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Paying for War: Experiences of Napoleonic Rule in the Hanseatic Cities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 December 2006

Katherine Aaslestad
West Virginia University


The fate of Europe sits on a razor's edge, if war starts now, it will be dreadfully feared. Neutrality will be impossible,” worried Hamburg enlightened merchant and philanthropist Caspar Voght in April 1803. He added, “Should war come, Bremen and Hamburg will be occupied by the French or the Prussians, and the rivers will be blockaded. God give us peace.” His fateful words preceded the French occupation and annexation of northern Germany and the corresponding imperial Continental System, which shattered the north German coastal economy. When he returned to Hamburg in September 1812, Voght shared his impressions in another letter: In what misgivings, with what spirits did I approach the city from Harburg, the once fortunate shores, the towers of the once so prosperous city! I landed. Everything I saw and heard demonstrated the ruin of earlier prosperity, [the city] stripped of its attributes, cloaked in the fog of a threatening future. How my heart bled … The city empty and desolate, benefactors of the poor impoverished, the poor without help, my life's work destroyed.

Research Article
2006 Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association

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