembers seafarers, is close by. The late-Georgian building by Samuel Wyatt dates from 1796. It has a magnificent staircase, beautifully-appointed rooms and is festooned with portraits, ships models, silverware and other seafaring objects.

Trinity House

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Last Saturday as part of the 500th anniversary celebrations, Trinity House was open to the public, a rare occurrence. These photos are from our visit, all by LH Member Fiona Pretorius. It will next be accessible one day on Open House weekend this September and booking will be necessary, so look out for that.

 

Further Reading.

Our Trinity House photos on Flickr.
Trinity House History.
Trinity House History Blog.
Trinity House home page.
Trinity House FAQs.
Trinity House on Wikipedia.

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The Rainborowes, Adrian Tinniswood

It was appropriate and a little strange seeing the Commons assert its authority during the Syria debate while at that very moment reading of the House doing a similar thing about two thirds through this new book by Adrian Tinniswood. For most of The Rainborowes takes part during the English Civil War. Centre stage is Thomas Rainborowe – the Colonel Rainsborough of Putney Debates fame – who among many things, is a Puritan Leveller and seige specialist par excellence. Utterly loathed by the Royalists, he is widely admired by his men and Parliamentary leaders alike; he is physically courageous, intelligent, militarily talented and not unambitious politically. Could he rather than Cromwell have become the head of a Republican England? It’s not unthinkable, but Thomas was too intransigent, too doctrinaire, too – well – left wing.

Thomas Rainborowe

Thomas Rainborowe

Although he is the leading light in this story, Thomas is but one of a remarkable family of siblings who experienced first-hand the tumult and violence of the Civil War or eking out an existence in colonial Boston. Or both. But we start with the telling of how their father and patriarch of the family, William Rainborowe senior, establishes the family fortunes as a merchant mariner of the Levant trade and also as the scourge of Barbary pirates along North Africa’s Atlantic seaboard. He ruthlessly leads the successful blockade of the pirate stronghold of New Sallee, freeing hundreds of English captives destined for slavery. But his adventures against Irish rebels a few years on were signally less successful.

William senior leaves us just as the Civil War kicks off. His sons and daughters are intermarrying into an extended network of ambitious Puritan families on both sides of the Atlantic, in London and in colonial Boston. His daughters Martha and Judith marry into the elite of Boston Puritan society many of whom also have origins in East London; his sons Thomas and William Junior – the latter returning from New England – fight for Parliament against the king.

That’s the basic narrative, a lot of history there. Two generations of a high-achieving London maritime family in a relatively short and tumultuous period of violence and rapid change which witnesses the birth of one nation and the re-birth of another.

The author has succeeded totally in arranging and compiling a huge amount of evidence – particularly with regard to complex trans-Atlantic family networks. –  and delivering a compelling, pacy work of history. It encompasses on one hand intimate domesticity – the Puritan household – to warfare on a grand scale, on land and on sea. He achieves this seemingly effortlessly, though it is perfectly clear that a lot of hard work lies behind this fabulous account.

I fully expect The Rainborowes to be cited on those book of the year lists you see in the pre-Christmas newspaper supplements.

There is a section of well-chosen images at the centre of the book, which include a portrait of Thomas Rainborowe (above) and others, engravings featuring the Thames and contemporary ships (very fancy, no wonder they were expensive), and what I particularly like: crude contemporary propaganda pamphlets, both religious and political.

The book has two maps, always a good thing: The British Isles showing the main Civil War sites featured; and the Massachusetts Coast. Plus, there is a contemporary one of Old and New Sallee, in the images pages. Index, Notes, Bibliography, all present, thorough and excellent.

The Rainborowes (407pp) by Adrian Tinniswood is published by JonathanCape on 5 September. Cover price is £25.00 but available for less.

Putney Debates.

Thomas Rainborowe’s famous quote at St Mary’s, Putney, where he clashed with Cromwell.

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