Finance and the Thirty Years War

Finance and the Thirty Years War

As with any war, the Thirty Years War had an impact on finance throughout Europe. Those countries fighting in the Thirty Years War had to finance their campaigns and even the famous money lending families of Europe - such as the Fuggers - had seen their wealth dwindle as the war took its toll on finance. Parker and Smith estimate that 50% of a nation's income went on preparing for or fighting in a war. How did each nation finance its part in the war?

Sweden

As a nation, Sweden had been at war since 1600. Therefore, she was forced to develop her natural resources. The nation's normal revenue for 1620 would have been 1.5 million silver thaler. This was insufficient to sustain an input into war. To raise revenue, Gustavus Adolphus sold off or pawned crown land and by 1650, 60% of what had been ancient royal taxes were in private hands. The long term implications for the crown of this policy were obvious but it did allow Sweden to avoid financial difficulties once she had got involved in the war in 1630.

The one thing Sweden did avoid by using this policy was not having to print more money with the inflationary impact that would have had on her economy. Sweden also introduced a poll tax on everybody from the age of 15 to 60 and she introduced extraordinary taxes when required - even if these were not popular with the people. Sweden also exploited to the full her excellent copper and iron deposits which found a ready market in Europe. Another way Sweden found to reduce her war costs was to train her army to live off of the land thereby reducing the supply issue for an army on the march.

Spain

Spain had had serious financial problems during the reign of Philip II, but by one way or another, she managed to muddle her way through the Thirty Years War regardless of the further financial problems she had to face. By 1621, Spain's bullion imports had fallen drastically and the government had to finance its actions primarily by taxing the people of Castille. I 1628, the royal budget stood at 15 million ducats with 7.5 million being used to pay off the royal debt. The military took up another 4.5 million ducats which left only 3 million ducats to govern the country. The government was forced to borrow money.

Despite this obvious lack of finance, he government managed to increase its spending by 150% between 1615 and 1625 despite the fact that its income increased by only 25%. In 1627, Spain was bankrupt. To counter this, Spain took to minting copper coins called vellon. These had much less value that silver coins. Ironically, the copper for the vellon came from Protestant Sweden and the purchase of this commodity did a great deal to boost Sweden's economy.

The sales tax - the millones  - was again introduced as it had been in the time of Philip II but even this did not help Philip IV who was forced into selling even more royal estates. This policy did raise short term money but it was a policy that seriously undermined the economic stability of the crown. Spain called on her satellite states to help her - Milan, Sicily and Naples all introduced an extraordinary war tax which was yet another burden on the people who lived in these state.

The Spanish government was still able to acquire loans as there was always the chance that a major bullion load would arrive in Spain and the money lenders were keen to get their hands on this especially in time of war. Between 1629 and 1633, Spain was given permission by the pope to introduce extra ecclesiastical taxes - this was at a time when Spain had suffered a series of major military defeats and was thinking in terms of peace with the Dutch. However, the new ecclesiastical tax meant that Spain would be able to raise about an extra 7 million ducats a year which resulted in Spain ignoring  and rejecting Dutch peace proposals.

In 1647, Spain was again bankrupt. By now her armies in the field were costing 13 million ducats a year. The obvious weak state of Spain and her less than impressive military performance during the war, meant that she could not make up any of these losses by generous settlements at the Peace of Westphalia.

France

Throughout the war, France was in a very precarious financial position. This had been clearly seen during the Mantuan War from 1627 to 1631. France had subsidised Sweden's involvement in the war and she could barely afford this let alone the cost of putting and sustaining an army in the field. However, in 1635, France became actively involved in the war. The French Finance Minister, Claude Bullion, had to print more more (despite the inflationary effect this would have) and and devalue the livres.

When Henry IV had been king, he had raised 8% of royal revenue by selling offices. By 1620, this had risen to 30% and by the 1630's to 50%. However, a devalued livres did make her exports more attractive to overseas markets and this area of the economy was stimulated by Bullion's actions.

French spending on the war continued to grow:

military expenditure in the 1620's

16 million livres

military expenditure in the 1630's

33 million livres

military expenditure in the 1640's

38 million livres

 In 1640, the crown's debt equaled the 38 million livres spent on the war. To cope with this, many extraordinary taxes were introduced which raised 40 million a year. However, the amount raised could have been a lot more as collecting the taxes proved very difficult especially given the size of France and the way her population was dispersed - some in very remote rural areas. The Treasury was also starved by the corruption that occurred at a local level. The government had to rely on the honesty of the local tax inspectors and this could not be totally guaranteed. What was collected at a local level did not necessarily make its way to Paris. Bullion did much to remove corrupt officials  which greatly increased his unpopularity but his death in 1640 ended this campaign against corruption.

His replacement as Finance Minister was Bouthillier who followed a policy of royal borrowing. But this nearly took France to bankruptcy and from 1640 to the Peace of Westphalia France had no clear financial policy. When Mazarin became Chief Minister in 1643, he dismissed Bouthillier but continued with a policy of royal borrowing. But while the revenue collecting system remained corrupt, France could not hope to have a strong financial base. In 1647, France went bankrupt though this was only announced in 1648. If her financial collapse had been announced any earlier, it would have seriously weakened her bargaining position at Westphalia.


MLA Citation/Reference

"Finance and the Thirty Years War". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2005. Web.






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