The Rise of Northern Europe

Rise of Northern Europe

 

In the period between 1600 and 1763 Spain and Portugal were overtaken by the countries of northern Europe, principally, Holland, France and Britain.

This would serve to make Northwest Europe the most influential and dynamic region of the globe.

Northwest Europe would dominate the globe from 1763 until 1914.

The domination of the world by the Northwest powers didn’t happen immediately in 1763, but the foundation for this period of European hegemony was created starting in 1763.

Between 1600 and 1763, the British acquired India, the Dutch drove the Portuguese out of the East Indies and all the NOrthwest powers set up trading posts and colonies on the coasts of Africa and North America.

The foundation for the rise of Northwest Europe as the leading military, commercial and industrial center of the world was laid during the Middle Ages, when the principal trading routes shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

Europe also possessed a social structure and culture that was responsive to economic development and growth.

The elites of Holland, France and England readily engaged in businesses that promised to make a profit. There was greater class mobility in Europe where the gentry engaged in business, and financiers and merchants could often times buy their way into the nobility.

This social mobility fostered a spirit of competition and a positive attitude towards economic enterprise.

Most importantly, Europe was aided by a price-wage-rent differential. Prices rose 256% in England in the 16thy and 17th centuries, whereas wages rose only 145%. Rents also lagged behind prices in Europe. This all meant that it would be the entrepreneur who would make money during this 200 year period.

As entrepreneurs made money, these profits were reinvested back into mining, industry and commerce. This was the greatest boom time for the speculator in the history of the world especially from 1550 to 1650.

This would also lead to overseas expansion of the England and France to the New World, but they would implant their colonies in North America.

John Cabot in 1496, the year of Columbus’ second return, set out and discovered a valuable resource in the areas of New Foundland in the form of timber products, and especially fish. The waters off New Foundland were teeming with fish.

For Northern Europe fish was probably the most important single trade item in the 15th and 16th centuries. Colonies sprang up on the banks of New Foundland, and from these colonies people explored the more northern areas and the arctic regions.

But Europeans were not satisfied with just fish they also wanted spices and other luxury items, and they began a fruitless search of passage to the Orient through the North American continent. Everyone was in search of a northwest passage.

The explorer, Henry Hudson between 1607-1611 discovered the Hudson Straits and Hudson Bay and stumbled onto the back entrance to the richest fur producing region in the world.

The Spanish colonies to the south were also very interested in trading with the British, especially for British cloth and slaves. In 1562 Sir John Hawkins started the English slave trade in Sierra Leone and exchanged them in Haiti for Hides and sugar. He made an incredible profit, so much so that Queen Elizabeth secretly invested in his second voyage.

The Spanish ambassador in London strongly protested the contraband trade, but Hawkins carried out a third voyage, but the Spanish were waiting for him and sunk most of his ships, though he and his cousin, Francis Drake made it back to London.

Eventually formal would be declared in 1588 between Spain and England and the English in the same year destroyed the Spanish armada. The Spanish defeat was a clear signal to the rest of the world that Spanish power was on the decline in the world.

In the 17the century the Dutch took full advantage of the decline in Spanish power. The rise of Holland was due to it central geographic position, the genius of Dutch applied technology and modern business and accounting practices.

Once the Dutch drained the low country of water they began their rise to greatness as a nation of shipping and transportation interests. The Dutch also devised new forms of processing foods, especially fish, by salting and smoking fish in such a way that the fish would be a preserved food product.

The Dutch were also allowed to transport cargoes for the Spanish and the Portuguese and Dutch ships were strictly for merchant marine purposes and for the first time in European history merchant ships carried no armaments, which allowed them to transport more goods.

By the end of the 1500’s the Dutch began to challenge Portugal’s empire in the east. By 1602 the Dutch incorporated their various private trading companies into one great national concern, the Dutch East India Company. The English also had an East India Company, but in terms of capital reserves they were no match for the Dutch.

In later years the Dutch East India company established a network of fortified posts to enforce its trade monopoly.

Trading posts made it important to have treaties with local rulers. Treaties led to protectorates. By the end o the 1600’s the Dutch were administering only a small area and had a much greater area of protectorates, but during the 18th and 19th centuries the Dutch annexed these territories and built up a great colonial empire.

The Dutch also virtually monopolized the whaling industry. In 1600 the Dutch had over 10,000 merchant marine vessels.

In the New World the Dutch founded a short-lived colony on the Island of Manhattan, called New Amsterdam. But the most profitable and durable of all the colonies of the Dutch was the one that was created at the tip of Southern Africa called Cape Town in 1652.

Cape town was essentially to provision ships that were headed to the east.

In the 18th century Holland fell behind the British and French in economic development. Both Britain and France built up a comparable merchant marine and both countries enacted discriminatory trade tariffs designed to keep Dutch products out of their respective countries.

A main reason for the decline of the Dutch was that they lacked the resources of their rivals.

In North America English colonies fell roughly into three groups: The virginia colonies which produced mostly tobacco; the New England colonies with its subsistence farming, fishing and timber products, and fur; and finally the British colonies in the West Indies which were by far the most lucrative of the colonies.

The French settlements in North America were important due to their strategic location. The first French posts were established in Nova Scotia in 1605; Quebec was founded in 1608 and Montreal in 1642. The French used the St. Lawrence river Valley as their main corridor for colonization and they took advantage of the great inland water system to push westward to Lake Superior and then south to the Ohio River.

Then in 1682 a Frenchman named La Salle paddled down the Mississippi River and laid claim to the whole of the Mississippi River Basin and all tributaries and branches of the River in the name of the King of France and called this territory Louisiana.

This would serve to cause problems with the English whose colonies, by the start of the 18th century were becoming overcrowded and sought to push westward.

There were also tensions over the fact that the British had some trading rights in India, while the French thought that they had exercised a monopoly. As the Mogol empire in India declined due to internal problems both the French and the British scrambled in a mad dash to build influence and bases of power all over the Indian sub-continent.

The colonial and commercial rivalry between Britain and France was fought out in a series of four wars that dragged on for a century.

All the wars had two theaters of action. The wars were fought overseas and in Europe. The reasons for the series of wars between Britain and France in Europe revolved around dynastic ambitions, especially those of Louis XIV of France and Frederick the Great of Prussia. The four main wars were:

War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1696), The War of Spanish Succession 1701-1713; the War of Austrian Succession 1740-48) and the 7 years war 1756-1763.

The first three wars were not decisive overseas, but in Europe they did settle some important matters once and for all. Louis XIV was successfully stopped from expanding in Europe and Frederick the Great successfully seized the province of Silesia and brought Prussia into the first rank of European powers.

The main result of these three wars was that the British acquired Nova Scotia, New Foundland and the Hudson Bay territories, but it didn’t settle the basic question of whether the French would remain in Canada and the Mississippi Valley and restrict the English to the Atlantic seaboard. These issues were settled once and for all as well as the status of India in the 7 years war.