1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 41:
Amberg, Upper Palatinate
“The production levels were?” Keith asked.
Lambert Felser was assisting his boss and Duke Ernst’s secretary Böcler with translations. Keith’s German was not bad, but he apparently found Böcler’s accent, which was Fränkish modified by study in Alsace, difficult to follow. For his part, Böcler 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.
Böcler pulled out a copy of the 1609 survey. Everything appeared to go back to the 1609 survey.
“It is all listed by the individual Ämter 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.”
Böcler 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.”
“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.”
Böcler 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.”
Böcler 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 rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. “They certainly didn’t mention it to me, I can tell you that. 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?”
Keith clapped Böcler on the shoulder. “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.”
Böcler made a note to himself. Identify Charlie Brown.
Leopold Cavriani was reaching the same conclusion as Böcler, 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 and married the daughters of imperial knights. Had sons whose mothers taught them that working with their hands was beneath their station.”
He snorted and 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 even be able to blame it on the armies, if Gustav Adolf manages to bring this war to an end. 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, 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. But 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.”