The Anglo-Dutch naval wars

The military dispute between England and the Netherlands consisted of several wars in the 17th and 18th centuries, which were fought mainly between the naval forces of both countries. The main reason for the conflicts was, on the one hand, the emergence of both nations as the dominant naval power in Europe and, on the other, economic interests.

Altogether there were 4 wars which stretched to the period from 1581 to 1795.



After the Thirty Years' War and the dwindling influence of the Spanish and Portuguese navies on world affairs, a military vacuum was created, which exploited the English and Dutch navies and thus expanded their positions of power.

This enabled the Netherlands to become the leading trading nation and world power at the beginning of the 17th century. The country had at that time the largest merchant fleet and by its new colonies, the prosperity of the homeland grew steadily.
England, too, was able to consolidate its position of power following the destruction of the Spanish armada, but was unable to use it to his advantage due to the English civil war in the mid-17th century. Although the country had a much stronger navy than the Netherlands, it could not compete economically. In addition, during the English Civil War, the Netherlands began to influence the British colonies in North America in order to gain a foothold there.

After the Civil War, England was forced to oppose the Dutch trade. This should be done by the so-called navigation files (also called navigation acts, navigation laws or navigation laws). These laws allowed goods to be imported into England only on English ships or under the flag of the countries of origin. The coastal trade and fisheries were also subject to the new laws. Thus, the lucrative trade and the associated profit should be withdrawn from the Dutch and transferred to British shipping companies, which ultimately led to more taxes for the state. These laws came into force in December 1651.




The first sea war:

Annoyed by the new laws and the associated weakening of their own economic performance, the Dutch began in early March 1652 with the conversion of 150 merchant ships to warships to prepare for a war against England. In mid-March, the English parliament received news of the rearmament of the Dutch and they also began to expand their navy.


König Charles II. von England

King Charles II of England


Both countries had been far from prepared for a war when their two naval forces surprisingly met on May 29, 1652 in the English Channel at Dover. The Dutch were led by Admiral-Warden Maarten Tromp, the English were led by General of the Sea Robert Blake. One order stated that foreign ships had to lower their flags in greeting when the Dutch ships did not comply, Blake opened the fire and was able to sink 2 Dutch ships before the others could escape to safety.


Admiral Maarten Tromp

Admiral Maarten Tromp


The next few months were predominantly British raids on Dutch convoys to weaken trade. It was not until August 26, 1652, when the English naval officer Ayscue attacked an expelled Dutch convoy. In this battle at Plymouth Ayscue was beaten back and then relieved of his command. In the Mediterranean, too, the Dutch were victorious at the Battle of Elba on September 8, 1652.

After the failure of the Shetland Islands, the Dutch Admiral Lieutenant Maarten Tromp was also replaced and replaced by Vice Admiral Witte de With. This saw the time after the last victories against the Englishmen, to collect his ships and finally gain control of the sea. So he set sail with his ships and met on October 8, 1652 near the Thames estuary on the English fleet. In this naval battle at Kentish Knock the Dutch fleet could be inflicted heavy losses and had to pull back. The English Parliament was then in the belief that they had finally defeated the Dutch and divided its fleet to replenish its Mediterranean fleet. General to the sea Robert Blake remained thereby with the defense of the English channel only 42 ships.

In December 1652, the division of the English fleet was to retaliate when the reinforced Dutch fleet ran out again and the British at the Battle of Dungeness and in March 1653 at the Battle of Livorno high losses and the ships pushed back into the ports.


Seeschlacht bei Livorno am 14. März 1653

Battle of Livorno on March 14, 1653


As the English ships lay in the ports for repair during the winter, Robert Blake wrote a new direction of maritime warfare. He wrote down the treatise on the new tactics of sailing and combat, which also included the liners tactic. This warships should drive consecutively in the keel line and fire the enemy broadside of the guns. After the naval battle at Livorno in March 1653, the British also found themselves sufficiently prepared to meet the Dutch.

In March at the Battle of Portland, the English were able to win their first success with the new naval warfare tactics. In June, they also won a victory in the naval battle at Gabbard and now forced the Dutch ships into their ports.

In August, the Dutch tried to break through the blockade of their ports, it came to the Battle of Scheveningen in which Admiral Lieutenant Maarten Tromp was killed. After both sides had suffered heavy losses, the Dutch retreated to their ports and the British had to break their blockade. In both countries, voices began to rise that demanded peace.


Seeschlacht bei Scheveningen am 10. August 1653

Battle of Scheveningen on 10th August 1653


On May 8, 1654 this could also be enforced with the signing of the Treaty of Westminster. The Netherlands had to recognize in this contract the navigation laws of the English. The peace treaty had now settled the hostilities for the time being, but between the colonies the conflict continued to smolder as each colony had its own army and naval force. In addition, the Dutch began right after signing with a new fleet building program to compensate for their drawbacks in the English battleship warfare.




The second sea war:

The period between the first and second naval wars was marked by clashes between the English and Dutch colonies and raids on each other's merchant vessels. These attacks were often financed by private individuals or even companies, especially on the English side. So entertained e.g. the Royal African Company a squadron under the leadership of Captain Robert Holmes, who looted or conquered some Dutch colonies in West Africa.


Die Prince Royal, Gemälde von Willem van de Velde dem Jüngeren

The Prince Royal, painting by Willem van de Velde the Younger


Under Michiel de Ruyter, on the other hand, the Dutch regained most of their bases in West Africa starting in 1664, but this move forced the English parliament to release its own navy for the English Channel trade war. After English Admiral Thomas Allin attacked a Dutch convoy in the Strait of Gibraltar in December, the Netherlands was again committed to releasing its self-defense ships on English ships from January 1665 onward. On March 4, 1665 then followed the declaration of war in England and the second sea war began.


Die Gouden Leeuw, Gemälde von Willem van de Velde dem Jüngeren

The Gouden Leeuw, painting by Willem van de Velde the Younger


Already at the beginning of the war, the English were under the leadership of the Duke of York from May 1665 block the Dutch ports. However, due to the few merchant ships, the poor supply and the impossibility to attack the Dutch ports, the blockade was aborted soon after.

The Dutch in turn had problems to equip their own fleet. The only intact association was at the time under the leadership of de Ruyters still in the Atlantic. Despite this weakening commanded the Dutch ships under the command of Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam the departure and attack on the English fleet before they could block the ports of the Netherlands again. On June 13, 1665 met the two fleets in the Battle of Lowestoft on each other, the Dutch had to stop the battle under heavy losses.

After the defeat, the Dutch began again to repair their fleet and build new ships. With the arrival of the fleet of de Ruyters, there were again enough ships available. The English, however, could not use the victory. Shortly thereafter, the plague broke out and claimed many casualties among the sailors. Only in August 1665 was again a major military operation can be started when the English fleet tried to capture the Dutch spice fleet in Bergen, Norway. However, the attack could be repulsed and also missed other, smaller operations, which was triggered by the poor supply and the plague.

Since no clear success could be recorded at sea, England began to search on the mainland allies for a campaign against the Netherlands. Thus, the English king, Spain, who had to cede the north of the Netherlands as an independent state after the eighty-year war, but still controlled the south of the Netherlands, tried to pull him to his side. Spain, however, was in the Restoration War against Portugal since 1640 and did not want to risk a war against France, which was allied with the Netherlands. Only the prince-bishop of Münster, who raised the claim to some Dutch territories, followed the British appeal and in 1665 sent his troops to Twente, where he was able to force back the Dutch troops. However, this invasion called forth Louis XIV of France, who came to the aid of his ally and smashed the prince-bishop's troops.

In May 1666, the war shifted again to the sea, where the Dutch fleet under Admiral De Ruyter off the coast of Flanders dropped anchor to unite with the French fleet and proceed against the English fleet. The English, however, split their fleet on Admiral Monck and Prince Rupert. Rupert should sail with his ships to the Western Channel and Monck against the Dutch. From June 11 to 14, 1666, the two fleets met in the southern North Sea. In this 4-day battle, which also included the ships of Rupert a little later, ended in a defeat of the English.


Viertageschlacht vom 11. bis zum 14. Juni 1666

Four day battle from the 11th to the 14th of June 1666


But already in August, the British went back on the offensive and sent their fleet against the Dutch. On 4 August 1666, the two fleets met at North Foreland (north of Dover) and this time the victory went to the English. The Dutch ships retreated to their ports, the ports were blocked by the British and Dutch cities were invaded and looted.

Since the benefits were now back on the English side, the English King Charles II began again with peace negotiations, which were rejected by the Dutch, however. Only when the great fire broke out on 2 September 1666 in London and destroyed most of the city within 4 days, the situation changed. Due to the lack of profits of the war, the high costs and the waste of taxpayers money, Charles II had to lower his peace demands to the Dutch and the negotiations were started in October in the Dutch Breda.


Das große Feuer in London vom 2. September 1666

The big fire in London of September 2, 1666


During the peace negotiations, which lasted quite a long time, the fighting shifted again to the colonies, where Dutch-French associations conquered English properties.

Due to the tense financial situation in England, the king was forced to leave many of his warships in the ports and thus surrender naval power to the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the peace negotiations dragged on. Only in May 1667, when the French King Louis XIV launched his campaign against the Spanish Netherlands, did the Netherlands push for a conclusion. To further increase pressure on England, Admiral de Ruyter was instructed to attack English cities directly. Thus, on June 9, 1667, Dutch ships entered the Thames estuary and attacked fortifications and depots there. They also sailed into the tributary of Medway, destroying the English warships at anchor. When the English king continued to refuse to sign the peace treaty, de Ruyter repeated his actions in July.

On 31 July 1667 in Breda then the peace treaty could be signed, which resulted in a slight relaxation of the navigation laws and the return of the conquered British bases overseas.




The third sea war:

The third conflict was only a partial conflict of a major war or multiple wars. These include the Anglo-Dutch War and the Dutch-French War.

Due to the invasion of the French king Louis XIV. In the Spanish Netherlands, the Netherlands, England and Sweden allied in the Triple Alliance to force Louis to retreat. The war ended on 2 May 1668 in the Peace of Aachen. Through the alliance with England, Louis found himself betrayed by his former ally to the Netherlands and meanwhile preparing a war against that country. In 1670 he therefore concluded with the English king the secret treaty of Dover, which provided for the joint war of England and France against the Netherlands. In the spring of 1672, the two countries attacked the Netherlands.


Ludwig XIV. von Frankreich erobert 1673 die niederländische Stadt Maastricht

Louis XIV of France conquered the Dutch city of Maastricht in 1673


The English, as before, concentrated on a naval war with the Netherlands. But after the defeats in 1672 at the Battle of Solebay and 1673 in the first and second naval battle of Schooneveld and in the naval battle off Texel, the English parliament forced the king to a peace. With the peace of Westminster England resigned from the war on 19 February 1674.


Die Seeschlacht von Texel

The Battle of Texel




The fourth sea war:

The fourth naval war between Britain and the Netherlands took place only with the independence efforts of the British colonies in North America from the year 1775. The Netherlands welcomed the required independence of the settlers and supported them economically. Weapons were sold to the settlers, especially from the West Indian colonies.

England sent a memorandum to the Netherlands in February 1777 calling for the immediate cessation of arms sales and the dismissal of the governor of the Indian colony concerned. Subliminally, the letter was underpinned by an intervention of the English Royal Navy. After the English demands were not met, attacked in the fall of 1779 for the first time English ships to a Dutch West Indies convoy in the English Channel.

In December 1780, the official war broke out. At that time, however, the Dutch navy had nothing effective against the Royal Navy. Thus, already in January 1781 200 merchant ships were raised and in February conquered Admiral George Rodney the island of St. Eustatius. On August 5, 1781 there was the only major battle on the Dogger Bank, but went out undecided. In the following months the English conquered more and more Dutch bases in West Africa and in India.


Die Seeschlacht bei der Doggerbank

The naval battle at the Dogger Bank


Only with the active intervention of the French Navy, which was also since 1779 in the war with England, brought the turn. Thus, some of the lost colonies could be recaptured until on May 30, 1784, with the Paris Peace, the fighting was halted.





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