The relationship between trade and the Thirty Years War differed throughout Europe. The war opened many avenues for trade, which some nations took advantage of to help finance their campaigns. For example, the English and Dutch increased their Atlantic trade to compensate for lost European trade.
The Baltic had been a valuable trading zone for many years. All ships had to pay a toll to both get through the Sound to the lucrative Hanseatic ports and leave the Baltic.
After 1619, there was a significant fall in the number of ships that passed through the Sound. This would seem to indicate that the amount of trade was declining. However, this was also a time of increased ships tonnage and the toll records do not state how big the ships were at the time they passed through the Sound. The use of the Sound fluctuated throughout the war and dipped markedly only when war appeared to be directly affecting the region.
In 1630, when Gustavus Adolphus invaded Pomerania, it is almost certain that trade dipped during the initial stages of invasion for fear that ships could get caught up in the fighting. But once the invasion turned in favour of Gustavus, his army would have needed supplying and this would have been a good incentive for the owners of merchant fleets to involve themselves in trade in the region.
The German merchant fleets did not expand as much as the Dutch and English fleets. However, the ships they had were used by the Spanish and Italians for trade in the Baltic. This, in itself, brought trading revenue into Germany.
During the war, Germany actually diversified her trade to metals, shipbuilding materials and linen. A stagnant trading economy is one that does not change to meet market changes. The fact that Germany did change is at least an indication that her attitude to trading was sound and modern in its approach. In return for her new types of exports, Germany imported spices, wine, oil and fruits.
The Thirty Years War inevitably brought in a degree of economic protectionism. Wars usually contract the number of markets available to trade with and states have to adopt a more aggressive trading policy if they are to survive and to break into the limited number of markets that are left. After 1620, England and the Dutch found new markets abroad in the New World and in the East to compensate for lost European markets.
Spain was struggling for her economic survival after 1621. The Dutch, in particular, were putting a great deal of pressure on her overseas trading posts. Within Spain, it was felt that the situation with the Dutch could only be resolved by war even if this would further compromise Spain's weak economic state.
Between 1621 and 1623, three new armadas were established in Flanders, Galicia and Gibraltar to support those in Cadiz and Lisbon. Their sole function was to harass Dutch naval and merchant ships in the Atlantic. In response to this, the Dutch had to increase the protection it gave to its merchant fleets. Clashes between the two were inevitable and the resultant loss of ships pushed up the price of insurance and lead to higher freight charges. The end result of this was a general rise in the price of the commodities being transported.
From 1625, Spain imposed a total river blockade in Northern Europe. This was a very effective move. Diary markets in Holland fell dramatically. By the mid-1630s, the Spanish had been driven out of many coastal areas in and around Holland and the impact of the blockade fell away.
See also: Finance and the Thirty Years War
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