zaterdag 13 oktober 2012

Sound dues

No ships were more typical for the seventeenth century then the Dutch fluyt. They were a substantial contributor to the Dutch economic success in that age. Fluyts were fast, cheap to operate and could carry a large load compared to their size. In the Baltic sea they had one more significant advantage. Due to the typical pear-shaped shape of the hull, their decks were quite small. Since the due or toll that had to be paid to cross the Oresund strait was calculated to the width of the ships deck, the fluyt was very well off.

Both sides of the Oresund or Sound strait that separated the Baltic from the north sea were owned by the Danish crown. The Sound dues made the Danish king relatively independent from the nobility and tax revenues. To firm his grip on this strategic position, the king built fortesses on both sides on the river, including the impressive Kronburg castle.

For the Dutch republic, the Baltic trade route became the most important of them all. Poland supplied the country of grain, Sweden supplied iron and wood for ships.

When in 1642 the Danish king decided to drastically raise the due tarrifs, the Dutch decided to display their power. They send a fleet of 42 warships to escort a convoy of 900 merchantmen and send it though the strait. The next year, an even bigger fleet crossed the straight without paying at all.

This display of force, together with some skillful diplomacy of fleet commander Witte de With made the the Danish king to grant the Dutch a very favourable treaty. The two nations would remain allies for the rest of the century.

This picture shows a fleet of fluyts passing the Sound in 1644. Right is the Danish castle Kronburg.

Far right is the flagship Brederode commanded by Witte de With.

dinsdag 2 oktober 2012

So this blog is called Bloodflag. It was just a name that fell into mind when I had to chose a name for it....
Why? Because I have been intrigued by this flag that I put on the stern on the Brederode. Apparently this 'Bloedvlag' or bloodflag was pretty common for Dutch ships in the early 17th century.

The flag shows an arm with a sword on a red background. Oddly, the sword looks a bit oriental to me. It certainly doen't look like a sword from the middle ages or the small-swords that were common during that period in Europe.

I found some documentation on this flag but it doesn't quite explain everything.
It states that the origin of the flag was in the Eighty-years war, in which the Dutch fought their independence against the Spanish. This could explain the shape of the sword. In the early years, the Dutch rebels and predecessors of the Dutch navy; the 'Watergeuzen' used Muslim and Ottoman symbols to taunt the Spanish. Since the biggest enemy of the Spanish empire was the Ottoman empire, the Dutch rebels frequently flew flags with crescent moons and used the slogan "rather Turkish then Catholic". It is just a theory, but it could explain why the sword looks like a Turkish one.

The use of the flag is not restricted to the war against the Spanish. I have also found paintings and drawings where it was used during the 1st Anglo-Dutch wars, The Nordic war, and fights against Dunkirk and Barbary pirates.

The red colour and the sword seem to suggest is is some kind of a battle flag. In the 17th and 18th century, when pirates hoisted a red flag, it ment very bad news for their enemies. It ment they wouldn't accept a surrender. Everyone would be killed, whether they opposed them or not.
In other navies a red flag was often was used as a signal to engage or attack.

Here I run into problems, The documentation also states that it is a battle flag.
But I have found quite a few pictures where the flag is hoisted when there are no enemy ships around.

So to me, his makes the true meaning of the Bloedvlag flag pretty fuzzy. Clearly a red flag with a sword is not ment to be friendly. But was it an exclusive battle flag? A flag that was used as a national symbol? Or just a dangerous looking flag to warn any enemies not to mess with the owner?

Anyone who can tell me more about this would be very welcome.

1939 Battle of the Downs against the Spanish
1939 Battle of the Downs. Although in monochrome, the arm with sword is recognizable on the flag.
The Dutch flagship 'Amelia' engaging English Ships in 1652-53, flying the bloodflag
Battle of the Sound 1658. Both Swedish and Dutch flags have red ensigns. The Dutch  flag has the sworded arm.
the Booodflag in a peaceful setting 
I don't think if this Red flag is with the arm, but again this setting in pretty peaceful
Action Between the Dutch Fleet and Barbary Pirates, around 1670.
The latest version I could find of a  Dutch ship flying the Bloodflag.