My intent is to allow the reader to walk down the lanes of old London (before it burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666) and feel as if you are actually there. You can smell and touch the nuances of London. You'll know what it's like to work your way through the City and its the conflicting laws where religion played in important part of everyday life. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Oh, and then there's my French Revolution novel.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The English vs the Dutch

Yes, I know. It's been ages since I last posted anything here, but I think I deserve a little break with five novels released in a period of two years. (Whew, as I wipe my forehead of damp.) Not all has been relaxed with my feet warming in the sun, though. I've been researching for my WIP, a historical novel set in London 1663, tentative title: The Barbers.

After the Cromwellian years, the Presbyterians lost their tenacious hold over English mores. King Charles II was pulled out of exile and ensconced in Whitehall Palace, and he couldn't have been more different than Cromwell. It gave the Puritans heartburn. 

The Presbyterians fought to regain what they'd lost by plotting against the king, but Charles' spymaster had taken notes from Cromwell's spymaster and kept the king safe.  You can see this in my latest release Of Carrion Feathers.

Along with this, the new queen's dowry brought new ports of call to England, located in the Spice Islands.  Before, England's merchants had to claw their way over the holdings of other nations.  One would think the Portuguese and Spanish who had long taken possession of these regions could not be shaken off their foundations. Not true.

By early 17th century, the most tenacious grasp on the Spice Islands was surprisingly from the Dutch.  They fought tooth and nail for what they wanted.  Even though England and Holland were not 'technically' at war, their merchants were.  Vicious scuffles were on the rise in the Southseas. It was only a matter of time before these skirmishes would flare up along the English Channel and North Sea.   

East Indiamen at Sea

These battles started more than half a century before when the two countries established their East India Companies. The English company began September 1599, and the Dutch  a few years later in March 1602. Since both referred to their companies as East India Company, to delineate I'll refer to the Dutch company as VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie).

In research, I've been enthralled with Nathaniel's Nutmeg, a narrative nonfiction by Giles Milton. His telling of the spice wars is nothing short of astonishing. Both the Dutch and English found bounty in the Southseas but at a terrific cost. In their fight to dominate the spice trade, they ran into headhunters and cannibals. They suffered from typhoid, endless days and nights in high humidity, high temperatures on bug biting islands. A company factor (English or VOC) sent to these islands to build up the business only lasted 2-3 years before succumbing to disease. Most of them died before their ladened ships reached home.

Even though the English company began first, their choice of captains for the journeys set them back, while the Dutch poured out of the gate like furies. They were aggressive and unwilling to bend in their attempts to hold every island that held spices. One of the most vicious of these battles was over the Bantam Islands (an Indonesian archipelago) where nutmeg and mace were the spices most coveted. During this strife, Run Island's nutmeg crop was destroyed. In the 1660's when England could finally make strides into the East Indies, there was little left to harvest on the island.

The hostilities turned into war, and at this time, torture was not only approved of but expected. One poor fellow's torture was very clearly stated in a journal...
Dutch East India Vessel

From page 234 of Nathaniel's Nutmeg: "First, I caused him to be burned under the nayles of his thumbs, fingers, and toes with sharpe hotte iron, and the nayles to be torne off... Then we burned him quite thorow the handes, and with rasps of iron tore out the flesh and sinewes. After that, I caused them to knocke the edges of his shinne bones with hotte searing irons..."

In the end the poor wretch was made target practice, and finally died.  

Due to early 17th century English internal strife (Charles I, Laud, Parliament), VOC's trade ran far ahead of England's, and they excelled during the English Civil Wars. Once Cromwell took the throne, he realized the Dutch were a carbuncle on England's trade. He went to war what is now called the first Anglo/Dutch war, fought entirely at sea.

It wasn't until Charles II married the Portuguese Infanta that England could make serious (and successful) inroads on the spice trade. But even then, the Dutch continued to irritate the English. Under Charles II, England and Holland fought two more wars, all at sea.

Many thanks to Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton

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