Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Commercial Relations of England and Scotland 1603 - 1707

f. Trade with France

The only new feature of any importance in Scottish trade during this period was the development of the trade to America. There was also some trade to the West Indies, not only to the British islands, but also to the Dutch possessions of Curacoa and Antigua, and to the Caribbee Islands and St Christophers. This trade was chiefly carried on by ships from the Clyde ports, which also went to the Canary Islands. But the principal trade of the country was still with Spain, France, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Baltic ports. The towns which the Scots merchants frequented were San Sebastian and Bilbao; Lisbon; Bordeaux, Rochelle, Rouen and Dieppe; Campvere, Middelberg, Rotterdam and Amsterdam; Bergen, Gothenberg and Stockholm; Konigsberg, Stettin, Lubeck, Dantzig and Hamburg. The east coast ports had some trade with London, and also with Newcastle, but apart from these there was little trade with England by sea. Between Ireland, especially the north, and the west coast of Scotland, there was much communication.

The Scots still continued to trade in what the English despised as a "mean and peddling" manner. Ships were loaded by a number of merchants, each making some small contribution to the cargo. One man would put on board five hundred pounds of butter; another, one thousand ells of linen cloth and ten dozen stockings; a third, fifty-two kidskins, or five dozen salt hides, or perhaps eight hundredweight of old brass; and so the ship's load was gradually made up. The ships, too, were sailed more cheaply than English ships. Trade was still much hampered by the special position of the royal burghs, which, in spite of opposition and agitation from the "unfree" burghs, continued to retain their privileges.

Scotland during this period felt the disadvantage of her connection with England far more heavily than she had during the earlier part of the century. Then she had shared in the English coasting trade, and also, though to a small extent, she had traded between England and some continental ports. The Navigation Acts cut her off from all share in either of these branches of trade, as well as from any legitimate share in the Plantation trade. But it was in her foreign trade, rather than in her trade with England herself, that her English connection was most disastrous. England's enemies were not Scotland's enemies, yet because of their common sovereign Scotland had to share in England's wars. Unfortunately these were waged against Scotland's friends and commercial allies, the Dutch, during nearly ten years of Charles's reign; and the French, during practically the whole of William's reign. From the Dutch war the Scots suffered in two ways, from the embargo placed on their trade with Holland, which was of great importance to them; and from the damage to their ships sailing to France and the south from Dutch men-of-war and privateers. During the long wars with France the state of affairs was somewhat different. Trade with France was not always prohibited, and the prohibition was very generally disregarded. But those who continued to trade suffered both from French privateers and from English ships, which attempted to prevent communication between Scotland and France.

Scottish trade with France was injured by the general commercial conditions in Europe, as well as by her English connection. During the seventeenth century, especially in the latter half, both England and France developed highly protective systems. Scotland was not included in the English system, and French protection led to the abolition of her old privileges there. For this the Scots blamed their relationship with England. They were greatly disappointed that they were neither represented, nor their interests considered, at the Treaty of Ryswick, and that the opportunity was not taken for re-establishing them in their favoured position in France. There was a general feeling amongst all classes that this subordination of their interests could not continue. "There is no Nation so much hurt in Trade by England as is Scotland; Because we are under their Head, but not of their Politick Body....Why do wee loss the Friendship of all our ancient Aliyes for the quarrels betwixt them and England, whilst England gives neither Friendship free Trade nor priviledge to us."

At the beginning of the eighteenth century steps were taken to take the control of foreign relations from the hands of the sovereign, who was presumably influenced by English interests, and to make it a national business. An overture for an Act appointing Scottish residents and consuls, "in such Places as are most proper for the trade of this nation," was brought forward. An Act was passed rescinding the Act of Charles II's first Parliament which vested in the King the power of ordering foreign trade, as being "prejudiciall to the Trade of this Nation." An Act was also brought forward for making the kingdom a free port, by removing all duties on imports and exports whether carried by natives or by foreigners. This however was not passed. The Act of Peace and War and the Act allowing the import of foreign wines were more. important. The former placed the power of declaring war in the hands of the Scottish Parliament, so that Scotland need not necessarily be at war with the same countries as England. The "Wine Act" followed the same policy; allowing the import of wines legalised trade with France, while England was still at war with her. These Acts, shewing that Scotland was going to regulate her own foreign political and commercial relations in her own interests, naturally alarmed English statesmen, and did much to force on the Union.

In spite of these drawbacks to her commerce, Scottish shipping increased somewhat during this period. Under the Commonwealth the Scots lost most of their ships, many being taken by the English, while others were lost during the Dutch wars. In 1662 the Burgh Convention declared that "in the yeiris 1650 and 1651, and thairefter the Inglish did sease upon and tak the whole schippis of Scotland great and small, so that the whole schippis now belonging to Scotland ar of ane verie inconsiderable value." The vessels bought after the Restoration were chiefly of foreign build, very few ships being as yet built in Scotland. This was another reason against the admission of Scots ships to share in English commerce. During the Dutch and French wars the Scots succeeded in capturing some ships from the enemy, but they also lost a considerable number. In 1656 the number of ships belonging to the principal ports was estimated at 127, their total tonnage being 3866 tons. An inquiry was made into the condition of the Royal Burghs in 1693, and from statements then made it seems that they owned about 117 ships, but in this list no Fife, Forth or Clyde ports were given, except Kirkcaldy, Leith, Queensferry and Glasgow. Aberdeen too was omitted. Further information was given in a register of Scottish ships drawn up in 1712, in which those put on the register at the time of the Union were specially distinguished. These numbered 215, with a tonnage of 14,485 tons. This list was more exhaustive than either of the others, but there was doubtless some increase in numbers, and certainly a considerable increase in the tonnage of the ships. The Scots employed a number of foreign ships, chiefly Dutch. After the Union they were of course limited to Scottish and English ships, which partly accounts for the growth in shipping in the years 1707-1712, when the increase in the number of Scottish owned ships was 908. This was also due to an increase of trade, and especially to the Scots admission to the Plantation trade. In the Clyde ports, which were most affected by that liberty, the number of ships rose from 21 to 216, a much greater proportional increase than that of any other group of ports.

During the latter part pf the century England realised that France was her most formidable rival, both politically and commercially. At the same time she gradually came to recognise the danger of the Scottish connection with France, and the necessity for getting the power to control Scottish relations with foreign powers. France, first under Richelieu, then under the great commercial minister Colbert, began in the seventeenth century to develop her great internal resources, and to consider the interests of trade and industry to be of primary importance. As reprisal for the English Navigation Act, to act as a check to Holland, and also to encourage French shipping, a tax of 50 sous per ton was in 1659 imposed on all foreign vessels trading with France. This imposition was one of the first steps towards building up that complete system of protection which was identified with the name of its originator, Colbert. In 1662, the Dutch Ambassador at Paris wrote to his government, " On remue ciel et terre ici pour oter aux etrangers la navigation et le commerce." The policy was continued by anew tariff enforced in 1664. This increased the duties on English manufactures, but in 1667 another tariff was enforced, in which the duties upon English and Dutch manufactures were doubled. English merchants were much alarmed, and asserted that trade with France was carried on at a loss of about a million pounds a year. The Whig party took up their cause, and after much agitation a Bill was passed in 1678 entirely prohibiting trade with France. This policy was continued at the Revolution, when English, especially Whig, hatred of France was increased by Louis XIV's great schemes of political aggrandisement, and by his shelter of the exiled Stewarts.

Scotland at this time was placed in a position of great difficulty. England and France were both developing strong protective systems. England had prohibited her trade with the Plantations, and high tariffs in both countries hindered trade between England and Scotland. But her French trade had always been of more importance to Scotland than her English, and her merchants had for long enjoyed special privileges there. They were exempted for four years from the duty on shipping imposed in 1659, but in 1663 it was levied on Scottish ships also. This occasioned many complaints from Scots merchants. They declared that they were "in hazard to be reduced to the common condition of strangers and to losse the benefite of those antient privileges which for many ages they have enjoyed." Her trade with France was so important that she could not afford to make any retaliation, and merely confined herself to complaints and remonstrances, which were futile. Her connection with England was blamed as the cause of her disabilities in France. The difficulty of Scotland's position increased between the Revolution and the Union of the Kingdoms. Politically she was bound up with England, where the King, the powerful Whig party, and most of the mercantile interest were hostile to, and shortly to be at war with France. Commercially she was separated from England by high tariffs and by the Navigation Acts, while the continuance of her trade with France was necessary for her prosperity. There was also a strong party in Scotland who still considered themselves subjects of the exiled King, and who kept up a constant correspondence with the court at St Germain. During the period from the Revolution to the Union, occupied as it was by England's wars with France, Scotland was torn in two by her conflicting interests.

During the war of the League of Augsburg, commercial connection between England and France was entirely prohibited. The Scots Parliament and Privy Council occasionally issued Acts and Proclamations against commerce and correspondence with France, but it does not appear that any of the authorities really tried to enforce the prohibitions. Various cases of their infringement are mentioned in the Privy Council Register, but always in the form of a complaint by merchants that English privateers had illegally taken it upon themselves to examine Scots ships—a complaint endorsed by the Council. France, during the war, imposed new duties on some imports, including the chief articles of Scottish trade. In 1697 the Convention of the Royal Burghs represented to the Privy Council "what discouradgements the trade and commerce of this kingdome is under through the heavie impositiones and burdenes that are upon the goodes they import to France, as particularly ther Scots woollens, butter, linnen cloath, coalls and all other goods imported to France....As also the fishing of this natione, which is undenyably the farr greatest manufactury thereof cannot be vended in France, being under an absolute prohibitione only since the beginning of the lait warr." The Scots were anxious to be represented in the "treaty of commerce to be held betwix your subjects of Brittane and those of France," in order that "the matter of trade may be adjusted and your subjects of this kingdome restored to their antient priuieledges." But no concessions were made to Scotland when the Peace of Ryswick was concluded in 1697, which was a cause of much complaint. Fletcher of Saltoun declared that in this affair the Scottish nation would have been well advised had they supported a minister of their own, "who might have obtained the reestablishment of the Nation in the Priviledges they had in France, which was totally neglected: And notwithstanding the great and unproportionable numbers of Sea and Land Soldiers that we were obliged to furnish for the support of the war, yet not one tittle of advantage was procured to us by the Peace."

As it was evident that nothing could be done to restore the Scottish privileges in France by English negotiation, the Scots began to urge the adoption of retaliatory measures. The Committee of Trade resolved "that ye tread with ffrance is most prejudiciall to this nations interest in respect that they have annulled the priviledges of ye Scots nation in ffrance and of late have prohibited the import of Scots goods by Scots impositions equivalent to ane prohibitione and as a remedy it is proposed that ye import of French goods be discharged untill ye Scots priviledges be restored and those incumbrances and heavy impositions be taken off." Accordingly in 1701 the "Act Dischargeing Wine Brandie and all other Liquors of the grouth of France" was passed. It provided that "this prohibition shall continue ay and while the same liberties and immunities be granted to herrings and all other goods imported from this Kingdom into France and the same freedom and immunities granted to Scots ships sailing thither that any other Nation enjoy in that Kingdom." With this Act as a basis for negotiation the Scots endeavoured to treat with France on their own account. In August of the same year, Mr Alexander Cunninghame wrote from Paris to Carstares that he had at last succeeded in interviewing Count de Torcy about Scottish trade. "He asked to see a power from the King of England and would give no answer to the removing their edict till the King of England did give me authority to treat.. .if the King of England would appoint Commissioners presently, that the treaty might be concluded very soon...and that the French King would be easily disposed to grant to the Scottish nation their antient privileges or other new ones that would be more for the benefit of commerce." But the King of England would give no authority, and these negotiations were fruitless. Indeed in 1701 greater impositions were laid upon goods " du cru et fabrique d'Angleterre, ^Icosse, Irlande et pays en dependant." The prohibition did not entirely put a stop to the trade with France. The tacksmen of the customs demanded, and received, a reduction in the tack because of their loss through the prohibition of the import of French wines. It was, however, pointed out that "even the prohibitions were not so strictly observed but that the tacksmen had full benefit by import of the very goods prohibited." The prohibition policy, however, was not successful. There must have been considerable decrease in the trade, for the customs decreased, and the custom on French wines had been the chief fund for the civil list. Also the French trade was very important to the country. Unless an Act allowing the trade again were passed, it was said "the subjects may plow up their towns and burn their ships." Accordingly in 1703 the Scottish Parliament passed the "Act allowing the Importation of Wines and other Forreign Liquors," and also the "Act anent Peace and Warr," which made a great stir in both countries. The two Acts were generally considered to hang together. "The Scots Wine Act makes a great noise in this place. I have heard some members of Parliament declare they look upon it as the opening a back door to the enemies of England, and as putting in practice already their other Act whereby they are empowered to observe a neutrality in the wars of England when they please." Burnet's account of the matter is as follows: "Another act of a strange nature passed, allowing the imposition of French goods...The truth was, the revenue was so exhausted that they had not enough to support the government without such help: those who desired to drink good wine, and all who were concerned in trade, raa into it, so it was carried, tho' with great opposition. The Jacobites also went into it, since it opened a free correspondence with France; it was certainly against the public interest of the government." The "Wine Act" was the last contribution of the legislature to Scotland's struggle for trade with France, so we may now turn to examine the amount and the nature of the trade actually carried on during the time when trade between England and France was prohibited.

In 1691 the captain of the ship Pembroke, sent by the Lords of the Admiralty to examine boats suspected of trading with France, wrote from Greenock: "In my last I gave you an account that the Scots had a free trade with France, which I now confirm....I heard of one Francis Duncombe, master of the John, pink, whom I followed to this place, intending to have examined him, but above 20 of his men presented their arms at me,...and farther they told me that free trading was allowed in these parts with France, and their merchants must live." Later Mr Trumbull wrote to Mr Secretary Johnstone upon a matter, which, he said, the Lords Justices preferred to refer to the Lords of the Admiralty instead of directly to His Majesty, namely, "a Complaint of a Trade driven with ffrance by some of Scotland...this unlawfull Practice so very prejudiciall to his Maty." Although corn was not one of the chief exports to France, there were several complaints from England during the wars that corn from Scotland supplied the enemy with victual. In 1694 the Queen wrote to the Scottish Privy Council complaining of the export of corn to France to "supply the necessities of our enemies." The Privy Council answered that corn had not been sent there; "But to our Regrate The Supply of Cornes that our Enemies have had from us Hath been by their Privateers taking our ships all allongst our coasts." In spite of the denial of the Privy Council it seems, from other complaints, that the Queen had some ground for her remonstrance. A considerable number of Scottish merchants settled in Dublin, whence they carried provisions, both Irish and Scottish, and information, to France. Mr Francis Babe, an official in Dublin, says that "there was a Trade frequently carried on by Scotch Merchants that resides in this Citty...between ffrance and Ireland, by reason of which trade, the enemy were supplied with great, Quantities of our provisions, and especially in the year 1693 when the Commonality of ffrance were perishing for want of bread, that intelligence by letters were sent from this Citty to Rochell, that gave Account of our Navall preparations for making a descent into ffrance, and that in short time after sending that intelligence we were unsuccessful in our attempt on St Mallo." Many complaints were made about the transport of English wool from Scotland to France, where it was used in the French cloth manufacture.

The English also complained of the import into England of prohibited French goods from Scotland. In 1705 the Privy Council wrote to the Lord Lieutenant of Cumberland, that Her Majesty in Council had "received information of an evil practice of bringing tobacco, brandy and other commodities into this Kingdom out of Scotland by land, without paying the usual duties according to law." Also when seizures had been made by the officers "the said commodities have been rescued from them by numbers of men assembled together in a tumultuous manner, armed„ with clubs, plough coulters and other instruments of iron."

Endeavours were made by the English government to stop this trade with France. English privateers and men-of-war cruised about the Scottish coasts in order to arrest ships suspected of trading with France or the Plantations. This interference was resented by the merchants, and also by the Privy Council, on the grounds of damage to their trade, and that, "as Scotland is ane absolute kingdome soe neither England nor other fforaigners Have the Least power within the Scotts waters and harbours And that any Attempts made by them of this Kynde Is ane Hayle Violatione of the Law of Nationes." In 1694 the Glasgow merchants declared that a small ship cruised in the Clyde, and "under a pretence of a Commissione from the Admiralty of England for Searching after goods from ffrance or from America Enters aboard all Shipps Coming out from or Going Into Clyde and takes provisions and what else He finds." The merchants suggested that a "shipp of fforce" should be equipped, and sent out to apprehend such vessels, and to "secure the River of Clyde from all such who may disturbe their trade." They offered to provide and equip the ship if the government would send seamen. In the same year the Privy Council wrote to the King, that trade was so much interrupted by the interference of English ships that " our merchants are soe much discouradged and prejudged...that many of them already hes given over trade and the rest must follow their example." Some years later the merchants of Edinburgh, on behalf of themselves and^the other merchants of the kingdom, complained that " we are wholly frustrat of our Trade to Portugal Lighurn or any other free port in the Streights, for the English do carry up all ships belonging to Scotland for any of these Places... suspecting that our ships are going to France." After the passing of the "Wine Act," the English became still more alarmed about Scottish correspondence with France. In September, 1704, Roxburgh wrote from London that the House of Lords were about to address the Queen, "to have ships sett in such and such stations for taking of Scotch ships going or coming from France."

Scottish trade did not only suffer from English ships attacking her vessels because of their trade with France, but also from French attacks because of her connection with England. She was thus doubly handicapped throughout the war. All the time the tacksmen of the customs received many complaints from merchants whose ships had been seized by the French, and also claims for the remission of duty or for compensation. Some of these were granted. The tacksmen for the years 1691 to 1696 allowed £2901. 7s. 5d. to several merchants as "abatements for duty upon ships taken during the French war." One Glasgow merchant and his partners lost twenty-two ships and their cargoes between 1690 and 1698, and two more in 1699 and 1700, one "loaded with linnings, herrings etc bound for Madera and the other homeward bound from Norway."

Altogether the Scots merchants suffered very much from these wars. They attributed their losses largely to their union with England. "We come next to propose the state of our Trade with France. The loss of our Ancient Alliance with that Famous and Great Kingdom and of the Honourable and Advantagious Priviledges we enjoyed there is one of the great Damages we sustain'd by the Union of the Crowns." Another writer summed up the situation very well. "Seeing most of the Trade of Scotland lieth with neighbouring Nations and especially those which England hath oftnest provocation to quarrel with, and the Scots driving very little Traffick with Countries far remote; it consequently follows that upon the Commencement of a War with those adjacent States and Kingdoms the Scots do become in a manner shut out from, and deprived of all foreign Trade; while in the meantime the English do continue to carry on a vast and Beneficiall Trade to Turkey Affrik and the East Indies, as well as to and from their own American Plantations." These considerations, amongst others, convinced Scotland of the necessity of making some change in her relationship towards England, and Scotland's determination to continue her French connection did much to bring the English to the same conclusions.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus