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The naval Battle of Dungeness took place on 10 December 1652 (30 November in the Julian calendar then used by England) during the First Anglo-Dutch War near the cape of Dungeness in Kent.


In October 1652 the English government, mistakenly believing that the United Provinces after their defeat at the Battle of the Kentish Knock would desist from bringing out a fleet so late in the season, sent away ships to the Mediterranean. This left the English badly outnumbered in home waters. Meanwhile the Dutch were making every effort to reinforce their fleet.


Maarten Tromp

Robert Blake

On 1 December 1652 Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp, again (unofficial) supreme commander after his successor Vice-Admiral Witte de With had suffered a breakdown because of his defeat at the Battle of the Kentish Knock, set sail from Hellevoetsluis with 88 men of war and 5 fireships, escorting a vast convoy bound for the Indies. With the convoy safely delivered through the Straits of Dover, Tromp turned in search of the English, and on 9 December 1652 he encountered the English fleet of 42 ships commanded by General at Sea Robert Blake. The English promptly left their anchorage in the Downs, either because Blake did not realize how large the Dutch fleet was, or he did not want to become trapped like the Spanish had some years earlier in the Battle of the Downs. The wind was now strong from the north-west, so the English could not return to the Downs in either case, having to settle for Dover. Next morning, the two fleets moved south-west, with the English hugging the coast and the Dutch unable to engage until the curve of the shoreline forced the English to turn on a southerly course. At about 15:00, near the cape of Dungeness, the leading ships of both fleets met in a "bounteous rhetoric of powder and bullet" (according to a contemporary account).

The wind prevented a large part of the Dutch fleet from engaging Blake, whose fleet by nightfall had lost five ships of which the Dutch captured two, and damaged many more. The Dutch lost one ship through fire. Blake retreated under cover of darkness to his anchorage in the Downs. Tromp could not be satisfied with the result however as the Dutch had missed an opportunity to annihilate the English.[1]


The battle resulted in several reforms in the English Fleet. Part of Blake's force consisted of impressed merchant vessels that retained their civilian captains. Many of them refused to participate in the battle. Some naval captains insisted on their traditional right to enter and leave the battle at times of their choosing, and to leave formation in order to secure any prize. Blake threatened to resign if something was not done. The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty responded by:

  • requiring all impressed vessels to be under the command of captains appointed by the navy;
  • dividing the fleet into squadrons under junior flag officers for better command and control;
  • issuing Sailing and Fighting Instructions which significantly enhanced an admiral's authority over his fleet.[2]

The victory gave the Dutch temporary control of the English Channel and so control of merchant shipping. A legend says that Tromp attached a broom to his mast as a sign that he had swept the sea clean of his enemies, but in his book The Command of the Ocean, N.A.M. Roger doubts the legend as such a boasting action would have been out of character for Tromp. Additionally, at the time, a broom attached to a mast was the way of showing that a ship was for sale.

Also Dutch contemporaneous sources make no mention of it. The battle not only showed the folly of dividing forces while the Dutch still possessed a large fleet in home waters, but exposed "much baseness of spirit, not among the merchantmen only, but many of the state's ships". It seemed that the captains of hired merchant ships were reluctant to risk their vessels in combat, while the state's ships lacked the men to sail and fight them.

Ships involved:

England (Blake)

Triumph 60 (flag)
Victory 60 (Lionel Lane)
Vanguard 58 (John Mildmay)
Fairfax* 56 (John Lawson)
Speaker* 54 (John Gilson)
Laurel 50 (John Taylor)
Worcester 44 (Anthony Young)
Garland 44 (Robert Batten) - Captured
Entrance 43 (Edmund Chapman)
Lion 42 (Charles Saltonsall)
Convertine 42
Foresight 42
Dragon 40
Fortune 36
Hound 35
Sapphire 34
Princess Maria 33
Mary flyboat 32
Waterhound 30
Dolphin* 30 (William Badiley)
Advantage 26 (William Beck)
Swan* 22
Greyhound* 20
Hannibal* 44 (Francis Barham)
Anthony Bonaventure 36 (Walter Hoxon) - Captured
Lisbon Merchant 34
Loyalty* 34
Culpepper 30
Cullen 28
Prudent Mary 26
Samuel 26
Martha 25
Katherine* 24
Exchange 24
Acorn 22

Ships marked * are probables.

Netherlands (Tromp)

Brederode 56 (flag)


  1. History of War
  2. Cromwell's Navy: The Fleet And the English Revolution, 1648-1660 / Bernard Capp (1989) ISBN 0-19-820115-X

Coordinates: 50°59′52″N 0°59′39″E / 50.99778°N 0.99417°E / 50.99778; 0.99417

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