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Port Cities in World History


Port cities as information centers: the case of Dutch and Hanseatic ports in the construction of reliable information networks on the course of the Northern War, 1717–17191

Núria Sallés Vilaseca


     Diplomatic correspondence is a historical source that—thanks to its political relevance—has been well-preserved in State Archives all over Europe. It has equally enjoyed the attention of historians from the nineteenth century onwards, occupied with the construction and re-construction of political narratives concerning the place of their nation in European-wide affairs. However, the numbers of hand-written letters and memorials, and the collections of printed gazettes, create a corpus of documents on this topic which can be used to assess other, less evident historical processes. One of them is the circulation of information across Europe through a composite system of ports and post offices. Port cities have been proven to be relevant communication nodes especially in networks of commercial information.2 This study is focused on the political, mostly secret information flowing from the Northern end of the continent into two Secretaries of State, one in London and one in Madrid. Its purpose is to illuminate the interlocking mechanisms that led to the creation of a European information-gathering network at the beginning of the eighteenth century, with a view to assessing the role of certain Dutch and Hanseatic port cities that were indispensable in the formation of this network. It will seek to illuminate the inextricable link between these ports and their hinterland, as well as its place within the broader State framework, from which these port cities could not escape.

     In the beginning of the eighteenth century, ports were not only an open gate for commercial goods. The most successful ones became also bustling centers, entrances for foreign people and distant news, which transformed them into privileged centers of information. Port cities displayed a more transversal society, a distinct political thought arising from economic interests and, more often than not, a strong reluctance to submit to the wishes of distant political capital cities. In this paper, I want to observe one particular instance in which Dutch and Hanseatic port towns assumed a central role in diplomatic information-gathering, related to the need of up-to-date news on the course of the Great Northern War in its near-final stages (particularly in 1717–1719). I will do so by focusing on the struggle for information control between the Spanish diplomatic structure and the English diplomatic structure, in a moment when their bilateral relations were rapidly degrading. These two countries would become opponents in the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718–1720), and from 1717 to 1719 they observed as closely as they could the course of the Northern War in order to assess the probability of Russia and Sweden ever concluding a separate peace and allying with Spain against Great Britain, something the King of Great Britain and also Elector of Hanover had deep reasons to fear.3


     In 1717, the Great Northern War pitted Charles VI of Sweden against a Northern Alliance formed by Peter I of Russia, Frederick IV of Denmark, Augustus of Saxony and Poland, Frederick William of Prussia, and George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, who happened to be king of Great Britain. The King of Prussia and the Elector of Hanover had only entered the war in 1715, under the belief of easy territorial gains from Sweden, where Charles XII had just returned after an exile in the Ottoman Empire. Sweden was indeed financially exhausted. But the campaign in summer of 1716 had proved disastrous for the Alliance, whose members failed to coordinate in a collaborative descent in Scania.4 The continuous garrisoning of Russian troops in the Duchy of Mecklenburg further deepened the breach in mutual trust caused by the failure of the 1716 campaign. On top of that, in February 1717, the British ministry discovered the traces of a Jacobite conspiracy in the letters of Count Gyllenborg, then the Swedish ambassador in London: the King of Sweden appeared to support the partisans of James Stuart, the Pretender to the throne of England and Scotland, who wanted to attempt a disembarkation in Britain not unlike that of 1715. In Gyllenborg's letters, which were quickly printed and distributed, there was a mention of the Jacobites trying to convince the Tsar to join this plan, by helping conclude a separate peace between Sweden and Russia prior to the landing.5 In this event, the Northern Alliance would definitely disband, and George I would have to face both internal unrest and a war in the Baltic. In spite of constant complains from the Tsar, from then on George I of Great Britain would be suspicious of Peter the Great.6

     In parallel, in July 1717 Philip V of Spain unleashed war in the Mediterranean and conquered the island of Sardinia, finally unveiling his plans of forcing a revision of the territorial concessions he had made in the treaties of Utrecht.7 The Catholic King had for some time tried to win over the favor of George I of Great Britain by way of generous commercial treaties, and even declared his support to the protestant succession to the English throne, waving from his well-known support to the Stuarts. But George I never thought it was a sincere move, and evident contacts between the Spanish diplomats and the Jacobite exiles made him suspect Spain was ready to assist the Stuart pretender, along with Sweden and Russia.8 It is clear that Philip V of Spain was well-informed of this Jacobite plot only from March 1717, and only by summer he judged that an attempt to restore the Stuarts would be inherently positive to his own interests in foreign policy. He did not engage in the plot yet, nor took any formal commitment beyond general expressions of support. But he had a pressing interest to follow the course of Northern affairs.9

Spanish information issues and the quest for neutrality

     In the early years of the eighteenth century, European states were engaged in the initial stages of the formation of foreign offices, usually headed by Secretaries of State. Secretaries of State would be in charge of gathering information from the diplomatic corps, keeping up the correspondence with diplomats, and presenting the contents of all these letters to the monarch. Diplomats—ambassadors or envoys, and to a certain extent also consuls—had to collect as much information as possible and report it to the Secretary of State. These pieces of information would be the basis for decision and policy-making, which was still held tightly in hands of the kings and regencies across Europe.10 During war time, quick access to information was even more important to allow for the development of strategies and speedy reaction to each new situation.

     The paradigm of the "balance of powers" well-described how European States perceived their interrelations: the stability of each State depended on the behavior of others. This mindset led to Secretaries of State taking a deep interest in whatever was happening in any point across the continent. Diplomatic structures—that is, the network formed by the constant correspondence between diplomatic agents and secretaries—had to develop further east to accommodate the need to collect information from Britain to Russia and the Ottoman Empire.11

     From a strategic viewpoint, the lingering conflict between the King of Spain—the first Bourbon monarch to sit on the throne—and the Austrian emperor Charles VI (who had pretended to the Spanish throne as Charles III during the War of Spanish Succession, 1700–1714) caused temporary information blindness regarding the affairs of the North in the Spanish government, since not only Spain had lost all its capacity to keep diplomatic personnel in Vienna, at the court of Charles VI, and Milan or Brussels—which had become imperial territories in virtue of the treaties of Utrecht (1713)—, but had also been chased out of the territories of the Empire and any other countries which—because of closeness or loyalty or simple fear of retaliation—had given the title of Spanish king to Charles VI instead of Philip V.12 This weakening circumstance meant that at a critical moment, when bilateral relations between Great Britain and Spain started degrading in February 1717 and it seemed possible that George I of Great Britain would rally to the side of Charles VI, the Spanish diplomatic structure had to rely on imaginative solutions in order to gather information from Scandinavian countries and Russia, both with regard to the established information networks that the Spanish diplomatic system used on its behalf, and also new information networks to support their geographically wide concerns and interests.

The United Provinces

     The Spanish center for Northern information-gathering was undoubtedly the embassy to the United Provinces, headed by Marquis of Beretti Landi.13 Beretti Landi was an experienced diplomat who had served as the Secretary of State of the Duke of Mantua before representing Philip V in Lucerne from 1704. During his ten years in Switzerland, he developed—on his own and with little support from Madrid—a remarkable network of acquaintances that kept him informed of the ups and downs of the ongoing war in the nearest territory. He could regularly point out what the leading factotums were in the Swiss assemblies, which allowed for most efficient distribution of subsidies to attract them to the Bourbon cause. It was his unwavering loyalty to the House of Bourbon that allowed him to land the much-coveted diplomatic post in the United Provinces, but his expertise in the diplomatic antics would prove much more valuable in the long run. The ambassador—named to this embassy in June 1716, in the framework of a general make-over of the Spanish diplomatic service—resided at The Hague, which was the most northern representation of Philip V in the continent, and had a consul in Amsterdam.14 The embassies in the United Provinces were an option to be considered when establishing an information-gathering center. Not only London and Paris were near, which allowed for fluid correspondence and easy travel to and from these cities.

     Two other features were of the utmost importance. The first one was the relevancy of Amsterdam as an information relay. The port of Amsterdam arose in the seventeenth century—as a result of the Dutch revolt—as a center for Dutch shipping, trade, and the exchange of information. The flow of information into the city was huge. Commercial news, cartographic knowledge, lessons on bookkeeping, news from all over the world: all of these bits of information were collected in Amsterdam, exchanged and compiled, stored and analyzed, and finally were disseminated from the city.15 Authors—coming from a background of economic history—have focused on the supply of commercial information. Definitely, information was the basis of the merchant's business. But the huge and fast evolving commercial information networks also carried in themselves crucial political information.

     The second feature was the emphasis on neutrality which the commercial parties imposed on the government, and which was further pushed forward by the assembly-style of government. The relationship between the Court at The Hague and the most important port in the largest province was not easy. The city and the commerce of Amsterdam did not go undisturbed by the political turmoil of these years. As the Amsterdam merchants claimed, in these troubled times of crisis, their Atlantic trade was lost (because of the recent Spanish concessions to British merchants),16 their Baltic trade was almost lost (owing to the war, but later on they would become equally worried about Russian rivalry) and their Mediterranean trade was on the verge of getting lost. However, the Dutch were still the best situated to take advantage of this double sea-space Braudel wrote about, which linked the Baltic to the Atlantic and Mediterranean trade.17 While waiting for better times, Dutch merchants feared the possibility that the States-General could alienate the Spanish crown, since Dutch cost-efficient access to the Mediterranean depended on Spanish ports. Indeed, the States-General foreign policy threatened the continuation of Mediterranean commerce: on January 4, 1717 at The Hague the representatives of Great Britain, France and the United Provinces signed the Triple Alliance, a mutual-security contract that in the following two years would develop into an arbitrage plan penned by James Stanhope, the British Secretary of State, to solve the conflict between Philip V and Charles VI. Stanhope was an experienced military officer who had been made prisoner during the Spanish War of Succession and as a result not only spoke Spanish, but was also personally acquainted with Spain's prime minister Alberoni. He saw one only way to end European instability: Philip V had to publicly and honestly renounce all and any rights to Spanish lost territories (including the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples), in order to allow for the consolidation of the status quo and prevent further conflicts. King Philip regarded this demand as not only unacceptable, but even offensive. Sensing this opposition, the English ministry would require the Regent of France and the States-General to become guarantors of the compliance of the arbitrage, in order to ensure its appearance of neutrality and the creation of a winning coalition. It was perfectly clear even then to all the involved parties that Dutch adherence to the foreign policy of Great Britain would harm commerce in the port of Amsterdam.18

     Luckily for Dutch ports, the political decision-making structure of the United Provinces—which consisted of a super structure of provincial assemblies in which the deputies discussed each decision before bringing their vote to the general assembly—could be at that time completely blocked by the sole opposition of one town's assembly, since all major resolutions required unanimity. There were good reasons either to join or to reject the Quadruple Alliance, and two parties quickly developed: one saw the political benefits of aligning with Great Britain, the other one was afraid that this move could harm Dutch commerce. The opposition party in the assembly of Amsterdam would go out of its way to block a decision (that of acceding to the Alliance against Spain) which would put at risk their commercial interests in Cadiz. It was in the end a delaying strategy that served the purpose of keeping neutrality as long as possible.19 The Spanish ambassador was not unaware of this method: he quickly understood how easy it was to block a resolution, and would make extensive use of subsidies in the provinces to better ensure a delay in the assemblies, to the desperation of the British envoy extraordinary. Owing to this mechanism, the Spanish ambassador was able to secure political neutrality on the side of the United Provinces.20

     The pre-established information networks Beretti Landi used in Spain's behalf were, in the first instance, the gazettes, journals, daily courants or mercures which were dominated by political news from all over the continent.21 Gazettes were funded by European governments, appeared once a week, and summarized the official information and rumors that had been gathered from European courts. The best editors and printers had their own subsidized correspondents in situ and only occasionally used forwarded material.22 Dutch gazettes (among which the Gazette d'Amsterdam, then under the direction of Jean Tronchin Dubreuil) were widely regarded as authoritative sources, being the most encompassing of European gazettes. The ambassadors in The Hague made the effort to collect them and send them home as vital sources of information. The networks of the publishers' own correspondents were much larger than Beretti Landi's—or any other ambassador's, for that matter.

     Most importantly, the scope of this information was (at least) continental, benefitting from many years of contacts spreading from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. These sources were, in a sense, a readily available information network, or at least a functioning structure of up-to-date information, relying on the post offices established along the main routes spreading through France and the German territories.23 But gazettes carrying news and rumors sometimes failed to assess the credibility of their sources. In an attempt to be one step ahead from his competitors, Beretti Landi tried to gather extra information through Jacobite channels, especially from March 1717. He was well aware of the penchant for wishful thinking of the partisans of the Stuart pretender, but they had a network Beretti could only dream of: in the shores of the Baltic, there were relevant Jacobite correspondents in Amsterdam, in Hamburg, in Danzig—always port cities, where they could move more freely and go unnoticed among merchant colonies—, and they went as far as Russia to try to convince the Tsar of Russia to let James Stuart marry one of his nieces.24 The accusation made by the British ministry, that the Jacobites were actively acting as mediators between Sweden and Russia, made Beretti Landi think that they would be very well informed on the possible success of this mediation. According to Spanish sources, the contacts between Spanish ambassadors and Jacobites in 1717 were purely opportunistic: Spain was using the Jacobites as a source for information the Spanish diplomatic system could not gather by itself.25

The Hanseatic ports

     As for his own sources of information, Beretti Landi had only two constant subsidized correspondents, one in Hamburg and one in Lübeck. The most developed diplomatic systems of the early eighteenth century acknowledged the importance of these two cities: both Great Britain and France had consulates in them, which—whilst concerned mainly with commercial matters—did not fail to inform on political issues that set them at odds with the Imperial Diet. These two ports, which had been a part of the Hansa, retained their specificity after the last Diet of 1669 and well into the eighteenth century, holding some degree of autonomy inside the Empire. Nevertheless, they were far removed from the hegemony and advantages they had once enjoyed: after several months of unsuccessful negotiation, in 1703 they had had to consent to the Emperor's demand of support in the war of Spanish Succession in the league against the house of Bourbon.26 This had taken a toll on their ability to trade, since they were banned from French and Spanish commerce (including West Indies), which prompted the elaboration of posterior treaties that secured their neutrality in case the emperor found himself again at war.27 This effort towards neutrality underlines the primacy of commerce and the risks the Hanseatic ports faced due to their attachment to the Empire. Indeed, on evaluation from the Spanish point of view, the port cities of Lübeck and Hamburg were to be considered allies of the Empire, thus being unfit for the reception of any formal Spanish embassy or mission.28 Under these circumstances, Beretti Landi had little choice but to turn to informal agents to compensate for the lack of a consulate. These nameless informants (probably clerks who worked in the local administration, or secretaries to other diplomats) would write once a week and summarize the rumors and the news that appeared in German gazettes, complementing the Dutch ones. The letters would travel mixed among the copious mail being carried from Hamburg to Amsterdam and back, or in merchant ships, never to be addressed directly to the Spanish ambassador, but to one of his acquaintances.

Information routes: England vs. Spain

     Even though the most central relay for postal communication in Europe was Paris, it was the cities of Amsterdam and Hamburg that served as postal relays in the network that connected the South-Western and the North-Eastern ends of the European continent. We are here concerned with the conventional terrestrial routes of the mail across the continent, which are usually neglected in studies focused on mercantile matters; but they are still important, because ports do not exist separated from their hinterlands, but as a gate into them. Land routes help draw the picture of the influence of the extension of port cities into their hinterlands, but also illuminate their inherent position of operating on the edge or fringe of continental nodes of communication. Postmen used the postal routes, the networks of postal offices were it was possible to change horse or spend the night. These networks had been developing from the early sixteenth century, yet state intervention (through the state postmaster) in the late seventeenth century was fundamental in ensuring its reliability and punctuality.29

     Mail from London to either Hanover or the North (Denmark, Sweden, Prussia, and Russia) necessarily had to go through The Hague, where it took the route to Hamburg to go further north. Mail from Paris to the capital cities of the North followed the same route. All north-bound mail from Madrid went through Paris, and was there divided in two legs: one part to London, the other, larger part, to The Hague, where it was forwarded to Hamburg, and from there further north to the Baltic lands. On the way south, Paris served as the main mail relay. This brings us to our central topic: the strategic importance of Amsterdam and Hamburg, the two ports that acted as nodes of an information network which assured the link between the two ends of the continent, creating a privileged space for diplomatic discussion.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Mail routes connecting Madrid and London to Stockholm and St. Petersburg. Map by author30


     The years 1717–1719 witnessed two opposed diplomatic structures trying to gain the most from political information as a valuable resource in the area that stretches from Amsterdam to Hamburg. The context is that of the failure of the international system that had been established in the treaties of Utrecht. First, a Triple Alliance (England, France, United Provinces), then a Quadruple Alliance (with Austria) was formed against Spanish expansionism. Meanwhile in the North, Charles XII of Sweden and Peter the Great were conducting a war that had long deviated from its initial goal of keeping Swedish expansionism at bay. After the battle of Poltava (1709), it was a matter of finding the right equivalents and compensations for the parties involved before ending the war and allowing Russia to move on into another war against more powerful competitors. The news was dominated by these two pressing issues, and the conflicts in the South and in the North did not go unconnected: England was persistently worried about the possibility that once the Russians were done with Sweden, they would move on to attack either England, the Emperor or both, by joining Spain in a secret alliance. In the middle of this turmoil, Dutch merchants intended to add, to their usual commerce, a good amount of guns and gunpowder to be sold to any of the parties involved.

     As we have seen, the Spanish government was perfectly conscious of the need to have a strong information-gathering center near Amsterdam and some ramifications in Hamburg and Lübeck to control and report the information coming from the Courts at the shores of the Baltic. The British government was better served by a greatly developed diplomatic structure: George I of Great Britain could count upon the services of one British ambassador in The Hague (Lord Cadogan), aided by an envoy extraordinary (for some time, Charles Whitworth); one consul in Amsterdam, one consul in Hamburg (Wylch), one envoy extraordinary in Berlin (Whitworth from April 1719), one envoy in St. Petersburg (Jefferies), and two agents in Stockholm (Lord Carteret and colonel Bassewitz). Aside from their role in negotiating either with merchants or with sovereigns, all were asked to perform information duties, and complaints were filed when they failed to show a satisfying degree of competency and skill. In addition, the Hanoverian structure, though much smaller, was very well placed to provide supplementary information. And on top of this, the collaboration from the French Regency seemed to be stable, and England could count on being informed of any relevant piece of news the French postal system acquired though its own intelligence and, of course, by means of the French ambassador to Sweden, Marquis de La Marck.31 As a result, the British secretary of State was overflowing with information regarding not only the pace of the Great Northern War, but also the contacts between Swedish and Russian ministers. George I of Great Britain did not hesitate to send new personnel to ensure communication was as fluid as it could be. No changes in the diplomatic landscape went unnoticed or unreported. In the end, this easier control of and access to information would make it possible to defeat Spain.32

     In comparison, the Spanish ambassador at The Hague, upon whom fell the task of organizing an information system, had to make do with more limited resources and smaller facilities. Yet, it is this scenario of relative weakness that allows us to observe more clearly what his priorities and strategy were. When Beretti Landi tried to establish anew his information-gathering system, he turned to the Hanseatic ports as informal bases, ordered the consul at Amsterdam to keep an eye on political information, and made frequent use of information provided by the Jacobite network,33 spreading occasionally up to St. Petersburg, and by informal agents, whose reliability seems dubious. Spanish interest was noticeable enough that at least three "adventurers" (Marini, Marotti and von Schlieben) went and offered themselves to travel to St. Petersburg and write from there. Beretti Landi agreed to pay for their trip, but neither of them would become regular sources of information. Only in September 1718 did Spain resolve to send a formal agent of her own to Moscow (Patrick Lawless, a young Irish Jacobite officer who was personally chosen by the king and who had previously served as an interrogator in an extremely delicate treason case, and was thus considered most reliable), to gather information at first hand.

     Lawless's mission would eventually fail: upon his arrival at the Tsar's court, he was promptly isolated, which made him unable to carry out his negotiation and to perform his information duties. Thus Beretti Landi kept his central role. All the negotiation between Spain and its potential new allies in the North, which started in Spring 1718 and would go on until Russian withdrawal by the end of 1719, was carried in the United Provinces, which were designated the most reliable destination for discreet instructions to diplomats. In war, time was a scarce resource. Keeping the negotiation in The Hague meant that both Beretti Landi and his Russian counterpart, the Russian ambassador Kurakin, were 15 days-time removed from their masters, the King of Spain and the Tsar. This essential synchronization was a feature entirely dependent on mail regularity, granted by the consolidated post routes bringing mail into the United Provinces.


     The effort of Beretti Landi at setting up an information structure including two ports (Hamburg and Lübeck) which were officially beyond his reach demonstrates the importance of the space occupied by Amsterdam and the towns of the late Hansa in the sphere of political information gathering. Through Beretti Landi, Spanish diplomacy created an articulated space in which Amsterdam and The Hague were central, and the Hanseatic ports were essential, indispensable nodes. Hamburg and Lübeck could not be considered neutral because of interference by the Empire from 1703 onwards, and this relegated them to a secondary position.

     Above all, the United Provinces sought and favored neutrality on behalf of their commercial interests, in order to create an unparalleled reliable space for political contacts and circulation of information. Furthermore, the United Provinces became the neutral space Spain desperately needed to play the diplomatic game: they allowed for discreet contacts, easy camouflaging of letters and relative safety of the content of these letters—something that could not be done in Great Britain, France, or the Empire neither before nor after the declaration of war in December 1718–January 1719. Facing a war against enemies more powerful than herself, Spain became deeply dependent on Amsterdam's determination to stay neutral and the solidity of the postal link running through Paris, Amsterdam and Hamburg to the Northern Powers. Standing at the crossroads of the continent, and because of its political neutrality, The Hague became a privileged space for political discussion, both public and private. The political independence of the United Provinces made it possible to resist any foreign pressure trying to force them to choose sides. Spanish diplomatic personnel quickly realized that acknowledging and promoting the neutrality of the United Provinces was in its best interest, if only because it addressed the short-comings of its underdeveloped diplomatic structure. It had been the same with Hamburg and the Hanseatic ports: Spain considered them neutral for as long as possible, until November of 1703. The stronger British diplomatic structure—which had recovered much faster from the war of Spanish Succession—did not need these supplementary spaces, deemed "weak" or "wavering" because they didn't necessarily declare themselves in favor of British policies. The age-old European-wide disdain for small Republics with parliamentary systems was also in play, masking the advantage of keeping these spaces of negotiation undisturbed.

Núria Sallés Vilaseca is a graduate student currently in her fourth year of the Doctoral Program in History at the Pompeu Fabra University, developing and writing a PhD dissertation on the impact of the Great Northern War on Spanish foreign politics in the period 1715–1719. Her research is funded by a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education. She can be reached at


1 I want to acknowledge the funding I received from the Spanish Ministry of Education through a scholarship designed to enable me to complete my research for my PhD dissertation. My thanks go to Joaquim Albareda Salvadó for allowing me to particípate in his research projects "España y los tratados de Utrecht (1712–1714)" (HAR2011-26769) and "La política exterior de Felipe V y su repercusión en España (1713–1740)" (HAR 2014-52645-P).

2 Clé Lesger, The rise of the Amsterdam market and information exchange: merchants, commercial expansion and change in the spatial economy of the Low Countries, c.15501630 (Burlington: Ashgate, 2006).

3 Further context on the developments in 1717–1719 that alienated George I of Great Britain from Peter I of Russia and Philip V of Spain can be found in Jeremy Black, "The Anglo-French Alliance 1716–1731. A Study in Eighteenth-Century International Relations", Francia Forschungen zur westeuropäischen Geschichte 13 (1985–1986), 295–310.

4 John J. Murray, "Scania and the End of the Northern Alliance (1716)", The Journal of Modern History 16 no. 2 (June 1944), 81–92.

5 The British Ministry was quick at printing and distributing the most compromising documents in a small printed issue that can still be easily found in several State archives and libraries, in London, Paris, Madrid and Moscow alike. It went under the title Letters which Passed Between Count Gyllenborg, the Barons Gortz, Sparre, and Others; Relating to the Design of Raising a Rebellion in His Majesty's Dominions, to be Supported by a Force from Sweden. Published by Authority (London: S. Buckley, 1717).

6 The Tsar instructed his diplomats to complain on the "undeserved suspicions" that the British Ministry held against him. His ambassador in London presented at least two memorials: one on March 12/23, 1717, in the Russian Estate Archive of Ancient Acts (hereafter RGADA, by its Russian initials), F. 50, op. 1, 1717, d. 10, ff. 48–55; and one on December 14, 1719, in British Library (hereafter BL) Add MS 37378, ff. 83–89.

7 On the topic of Philip V's foreign policy between 1714 and 1719, see Émile Bourgeois, La diplomatie secrète au XVIIIth siècle. Ses débuts. Tome II: Le secret des Farnèse. Philippe V et la politique d'Alberoni (Paris: Armand Colin, 1909)<

8 Claude Nordmann, La crise du Nord au début du XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Pichon et Durand-Auzias, 1956).

9 There is one letter addressed to all the diplomats in the Spanish service, dated on April 18, 1717, instructing them to pay close attention to the "stormy clouds that can be seen at the North of the continent" and report all new events that could be of the interest of the king of Spain. Archivo General de Simancas, Estado Libro 556.

10 There's one recent work on the French case: John C. Rule and Ben S. Trotter, A World of Paper. Louis XIV, Colbert de Torcy, and the Rise of the Information State (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2014). Spain was then evolving towards the creation of a Secretary of State not unlike the French one, but it was a long process with multiple interferences. See José Antonio Escudero, Los secretarios de Estado y del Despacho: 14741724 (Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Administrativos, 1976). Also Beatriz Badorrey Martín, Los orígenes del Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores (17141808) (Madrid: Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, 1999).

11 Matthew S. Anderson, The Rise of Modern Diplomacy, 14501919 (London: Longman, 1993).

12 Cezary Taracha, Ojos y oídos de la monarquía borbónica: la organización del espionaje y la información secreta durante el siglo XVIII (Madrid: Ministerio de Defensa, 2011), 27–32.

13 From here on, I make extensive use of the materials left by this ambassador, especially his public and private correspondence with the Secretary of State and with Philip V's prime minister, Giulio Alberoni. These materials have been conserved fundamentally in the Archivo General de Simancas, Estado 6183, 6184, 6185, 6186, and 6188.

14 The most important work on Spanish consulates in the eighteenth century, and overall on the development of the Spanish consulate system, is Jesús Pradells Nadal, Diplomacia y comercio: la expansión consular española en el siglo XVIII (Alicante: Universidad de Alicante, 1992).

15 Lesger, The rise of the Amsterdam market, 214–256.

16 Specifically those that were conceded in the treaty of Utrecht between Spain and Great Britain, of July 1713; and in the explanatory treaties of commerce of December 1715 and May 1716.

17 Ana Crespo Solana, "El comercio holandés y la integración de espacios económicos entre Cádiz y el Báltico en tiempos de guerra", Investigaciones de Historia Económica 8 (Spring 2007), 45–76.

18 The political discussion was very clearly framed around commercial risks, with arguments addressing the potential commercial outcome of each decision. This issue is explored more closely in my forthcoming article "L'usage de l'argument juridique devant l'opinion publique : l'accession des Provinces-Unies au traité de la Quadruple Alliance, 1717–1719", in Actes du colloque "Thémis en Diplomatie" (Nantes, 56 juin 2014) from Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

19 Ragnhild Hatton, Diplomatic Relations between Great Britain and the Dutch Republic 1714 – 1721 (London: Anglo-Netherlands Society, 1950), 166–205.

20 Even after the assembly of Amsterdam acceded to the plan of the Quadruple Alliance, Beretti Landi was able to secure a negative vote in the province of Utrecht, in January 1719. The English envoy to the United Provinces reported it to the Secretary of State. BL Add MS 37371, f. 20. Letter to lord Stanhope, from Hague, January 16/27, 1719.

21 James L. Schorr, Le Journal historique, politique, critique et galant (1719) by Justus Van Effen: A Critical Edition (The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), vii.

22 A comparison of Paris and Madrid gazettes reveals how uneven the networks were. In its editions of July 1717, the Gazette de Paris includes material from 14 cities: Warsaw, Bade, Vienna Hamburg, Madrid, Naples, Rome, Venice, Edinburg, London, the Hague, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris. The Gaceta de Madrid only carries information from 7 cities: Vienna and Hamburg (actually using the materials that had been printed in Paris fifteen days earlier), Genoa, London, the Hague, Paris, and Madrid.

23 Éric Schnakenbourg, "Les chemins de l'information : la circulation des nouvelles depuis la périphérie européenne jusqu'au gouvernement français au début du XVIIIe siècle", Revue historique 638 no. 2 (2006), 291–311.

24 Rebecca Wills, The Jacobites and Russia, 1715 – 1750 (London: Tuckwell Press, 2002).

25 Philip V only had some real interest in collaborating with this scheme from mid-1718, when the war in the Mediterranean had moved onto Sicily. It is only then that the Spanish ambassadors at the Hague and in Paris get in touch with Russian diplomats to inquiry about the possibility of a joint action. These 1718 contacts, in RGADA, F. 58, op. 1, d. 25.

26 Original documents of the withdrawal of the Spanish consul at Hamburg, in Archivo Histórico Nacional (AHN), Estado 1717.

27 The treaty of commerce and navigation that was concluded on September 28, 1716 between France and the Hanseatic towns is a proof of this intent. The secret articles of this treaty grant to the Hanseatic towns the privilege to be considered neutral in the case of war between France and the Empire, which would allow them to pursue their commerce undisturbed. See also Indravati Félicité, Négocier pour exister : les villes et les duchés du nord de l'Empire face à la France (16501730). Thèse doctorale sous la direction de Lucien Bély. Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2012.

28 The Senate of Hamburg seized every chance to make up for the opposition between Spain and the Emperor. Hamburg merchants tried to recover Spanish favor with a congratulation letter sent to King Philip V on the occasion of his marriage with Isabel Farnesio. Formal, complimentary letters were often the means to recover broken links between sovereigns. The original letter from the Senate—which also asks for six passports for merchants—, in AHN Estado 1713, April 4, 1715.

29 Interested readers will surely enjoy the remarkable contribution by Henry Ettinghausen to the study of the early modern Europe press. Henry Ettinghausen, How the Press Began. The Pre-Periodical Printed News in Early Modern Europe. Janus. Estudios sobre el Siglo de Oro, 2015. Available online:

30 Prepared by the author. I used the invaluable content of the Itinerario de las carreras de posta de dentro y fuera del Reyno, edited in Madrid in 1761 by Pedro Rodríguez Campomanes. I represented the recommended routes from Madrid and from London to Copenhagen, Stockholm and St. Petersburg.

31 The literature focusing on diplomatic history at the beginning of the 20th century can attest to this collaboration between English and French diplomats. See for instance Émile Bourgeois, La diplomatie secrète au XVIIIth siècle. Ses débuts. Tome I: Le secret du Régent et la politique de l'abbé Dubois (Paris: Armand Colin, 1909).

32 The plans for a joint action between Spain and Russia were crushed when the French Minister Dubois in a conference with the Russian diplomat Schleinitz displayed his knowledge of the supposedly secret Spanish-Russian negotiations.

33 Contacts between Beretti Landi and the Jacobite diplomats in the United Provinces and further North, in BL Stowe MS 232.

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