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This webpage reproduces an article in
Military Affairs
Vol. 13 No. 4 (Winter, 1949), pp223‑233

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p223 The Dutch Invasion of England: 1667

By Alvin D. Coox*

When, in the grim months that followed the collapse of France in 1940, Great Britain faced her "shining hour," journalists frequent recounted the Isles' past brushes with invasion, from the times of the Romans, the sea-rovers, and the Normans through the projected Boulogne expedition of Napoleon. Yet nothing was said of a full-scale amphibious operation, undertaken by the Netherlands with ample success in the summer of 1667. It may be that a rankling national humiliation was no fit subject for treatment while Nazi barges were being assembled in North Sea ports; or perhaps no need was seen to stress the past hostile role of a present crippled ally. But whatever the journalists' reasons for ignoring the episode, the tale is worth the attention of the military historian, for the curious second Anglo-Dutch naval war of 1664‑67 was terminated soon after Dutch troops had been landed on English soil, and Dutch ships had destroyed major units of the Royal Navy in its own lair, in the "most serious defeat it has ever had in its home waters."1

The scant decade of peace following the first Anglo-Dutch war of 1652‑54 was ably utilized by the Dutch Republic in preparation for forthcoming maritime struggle. Jan De Witt devoted himself toward organizing the Dutch finances, toward re-establishing credit and reducing the rate of interest on the debt, and toward the formation of a monetary reserve, which was to make possible the swift construction and outfitting of a powerful naval force. In this major effort, he was ably backed by Michael De Ruyter, who, as commander of the Admiralty of Amsterdam, virtually created order out of chaos. The makeshift conglomeration of merchant privateers was superseded by a well-organized, disciplined fleet with a professional cadre. A uniform type of warship was constructed, to be accompanied by a separate supply fleet on extended operations. Victualing was facilitated by the establishment of an efficient supply and rationing system. Thanks to this vital overhauling, the Dutch navy was rapidly regaining its old prestige.2

The inception of the second Anglo-Dutch war was colonial in nature. In 1664 English aggression resulted in the acquisition by naval expeditions of the New Netherlands colony in North America and of the isles of Tobago and St. Eustatius in the Caribbean. Cabo Corso and other Dutch trading-posts in West Africa were conquered by English men-of‑war. In vain the States protested to the dissembling Charles II. Thereupon, De Ruyter was sent with a squadron to the African coast and, subsequently, to the West Indies. When the English government was apprised of the secret Dutch retaliation, it promptly declared war in the spring of 1665.

Two large-scale naval engagements followed. Off Southwold Bay in 1665 the fleet of the Duke of York trounced a Dutch squadron commanded by an ex-army officer, Van Obdam. The Dutch commander was himself killed when his flagship blew up, and probably 2000 of his seamen perished in the disastrous battle. But the great recuperative powers of Dutch maritime strength, buttressed by the excellent reforms of De Witt p224and of De Ruyter, were evinced by June of the following year, when occurred the famous Four Days' Battle of North Foreland. The British fleets, split by the threat of French naval action (Louis XIV was the nominal ally of the Dutch), were defeated in sustained battle, with the loss of seventeen ships and six prizes.3

Standard histories generally ignore the next operations. Yet, one year before the Dutch expedition of 1667, plans were readied by De Witt for an immediate invasion of England. Although the English government had claimed a victory in the Four Days' Battle, well-informed quarters had realized the imminence of a great disaster, while in Holland there was general elation and great confidence. It was resolved to dispatch a fleet to the mouth of the Thames at once, concurrently with the revival of Continental sea-trade.4 An English exile having suggested to De Witt that actual landings on the Isles would rally to the invader a great number of malcontents, De Ruyter was sent out with over 6000 troops in transports, escorted by seventy-five warships and seven fireships. The English, however, had taken vigorous measures to repel landings. Artillery was mounted on the river banks; ships were berthed higher up the river; and, perhaps of greatest importance, buoys and beacons were removed. In addition, a sizeable fleet of over sixty-five men-of‑war and fireships were concentrated off Queenborough.5

The Dutch, who had planned a landing up the Thames anchorage, where the English ships might be burned and the point fortified, reconnoitered carefully and were surprised at their original overcalculation of the enemy's losses at North Foreland. A landing was attempted on the Isle of Thanet, but the local cavalry repulsed the invaders. De Ruyter concluded that his designs were impracticable at that time, and wisely sent his troops home. The Dutch complained bitterly that lack of support from their French allies at the critical moment, "while the enemy was still reeling from shock of defeat, had given him time to recover himself," and had therefore frustrated their own ambitious plans.6

Soon after the Dutch invasion operations of 1666 had failed to materialize, the English dealt their enemies a critical naval blow, in a hard-fought battle off the Dutch coast. Prince Rupert and George Monk, Duke of Albemarle, with combined squadrons smashed the Dutch blockade of the Thames estuary. De Ruyter brilliantly saved his surviving fleet and drew off, after Tromp's tactical blunder had endangered even retreat. But the English were now masters of the sea and instituted a virtual blockade of the enemy's coasts. In one crippling attack, the English raided the island of Schelling, burned 138 Muscovy-bound merchantmen and two convoy frigates, destroyed seventeen million florins' worth of goods, and razed a peaceful fishing town.7 With Sweden as an intermediary, the Dutch now opened peace negotiations. War-weariness, the immense cost of naval struggle for the trading Dutch, and lost confidence in their dubious French allies had reaped their inevitable harvest.

Yet the English, not so eager to terminate a war which had developed so favorably for them, began to haggle over minor points of prize indemnification; and the war dragged on while the delegates quibbled at Breda. De Witt realized that his nation's bargaining position was meanwhile rapidly deteriorating. p225With "brilliant inspiration and indomitable courage" he decided to stake all in one last gamble against the over-confident English, in an effort to win speedier and better terms for the sorely pressed Dutch. Indeed, the States, only willing to negotiate such a peace as would impair neither honor nor advantage, continued their war effort, while England, "blindly relying on the conclusion of peace, acted as though resolved that the treaty should succeed, and, with fatal precipitancy, strove to relieve herself of the burden of war, before assured of the certainty of peace."8

De Witt was in constant receipt of intelligence from his agents in England to the effect that Charles II, debt-laden but ever arrogant, was laying up the Royal Navy and was rapidly undermining its hard-won naval supremacy. As a contemporary Dutch writer said, the fact that the English were expecting peace and were anticipating that they could have it whenever they so wished — and without the heavy expense of naval outfitting — all this was known in Holland in the winter of 1666‑67. "(And) the more we learned that the English were relaxing their effort, the more we hastened to become complete masters of the sea," in an effort to obtain a "just, honorable and equitable peace, and to put an end to this cruel, bloody war."9 Both the backward state of English preparedness and the purely defensive English naval policy were well-known to the States. The French likewise stirred up the Dutch to strike while the foe was off guard, a situation enhanced by the recent plague and Great Fire of London. Indeed, had not the French court suggested to money-hungry Charles II that he could give no better proof of his good faith, once the Breda negotiations were undertaken, than by reducing his naval installation? With these motivations, which were coupled with his personal reasons for opposing immediate peace, De Witt undertook to outfit a last great Dutch naval offensive and expedition, which might utilize certain information acquired in the operation of 1666 concerning the shoals and channels at the mouth of the Thames.10

Contrasted with the feverish Dutch naval preparations, the overconfidence of the English is amply apparent from the testimony of their own writers. Agreement is general that governmental parsimony had resulted in the decommissioning of many first- and second-class vessels. The dispersion of the remainder for the convoy of merchantmen was effected in 1666 upon the counsel that "the Dutch might best be beaten by sending small squadrons abroad to interrupt and ruine their trade without which it would be impossible for them to continue the Warr or support themselves in Peace."11 The disaffection of the English seamen was general.

Our Seamen, whom no danger's shape could fight,

Unpaid refuse to mount their ships, for spite:

Or to their fellows swim, on board the Dutch,

Who show the tempting metal in their clutch.12

It was said that the English prisoners even refused to be repatriated, preferring to take service with the Dutch, whose lure was "dollars, not tickets," as Pepys put it. Unpaid for the campaigns of 1666, merchants were hesitant to fit out new warships; while the few dispersed men-of‑war in the river were but partially manned. Confident that p226no sea conflict would take place, Charles sent out but two small squadrons for summer duty in 1667. "Culpable unpreparedness" aptly describes the situation of England in that year.

So it was that the Dutch States issued successive orders to the refitted navy; the exact words are illuminating: ". . . as the English forces seem to be presently not in a condition to resist our fleet, and consequently it looks as if this State will become Mistress of the Sea this summer, . . . attempt an enterprise against the ports, cities, and strong points of the enemy . . ." It was stressed that, although danger was courted, the welfare of the Republic was well worth it. Actual Dutch operational plans stated that waiting contingents of troops were to be embarked at the Meuse, whereupon the "fleet shall head for the river of London and enter it, and will thence go to Chatham or to Rochester, to take or destroy the vessels which may be there; and, also, to burn and ruin the royal magazine at Chatham, . . . for which task all the troops and sailors aboard the fleet shall be landed. . ."13

This was a blow at the very center of British naval power, which in the Seventeenth Century was concentrated in the Thames and the Medway. The now famous naval bases of the South Coast were not yet of any great importance.

De Witt's preparations were successfully deceptive. Squadrons were prepared at dispersed points, for later rendezvous. In April 1667 a small naval task force was sent to sea, ostensibly to harry Scottish privateers. Van Ghent, the Dutch commander, convoyed a large fleet of laden merchantmen and then veered to the Firth of Force, which was entered. An attempt to ascend the Firth and burn shipping anchored there proved unsuccessful, and the Dutch merely bombarded Burntisland, captured a half-dozen small ships, and soon returned to rejoin De Ruyter in home waters. It was at the same time that preliminary soundings were also taken for passing ships up the Medway. Van Ghent's diversion had served to screen the main formidable Dutch naval effort.14

Late in May, De Ruyter, who had by now recovered from a serious affliction that had been incapacitating his work, was ready to sail from the Texel, collecting ships and men as he proceeded southwards along the coast. Evincing excellent staff work, the admiral called his officers and ship captains aboard the 84‑gun flagship Dolphin, and made known all the signs and orders prepared for the expedition. De Ruyter's squadron commanders were to be Van Ness, Van Ghent, and Meppel. Cornelius De Witt, the burgomaster brother of Jan, joined the fleet as Deputy of the States. By May 27 the united fleets (although never reinforced by the anticipated Danish warships) comprised 64 ships of the line and frigates, seven armed dispatch boats, 15 fireships, and 13 galliots. The gun batteries totalled 3330 pieces, and the crews consisted of 17,500 officers and men. At one time the States, backed by this important armament, may have been toying with the idea of presenting an ultimatum to the English government for the conclusion of an immediate peace or the dissolution of the Breda negotiations, but this course was apparently not favored, and De Ruyter sailed right for the Thames.15 Once the English coast was raised, a ship was sent to advise the Dutch Ambassador at Paris of the progress of the fleet, and to hasten a junction with the French warships, still safely anchored p228at home ports (June 6). Several days before, the jittery Pepys had learned that the Dutch were at sea in force, and had written that he already feared the loss, through the "negligence of our Prince," of both the kingdom and its reputation. Englishmen anxiously hoped that the winds would scatter the invading fleet, but soon the latter was reported off Harwich, and at much the same time guns were heard at Bethnal Green. "Military steps (for naval there could be none) were now taken to repel them, and all the young Hectors of the Court went posting off to Essex — to little purpose, thought Pepys, but to debauch the country women thereabouts."16

(p227)

[image ALT: A simple map of southeastern England, in essence the Thames estuary, on which London, a few towns and forts on the Thames, and the most important coastal towns from Harwich to Hastings are marked.]

After having weathered the heavy storm that forced some of its ships to cut anchor, the Dutch fleet assembled off the mouth of the Thames. At another council of war aboard the flagship, it was decided to assign a squadron of more than a score of vessels to Van Ghent, whose own pennon was to fly from the 50‑gun Agatha. It was hoped to take the ten frigates and twenty-five Barbados merchantmen then reported lying not far from Gravesend. One thousand marines, under command of Colonel Dolman, a "renegade English republican," were assigned the projected descente notable.17

Van Ghent accordingly dashed up the river, but, delayed by adverse winds, missed his quarry, which slipped safely away to berths further upstream (June 9). Next day, after receiving reinforcements from De Ruyter, Van Ghent took the island of Sheppey and its fort at Queenborough; thence he moved toward the fortress of Sheerness, guarding the passage to Chatham and Rochester.18 After a brisk bombardment of about two hours, 800 marines were landed under Dolman, and the important bastion occupied. The royal magazine was relieved of quantities of masts, cables, rigging, ammunition, and fifteen 18‑pounders. What could not be taken aboard ship was then blown up. The value of the stores seized or destroyed was variously estimated at 400,000 livres or four tons of gold. Greater damage might have been inflicted and Sheerness retained as a base for interior operations, if the Dutch had not been deprived of many marines when troop transports were deflected from the operations by the storm off the Thames mouth, referred to above. Therefore, although the States apparently desired Sheerness to be held and had dispatched several hundred troop reinforcements for that purpose, De Ruyter's council thought otherwise, "because the most part of our Land-Troops were separated from us by the foul weather, the General officers thought not fit to engage themselves too far up the country with so few people."19 Having lost only fifty men at Sheerness, the Dutch now headed for Chatham, for whose safety Pepys had "great fears." While the whole action had been going on, Pepys was down the river at Gravesend, where he found the Duke of Albemarle with a great many idle lords and gentlemen, pistols and other "fooleries," awaiting the attack of the Dutch fleet. Still unconscious of the disaster at Sheerness, "though the offals of sheep borne up the river by the flood showed all too well what p229the Dutch had been doing," Pepys returned mournfully to the capital.

At Chatham, the Duke of Albemarle had hastily but zealously laid a chain across the Medway — a six‑inch chain of "thick and heavy iron, running on pulleys, which turned on wheels. The English had also scuttled four fireships and six warships to impede passage, although some of the vessels were sunk in useless places, and others which might have been saved were not moved away. Not merely was the work not done, but there were no men to do it. Men who had not been paid for months refused to work in this emergency. "Out of 1100 men in pay at Chatham Dockyard not more than three attended to help . . . in any way." The workers had refused to tow the deserted English warships up the river as ordered, "having been more profitably occupied in moving their own belongs to safety."20

On June 12 De Ruyter sailed toward Upnor Castle and bombarded its works, next turning his fire against the doomed English ships lying in the river. At this time Van Braakel, a Dutch officer who had been under arrest for having landed sailors without orders, asked for and received permission to attack the chain. Pushing through the surrounding hulks, Van Braakel's ship Vrede of 40 guns closed with the frigate Jonathan and swiftly boarded her. Van Rhyn, following just behind with his fireship, then snapped the chain and captured the Mathias, which was blown up at once. The Charles V was then consumed, its captain Douglas heroically perishing with his doomed ship, after having first driven off two fireships. Dutch warcraft were now edging through the gap in the chain, and were launching long-boats to board the remaining Englishmen. A former Dutch prize, Castle of Hooningen was destroyed in this way. But the prize of all was the three-decked 100‑gun Royal Charles, the gilded flagship of the Duke of Albemarle. Now mounting only 32 of her guns and with but a skeleton crew, she was easily boarded, and Van Ghent transferred his battle flag to her. (Later, the rich prize was sailed off in triumph to Holland, where her gilded stern-plates and White Ensign adorn a naval museum to this day.)a Pepys, in a bitter passage, describes the humiliating episode, in which nine Dutch sailors captured the pride of the Royal Navy, "at a time both for tides and wind when the best pilot in Chatham would not have undertaken it, they heeling her on one side to make her draw little water: and so carried her away safe."

On the thirteenth of June the Dutch attacked the surviving English ships beyond Upnor Castle. The land batteries at the ends of the boom had already been silenced, and a party of Dutch marines had landed and blown up one of the magazines. But it was only after a sharp struggle that three more large warships could be burned: the Loyal London (90 guns), Royal Oak (76), and St. James (82) — "the pick of the British navy." Almost every Dutch fireship had been expended, however, and the narrowness of the river in face of hostile fire, and the prompt measures taken by the English to call the militia and garrison the forts — all contributed to prevent further Dutch successes. With insufficient force, as he saw it, De Ruyter thereupon took advantage of a fair wind and, with his prizes, fell back toward the main fleet at the mouth of the Medway. The Dutch had lost 50‑150 men; the English, probably 500.21

p230 The twelfth of June and its sequels have been termed a beroemde tocht ("glorious expedition") by one eminent Dutch naval officer. The picture is amplified picturesquely by Clowes who depicts the Chatham episode as follows:

The river was full of moving craft and burning wreckage; the roar of guns was almost continuous; the shrieks of the wounded could be heard even above the noise of battle, the clangour of trumpets, the roll of drums, and the cheers of the chapel as success after success was won; and above all hung a pall of smoke, illuminated only, as night closed in, by the gleam of flames on all sides and the flashes of guns and muskets.22

Throughout the operations, De Ruyter and De Witt and Van Ghent were to be seen constantly, as with "boyish daring" they directed the attack from their frail long-boats.

No one denies the terror then inspired at London by the Dutch naval operations. The situation was truly serious, but rumor made it far worse. Not only was Chatham reported burned, but also Gravesend, Harwich, Queenborough, Colchester, Dover. Alarms were bruited that the Dutch were cruising — or landing — at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Dartmouth — everywhere at once; until old Batten, one of the Navy Commissioners, cried with a great oath: "By God, I think the Devil s---- Dutchmen." Pett wrote frantically to the Navy Office, where Pepys commented that the Commissioner was "in a very fearful stink for fear of the Dutch and desires help for God and the King and Kingdom's sake." And seamen's wives wailed that such things were a punishment for not paying their husbands.

Trade was at a standstill: the Port of London was closed. Coals sold at £5 10s. a cauldron, and the poor grew daily more restless. But the Dutch, declining to venture higher up the Thames, rode across the river mouth with a hundred sail, "as dread a spectacle as ever Englishman saw, and a dishonor never to be wiped out," as Pepys saw it. While Britain was being strangled, "one of the richest Dutch convoys that had had ever come home passed unmolested up Channel under the protection of an insignificant escort of fighting ships."23

"Never were people so dejected as they in the City all over . . .; and do talk most loudly, even treason. . . . The merchants are undone. Our great bankers . . . have shut up their shops. People are ready to tear their hair off their heads. . . . People are fled . . . with their families and children. We are betrayed. . . ." Pepys as an Admiralty official dreaded personal violence — his heart was "full of fear." After evacuating his wife and father to the country, he promptly made his will. The King was said to have fled, with the Papists taking over; an imminent French invasion was to be expected from Dunkerque. "It is strange how everybody nowadays reflects upon Oliver (Cromwell) and commend him, what brave things he did, and made all the neighbor princes fear him." Nor was the conduct of the English soldiery itself laudable. Contrasted with the honorable, admirable conduct of the invading Hollanders (who had been amply provoked, it will be remembered, by the wanton raid on Schelling in 1666), the English militia "are far more terrible to those people of the country towns than the Dutch themselves." It is indeed weakening to national morale when one's own troops pillage and ravage, while the enemy does neither. Yet such, it appears, was the case in 1667.24

p231 The psychological effect upon English morale was obvious. De Ruyter, however, had probably far exceeded his own expectations of damage to be inflicted upon the enemy. Although the sound of enemy cannon booming not far from one's capital is a fearsome thing, the truth was, as an English contemporary correctly guessed, that "the Dutch have no order to land any forces, but merely to lie on the coast, hinder trading to London, and prevent the English fleet from abroad from returning."25 As a result, the subsequent Dutch operations were in the nature of a protracted anticlimax after the spectacular successes at Sheerness and at Chatham. The English now scuttled more vessels in the channels at Woolwich and Blackwall, but in the general chaos of the moment they were the wrong ships, and vessels bearing sorely needed stores were sent down instead of the empty tonnage that lay alongside. Further batteries were erected, however, and although the Duke of Albemarle had been unsuccessful in his tactical resistance, he had won valuable time for Admiral Spragge to build up the defensive naval power of England, to check additional depredations.

De Ruyter's reinforced fleet was divided into squadrons, for patrol, raiding, and convoy duty. The blockade was continued off the Thames estuary, where there was less danger from fireships. The reconnoissance of various coastal points convinced De Ruyter that Portsmouth, Plymouth, the Isle of Wight, and Guernsey were "imprenables"; while the many little towns and villages along the Channel and on the river were not worth pillaging. But, inasmuch as no peace had yet been signed at Breda, the States determined upon the continuation of aggressive action, and for that purpose sent strong reinforcements of marines to De Ruyter. In June the Dutch made small-scale, sporadic, but well-disciplined landings for provisions only. Not until the first week of July was another major landing effort essayed.

On July 2, about sixty Dutch men-of‑war appeared off the Landguard fort at Harwich. Unexpectedly navigating a tortuous channel (for the buoys had been taken up by the English), the invaders were nevertheless hampered in closing into shore by the shallowness of the water. Under cover of a dense smoke screen, 1600 marines and sailors were landed on the beachhead. A strong force under Van Hoorn was left to cover the landing craft. Four hundred assault troops, with scaling-ladders and "grenadoes," raced along the sand to storm the twenty-foot walls of the fort. Two brisk attacks with cutlass and musket were repulsed by the grape-shot of the English. One source alleges that the Dutch, in their attack, deridingly cried, "Peace! peace!" Be that as it may, the Dutch fell back in some disorder, abandoning a number of their ladders and weapons. Meanwhile, Van Hoorn's troops repulsed the Earl of Suffolk's cavalry attacks. The beachhead comparatively secure, the defeated Dutch assault troops were re-embarked, and when before dawn the tide floated the ships, the invaders sailed off. Most authorities assert that the Dutch lost about 150 men in the operation, but a distinguished Dutch naval officer admits a toll of but forty-two.26

After the repulse at Harwich, the Dutch attempted no further major landings, although the warships continued to prowl off p232the coasts. Van Ghent's squadron operated off northern Scotland, while De Ruyter maintained successive reconnaissances along the Channel coast. On July 24 Van Ness's blockading squadron lost several fireships to Spragge in a sharp naval engagement. Two days later, Jordan was driven off by the Hollander in an indecisive encounter. But the Dutch, fearing further attacks by fireships and lacking the latter themselves, drew back to the mouth of the Thames. In August, before another battle could recur, De Ruyter at last learned of the final ratification of the Treaty of Breda. Leisurely the Dutch fleets sailed homewards, where De Ruyter triumphantly landed at Helvoetsluis.27

The Dutch naval operations of the summer of 1667 have been dealt with in some detail expressly to indicate the serious nature of De Witt's operational plans. The actual effect that De Ruyter's campaign had had upon the peace negotiations at Breda is, however, not so well-defined as modern historians often indicate. For, as contemporary evidence tends to show, the startling successes of the Dutch for a time threatened to have an effect contrary to that intended. The English delegates at Breda, decrying the Dutch action during peace negotiations, actually withdrew for a time, although the overt reason was fear of the plague. Foreign observers, noting the understandable rage and humiliation of the English, saw the possibility that the latter, "who were ready for peace, will be more than ever determined upon war."28 It required very strong representations by the Swedish intermediaries before the congress could be re-convoked. The indecisive, vacillating English government, brought to dire straits by the short-sighted policies of Charles II, was obliged to bow before the dictates of grim necessity and of temporarily superior enemy naval power. Pepys summed up the dénouement for himself and for posterity: "Thus in all things, in wisdom, courage, force, knowledge of our own streams, and success, the Dutch have the best of us, and do end the war with victory on their side."

Under the circumstances, then, the vigorous Dutch operations did induce a more conciliatory attitude from a foe who had suffered an "irreparable blow to prestige" in his home waters. The English King was obliged to confess that the "spirits of the seamen were down; the forces of our enemies are grown too many and too great for us"; but of course Charles would admit no personal culpability for the "load of dejection." In this connection, several of Pepys' further comments are interesting for the light they throw upon British morale: "Wise Britons at heart wish for war, but agree that the King is not the man to be trusted with it." England suffers from a "lazy Prince, no Council, no money, no reputation at home or abroad." Hence, although nobody seemed pleased with the peace, yet nobody dared hope for a continuation of hostilities, "it being plain that nothing does or can thrive under us."

Accordingly, the Dutch, who had been losing the war in 1666, emerged rather advantageously in 1667. Although the salute to British warships in home waters was still required, the commercial terms of the treaty of 1662 were re-established, and the Navigation Act was modified to allow Dutch merchantmen to carry Lowlands merchandise to England. In addition, it was agreed that all territories held by the contracting parties before 1664 be retained, except that Britain was to keep New York and New Jersey, and the Dutch West India Company was to p233recover Surinam. It is an interesting sidelight that Holland then considered Surinam and its dependencies to be more valuable than the lost North American possession. The peace of Breda, finally signed July 31, 1667, comprised, in addition to the Anglo-Dutch instrument, bilateral treaties between France and England, and between Denmark and England.29

Thus it may be safely concluded that De Witt's daring and successful program, "as moderate in success as firm in adversity," had exacted for the Republic advantageous concessions — which was all that was sought. A tendency to rhapsodize over De Ruyter's "glorious exploits" (luisterrijke bedrijven) as "an adventure in which England's own Drake would have been proud to take part," is understandable. Yet it would seem that De Ruyter's excess of caution lost him a good opportunity of immediately improving upon his Chatham exploit. The blockade of the Thames was effective enough, but a contemporary Englishman drew a tenable conclusion when he wrote that "De Ruyter might have done much more mischief, if he had immediately after the exployt at Chatham seconded it with another in the Thames: for Gravesend was slenderly provided, Tilbury fort not erected, and the Dutch having a Spring tyde and an Easterly wind, might soon have pass'd Gravesend, and nothing could have hindered but that ye Frigatts and Fireshipps might have come up as high as Woolwich at least, and have fired all the ships that were afloat and have endangered the King's yard and Storehouses."30

Such further operations of limited objective may have been feasible enough. Yet it appears to this writer to be little more than a pleasant flight into imaginative history to suggest, as does one historian, that De Ruyter had been on the brink of "the greatest naval success of all time," or that "the entire course of history" might be altered, with the Dutch Empire becoming the greatest the world had ever known — if De Ruyter had been able to take London!31


The Editor's Note:

* Mr. Coox has already contributed to Military Affairs (See "Valmy" in Vol. XII, No. 4.)


The Author's Notes:

1 H. George Franks, Holland Afloat (London, 1942), 98.

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2 A. J. Barnouw, The Making of Modern Holland (New York, 1944), 116; Bernard H. M. Vlekke, Evolution of the Dutch Nation (New York, 1945), 230.

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3 C. M. Davies, The History of Holland (London, 1851), III.25; Barnouw, op. cit., 113.

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4 Calendar of State Papers (Venetian), 1666‑68, #15, 16; XXI.

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5 G. Grinnell-Milne, Life of Lieut.‑Adm. De Ruyter (London, 1896), 139; Calendar (Venetian), 1666‑68, #38; X.

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6 Calendar (Venetian), #49; X.

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7 Ibid., #62. Grinnell-Milne, op. cit., 146, says 12,000,000 florins.

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8 Calendar of State Papers (Domestic), 1667, VIII.

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9 Barthelemy Piélat, La vie et les actions mémorables de Michel de Ruyter (Amsterdam, 1677), I.452, 460.

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10 Calendar (Venetian), 1666‑68, #165, 173, 175; William L. Clowes et al., The Royal Navy: A History (London, 1898), II.288; Grinnell-Milne, op. cit., 149; Charles D. Yonge, The History of the British Navy, (London, 1866), I.95.

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11 Rawlinson MSS. D. 924, Continuation of the Dutch War (Bodleian Library, Oxford University); cited in Arthur W. Tedder, The Navy of the Restoration (Cambridge, 1916), 179. See also Calendar (Domestic), 1667, VII, XIXII.

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12 Marvell, Instructions to a Painter; quoted by Tedder, op. cit., 184.

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13 Piélat, op. cit., 453‑4.

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14 J. J. Backer Dirks, De Nederlandsche Zeemacht (Nieuwediep, 1867), 218. A complete, documented narrative of the subsequent expedition will be found on pp218‑37. See also, Clowes, op. cit., II.288.

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15 Calendar (Venetian), 1666‑68, #204. Lt.‑Col. J. R. Cambier, De Nederlandsche Mariniers van 1665 tot 1900 (Helder, 1899), 18, 19; also, Grinnell-Milne, op. cit., 151; Clowes, op. cit., II.289.

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16 Arthur Bryant, Samuel Pepys; vol. I: "The Man in the Making" (Cambridge, 1933), 329.

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17 Cambier, op. cit., 19; the marine officers are here detailed; a less complete tabulation is given in Leupe and Houckgeest, De Geschiedenis der Mariniers . . . . (Nieuwediep, 1867), 16. See also, Piélat, op. cit., 455; Clowes, op. cit., II.289, 290; and Calendar (Venetian), 1666‑68, #206. Tedder, op. cit., 184, says that De Ruyter gained considerable help in his attack from a Captain Thomas Holland, an old Commonwealth officer. At ibid., note 3, Tedder asserts that he has been unable to find any authority for Clowes's saying "Dolmar."

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18 The fort of Sheerness had never been completed. On June 11th, when news of the Dutch fleet in the Thames had scared people into a panic-stricken energy, Sir Edward Spragge was sent down to raise the long-planned fortifications there. But the Dutch arrived before he did. Tedder, op. cit., 182.

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19 La vie de Corneille Tromp (The Hague, 1694), 425; cited in Tedder, op. cit., 185.

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20 Calendar (Domestic), 1667, CCV, #5; Tedder, op. cit., 183; Bryant, op. cit., I.331.

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21 Calendar (Domestic), 1667, CCV, #78; Davies, op. cit., III.60. "Some say (that) the chain was loosened by a party of sailors, who, landing under fire, broke the bar to which it was fastened." (Davies, ibid.) Tedder, op. cit., 182, adds that on May 10th, Commissioner Pett had written to the Navy Commissioners, "the chain is promised to be dispatched tomorrow, and all things are ready for fixing it"; it had been ordered four months before.

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22 Clowes, op. cit.II.293. The preceding phrase is Col. Cambier's (op. cit. 20). See the painting, "The Dutch burning the English fleet at Rochester in 1667," in Franks, op. cit., facing p144. See also, the Dutch (in translation from a contemporaneous fly-sheet printed in Amsterdam) in Calendar (Domestic), 1667, CCV, #5: "Short & reliable account, etc."

Thayer's Note: I haven't seen Franks' book, but this painting of the battle may well be the one referred to:

[image ALT: An oil painting of a naval battle in which 15 tall-masted sailing ships are seen no more than a mile from shore, and many are burning; half a desertion small lifeboats and bits of wreckage and a few people swimming can also be seen. The painting by Pieter Cornelisz van Soest is a contemporaneous depiction of the burning of a British fleet in the estuary of the Medway in southeastern England, in 1667 by the Dutch.]

"Attack on the Medway"
Oil painting by Pieter Cornelisz van Soest

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23 Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond, Statesmen and Sea Power (Oxford, 1946), 50.

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24 Paragraph based upon the following citations, in order: Calendar (Domestic), 1667, XXVII, CCV, #3; #63; CCVI, #12. Pepys, Diary (London, 1877), IV.364, Calendar (Domestic), 1667, CCV, #76 (John Rushworth, a London correspondent). Pepys, op. cit., IV.367‑70; 423; 406. Calendar (Domestic), 1667, CCV, #5. See also, on the same subject, Grinnell-Milne, op. cit., 156. In an interesting aside, Pepys says: "Sir H. Cholmly . . . tells me . . . that the night the Dutch burned our ships the King did sup with my Lady Castlemayne at the Duchess of Monmouth's, and they were all mad in hunting a poor moth." Diary, June 21, 1667; cited in Bryant, op. cit., I.330, note 1. Also see, Pepys, op. cit., IV.385.

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25 Calendar (Domestic), 1667, CCVI, #83.

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26 Cambier, op. cit., 21; Calendar (Domestic), 1667, CCVII, #113; #55, 72; CCIX, #8.

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27 Calendar (Domestic), 1667, CCV, #127; #218, 223. Calendar (Venetian), 1666‑68, #208, 212; Cambier, op. cit., 21; Piélat, op. cit., 468, 476; Clowes, op. cit., II.296; Grinnell-Milne, op. cit., 159; Pepys, op. cit., IV.433, 436, 437, 440.

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28 Calendar (Venetian), 1666‑68, #212, 206, 208.

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29 Franks, op. cit., 104; Calendar (Venetian), 1666‑68, #311; Grinnell-Milne, op. cit., 160. Yonge, op. cit., I.97, stresses the unimportance of the material damage inflicted by De Ruyter; calls the general effects of the war less injurious to England than to Holland; and castigates Charles II and his cowardliness in the face of "disgraceful insult"; the personal pleasures of the King thus took precedence over the natural welfare. Pepys asserts that, although the people were eased by peace, there was general shame and displeasure, except at Court and in the City, where Dutch noncompliance with the treaty was feared! In Calendar (Domestic), 1667, LV, there is, however, a vivid depiction of the general joy in the English sea towns, once intelligence of Breda reached them.

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30 Quotations, in order, from Davies, op. cit., III.62; Dirks, op. cit., 234; Franks, op. cit., 104; Rawlinson MSS., D. 924. (Bodleian Library, Oxford University); Tedder, op. cit., 187‑88.

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31 See Franks, op. cit., 116.


Thayer's Note:

a The beautiful carved gilt wood sternplate of the royal arms — seen here —


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© Rijksmuseum; by kind permission Wouter Visser.

is still in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam: see this section of the museum's site (5 pages).


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Page updated: 17 Nov 11