And Rumours of War: Internal Developments

To understand the politics of Norway at the end of the eighteenth century, it is necessary to look back at the preceding three hundred years, and in particular to consider three defining events: The First and Second Occupations with their attendant Diasporas, and the creation of the American Republic from the native statelets. The Republic was, from its beginning, designed to be subsumed within a larger entity. Its creator realised that there was no way to maintain the independence of a Native American state against the diseases the Europeans would bring and their higher level of economic output; but a sufficient resistance could be put up that the conquerors would find it expedient to permit a degree of local autonomy. Consequently, the settlers of the southern part of what became Norwegian America found themselves unable to claim vast estates, because tribal law forbade men to own what they could not work with their immediate family. Most of the settlers were not discontented with this, because they were largely from smallholding and tenant families in Norway, and had seen firsthand the abuses of rich farmers with more land than they could work. When local Tings were established, at first beside the tribal institutions, eventually absorbing them, the landholding laws were unbudgeable even in the face of concerted pressure from the wealthy families of Norway and England, who wanted to establish younger sons in estates from which they could run patron-client and owner-tenant relationships as they had done at home.

Since the south, with the best infrastructure – still very low by European standards, but not raw howling wilderness – was settled first and formed the base for Norwegian penetration into the hinterlands, this pattern of smallholdings was extended across most of the northern continent. This resulted in a very even distribution of wealth among landowners, who came to form a distinct class, and one which was not dominated by Ynglings – few of whom felt any economic need to emigrate to a single-family farm when there were developed lands for the taking in England, and wealth to be had in trade for those who had capital to invest.

The settlement of America was a long process. The First Diaspora accelerated it somewhat, but the wealthy and powerful settled in England, taking the centre of gravity of the Norwegian Empire with them; it would be a long time before the population of the colonies could match that of even a small part of Europe. The main effect was, therefore, that power changed hands from the military dynasties of Scandinavia, to the landowning dynasties of England, with their manors and tenants. These conservative squires maintained a quietly prosperous isolation for a hundred years. The disaster of the First French War quickly recalled them to power politics, and the interminable War of the Baltic League and intervention in the Mediterranean War, showed that Norway was still a power in Europe, if a minor one. Without this demonstration, the catastrophic Second Diaspora, brought about by Breton occupation of the Norselaw – not merely the southern half of England, as in the French War, but the Norse-settled area around Yorkshire – might have destroyed the Norwegian state through sheer demoralisation. Instead the Ynglings took heart from the example of their ancestors and their own recent successes in reclaiming Scandinavia, and swore revenge. And they found, when the dust had settled from the Ting’s movement to the interior of the American continent, that the society in the colonies, which they had left to its own devices for four centuries, was very well suited to their aims.

The division of the land into small freeholds, which could not economically be divided, created a large (relative to the total population size) pool of ‘surplus’ second and third sons, which could – even after generous diversions into clearing new land and forming a cheap labour pool for the coastal cities – be absorbed into the military without straining either economy or sentiment. It was not that Norse settler families did not love their younger sons and brothers; but a man with no land had little prospect of marriage, and although labour was always welcome, one could not very well pay a kinsman the starvation wages afforded to itinerant workers. It therefore became widely accepted that the second son should go and seek his fortune in either army or navy if he did not apprentice to a craftsman. Norway therefore had a manpower pool which, although not large compared to those of other powers, was both a considerable percentage of its total population, and more easily expendable without economic distress.

Further, although the landowning population was not militaristic in a modern sense, they were well insulated by distance and seas from the effects of wars, and therefore quite patriotic in an indifferent sort of way. They supported the Ting in its wars as one might support a football team, cheering one’s own when it wins but not too heartbroken when it loses. The merchants and craftsmen of the coastal cities, meanwhile – especially those close to the uneasy border with Narragansett – had their own reasons for supporting wars, as long as no conflict with a power capable of disputing Norwegian control of the Atlantic was contemplated. Against France, Germany, Brittany, and even Georgia, the Norwegian navy could expect to sweep enemy commerce from the seas, and thus leave them open for its own carrying trade. Only Italy, among powers close enough to quarrel with, could have reversed that equation; and Ting, landowners, and merchants united in very carefully not giving offense to that Power.

Norway-in-America finds, then, that it has an army which it can cheerfully expend on any cabinet war it may choose to engage in; a population which, shielded by oceans and a powerful navy, is sufficiently insulated from the adverse effects of wars to happily support them; and an economy which benefits from any fighting that closes the Atlantic to another power. It is, consequently, amorally and cheerfully aggressive, attacking wherever it sees opportunity. Since its survival as a power is never at issue, and no great popular cause is involved, it can switch alliances or seek terms in a purely Machiavellian fashion, paying no attention to public opinion of yesterday’s enemy becoming today’s ally – there is none.

The aims of the Ting in New Bergen (OTL Cincinnati) are many. Recover England south of the Thames; conquer Narragansett, that eternal thorn in the side of New England’s traders; liberate the Norse populations of Finland and Skåne; destroy the Georgian empire. Their means are the stab in the back, the attack that tilts the balance of power in a close war, the long blockade that drains the lifeblood of an enemy. Their success remains to be seen.

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