Trade wars: when booze gets banned

The long drought: 1688-1815

Too long to cover properly here, suffice to say that during the 127 year period encompassing the Glorious Revolution to the Napoleonic Wars, the wine spigot connecting England to France was off rather more often than it was on.

During the reign of the Scottish Stuarts, the increasingly united Great Britain enjoyed rather better relations with France than it had in the Middle Ages, indeed, Charles II and his brother James were first cousins of Louis XIV and it’s in this period that Samuel Pepys so famously writes of drinking ‘Ho Bryan’.

Claret was back in fashion! But, it wasn’t to last. Rather daringly outing himself as a Catholic, James II was soon deposed in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband, the also very Protestant, William, Prince of Orange – a mortal enemy of the Sun King (Louis XIV).

Claret continued to be imported to Britain throughout this period and of course Scottish and Irish families – not least of them the Bartons and Lynches – founded important businesses in Bordeaux at this time but the irregular supply led, once again, to the rise in consumption of wines from friendlier countries including ‘Germany’ (such as it was) and Portugal – especially Port of course – and ‘genever’/gin from William’s native Holland (because French ‘brandy’ had been banned).

And naturally there was a political spin-off to this as well, with Stuart supporters (especially Catholics in Scotland and Ireland) opting to drink French wine, especially claret, as symbol of their support for the ousted Stuart monarchs and contempt for ‘Dutch William’.

Periods of peace between the Wars of the Spanish and Austrian Successions and Seven Years war allowed trade to resume once more; Britain still keen on claret and the Bordelais still viewing Britain as one of their top markets.

But the periods of respite could be brief. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, cast a long shadow and, like Charles VII, Napoleon was apparently rather distrustful of Bordeaux and its citizens, who he considered too royalist, traded-oriented and pro-English (he also preferred Champagne and Burgundy and while in exile on St Helena swapped his claret for Gevrey-Chambertin whenever possible).

The Bordelais didn’t think too much of Napoleon either as it happened and, with his empire crumbling in 1814, the city declared itself pro-Bourbon. On 12 March the citizens opened the city gates to Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese army with barely a shot fired – the winemakers and merchants also knowing that trade was about to get a serious boost.

Indeed, in the 200 years since the flow of claret to the UK has flowed fairly unimpeded just as it did in the Middle Ages (though minus a few Norman and Castilian pirates it has to be said).

One Response to “Trade wars: when booze gets banned”

  1. Bourbon saw a growth spurt in the Revolutionary War at the cost of rum.
    Cause: The British blockaded the routes to and fro the Caribbean, so molasses
    and rum could not get to Boston etc.
    Before the war, rum was the favorite tipple of the Americans when it came to liquor.

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