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Dutch Linen History

HOLLAND, although a small and naturally a poor country, a land of sand hardly recovered from the ocean, was early celebrated for her trade and commerce, and for the great wealth which these brought her people. The indomitable love of the Flemings and Dutch for civil and religious liberty, and consequent hatred of tyranny and oppression, made them both feared and respected by other nations. They have ever been famed for industry and frugality, and for great perseverance in the pursuit of gain. The wealth, once acquired, was handed down from father to son, increasing as it rolled on, until in many cases it attained colossal proportions. Their liberal and enlightened commercial policy enabled them to make the most of the vast capital at their disposal, until in time they became the richest people in Europe. The history of Holland in the middle ages admirably exemplifies the advantages which flow from commercial freedom, and from the absence of all restrictions on trade. Trade to be prosperous most be free, and if free, it requires no protection, no fostering care, no adventitious aid. The love of gain is sufficient stimulus to urge the merchant on to success, just as the desire for fame impels the warrior to deeds of glory.

One country possesses a superfluity of some commodities, and another of others, the interchange of which is advantageous to both. The trader, if let alone, speedily discovers this, and becomes the medium of exchange, to the benefit of both countries, and to his own profit. In Holland, liberty and commerce went hand in hand, until her cities became the depots of the world, and all nations were her customers. The Flemings enjoyed commercial freedom before the Dutch, and were justly jealous of their privileges. When Edward I. of England levied tolls and impositions on foreign merchants, vessels and goods, he solicited Robert, Earl of Flanders, to prohibit all trade with the Scots. The Earl replied " Our country of Flanders is common to all the world, and every person finds in it free admission' The reply is what might be expected from, and would be worthy of, Britain in the present day. It reflects immortal honour on the noble Earl who spoke it Austrian Flanders was perhaps the earliest of any country, without the Mediterranean, which began the manufacture of Linens on a large scale, after the dark ages which so long bound Europe as it were in a gloomy prison. Before 1253 the Linen manufacture had been carried to great perfection in Flanders, and the material employed was of the finest quality. Many of the goods made were exported to England and to other countries. By the vast woollen and Linen manufactures of Flanders and Brabant, these countries acquired great commercial importance and much wealth during the 13th century, and their ports were crowded with shipping both of their own and of other countries.

The city of Bruges, which had been founded in 760, gradually rose to great importance. In 1385 it attained the zenith of its prosperity, having been at that period the centre of all the commerce of Christendom. It then exported Linens largely, and in 1437 it was still noted for its export of fine Linen. About 1487 much of its commerce was removed to Dort, and thence soon after to Antwerp, which then began to be the emporium of Europe. The cause was a dispute between the inhabitants and the Emperor, who, with the assistance of Antwerp and Amsterdam, blocked up Sluyce, its proper harbour, and so destroyed its commerce. The city of Ypres in Flanders was built in 960, and has been long famous for its table Linen manufacture, commonly called Diaper.

Louvain, in Austrian Brabant was very celebrated for its woollen and linen manufactures! which, in the beginning of the 14th century, maintained 150,000 weavers. De Witt says," the province of Holland enjoyed little trade before the beginning of the 14th century, because its feudal lords oppressed and overawed the people, and would not allow the citizens to wall their towns for security, as was the case then with Haarlem, Amsterdam." This statement shows the advantages which the trade of Holland derived from its municipal cities, and commerce in other lands has also benefited by the protection they afforded. They were a check and safeguard against the extortions of the barons, and enabled the people to prosecute their trade in peace. He also says that " in the 14th century the cloth halls of the Netherland cities, by making restrictive laws, under pretence of preventing deceit by the debasing of manufactures, drove much of the weaving trade into the villages, from which it was again driven by the wars between France and Flanders to Louvain and other towns in Brabant." And " that the Brabanters, in turn, no wiser than the Flemings, by the same means drove many of their weavers into England." About the 10th century the woollen cloth manufactures of the Flemings had gained a high name in Britain and in Germany, and large quantities of them were exported in exchange for the products of these lands.

About the beginning of the 14th century, the manufacture of woollen cloth was introduced into Holland by weavers from Brabant and Flanders, and before the end of that century the towns of Holland had become strong and had acquired great power and influence. For several centuries thereafter the Dutch and Flemish looms clothed the greater part of Europe, and it was from them that Britain and other countries learned the art of manufacturing textile fabrics. For a long period the Dutch imported the raw material for their manufactures, spun and weaved it, and returned the cloth to the countries whence it was received, in the same way as is done in Britain at the present day. In that early period they had no competitors for their woven fabrics, consequently they had the control of the various markets of the world, and could command their own terms. It may therefore be imagined that their profits were handsome, and the trade well worth cultivating. Louis Guiciardini, in his description of the Netherlands in 1560, says:—" It has no wine growing in it, yet they have plenty of that fine liquor; nor Flax of their own growth, yet they make the finest Linen of any in the universe. They have no wool, either in good quality or quantity, yet make infinite quantities of good cloths. They grow no timber, yet they use more for ships, dykes, Ac., than perhaps all the rest of Europe together' Strong testimony of their industry and commercial enterprise."

The same writer says: " Antwerp was then the great emporium of the world, 400 or 500 ships being in the harbour in one day, and merchants from the principal nations of the world resided there.0 In enumerating the exports, he says they sent Linen, tapestry, to Ancona, English and Flemish cloths, stuffs, Linen, tapestry to Bologna, Naples, and Sicily, the same to Milan. The same goods were exported to Florence, Genoa. Antwerp also exported Flax to Italy. To Germany she exported a very large quantity of Linens. To Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Eastland, Livonia, and Poland, Linens. She imported from these countries, particularly Eastland and Poland, Flax, Ac, to a large amount. To France she exported great quantities of fine Linens, getting back in return immense quantities of canvas and strong Linens from Bretagne and Normandy. To England, Scotland, and Ireland, she exported Linens. He estimated the exports and imports to and from England at twenty-four million guilders, or £2,400,000. To Spain, Portugal, and Barbary, Linens and Flax thread. He also says that " Bois-le-duc was then the seat of a great many manufactures, among others 20,000 pieces of Linen, worth, on an average, ten crowns each, were made annually." At Novelle , he says " they made great quantities of very fine cambric, and also at Cambray, which originally gave its name to that fine manufacture. At Courtenay they made fine Linen for the table. At Teel, Linen cloth and buckram. At Ghent, the cloth named from that city, Ghenting, in immense quantities, also fine Linen of many sorts, woollen also, and tapestries, fustians, buckrams," Of Amsterdam, Guiciardini says they have no Flax of their own growth, yet make the finest Linen in the universe. This may be true, but in 1560 great quantities of Flax were raised in some parts of Holland. Leyden was early distinguished for its woollen manufactures, and in order to maintain the reputation of Leyden cloths they were, in 1482 subjected to inspection by the Government authorities, something in the same way as Linens were in Scotland at a much later period.

No of Weavers
No of Spinners
1650 Leiden 1535   Posthumus, 1939
1667 Leiden 3400   Posthumus, 1939
1671 Utrech 35   Klinkerberg, 1991
1749 Leiden 1446 1587 VT, 1749
1810 Tilburg 592 2466 VT, 1810
1810 Leiden 880 3289 Jansen, 1999


In 1570 the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain began. In 1585 the sacking of Antwerp by the Spanish soldiery, drove the trade of that city, and of the manufactures of Brabant and Flanders, into England and Holland. Many of the woollen manufacturers settled at Leyden; the Linen spinners and wea¬ers at Haarlem and Amsterdam ; and more than one-third of those who worked and traded in serges, stockings, flannels, tafetas, silks, and damasks fled to England. Gerard Malynes says that four-fifths of the merchandize sold in Antwerp, before its sacking by the Duke of Parma in 1585, were England. In 1595 the Dutch began to trade with India, and in 1601 they opened up a trade with Japan, sending out Linens, woollen cloths; but, by the end of the century, the trade was almost annihilated. In a manuscript, submitted by Sir Walter Raleigh, shortly before his execution, to James I., the great extent of the trade of Holland is graphically detailed, and had this monarch carried out the recommendations of that great man, they would have advanced the prosperity of Great Britain in a wonderful degree, but they were disregarded.

In the middle of the 17th century, although the Dutch had no native commodities of their own, having imported their Flax, Hemp, yet their commerce was greater than all the rest of Europe together. This prosperity was increased by the great influx of men from Germany, France, and England, whence they were driven by religious persecutions, and civil wars. The security afforded by the Government of Holland drew many of the best people thither, and as they had to work for their sustenance, it added to the general opulence. Each town had then its own particular commerce or staple, which they brought to the greatest height of improvement. Haarlem had the manufacture of Linen, mixed stuffs, and flowers. Holland was not, however, destined to continue a great manufacturing country. The dearness of labour, high taxes, and circumstances peculiar to the country, were unfavourable to the production of woven fabrics. They owed their manufacturing prosperity to the commotions and persecutions in other lands, particularly in France, Spain, and Flanders.

As more peaceful times dawned in England and France, manufactures, aided by improved machinery, took root and prospered there, As manufactures rose in these countries, they declined in Holland, until at last they only retained those which were not exposed to the competition of other nations. It is thus evident that Holland was more adapted by position, and by the commercial spirit of her citizens, for being a trading, rather than a manufacturing country. The wars with Britain and other countries, which followed the season of prosperity in the Netherlands, did irreparable injury to her manufactures. These wars interrupted trade, caused heavy losses by captures at sea and otherwise, and greatly increased taxation. Voltaire says, " it is war alone that improvishes a nation and certainly war all but ruined the Netherlands. Her trade declined, her capital had to seek employment abroad, and it nourished the growing trade of those countries in which it was invested, and enabled them to become rivals to the Dutch themelves. In 1765 there was exported from Rotterdam 2500 to 2700 tons of Flax, and 17,000 hogsheads of Flax seed, value about 50s each, or £42,500; and Dort exported from 500 to 600 tons of Flax. At this time English printed Linens and calicoes, being the common summer dress in Holland, were in every shop in the country, and no attempts to imitate them had hitherto succeeded At this period Linens were exported from the province of Holland, Haarlem (and bleaching Linens), Amsterdam, and Friesland, the latter being specially noted for its Linens, then the finest in Europe. In the palmy days of Holland its Linen trade was large and important, not only supplying the home demand, but affording, as above narrated, great quantities for export to other countries. It declined with the general trade of the country, which in 1795 had become completely paralyzed. After the peace of 1815 the Linen trade began to revive, and it subsequently increased to a very important extent, especially in Flanders.

The separation of Belgium from Holland, took place on 15th November, 1831. The two countries have since been distinct, and a short notice of Belgium, subsequent to the separation, wOl be given in another chapter. There are still some Linens manufactured in Haarlem, but the quantity is unimportant, the bleaching of Linens is, however, still extensively carried on. In some other places a few are made, chiefly for home consumption. In Friesland a large quantity of superior Flax is grown, and at Leeuwarden and Harlingen canvas and Linen are manufactured, but not on a large scale. Some Linens are also made in Zwolle. The province of North Brabant is the seat of a considerable Linen trade, chiefly for home use. It is made by the small farmers when not engaged in field labour, the yarn being spun by their wives and daughters, by the common hand-wheel, and from their own Flax. Bois-le-duc, in that province, has long lost its former celebrity for Linens, but a considerable number of the peasants are still engaged in Linen weaving in their own cottages, and they bring the produce of their labour to an annual fair, which is held in that town on St John's day.

Holland not being now a manufacturing country, dometic fabrics receive little protection from its customs' tariff. From and after 1st November, 1862, Linen and Jute yarns were admitted free of duty. Sail twine pays f. 1.00 per 100 lbs. Linen and all manufactures of Flax, Hemp, and Tow, pay 5 per cent ad valorum, excepting sail-cloth, which pays £ 0.30 per roll of 42 ells, and when beyond that length, 60 cents. These particulars are taken from " The Tariff for the Netherlands" kindly suppled by Mr Thorns, the Vice Consul at Dundee. Linens can therefore be imported into Holland at a lower price than they can be produced there, and, as will be seen by the Board of Trade returns, given in another portion of this volume, the Dutch are very good customers to the United Kingdom.

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