It outbreak of the Great Northern War of 1720-21

Itis difficult to argue that Britain1 was never reliant onBaltic timber imports throughout the period specified. However, the extent towhich the government rectified the dangerous issue of over reliance isdebatable. In1648, the Thirty Years War2 ended, and consequentlyallowed Dutch merchants to continue trading heavily in the Baltic region. Somuch so, that between 1649 and 1651, English ships trading in the region halved3. Due to England importingmost naval and nautical supplies from the Baltics, this risked the countrybecoming dependant on the Dutch, and could impede the English shipbuildingindustry. TheNavigation Acts were passed by parliament in October 1651.

These, which wereofficially known as the First Navigation Ordnance4, were a direct result offeelings of over reliance on imports from the Baltic which were subject to interferenceby the Dutch. The laws dictated that goods could only be imported from theiroriginal place of growth, and that they could only travel in English ships, orthose of the producing nation.Theconsequence of these protectionist laws, was the First Anglo-Dutch War of1652-4. Another two wars followed in 1665-67 and 1672-74, which after muchstruggle England emerged as victor. In the words of XXX, this demonstrated that”Britain’s naval power was such that any real threats could be swiftly dealtwith”.

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TheDutch threat however, was by no means the last time Britain would be underthreat from lacking timber supplies. The outbreak of the Great Northern War of1720-21 where Russia and ally Sweden reached into the eastern Baltic causedQueen Anne to pass laws in 1704 and 17135, with the intention ofencouraging timber imports from New England instead of the Baltic. Thisdirectly demonstrates an impetus for change from the English statesmen, andillustrated that although reliant on Baltic timber, Britain could turn to othersafe resources. In 1721, this initiative was compounded by theNaval Stores Act, which abolished costly timber duties on all timber importedfrom the American colonies.  XXXXsaid that, “Britain was probably self-sufficient in timber before 1600″6. However, concerns overlacking supplies caused an impetus for planting in the 16th century.The earliest example being Lord Burghley’s Windsor park in 1580.

Despite this,early records of legal action to bring in safe supplies from elsewhere began inthe reign on King Edward IV in 1483, who ordered that as a result of the warsof the roses, “4 bow staves are to be imported with every tun of merchandise”7. This was followed againby Queen Elizabeth I in 1593, who enacted a policy of having two hundredclapboards imported with every six tuns of beer exported8. Britain is therefore anation of historic importers. Theargument that Britain could have been reliant on its own timber is weak.

Although planting of timber became prevalent in the 17th and 18thcenturies, it was condemned by a government survey of 1791 which stated thattimber in Wales was “Not fit for the Navy”9. This was mostly because ofthe choice to plant conifers rather than oak, however when a ship was builtwith the timbers of the Duke of Atholl’s estate in 1820, “It was reckoned atriumph”.10This experiment was not repeated, and increasing urbanisation placed a premiumon agriculture rather than silviculture. Initialgovernment and naval reliance on Royal Forests as a supply of timber in theearly 17th century was a result of reluctance to pay market pricefor timber, instead of a lack of timber being imported. Whilst the Royal Navycomplained of English shortage, “Britain’s merchant marine almost trebled insize”11.  This illustrates a lack of money, not safelyavailable wood.

 —17th c expension of navy — —-paragraph about the quantity required by country and navy —– Historiansargue that it was not until the early 19th century that safe andEnglish controlled colonial impirts of timber were seen as a viable source ofsupply to replace the reliance on Baltic trade. XXX states that in 1792,Canadian loads totalled only 2,660. Only 1% of the quantitiy from the Baltic.This si followed by XXX, saying that “An Act of 1810 doubled existing duties onforeign timber, and made the import of Norwegian produce unprofitable”12 Thus, it was “largelysuperseded by trade with the colonies”.13 Between 1816-1819, Canadiantimber loads increased from 10,500-188,300,14 largely as a result of a275% levy raised on Baltic imports, and the removal of duties on colonialimports. For the first time, Canadian imports overtook Norwegian15. Thus, it can begenerally said that before 1819 Britain was over reliant on Baltic timber. However,it is possible to argue that the benefits of colonial timber imports wereidentified over 100 years earlier.

XXX contrasts the argument of XXX, arguingthat during the second Anglo Dutch Wars in 1665, “The admiralty was quick tograsp the potential of New England’s great white pines”.16 This is supported by a first-handaccount of Samuel Pepys, undersecretary of the British Admiralty, writing onDecember 3rd 1666: “With everybody prophesying destruction of thenation” – “There is also the very good news come of four New England ships comehome safe to Falmouth with masts for the King; which is a blessing mightyunexpected, and without which, if for nothing else, we must have failed nextyear. But god be praised for this good fortune, and send us a continuance ofhis favour in other things.”17Pepys’account demonstrates that Britain was heavily impiorting timber from America duringthe early years. The tone of his writing illustrates the impiryance of navalmasts in fighting a war with the dutch that was started as a result of the NavigationActs and the pursuit of commercial dominance.   Thereis much evidence to suggest Britain was heavily reliant on Baltic timberimports between 1650 and 1850. Historically, timber imports from the Baltic canbe traced back to the 13th century.18 XXXKENT states that: “Greater suitability of foreign wood for specific purposes…played their part in the demand for foreign timber”19 and that “It may wellhave been found more advantageous to transport such a bulky commodity bywater.

“20 In the 17thcentury, the American colonies sent only small quantities of timber, and thus,the “largest source of timber for the British market was Norway”.21 ‘Timber’22 accounted for one thirdof real value imports from Norway,23. In London in 1795, 30%of all vessels in port were owned by Norwegian timber merchants,24 and timber accounted forthe 2nd highest concentration of ships coming into the country. TheEnglish trade deficit with Baltics was so severe, that in 1758 Norway had tolegalize the payment of taxes and duties in English coin. Britishreliance on Baltic timber can further be illustrated by the quantity importedfor civilian purposes. “Norwegian and Baltic timber was, so to speak, physicallysupporting British Urbanisation”.

25 XXX argues that, “TheGreat Rebuilding” after The Great Fire of London in 1688 was “Largely enabledby timber from Norway and the Baltics”.26 Studies also suggest astrong correlation between fluctuating timber prices and variable buildingcycles. In the case of the building of the National Gallery, £15,000 of thetotal £60,000 costs were spent on timber, with 80% of it imported.27 Had the Baltic supply notbeen available, it is arguable that London would have never been rebuilt afterthe fire without substantial extra time and cost. The sheer mass of timberrequired could never be procured from English shores, and colonial importswould have multiplied the cost considerably. Contraryto the argument of British reliance, historian XXX illustrates that after a Britishshift to American timber supplies, “The situation was dire for the Norwegianand Baltic countries” and “many traders went bankrupt”. This suggests a foreignreliance on the British market, as much as the British relied upon theirimports and therefore shows that the Baltics could never risk losing Englishtrade and that fears of over reliance were evidently unnecessary in the lateryears of the timeframe. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27