In the last instalment of our blog series, we left off as the English Civil War ended in the defeat of the monarchy and the Commonwealth of England began. In today’s post, we’ll take a look at how the Navy was affected by this tumultuous period of time.
Oliver Cromwell was an authoritarian, thought of as a dictator. However, he was also very talented, with a keen mind for military tactics. As Lord Protector of the English throne, Cromwell developed and improved the English Navy for the better, as the nation began to heavily rely on the fleet as a source of wealth and defence. The nation was more isolated than ever before, so the need to expand the Navy became apparent.
In 1651, the regime introduced the Navigation Acts, which limited trade between foreign countries and the colonies. This meant that only English ships were allowed to conduct trade between England and other nations. The competition between the English and the Dutch began to grow tense as they contended for the upper hand in the trade market. Cromwell issued an order for English ships to intercept and search Dutch ships as they sought out French cargo aboard these vessels.
Due to high tensions culminating in the Navigation Act, war broke out between the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. This war was fought solely at sea, pitting ship against ship. The Dutch Navy were confident in their abilities after their victory over the Spanish at the Battle of the Downs in 1639. In fact, they were so confident that they had allowed their Navy to greatly deteriorate, even selling off many of their ships. By the time the war with England began, the Dutch had only 79 ships; with many of those being in poor condition.
On 29th May 1652, Dutch Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp failed to dip his flag in salute to English General Robert Blake as they passed in the English Channel, leading to Blake opening fire on the Dutch vessel. Two months later, the English Parliament officially declared war on the Dutch, and began their assault on the Dutch Navy.
The battle raged on for two years despite secret peace talks in 1653 between the two countries. The Commonwealth remained relatively strong throughout the war, forcing the Dutch into a position where they were desperate for a ceasefire. Due to the lack of trade coming into Holland, the Dutch people suffered greatly, with the poor starving as the little food supplies available skyrocketed in price.
The final battle was the Battle of Scheveningen in August 1653. It was costly for both sides, as the Dutch attempted to break the English blockade. Admiral Maarten Tromp was killed early in the battle, causing Dutch morale to drop, and many wishing for an end to the war. By the time a ceasefire was called, the Dutch had lost around 3000 men and 51 warships which were either sunk or captured, compared to the English loss of 2500 men and 17 warships.
Cromwell made the decision to push forward peace talks, as he became exasperated that two Protestant nations were pitted against each other while the Catholic nation of Spain profited. After a lot of back and forth negotiations between the two nations during peace talks, the Treaty of Westminster was signed and peace was declared in April of 1654, ending the two year naval battle.
This was not the end of conflict between the Dutch and English as, in the coming years, there were three more wars. These wars took place after the dissolution of the Commonwealth of England, when Charles II reclaimed the throne and restored the monarchy to the country.
Again, it looks like we have run out of time. You will just have to come back next time for another thrilling tale of British naval history! In the meantime, if you are in need of marine supplies you can explore the rest of our website for anything you may need. Alternatively contact us by calling 01524 862010.