Forests and French Sea Power

Forests and French Sea Power: 1660-1789

Paul Walden Bamford
Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 1956
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt15jvwtz
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Forests and French Sea Power
    Book Description:

    Mr. Bamford has provided the first monograph in the English language on discovering what forest resources were available to the French navy during theancien régimeand what use it was able to make of them in the English language.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5655-0
    Subjects: History, Transportation Studies, Botany & Plant Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    P. W. B.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Dynastic Policy and French Maritime Power
    (pp. 3-9)

    A navy was not essential to national survival for France in the old régime. Hence concern with the development of sea power was spasmodic and only a scattering of French kings took a serious interest in naval affairs. Military power was their preoccupation as long as land frontiers were, or seemed to be, insecure. Whenever French kings maintained a navy before the seventeenth century, it ranked as a poor second to the army, and as long as the navy was overshadowed by the army as an instrument of policy, the relationship between forests and sea power was not a matter...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Masts, Ship Timber, and French Forest Law
    (pp. 10-29)

    Although forests, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, provided “the flesh and the bones of men-of-war,”¹ timber and masts for ships could not be cut from every tree, nor found in every forest and woodland. Only fine, close-grained quality was desired, even in common planks and deal, and to provide a great timber, cut from a single trunk, large oak 120 to 200 years of age were sought. But many trees reaching that age could not serve, being weakened, rotted, afflicted with heart-shake, or otherwise rendered useless for shipbuilding by the chemical composition of the soil in which they grew,...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Timber Cuts and Contracts
    (pp. 30-48)

    It was the aim of naval administrators to obtain adequate quantities of high-quality timber at the lowest possible price, and with the least possible attendant difficulty. To achieve these aims, either of two methods of exploitation might be employed. Naval personnel themselves might acquire timber trees under a system known asrégie, or might rely on the services of timber merchants under a system labelledentreprise

    Acquisitions of timber by régie usually involved direct dealings between the navy and forest proprietors, and the system proved both practicable and economical on occasions when a long-continued, intensive exploitation had to be made....

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Transport of Naval Timber and Masts
    (pp. 49-69)

    France alone, of the maritime powers of Western Europe, enjoyed the double advantage of vast domestic forests and numerous long navigable rivers by which timber and masts could be brought down to the sea. Most of the forests could be reached from the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, and the Saône-Rhône waterways and their canals. Other rivers, such as the Moselle, Somme, Vilaine, and Charente, did much to complete the network. These rivers and their tributaries fanned into the roughly rectangular bulk of France and from their banks contractors and their axemen foraged far overland in search of timber for...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Forest Depletion
    (pp. 70-94)

    French forests deteriorated in quality and were reduced in extent during the eighteenth century, but not until the second half of the century did the resulting shortage of timber supplies become serious and affect the French economy as a whole. Even in the sixteenth century, however, there were cries of alarm that wood was becoming dear, that wood was rare, and that soon there would be none at all. Alarms were raised in Franche-Comté as early as 1588 and 1606, long before the French conquest, and with increasing frequency thereafter.¹ The makers and merchants of wine in and near Bordeaux...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Domestic Timber Shortage and the Navy
    (pp. 95-112)

    The progress of forest depletion in France never allowed naval administrators to forget Colbert’s warning: “La France périra faute de bois.”¹ The fact of depletion stressed the vital importance of self-sufficiency in naval stores as nothing else could. Timber, masts, and spars for the fleet, if not taken from domestic forests, could be acquired only at prodigious cost in foreign markets, and in times of war could be imported only with the greatest difficulty, if at all. Self-sufficiency, therefore, meant much in terms of economical naval administration, but infinitely more in strategic strength, for to the extent that domestic resources...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Quest for Domestic and Colonial Masts and Spars
    (pp. 113-134)

    Masts imported from the north conferred only one advantage: their quality was excellent. The problem of the French was to acquire these fine northern masts without paying top prices and without incurring the grave strategic disabilities that dependence upon them involved in wartime.

    The stockpiling of imported masts, in anticipation of broken wartime communications, offered at least a partial solution to the problem. Stockpiling ofmatérielon a large scale, however, required far-sighted policy executed with determination by consistent naval leadership; it required heavy peacetime investment in the interests of naval preparedness.¹ These requirements were not met in France before...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Northern Market in Naval Stores
    (pp. 135-157)

    One French naval official expressed the prevailing view in asserting that “the best [masting] trees, generally speaking, come from the coldest countries.”¹ Climate, of course, was but one of many factors contributing to the fine, even grain for which northern European masts were prized. Growing close together in the immense forests of Scandinavia, Russia, and Poland, trees achieved great height in proportion to girth, with few branches and thus few knots on the lower trunk; they grew straight and protected each other from the whip and sway which, in isolated trees, produced uneven grain and deformed or twisted trunks.² Of...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Merchant Shipping and the Timber Problem
    (pp. 158-183)

    Reading the classic handbook on trade by Savary, successive generations of French shipowners must have nodded assent to the author’s assertion that the French “have convinced themselves that they cannot traffic in the north either as well or with as much advantage as the Dutch.”¹ In their experience, northern enterprise had an unfortunate and at times disastrous propensity for standing large on the debit side of their ledgers. They calculated that the American colonial trades, and the rich trades of the Levant and the East offered more attractive fields for gain than the bustling sea lanes of the north.² Sporadic...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Black Sea and North American Markets after 1776
    (pp. 184-205)

    By 1770, the outlook for France was bleak. She had never fully appreciated the possibilities of Canadian forests, and in any case they were denied her after 1763. Her own forests still supplied much good oak timber, but few good masts. She seemed destined to permanent dependence on the Baltic market for naval stores, a dependence all the more irksome now that many of the masts it supplied were mediocre and in poor assortments, and that well-founded rumours told of badly depleted forests and worse difficulties in store.

    This sombre prospect was dissipated unexpectedly in the mid-1770’s by the rebellion...

  14. CHAPTER ELEVEN Conclusions
    (pp. 206-212)

    This study of the French timber problem casts light on a number of significant similarities and differences in the nature of the problems of naval supply faced by Britain and France. Some of the differences help to explain the outcome of their long duel for mastery.

    In Colbert’s day France appears to have had an advantage over her rival in the extent of her forests. France then enjoyed a high degree of self-sufficiency in wood products; England was already a reluctant tributary to the Baltic market. As late as the 1670’s Colbert was impressed by the vast extent of French...

  15. Sources
    (pp. 213-226)
  16. Index
    (pp. 227-240)