Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

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Linen in the international trade between Portugal and Russia (1770-1831)
Maria Cristina Moreira

Last modified: 2014-06-08


By crossing qualitative and quantitative sources, in this paper we aim to analyze the importance of linen in the trade between Portugal and Russia, namely as far as Portuguese imports are concerned, in the period between 1770 and 1831. We will do so having in mind that in this period Portugal strengthened its diplomatic relationships with the Russian Empire amongst other countries in order to diminish the influence that Britain had in the Portuguese international and commercial connections – new allies could mean new markets for Portuguese exports. The official diplomatic interaction between Portugal and Russia began in 1769 when a Russian consul was assigned to Portugal. That interaction was fostered with the signing of a treaty in 1782 (July, 13) for the maintenance of freedom of navigation of those countries that had declared themselves neutral in the conflict between Britain and the North- American colonies (under the diplomatic and legal umbrella of the First League of Armed Neutrality). One can argue that this new diplomatic partnership could have in fact led to a greater autonomy from Britain. Some authors claim that in the final years of the 18th century Russia exported to Portugal large amounts of iron, hemp and of course linen. We hope to confirm or infirm these claims with some hard data. Furthermore, we must keep in mind that linen was considered a very important raw material for the Portuguese industrialization projects of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that were always present in the Portuguese rulers’ minds. Portuguese linen production was only sufficient for self-consumption and eventually for some low exports to Spain or Brazil. Moreover, Portuguese linen was of poor quality and in any case it was not sufficient for the production leap that Portuguese rulers had in their minds. Finally, national production could replace linen-based products that were being imported elsewhere. Russia could be the perfect partner for this new enterprise. As main quantitative source we will use the Portuguese statistic trade. This source material is rather complete and thorough and it allows us to ascertain not only the quantities and the prices, but also the kind of linens that were being imported. We can also analyze the other side of the medal: to what extent Russia became a privileged partner for the Portuguese exports, and what products were being exported from Portugal to Russia. The consular source will be also an important key for this study