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English shipping to the Mediterranean and Italian shores, 1660s

The bulk of Barlow’s voyages to European ports of call occurred during his first 18 years at sea, wherein he sketched Alicante, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bergen, Cadiz, Dieppe, Elsinore, Glasgow, Genoa, Kinsale, Lisbon, Livorno, Malaga, Marseilles, Messina, Naples, Rouen, and Toulouse. Examining Barlow’s imagery alongside his narrative highlights the mercantile realities of his expansive maritime world. However, by providing his reader with mutually informed words and images, Barlow situates his discourse and adds nuance to his observations. His renderings of Italian port cities reflect how growing English awareness of the breadth of European trade and the allure of European curiosities helped reorient England’s relationship to the world. In effect, in addition to noting the abundance of mercantile opportunities, Barlow describes how ornate churches, lush gardens, and other enticing attractions helped proclaim the cultural accoutrements of progress. In his own way, he coasts along Italian shorelines partaking in a maritime Grand Tour of sorts that places him well within the milieu of observing the exotic as means to disseminate knowledge and help ‘Britons to go beyond the past and prepare for their prestigious international future’.2 It was amid these rich opportunities that Barlow first went to the Mediterranean to protect such lucrative English activities and affirm such possibilities.

It is no surprise that Barlow spent his early career in the Mediterranean, since so much of England’s shipping industry conducted business across the Balearic, Ligurian, and Tyrrhenian Seas during this period. In fact, during the 1660s, when Barlow most frequented various old-world ports, merchants across southern Europe purchased over 57% of England’s principal export of woollen cloths, and over 48% of England’s total exports (including all manufactures, food, and re-exports). Moreover, the Mediterranean constituted approximately 31% of England’s total imports during the same period. By contrast, Asiatic and Atlantic traffic combined represented only 9% of exports and 32.7% of imports. Even as trades from other parts of the world increased by the dawn of the eighteenth century, those from classical shores still constituted 23% of the total value of English overseas commerce between 1699 and 1701? Furthermore, the importance of this market to English overseas business was made plain by the adoption of irregular naval convoys to protect English shipping, beginning in 1652; these convoys were made increasingly permanent in light of regular calls from consuls throughout the 1660s.4 The commitment of the English navy to protect these commercial interests demonstrates the entire region’s importance. Ultimately, naval expenditures and the number of ships assigned to protect the said Mediterranean interests never dipped below 50% of the entire monies or ships of the English navy during the late seventeenth century and often reached as high as 75% despite equivalent levels of violence across the Atlantic.5 Of the many waterfronts within the great inland sea, only Spanish harbours surpassed Italian ports as the most voluminous destinations to sell English wares and buy foreign merchandise. Italian warehouses, however, offered more luxurious goods than their Spanish counterparts; Spanish ports lacked the rich silk trades as well as the unique coral or marble of Italy.

Ideally positioned in the Mediterranean, Italian ports had long been used by domestic and foreign merchants and mariners as way stations, connecting the east to the west. After a decline in Anglo-Italian mercantile traffic from 1511 to 1570, English traders rekindled Italian commerce by the later sixteenth century and then experienced dramatic growth in the carrying trades during the Thirty Years’ War, all of which ensured a steady and valuable flow of English exports and imports with the area throughout the seventeenth century.6 By 1663, Italian ports comprised over 18% of all exports and 27% of all imports between England and the Mediterranean, increasing in 1669 to over 20% of exports and over 30% of imports.7 Different forms of silks, both manufactured and raw, dominated imports from Italy, while currants and olive oil were also highly sought after as well as luxury goods such as glass, coral, and marble. Various types of manufactured woollens led English exports to Italy though fish was also an important and voluminous trade.8 Accordingly, across Italy, be it in Venice, Naples, Messina, Genoa, or Livorno, English merchants bought and sold all manner of precious goods in bustling markets, full of foreign competition. Italian ports thus represented a strategically and vitally important economic focus of English overseas interests.

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