First Anglo-Dutch War: 1652–54
During the Commonwealth, Parliament passed the Navigation Act 1651, which ordered that all imports into England were to be handled by English ships with mainly English crews – a move, designed to hurt the Dutch, that provoked war. In 1652, when a Dutch fleet failed to dip its flag to an English squadron and refused to allow a search of its ships, shooting broke out and then declarations of war.
All but one of the nine naval engagements were won by the English. The Dutch persuaded the Danes to close the Baltic to the English and themselves controlled the Mediterranean. But the English retaliated by blockading the Netherlands, and the starving Dutch finally sued for peace.
Second Anglo-Dutch War: 1665–67
In January 1665, Charles II embarked on a war against the Dutch to restrict their maritime power. The conflict began well. The first major engagement was off Lowestoft on the Suffolk coast, where 100 Dutch ships confronted 150 English ones under the command of Charles’ brother James, the lord high admiral. Twenty-six Dutch ships were captured, with the loss of one English vessel. The English flagship, the King Charles, destroyed its Dutch counterpart, together with its commander, Admiral Jacob Opdam.
However, maladministration, corruption, disputes between the Crown and Parliament and mutinies by unpaid sailors undermined the English navy’s power. Things hit rock bottom in June 1667, when the Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter sailed up the Medway in Kent where the English fleet was at anchor. He captured the flagship, the Royal Charles, on which the king had returned to England in 1660 and destroyed 16 other ships. Having already suffered the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London, the English agreed to a peace treaty.
Third Anglo-Dutch War: 1672–74
The French king Louis XIV wanted to take over the part of the Netherlands that is now Belgium to be France’s ‘natural boundary’, but was prevented by the Triple Alliance of England, Sweden and Holland. To isolate Holland, he secretly bribed Sweden to leave the alliance, and purchased the support of the financially hard-pressed Charles II by giving him a ‘pension’.
On 15 March 1672, Charles published another Declaration of Indulgence in an attempt to obtain toleration for Catholics. Two days later, he joined Louis in declaring war on the Dutch, confirming the fatal association in the public mind of arbitrary government, Catholicism and an unpopular foreign policy.
Charles committed a fleet of higher quality than previously to this Third Anglo-Dutch War. But English efforts to secure naval supremacy and prepare the ground for an invasion came to nothing, thwarted by canny Dutch tactics and English incompetence in a series of battles in the North Sea. The French fared no better. Their army occupied five of the seven Dutch provinces, but the Dutch opened their dykes and used the floodwaters to stop the French advance.
In 1674, Parliament forced Charles to abandon Louis: his attempt to win prestige through a foreign war had failed once again. The setback was also a personal one, for the man who had led the heroic Dutch resistance was his own nephew, the Protestant William, prince of Orange.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 ended the conflict by placing Prince William III of Orange on the English throne as co-ruler with his wife Mary. Though this was in fact a military conflict between England and The Republic, William invading Britain and Ireland with a Dutch fleet and army, it is never described as an Anglo-Dutch war, as he had strong support in England and was partly serving the dynastic interests of his wife.
However, the regime change brought about the ultimate downfall of the Dutch Republic. The Dutch merchant elite immediately began to use London as a new operational base. Dutch economic growth slowed. William ordered that any Anglo-Dutch fleet be under English command, with the Dutch navy having 60% of the strength of the English. From about 1720 Dutch wealth declined. Around 1780 the per capita gross national product of the Kingdom of Great Britain surpassed that of the Dutch Republic. Whereas in the 17th century the commercial success of the Dutch had fuelled English rivalry, in the late 18th century the growth of English power led to Dutch resentment. When the Dutch began to support the American rebels, this led to the fourth war, and the loss of the alliance made the Dutch Republic fatally vulnerable to the French. Soon it would be subject to regime change itself.
The Dutch navy was by now only a shadow of its former self, having only about twenty ships of the line, so there were no large fleet battles. The British tried to reduce the Republic to the status of a British protectorate, using Prussian military pressure and gaining factual control over the Dutch colonies, those conquered during the war given back at war’s end. The Dutch then still held some key positions in the European trade with Asia, such as the Cape Colony, Ceylon and Malacca. The war sparked a new round of Dutch ship building (95 warships in the last quarter of the 18th century), but the British kept their absolute numerical superiority by doubling their fleet in the same time.
So, were the Anglo-Dutch wars inconclusive? At their time it may have appeared so, but after 1688 it may be seen that they laid the basis of part of britain’s rise into world empire in the following century.
Short History of the Anglo-Dutch Wars http://www.contemplator.com/history/dutchwar.html
Highlights of the three Anglo-Dutch wars from 1652 to 1674.
The First Anglo-Dutch War 1652–4
http://www.british-civil-wars.co.uk/military/first-anglo-dutch-war-battles.htm A concise description of the war in the context of the English Commonwealth. There are also brief accounts of all the major battles.
The Anglo-Dutch Wars of the Seventeenth Century by J R Jones (Longman, 1996)
A study of the trade wars between England and Holland in 1652–4, 1665–7 and 1672–4, set in their naval, political and economic contexts. The book also considers the role and influence of powerful mercantile interest groups on government policy for both countries.
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The Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars, 1652–74 by Roger Hainsworth and Christine Churches (Sutton, 1998 ). In this study, the authors take the reader through the background, causes and courses of the wars, illuminating all the battles and political affairs that lay behind them. The tactics of battle and the famous naval heroics of such men as Robert Blake, Cornelis Tromp and Michiel de Ruyter are all explored in detail.
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