Author – Alan Mason -
This is the story of how gold, looted from the Inca and Aztec peoples of South America by the Spaniards, in the 16 Century, was brought to Europe. It tells of pirates, adventure on the high seas, political intrigues, and hard, dangerous journeys through spectacular Alpine scenery to bring the gleaming gold to its final destination. The gold was vital to the Spanish state, but it proved in the end, to be a curse rather than a blessing to the nation which had destroyed the Inca and Aztec empires. -
1. Aztec Masks of Pure Gold
2. The Alps, as seen by a 17 Century Spanish Gold Convoy
THE SPANISH EMPIRE
In the early seventeenth century the Spanish Empire was the largest the world had ever seen. Its overseas possessions (3) included parts of what is now the USA, (Florida, California, New Mexico, Texas) all of Central America, especially Mexico, most of South America, and the Philippines in south-east Asia. In Europe, the Habsburg dynasty controlled Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, and much of what is now Germany, and Italy.
3. The Spanish Empire and the Gold Route
The Spanish overseas possessions provided them with a great deal of gold, originally looted from the native Aztec and Inca temples, (1) but later derived from mines in which the native people worked under Spanish supervision and control. Although the King of Spain, Phillip II, had ordered that the native people were not to be enslaved or forced into labour, this command had to be repeated several times in the 1570s and 1580s. This suggests that Phillip’s instructions were generally disobeyed when the lure of gold was uppermost in the minds of the Spanish colonists. (4)
The gold was often melted down and converted to bullion bars for ease of transport, but in some cases, (1) entire pieces of Amerindian gold work were conveyed to Europe as curiosities. Security was a major consideration and the gold was conveyed in large heavily built galleons, (5) with a complement of armed soldiers. The galleons carried heavy cannons amidships, and lighter bow- and stern-chasers to protect themselves from pirates.
4. Enslavement of Native Americans in the Gold Mines
As a further precaution, the galleons crossed the Atlantic in convoys, of which two sailed each year. Piracy was a major problem, from French, English, Scottish, and Dutch privateer vessels. At the least, there was armed hostility between their governments and that of Spain, and there was often outright war. Privateers were independent or privately owned vessels carrying “Letters of Marque and Reprisal” from their king, permitting them to attack, board and seize vessels of specified nations. The whole romantic literature of pirates and Spanish galleons dates from this period and the subsequent decades.
The gold was partly intended to pay the Spanish soldiers fighting the Dutch in the Netherlands. Habsburg rulers had been advised against allowing the gold convoys to sail directly to the Netherlands, by way of the Bay of Biscay and English Channel, The risk from English and Scots privateers on the western seaboards and French or Dutch privateers on the eastern shores was just too great. The memory of the Armada disaster in 1588 was still fresh in the minds of Spanish sea captains.
The convoys of galleons made for the Spanish port of Cadiz, and entered the mouth of the great River Guadalquivir. They sailed upstream and made landfall at Seville. The gold was then carried overland in mule trains and wagon trains, together with armed soldiers as escort. A fifth of the treasure went into the royal coffers in Madrid, the capital of Spain.
5. A Spanish Galleon of the Sixteenth Century
Spanish Possessions in Europe
While the Spanish overseas possessions had been obtained by military conquest, in Europe the Habsburg
accumulation of power had come about largely by dynastic marriages and inheritance. This family exercised direct control as well as powerful influence over the smaller principalities of Europe.
The ramshackle “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation” dominated central Europe but its powers were weak. The Emperor was a Habsburg, and he controlled Austria, while the Spanish Habsburgs controlled Spain and a group of other territories, shown in the map, Figure 6. However, the Spanish monarchy had unsuccessfully resorted to military force to retain some of its rebellious European dominions,
Two Successful Independence Movements
Two new nations had been created as confederations, having broken away from their control. The Swiss, living in small communities, (cantons), had united them all into the Helvetic Confederation. As some cantons were Protestant and some were Catholic, some were German-speaking, some French-speaking and others Italian-speaking, this diversity required a platform for minorities to debate and negotiate.
A widely-based democracy was essential for the survival of the Confederation.
The Helvetic Confederation had broken free from Austrian Habsburg control, and pursued a policy of neutrality from major European conflicts to this day. The Swiss have made sure they were always well-armed. The high mountains of Switzerland are a difficult terrain in which to fight a war. (7) Switzerland had an important bearing on the Spanish gold route, as will emerge later.
6. The Habsburg Influence in Western Europe
The other confederation, “the United Provinces” was a union of small, Dutch-speaking, and largely Protestant communities (provinces). They lacked the advantages of the Swiss mountains, because their region is flat, and low-lying, even below sea level. The source of conflict was religious and political. The Netherlanders, experimenting with democracy, wanted independence from a distant autocratic control by Spain. The Spanish authorities wished to re-establish Catholicism in the Netherlands where the majority of the population was Protestant. It was this struggle, for the re-conquest of the United Provinces, which sucked in gold from the Americas, and created the gold route to pay the Spanish troops and provide munitions.
Both of these federations were significant for Spain, in the early seventeenth century, in its ultimately unsuccessful struggle to retain political and military dominance in Europe. We now need to look at the overland gold route, from Spain to the Netherlands, in more detail to understand the strategic significance of the countries along the way.
THE ALPINE MASSIF
The Alps were formed by the movement of tectonic plates. When the northward-moving African plate collided with the Eurasian plate, it thrust up this wide semi-circular chain of great mountains dominating central Europe. The chain across south-central Europe, to the north of Italy, is 500 miles long and 100 miles across at its greatest width. (800 X 160 Km)
The Nature of the Alps
An “alp” is a high altitude grass meadow among mountains, (7) suitable for grazing domestic animals. Local farmers began to take their herds to these high pastures during the summer months, bringing them down to sheltered conditions during the winter. This farming pattern, known as “transhumance”, has been used from Neolithic times, (6, 000 years ago) up to the present day. Despite the limited definition of an alp given above, the term is now applied to the mountains themselves.
7. Alpine Pastures beside a Glacier Lake
The Alps – Barrier or Highway?
The Alps are often, mistakenly, seen as a barrier to human movement. For the knowledgeable human traveller, the Alps are a highway rather than a barrier, because we know that people have crossed them regularly during the last five thousand years. The knowledge required is (i) an accurate memory of routes through the mountain valleys and over passes, and (ii) appropriate dress and equipment for mountain conditions.
We know that there were Alpine travellers during the Neolithic period, from evidence provided by the discovery in 1991 of the perfectly preserved corpse of a Neolithic man, high up in the Özthaler Alps on the Austrian-Italian border. The location, at Hauslabjoch, lies on the main ridge of the Alps dividing Austria in the north from Italy in the south, (8) so that the ownership of the remains was a matter of dispute between the scientists of both nations.
The Pass of Hauslabjoch is named for Franz von Hauslab, an Austrian military engineer, who surveyed and mapped the Özthaler Alps in 1817. The German word, “joch”, (pronounced “yoch” with an aspirated “ch”) is widely used as a suffix in Alpine maps. It literally means, “yoke” in English, and clearly both words have the same Germanic root. It is better translated as “mountain pass” in this context. The equivalent French word is “col” which means, “neck” in English, and it has become the standard term now, among mountaineers, for this feature.
The human being whose remains were found in the ice, was given a nickname, “Ötzi”, (pronounced urt zee) from his association with the Alpine region, Özthal, (urts tal), or Öz valley. “Otzi” was a Neolithic hunter and trader who lived around 5, 300 years ago. We know how he was dressed, and what kinds of weapons, tools, and equipment he was carrying.
He was undoubtedly an experienced and knowledgeable human traveller as defined earlier.
(For readers who wish to know more, the excellent account, “The Man in the Ice” by Konrad Spindler, Phoenix, 1995, should provide the answers to most of their questions.)
From the point of view of “The Gold Route” we know that the Spanish gold convoys made a circuit round the southern, eastern and northern flanks of the Özthaler Alps, so they were treading a well-worn path.
8. Location of the Remains of “Ötzi” the Neolithic Hunter Found in 1991
THE ROUTE OVER THE ALPS
A quick glance at Figure 9 shows that the River Rhine, the major destination of the gold convoys is practically due north of the Italian port of Genoa, and yet the “Gold Route” makes a long detour to the east, as far as Innsbruck in Austria, before swinging westwards to join the Rhine Valley near Freiburg in the Schwartzwald (Black Forest). The reason for this diversion is that the direct northern route lies right through the lands of the Helvetic (Swiss) Confederation. Having broken free from Austrian Habsburg rule the Swiss were disinclined to allow heavily armed Spanish Habsburg troops into their country. Neither were they prepared to help the Spaniards transport gold, to pay troops who were trying to suppress another independence struggle in the Netherlands.
9. The Gold Route through the Mountains from Genoa to the River Rhine
The “Gold Route” was chosen as a compromise, to avoid Switzerland, and other countries who were political opponents of Spain, and, as far as possible, to take the shortest practicable way over the mountain passes to the Rhine. Even so, the chosen route ran uncomfortably close to the Swiss border in at least three places.
THE OVERLAND TRANSPORT OF GOLD IN CONVOY
After the gold was brought by ship from Spain to Genoa, it was transferred to packs on the backs of mules. This was dictated by the nature of the terrain that they were about to cross. Wagons were available and there were roads, but a wagon filled with gold was enormously heavy and easily bogged down on sandy or muddy stretches like river fords. The sixteenth-century roads were of poor quality and not like the carefully-built Roman paved roads, or the macadamised roads of the future.
10. A Modern Mule Train in the Western U.S.A
The virtue of mules lay in the fact that they were as strong as horses of the same size, (10) but they were much hardier, and could manage on much poorer forage, (animal food like grass or hay). They were also sure-footed and able to cope on typically narrow mountain paths. It was uneconomic to cut wider roads, suitable for wagons, because of the difficulty of maintaining them.
In any mountain region, but particularly in the Alps, heavy erosion is a continuous process. (11) Rockfalls are a daily occurrence on mountain roads, and the rock has to be cleared away first, before any further advance can be made. Erosion, particularly at the heads of valleys, cuts into mountain paths so that travellers are halted by an abrupt drop. It is necessary to cut a new path, deeper into the mountain side before the mule train can proceed.
In the 16 century, all these problems militated against wide roads in favour of narrow paths that were more quickly repaired. Hence it was essential for the mule trains to carry hammers, chisels, picks, mattocks and spades for renewing the roadway, as they went. As these narrow mountain paths of earlier centuries, have been long superseded in the Alpine mountains, we may get some idea of the erosional hazards from unmetalled mountain roads in Cyprus. (11)
11. Continual Erosion of Mountain Roads in Cyprus
A more dramatic illustration of 16 century Alpine mule travel is provided by the view of a twentieth century mule train in the Grand Canyon of the U.S.A. (12)
12 Mules on a Mountain Path, Grand Canyon, Colorado, U.S.A.
Military Protection of the Gold Convoys
The gold convoys were protected by well-armed Spanish soldiers, most of whom were infantrymen, (pikemen, swordsmen and arquebusiers). (13) The latter carried an arquebus which was a heavy, wide-bore shotgun. There were also cavalrymen who were armed with heavy pistols and swords. The cavalry reconnoitred ahead of the convoy to ensure the route was clear, and unblocked so that no ambushes were being prepared. They also brought up the rear where they looked out for suspicious followers. In addition they conveyed messages between the convoy commander and his senior officers.
13. Spanish Soldiers Used For Convoy Protection.
THE ITINERARY OF THE GOLD ROUTE
The gold convoys traversed six regions of central Europe, namely, (A) the Duchy of Milan, (B) the Val Telline, (C) the Upper Adige Valley, and Isarco Valley, (D) the Upper Inn Valley, (E) the Allgau Mountains, the Upper Rhine and Bodensee region, and (F) the Black Forest, and the Lower Rhine Valley.
After the passage of 500 years there have been changes along the route of the gold convoys, but curiously the main changes only occurred in the last 100 years. The Alpine regions had been poor for centuries. Communications were difficult and near-impossible in winter. The only form of livelihood was farming. Visitors might look at the view and say how beautiful it was. The stock reply from locals was, “A beautiful view won’t provide me with a living, or put food on my table.”
All that changed at the end of the 19 century. A beautiful view did provide the local people with a living. The rise of mass tourism brought thousands of people to the Alps, and the growth of service industries created new forms of employment in hotels, guest houses, restaurants, bars, banks and transport. When the ski boom occurred in the 1960s the towns and villages were completely transformed by ski lifts and facilities for ski tourists.
In presenting a pictorial account of the gold convoys in the early seventeenth century, I have tried, not always successfully, to avoid using illustrations of the modern urban sprawl of the relevant towns as they give no idea of the small towns or tiny villages which preceded them.
A. THE DUCHY OF MILAN
The port of Genoa (14) was part of the Duchy of Milan, which had been inherited by the Habsburgs in 1535. Now the Duchy was controlled militarily by Spain, and it extended north as far as the foothills of the Alps at Lake Como.
14. The Modern Port of Genoa and the Arms of the City
This meant that the gold convoys were on safe ground from Genoa to the town of Como, on the shore of Lake Como, but after this there was a very risky region, of about 60 miles (about 100 Km.) until they reached the border with Austria, at the Stelvio Pass. Austria was part of the Habsburg domains, and friendly to the gold convoys.
To get to Austria, the convoys were forced to take a circuitous route that ran through the Val Telline, which is now a part of modern Italy, but in those days was a semi-autonomous region. The route was also close to the Grisons, now a part of modern Switzerland, but also a semi-autonomous region in the late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries.
Both the Grisons and the Val Telline were politically unstable and it was never possible to say with any certainty whether this part of the “Gold Route” would be open or closed when the convoys left Genoa to cross the Alps.
The Ligurian Apennines
Within a few miles of leaving the port of Genoa, the north-bound traveller is obliged to cross the Ligurian Apennines by the Passo di Giovi. These mountains are a northward continuation of the main Apennine ridge (see Figure 9) which runs like a spine along the length of the Italian peninsula. The modern Passo di Giovi is traversed by a rail link and a dual carriageway motorway with tunnels through the mountains, so that it conveys little of the problems of earlier ages. The beautiful illustration in Figure 15 shows the mountains of the Ligurian Apennines rising like a rampart out of the flat coastal plain of Genoa, and gives a better idea of the cifficulties of the gold convoys.
15. The Ligurian Apennines near Genoa
The highest point of the Ligurian Apennines is Monte Maggiorasca (19) at 5,902 feet (1799 metres but fortunately the gold convoys had only to ascend as far as the Giovi pass at 1,548 feet (472 metres). Once over these mountains the route leads gently down into the Plain of Lombardy, and across the River Po.
16. Monte Maggiorasca, the Highest Point in the Ligurian Apennines
The Plain of Lombardy
The River Po and its tributaries drain the whole of the south face of the enormous semi-circular arc of the Alps and in consequence it is one of the great rivers of Europe. It has a wide and generally flat flood-plain, known as the Plain of Lombardy.
17. The Town of Tortona in the Plain of Lombardy
On their way down from the Ligurian Apennines, the Spanish convoys passed through the small town of Tortona (17) before crossing the River Po at the bridge just south of the town of Pavia. (18)
18. The Pavia Bridge over the River Po
Rapidly changing weather conditions in the Alps can create sudden surges of water, so that the level of water in the Po increases dramatically, often causing widespread floods. Though the Spaniards were aware of this possibility, flooding could make the approaches to the bridge impossible, so that the gold convoys would have to be halted until the water levels went down.
From Pavia the way led north to the capital of the Duchy, the city of Milan, which was the largest inhabited place that the gold convoys passed through. The gold was lodged in the castle, while the senior officers might dine with the Duke if he was in residence. The ordinary Spanish soldiers may have found some light relief from their military duties, in the taverns and whorehouses of the city, before they began the serious business of making the Alpine crossing. Mass in the magnificent Gothic Cathedral (19) would be offered for a safe and successful journey for the Spaniards and their precious convoy.
19. The West Front of Milan Cathedral
Leaving Milan, the Spanish convoys moved northwards across Lombardy, and gently rising ground towards the “piemonte” or the foothills of the Alps.
Lake Como and the Town of Como
Lake Como looks like an inverted Y with the town of Como at the end of the western arm and Lecco at the end of the eastern arm. (20) The lake is one of the deepest in Europe, with its bottom 650 feet (200 metres) below sea-level.
Como is now a large town, but in the early 17 century it was much smaller, like the modern township shown in Figure 21. The gold convoys from Milan entered Como, crossing the low hills to Lecco, and travelling up the eastern side of Lake Como. The backdrop of Alpine mountains around the lake gave some idea of the exertions that lay ahead.
20. Aerial View of Lake Como, Looking North
21. Township on Lake Como
Lecco has not expanded to the same extent as Como, so that its modern appearance gives some idea of the early seventeenth century town. (22) The nearly twenty mile route along the eastern edge of Lake Como had the advantage of being largely on the level. As Figure 22 shows, the mountainsides plunge steeply into the lake, so that the path of the mule track had to be cut back into the rock for the journey north.
22. Lecco on the Shore of Lake Como
As the gold convoys headed towards the northern end of the lake, they left the Duchy of Milan and crossed the border into the Val Telline region. (23)
B. THE VAL TELLINE
Political Divisions Among the Alpine Peoples
As explained earlier, the gold convoys were trying to get from the Duchy of Milan to Austria, by the shortest route, but were forced into a circuitous journey to avoid Switzerland. This meant using the Val Telline, through which the River Adda flowed to Lake Como. In the early seventeenth century this region was politically unstable. The Val Telline was partly controlled by the Grisons, an autonomous region bordering Switzerland.
It is difficult for modern readers to follow these political intricacies, because the situation was quite different from that of today. The modern nation-state did not exist in this region as a concept or a fact. Today, the Milan Duchy, the Val Telline, the Venetian Empire and much of the region around the Adige river basin are all part of the nation of Italy. The Grisons, is part of the nation of Switzerland, and Austria is a modern nation, but with reduced borders.
The sixty-mile section of the journey along the Val Telline to the Stelvio Pass, above Bormio was unpredictable, simply because, from time to time, minority sections of the population rose in revolt against their governors, to arrange new and different political alliances.
23. The Val Telline and the Surrounding Bergamesque Alps
As the map in Figure 24 shows, the territory of the Duchy of Milan (red) ends towards the north of Lake Como. Two major rivers flow into the northern end of the lake, the Mere flowing southward, and the Adda flowing westward. The Spanish convoys turned eastwards and headed up the valley of the River Adda to Sondrio.
24. Map of the Political Divisions within the Alpine Region in the early 17 C
Prior to this, in the Duchy of Milan, castles were a form of added security for the Spanish gold convoys, but here in the Val Telline they were a source of risk as their military garrisons may have received orders to stop them. There was a medieval castle at Sondrio in the 17 C, but the present building dates from the 18 C.
25. The Modern Town of Sondrio in the Val Telline
The Spanish convoys followed the course of the River Adda valley as it gradually turned to the northeast. The valley bottom was still very flat so the going was relatively easy, and eventually the town of Tirano came in sight. (26)
26. The Town of Tirano in the Valley of the River Adda
In winter (27) the problems of travel in the Alps were considerable, because the passes were usually blocked with snow for months at a time. The mountain paths were far more hazardous due to ice-covered surfaces. When the spring came, the earliest travellers would discover how much of last year’s paths had been destroyed by avalanches or other less dramatic forms of erosion.
This is why the gold convoys kept to the summer months when the passes were open. It was still possible, however, to be caught out by a sudden return of snow or icy weather in the spring, or an early onset of winter in the autumn. It is this latter problem which probably caught “Ötzi” on his Alpine crossing, 5,000 years ago.
27. The Val Telline in Winter
After the town of Tirano, (28) the Adda Valley turns northwards, and the gold convoys moved into tougher terrain as they approached the mountains (29) surrounding their next destination, the town of Bormio.
28. An Outlying Fort near Tirano
29. Bormio among the Ortles Alps
The Stelvio Pass
Beyond Bormio, the mountain peaks of the Ortles Alps rose ahead of the gold convoys, and there was a long convoluted approach (30) to the Stelvio Pass. Finally, the terrain began to resemble inside of a saucer close to the rim. The going was very difficult in the final ascent (31) towards the Stelvio Pass, at a height of 9,040 feet (2,755 metres) and even the modern road over the pass is full of hairpin bends as it inches its way to the top. The pass is very high in comparison with its surrounding peaks, as highest peak of the Ortles Alps is at an altitude of 12, 799 feet (3,901 metres). This is the highest part of the entire “Gold Route”
30. The Valley Floor Approaching the Stelvio Pass
31. The Final Ascent to the Stelvio Pass
The view in Figure 32 is of a “hanging valley”, typical of glaciated highlands. The green hillsides slope down steeply towards a U shaped rim. Beyond here this side valley will drop precipitately, probably with a waterfall, into the floor of the main valley lying across at a right angle. A former glacier will have cut deep into the main valley, and sheered off the lower section of this side valley, leaving its upper section “hanging”. The motor road swings away to the right below the lip, and makes a less steep descent into the main valley.
32. Hanging Valley seen from the Stelvio Pass
The Spanish troops would have breathed a sigh of relief as they topped the rise and brought their convoy across the pass into Austria. There were plenty of exertions and difficulties ahead, but at least they were now in friendly territory again and there was no risk of local insurrections or hostile military activity.
The Val Telline in the Thirty Years War
At this point, I want to add a personal reflection about the historical significance of the Val Telline. In 1964 I was organising an educational trip to Germany, based in the beautiful city of Heidelberg. (33) We cruised on the River Neckar, which runs through Heidelberg, and made coach trips to places of interest like the Schwarzwald, (Black Forest) the Trifels, and the walled town of Rothenburg an der Taube.
33. Heidelberg, with Charles Bridge, River Neckar, and Electoral Palace on the Hillside.
Intriguingly, one name kept cropping up again and again, and that was “Tilly”. I discovered that Tilly was an Imperial army general. It is difficult to take seriously a man called General Tilly, because in Britain we associate the name with little girls. Readers will probably recall the Dormouse’s story from the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in “Alice in Wonderland” when he begins breathlessly, “Once upon a time there were three little girls called Elsie, Lacy and Tilly, and they lived at the bottom of a well…”
This General Tilly was called Johan Tserclaes, and he had been born in the Spanish Netherlands. Unlike many of his fellow Dutchmen he was a Catholic. He had pursued a military career, became an Imperial General and towards the end of his life had been ennobled as Count Tilly. More importantly, I discovered the Thirty Years War.
34. Johan Tserclaes, Count Tilly, General of the Holy Roman Empire
Most of us in Britain have little idea of the history of other European nations, and though I have been keen on history since I was a schoolboy, I only knew about other nations as they impinged upon British history. I had never heard of the Thirty Years War because it had very little impact on England at that time. The War lasted from 1618 to 1648, and British history concerns itself with the reign of the first Stewart king of England, James I (and VI of Scotland), and the troubles of his son, Charles I leading to our Civil War of 1642-1649.
I also discovered the classic work, in English, on the war, was by Veronica Wedgwood. (“The Thirty Years War” by C.V. Wedgwood, first published in 1938 by Jonathan Cape, and published by Penguin as a paperback in 1957) It is a terrible book. By this I mean that it is exhaustively-researched, completely authoritative, well-written, and gripping, but it tells a terrible story.
35. Veronica Wedgwood
The centre of Europe was convulsed by this war which dragged on and on over thirty years. Initially, it only involved the Germans and Czechs within the “Holy Roman Empire” but, like a whirlpool, it gradually sucked in more and more of the small German principalities. Eventually, the Swedes, the Spanish, the French, the Hungarians, and Poles were all engaged in this conflict, together with the Germans.
All the ordinary people, particularly the Germans, suffered appallingly, in ways which are too horrifying to record here. I found Wedgwood’s book, and the background reading that I did, was so deeply upsetting that I did not want to return to this issue ever again. The reason I have introduced the Thirty Years War to this essay, is because the Spanish gold convoys were a major factor in financing the conflict, and the Val Telline was of critical importance in keeping the “Spanish Gold Route” open to traffic.
36. The Hradschin Palace Forecourt, Prague, Bohemia
It was in Wedgwood’s book that I first read about the Spanish gold convoys and the significance of the Val Telline. “In Prague, an unpopular Catholic government was overthrown by a well-timed Protestant rising,” when a mob threw two Imperial (Holy Roman Empire) Ambassadors out of an upper window of the Hradschin Palace (36) on to the forecourt below. Fortunately, the cobbles of the forecourt were so covered in rubbish and horse dung that the Ambassadors were injured but not killed. This incident eventually acquired the rather grandiose title, “The Defenestration of Prague”.
“May 23rd 1618 was the date of the revolt in Prague; it is the date traditionally assigned to the outbreak of the Thirty Years War. But it was not dear until seventeen months later, even to the leading men in the countries most deeply concerned, that this revolt rather than any other incident in that stormy time had lighted the fire. During the intervening months the affairs of Bohemia became slowly identified with the problems of the European situation. That situation itself brought forth the war.” (p.13, Wedgwood, op. cit)
“The territories of the republic of Venice bordered the Val Telline for thirty miles; this valley was the essential pivot of the whole Hapsburg Empire. It was the passage through which convoys of men and money from northern Italy reached the upper waters of the Rhine and Inn, thence to descend either to Austria or the Netherlands.” (p.32, Wedgwood, op. cit)
37. Symbols of Habsburg Power in Central Europe
“The structure of the Hapsburg Empire was cemented by Spanish money and supported by Spanish troops. Block the Val Telline and the house would fall. The Spaniards aimed to control the Val Telline single-handed but could not afford to offend the Swiss Confederation, one of whose cantons, the Grisons or Grey Leagues, bounded the valley on the northern side. They contented themselves therefore with forming a party in the Grisons, an example instantly followed by the French. The weakest point in the Hapsburg defences was this one valley, and its possession was to play a part in the politics of the next twenty years out of all proportion to any intrinsic merit which it boasted.” (p.32, Wedgwood, op. cit)
C. ALTO ADIGE (UPPER ADIGE REGION) OR SÜDTIROL (SOUTH TYROL
The region into which the gold convoys crossed was a part of Austria in the early 17 C but now it is a part of northern Italy, and called Alto Adige (Upper Adige River Basin). It has been disputed territory for most of the twentieth century. At the outbreak of the First World War, the Allies, (Russia, France and Britain) promised this region, to Italy as an inducement to join the Alliance. All the trouble stemmed from this one, totally irresponsible act.
38. Two Modern Views of the Upper Adige Region
At the end of WWI the victorious Allies imposed various burdens on the principal defeated nations of the Central Powers (Germany, and Austro-Hungary). One of these was the transfer, in 1919, of the almost-wholly German-speaking South Tyrol to Italy. In 1922, the Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini took power and he immediately began the forced “Italianisation” of South Tyrol. The German language was banned in schools, public services, law courts and newspapers. Mass immigration by Italian speakers finally reduced the native German-speaking people to a minority in their own land.
39. The Modern Arms of the Region “Alto Adige/Südtirol”
The reader is directed to the current wikipedia article, for an excellent and balanced account of the rest of the sad story of the region, Alto Adige/Südtirol, during the twentieth century. Today the region has a high level of political autonomy, and prosperity, and every citizen has the right to use his own mother tongue, even in the Law Courts.
One of the consequences for modern researchers is that towns, rivers, and other landscape features have both Italian and German names, beginning with, what to Italians is “Alto Adige”, but to Austrians is the “Südtirol” (South Tyrol).(46) In this essay, the Italian name is given first, and the German version following, in brackets.
Geography of the Stelvio Pass
The Stelvio Pass occupies an interesting geographical position. A pass is a route from one valley head to another, but the highest passes permit travellers to get from the drainage basin of one major river to that of another. In the Alps we are at the upper termination of the major river systems of Europe.
The Stelvio Pass is a nodal point, where the watersheds of three great rivers meet. (40) They are (i) the Po, draining most of the southern flanks, and entering the Adriatic Sea, a northerly arm of the Mediterranean; (ii) the Adige, draining the southeast Alpine flanks, and also entering the Adriatic; and (iii) the Inn, draining the north-eastern Alps, and joining the Danube, before entering the Black Sea.
As the map in Figure 40 shows, once the gold convoys had cleared the Stelvio Pass, they headed downwards to meet the river Adige, at the village of Silandro (Schlanders), and continued eastwards along the river banks to the town of Merano (Meran). (41)
40. The Stelvio Pass as a Nodal Point
41. The Town of Merano (Meran) in the Alto Adige Region
The old medieval castles in Austria, for example, at Merano (41) and Bolzano (42), provided extra overnight security for the gold bullion. From Merano the Spanish convoys followed the course of the Adige southwards to the important town of Bolzano (Bozen), which is now the capital of the region. The River Isarco (Eisack) is an important tributary of the Adige, which it joins just south of Bolzano. The going for the mule trains was very easy here as the valley bottom was flat (42) and there was lush grazing in the warmer months.
42. Bolzano (Bozen) in the Valley of the River Isarco (Eisack)
The Valley of the Upper River Isarco (Eisack)
From Bolzano, the convoys turned north-eastwards up the Isarco valley, as the Spaniards marched north along the River Isarco, the Dolomites on their right, provided them with a dramatic backdrop, and a hint of exertions to come. These mountains have eroded into a series of incredibly steep, near-vertical peaks. (43)
The geographical term has been applied to a geological material, “dolomite”, a semi-transparent white mineral, consisting chemically of the double carbonates of calcium and magnesium. It is a material of biogenic origin, derived originally from marine sediments of microscopic animal skeletons.
43. The Dolomites in the Bolzano (Bozen) Alpine Region
At the town of Bressanone (Brixen), (44) the River Isarco (Eisack) comes south from the Brenner Pass between the Ötzthaler Alps and the Zillerthaler Alps. Here it meets the River Rienza flowing west from the Dolomites.
44. The Isarco (Eisack) Valley, the Arms of Bressanone (Brixen), and the Town Centre
The gold convoys continued their northward passage up the Isarco Valley from Bressanone, towards the village of Vitipeno. Although the gradients for the mules were steadily increasing, the valley floor was still remarkably flat in comparison with the towering walls of the valley sides. (45)
45. The Modern Village of Vitipeno, in the Isarco Valley, seen from the Valley Side
The Brenner Pass
At, 4,497 feet (1371 metres) the Brenner Pass is much lower than the Stelvio Pass at 9,040 feet and was much less demanding for travellers on foot or mule back. However, tourists using the modern Europabrucke (Europe Bridge), (46) which carries road traffic over the Pass, have complained that it is boring, “just a wide flat road” which gives none of the drama they were expecting.
The illustration in Figure 46 needs some effort of imagination to see the pass of earlier centuries. (Unfortunately, I have found it impossible to obtain pictures of the old Brenner Pass, even in modern dress, without spending an inordinate amount of time on the search.)
46. The Modern Europabrucke (Europe Bridge), over the Isarco Valley.
D. THE UPPER INN VALLEY
From the Brenner Pass, the convoys moved downhill along the valley of the River Sill, (pronounced zill) towards Innsbruck, (the name means “bridge over the river Inn”) (47/48) a much larger town than any of the small communities they had met in the upper Alps. At this important point, in Innsbruck, the convoys diverged, because a proportion of the gold was destined for Vienna, the capital of Austria.
47. Two Views of Innsbruck from the Sides of the Upper Inn Valley
Vienna was about 243 miles away, (390 Km) to the east, as the crow flies, but around 310 miles (500 Km) by the only practicable route which avoided the eastern Alps. This route followed the lower Inn Valley to Passau, and the junction of the Inn with the Danube. From here the convoy remained in the Danube Valley all the way to Vienna.
48. Two Views of Innsbruck from the River Inn
As the east-bound convoy moved downhill towards Vienna, the west-bound convoy turned left, and uphill, along the Upper Inn Valley. The Spaniards guarding the gold that was needed to pay the Spanish troops in the Netherlands, had one more Alpine pass to traverse, before they reached the Rhine valley.
Readers will recall “Ötzi” the Neolithic trader, who died in the Özthaler Alps 5, 300 years ago. As the gold convoys passed Merano, in the Upper Adige, these Alps lay to their left, in the north, and at the Brenner Pass, they lay to their west. Now, in the upper Inn valley, the Özthaler Alps still lay to their left, but in the south, dominating the landscape, with the great peak of the Wildspitze (49) standing out at 12, 379 feet (3, 773 metres). The name means “savage or ferocious peak” in terms of the winds and storms which rage across it. To their north the Fern Pass led down out of the Alps into Bavaria, now part of southern Germany.
49. Contrasting Views of the Wildspitze
Forty miles west of Innsbruck, the mule trains were traversing the flat valley of the Inn, (50) as they approached the town of Landeck. The Lechtaler Alps along their right sloped across the horizon to block the way directly ahead, as seen in the left hand illustration in Figure 50
There is still a fortress, Schloss Landeck, which acted as an observation point for the movement of goods and large bodies of people along the Inn valley through Landeck, in earlier centuries.
50. Two Views of Landeck, in the Upper Inn Valley
The Arlberg Pass
The valley of the River Inn swung away to the south, at Landeck, towards the Swiss border, so the gold convoys took the River Sanna westwards towards the Arlberg Pass. The Brenner Pass was only 4, 497 feet high (1371 metres), but the Arlberg Pass required the convoys to ascend to 5, 911 feet (1, 801 metres) in order to get over the Lechtaler Alps and finally down into the Rhine Valley and away from the Alps altogether.
The highest peak in the Arlberg group of mountains is the “Valluga” at 9, 222 feet (2, 811 metres) The old mule track over the Arlberg Pass was surfaced as a road in 1824, and still exists but the modern traveller uses the 9 mile long (14 Km) road tunnel opened in 1978.
The modern version of the Arlberg Pass (51) is rather confusing as it now consists of a sequence of road tunnels. Examining these, even on a large scale map, it becomes impossible to determine where the actual pass is situated, that is, where the traveller moves from the drainage basin of the Inn, into that of the River Rhine.
Like the Stelvio Pass, the Arlberg Pass represents a nodal point (52) in the Alpine drainage system where the drainage basins of three great rivers meet. In this case, the three rivers are; (i) the Inn, to the south and east, (ii) the Danube to the north, and (iii) the Rhine to the west.
51. Four Views of the Arlberg Pass
52. Nodal Map of the Arlberg Pass Region
E. THE ALLGÄU, UPPER RHINE AND BODENSEE REGION
Once over the Arlberg Pass, the convoys descended to the valley bottom. The aerial photograph of the village of Klosterle in Figure 53 gives an excellent idea of the topography of the region. Klosterle is typical of the succession of small villages, between the Pass and the town of Bludenz.
53. The Village of Klosterle in western Austria
The Allgäu Alps Region
From here the Spanish convoys were moving away from the Lechtaler Alps and into the region of the Allgäu (pronounced “al goy”) Alps. There were no more high passes to cross and the mules moved steadily along the higher and firmer ground along the flat valley bottoms, which were still enclosed by the steep mountain sides are shown in Figure 54. As with all the towns along this route, Bludenz is very much larger than in former centuries, but it still nestles in the valley.
54. The Modern Town of Bludenz in the Valley of the River Ill
The route from Bludenz continued downhill, along the valley of the River Ill, towards Feldkirch (“church in the fields”), still dominated by the close crags of the near vertical mountain sides, and its medieval castle. (55)
Upper River Rhine
At Feldkirch, the Upper River Rhine came into view and the River Ill flowed into it only a few miles further on. However, the Spaniards kept to the higher ground well above the Upper Rhine.
55. Feldkirch on the River Ill in Western Austria
The march from Feldkirch to Dornbirn, on the flanks of the Allgäu Alps, gave the Spaniards a view of stretches of the Upper Rhine, with the canton of St Gallen, of the Swiss Confederation, on the opposite bank. Dornbirn is situated where the valleys begin to open up and the steep enclosing sides lie much further away from the river, and have much gentler slopes.
56. The Town of Dornbirn in Western Austria
Once the convoys were in sight of the Rhine it might be thought that the gold could be shipped by water. However, the gold constituted a very heavy cargo
and the Rhine was a dangerous river in the age before steam craft. If the ship went aground or was sunk it would be very difficult on the one hand, and quite impossible on the other, to recover the cargo. Should a mule fall over a cliff, it was a quite small loss of the overall consignment, and, in principle, it would be tricky, but not impossible, for a small party to recover the bullion. The shores of the Rhine are full of shallows, with lakes, side streams and swamps, so the preferred mule route kept, as the modern road system does, to higher ground several miles east of the actual river.
The Bodensee Region
The Spaniards moved downhill from Dornbirn to the comparatively large town of Bregenz on the shores of the Bodensee, (pronounced bo den zay). This great freshwater lake, also called Lake Constance, is forty miles long and fifteen miles wide at its greatest width (64 X 24 Km). The Upper Rhine is upstream from the Bodensee, and the Lower Rhine is downstream from it. The terms Upper and Lower Rhine are of English derivation. The Upper Rhine has two tributaries, the Vorder Rhein and the Hinter Rhein, which can be literally translated as the Fore Rhine and the Hinder Rhine.
57. Modern Bregenz on the Shores of the Bodensee (Lake Constance)
Bregenz is within a few miles of the Austrian border and the end of Austrian security for the gold convoys. From Bregenz, the Spaniards marched along the northern shore of the Bodensee, keeping to the higher ground until they crossed the border at Lindau into the Duchy of Württemberg, the territory of the Holy Roman Empire. As far as the security of the convoys was concerned, they were still in a region under nominal Habsburg control, but the Empire was a much looser federation of more or less autonomous principalities.
Consequently the safety of the convoys could be compromised by the temporary whims of local rulers, even though, in the end, the will of the Habsburg Emperor might prevail.
58. Württemberg Heraldry
The Duchy of Württemberg (pronounced voor tem bairg), whose hereditary ruler was the Duke, had his capital at Stuttgart. In 1599 Württemberg had broken free from Austrian control, but it was still part of the Empire, and would not normally interfere with the movement of the Spanish gold convoys. Today, this region is part, (a State), of modern Germany, called Baden- Württemberg.
The mule trains moved along the northern shore of the Bodensee, keeping to higher ground as they approached the small port of Friedrichshafen, (pronounced freed richs har ven). (59) They continued to the northern tip of the lake and turned west towards the town of Singen (pronounced zing en), which was uncomfortably close to the Swiss border. (60)
59. Friedrichshafen on Bodensee
F. THE SCHWARZWALD (BLACK FOREST), AND LOWER RHINE
The Black Forest
One of the curiosities of European physical geography is that the greatest of all its rivers, the Danube, has its source, not in the mighty Alps, but in two obscure streams, (Brigach and Brege), in the much smaller and humbler mountains of the Schwarzwald (Black Forest). (60)
60. The Route from Singen to Freiburg
61. Hills and Valleys of the Black Forest
The name Schwarzwald or Black Forest goes back to Roman times. It refers to the dark blue-green conifer forests which clothe the gently rolling hills. (61) The land around Singen is very flat, (62) but the town is dominated by a great rock, which has been fortified by castles of various kinds over the centuries. The north-westward march of the gold convoys took them into the mountains of the Black Forest, climbing around 700 feet, from Singen to the next town of Tuttlingen. (63)
62. The Modern Town of Singen
63. The Frozen River Danube at Tuttlingen
The highest point in the mountains of the Black Forest is the Feldberg (veld bairg) at a height of 4, 898 feet or 1, 493 metres, but its softly rounded contours (64) are quite unlike the Alpine peaks, or even the more modest mountain crags of north Wales or the Scottish Highlands.
Consequently, the terrain was much easier for the mule trains among these gentler hills than anything they had coped with since leaving the shores of Lake Como. Depending on the prevailing road conditions, the convoys could either make directly for the hamlet of Geisingen, (gy zing en), or more likely for the fortified town of Tuttlingen, (63) guarded by its medieval castle. (65) Either way, the ultimate destination was the valley of the River Danube.
64. Two Views of the Feldberg, the Highest Point in the Black Forest
65. Schloss Tuttlingen, the Medieval Castle
Once the Spaniards had reached the River Danube, they moved westwards up the valley towards their next objective, the town of Donaueschingen (pronounced don ow esh ing en). “Donau” is the German name for the Danube, so the town is “Eschingen on Danube”. It can be seen from the illustration in Figure 66 that the great river of Europe is of a very modest size in Donaueschingen.
66. The River Danube at Donaueschingen
It is here, at Donaueschingen, where the two small rivers, the Brigach and the Brege, flowing south eastwards, unite to form the Danube. This is another one of these nodal points referred to earlier, in connection with the Stelvio, Brenner and Arlberg Passes. As Figure 67 shows this nodal point is of an altogether humbler order. It is the junction of only two watersheds and not three. Consequently it could not normally be called a node if it were not for the narrowness of the Danube basin around Donaueschingen. Neither is there a dramatic pass associated with this nodal point.
67. The Nodal Point at Donaueschingen between Rhine and Danube
The gold convoys remained in the Danube basin only briefly, as Figure 67 shows, before returning to the Lower Rhine valley. On leaving Donaueschingen they travelled westward to the small town of Neustadt, (noy stat) (68). The countryside is studded with small lakes and the Spaniards marched along the shore of the lake, Titisee (tee tee zay), (69) before passing a series of small villages and the distant dome of the Feldberg, with its own lake, the Feldsee (veld zay) (70) on the way to the town of Freiburg (fry boorg). (71)
68. Two Views of Neustadt on its Lake
69. Two Views of the Titisee Lake
70. The Feldsee below the Feldberg Mountain
71. The Older Part of the Town of Freiburg
The Lower Rhine
From Freiburg the Spaniards continued westwards till they reached the Rhine at
Breisach (bry zach) dominated by the peak of the Kaiserstuhl (ky zer stool) (emperor’s throne). They marched northwards, parallel to, but well above the Rhine, through a succession of riverside towns.
72. The Kaiserstuhl peak above Breisach
73. The Route down the Lower Rhine from Freiburg to Nijmegen
74. Two Views of Baden-Baden Nestling Among the Hills
Heading north from Baden-Baden, today’s traveller reaches modern industrial town of Karlsruhe. In the 17 C there was no more than a village to watch the gold convoys pass, as the development of the new city did not begin until 1715. Nowadays, most of the towns on the Rhine have become vast industrial centres. The river, in this region, is illustrated by the old buildings near Wörth-am-Rhein, (pronounced voort) (75) within a few miles of Karlsruhe. The river is wide and in the flood plain there are traces of old meanders and ox-bow lakes. (76) This is also the region of the Rhine Rift Valley, so the river is usually bordered by high cliffs.
75. Two views of the river at Wörth-am-Rhein
76. River Traces along the Rhine at Wörth-am-Rhein
The Rhine Rift Valley
Geologically, the origins of the Rhine Rift Valley came from two parallel vertical faults, so that when the whole central section dropped, a new valley was created in which the Rhine now flows. (77) The steep sides of the valley were not created by glaciers or river action but by geological faulting. (78)
77. Geomorphology of the Rhine Rift Valley
As explained earlier, roads in the Rhine Valley are usually several miles from the river, and uphill, to avoid its very watery floodplain, illustrated in Figure 76. In the Rift Valley region it was usual to travel even further away from the river, and well clear of the cliffs.
78. The Rhine within the Rift Valley
As the gold convoys left the Duchy of Baden they entered another small autonomous principality, the Rhineland Palatinate, (in German, Rheinpfalz), with its capital at Heidelberg
on the River Neckar, but close to the Rhine. As a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Palatinate was nominally under the control of the Habsburg Emperors and safe for the passage of the gold convoys. Everything changed politically in 1618, for a brief period, and the Palatinate became an uncertain prospect for the Spanish military commanders planning secure routes for their bullion.
79. Palatine Heraldry and Heidelberg on the Neckar
Readers will recall an incident, from an earlier section, when two ambassadors were thrown from the windows of the palace in Prague on 23rd May
1618, demonstrating the determination of the Bohemian people to oppose Habsburg power. When the current Emperor, Matthias, died in March 1619, the next Habsburg candidate was Ferdinand of Austria, but the Bohemians rejected Ferdinand as their future king and chose Frederick V, the Elector Palatine. (80) It made no difference to the Imperial election a few days later. Ferdinand II was the new Emperor, if not yet King of Bohemia.
80. Frederick and his young wife, Elizabeth
Frederick was called “Elector Palatine” because he was one of the seven Electors who chose the Holy Roman Emperor. The King of Bohemia was also an Imperial Elector. By picking Frederick, the Bohemian people were attempting to curtail the power of the Austrian Habsburgs to dominate the politics of Central Europe.
Frederick was an attractive choice as King of Bohemia because he was a devout Calvinist Protestant, and many of the Bohemians were Protestants. He was a personable young man of twenty-two, with a pretty English wife, Elizabeth, (80) who was of the same age. They had been married for six years and had young children. When they left Heidelberg in the Palatinate, for the royal palace in Prague, in October 1619, everyone was full of hope. This hope was not to be realised, and it proved to be a disaster for the Palatinate, for Bohemia, for Germany and for all Central Europe.
Frederick has become known to history as “The Winter King of Bohemia”. This began as a scornful epithet, but now has become a rather romantic and tragic title. It refers to the fact that Frederick was king for a little over a year; principally the winter months of 1619 to 1620. Elizabeth, “The Winter Queen” was daughter of James I, King of England, and sister to King Charles I. Her daughter, Sophia, married the Elector of Hanover, and when the Stuart line of monarchs ended in 1714 with the death of Queen Anne, Sophia’s son, Elizabeth’s grandson, became George I, the first Hanoverian King of England. (81)
81. The Genealogical Connection between the Stuart and Hanoverian Dynasties
From the point of view of the commanders of the gold convoys, the Palatinate was risky territory from about August 1619, until 8 November 1620 when the Imperial forces, under
General Tilly, crushed King Frederick’s Bohemian troops at the Battle of White Mountain, on the outskirts of Prague. “There, Tilly destroyed the flower of the Bohemian Protestant and nationalist movement, putting an end to Czech independence for three hundred years to come.” (p.78, “The Habsburgs” by Edward Crankshaw, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971)
Frederick and his queen went into permanent exile; he lost the Palatinate, as well as Bohemia, which was transferred to Emperor Ferdinand’s Austrian dominions. It became an hereditary possession of the Habsburgs, so that never again need there be any nonsense about elections. The Palatinate became, once more, a safe place for the transport of gold to pay the soldiers in the Netherlands.
To the End of the Journey
The gold convoys heading north up the Rhine, crossed the River Neckar by the bridge at Mannheim, avoiding Heidelberg. As the modern town of Mannheim is a major industrial centre, the Rhine in this region is illustrated (82) by views of the nearby village of Petersau. The landscape here is much flatter than the upper part of the rift valley region.
82. Two Panoramas of the Rhine at Petersau near, Mannheim
When the Spaniards reached the city of Mainz (83) (where the River Main joins the Rhine) they crossed the bridge over the Rhine to the west bank. From now on they remained west of the Rhine, and their objectives were the three major riverside towns of Koblenz, Bonn, and Koln (Cologne) which were all within the borders of the Empire.
83. The City of Mainz
The excellent aerial view of Koblenz (84) shows the basically flat landscape along the Rhine Valley, despite the occasional cliffs close to the river. The final choice of destination depended upon the military situation ahead of them. Either, Koblenz, Bonn, or Koln would be suitable as they were strongly defended and had ample secure storage space for the gold.
84. Aerial View of Koblenz and the Cliff from the River Rhine
The border with the Dutch, “United Provinces” was somewhat variable as it depended on which side had gained the upper hand in the independence struggle. This is no place to describe the political and military complexity of what the Dutch call, “The Eighty Years War” (1568 – 1648) but a few details are important to concluding the story of the Gold Route.
The map (85) shows how the United Provinces adjoined the two Habsburg-controlled regions, the Spanish Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire, at the end of a period of Dutch military successes. The year 1588 is highly significant to the Dutch because it marked the start of a period of military success for them against the Spanish. It is also a highly significant year in British history because it marks the date of the unsuccessful Spanish Armada against the south coast of England.
By 1605 the Dutch had captured a string of fortresses along their eastern and southern borders, as indicated in Figure 85. As a result of these set-backs, command of the Spanish army of Flanders was transferred, in 1605, from the Duke of Parma to the Italian professional soldier Ambroglio Spinola, who was a very capable general. He was able to reverse some of the earlier Dutch gains in the next two years and after a ceasefire in 1607, a twelve-year truce was negotiated, from 1609 to 1621.
85 The Captured Towns and Fortresses in the Netherlands
Thus the final destination of the Aztec and Inca gold was in small, individual pay parades for the Spanish cavalry and infantry along the fluid border between Antwerp towards Nijmegen.
The Thirty Years War
The twelve year truce ended in 1621 and the Dutch became embroiled in the Thirty Years War, where they endured some reverses. The magnificent painting by Velasquez (86) shows the surrender of the Dutch border fortress of Breda to Imperial forces. The Dutch leader Justinus of Nassau, symbolically hands the great key of the fortress gate to Ambrogio Spinola, the Italian Imperial general.
It was painted between 1634-5 while the surrender of Breda occurred in 1625. For anyone familiar with the usual military art of this period and earlier, it is an astounding piece of work. No great leaders prance on white stallions, no mythological gods point down from clouds in the heavens, and there are no stylised ranks of faceless men.
The victorious general, Spinola, places a friendly arm on his defeated rival’s shoulder. The faces of the Dutch and Spanish soldiers are treated as individual men with a variety of responses to the situation. The picture “marks the beginning of a new kind of history painting, factual, contained, without reliance on mythological representation.” (IX, “Velasquez”, by José López-Rey, Fratelli Fabbri Edizioni, 1974)
86. A Dutch Defeat in the Thirty Years War
The Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648, ending formal hostilities, and now recognising the independence of the United Provinces. War casts a very long shadow, and the effects rumbled on for decades, in lawlessness and banditry on the part of ex-soldiers now lacking employment. Many people had been reduced to destitution by the passage and re-passage of armies across central Europe. It has been a matter of debate among professional historians, but some have estimated that it took about a century for the countries of this region to recover economically from the Thirty Years War.
The Decline of Spain
“At the start of the Thirty Years War the Spanish Habsburgs were still very much the senior branch of the family. By the time it was over, Spanish power had been broken forever…the power had shifted from Madrid to Vienna, where it was to remain.” (p.74, Crankshaw, op. cit)
The gold from the Americas was a poisoned chalice, akin to the possession of oil reserves in the twentieth century. In the fifteenth century, countries without gold had to pay for their needs either by the sale of raw materials, (wool, timber, farm produce, fish) or finished goods (textiles, leather, wooden items, metal products). The well-to-do Spanish, by contrast, could buy all they needed from abroad, with gold. In this way, there was little encouragement for Spanish entrepreneurs to create home industries to compete with imported goods. Eventually, the supply of gold ran dry.
87. Painting of the Uprising in Madrid of the 2 May 1808
The agricultural revolution of the eighteenth century and the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century largely passed Spain by. Its economic decline was paralleled by a military decline and in the early nineteenth century, during the Napoleonic wars, Spain and Portugal were occupied by French forces.
During the Thirty Years War, the people of Spain had escaped the sufferings of the peoples of Central Europe, although their government had been a prime cause of that war. Now, two hundred years later, a similar kind of fate was being visited upon the Spanish people. Francisco Goya’s paintings called, “The Horrors of War” showed how the civilian population was affected by French occupation. A popular uprising in Madrid on the 2 May 1808 was put down with savage reprisals by the troops of General Murat. (87)
It required a British expeditionary force, to help the Spanish and Portuguese to expel their invaders. This took six years of what is called the Peninsular War, where the British were led, for most of the campaign, by General George Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington.
A Modern Parallel
In the twentieth century most of the tribal Muslim nations of the Middle East or North Africa had enormous reserves of oil under the ground. This created great wealth for the family oligarchies which controlled the economic and political levers of power in these nations.
The wealth has failed to percolate down to the poorer parts of the populations, principally because the wealthy buy imported foreign goods and there is no impetus to create home industries. Home produced goods would create employment and opportunities for a wide range of people throughout these “oil nations”. The oil, it is now realised, was a poisoned chalice. It encouraged elitism and oligarchy, discouraged democracy and entrepreneurial activity, and left the way open for political extremism.
88. Aztec Mask
Is the grinning Aztec god (88) amused at the horrors visited on Europe after he was stolen from his temple in the Americas and taken across the Atlantic Ocean?
Although I have read widely around this historical topic, my principal sources for this essay are:
A. “The Thirty Years War” by C.V. Wedgwood, first published in 1938 by Jonathan Cape, and published by Penguin as a paperback in 1957. This is the classic work on the war, in English, by Veronica Wedgwood. It is exhaustively-researched, and completely authoritative.
B. “The Habsburgs” by Edward Crankshaw, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971 This is an excellent brief review of the whole Habsburg story in a paperback of 186 pages.
C. “The Man in the Ice” by Konrad Spindler, Phoenix, 1995. An excellent paperback account , but it may have been superseded by later research work.
1. Aztec Masks of Pure Gold (After google images)
2. The Alps, as seen by a 17 Century Spanish Gold Convoy (google images)
3. The Spanish Empire and the Gold Route (Author)
4. Enslavement of Native Americans in the Gold Mines (“Larousse Encyclopaedia of Modern History”, Editor Marcel Dunan, Hamlyn, 1965)
5. A Spanish Galleon of the Sixteenth Century (google images)
6. The Habsburg Influence in Western Europe (Author)
7. Alpine Pastures beside a Glacier Lake (google images)
8. Location of the Remains of “Ötzi” the Neolithic Hunter Found in 1991
9. The Gold Route through the Mountains from Genoa to the River Rhine (Author)
10. A Modern Mule Train in the Western U.S.A (google images)
11. Continual Erosion of Mountain Roads in Cyprus (Author)
12 Mules on a Mountain Path, Grand Canyon, Colorado, U.S.A. (google images)
13. Spanish Soldiers Used For Convoy Protection. (google images)
14. The Port of Genoa and the Arms of the City (google images)
15. The Ligurian Apennines near Genoa (google images)
16. Monte Maggiorasca, the Highest Point in the Ligurian Apennines (google images)
17. The Town of Tortona in the Plain of Lombardy (google images)
18. The Pavia Bridge over the River Po (google images)
19. The West Front of Milan Cathedral (google images)
20. Aerial View of Lake Como, Looking North (google images)
21. Township on Lake Como (google images)
22. Lecco on the Shore of Lake Como (google images)
23. The Val Telline and the Surrounding Bergamesque Alps (google images)
24. Map of the Political Divisions within the Alpine Region in the early 17 C (Author)
25. The Modern Town of Sondrio in the Val Telline (google images)
26. The Town of Tirano in the Valley of the River Adda (google images)
27. The Val Telline in winter (google images)
28. An Outlying Fort near Tirano (google images)
29. Bormio among the Ortles Alps (google images)
30. The Valley Floor Approaching the Stelvio Pass (google images)
31. The Final Ascent to the Stelvio Pass (google images)
32. Hanging Valley seen from the Stelvio Pass (google images)
33. Heidelberg, with Charles Bridge, River Neckar, and Electoral Palace on the Hillside. (google images)
34. Johan Tserclaes, Count Tilly, General of the Holy Roman Empire (google images)
35. Veronica Wedgwood (google images)
36. The Hradschin Palace Forecourt, Prague, Bohemia (google images)
37. Symbols of Habsburg Power in Central Europe (“Lines of Succession” by Jiři Louda and Michael Maclagan, Little, Brown Co. 1999)
38. Two Modern Views of the Upper Adige Region (google images)
39. The Modern Arms of the Region “Alto Adige/Südtirol” (Author)
40. The Stelvio Pass as Nodal Point of Three Watersheds (Author)
41. The Town of Merano (Meran) in the Alto Adige Region (google images)
42. Bolzano (Bozen) in the Valley of the River Isarco (Eisack) (google images)
43. The Dolomites in the Bolzano (Bozen) Alpine Region (google images)
44. The Isarco Valley, the Arms of Bressanone and the Town Centre (google images)
45. The Modern Village of Vitipeno, in the Isarco Valley, seen from the Valley
46. The Modern Europabrucke (Europe Bridge), over the Isarco Valley. (google images)
49. Contrasting Views of the Wildspitze (google images)
50. Two Views of Landeck, in the Upper Inn Valley (google images)
51. Four Views of the Arlberg Pass (google images)
52. Nodal Map of the Arlberg Pass Region (Author)
53. The Village of Klosterle in western Austria (google images)
54. The Modern Town of Bludenz in the Valley of the River Ill (google images)
55. Feldkirch on the River Ill in Western Austria (google images)
56. The Town of Dornbirn in Western Austria (google images)
57. Modern Bregenz on the Shores of the Bodensee (Lake Constance) (google images)
58. Württemberg Heraldry (After Louda and Maclagan, op. cit)
59. Friedrichshafen on Bodensee (google images)
60. The Route from Singen to Freiburg (Author)
61. Hills and Valleys of the Black Forest (google images)
62. The Modern Town of Singen (google images)
63. The Frozen River Danube at Tuttlingen (google images)
64. Two Views of the Feldberg, the Highest Point in the Black Forest (google images)
65. Schloss Tuttlingen, the Medieval Castle (google images)
66. The River Danube at Donaueschingen (google images)
67. The Nodal Point at Donaueschingen between Rhine and Danube (Author)
68. Two Views of Neustadt on its Lake (google images)
69. Two Views of the Titisee Lake (google images)
70. The Feldsee below the Feldberg Mountain (google images)
71. The Older Part of the Town of Freiburg (google images)
72. The Kaiserstuhl peak above Breisach (google images)
73. The Route down the Lower Rhine from Freiburg to Nijmegen (Author)
74. Two Views of Baden-Baden Nestling among the Hills (google images)
75. Two views of the river at Worth-am-Rhein (google images)
76. River Traces along the Rhine at Wörth-am-Rhein (After google maps)
77. Geomorphology of Rhine Rift Valley (Author)
78. The Rhine within the Rift Valley (google images)
79. Palatine Heraldry and Heidelberg on the Neckar (google images)
80. Frederick and his young wife, Elizabeth (google images)
81. The Genealogical Connection between the Stuart and Hanoverian Dynasties (Author)
82. Two Panoramas of the Rhine at Petersau near, Mannheim (google images)
83. The City of Mainz (google images)
84. Aerial View of Koblenz and the Cliff from the River Rhine (google images)
85 The Captured Towns and Fortresses in the Netherlands (Author)
86. A Dutch Defeat in the Thirty Years War (José López-Rey, Frat. Fabbri Ed., 1974)
87. Painting of the Uprising in Madrid of the 2 May 1808 (google images)
88. Aztec Mask (google images)