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Queen praises Latvian hemp's role in battle of Trafalgar

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday October 18, 2006

Riga- Queen Elizabeth II paid tribute to the role played by Latvia and Latvian hemp in the Battle of Trafalgar on Wednesday - a battle fought when the country did not even exist. "British ships at that time were waterproofed with pitch from Riga, rigged with ropes of hemp from Riga, and their masts were of pine from Riga," the queen told dignitaries at a state banquet held in her honour in the Latvian capital.

"It is hardly surprising that Napoleon is alleged to have called this city 'a suburb of London'," she added.

The eastern Baltic was a key source of naval supplies in the age of sail. Latvian pitch, pine and hemp - used for making ropes - were strategic supplies as important in their way as oil is today.

During the Napoleonic wars, the French attempted to bar Britain's Royal Navy from the Baltic. British admirals organised convoys of up to a thousand ships at a time to ensure the vital hemp got through.

And at the battle of Trafalgar - fought 201 years ago this month - British warships rigged with Baltic hemp broke the power of the Franco-Spanish fleet. The victory is often viewed as the most decisive naval battle in history.

Latvians gained no benefit from it, however. Their land - known as "Livonia" - was then a province of the Russian empire, and was not destined to see independence for another 117 years.

The Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, are in Latvia on the second stage of a Baltic tour. They spent Monday and Tuesday in Lithuania, and are due to depart for Estonia on Thursday.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency