It is 14 February 1663. King Frederik III of Denmark and King Louis XIV of France meet in Paris to sign a friendship and trade treaty designed to improve commerce between the two countries. 2013 marks the 350th anniversary of the pact. A continuation of previous treaties (1456, 1499 and 1541), the pact was itself extended by later ones (1742, 1749 and 1813). The anniversary celebrations remind us of the ties of friendship that have bound the two EU member states together.
In recognition of the centuries-old Danish and French tradition of international trade, Post Danmark and the French postal service La Poste are jointly issuing two stamps on the same day. The theme is the treaties that created favourable trading conditions between the two countries. The stamps depict a merchant vessel carrying goods across Europe.
Friendship and respect
Prior to 1663, relations between the two nations had deteriorated up to and during the Danish-Swedish war that shook Europe 1658–60. France had spent 20 years mediating between the Danes and the Swedes but not until 1660 when the Copenhagen Peace brought that war to an end, did a fruitful alliance emerge between Denmark and France.
The 45 articles of the trade treaty lay down the rules for the friendship, including trading facilities, the free movement of goods and people at sea and on land, a pledge of no assistance to each other's respective enemies, freedom of religion, etc. As the yellowing paper shows, the people of the two nations were free to travel to and reside in each other's countries as long as they respected local manners and customs.
The treaty also called for mutual aid on the high seas. If a Danish ship was in trouble, e.g. from pirates, French ships in the vicinity were obliged to come to its aid – and vice versa.
The Sound Dues
At that time, every foreign ship that crossed the line between Elsinore and Helsingborg had to pay what were referred to as the Sound Dues. French ships were not exempt from this hated tax, but they were given favourable treatment. As the 1742 treaty shows, French ships had the choice of paying the full amount at once, or part of it on the outward journey and the rest on their return. And should a French ship veer off course due to a storm or powerful currents, it was welcome to seek refuge in the Sound without having to pay the duty again.
It is evident form the treaty that a bond of trust existed between the two nations. When a French ship sailed up the Øresund, the crew was only asked to present a list of its cargo. No spot checks were conducted – both sides took each other at their word.
Real glass from Venice
So what were the merchant ships laden with? A study of the manifests reveals that the French brought timber from the Norwegian forests – which at that time, of course, were part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Household goods traded between the countries included everything from butter, bacon, cheese and cooking fat to exotic items like French salt, raisins from Corinth, dried plums and brandy from Spain.
Fabrics for making clothing were also transported by sea – as well as silk and brocade, this included hides used to sole shoes, straw for making hats and even bedsheets from Scotland. The ships could also be laden with feathers for filling duvets, oil for polishing floors and even real glass from Venice.