The Interregum

The Republic

Despite rumours of Royalists securing the support of French or Spanish Catholic armies during the 1640s, the feared Popish army never landed on English shores. Perhaps it was fortunate for the Parliamentarian cause that the Thirty Years' War raged in Europe during the Civil War. Furthermore, confessional lines in European affairs had become somewhat blurred by interests of the state, particularly with the great powers France and Spain. The Regicide in 1649 sent shockwaves throughout European courts, Protestant and Catholic. Royalists were encouraged for a while with the hope of intervention from the Continent to restore the Stuart line; likewise, for a time republicans in England feared the response from across the Channel. The campaigns to bring Ireland and Scotland under control, completed under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell by 1651, allayed the immediate threat of royalist invasion and allowed the Purged Parliament to formulate its position in foreign affairs. Initially a Protestant alliance with the United Provinces was considered. Superficially the common interests of an alliance between the two newly-born republics seemed prosperous. The Purged Parliament despatched representatives, Oliver St John and Strickland, to The Hague to negotiate the terms of an alliance. It had not anticipated the force of Dutch reaction to the Regicide, the extent of which the ambassadors soon experienced. Marvell's poem On the Embassy of Lord Oliver St. John to the United Provinces (1651?) deals with some of the Dutch attitudes to peace with the Republic. St. John, on his return from the United Provinces, condemned the Dutch reluctance towards the Protestant cause, and overriding self-interest. St John then introduced the Navigation Act (1651) to Parliament. The measure is an early example of mercantilism - promulgating that all goods imported to Britain from Africa, Asia, or the Americas would only be permitted in British vessels, and European exports to Britain would only be admitted in British ships, or those of the exporting country. The strong mercantile interest of the Purged Parliament was arguably a significant factor, for activity against the Dutch, the major commercial rival, would be in the interests of British overseas trade. As an accompaniment to the Navigation Act, the Purged Parliament encouraged anti-Dutch propaganda in broadsheets and newspapers. With antipathy between the two republics established, all that was needed was a pretext for war to ensue.

This came with the battle of the Downs off the Kentish coast in 1652. Defying a demand they lower their flags in deference, the Dutch fleet opened fire on the English. War ensued, lasting until 1654, in the form of a series of naval engagements in the Channel and North Sea collectively known as the First Dutch War (see below). Early on in the war, the Dutch, under Admiral van Tromp, had the upper hand. With the death of van Tromp at the battle of Trexel in 1653, English fortunes turned. The 'genius' of naval commander Robert Blake was a crucial part in this, as was the strengthening of the naval forces inherited from Charles I by the Purged Parliament. After a string of victories for the Republic's fleet, the Dutch coast was blockaded. The Dutch suffered heavy shipping losses and by December were contemplating peace. Both governments had reason to conclude the conflagration late in 1653 - in the United Provinces the Republicans under John de Witt gained the ascendancy over the royalist Orangists. With it came an unwillingness to continue the war, in part being fought for the Stuarts. In England the coup that ousted the Nominated Assembly and its religious radicals (who had advocated war against the Dutch on religious grounds) and the establishment of the Protectorate, allowed more prudent statesmen to take control of foreign policy. Thus, it was within a matter of days after Cromwell's inauguration as Lord Protector that peace talks began.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.