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The Story Of The First Dutch War
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The Story Of The First Dutch War


The causes of this war are differently stated, according to the humours
and opinions of different writers. The parliament, on the one side, was
jealous of its newly-acquired sovereignty, and expected extraordinary
marks of defference from the powers with which it corresponded. The
Dutch, on the other hand, were extremely alarmed when they found the
English Commonwealth insisting upon the sovereignty of the sea, the
right of fishing, and of licensing to fish, and disposed to carry the
point of saluting by the flag to the utmost limit. Under these
conditions of excitement and tension, anxiety led to watchfulness and
proximity to rupture.

It was in the spring of the year 1652 that the war broke out; but it was
warmly disputed then, and has not been fully settled since, who were the
actual aggressors. It is clear, however, that the Dutch had secretly
made great preparations for war, and had actually one hundred and fifty
ships of force at sea; whereas the English parliament had equipped no
more than the usual squadron for guarding the narrow seas, which was a
fleet of twenty-five ships under the command of Admiral Blake.

The first blood drawn in this quarrel was occasioned by Commodore Young,
who fired upon a Dutch man-of-war upon the captain's refusing him the
honour of the flag. This was on May 14th, 1652, and would have attracted
much more public attention if an engagement of greater consequence had
not happened immediately after.

Admiral Van Tromp was at sea with a fleet of upwards of forty sail, to
protect, as was given out, the Dutch trade. This fleet coming into the
Downs on May the 18th, met with a small squadron under the command of
Major Bourne, to whom the admiral sent word that he was forced in by
stress of weather; Bourne answered roundly, that the truth of this would
best appear by the shortness of his stay, and immediately sent advice of
it to his admiral. The next day, Van Tromp, with his fleet, bore down
upon Blake in Dover road, and on his coming near him Blake fired thrice
at his flag; upon which the Dutch admiral returned a broadside. For
nearly four hours Blake was engaged almost alone with the Dutch
squadron; but, by degrees, the weather permitted his fleet to come in to
his assistance. Towards the close of the engagement, which lasted from
four in the afternoon till nine at night, Bourne joined him with his
eight ships, upon which the enemy bore away.

In this battle the victory was clearly on the side of the English, as
the Dutch writers themselves confess, there being two Dutch ships taken
and one disabled; whereas the English lost none: and yet the forces were
very unequal; for the Dutch fleet consisted of forty-two ships and
Blake's at first only of fifteen; and even at the end of the fight of no
more than twenty-three. Each of the admirals wrote an account of this
affair to their respective masters, wherein they plainly contradict each
other: but with this difference, that there is no disproving any one
fact mentioned in Blake's letter; whereas there are several inaccuracies
in that of Van Tromp. The states themselves were so sensible of being in
the wrong, and at the same time so mortified that their fleet,
notwithstanding its superiority, had been beaten, that they apologised
for it, and sent over another ambassador, Adrian Paauw, to proceed with
the treaty. But the demands of the parliament were, in their opinion,
too high; so all thoughts of peace were dismissed on both sides, and war
was proclaimed in Holland on July 8th.

The English in the meantime, in virtue of the act of navigation, and by
way of reprisal for the late damages, affronts, and hostilities,
received from the states-general and their subjects, took many Dutch
ships. On June 11th Blake brought in eleven merchant ships with their
convoy coming from Nantes. On June 12th Captains Taylor and Peacock, in
two English frigates, engaged two Dutch men-of-war on the coast of
Flanders, for refusing to strike; one of which was taken and the other
stranded: and, on the 13th of the same month, Blake took twenty-six
merchant ships, with their convoys, homeward bound from France. On July
4th Vice-admiral Ayscue, who, on his late return from the reduction of
Barbadoes, had taken ten merchant ships and four men-of-war, attacked
the St. Ubes fleet of about forty sail, of which nearly thirty were
taken, burnt or stranded, and plundered, on the French coast.

After this, while the states with the utmost diligence were getting
ready a fleet of seventy men-of-war, under the command of Admiral Van
Tromp, Blake, with about sixty, received orders to sail to the north to
disturb and distress the Dutch fishery. Sir George Ayscue, who, since
the destruction of the St. Ubes fleet, had taken five Dutch merchant
ships, was left with the remainder of the English fleet, consisting of
no more than seven men-of-war, in the Downs. While Blake triumphed in
the north, Tromp, with his great fleet, came into the mouth of the
Thames, in the hope of either surprising Ayscue or of insulting the
coast. Failing in this, he sailed northward to intercept Blake; but his
ships being dispersed by a storm, he was disappointed in that scheme
also, and lost five or six frigates, which fell into the hands of Blake
on his return towards the south.

The people of Holland were very much dissatisfied with the conduct of
Admiral Van Tromp, who, first justifying himself to the states, laid
down his commission to gratify the people. The main objection against
him was his being no great seaman; and this engaged the states to cast
their eyes upon De Ruyter, the ablest man among them in his profession.
He accepted the command, but accepted it unwillingly; for he saw that
as things then stood the English were superior. The parliament, in the
meantime, took care to strengthen Sir George Ayscue's fleet, so that it
increased to thirty-eight sail; of which only two were large ships, and
the rest frigates and fire-ships. With these he put to sea in search of
the Dutch, took many rich prizes, and at last met with De Ruyter, who,
with a fleet equal to his own, was convoying home between fifty and
sixty merchantmen. This was on August 16th, 1652, and as our admiral was
cruising off Plymouth. It was about one in the afternoon when the fleets
came in sight. De Ruyter took twenty of the merchant ships into his line
of battle, and was then very ready to engage. The fight began about
four, when the English admiral, with nine others, charged through the
Dutch fleet, and having thus gained the weather-gauge, attacked them
again, and continued fighting till night parted them; the rest of Sir
George's fleet having very little to do in the action. The rear admiral,
Peck, lost his leg, and soon afterwards died; and most of the captains
who did their duty were wounded. One fire-ship was lost. On the other
side the Dutch were miserably torn, so that many of their best ships
were scarcely able to keep the sea. Sir George Ayscue followed them for
some time the next day, and then returned into Plymouth Sound to refresh
his men and to repair his ships.

Admiral Blake, who was now in the Channel, did infinite damage to the
enemy; and, some hostilities having been committed upon the coast of
Newfoundland by the French, he attacked a strong squadron of their ships
going to the relief of Dunkirk, and took or destroyed them all, by which
means this important place fell into the hands of the Spaniards. The
Dutch, seeing their trade thus ruined, and apprehensive of still worse
consequences, fitted out another fleet under the command of De Witte,
and sent it to join De Ruyter, who was appointed to bring home a large
number of merchantmen. After the junction of these fleets, and the
sending of their convoy into Holland, the admirals showed a design of
attacking the English navy, and Blake gave them a fair opportunity of
executing their intention. But when it came to the point the Dutch
fleet covered themselves behind a sandbank to avoid action.

Blake, however, engaged them on September the 28th, dividing his fleet
into three squadrons; the first commanded by himself, the second by
Vice-admiral Penn, and the third by Rear-admiral Bourne. It was about
three when the engagement began, and the English quickly discovered
their rashness in attacking an enemy under such disadvantages; for the
Sovereign, a new ship, struck immediately on the sands, and so did
several others; but, getting off again, the English fleet stood aloof
till De Witte came freely from his advantages to a fair engagement,
which was boldly begun by Bourne and gallantly seconded by the rest of
the fleet. A Dutch man-of-war, attempting to board the Sovereign, was
sunk by her side, and this by the first discharge she made. Soon after,
a Dutch rear-admiral was taken by Captain Mildmay, and two other
men-of-war sunk, a third blowing up before the end of the fight. De
Witte was then glad to retire, and was pursued by the English fleet as
long as it was light. The next day they continued the chase till they
were within twelve leagues of the Dutch shore, and then, seeing the
Dutch fleet entering into the Goree, Blake returned in triumph to the
Downs, and thence into port, having lost about three hundred men, and
having as many wounded. For the reception of the wounded the parliament
took care to provide hospitals near Dover and Deal, and on the return of
the fleet sent their thanks to the admiral and his officers.

It being now the beginning of November, Blake, who thought the season of
action over, detached twenty of his ships for the security of the
Newcastle colliers; twelve more were sent to Plymouth, and fifteen had
retired into the river, in order to repair the damage which they had
received in a storm. Admiral Tromp, who had again taken command, having
intelligence of this, and that Blake had with him no more than
thirty-seven ships, and many of these but thinly manned, resolved to
attack him in the Downs, not far from the place where they had fought
before. On November the 29th he presented himself before the English
fleet, and Blake, after holding a council of war, resolved to engage
notwithstanding the great superiority of the enemy; but the wind rising
they were obliged to defer fighting until the next day, and that night
our fleet rode a little above Dover road. In the morning, both fleets
plied westward, Blake having the weather-gauge. About eleven the battle
began with great fury; but, very unluckily for the English, half of
their small fleet could not engage. The Triumph, in which Blake was in
person, the Victory and the Vanguard bore almost the whole stress of
the fight, having twenty Dutch men-of-war upon them at once; and yet
they fought it out till it was dark. Late in the evening, the Garland,
commanded by Captain Batten, and the Bonaventure, Captain Hookston,
clapped Von Tromp aboard, killed his secretary and purser by his side,
and would certainly have taken his ship if they had not been boarded by
two Dutch flag-ships, by whom, after their captains were killed, both
these ships were taken. Blake, who saw this with indignation, pushed so
far to their relief that he was very near sharing the same fate, if the
Vanguard and Sapphire had not stood by him with the utmost
resolution and at last brought him off. The Hercules was run ashore in
the retreat, and if the night had not sheltered them most of the ships
that were engaged must have been lost; but they took the advantage of
its obscurity, and retired first to Dover and then into the river.

Admiral Tromp continued a day or two in the Downs, sailed from thence
towards Calais, took part of the Barbadoes fleet, and some other prizes,
and then sailed to the Isle of Rhe with a broom at his top-mast head,
intimating that he would sweep the narrow seas of English ships. There
appears, however, no such reason for boasting as the Dutch writers
suggest: their fleet had indeed many advantages; yet they bought their
success very dear, one of their best ships being blown up and two

The parliament showed their steadiness by caressing Blake after his
defeat, and naming him, in conjunction with Deane and Monk, their
generals at sea for another year. In order to the more speedy manning
the navy, they issued a proclamation, offering considerable rewards to
such as entered themselves within the term of forty days; they also
raised the sailors' pay from nineteen to twenty-four shillings a month:
and this had so good an effect that in six weeks' time they had a fleet
of sixty men-of-war ready to put to sea; forty under Blake in the river,
and twenty more at Portsmouth. On February 11th both fleets joined near
Beachy Head, and thence Admiral Blake sailed over against Portland,
where he lay across the Channel, in order to welcome Tromp on his
return. This was a surprise to the Dutch admiral, who did not think it
possible, after the late defeat, for the parliament to fit out, in so
short a period, a fleet capable of facing him again. He had between two
and three hundred merchant ships under convoy, and was therefore much
amazed when, sailing up the Channel, he found Blake so stationed that it
was impossible to avoid fighting. English and Dutch authors vary pretty
much as to the strength of their respective fleets; but, on comparing
the admirals' letters, they appear to have been nearly equal, each
having about seventy sail.

The Generals Blake and Deane were both on board the Triumph, and with
twelve stout ships led their fleet, and fell in first with the Dutch on
February the 18th, 1653, about eight in the morning. They were roughly
treated before the rest of the fleet came up, though gallantly seconded
by Lawson in the Fairfax, and Captain Mildmay in the Vanguard. In
the Triumph Blake was wounded in the thigh by a piece of iron which a
shot had driven, the same piece of iron tearing General Deane's coat and
breeches. Captain Ball, who commanded the ship, was shot dead and fell
at Blake's feet; his secretary, Mr. Sparrow, was likewise killed while
receiving his orders: besides whom he lost a hundred seamen, the rest
being most of them wounded and the ship so miserably shattered that it
had little share in the next two days' fights.

In the Fairfax there were a hundred men killed, the ship being
wretchedly mauled; the Vanguard lost her captain and a large number of
men. The Prosperous, a ship of forty-four guns, was boarded by De
Ruyter and taken; but, De Ruyter's ship being at that instant boarded by
an English man-of-war, Captain Vesey, in the Merlin frigate, entered
the Prosperous, and retook her. The Assistance, vice-admiral of the
blue squadron, was disabled in the beginning of the fight and brought
off to Portsmouth, whither the Advice quickly followed her, being no
longer able to keep the sea. Tromp, who was long engaged with Blake,
lost most of his officers and had his ship disabled; De Ruyter lost his
main and foretop mast, and very narrowly escaped being taken. One Dutch
man-of-war was blown up; six more were either sunk or taken.

Friday night was spent in repairing the damage and making the necessary
dispositions for a second engagement. On Saturday morning the enemy was
seen again seven leagues off Weymouth, whither the English plied, and
came up with them in the afternoon, about three leagues to the
north-west of the Isle of Wight. Tromp had again drawn his fleet
together, and ranged it in the form of a half-moon, enclosing the
merchant ships within a semi-circle; and in that posture he maintained a
retreating fight. The English made several desperate attacks, striving
to break through to the merchant ships; during which De Ruyter's ship
was again so roughly treated that she was towed out of the fleet. At
last the merchantmen, finding they could be no longer protected, began
to shift for themselves, throwing part of their goods overboard for the
greater expedition. According to Blake's own letter, eight men-of-war
and fourteen or sixteen merchant ships were taken, and the fight
continued all night.

On Sunday morning the Dutch were near Boulogne, where the fight was
renewed, but with little effect. Tromp had slipped away in the dark with
his merchantmen to Calais sands, where he anchored that day with forty
sail; the wind favouring him, he thence tided it home, our fleet
pursuing but slowly; for Blake, though he feared not Dutchmen, yet
dreaded their shallow coasts: however, the Captains Lawson, Martin, and
Graver, took each a Dutch man-of-war, and Penn picked up many of their
merchantmen. On the whole, the Dutch had the better of the fight the
first day, lost ground the second, and were clearly beaten the third.
They lost eleven men-of-war--their own accounts say but nine--thirty
merchantmen, fifteen hundred men killed, and as many wounded. As for the
English, they lost only the Sampson, which Captain Batten, finding
disabled, sank of his own accord; though it is certain our loss in
killed and wounded was little inferior to that of the Dutch.

Van Tromp now convoyed a great fleet of merchantmen by the north, trying
that route to escape the difficulties of the channel; whereupon our navy
followed him to Aberdeen, yet to no purpose: for he escaped them both
going and coming back, which gave him an opportunity of coming into the
Downs, making some prizes, and battering Dover Castle. This scene of
triumph lasted but a week; for on May 31st Tromp had intelligence that
Monk and Deane, who commanded the English fleet, were approaching, and
that their whole fleet consisted of ninety-five sail of men-of-war and
five fire-ships. The Dutch had ninety-eight men-of-war and six
fire-ships, and both fleets were commanded by men the most remarkable
for courage and conduct in either nation; so that it was generally
conceived this battle would prove decisive.

On June 2nd, in the morning, the English fleet discovered the enemy,
whom they immediately attacked with great vigour. The action began about
eleven o'clock, and the first broadside from the enemy carried off the
brave Admiral Deane, whose body was almost cut in two by a chain-shot.
Monk, with much presence of mind, covered his body with his cloak: and
here appeared the wisdom of having both admirals on board the same ship;
for as no flag was taken in the fleet had no notice of the accident, and
the fight continued with the same warmth as if it had not happened. The
blue squadron charged through the enemy, and Rear-admiral Lawson bid
fair for taking De Ruyter; and after he was obliged to leave his ship,
sank another of forty-two guns commanded by Captain Buller. The fight
continued very hot till three o'clock, when the Dutch fell into great
confusion, and Tromp saw himself obliged to make a kind of running
fight till nine in the evening, when a stout ship, commanded by
Cornelius van Velsen, blew up. This increased the consternation in which
they were before; and though Tromp used every method in his power to
oblige the officers to do their duty, and even fired upon such ships as
drew out of the line, yet it was to no purpose, but rather served to
increase their misfortune. In the night Blake arrived in the English
fleet with a squadron of eighteen ships, and so had his share in the
second day's engagement.

Tromp did all that was consistent with his honour to avoid fighting the
next day; but he would not do more, so that the English fleet came up
with him again by eight in the morning and engaged with the utmost fury;
the battle continued very hot for about four hours, and Vice-admiral
Penn boarded Tromp twice, and had taken him, if he had not been
seasonably relieved by De Witte and De Ruyter. At last the Dutch fell
again into confusion, which was so great, that a plain flight quickly
followed; and, instead of trusting to their arms, they sought shelter on
the flat coast of Newport, from whence, with difficulty enough, they
escaped to Zealand. Our writers agree that the Dutch had six of their
best ships sunk, two blown up, and eleven taken; six of their principal
captains were made prisoners, and upwards of fifteen hundred men. Among
the ships before-mentioned, one was a vice-admiral and two were
rear-admirals. The Dutch historians, indeed, confess the loss of but
eight men-of-war. On our side, Admiral Deane and one captain were all
the persons of note killed; of private men there were but few, and not a
ship was missing; so that a more signal victory could scarcely have been
obtained, or, indeed, desired. After this victory the Dutch sent
ambassadors to England to negotiate a peace almost on any terms.

The states were, however, far from trusting entirely to negotiations,
but, at the time they treated, laboured with the utmost diligence to
repair their past losses and to fit out a new fleet. This was a very
difficult task; and, in order to effect it, they were forced to raise
the seamen's wages, though their trade was at a full stop; they came
down in person to their ports, and saw their men embarked, and advanced
them wages beforehand, and promised them if they would fight once more
they would never ask them to fight again.

Yet all this would hardly have sufficed if the industry of De Witte, in
equipping their new-built ships, and the care and skill of Van Tromp in
refitting their old ones, and encouraging the seamen, had not succeeded
in equipping a fresh fleet, of upwards of ninety ships, by the latter
end of July, a thing admired then, and scarcely credible now. These were
victualled for five months; and the scheme laid down by the states was
to force the English fleet to leave their ports by coming to block up
ours. But first it was resolved Van Tromp should sail to the mouth of
the Texel, where De Ruyter, with twenty-five sail of stout ships, was
kept in by the English fleet, in order to try if they might not be
provoked to leave their station, and thereby give the Dutch squadron an
opportunity of coming out.

On July 29th, 1653, the Dutch fleet appeared in sight of the English,
upon which the latter did their utmost to engage them; but Van Tromp,
having in view the release of De Witte, rather than fighting, kept off;
so that it was seven at night before General Monk in the Resolution,
with about thirty ships, great and small, came up with him and charged
through his fleet. It growing dark soon after nothing more passed that
night, Monk sailing to the south and Van Tromp to the northward, by
which, unsuspected by the English, he both joined De Witte's squadron
and gained the weather-gauge. The next day proving very foul and windy,
the sea ran so high that it was impossible for the fleets to engage, the
English particularly finding it hard enough to avoid running upon the
enemy's coasts.

On Sunday, July 31st, the weather having become favourable, both fleets
engaged with terrible fury. The battle lasted at least eight hours, and
was the most hard fought fight of any that happened during the war. The
Dutch fire-ships being managed with great dexterity, many of the large
vessels in the English fleet were in the utmost danger of perishing by
them, and the Triumph was so effectually fired, that most of her crew
threw themselves into the sea; and yet the few who stayed behind
succeeded in extinguishing the flames. Lawson engaged De Ruyter briskly,
killed and wounded more than half his men, and so disabled his ship that
it was towed out of the fleet; whereupon the admiral, returning in a
galiot, went on board another ship. About noon, Van Tromp was shot
through the body with a musket-ball, as he was giving orders. This
effectually discouraged his countrymen, so that by two they began to
retreat in great confusion, having but one flag standing among them. The
lightest frigates in the English fleet pursued them closely, till the
Dutch admiral, perceiving they were but small and of no great strength,
turned his helm and resolved to engage them; but some larger ships
coming to their assistance, the Dutchman was taken. It was night by the
time their scattered fleet reached the Texel, while the English, fearing
their flats, rode warily about six leagues off.

This was a terrible blow to the Dutch, who, according to Monk's letter,
lost no less than thirty ships; but from better intelligence it appeared
that four of these had escaped, two into a port of Zealand, and two into
Hamburg. Their loss, however, was very great; five captains were taken
prisoners, between four and five thousand men killed, and twenty-six
ships of war either burnt or sunk. On the side of the English there were
two ships only, viz., the Oak and the Hunter frigate burnt, six
captains killed, and upwards of five hundred seamen. There were also six
captains wounded and about eight hundred private men.

The parliament then sitting ordered gold chains to be sent to the
Generals Blake and Monk, and likewise to Vice-admiral Penn and
Rear-admiral Lawson; they sent also chains to the rest of the
flag-officers, and medals to the captains. August 25th was appointed for
a day of solemn thanksgiving; and, General Monk being then in town,
Cromwell, at a great feast in the city, put the gold chain about his
neck, and obliged him to wear it all dinner-time. As for the states,
they supported their loss with inexpressible courage and constancy, and
buried Tromp with great magnificence at the public expense.

Hostilities between the two states had not continued quite two years,
and yet, in that time, the English took no less than one thousand seven
hundred prizes, valued by the Dutch themselves at sixty-two millions of
guilders, or nearly six millions sterling. On the contrary, those taken
by the Dutch did not amount to a fourth part either in number or value.
Within that period the English were victorious in no less than five
general battles, some of which were of several days' duration; whereas
the Hollanders cannot justly boast of having gained one; for the action
between De Ruyter and Ayscue, in which they pretended some advantage,
was no general fight; and the advantage gained by Tromp in the Downs is
owned to have been gained over a part only of the English fleet. Short
as this quarrel was, it brought the Dutch to greater extremities than
their eighty years of war with Spain.

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