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First Anglo-Dutch War
Beerstraaten, Battle of Scheveningen.jpg
The Battle of Scheveningen, 10 August 1653 by Jan Abrahamsz Beerstraaten, painted c. 1654, depicts the final battle of the First Anglo-Dutch War.
LocationEnglish Channel, North Sea, Italy
Result Commonwealth victory; Treaty of Westminster
 Dutch Republic  Commonwealth of England
Commanders and leaders
Maarten Tromp
Michiel de Ruyter
Witte de With
Johan van Galen
Robert Blake
George Ayscue
Henry Appleton (captain)
George Monck
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 (Dutch language: Eerste Engels-Nederlandse oorlog ) (1652–54) (called the First Dutch War in England) was the first of the four Anglo-Dutch Wars. It was 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 English colonies.[1]

(Dates in this article are given in the Gregorian calendar, then ten days ahead of the Julian calendar in use in England.)


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 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, profiting from the turmoil of the English Civil War. With their victory over the Spanish fleet at the Battle of the Downs, Dutch confidence in their naval abilities grew to such a degree, that after peace was made with Spain, they allowed their navy to deteriorate greatly. The Dutch had five autonomous admiralties and after 1648 these sold off many of their ships. By 1652, fewer than fifty ships were seaworthy and the deficiency had to be made good by arming merchantmen. All were inferior in firepower to the largest English first and second rates.

The navy of the Commonwealth of England was in better condition. It had emerged victorious from the English Civil War; 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 percent tax on merchant shipping and provided that the money thus raised should be used to fund the naval forces protecting the convoys. It had eighteen ships superior in firepower to the heaviest Dutch vessel, the Brederode.

Sites of the battles of the First Anglo-Dutch War.

Political tensions between the Commonwealth and the Republic

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. Oliver Cromwell therefore considered the Dutch Republic as an enemy. Nevertheless the Commonwealth and The Republic had many things in common: they were both republican and protestant. When 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 made overtures to Cromwell, seeking his support against William, suggesting vaguely the province of Holland might join the Commonwealth.

The English delegation to The Hague

In 1650 William suddenly died however, so there was no longer any need for Cromwell's support against him. When on 28 January 1651 the States-General recognised the Commonwealth, they fully expected this to be sufficient to solve all problems between the two countries. To their enormous embarrassment however on 7 March a large English delegation of 246 arrived at The Hague, headed by Oliver St John, to negotiate the conditions under which the Dutch Republic might unite itself with England, sent by Cromwell who had taken the earlier suggestions quite too seriously. Trying to be polite the delegation left it to the Dutch to provide the first proposals. The Dutch however were too stunned and confused for a coherent reaction, so after a month 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 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 Southern Netherlands. After much deliberation by the delegates of the seven provinces, they on 24 June made a counter-proposal of 36 articles of which they hoped it would be agreeable to the English without involving themselves in a war for world conquest. This proposal was in essence a free trade agreement and nothing could have angered the English delegation more: precisely the fact that the English were unable to compete with the Dutch under conditions of free trade lay at the heart of the conflict between them. They interpreted the counter-proposal as a deliberate affront.

The Great Assembly of the States General, in the Great Hall of the Binnenhof (painting by Dirck van Delen, 1651, formerly attributed to Bartholomeus van Bassen).

Meanwhile other events had convinced the 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. Those English noblemen in exile not fighting with her brother Charles in Scotland had mostly gathered in The Hague, which had become a Royalist bulwark, while it had been for many years an Orangist stronghold. The delegation members could only leave their lodgings under armed escort, for fear of being assaulted by Royalists or large mobs paid by them. The States of Holland feared open revolt if they would try to restore order between the English factions.

Deeply disappointed the English delegates left for England in the last week of June, reporting the Dutch were untrustworthy and that the United Provinces were under control of the Orangist party and thus a threat to the security of the Commonwealth.

Outbreak of war

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, which were mostly Dutch. Infuriated by the treatment of the English delegation in The Hague and emboldened by their victory against Charles in the Battle of Worcester, the English Parliament 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 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."[2] 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 an embargo 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.

Conduct of the War

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 attacks by the English against the convoys of the Dutch. 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 winds from the south 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.

This painting, Action between ships in the First Dutch War, 1652–1654 by Abraham Willaerts, may depict the Battle of the Kentish Knock. It is a pastiche of popular subjects of naval painting of the time: on the right Brederode duels Resolution; on the left the enormous Sovereign.

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 a high number of 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, and this led to an English defeat by Tromp in the Battle of Dungeness in December but didn't 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 managed to convince 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 Brazil.

Though the politicians were close to making an end to the conflict, the war would prove to have 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. On 30 April the States-General ignored this and 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.

The Battle of the Gabbard, 12 June 1653 by Heerman Witmont, shows the Dutch flagship Brederode, right, in action with the English ship Resolution, the temporary name during the Commonwealth of HMS Prince Royal.

Meanwhile the English navy tried to gain control over the North Sea also 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 to 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 gained riches from 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 he had started, while catholic Spain profited. He decided to begin negotiations in earnest with the four Dutch envoys having 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 now for the first time Cromwell came to understand that the Dutch hadn't the slightest inclination to join the Commonwealth. He then, repeating the line of argument the English delegation had made two years previously, 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 however. 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 Grand 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 the vast overseas empires, 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 fleet battles of the Kentish Knock, the Gabbard, and Scheveningen. The admiralties were now forbidden by law to sell off these 60 new ships. The Second Anglo-Dutch War was distantly in the making.

See also


  1. Rickard, J. (11 December 2000), First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654), History of War.
  2. Kennedy, Paul M. (1976). "The Rise and Fall of British Sea Mastery". New York: Scribner. p. 48. ISBN 0-684-14609-6. , as cited by Herman, A. (2004). "To Rule The Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World". New York: HarperCollins. p. 560. ISBN 0-06-053424-9. 

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