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Elsinore and the Danish Sound Dues

For over 400 years, writes Oliver Warner, the Sovereigns of Denmark exacted dues from all ships using the Sounds at the entrance to the Baltic Sea.

There are few more historic places in Scandinavia than Helsingor, which we call Elsinore, guarding as it does the northerly entrance to the Sound, which is, at this point, less than three miles wide. To the navigator the Great and Little Belts, alternative passages into the Baltic, have the challenge of intricacy, but lack the associations that make Elsinore unique.

Only Gibraltar can claim to be of equal interest as a strategic focus, and of much the same relevance, for until the advent of steam, and the submarine, Gibraltar and Elsinore could effectually control entrance to and exit from inland seas of immense importance to the world at large.

In earlier centuries, the Baltic was a principal source of naval stores, timber above all, but also hemp, pitch, tar, tallow, resin, brimstone, copper, iron-ore and a number of other commodities which no nation with a navy or an extensive mercantile marine would have wished to see available to an enemy but not to itself.

This was why, throughout much of history, unimpeded use of the Sound was important to the Dutch, with their carrying trade and their lack of forests, to the English, with an almost limitless capacity for the use of Baltic products, and continuing need for a market for their own staple commodities such as coal and salt—also to the French and other nations. As Sir Thomas Roe put it in a letter to the Prince of Orange written in 1628:

the loss of the free trade of the Baltique sea is more dangerous to the Kingdome of England and to the United Provinces than any other... being the (source) of the materials of shipping, and, consequently, both of their strength, riches and subsistence.’

Much contributed to make Elsinore notable in English eyes, at least from Shakespeare’s era.

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