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September 01, 2003

HMS Sussex

In 1694, an 80-gun British warship called the HMS Sussex set sail for southern France loaded with as much as 3 million pounds sterling and 6 tons of gold. The bounty was intended for the Duke of Savoy, a bribe to keep him allied with England in its war against Louis XIV.

The Duke never did get the money. Severe gales whipped up off the north coast of Africa. The Sussex foundered along with a dozen other ships in the British fleet, taking all its riches (and the lives of 1,200 crew members) to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Ultimately, the Duke threw his support to Louis XIV, and England's battle with France raged for seven more years before ending in a stalemate.

Lost British gold in Spanish waters remains may now be recoverable with the use of deep-water robots. The salvage operation has raised issues of sovereignty but it is a question of counter-factual history which haunts the Flea:

The plight of the Sussex left behind two huge questions, the first for historians: What if the mission had been successful? It's conceivable that England would have beaten back Louis XIV and annexed parts or all of France. If so, the British government might have been less concerned with a group of 13 rebellious colonies across the Atlantic and allowed them to split off to form a commonwealth - like Canada.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 1, 2003 08:45 AM