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1634: The Bavarian Crisis: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, March 23, 2005 22:55 EST



    “The inhabitants of the Upper Palatinate are said to be little talkative, but once they are convinced of something, they can be very persistent and effective in their actions.”

Amberg, Upper Palatinate

    “The production levels were?” Keith asked.

    Lambert Felser was assisting his boss and Duke Ernst’s officious little secretary with translations. Keith’s German was not bad, but he found Boecler’s accent, Fraenkish modified by study in Alsace, difficult to follow. For his part, Boecler was devoting some time every day to the study of English, rising an hour earlier than was customary for him, but he found that his progress was slow.

    Boecler pulled out a copy of the 1609 survey. Everything appeared to go back to the 1609 survey.

    “It is all listed by the individual Aemter or Pfleggerichte, of course. But for the general area that was administered from Amberg and Sulzbach combined, that is, the whole Montanbereich and not just the part in the Upper Palatinate proper, this lists eighty-eight thousand five hundred tons of iron ore that year. Of course, that doesn’t count the lead and the tin.”

    Boecler turned. “Herr Pilcher, if you don’t mind-I am by way of being a historian. There is something that is important, I think, if you wish to hear it.”

    “Go ahead.”

    “There are those who will tell you that the mines are nearing exhaustion. I do not believe that this is true. The 1609 production levels for ore were not as high as those of 1475; that is accurate. But, neither were the levels in the past century. In 1545, there were eighty-eight thousand tons mined; in 1581, eighty-six thousand tons. In 1609, production was holding steady. More importantly....”

    “That’s fine, go on.”

    “For those years, the production of the Sulzbach region was going down, but the production of the Amberg region was going up. From forty thousand tons to forty-four thousand tons to forty-seven thousand tons. The remainder was accounted for by other administrative jurisdictions. The production of sheet-iron was also holding steady: twenty-six thousand tons in 1581; the same in 1609. If we can trust the figures, the production of rolled iron was also holding steady. Even though the number of mills had gone down somewhat from 1545, the production was stable. And the number of rolling mills went up again between 1581 and 1609. Only by three, but it went up. The number of sheet mills remained the same. And the number of masters whose shops produced finished products was going up steadily.”

    Boecler swallowed hard. “That is what the 1609 survey tells us. Then production dropped. Dramatically. In the next decade. By 1618, there were only a third as many hammermills in operation as there had been in 1609.”

    Keith looked at him sharply. “By 1618? But...everyone I’ve talked to so far, including Duke Ernst, blames the production drop on the war. That was before the war seriously affected the Upper Palatinate.”

    Boecler nodded, almost anxiously. “I doubted it, at first. Because everybody is starting with the 1609 survey and saying that the decline has been caused by the armies marching through. And that certainly hasn’t helped; the various armies have destroyed a great deal of the infrastructure. But I went back and checked, over and over. We don’t have anything for 1618 as convenient as the 1609 survey. I had to look at lots and lots of different records. I’ve gone over the numbers, again and again. Many of the mills and forges that the armies destroyed had already been abandoned; many of the mine shafts that they collapsed were no longer being worked.”

    “You are telling me,” Keith said, “that no matter how the cartel-masters badmouth the situation, the problem is not with the invasions. It is with the system. Do you have any idea why this happened?”

    “No. But I can tell you one thing. I have tried to get more information. The masters of the Hammerinnung don’t want to talk about it.”

    Keith agreed with that. They certainly hadn’t mentioned it to him. “So. They were already cutting production back then. And they do not want to make serious investments now. I’ve just been assuming that they’ve been frightened off by the destruction that the war brought, and that they were going to keep telling me that the investment wasn’t likely to be worthwhile until there appears to be some prospect of a durable peace. You are saying, basically, that the main drop came before the war? And that you can prove it?”

    Boecler nodded.

    “But this....” Keith clapped Boecler on the shoulder. Right now, he did not care that the man was a pompous little pedant. “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.”

    Boecler made a note to himself. Identify Charlie Brown.



    Leopold Cavriani was reaching the same conclusion as Boecler, but on a different basis. He had spent the past weeks, when they weren’t actually in negotiations, riding through the countryside with Marc, looking at the local dog mines, or opencast mines (better described as holes in the ground), and forges. The active mines were still producing ore; good ore, some of it; twenty percent iron ore. Few of the big smelters had been rebuilt; fewer of the mills. But Marc could smell iron. That was one thing he had learned from Jacob Durre. Up the valley of a little side-stream, they had found a local landowner with a half-dozen employees, water held by a home-made dam turning a home-made wheel, and a forge with seven hearths.

    “Little things,” the head smith said apologetically. “Not like it was when I was an apprentice. But men still need tools and nails; women still need spits and skillets. I can’t do anchors, and wouldn’t have a way to ship them to Venice if I could. But I can do chains. Everybody needs chains. Everybody needs shovels. We peddle our things; take them to the fairs.”

    “If you wanted to expand, what would you need?” That question was from Marc.

    “What could we use? Let me tell you, we could use a pump. Not just to pull the water out of the shafts, though that would be a help. Even more, to pull water upstream when the creek is running low. Run the same water over the wheel three or four times and keep the trip hammer moving faster. Not waste it by the bucket.”

    The smith pointed to a spot in the stream, just below the mill. “That’s where our pond was, with the creek dammed up. We had a pump, before the war. Brought in from Nürnberg. It’s one thing that I haven’t been able to figure out how to rebuild, and I sure can’t afford to buy another one.”

    Marc asked a question.

    “Ore?” The man laughed. “There’s plenty of ore. If we had the men to mine it and work it. Not endless ore, of course. Sometimes a seam runs out. But there’s enough ore on this one little creek to keep ten forges the size of mine busy for ten of my lifetimes.”



    Cavriani had been to Sulzbach, too. Sulzbach, on the Pegnitz, was more closely tied to Nürnberg than Amberg was. Jacob Durre had contacts there.

    “The main problem?” The old man had repeated his question. I’ll tell you the main problem, all right. The larger masters in the Hammerinnung made their money before the war. Enough money that they rose into the lower nobility. Married the daughters of imperial knights. Had sons whose mothers taught them that working with their hands was beneath them.”

    He snorted. Held out his own hands. Burned and scarred, sometimes one scar partly on top of another. “I rolled sheet iron all my life and took the wounds from it. As many as the average cavalryman will ever take. But it is less honorable to take wounds in making something than destroying it. So they think, in any case. As my wife taught my sons. Much to my regret. If I had my life to live over, Herr Cavriani, that’s the first thing I would do differently. When my father chose a knight’s daughter for my wife, I would tell him no.”

    He winked. “Just a word to the wise, you know. If you’re thinking of marrying off that fine son of yours over here,” he nodded at Marc, who blushed a little, “don’t pick a daughter of the nobility for him. Don’t even pick the daughter of a merchant who wants to buy a title of nobility. Not unless you want useless grandsons. Take it from an old iron man. They’ve built themselves fine castles, a lot of them. But soon they will find that without the money coming in from iron, they will be eating stones off their expensive tableware. And not, if Gustavus Adolphus manages to bring this war to an end, even be able to blame it on the armies. They could have rebuilt most of it by now. If they had the will.”

    “So iron could be as profitable as before?” Marc asked.

    The old man frowned. “The profits-how much you gained on the basis of how much you had to spend-were changing. Even before the war. I wasn’t in the mining end of it, mind you. But I heard the mine owners complaining. It was becoming more expensive to get the ore out of the ground. More digging, deeper shafts; that meant more pumping, more transport costs to bring the ore up. They were still making profits, but not at the rate they had a century earlier. If you can’t get the mines back into operation, there’s not much point in asking the mills and forges to rebuild. That’s where you have to start.”

    “Presuming that someone could provide the ore, do you know,” Cavriani asked, “of any smelters or hammer masters of an age that they would be willing to risk the effort to rebuild? Or would they be held back by the other cartel masters?”

    The old man’s laughter was like a bark. “Hell, man, I’m not dead yet. If you could break the Innung and find me some capital, I’d rebuild my own mill during the time that God has left to me.”

    He picked up his mug, drank deeply, and put it down again. “And leave it to the men who built it with me. Not to the fools who are my sons.”



    “Is he alone?” Keith asked. “Or are there others who think like him? That may be crucial.”



    When Ollie answered Keith’s letter, he put it a little differently. “Even if you break the cartel, they aren’t thinking about the tonnages that we’ll be needing for major industries if we go for nineteenth century technology. Not the amounts of raw iron that we’ll need for the railroads. Not even for the telegraph lines. But if, with just basic help with things such as pumps, they can get back to their 1609 capacity pretty quickly and supply the needs that they were supplying then–after that, the production from any new mines that we open up can be directed to new industrial development. We won’t be backpedaling, trying to meet the old requirements as well as the new ones.

    “Once they’ve gotten to that point, using what they know and using men who already know how to do it the old way, we can talk to them about immense increases in production.

    “But, right now, see if you can get them back to supplying Nürnberg and Venice with what they need. Right now, both cities are our allies. They’re starving, economically, because of the iron shortage, and we don’t have any miracles for them. Twenty years from now, maybe. They need the iron yesterday. See if you can get it for them tomorrow.

    “If production goes up beyond that level, Grantville and Magdeburg will be happy to take the surplus. If any. Struve-Reardon Gunworks could certainly use an expanded supply. That’s why I sent you. But, the more I think about it, talking to Mike, we just can’t afford, politically, to grab every bit of iron in sight for ourselves. Not even if we pay for it. See about setting up partnerships, if you can, that run from Amberg through Nürnberg up to us. Tie these border regions of the USE into our network.”



    Keith hadn’t been just been sitting while he waited for Ollie to answer his report. He looked at the pile of notes he had taken. Five years ago, if anyone had told him that he would be sitting here-well, sitting anywhere at all, up-time or down-time-feeling happy about something he had read in a law book, he would have laughed directly in the guy’s face.

    With Boecler’s help, he had been digging into the laws that covered mining in the Upper Palatinate. Boecler had given him a good start and a capsule history. The earliest sets of laws that covered mining-at least, the earliest that anybody had kept-were in Amberg’s collection of city ordinances, the Bergrechtssaetze. They’d been there for at least a couple of centuries; then were dropped out in the 1550s. Boecler said that they’d basically been superseded, so he hadn’t taken time to look at them. Some of them had been taken over into the rules and regulations of the Hammerinnung itself; that was basically a government-licensed, ah, something. Not a corporation, because it wasn’t incorporated. But the counts had approved the rules and regulations, so it must have had some kind of legal status. Finally, there were several codifications of the Bergordnungen, the mining laws that the counts themselves had issued, with changes and amendments. The latest of those was the 1594 edition, so that’s what Keith had been reading.

    It had been real nice of them to write these in German rather than Latin. German, Keith could pretty well handle now. As far as he was concerned, Latin just sat there on the page and looked pretty. If they’d been in Latin, he’d have been dependent on Boecler’s having free time, or would have had to find someone else to write out a translation. As it was, reading the laws sort of gave him a grasp on how things worked. Or, at least, on how things were supposed to work. There was almost always a considerable difference between a bunch of regulations and the way they got implemented. Safety rules, for example. As it was, he thought it might have been helpful to have a lawyer looking over his shoulder. On one side. And someone who had been there and knew how it really worked looking over his shoulder. On the other side.

    And they might even owe old Duke Maximilian the Horrible of Bavaria one vote of thanks. Even a small cheer. In 1626, he had dissolved the Hammerinnung. Mainly, of course, because so many of the owners had been Protestants who had gone into exile. Partly, because he’d been pretty pissed to discover that where he was expecting to annex a wealthy territory, a money mine, which really it had been shortly before the 1620s, he had gotten a poor one.

    Plus, of course, he had gotten the Palatine’s electoral vote. Maybe that had made it worthwhile for the old man, but he had still been pretty pissed. He’d followed up the 1626 edict by nationalizing the Amberg mines in 1628; a conquered province was a conquered province, after all. At that point, production had plummeted to just about nothing. The Bavarian officials had all sorts of excuses-wood shortages, local unrest. Duke Ernst was still trying to sort through the fall-out from that one.

    The Hammerinnung had been a real, honest-to-goodness, cartel. Keith would never classify himself as the world’s greatest brain but, by golly, he knew conspiracy in restraint of trade when he saw it, and he saw it right here. It had tried to set up a monopoly. It had done a pretty effective job. It wasn’t any guild; it was an organization of owners. Mine owners, smelter owners, hammer mill and rolling mill owners, covering the process, top to bottom. The regulations really focused on how all of those interacted with one another. Officially, nobody was required to join. It just wasn’t possible to do business successfully unless you did. It was intended to restrict competition-well, the guilds did that too, but you had guilds of weavers and dyers, cloth finishers, and the like. No single guild, as far as he knew, had ever really tried to control every step of fabric manufacture from the time the sheep was born until the finished piece of wool cloth was shipped out.

    Presuming that nobody had been dumb enough to revoke Duke Max’s edict since 1626-and nothing that anyone had said so far indicated that it had been revoked-then, legally, the cartel was gone, no matter how often the cartel men appealed to its sacred regulations when he talked to them. Which meant that it would be a lot easier to open a path for the few masters who wanted to rebuild and start over than he and Cavriani had been expecting.

    He would have to check, though, about whether or not it had been revoked. Nothing that anyone had said to him before today had even given him a clue that the edict had ever been issued, either.

    As for rebuilding the mills and hammers whose former owners weren’t interested, not to mention the fact that not one of those laws really contained any provisions that protected the workers.... The best way to manage that would take some thinking about.

    Preferably by Duke Ernst and Ollie, or even Mike; not by Keith Pilcher.

    He closed the book. It was about time that he got some supper and went to bed.

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