First Anglo-Dutch War - Conduct of The War

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.

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.

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 a useless conflict, 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.

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