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The history of naval administration between 1660 and 1688 falls naturally into four periods:—(1) 1660-73, from the appointment of the Duke of York to the office of Lord High Admiral, to his retirement after the passing of the Test Act; (2) 1673-9, the first secretaryship of Samuel Pepys; (3) 1679-84, the interval of administrative disorder which followed Pepys’ resignation; (4) 1684-8, from the return of the Duke of York until the. Revolution—this period being also that of Pepys’ second secretaryship.

In the navy, as in other departments, the Restoration involved a reversion to the old order. At the date of the King’s return its administrative direction was in the hands of an Admiralty Commission of twenty-eight, appointed by the Rump Parliament in 1659, with a Navy Board of seven experts under it. But so early as May 16, before his landing at Dover, the King had appointed his brother James Lord High Admiral of England; and on July 2 the existing commissions were dissolved, and the ancient form of government by four “principal officers” was restored. With them were associated three “commissioners,” and the “principal officers and commissioners of the navy” were usually known as the Navy Board. In determining their remuneration, however, the restored monarchy followed the precedents of the Commonwealth, and offered an increased stipend in place of the traditional fee with allowances. Upon the Navy Board of the Restoration experience was largely represented. Of the seven officials who composed it, four had been used to the sea, one had an extensive military experience, one came of a family of shipbuilders, and but one was altogether without knowledge of naval affairs. This exception, curiously enough, was Samuel Pepys, the Clerk of the Acts, for his brief tenure of office in 1660 as secretary to the Generals of the Fleet, could scarcely have equipped him with any special knowledge of the sea.

The older system of naval administration was thus restored; but changes of considerable importance were effected in it, both before and after the Second Dutch War. In 1662 an attempt was made to deal with a serious abuse by prohibiting officials from trading in commodities sold to the navy. In 1667 the increase of business caused by the war, and the administrative confusion which it created, led to a reorganisation of the Comptroller’s office, and the appointment of two assistant Comptrollers, one for the accounts of the Treasurer, and the other for the victuallers’ and pursers’ accounts. Last of all, in 1671, a separate Comptroller was appointed for the stores, and the Treasurer of the Navy was brought much more completely under the control of the Navy Board. Nor did the Government of the Restoration disdain to learn from its predecessors. In 1662 the practice was taken over from the Commonwealth of requiring security from pursers; and in 1664 resident commissioners were appointed, as during the First Dutch War, for the dockyards at Portsmouth and Harwich, in addition to the commissioner assigned at the Restoration to Chatham, the “master-yard of all the rest.” In fact, naval administration during the period of the Second Dutch War does not entirely deserve the indiscriminate condemnation which has been poured upon it. The men were at any rate experienced in naval affairs, and some of them were men of ability; they effected material improvements in the system under which they worked; and the system thus improved was sufficiently good to survive without any fundamental changes until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Its disastrous failure during the period under review is to be accounted for by moral and financial causes, rather than by structural defects. The higher naval administration, itself not free from corruption, had to contend with idleness and dishonesty in the lower ranks of the service, due to a relaxation of the standards of public and private duty; and the combination of this with financial disorder ruined the Navy Office under Charles II, as it would have ruined any other public department in any country and at any time. When the management of the navy came to be enquired into in 1668 after the close of the War, it was found that the Principal Officers had been neglecting to carry out the instructions of 1662 under which they were supposed to work. The Treasurer had been remiss in attendance, and his accounts were two years in arrears; the Comptroller had neglected a large part of the details of his office; and the Surveyor had omitted to report to the Navy Board on the state of the dockyards, ships and stores. Their defence was that the business of the War had absorbed their attention; but we find Pepys writing: “The pest of this Office has all along been an indifference in some of the principal members of it in seeing their work done, provided they found themselves furnished with any tolerable pretence for their personal failures in the doing it.”

Still more important as a cause of disaster was the want of money, the root of all evil in the navy of Charles II. For this the restored monarchy was not entirely responsible, as it had inherited from the interregnum navy debts of more than a million and a quarter. Associated with this was a want of ready money; and the result was that when the War with the Dutch broke out, in the spring of 1665, the credit of the Government had sunk to the lowest ebb. This involved an enormous waste, for the merchant “resolved to save himself in the uncertainty of his payment by the greatness of his price”; while the hardships to private persons occasioned by delays in payment were almost intolerable. At the end of the War, the accumulated debt of the navy was estimated at over a million, at a time when its ordinary charge in time of peace was to be reduced to £200,000 a year. Measures of retrenchment were adopted in 1669; but so difficult a situation could not be at once remedied, and it was not until the later years of the Restoration period that the burden was lightened. In 1686 the arrears had declined to about £172,000.

When the Test Act in 1673 expelled James, Duke of York, from office, the King delegated part of the functions of the Lord High Admiral to a Commission; but he reserved the Admiralty dues and the patronage of the office to himself. This retention of powers in the King’s hands was probably intended to give an opportunity to the Duke, who, in spite of the Test Act, retained until 1679 an important influence in naval affairs. The Secretary to the new Commission was Samuel Pepys, now promoted from the office of Clerk of the Acts; but the changes of 1673 did not interfere with the character of the Navy Board as a body of experts. Although they now took their orders from the Admiralty Commission instead of from the Duke of York, the main features of Admiralty policy were unchanged. It was the work of the new administration to bring the Third Dutch War to a close, and then to repair, by an energetic building programme, that depreciation of the navy which was one of the results of the War. The Admiralty Commissioners were sensible and vigilant, and they were remarkably well served by their Secretary; while the Navy Board was strong on the technical side of its work, and was fortunate in numbering among its members an official so thbroughiy capable in his own department as was the great shipbuilder, Anthony Deane. Moreover, although the financial difficulty was not removed, and still continued to hamper and cripple the navy in every possible way, a vigorous building policy was made possible by the better support which Parliament now gave to naval expansion. The political classes were beginning to understand and appreciate the importance of sea-power to England. The Act of 1677 for the construction of thirty new ships was a striking expression of the new parliamentary interest in naval problems.

In 1679 the Popish Plot compelled the withdrawal of the Duke of York and the resignation of Pepys; and the higher administration of the navy passed to a new Admiralty Commission which was almost entirely without naval experience. They induced the King to surrender into their hands that part of the functions of the Lord High Admiral’s office which he had hitherto reserved to himself, and then proceeded, unchecked in their zeal for retrenchment, to destroy the fighting efficiency of the fleet. “No king,” wrote Pepys, “ever did so unaccountable a thing to oblige his people by, as to dissolve a Commission of the Admiralty then in his own hand, who best understands the business of the sea of any prince the world ever had, and things never better done, and put it into hands which he knew were wholly ignorant thereof, sporting himself with their ignorance.” The result which followed was inevitable. The effective force at sea was reduced; the ships in harbour were allowed to fall out of repair; the yards were hopelessly disorganised; and waste and neglect appeared in every department of the administration. In partictdar, the thirty new ships built under the Act of 1677 were allowed to fall into a deplorable state through “the plain omission of the necessary and ordinary cautions used for the preserving of new-built ships.”

In 1684 the King found himself once more in a position to recall his brother and to restore the old order in the navy. The Test Act still prevented the Duke from actually holding office; so the King resumed for himself the whole office of Lord High Admiral, executing it with the advice and assistance of his brother; and the Duke’s recovery of his place of influence in the navy carried with it the reappointment of Samuel Pepys to the office of Secretary for the affairs of the Admiralty of England, now formally constituted for the first time by letters-patent under the Great Seal.

1679-88] The Special Commission of 1686.

The important episode of the period 1684-8 is the establishment of the Special Commission of 1686—an experiment in organisation for which Pepys himself was largely responsible. This Commission, which superseded for the period of its existence the old Navy Board, consisted entirely of experts, and included the notable names of Sir John Narbrough and Sir Anthony Deane, with Sir Phineas Pett as resident Commissioner for Chatham and Sheemess. They acted under special instructions, and were charged with the duty of putting the navy into a state of thorough repair, an annual sum of £400,000 being assigned for three years with that object. The work was finished earlier than was expected; and in 1688, after two and a half years’ tenure of office, the Special Commission was dissolved, and the system of government by Principal Officers was restored. Their work was subsequently investigated by a parliamentary Commission, which reported in 1692 “that the ships built, rebuilt, and repaired by these commissioners were fully and well performed, and the buildings and other works by them erected and made during the continuation of the said Commission were done with great exactness, sufficiency, and frugality of expense in the managery and conduct thereof.”

During the period of naval history which extended from the Restoration to the Revolution, successive administrations, whether incompetent or relatively efficient, were alike grievously hampered by the deficiency of men, both in the dockyards and at sea. This is only another aspect of the redoubtable financial problem; for, except during the years affected by the Plague, the deficiency was largely due to the failures of the Government in the matter of pay. The state of things during the Second Dutch War was appalling. We hear of wages fifty-two months in arrear; and Pepys, by this time a hardened official, writes down in his Diary pitiable stories of poor seamen starving in the streets because there is no money to pay them. This reacted upon discipline, and both seamen and workmen in the yards gave a great deal of trouble by their disorderly demeanour. At the close of the War the scarcity of money was such that the dockyard authorities were sometimes compelled to allow their men to go for a time into the employment of private merchants, so that they might earn money to enable them to buy bread. The delays in payment of wages also involved the Government in much needless expense; for, in order to avoid the necessity of paying off surplus men, ships were kept in commission longer than was really required. In spite of the revival in 1664 of the Commonwealth scheme for the distribution of prize-money, it was difficult to obtain a sufficient number of men, and the deficiency could only be supplied by a somewhat indiscrimi­nate use of the press. One result of this was that the material supplied was often of the poorest kind—“poor patient labouring men and house­keepers,” men lame and palsied, and afterwards “little children and never at sea before,” who could not be suffered “to pester the ship.” So uncertain was the prospect of pay, that English prisoners took service with the Dutch, and Pepys records that when they came up the Medway the English tongue could be heard on board their ships. On the outbreak of the Third Dutch War in 1672 the same difficulties recurred, although in a less aggravated form; and so late as 1692, in the maturer reflexions of his retirement, Pepys still places the “length and badness of the payment of the seaman’s wages” first among his “discouragements.” In providing for sick and Wounded seamen the Government of the Restoration imitated that of the Commonwealth. The Commission of 1664 was framed on the model of the Commission of 1653, and that of 1672 considerably improved upon it. All the arrangements were admirable upon paper; but in this department, as in others, the want of money prevented their being effectively earned out. It stands, however, to the credit of the higher naval administration that, when at the close of the Third Dutch War the temporary Commission of 1672 was dissolved, its duties were assigned by an Admiralty warrant of 1674 to the “Chirurgeon-general of his Majesty’s navy,” so that a permanent provision was now made for sick and wounded seamen in time of peace. “Mariners and soldiers maimed in his Majesty’s service at sea” were also entitled to relief out of the Chest at Chatham, according to a regular scale of compensation for the loss of a limb, or for other hurts “according to the Chirurgeon’s discretion.”

During the period 1660-88 a good deal was done to place the rates of pay, and especially of officers’ pay, upon a more satisfactory footing. In 1666 a revised scale of pay was established for flag-officers; and in 1668 flag-officers who had served in the Second Dutch War received “pensions” in proportion to the scale of pay on active service. This is an important landmark in the history of naval organisation. Hitherto it had been usual to regard officers as appointed for particular services only, and as possessing no claim upon the Government when these services had been discharged. The result of this was that, except in time of war, the field of employment was far too small, and a number of good officers were thrown upon their own resources. The change now actually effected was a small one; but, when the Government thus formally recognised the claim of a particular group of flag-officers to pay in time of peace, a principle was established which was destined to lead in the long run to the modem system of continuous employment. In 1674 the same scale was established for flag-officers who had served in the Third Dutch War; and the benefits of half-pay were extended to the captains of first- and second-rates and to the second captains of flag-ships, and, a twelvemonth later, to commanders of squadrons.

In 1672 another important change was made with regard to pay by the adoption of the principle of pensions on superannuation by age; and in 1673 this was extended to officers wounded in service at sea. In the same year the principle was further extended so as to include volunteers “borne by particular order of the Lord High Admiral,” and to “the officers of the land soldiers serving on board any of his Majesty’s ships,” “both as to their own relief in case of wounds, and their widows and orphans in case of death.” Thus the advantages which seamen and soldiers already enjoyed from the Chest at Chatham were now extended to officers at the expense of the central Government.

In the wages of seamen the considerable increase which had taken place under the Commonwealth was maintained. The misfortune of the “poor seaman ” under the later Stewarts was, not that his rate of pay was insufficient, but that he could not get his money; or, if he got it at all, it was in the depreciated paper currency known as the “ticket.” A “ticket” was a certificate from the officers of his ship, issued to each seaman, specifying the quality and term of his service; and this, when countersigned by the Navy Board, was the seaman’s warrant for demanding his wages from the Treasurer of the Navy on shore. The original purpose of these tickets was to save the necessity of transporting large sums of money on board ship; but the want of funds soon made it the regular practice to discharge all seamen with tickets instead of money, or with money for part of their time and a ticket for the rest.

Theoretically, the ticket should have supplied the seaman with credit almost up to the full amount of his wages; but, in practice, the long waiting and uncertainty of payment caused a great depreciation of tickets, and this gave rise to discontent among the seamen. In 1667 their grievance attracted attention, and the House of Commons enquired into “the buying and selling of tickets.” The “infinite great disorder” of the ticket office also attracted the notice of the Commissioners of Public Accounts; but it was impossible to go behind the reply of the Navy Board when asked to justify the practice: “We conceive the use of tickets to be by no other means removable than by a supply of money in every place, at all times, in readiness where and when... any... occasions of discharging seamen shall arise.”

The arrangements for victualling had always had an important bearing upon the contentment and efficiency of the seamen. “English­men,” wrote Pepys, “and more especially seamen, love their bellies above anything else, and therefore it must always be remembered, in the management of the victualling of the navy, that to make any abatement from them in the quantity or agreeableness of the victuals, is to discourage and provoke them in the tenderest point, and will sooner render them disgusted with the King’s service than any one other hardship that can be put upon them.” But in this department also the want of money had fatal effects, and contributed more than any other single cause to the comparative failure to provide victuals of good quality and sufficient quantity, promptly delivered where they were required. Before the Restoration the victualling had been managed by victualling commissioners “upon account,” the State keeping the business in its own hands. But the system had little chance of a fair trial, owing to financial embarrassments; and just before the King’s return matters were as bad as they could well be. The restored Government reverted to the older system of contract; but the contractor proved unable to meet the large demands of the Second Dutch War. Still, no change could well be made in the system until the Government was in a position to settle accounts with him. Thus the victuals, though on the whole good in quality, were deficient in quantity, while the contractor had an excellent defence in the failure of the State to make payments on account at the stipulated times. Probably now, as undoubtedly later, the backwardness of the victualling in turn affected the scarcity of men, for the sailors deserted from ships where they could get no food.

The practical breakdown of the victualling system during the spring and summer of 1665 led to a change in method, and in October of that year Pepys was appointed Surveyor-general of the victualling, with a subordinate surveyor in each port to keep the contractor’s agents up to the mark. The result was a slight improvement; but the new arrangement was only intended to be temporary, and it was abolished at the conclusion of peace. The victualling during the Third Dutch War was managed by five victuallers in partnership; and these did better on the whole than a single contractor had done during the earlier War, because they commanded a larger capital; although the greatness of the demand and the scarcity of the payment still caused frequent complaints of their “dilatoriness.” The Admiralty Commission of 1679, supine in other departments, decided to revolutionise the whole system of the victualling, and abandoned contract in favour of a state victualling department: this reversion to the method of the interregnum appears to have resulted in an improvement in the victualling of the navy.

The period between the Restoration and the Revolution witnessed various attempts to improve discipline, both in the dockyards and at sea. The first Articles of War to which the scrvice had been subjected were issued by the Commonwealth in 1652; and upon these the Government of the Restoration founded a disciplinary statute, passed in 1661. An Act of 1664 gave the Navy Board authority to punish disturbances or riots in the yards and the embezzlement of stores and ammunition; and their powers against embezzlement were further extended when the expired Act of 1664 was revived in 1671. An abuse of long standing had been the taking of merchants’ goods in the King’s ships, which made it easy for the officers to sell the King’s stores under the pretence that they were merchandise; to waste time in the ports which ought to be spent at sea; so to fill the ship’s hold “that they have no room to throw by their chests and other cumbersome things upon occasion of fight, whereby the gun-decks are so encumbered that they cannot possibly make so good an opposition to an enemy as otherwise they might”; and, lastly, to defraud the custom-house. The abuse was peculiarly difficult to deal with, as the merchants themselves tempted the captains to violate their instructions and made it profitable for them to do so; and, although exemplary punishments were inflicted, the practice was not easily eradicated. Similar efforts were made, especially during the period 1673-9, to prevent captains from being absent from their ships without leave; but the attractions of London were often too much for them, and, although the King took “more than ordinary notice” of this kind of delinquency, discipline continued to be far too lax. In the case of the ordinary seaman this was partly due to unpunctual payment; but in the higher ranks of the service it was due mainly to moral causes, and nothing could cure it but the steady pressure of authority exerted over a long period of time. It was not a case for heroic remedies, but for the gradual development of a higher standard of duty; and, although Pepys did his best, under Restoration conditions it was impossible that he should succeed. Some of the trouble appears to have been due to the favour shown by the restored Government to “gentlemen captains,” these “thinking themselves above the necessity of obeying orders and conforming themselves to the rules and discipline of the navy, in reliance upon the protection secured to them therein through the quality of their friends at Court.”

It is curious that in 1677, at a time when complaints against “gentle­men captains” were frequent, regular provision was first made for examining candidates for the office of lieutenant in the navy. In the same year better security was also taken for the appointment of fit persons to serve as naval chaplains, none being thereafter admitted in that capacity unless they were first approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of London. In 1687 this duty was transferred to the Bishop of Durham.

If the reign of James II had lasted longer, it might have been an epoch of importance in the history of naval discipline. The King was a disciplinarian by nature, and he supported Pepys in an energetic effort made between 1685 and 1688 to put down drunkenness and debauchery among the captains. The political miscalculations of James II did not affect the navy; and under this aspect the history of his unfortunate reign is a record of steady improvement, due to well-directed energy. An important new departure was the “establishment about plate carriage and allowance for captains’ tables,” carried through by Pepys and the King in 1686. This unostentatious title covered a serious attempt to revive discipline in the navy by giving the Admiralty a ready control over ships on foreign service, and at the same time so to improve the position of the captains as to put them beyond the reach of temptations to neglect public duty for private gain. It was clearly laid down that commanders were not in future to carry passengers or “any money, bullion, jewels, or other merchandise” without royal warrant; all orders for the proceeding of ships on any service were to be in writing a copy being sent to the Secretary to the Admiralty both by the superior giving the order and the inferior receiving it; commanders touching in foreign ports were to send “a particular account of their proceedings” to the Admiralty; and at the end of each voyage they were to send in “a perfect journal thereof.” With these additional demands upon the commanders of ships was associated an increase in their emoluments, taking the form of an extra allowance “for the support of their tables,” and varying from £83 a year to £250, according to the ship’s rate.

Pepys himself had something like a genius for the application of business principles to naval administration. His ambition was to systematise everything by means of a methodical “establishment,” and two of these not already referred to are peculiarly characteristic of his policy. In 1677 he obtained the adoption of a “solemn, universal, and unalterable adjustment of the gunning and manning of the whole fleet,” calculating with infinite labour, precision, and amplitude of detail the number, weight, and type of guns to be carried by ships of each of the six rates in “peace,” “war abroad,” and “war at home” respectively, together with the proportion of men required for each ship. In 1686, with a view to the prevention of waste, he worked out an elaborate “establishment” for boatswains’ and carpenters’ stores.

1660-88]  Shipbuilding.—Naval progress.

The shipbuilding policy of the later Stewarts maintained, if it did not increase, the strength of the navy inherited from the period of the interregnum. Excluding fire-ships and yachts, there were 108 ships on the navy list at the Revolution, as compared with 155 at the Restoration; but the former figure included nine first-rates as against three, and the fleet of 1688 was strongest in third- and fourth-rates, while that of 1660 was strongest in fourth- and fifth-rates. The numerical excess in the Commonwealth navy is more than accounted for by ships of the two lowest rates. In this period the English builders were to a certain extent indebted to foreign models. The history of the yacht in the English navy begins with 1660, when the Mary was presented to Charles II by the Dutch. In 1663 and 1664 an improvement in two-decked ships was effected by an adaptation from the French and the Dutch; and in 1674 Sir Anthony Deane built the Harwich after the dimensions of a French ship, the Superbe, which came to Spithead with the French fleet during the Third Dutch War. She was recognised as a great improvement upon the corresponding English type, and the Harwich became the pattern for the second- and third-rates built under the Act of 1677. The English builders also tried cautious experiments with galleys, in imitation of the Mediterranean Powers.

In dealing with naval history before and after the Restoration, there has been a tendency among historians to over-emphasise the contrast between the efficiency of virtue and the incompetence of vice. That the naval administrators of the Commonwealth were on the whole more strenuous, upright, and devoted than their successors cannot be denied; but there are other factors in the explanation of their success, which are too often left out of account. The Puritan colonels who controlled the Commonwealth navy had already received a training, through the Cromwellian army, in the principles of business as applied to war. The confiscation of Royalist property placed at their disposal funds that seemed almost unlimited, until the time came when they were exhausted, and want of money began to create for the revolutionary Government precisely the same difficulties which afterwards beset the restored monarchy. Pepys and his colleagues had none of these advantages, and the wonder is that without them they achieved so much. They had to deal with the characteristic vices of the Restoration, exhibited throughout the service—“the laziness of one, the private business or love of pleasure in another, want of method in a third, and zeal to the affair in the most”; and they were perpetually entangled in the remorseless consequences of bad finance. Yet, except during the period 1679 to 1684, there was no abject incompetence, and much was effected from time to time, at first towards the incorporation of the improvements of the revolutionary period into the permanent system of the navy, and then in the direction of independent reform. The naval progress of the period may be perhaps partly attributed to the growing interest of the political classes in sea-power, expressing itself at first in parliamentary enquiry into corrupt administration, and then in parliamentary grants appropriated to shipbuilding and other naval expenditure. But something must be ascribed to the knowledge and interest in these matters displayed both by Charles II and James II, and to the. fact that in this department of affairs the Crown was always on the side of intelligent policy and vigorous administration. And in Samuel Pepys, “the right hand of the navy,” the last two Stewart Kings had found a great public servant, who exhibited just those qualities which the navy required for its regeneration—a sound judgment, orderly business methods, administrative energy and capacity, shrewdness and tact in dealing with men, and above all a standard of public duty, which, in spite of his earlier lapses, derived its character from the period of Puritan supremacy.



THE WARS (1664-74).


Indisputable as had been the English victory in the First Dutch War (1652-4), it had not been sufficiently decisive to preclude a renewal of the struggle, nor had the peace removed its principal causes. While the naval strength of Holland was weakened but not annihilated, commercial jealousy was embittered by the memories of the conflict. The Dutch, conscious that their international importance rested above all on their commerce, were not ready to leave unchallenged England’s hardly-won naval supremacy. Nor had the restoration of the Stewarts improved the chances of peace. Charles II, while following the Protector in upholding the commercial interests of England, did not share the zeal for Protestantism which had made Cromwell so anxious to end the strife with the sister Republic. Moreover, the existing Government of the United Provinces had expelled him from Holland at Cromwell’s bidding, and was identified with the exclusion from power of his relatives of the House of Orange. Thus it was not on the side of peace that the influence of the English Court was likely to be exerted, and the King’s connexion with the mercantile bodies which felt Dutch competition most keenly, the East India and Royal African Companies, greatly strengthened the advocates of the use of force against commercial rivals. Almost from the beginning of the reign strained relations prevailed between England and the United Provinces. The Dutch viewed with so bitter a jealousy the English occupation of Tangier (January, 1662), that at one time it seemed likely that Spain and her former provinces might combine to oppose the establishment of an English naval station at this important strategic point. That crisis passed away; but the ill-will implied by the presence of de Ruyter’s squadron in the Straits remained. It was in vain that in September, 1662, a treaty was negotiated in which the Provinces showed every disposition to be conciliatory, recognising the English “right of the flag,” and promising to give up the island of Pularoon. This last concession was never carried out, and the treaty became a dead letter. Collisions between Dutch and English traders in the East Indies and West Africa continued to occur—collisions which, seeing how little control the home governments could exercise over their representatives in those distant quarters, it would have been hard enough to prevent, even if the English Government had genuinely wished to keep the peace. On both sides complaints were frequent. In April, 1664, the Royal African Company protested that “the Dutch leave no stone unturned to discourage and ruin” their trade; and in the same month claims against the Dutch were reported to the House of Lords for damages amounting to £800,000, of which the East India Company demanded £230,000 and the “traders to Africa” £330,000. But before this Charles II had taken a step which made war inevitable. In October, 1663, he despatched to the Guinea Coast a small squadron of men-of-war under Major (afterwards Sir) Robert Holmes, to protect the Royal African Company against the encroachments of the Dutch, Holmes had instructions to avoid hostilities, if possible; but, according to his own narrative of his proceedings, he met with a most unconciliatory reception from the Dutch authorities, who fired upon him when he attempted to negotiate and stirred up the natives to take part against him. Thus provided with the excuse he wanted, Holmes retaliated forcibly, capturing most of the Dutch possessions and vessels on the coast.

Such proceedings, amounting as they did to acts of war, not unnaturally provoked vigorous protests from the Dutch, and, at the request of their ambassador, Holmes was thrown into the Tower on his return to England and subjected to an examination before the Secretaries of State. However, the Dutch did not confine themselves to seeking redress by diplomatic means, but paid Charles back in his own coin. They had at that moment in the Mediterranean a squadron under de Ruyter, ostensibly protecting Dutch trade against the Barbary corsairs; and, when the English Government threatened to treat as a declaration of war the despatch of Dutch reinforcements to West Africa, de Witt, while apparently giving Way, was able to steal a march on England by using de Ruyter’s ships for the purpose. Appearing on the Guinea Coast in January, 1665, de Ruyter surprised several English vessels at Goree, recovered that post and others which Holmes had seized, and captured several of the English settlements. Thence he crossed to the West Indies, only to be repulsed from Barbados (April, 1665), after which he coasted along the American sea-board to Newfoundland, making many prizes but failing to recover the Dutch settlements on the Hudson, known as New Amsterdam. These had been captured in the previous autumn by an expedition under the command of Governor Nicholls of Massachusetts who had renamed them New York, in honour of the Lord High Admiral, James, Duke of York. Not till June, 1665, did he turn homewards; and long before that date open war had taken the place of those irregular hostilities which both sides endeavoured to justify under the name of “reprisals.” During the winter of 1664-5 these had been extended from colonial to European waters by Sir Thomas Allen’s attack on the homeward-bound Dutch Smyrna fleet in the Straits of Gibraltar (December, 1664). The next step was the seizure of the Dutch ships in English harbours and the confiscation of their cargoes. In February a proclamation was issued warning merchant-ships in foreign parts not to sail home alone for fear of the Dutch, but to wait for other vessels or for proper convoy. Letters of reprisal were freely issued, and preparations for war were generally pushed forward. The Dutch for their part spared no effort to fit out as large a fleet as possible, levying heavy additional taxes, and raising loans. Their application to Louis XIV for the assistance due from France under the treaty of April, 1662, proved unsuccessful, as Louis sought to use the opportunity to obtain from them a recognition of his claims on the Spanish Netherlands, a concession to which they would not agree. Meanwhile the Commons had voted £2,500,000 for the navy (February, 1665), and on March 4 Charles published his declaration of war.

That the struggle on which England and Holland thus entered would be of a purely naval character was made sufficiently certain by their common military weakness. Neither combatant could hope to achieve anything on land beyond mere raids on exposed points; systematic military operations, such as an invasion, were quite out of the question. Hence the command of the sea was sought, not in order that naval preponderance might open up a field for the operations of armies, but to obtain security for the combatant’s own commerce, and to inflict as much injury as possible on the commerce and shipping of the enemy. In the war of 1652-4 neither side had suspended its commerce, and the operations had largely consisted of the attack and defence of great convoys. Now the States-General, recognising the impossibility of success in the double task of contesting the command of the sea and protecting their own commerce, issued a proclamation prohibiting all their subjects from stirring out of any of their ports, in the hope that, if thus relieved of the duty of protecting merchantships, they might concentrate all their energy and strength on gaining command of the sea by victory over the enemy’s fleet. Fully aware of the great advantages of being the first to get to sea, each side made every effort to anticipate its enemy; but, while Charles had committed a serious imprudence in declaring war when he was not in a position to strike at once, the defects in the Dutch administration made their mobilisation even more backward, and, despite all de Witt’s efforts, the Zeeland squadron had not yet managed to join the main fleet in the Texel, when on April 23 the Duke of York appeared off their coast at the head of over 100 sail. During more than a fortnight he cruised off the Dutch harbours, capturing their homeward-bound merchantmen, vainly challenging their fleet to battle. But Obdam, to whom in de Ruyter’s absence the command had been given, would not come out when a third of his fleet was separated from him and the enemy held the interior position, and he remained quiet till heavy weather combined with shortness of provisions to drive the English home (May 15). Then, having rallied the Zeelanders, Obdam crossed to the English coast, hoping from reports of their unreadiness to catch his enemy at a disadvantage.

1665] Battle of Lowestoft.


However, when on June 1 he appeared off Southwold Bay, to which the English had moved from the Gunfleet two days before, he found them ready and eager to engage. The English at once stood out to sea, and spent all that day and the next in working out to the eastward, Obdam, who had the wind (S.E.) of them, keeping away and avoiding action. At daybreak next morning (June 3) the wind shifted to the S.S.W., thereby giving the English the weather-gage and enabling them to force on an action. Twice the fleets passed each other on opposite tacks, exchanging a heavy fire, the English retaining the wind despite an effort of the Dutch to weather Prince Rupert’s squadron, which led the fleet at the second “pass.” Then, by promptly tacking, the fleet came on to the same course as the Dutch, and bore down to closer quarters to force the fighting. For some time the battle was very evenly contested; and, though the English appear to have throughout manoeuvred with more skill than the Dutch, they could not altogether avoid some confusion. Thus James himself seems to have changed places with Sandwich in order to prevent the Dutch van from stretching ahead and gaining the wind of the Earl’s squadron, which on the port tack was leading the English fleet. The decisive moment came when Obdam, endeavouring to close with the Duke’s flag-ship, perished in an explosion which wrecked his ship and was the signal for the rout of the Dutch. Night and a slackening of the pursuit, due probably to the unauthorised intervention of one of the Duke’s suite, nervous for his master’s safety, prevented the Dutch defeat from becoming a disaster, and enabled them to find shelter among their shoals. The English had suffered too severely in spars and rigging (for it was the Dutch practice to fire high so as to cripple their opponents) to be able to establish a blockade of the Dutch ports; but nevertheless the English victory was incontestable. With the loss of one old ship and about a thousand casualties, they had sunk and destroyed over a dozen vessels, taken as many more, and inflicted on the enemy a loss of about 5000 men. The old fault of indiscipline and insubordination still marred the efficiency of the Dutch, and the English fleet was in much better order and far smarter and more skilful in manoeuvring.

The War had thus opened well for the English; but the subsequent course of the campaign proved disappointing. The shortcomings of the victualling department seriously impaired the efficiency of the fleet, and despite a “hot press” and the embarcation of an unusual number of landsmen, want of hands proved a great source of trouble. Moreover, later in the year, the ravages of the Plague greatly increased the difficulties of the Government and the disorders in the administration. Nor was Sandwich, who had replaced James in the command, conspicuously successful when at last he did get to sea (July 5). An attempt on some Dutch East Indiamen in the neutral port of Bergen (August 2) was repulsed with heavy loss; but more serious than the repulse was the fact that, while Sandwich was thus out of the way, de Ruyter had reached home in safety, so that the Dutch secured not only a valuable convoy and many prizes, but also a commander-in-chief capable of reviving their drooping courage. He was at once sent off to Bergen to bring home the Indiamen in refuge there, a task he accomplished successfully despite the efforts of Sandwich to intercept him. A storm which dispersed the Dutch (September 3) allowed Sandwich to capture four men-of-war and some valuable merchantmen; but they proved a source of more trouble than profit, as Sandwich seems to have allowed a premature distribution of the cargoes, a step which gave a handle to his numerous enemies, and mainly accounted for his supersession. Towards the end of October, after the English fleet had taken up its winter station at the Nore, the Dutch made an ineffectual demonstration off the Thames; the English, hard hit by the ravages of the Plague, were too short of men to accept the challenge, and, before long, bad weather drove the Dutch home.

Meanwhile (June, 1665) Charles, as has been more fully narrated in a previous chapter, had secured the aid of Munster’s warlike prelate, the restless and energetic Bernhard von Galen, who was the more ready to lead his troops against the ill-guarded eastern frontier of the United Provinces (September), since on several occasions the Republic had thwarted his schemes. For war by land the Dutch were but ill-prepared, and their eastern provinces were speedily overrun; but here the Bishop’s successes came to an end. Charles could send his ally no troops, and the Dutch could now claim French help against an undeniable aggression. Louis, anxious lest the recent death of Philip IV of Spain (September 17, N.S.) might induce England and the Dutch to sink their differences in order to check his designs on the Spanish Netherlands, was determined to prolong the war; and accordingly he despatched 6000 men to support the Dutch and gave orders to his admiral, the Duc de Beaufort, to make ready to bring the Toulon squadron round to the Atlantic for the campaign of 1666.

The intervention of France. [1665-6

The importance of the intervention of France is not to be measured by the fact that de Beaufort never joined de Ruyter or fired a shot in action. His squadron was nevertheless the principal cause of the English defeat in the “Four Days’ Battle.” The strain of the war was beginning to tell on the ill-managed finances of England, nor was it till the end of May that Monck and Rupert, the new “Generals at Sea,” were able to put out; and, even then, they had only some eighty fighting ships under them, although, in order to concentrate all available force against the principal enemy, it had been found necessary to recall the squadron under Sir Jeremy Smyth, which had recently taken the Levant “trade” out to the Mediterranean. Could this squadron have been left in the Straits of Gibraltar, it would have held the French at Toulon in check, and have prevented de Beaufort from joining the Brest ships under Duquesue or coming to the aid of the Dutch. But, after recalling Smyth’s squadron in order to concentrate, it was an inexcusable blunder to divide the main fleet by detaching Rupert with twenty of the best ships to attempt the destruction of the French at Belleisle. To fix the responsibility for this blunder is not easy. The evidence on the point is inadequate and conflicting. On the one hand, in the account which he gave to the Commons after the war, Monck states most explicitly that the fleet was divided “by order from above”; and he declares that he had been surprised by the proposal and had pointed out the risks which would be incurred. That the final decision as to the movements of the fleet rested not with the commanders but with the King and Council seems clear from the language of the State Papers of the period, while Rupert, in his version of the affair, speaks of “sailing in pursuance of the orders he had duly received from the Duke of York.” According to Pepys, not an impartial witness against the rival who had superseded his patron, Sandwich, the step was in the first instance suggested “from the fleet.” Sir William Coventry, the informant on whom he relied, had an excellent reason for wishing to fix the blame on the admirals, for according to Monck it was Coventry who had first come to the Nore to submit the proposal to Monck and Rupert. If the evidence is not enough to warrant us in definitely ascribing the plan to the; Duke of York, whose secretary Coventry was, Monck’s seems the more credible of the two statements.

But whoever was really at fault, the result was disastrous. Barely had Rupert sailed (May 29) than Monck received orders to move from the Downs to the Gunfleet; and, in obeying these, he fell in with the Dutch between the North Foreland and Dunkirk (June 1). Retreat would perhaps have been the most prudent course, for the Dutch had eighty sail to his fifty-four; but many of his fleet were “heavy sailers” and even retreat might not have averted a battle. Moreover, Monck had the wind (S.W.) in his favour, while the Dutch were much scattered, the majority being far to leeward, and consequently badly placed for assisting the windwardmost squadroti, Comelis Tromp’s, which Monck hastened to attack with his whole force. Tromp had to cut his cables and to bear away S.E., while de Ruyter and Evertsen strove to come to his help. But, before Monck could reap the fruits of his tactics, the rapidly shoaling water forced him to tack to escape the sands, and in standing back to the north-westward he could not avoid engaging the Dutch centre and rear. Through these he fought his way gallantly, first standing N.E., then tacking and working back W. “through the body” of the hostile fleet, after which nightfall ended the engagement. Though the shoals had intervened to mar the success of his stroke at Tromp, Monck had given a brilliant example of tactical insight and daring, and he might fairly claim to have had none the worst of the day. The flag-ship of the Vice-Admiral of the White, Sir William Berkeley, was missing, and two or three other vessels had been lost, apparently being cut off through failing to keep the line ; but the Dutch had suffered as much damage as they had inflicted, and two at least of their ships had been sunk or fired.

Next morning (June 2) found the indefatigable Monck plying to windward (S.S.W.) to renew the fight, the precision and order of his line exciting the admiration of a French eye-witness in the Dutch fleet. Having gained the wind, thanks to superior manoeuvring and to more weatherly vessels, he “bore up round on” the enemy, and engaged “more hotly than before.” For some time the English had by no means the worst of the action, dividing the enemy’s fleet, and pressing very hotly upon “the leewardmost part of them.” However, numerical in­feriority prevented the English from profiting by their superior discipline and smarter manoeuvring; and, when about 2 p.m. Monck, making a final “pass,” tacked back to the west, weathering most of the Dutch fleet, and drew his ships together, he found it impossible to continue the contest. In the course of the day some sixteen sail had reinforced de Ruyter, while many of Monck’s captains had gone off to repair damages without waiting to obtain permission, so that he was left with less than forty ships, and these much injured in masts and rigging. Retreat was therefore imperative, but it was carried out with order and skill, the sixteen most effective vessels being formed into a line abreast in the rear to cover their more crippled consorts, some of the worst of which, Dutch prizes and other “slugg ships,” Monck destroyed there and then. The Dutch followed the retreating squadron; but, when next morning (June 3) they attempted to press home the pursuit, they were so hotly received that they sheered off to a more respectful distance. About three in the afternoon ships were sighted to the southward, which, to Monck’s relief, soon proved to be Rupert’s squadron returning to their comrades’ aid in response to the orders which had reached them at St Helen’s. The course was promptly altered to W.S.W.; but, before a junction could be effected, several vessels ran on the Galloper Sand, among them the Prince, the flag-ship of Sir George Ayscue, which, failing to get off, surrendered somewhat tamely, and was burnt by her captors. However, though the Dutch detached a squadron to intercept Rupert, the attempt failed, and the reunited English stood to the northward to clear the Galloper, the Dutch standing away to gain the wind (S.S.E.).

Next morning (June 4), the English hastened to renew the engagement, the Dutch lying to windward (S.W.) to await the attack, which was led by Rupert’s vessels. As the enemy showed a disinclination to come to close quarters, the English on the starboard tack bore down upon them, and forced their way through the Dutch line, with the result that the Dutch fleet seems to have become divided into two groups, one to leeward and a larger one to windward, between which the English “stood backward and forward” several times, exchanging broadsides. At length, as the English pressed heavily upon the leewardmost group, the Dutch to windward bore up to their comrades’ aid, thereby allowing Rupert and several supporters to weather them. But, as Rupert tacked again, meaning to bear down to help Monck, on whose division the Dutch were now pressing, some of his damaged masts fell and left him crippled. Monck, likewise too much disabled to tack, was forced to bear away, and failed to prevent the capture of two or three of the “lamed ships” in his rear. The Dutch were, however, in little better plight, and, so soon as Monck and Rupert had rejoined, “made no further after them,” but stood away homeward, “as glad to be quit of us as we of them.” It was but a Pyrrhic victory they could claim. Without reckoning several fire-ships which they had expended, they seem to have lost four or five ships at least; and, in view of the English practice of reserving their fire for close quarters and “levelling most at the hulls,” whereas the Dutch fired high, disabling masts and rigging rather than doing execution among the crews, it would be unreasonable to put the Dutch casualties lower than the English, of which latter 3000 killed and wounded, with 1500 prisoners, seems an approximately correct estimate. The twenty or thirty English ships usually alleged to have been lost or taken come down, on investigation of the official lists of the fleet before and after the battle, to ten exclusive of fire-ships. And, if the English discipline had not been strong enough to prevent the speedy quitting of the action by some faint-hearted captains, the tenacity and endurance displayed by most of the vanquished fairly entitles them to a share of the honours. It was with some justice that the sailors cursed the division of the fleet as the cause of the disaster; they had been outnumbered, not outfought, and all they asked for was another chance on more equal terms.

Indeed, the real reason for calling the battle a Dutch victory was that de Witt’s strenuous exertions enabled the Dutch to be at sea again by June 28 (O.S.), three weeks earlier than their rivals. However, they made little use of this period. The French failed to appear, and without French aid an invasion could not be contemplated. Their presence on the English coast does not seem to have very seriously impeded commerce; while, by the time the Dutch put out, “the buoy at the Nore,” where the fleet was assembling, was “beginning to fill and to look proudly again,” as disabled ships were refitted, so that an attack on the English at their moorings would have been hazardous. The chief trouble of the English commanders was lack of men. The last battle had left the fleet ill-manned, and the counter-attraction of privateering proved a serious competitor. Vigorous pressing supplied quantity rather than quality; and, though the deficiency was to some extent met by shipping soldiers—an expedient freely employed by the Dutch—in the end some fifteen vessels of no particular value were left behind, and their crews distributed through the fleet. At length, on July 19, the fleet, eighty-eight men-of-war and seventeen fire-ships, left the Nore,and after managing to pass the Narrows at one tide reached the Gunfleet (July 22), the Dutch withdrawing eastward to bring the shelter of their friendly shoals close at hand in case of defeat. Next day, the English sailed again with the wind at S.S.E. and stood out through the King’s Channel after the Dutch.

Bad weather prevented a battle till the 25th, when daybreak found the Dutch on the port tack, steering S. by E. with the wind at N.N.E. As they, though to windward, made no attempt to engage, the English bore down upon them, Sir Thomas Allen, who led the van, closing “as soon as he came to the head of the enemies’ fleet.” The action speedily became general; and, though the Dutch appear to have deliberately adopted the “half-moon” formation, which was considered an effective method of meeting an enemy attacking in line ahead, the English “plied them so close that they could not tack on us.” For some hours the battle was evenly contested; but about 3 p.m. the Frisian and North Holland squadrons, which formed the van, disorganised by the fall of Evertsen and two other flag-officers, gave way in disorder; whereupon de Ruyter, unable to withstand any longer the fierce attacks of Monck and Rupert, was forced to follow suit with the centre. In the rear, where Tromp and the Zeelanders were opposed to Sir Jeremy Smyth, matters were more even. The Blue, the weakest of the English squadrons, included several heavy sailers, which were lagging behind, and Tromp was able to hold on towards the south, keeping the wind of Smyth, who, however, held on with him; so that before long the rears were completely separated from their main bodies which were standing away eastward, the Dutch making for home, the English in pursuit. Fortunately for de Ruyter, who exerted himself most gallantly to cover his “maimed ships,” the wind dropped considerably; so that the Dutch, who could sail better in light winds because they drew less water, were able to keep ahead of their pursuers until, on the evening of the 26th, Monck and Rupert had the mortification of seeing their quarry gain the shelter of the sand-banks and make their way into the Dearloo Channel. There remained, however, the hope of intercepting Tromp; and to this end the commanders anchored where he was likely to pass, though most of their ships failing to follow this example were carried by the tide to the leeward. Moreover Smyth, nervous about venturing too near the banks, failed to keep very close on Tromp, so that the Zeeland squadron also gained the Wielings and safety (July 27,0.S.). Yet, though the Dutch had reason to congratulate themselves on having escaped with the loss of only five or six sail, their defeat was more decisive than that of the English in the “Four Days’ Battle.” Their shattered vessels had to he inactive in harbour, powerless to hinder Monck and Rupert, who continued on the Dutch coast, holding their privateers in check, capturing many prizes—a vessel taken on August 21 is spoken of as the eighty-fifth taken since the fleet came out—and inflicting upon Dutch commerce damage estimated at £1,000,000 by destroying the town of Brandaris on the island of Schelling, together with some hundred-and-sixty merchantmen lying in the Vlie (August 8).

Peace negotiations.

But England was as incapable of following up on land the successes which she had gained at sea as was her adversary; and she could no longer rely on the renunciation of the Bishop of Munster, who had been forced to make peace in April, restoring to the Republic all his conquests. Lack of provisions at length drove the English home; and the Dutch, who were still hoping for a junction with de Beaufort, put to sea about the end of August. Hearing of this, Rupert and Monck hastily sailed from Southwold Bay (August 30); and, though a violent storm which compelled them to bear away down Channel to St Helen’s (September 2), baulked them of the battle they desired, no junction was effected, and the Dutch returned to the Wielings. By September 13 Rupert was again at sea, and he continued cruising in the Channel till the end of the month; while de Beaufort, who had ventured as far as Dieppe, but was by no means anxious to risk his raw crews in action, returned to Brest after a very brief stay within the reach of danger. Once again de Ruyter put out; but again, just as Rupert was on the point of bringing him to action, an exceptionally violent gale prevented the fleets from engaging by driving them both to shelter, September 25; and thus operations came to an end on both sides.

By this time both combatants were heartily anxious to end the war. The hopes which had caused Charles II to embark upon it had been disappointed. Far from proving lucrative, it was a heavy drain on financial resources already unequal to the requirements of an extravagant Court, and an ill-managed administration. The Plague, the Great Fire, disaffection at home, and risings in Scotland, combined, as has been shown in an earlier chapter, to make peace urgent; while de Witt, alarmed by the designs of Louis XIV on the Netherlands, wanted to be quit of a struggle which was inflicting serious losses on Dutch commerce and shipping. Hence, when Charles made overtures (October, 1666) they were favourably received; and in May a conference met at Breda. With peace thus appearing assured, Charles was reluctant to spend money on preparations for a campaign which might not take place. Accordingly, instead of restoring the fleet to a war footing by refitting the first- and second-rates which, as was then usual, had been laid up during the winter, it was decided to send out a few light squadrons to attack Dutch commerce. For commerce-destroying as a weapon of the weaker belligerent a fairly plausible case can be made out; but its deliberate adoption by the combatant who had till then certainly had the best of the contest, not merely threw away dearly won advantages, but might have entailed utterly disastrous as well as disgraceful consequences, had the enemy been able to improve the occasion properly. Moreover, it seems clear that all the experts were against these proceedings, not merely Rupert and Monck, but the Duke of York also. However, Charles was determined to spend no more on the fleet, and the command of the sea was deliberately allowed to go to the Dutch by default.

It would be easier to treat this misguided step as a mere error of judgment, if adequate preparations had been made for local defence of places likely to be attacked, or if the English Government had been without information as to the movements and intentions of the Dutch. No such extenuating circumstances can, however, be pleaded. So early as April it was reported that the Dutch meant to block up the Thames; and at the end of the month thirty sail appeared in the Firth of Forth, and, after demonstrating uselessly against Edinburgh, bombarded Burnt­island without much more result. But all warnings were neglected, and on May 24 the King ordered that, to avoid further expense, the third-rates also should be laid up, and only small parties sent out “to distract the enemy and to disturb their trade.” Orders were also issued for putting the various ports into a state of defence; but, as the Council declined to provide any money, “the peace being as good as made,” the orders remained a dead letter.

De Witt was not the man “to be registered to posterity as casting away arms of offence and defence while in treaty with armed and active enemies”; and he eagerly grasped the chance of carrying out a project he had for some time entertained of attacking the English in their harbours. Early in June some sixty-six sail left Holland on this errand, and by 7 p.m. on the 10th the half-finished works at Sheemess were in de Ruyter’s hands, and all was uproar and panic at Chatham. Monck, hastening to the scene of danger, did all that one man could accomplish; but the fatuous negligence of the Council had made effective measures of resistance impossible: guns, ammunition, stores of every kind were lacking, and he was none too well supported by the dockyard officials. All in vain ships were sunk to block the passage of the Medway, and so cover the vessels lying unmanned and unfitted in Gillingham Reach. June 12 saw the humiliating results of Charles II’s policy. Not only were the triumphant Dutch able to inflict on their impotent adversaries a loss far heavier than that suffered in the “Four Days’ Battle,” sixteen vessels in all being taken, burnt or scuttled by the defenders, among them the famous Royal Charles and three other vessels of almost equal strength; but these losses were as nothing in comparison with the disgrace and ignominy thus gratuitously incurred. The King’s reluctance to spend money on national defence was the sole cause of a humiliation which might easily have been averted. In the previous autumn there had been murmurs enough against the inadequate protection given against privateers, and men had remembered how “in Oliver’s time there was better care taken to secure the coasts than now”; thus the exploits of the Dutch in the Medway throw a lurid light on the Stewart conception of the duty of national defence.

The Peace of Breda.

To the general relief, the Dutch proved unable to follow up the blow they had given. Retiring to the Nore (June 16) they remained inactive during all the next fortnight, merely hindering trade by their presence at the mouth of the Thames. Now at last something was done to put the coasts and forts into a proper state of preparation. Everywhere the militia were called out. Rupert hurried down to Woolwich to erect defences such as would prevent the Dutch from coming up the Thames to London; and, though exasperation and indignation with the Government for its culpable negligence were universal, men flocked to arms. Early in July the Dutch at last bestirred themselves to assault Landguard Fort; but they were repulsed with loss, and some troops whom they landed at Felixstowe as a diversion were so warmly received by the local militia that they “had much ado to keep themselves from disorder when re-embarking.” Equal unsuccess attended a squadron which was sent down Channel to intercept the home-coming “Straits fleet.” The prey got safely into Dartmouth, which de Ruyter found too well prepared for him to venture on an attack; and, meanwhile, the ships he had left in the Thames had been assailed by fire-ships and other small vessels under Sir Edward Spragg (July 24), and had been forced to retire seawards. But the blow at the Medway had done its work: the English negotiators had had to abate their demands, and on July 26 official news was received that peace had been concluded on the 21st. By its terms the Dutch retained Pularoon and Lord Willoughby of Parham’s settlement at Surinam which they had just captured (March, 1667); the Navigation Act was also somewhat modified in their favour, and the commercial treaty of 1662 was reaffirmed. But they had to recognise that “right of the flag,” which had been so long a cause of contention, and also to leave New Amsterdam in English hands, thereby losing their foothold in North America. Simultaneously England and France made mutual restoration of their conquests in the West Indies, England also evacuating Nova Scotia, which she had conquered in 1654.

That after the Dutch raid on the Medway England should have obtained such favourable terms is largely to be ascribed to de Witt’s moderation, and to his anxiety not to estrange England in the face of the growing danger from Louis XIV. But the United Provinces had little to gain by continuing operations. The events of July had shown little prospect of repeating the Chatham success, and their command of the sea rested on the somewhat doubtful title of the deliberate neglect of the English to contest it. Had Charles listened to reason and puthis: fleet on a war footing in 1667, he might have obtained very favourable terms. Up to the end of 1666 the balance of advantage had certainly lain with the English, well as de Ruyter had done. Many of the Dutch captains were still, as in 1652-4, indifferent fighting men, and the efficiency of the Dutch fleet had been gravely marred by the old fault of indiscipline, exhibited at times by subordinate flag-officers such as Tromp and van Nes, no less than by disobedient captains and mutinous crews. On the other hand, while it cannot be denied that the service suffered not a little through faction and the rivalries of the different commanders and their followers, as has been seen the licence and low moral standards of the Restoration period had not yet altogether corrupted the English navy. Certainly in tactics and the handling of fleets the English were superior to their enemy. In Myngs, Lawson, Penn, Allen and many others, the English navy possessed capable and accomplished subordinates; and, While James acquitted himself creditably enough at Southwold Bay, it is certainly unfair to dismiss Rupert as a mere cavalry officer at sea. Monck too, whatever his shortcomings on the seaman’s side of the admiral’s art, was anything but an amateur in tactics. Indeed, there seem to be good grounds for attributing to him a very important share in the introduction of the new system of tactics, the development of which can be traced in the Fighting Instructions of the period. These show clearly that the close-hauled line ahead was a purely English innovation, adopted because it admitted of the full utilisation of the gun-power on which the English principally relied. Whatever the exact stage in its evolution reached in the First Dutch War, in the Second it may certainly be regarded as the established English formation; and the detailed accounts of the battles of 1665 and 1666 certainly leave the conviction, not only that the greater skill with which the English manoeuvred was the result of familiarity with this formation and of constant practice, but that, notwithstanding any opposite impressions based on Pepys famous report of his conversation with Sir William Penn after the “Four Days’ Battle,” instead of the English having learnt the line-ahead from the Dutch, it was the Dutch who strove to imitate the English formation—not always with much success. “Nothing,” wrote the French eye-witness of Monck’s attack on June 2, 1666, “equals the beautiful order of the English at sea. Never was a line drawn straighter than that drawn by their ships. They fight like a line of cavalry handled according to rule.” It is only the blunder‘ which exposed Monck to greatly superior forces in the “Four Days’ Battle,” and the Criminal folly which brought about the humiliation of June, 1667, that prevent us from looking on the Second Dutch War as a period of naval success; and for these errors neither the navy nor its commanders can reasonably be held responsible.

That there were Englishmen who shared de Witt’s fears of Louis was proved by the next phase in the relations of England and Holland, the Triple Alliance of 1668. But Temple and his supporters were powerless to secure the permanence of an alliance which rested on no secure basis; and, so far as Charles was concerned, his assent to the alliance was a piece of the grossest insincerity and political treachery. In the country at large the sense of the danger from France which threatened both England and the United Provinces was not yet strong enough to outweigh the commercial jealousy of the Dutch, which had not at all diminished, and the desire to vindicate the honour of the English arms by avenging the raid on the Medway. Even Buckingham and Shaftesbury, who were not in the full secret of the Treaty of Dover, were well disposed to the French alliance as a return to the policy of the Protectorate, and a guarantee for the adequate humiliation of the detested Hollanders.

Once the Treaty of Dover had been concluded, the outbreak of hostilities was only a question of time. In vain de Witt sought to conciliate Charles. His evident desire for peace was interpreted as a proof of weakness; and the only result was that Charles, having failed to goad the Dutch into some act which he might treat as a provocation, opened the game by attacking (March 13, 1672) the Dutch Smyrna fleet on its homeward way up Channel. The attack, delivered without any warning, not to speak of a declaration of war, was not merely a breach of international decencies, but a discreditable failure, for the force employed proved insufficient to overcome the convoy’s escort, and most of the ships escaped capture. Four days later (March 17) England declared war.

The conditions under which the Third Dutch War was fought differed appreciably from those of the Second, since the combatants sought to gain the command of the sea, not merely in order to protect their own commerce and to destroy or drive off the enemy’s mercantile marine, but also with the intention of bringing their maritime operations to bear directly on the course of the War by land. The English army was still in its infancy; but by 1672 Charles had managed to raise forces in England and Scotland quite large enough to have effected something decisive, could they have been landed on the Dutch coast so as to combine with the successful advance of Louis against the eastern frontier of the Republic. The victories of June 1665 and July 1666 had been barren of results, because the victors could not follow up their naval successes by carrying the war into the enemy’s country. If beaten at sea now, the Dutch would be exposed to a danger even more serious than the paralysis of their commerce.

Once again Charles had rushed into war before his forces were ready; and the imprudence might have cost him dear, had de Witt been able to get his ships out in time to prevent the Duke of York, who had resumed the command—for Monck’s death (1670) had removed his principal rival—from joining his French allies undisturbed. But the usual inefficiency of the over-decentralised Dutch naval administration disappointed de Witt’s hopes of repeating the raid of 1667. The Zeeland squadron was late, and when at last de Ruyter with seventy-five ships appeared at the entrance to the Thames (May 5), the English were already on their way down the Channel to meet the French. The junction took place at Portsmouth on May 7; and the two fleets promptly set sail eastward to bring the Dutch to action. Together they mustered rather over ninety sail, excluding fire-ships, the French supplying about a third of the force.

Contrary winds so much impeded progress that it was not till May 17 that the allies were off the North Foreland; and by that date their water supplies were running short. Accordingly it was decided to make for Southwold Bay, where they cast anchor on May 22, having on the way fallen in with the Dutch (May 20), though bad weather had prevented an action. It does not say much for the English administration that the watering and provisioning should still have been incomplete six days later, when, in the early morning of May 28, a scout brought the news that the Dutch were standing into the bay before an easterly breeze. Their adversaries appear to have been somewhat unprepared, for, though they promptly weighed anchor and stood out to sea, the movement was executed in some disorder, the English standing northward, the French going out on the other tack to the S.S.E. and thus becoming completely separated from their allies. Moreover, those English ships which had been lying to leeward, nearer the shore, found it impossible to work out to join the vessels to windward, which, being for the most part flag-ships or other heavy vessels, could not bear down to rejoin their consorts for fear of the shoals. Thus the line was never properly formed; and, when de Ruyter, leaving the Zeeland squadron to “contain” the French, bore down “like a torrent” on the English with the rest of his fleet, the windwardmost ships came in for some severe treatment. For nearly three hours the English stood northward, closely engaged, till about 11 a.m. Jordan, who was leading the Blue squadron, managed to get ahead of the Dutch van, and tacking gained the wind. Sandwich being “ deep in the enemies’ fleet” was unable to follow, but his rear-admiral, Kempthorne, was more fortunate, weathering the enemy and forcing them to tack and stand south. He then endeavoured to succour his commander, now closely beset by fire-ships, three of which he repulsed before a fourth succeeded in setting fire to the Royal James, with fatal results to the ship and to Sandwich himself. About the same time the Duke of York, who had shifted from the disabled Prince to the St Michael, had to tack to avoid the Red Sand; but, as the wind was too light to clear the smoke away, his action was not at first perceived by the bulk of his squadron; nor was it till about 2 p.m. that Harman and Spragg discovered what he had done and followed suit. By this time both fleets had lost their formation and had fallen into several groups, all standing southward towards the French and the Zeelanders. James, who was hotly engaged, had some Dutch to leeward, but a larger body, including de Ruyter, to windward. Jordan and Kempthome were on de Ruyter’s weather-quarter, pressing hard on him, Harman and Spragg coming up from astern. For some hours the action continued; the St Michael was in turn disabled, so that when Spragg came up James shifted to his flag-ship, the London, but the English pressed so hotly on the leeward group of Dutch that, about 8 p.m., they bore away, whereupon de Ruyter also disengaged and made off, eventually rallying the Zeeland squadron, and all standing away for the Dutch coast.

During the night James stood after the Dutch, though with only some thirty ships in company. At daybreak the enemy, seeing his weakness, tacked back to the westward to engage him, but promptly resumed their retreat on the appearance of the French and the Blue squadron. The allies, now reunited and having the wind, stood after the Dutch who were now to the southward. However, just as the English van had come level with the leading Dutch ships and were about to bear down on them in obedience to the Duke's signal, a sudden fog prevented an engagement; and, when it cleared, the allies, finding the Zeeland banks in dangerous proximity, tacked and stood away home, the Dutch also seeking the shelter of their harbours.

Results of Southwold Bay.

Inasmuch as de Ruyter had so far crippled the allies that they had to return home to refit, and that therefore the invasion had to be postponed, Southwold Bay was strategically a Dutch victory. Tactically, however, it was a draw, if not slightly in favour of the allies. De Ruyter had caught them at a disadvantage, and in spite of his inferiority in numbers had at first had the best of the fight; but in the end it was he who had been forced to disengage, and the care with which for the rest of the season he avoided another action suggests the inference that his losses had been so heavy that he did not care to risk repeating them. Certainly he left two prizes in English hands, and apparently one or more of his ships were sunk. Seeing how lightly the French had been engaged, it is a little hard to believe the story that they lost two ships; and, while the English crews suffered severely, having 700 killed and about twice as many wounded, with several hundred prisoners, the Royal James was the only ship lost, two others of the Blue squadron which fell into Dutch hands having been retaken by their crews. To avert defeat was, however, sufficient for de Ruyter. At that critical juncture in Dutch affairs there was little to gain by running risks; and it was enough that, when in July the allies reappeared on the coast, de Ruyter, by maintaining his fleet in watchful readiness and by utilising fully those friendly sand-banks which had so often proved the salvation of the Dutch, prevented the threatened landing. Early in August a storm and shortage of provisions drove the allies to their ports, with which the major operations of the year ended, the French returning home (September 19, 1672, O.S.).

Before the next campaign opened, the passage of the Test Act had deprived James of the command, and his place was taken by his cousin Rupert. The choice was probably the best possible, though Rupert had the reputation of being “unlucky”; but it was bitterly resented by Spragg, now Admiral of the Blue, who seems to have hoped for the command, and whose Journal reflects his keen disappointment. As before, the best chance for the Dutch was to deal a blow at one of the hostile fleets before its ally could join it, and in April de Ruyter crossed to the Thames with this object. But Rupert was ready for him; and he therefore put back to rally the unready Zeeland squadron, so that Rupert was able to join d’Estrées and the French at Rye unhindered (May 14, O.S.). This junction effected, the allies’ next aim was to bring de Ruyter to action, or, if he refused to fight, to blockade the Dutch ports and so cover the transport to Holland of the troops which were collecting at Yarmouth. On May 23 they were off the Schoonveldt, where the Dutch were lying. Having only sixty ships to oppose to eighty, de Ruyter showed no haste to give battle; so a council of war decided (May 27) to send in the lighter vessels as a “forlorn” to force him out. However, the Dutch did not wait to be forced and speedily engaged (May 28). From noon till dark the two fleets stood backwards and forwards along the coast, first standing N.W. and then tacking and working back to the S.E., the Dutch hugging the shore so that the English, though they had the wind (W.S.W.), could not close for fear of the shoals. Thus, though Rupert in the van pressed so hard on his opponents that the Dutch were “cut asunder,” he had not sea-room enough to profit by his advantage, while Spragg put the Zeelanders to flight only to find himself to leeward of de Ruyter, as the latter stood back south, and consequently in some peril. About night­fall, finding his fleet in five fathoms, Rupert decided to disengage and bear away from so dangerous a place, the action thus ending with about equal losses on both sides, the Dutch having one ship taken, the English two disabled and three fire-ships expended. During the next week the allies cruised oft the Schoonveldt, refitting under much greater disadvantages than the Dutch, who had the resources of their ports within easy reach. On June 4 (O.S.) de Ruyter, having a strong N.E. wind in his favour, took the offensive. The allies stood N.N.W., keeping as near the wind as possible, Spragg leading and trying to stretch ahead and weather the Dutch. This, however, he could not achieve; and at last the Dutch bore down and engaged at some little distance, as usual directing their fire at the English masts and rigging. Rupert vainly endeavoured to get to a decisive range; and, as the sea was too high for the English to use their lower-deck guns, the action proved as inconclusive as its predecessor. During the night the Dutch tacked and stood away S.E., pursued by the allies till about 6 a.m., when Rupert, seeing that the sands would shelter the enemy before he could overtake them, abandoned the chase. A return home was now unavoidable. He had not lost any ships; but many of his vessels had been badly damaged, and he was short of men, supplies and provisions, for the fleet had been “merely huddled out” without being properly found or equipped, and the deficiencies had not since been made good.

Thus, instead of covering the projected landing, the allies had to relieve the Dutch coast of their presence for nearly six weeks at the best season of the year. For this the blame must rest on an administration which, despite all the energy and vigilance of Pepys, could not escape the prevalent failings of the Restoration. In vain Rupert sought to hasten the refitting; men and materials alike were lacking; and, though 2000 soldiers were embarked, it was not till July 17 (O.S.) that the repairs were sufficiently complete to let Rupert leave the Nore with some ninety fighting ships, thirty of which were French. On the 24th he was off the Schoonveldt, trying to draw de Ruyter out and force him to fight. But though the Dutch put out (July 22), keeping with the allies as they made northward, Rupert could not bring on the desired battle. No sooner did he, thinking he had “drilled them a pretty distance,” tack and stand down to engage, than a shift of the wind gave the Dutch the weather-gage and enabled them to regain “their old sanctuary,” the Schoonveldt. Into “that hole” Rupert would not follow them, and, adopting the plan previously arranged, he stood away for the Texel.

Battle off the Texel. August 21,1673


The scheme proved efficacious; only by keeping touch with the allied fleets could de Ruyter prevent the landing of the troops from Yarmouth. It would not have been enough to keep his fleet “in being” in harbour; moreover, the East India fleet was due home, and he could not let that valuable prize fall into Rupert’s clutches. Thus on August 10 Rupert had the satisfaction of seeing his enemy to leeward. He “bore down at a great pace” upon them, but the Dutch would not fight at a disadvantage, and kept away till nightfall. During the night a shift of wind to the S.E. put de Ruyter to windward, and enabled him to engage on his own terms (August 11). Calculating on the disinclination to get to close quarters which the French had continually displayed he determined to contain the allied van, formed by their thirty sail, with part of the Zeeland squadron, whereby he was able to engage the sixty ships of Rupert and Spragg with practically equal numbers. The battle, which began about nine o’clock, speedily resolved itself into three separate engagements; in the van, d’Estrees, much to the dissatisfaction of his rear-atdmiral, de Martel, allowed Bankaert’s few ships to hold him in check, and never attempted to close; in the centre, Rupert and de Ruyter stood along together to the S.W., very hotly engaged; astern of them, Spragg, in deliberate disobedience of Rupert’s orders, backed his topsails to allow Tromp, who was a little astern, to come up with him, whereby the whole Blue squadron fell far behind the body of the fleet. Tromp concentrated his attack on Spragg’s flag-ship, and the Royal Prince was speedily disabled and forced out of the line, Lord Ossory, Spragg’s rear-admiral, taking his place. About midday, the wind suddenly shifted to the S.W., which gave the allies the weather-gage, and deprived d’Estrèes of his last excuse for not falling on the detachment which was containing him. However, he stood away to the S.E. and allowed Bankaert to bear up and actually pass through the rear of the French fleet on his way to join de Ruyter against Rupert. The Commander-in-Chief was thus very hard beset, having de Ruyter on his lee quarter, and the Zeelanders to windward of him, while his rear-admiral, Sir John Chicheley, who had fallen to leeward badly damaged, was cut off' from the rest of the Red squadron and was in some peril, till Rupert, pressing hard on the Dutch to leeward of him and forcing them to bear away, brought him relief. After this there followed a lull in the action; and Rupert perceiving the Blue squadron some leagues to leeward decided to bear down and rejoin it. De Ruyter conformed to the move, and the two centres ran down parallel, within range of each other but without firing. It was just as well that Rupert made the move. Spragg had had a second flag-ship disabled, and in shifting to the Royal Charles his boat was sunk and he himself drowned. Tromp then pressed hotly on the Prince and other cripples, which were with difficulty protected by Lord Ossory and a few supporters, who had forced Tromp to sheer off when de Ruyter drew near, “bearing down with all the sail he could to make himself master of our lamed ships.” Meanwhile, Rupert was making strenuous endeavours to induce certain vessels of the Blue and Red, which were lying inactive to windward, to take their places in his wake. Failing to do this, he pushed on and, interposing between de Ruyter and the cripples, renewed the action very sharply. Had the French, who by this time had tacked and followed the Red, only obeyed Rupert’s repeated signals and borne down upon the enemy, the action would probably have ended in a victory for the allies. “I must have routed them,” Rupert wrote; “it was the greatest and plainest opportunity ever lost at sea.” And the justice of his bitter complaints is admitted by, de Martel.

Nightfall at length, parted the exhausted combatants, Rupert standing to sea under easy sail so as to carry off the disabled ships, and the Dutch making for their own coast. Desperate as the fighting had been, the only vessels lost were fire-ships and other small craft; and, in spite of his losses in officers and men and the injuries his ships had received, Rupert had no intention of acknowledging defeat by quitting the coast. He was furious at the conduct of the French, and some of his own captains had behaved in a manner with, which he was strongly dissatisfied. But the bad weather which followed almost immediately after the action, and before damages could be repaired, forced him home (August 18, O.S.) was now so far advanced that all thoughts of a descent upon Holland had to be laid aside; the camp at Yarmouth was broken up (September 1), and a little later the French departed for their own ports.

By this time not only were the relations between the French and English fleets, admirals, officers and men alike, strained almost to breaking point, but the nation was heartily sick of the war; and the “dissatisfaction at this conjunction with the French” was so great that “the general speech in the City” was that “unless this alliance with France be broken the nation will be ruined.” National hostility to commercial rivals was being obliterated by the rising tide of antipathy to France, in which men saw the champion of the Roman Catholicism which they dreaded. It was felt that English sailors were being sacrificed to fight the battles of Louis; and, when Parliament met in October, it was all but unanimous in its determination to bring the War to an end. Charles was the more disposed to yield to its importunity, because the revolution in Holland which had overthrown de Witt and had supplanted him by the Prince of Orange had involved him in an attempt to ruin his own nephew. The Dutch, eagerly grasping a chance of reducing the odds against them, were ready to grant favourable terms, acknowledging fully the “right of the flag” and restoring New York, which they had taken in the previous July.

Thus on February 9,1674 (O.S.), the Treaty of London ended a war in which the honours certainly rested with the Dutch, and more especially with de Ruyter. Nothing is more remarkable than the improvement in tone, discipline, skill, and all-round efficiency displayed by the Dutch navy in the Third Dutch War, the fruit very largely of the stringent measures of reform taken by de Witt and de Ruyter after the Peace of Breda. The Dutch had fought in a manner worthy of the best days of their race; they had realised the imminent peril of their country, and had ably seconded their great leader’s brilliant combination of offence and defence, of vigorous attack and skilful avoidance of unequal combats. That even de Ruyter’s great skill would have averted defeat if the French had cooperated cordially it would be bold to affirm. Rupert might fairly claim that, had d’Estrees played his part properly, the battle of the Texel would have had a very different result; and certainly he had no cause to feel ashamed of his own share in the war. Spragg’s sweeping criticisms of his commander are the jealous words of a disappointed rival, and Rupert had had to contend against an untrustw'orthy ally, a defective administration, constant shortness of money, and a jealous and disobedient subordinate, whose conduct was typical of the insubordination and indiscipline which were gaining ground in the fleet. The Restoration standard of conduct was making itself felt. The tone of the Court could not but affect the navy; and the failures and other unsatisfactory features of the Third Dutch War were the inevitable result of the King’s example.


Further reading


Lives of the British admirals, and naval history of Great Britain : from the time of Cæsar to the Chinese war of 1841