The subject of the curtain raiser at the 9th March lecture meeting was the Battle of Coutras, fought in October 1587 between a Huguenot army under Henry of Navarre and a Catholic, royalist force led by the French King Henry III's favourite, the Duke of Joyeuse. The speaker was the Society's deputy-chairman, Hamish Paterson.
The first stage of that sustained conflict known as the French Wars of Religion was triggered in 1562 by the massacre at Vassy and ended with the Edict of St Germain in 1570. The second opened with the St Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572 and closed with the Edict of St Beaulieu in 1576. The revocation of this edict in 1585 precipitated the conflict known as the War of the Three Henrys: Henry of France; Henry, Duke of Guise; and Henry of Navarre. Two Royalist forces, one based in Bordeaux, the other at Poitou, combined under the command of Joyeuse in an attempt to pin Navarre's Huguenot army against the shores of the Bay of Biscay.
Until the October of 1587 Navarre had succeeded in eluding his enemies, but while his army was resting in the southern French town of Coutras, the Royalists made a surprise appearance after a forced night march.Neither army was prepared for a quick fight, and each commander had time to make his deployments within sight of the other. While Navarre was assembling his army in front of the town, Joyeuse was attempting to disentangle his from the line of march.
Joyeuse' artillery opened the proceedings with six harmless shots. The more experienced Huguenot gunners managed 18, and succeeded in tearing gaping holes in the Royalist ranks. The damage was intensified by the enfilading angle at which the guns were fired. A precipitate charge of the Royalist cavalry, already weakened by harquebus fire, ended in complete defeat when the Huguenot horsemen tore into it.
Henry of Navarre had a good battle, but his opponent was not so lucky. Surrounded by a group of Huguenot cavalry Joyeuse threw down his sword and shouted that his ransom was worth 100 000 crowns. Unfortunately for him, one of the horsemen surrounding him was the captain of a company that Joyeuse had ordered massacred at St Herai in the previous campaign. He shot him dead.
Throughout the war the bank maintained a scrupulously neutral stance. One of the questions facing the Johannesburg branch was what size of reserves to keep. There was the genuine danger these might be commandeered or stolen, and the likelihood of a run on a bank that had numerous branches at the coast was not high. In the event the manager at the time, W C Fricker, seems to have kept more reserves than necessary.
Private individuals sent their cash securities to the coast for safe-keeping. The bank made hand-written copies of guarantees and other securities, which allowed it to send the originals to Cape Town for safety. Lists of current accounts were also made and sent to Cape Town.
Those members of staff who were ZAR burghers were transferred to colonial branches to avoid call-up. The ZAR Government agreed to allow the banks to remain open if war broke out, but only with a skeleton staff. The majority of the bank's staff were redeployed to coastal branches, and also to branches along the route the troops would march inland once the bank had secured the Imperial Military account.
The Johannesburg manager was reluctant to take elaborate measures to protect the premises through fear of causing panic, although he did take precautions against robbery and fire. One of the branch's two safes was moved to the basement and a carpenter made heavy wood and iron shutters for the windows. An arrangement was made with Thrupps & Co to supply goods valued at 325 sterling for stockpiling, with any unused portion to be returned at cost less 5 per cent.
On 2nd October 1899 the bank's gold was commandeered. It was valued at 48 000 sterling. The bank renewed its licence to operate in the ZAR in January 1900, and, for fear its assets might be confiscated, rejected the British Government's suggestion that it close. This brought the accusation that it was contravening the Statue Law of Treason by enabling the ZAR to buy goods through Lourenco Marques.
By the time Johannesburg was surrendered to the British in May 1900 the bank's staff had fallen to six, and additions were urgently required to service the requirements of the troops. The Imperial Government was now a shareholder in the German-backed National Bank and appointed it as government banker for the civil administration, fearing the Standard was becoming too powerful. The Standard did not contest the decision, but soon found its consolation when the mines reopened and the normal commercial life of the city resumed.
George Barrell (Scribe) (011) 791-2581
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