La Rochelle - The Birthplace of International Business
I spent a long weekend in La Rochelle this month. The cause was the 7th International Book Fair for the city, to which my wife had been invited to make a presentation of a book co-written with Thomas Brosset, "In the Footsteps of theHanseatic League".
Presentation of, "In the Footsteps of the Hanseatic League, Les Huguenots et L'Atlantique & La Rochelle, Aunis et la Saintonge face à l'esclavage" by Maggie Cole, Thomas Brosset, Mikaël Augeron and Olivier Caudron at the 7th Book Salon in La Rochelle 9th December 2012
On this latest of my many visits to the magnificent city of La Rochelle that I have undertaken down the years, I was, for this first time free of other demands and commitments and therefore able to get under the skin of this historic and picturesque triple-towered port that lies at the heart of the "Atlantic embracing Bay of Biscay". Here for centuries have come the sailors who fed Europe's Atlantic mercantile trade that once gave the city its wealth and importance. Many such seamen have left their marks on the walls of the Lantern Tower, which frequently served as maritime prison when trade differences turned to disputes, as all too often occurred. From the top of this early French lighthouse there can now be seen the large red buoy marking the spot where Cardinal Richelieu built the sea wall, thus cutting the city from its supply sources in England - eventually resulting in defeat and the death of three quarters of its citizens in 1627.
La Rochelle before that time had been a prosperous, virtually independent state, minting its own money, running its own navy, and believing itself virtually impregnable from land or sea. In the tower of St Nicholas guarding the harbour entrance, a human figure holding fighting animals apart, is one of seven remaining of eight original sculptures believed by locals to represent the power of the city to keep apart quarrelsome France and England. The city had already begun the trade to the West, credit for which has been claimed by the victors of the French religious wars.
Trade to the north, first based upon exports of salt and wine, was flourishing before the town became a bastion of Protestantism from the middle of the 16th century. Those interested may read in considerable detail from this link
My own curiosity is strengthened by a possible family connection to one such merchant, Samuel Georges, who, jointly with his brother-in-law, financed some of the early fur trading ventures to Nouvelle France. Trading rights had first been obtained by the people of La Rochelle, from Louis XI (1461-83); they had had no particular religious nor national identity, but over the years, the city had established a community known as, "le canton des Flamands", on the rue Chef-de-Ville near the town centre. Charles IX had established a commercial court, la juridiction consulaire - an important step in gaining the later essentials for independence and freedom to trade! The roots of early Admiralty Law may be traced to the nearby Ile d'Oleron, which were encouraged by Eleanor of Aquitaine; the powerful role of women in this region being another distinguishing feature.
The trade to the Baltic and links with the Hanseatic League are all carefully chronicled in the bi-lingual French/English book by Thomas Brosset and my wife, Maggie Cole, which may be ordered online from the publishers Le Croit Vif
My interest, however, presently now lies in re-encouraging the seeds for international commerce based upon individual entrepreneurship, which were perhaps earlier sewn by the peoples of various nationalities who lived and based their operations in La Rochelle before the bloody siege and the city's defeat. Trade, which lives on elsewhere across the globe to this day, but little of which enterprise can be detected in the blinkered Brussels or self-absorbed Strasbourg of the EU, where the authoritarian and collectivist forces of Louis XIII, Louis XIV and Cardinal Richelieu in their present guise of the EU, even now ever so clearly still set out to seek to destroy.