Turkey and South America

I was intrigued a while back to discover how Queen Elizabeth I opened up trade with the Ottomans as an alternative to trading with Catholic Europe,  but of course she was not alone. But here’s an odd item in an article on the history of Rio de Janiero by David Gelber in the current History Today. The New World was divided between Spain and Portugal by the Pope but with such potential wealth at stake, the rest of Europe often challenged this.

The failure of the Portugese to establish a presence i Brazil enabled ships from other nations, principally France, to plunder its coast. By the 1510s and possibly earlier still, mariners from Brittany and Normandy were visiting Brazil to collect wood, offering the natives trinkets, metal tools and weapons in return for their labour. In the 1520s these activities increased: in the first half of 1529 alone, some 200 tons of brazilwood arrived in the port of Honfleur. .. Although such voyages ere private ventures, the French crown, in principle, had few qualms about them, since France did not recognise the Treaty of Tordesillas….

In 1559 there were a series of battles between the French and Portugese:

Although the Portugese managed to expel the French from Fort Coligny, the status quo ante soon reasserted itself in Guanabara Bay [modern Rio] . Nobega’s claim that Rio had been purged of all ‘Lutherans’ had little truth to it; French escapees were welcomed into Tupinamba settlements at Urucumirim (now Morro de Gloria) and Ilha de Paranapua. The Portugese, meanwhile, withdrew Instead of occupying the French bastion, Mem de Sa razed it. When Queen Catarina censured him for it, he protested that he had too few soldiers to garrison it and needed to preserve men to quell revolts in Aso Vincente. By June 1560 he was urging her to send further assistance, claiming that Unless Guanabara Bay was permanently occupied, Villegagnon would enlist the Turkish sultan’s aid to recover it and give him all the wood he needed for his navy. 

At times it is hard to make sense out of reports about wood – logwood was hugely important to European cloth manufacturing as a source of water fast dyes. But the region also provided exotic woods for furniture and buildings, and, as here, for shipbuilding. That’s a very long way for Turks to have to source wood for their ships.


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