|First Anglo-Dutch War|
|Part of the Anglo-Dutch Wars|
The Battle of Scheveningen, 10 August 1653 by Jan Abrahamsz Beerstraaten, painted c. 1654, depicts the final battle of the First Anglo-Dutch War.
|Dutch Republic||Commonwealth of England|
|Commanders and leaders|
Michiel de Ruyter
Witte de With
Johan van Galen
|About 300 ships||About 300 ships|
|Casualties and losses|
About 3,000 killed|
33 warships sunk
18 warships captured
About 2,500 killed|
10 warships sunk
7 warships captured
The First Anglo-Dutch War, or, simply, the First Dutch War, (Dutch: Eerste Engelse zeeoorlog "First English Sea War") (1652-54) was a conflict fought entirely at sea between the navies of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Caused by disputes over trade, the war began with English attacks on Dutch merchant shipping, but expanded to vast fleet actions. Ultimately, it resulted in the English Navy gaining control of the seas around England, and forced the Dutch to accept an English monopoly on trade with England and her colonies. It was the first of the Anglo-Dutch Wars.
In the 16th century, England and the Netherlands had been close allies against the ambitions of the Habsburgs. They cooperated in fighting the Spanish Armada. England supported the Dutch in the Eighty Years' War by sending money and troops. There was a permanent English representative in the Dutch government to ensure coordination of the joint war effort. The separate peace in 1604 between England and Spain strained this relationship. The weakening of Spanish power at the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 also meant that many colonial possessions of the Portuguese and some of the Spanish empire and their mineral resources were effectively up for grabs. The ensuing rush for empire brought the former allies into conflict. Also the Dutch, having made peace with Spain, quickly replaced the English as dominant traders with the Iberian peninsula, adding to an English resentment about Dutch trade that had steadily grown since 1590.
By the middle of the 17th century the Dutch had built by far the largest mercantile fleet in Europe, with more ships than all the other states combined, and their economy, based mainly on maritime commerce, gave them a dominant position in European trade, especially in the North Sea and Baltic. Furthermore, they had conquered most of Portugal's territories and trading posts in the East Indies and Brazil, giving them control over the enormously profitable trade in spices. They were even gaining significant influence over England's trade with her as yet small North American colonies.
The trading and shipping disparity between England and the Dutch United Provinces was growing: first, because the English shipping and trading system was based on duties and tariffs; while the Dutch trading system was based on free trade without tariffs and duties. Thus Dutch products would be less expensive and more competitive on the world market than English products. For example, an English wool trader, who dealt largely with ports in English-speaking America, complained in 1651 that although his English ships would take wool cloth to America to be sold, they could expect to leave American ports with 4000 to 5000 bags of wool cloth unsold. Dutch ships, on the other hand, would leave American ports with barely 1000 bags of wool cloth unsold. Because of this disparity, English trade with her traditional markets in the Baltic, Germany, Russia and Scandinavia withered.
A second cause of the Dutch advantage in shipping and trading in the mid-1600s was the end of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), which, from the Dutch point of view, was the end of the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648) for Dutch independence from Spain. The end of the war meant a lifting of the Spanish embargoes of the Dutch coast and Dutch shipping. This translated into cheaper prices for Dutch products due to a steep and sustained drop in Dutch freight charges and Dutch marine insurance rates. Furthermore, with normalized relations between Spain and the Dutch United Provinces, trade between the two countries resumed almost immediately. Meanwhile, English trade with Spain was still limited. By 1651, England was in an economic slump.
The third cause of the Dutch trading advantage was the English Civil War (1642-1651). In 1649, Parliament overthrew the monarchy and beheaded King Charles I, and until 1651, the English Parliament remained at war with royalists both at home and in some of their colonies. From 1649 to 1651, Parliament in London set about expanding and improving the English Navy to pursue the civil war at sea. At the same time, the war raised havoc with English trading and shipping. To broadly study their commercial condition, the first Commission of Trade to be established by an Act of Parliament was erected on 1 August 1650. In October 1650, as part of the act to subdue their royalist colonies and prevent royalists from fleeing England, Parliament prohibited foreign ships from visiting or trading with any English Plantations in America, without license; the act also allowed the seizure of ships violating the prohibition by both the English navy and merchant ships. The act was a temporary war measure hastily enacted, but while it was stated in general terms to include all countries, it was aimed at the Dutch, and was superseded the following year by a carefully prepared navigation act. Writing a century later, Adam Anderson relates of the period that "It had been observed with concern, that the merchants of England for several years past had usually freighted the Hollanders shipping for bringing home their own merchandize, because their freight was at a lower rate than that of English ships. The Dutch shipping were thereby made use of even for importing our own American products; whilst our shipping lay rotting in our harbours; our mariners also for want of employment at home, went into the service of the Hollanders." The English accused the Dutch of profiting from the turmoil of the English Civil War.
With their victory over the Spanish fleet at the Battle of the Downs on October 21, 1639, Dutch confidence in their naval abilities grew to such a degree that after peace was made with Spain in 1648, they allowed their navy to deteriorate greatly. The Dutch navy had five autonomous admiralties ("colleges"). After 1648 these colleges sold off many of their ships. One of the ships sold was Dutch Admiral Maarten Tromp's own flagship, the Aemilia, of 600 tons and fitted with 57 guns. Admiral Tromp was forced to take up the 600-ton Brederode with its 54 guns as his flagship. By the onset of this first Anglo-Dutch War in 1652, the Dutch navy had only 79 ships at its disposal. Furthermore, many of these ships were in bad repair, so that fewer than 50 ships were seaworthy. The deficiency in the Dutch navy was to be made good by arming merchantmen. All were inferior in firepower to the largest English first and second rates.
On the other hand, the navy of the Commonwealth of England was in better condition initially and was constantly improving. The Commonwealth had won the English Civil War in 1652 with a strong and effective navy that had supported and supplied Cromwell's army in the wars in Scotland and Ireland; blockaded the royalist fleet of Prince Rupert in Lisbon; and organised a system of convoys to protect the commerce of the Commonwealth against the swarms of privateers set upon it from every European port. On 24 September 1650, General-at-Sea Robert Blake had defeated the Portuguese fleet in a violent gale, sinking the Portuguese Vice-Admiral and taking seven prizes, compelling Portugal to cease protecting Rupert. In 1651 the royalist strongholds in the Isles of Scilly, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands had been captured, and in 1652 General George Ayscue had recovered England's colonial possessions in the West Indies and North America. The English navy had been placed on a secure financial footing by an Act of 10 November 1650, which imposed a 15% tax on merchant shipping and provided that the money thus raised should be used to fund the naval forces protecting the convoys. Between 1649 and 1651 the English parliament considerably expanded and improved the English navy. Dutch Admiral Tromp's new flagship Brederode was the largest ship in the Dutch navy; Britain had 18 ships superior in firepower to the Brederode. Furthermore, not only were the English ships larger, with more guns, but the English guns themselves, were bigger than the guns of the Dutch navy. The English could thus fire and hit enemy ships at a longer distance, causing comparatively more damage with their shot.
During the English Civil War the Dutch stadtholder Frederick Henry had given major financial support to Charles I of England, to whom he had close family ties, and had often been on the brink of intervening with his powerful army. When Charles was beheaded, the Dutch were outraged by the regicide. As a consequence, Oliver Cromwell considered the Dutch Republic as an enemy. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth and the Dutch Republic had many things in common: they were both republican and Protestant. After the death of Frederick Henry, his son, stadtholder William II of Orange, tried to fulfill the monarchical aspirations his late father had always fostered by establishing a military dictatorship. The States of Holland then made overtures to Cromwell, seeking his support against William, suggesting vaguely that the province of Holland might join the Commonwealth.
The Navigation Act passed by English Parliament in 1651 limited Dutch trade with any of the English colonies in America unless the shipping was done in "English bottoms" i.e. English ships. Indeed, any shipping coming into English ports or the ports of English colonies from anywhere in the world was required to be carried in English ships. Furthermore, the Navigation Act forbade all trade with those English colonies that retained connections and sympathy for the royalist cause of Charles I. Acceptance of the terms of the Navigation Act was seen by the Dutch as subordinating Dutch trade to the English trading system. This insulted Dutch pride and damaged their economy, but the true cause of the war was the actions of the English navy and privateers against Dutch shipping. In 1651, 140 Dutch merchantmen were seized on the open seas. During January 1652 alone, another 30 Dutch ships were captured at sea and taken to English ports. Protests to England by the States General of the United Provinces were of no avail: the English Parliament showed no inclination toward curbing these seizures of Dutch shipping.
On November 6, 1650, the Stadholder of the United Provinces, William II, died suddenly. He had been a popular prince from the royal House of Orange when he was elected Stadholder in 1647. However, during his term as Stadholder, William II had faced a growing discontent against his policies from the States Party in the United Provinces: the political faction identified most closely with the idea of rule by the States General rather than by Orangist princes like William II. The States Party was especially powerful in the large commercially oriented province of Holland. To obtain support against William II, the States Party of the province of Holland had sought support from Oliver Cromwell. Now with William II dead, the States Party was in a much stronger position politically, and there was no longer any real need for Cromwell's support against the Stadholderate.
When on 28 January 1651 the States General officially recognised the Commonwealth, they fully expected this to solve all the problems between the two countries. To their enormous embarrassment however, on 7 March 1651 a delegation of 246 from Cromwell arrived in The Hague, headed by Oliver St John, to negotiate the conditions under which the Dutch Republic might unite itself with England, as Scotland was united with England. Cromwell had taken the earlier suggestions of a merger of England and Holland far too seriously. In an attempt at politeness, the English delegation left it to the Dutch to produce the first proposals; the Dutch were too stunned and confused for a coherent reaction. After a month of deadlock, the English delegation disclosed a plan by Cromwell to divide the world into two spheres of influence: the Dutch could control Africa and Asia; in return they would assist the English in conquering both Americas from the Spanish. Cromwell hoped that in this way the colonial rivalry would be eased by giving the English their own profitable empire. But the Dutch saw it as an absurd grandiose scheme, which offered them little hope for profit but the certainty of much expense and a new war in the Spanish-held Southern Netherlands. After much deliberation by the delegates of the seven provinces, on 24 June they made a counter-proposal of 36 articles, which they hoped would be agreeable to the English without involving themselves in a war for world conquest. This proposal was in essence a free trade agreement. Nothing could have angered the English delegation more. It was precisely the fact that the English were unable to compete with the Dutch under conditions of free trade that lay at the heart of the conflict between them. They interpreted the counter-proposal as a deliberate affront.
Meanwhile, other events had convinced the English delegation of Dutch animosity. The Hague was the residence of the young widow of William II, Charles I's daughter Mary Henrietta Stuart, the Princess Royal. Because of her presence there, those English noblemen in exile not fighting with her brother Charles in Scotland had mostly gathered in The Hague, turning the town into a Royalist bulwark. Also, The Hague had been for many years an Orangist stronghold. The delegation members, all supporters of Cromwell's Commonwealth, could only leave their lodgings under armed escort, for fear of being assaulted by Royalists or large Orangist mobs of Dutch townsmen in the pay of the Royalists. At the same time, no aid could be expected from the States of Holland and West Friesland, who feared open revolt if they tried to restore order between the English factions.
Deeply disappointed, the English delegates left for England in the last week of June, reporting that the Dutch were untrustworthy and that the United Provinces were under the control of the Orangist party and thus a threat to the security of the Commonwealth.
French support for the English royalists had led the Commonwealth to issue letters of marque against French ships and against French goods in neutral ships. These letters carried the right to search neutral ships and most neutral ships sailing the seas were Dutch. Infuriated by the treatment of the English delegation in The Hague and emboldened by their victory against Charles II and the royalist forces at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651, the English Parliament, as noted above, passed the first of the Navigation Acts in October 1651. It ordered that only English ships and ships from the originating country could import goods to England. This measure, as also noted above, was particularly aimed at hampering the shipping of the highly trade-dependent Dutch and often used as a pretext simply to take their ships; as General Monck put it: "The Dutch have too much trade, and the English are resolved to take it from them." Agitation among the Dutch merchants was further increased by George Ayscue's capture in early 1652 of 27 Dutch ships trading with the royalist colony of Barbados in contravention of the trade prohibition imposed by the Commonwealth. Over a hundred other Dutch ships were captured by English privateers between October 1651 and July 1652. Moreover, the death of Dutch stadtholder William II, who had favoured an expansion of the army at the expense of the navy, had led to a change in the defence policy of the United Provinces towards protecting the great trading concerns of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Accordingly, the States General decided on 3 March 1652 to expand the fleet by hiring and equipping 150 merchant ships as ships of war to allow effective convoying against hostile English actions.
The news of this decision reached London on 12 March 1652 and the Commonwealth too began to prepare for war, but as both nations were unready, war might have been delayed if not for an unfortunate encounter between the fleets of Dutch Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp and General at Sea Robert Blake in the English Channel near Dover on 29 May 1652. An ordinance of Cromwell required all foreign fleets in the North Sea or the Channel to dip their flag in salute, reviving an ancient right the English had long insisted on, but when Tromp was tardy to comply, Blake opened fire, starting the brief Battle of Goodwin Sands. Tromp lost two ships but escorted his convoy to safety.
The States of Holland sent their highest official, the Grand Pensionary Adriaan Pauw, to London in a last desperate attempt to prevent war, but in vain: English demands had become so extreme that no self-respecting state could meet them. War was declared by the English Parliament on 10 July 1652. The Dutch diplomats realised what was at stake: one of the departing ambassadors said, "The English are about to attack a mountain of gold; we are about to attack a mountain of iron." The Dutch Orangists were jubilant however; they expected that either victory or defeat would bring them to power.
The first months of the war saw English attacks against the Dutch convoys. Blake was sent with 60 ships to disrupt Dutch fishing in the North Sea and Dutch trade with the Baltic, leaving Ayscue with a small force to guard the Channel. On 12 July 1652, Ayscue intercepted a Dutch convoy returning from Portugal, capturing seven merchantmen and destroying three. Tromp gathered a fleet of 96 ships to attack Ayscue, but southerly winds kept him in the North Sea. Turning north to pursue Blake, Tromp caught up with the English fleet off the Shetland Islands, but a storm scattered his ships and there was no battle. On 26 August 1652 Ayscue attacked an outward-bound Dutch convoy commanded by Vice-Commodore Michiel de Ruyter, but was beaten back in the Battle of Plymouth and relieved of his command.
Tromp had also been suspended after the failure at Shetland, and Vice-Admiral Witte de With was given command. The Dutch convoys being at the time safe from English attack, De With saw an opportunity to concentrate his forces and gain control of the seas. At the Battle of the Kentish Knock on 8 October 1652 the Dutch attacked the English fleet near the mouth of the River Thames, but were beaten back with many casualties. The English Parliament, believing the Dutch to be near defeat, sent away twenty ships to strengthen the position in the Mediterranean. This division of forces left Blake with only 42 men of war by November, while the Dutch were making every effort to reinforce their fleet. This led to an English defeat by Tromp in the Battle of Dungeness in December, but did not save the English Mediterranean fleet, largely destroyed at the Battle of Leghorn in March 1653. The Dutch had effective control of the Channel, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean, with English ships blockaded in port. As a result, Cromwell convinced Parliament to make secret peace contacts with the Dutch. In February 1653, Adriaan Pauw responded favourably, sending a letter from the States of Holland indicating their sincere desire to reach a peace agreement.
Despite its successes, the Dutch Republic was unable to sustain a prolonged naval war. As press-ganging was forbidden, enormous sums had to be paid to attract enough sailors. English privateers inflicted serious damage on Dutch shipping. Unable to assist all of their colonies, the Dutch had to allow the Portuguese to reconquer Dutch Brazil.
Though the politicians were close to ending the conflict, the war had a momentum of its own. Over the winter of 1652-53, the English repaired their ships and considered their position. Robert Blake wrote the Sailing and Fighting Instructions, a major overhaul of naval tactics, containing the first formal description of the line of battle. By February 1653 the English were ready to challenge the Dutch, and in the three-day Battle of Portland in March they drove them out of the Channel. Their success saw an abrupt end to the English desire for peace. On 18 March the States General sent a detailed peace proposal to the English Parliament, but it replied on 11 April by reiterating the same demands that had put off Pauw in June the previous year, to be accepted before negotiations were even to begin. The States General ignored this, and on 30 April asked for negotiations to begin in a neutral country; on 23 May Cromwell, having dissolved the pro-war Rump Parliament, responded that he would receive Dutch envoys in London; on 5 June the States General decided to send them.
Meanwhile, the English navy tried to gain control over the North Sea, and in the two-day Battle of the Gabbard in June drove the Dutch back to their home ports, starting a blockade of the Dutch coast, which led to an immediate collapse of the Dutch economy and even starvation. The Dutch were unable to feed their dense urban population without a regular supply of Baltic wheat and rye; prices of these commodities soared and the poor were soon unable to buy food.
The final battle of the war was the costly Battle of Scheveningen in August. The Dutch desperately tried to break the English blockade; after heavy fighting with much damage on both sides, the defeated Dutch retreated to the Texel, but the English had to abandon the blockade. Tromp was killed early in the battle, a blow to morale which increased the Dutch desire to end the war. Similar feelings arose in England. Although many had been enriched by the war (Dutch prizes taken during the war, about 1200 merchantmen or 8% of their total mercantile fleet, amounted to double the value of England's entire ocean-going merchant fleet) trade as a whole had suffered. Cromwell himself was exasperated that two Protestant nations should exhaust themselves in this useless conflict that he had started, while Catholic Spain profited. He decided to begin negotiations in earnest with the four Dutch envoys who had arrived in late June. Hostilities largely ended until the conclusion of peace.
Cromwell again put forward his plan for a political union between the two nations, but this was rejected by the States General on 21 October, so emphatically that Cromwell finally realised that the Dutch had not the slightest inclination to join the Commonwealth. Then, repeating the line of argument the English delegation had made two years previously, he proposed a military alliance against Spain, promising to repeal the Navigation Act in return for Dutch assistance in the conquest of Spanish America. This too was rejected. As a result, Cromwell, more than a little annoyed, made a proposal of 27 articles, two of which were utterly unacceptable to the Dutch: that all Royalists had to be expelled and that Denmark, the ally of the Republic, should be abandoned in its war against Sweden. In the end Cromwell gave in. The peace was declared on 15 April 1654 with the signing of the Treaty of Westminster, ratified by the States General on 22 April and Cromwell on 29 April. The treaty had a secret annex, the Act of Seclusion, forbidding the Dutch ever to appoint the son of the late stadtholder, the later William III of England, to the position of his father. This clause, overtly a demand by Cromwell fearing the Orangists, was perhaps inserted on the covert wishes of the leading Dutch States party politicians, the new State Pensionary, the young Johan de Witt, and his uncle Cornelis de Graeff.
However, the commercial rivalry between the two nations was not resolved. Especially in their emerging overseas colonies, hostilities continued between Dutch and English trading companies, which had warships and troops of their own. The Dutch had started on a major shipbuilding programme to remedy the lack of ships of the line evident at the battles of the Kentish Knock, the Gabbard, and Scheveningen. The admiralties were now forbidden by law to sell off these 60 new ships.