The Dutch Wars

The three Dutch Wars of the period were part of a conscious attempt by successive English governments to secure and expand English trade and shipping. This led to more wars and the necessary expansion and improvement of the fleet. The Dutch Wars were largely inconclusive, unheroic (despite Marvell's patriotic opinions) and caused political difficulties, especially under Charles II. The Wars were a series of naval battles that gradually eroded the Dutch fleet – however what is remarkable is the speed with which the Dutch fleet recovered after English rout. The Wars emphasise the shift in naval warfare during the period from clashes between large fleets such as the Armada to attacks on merchant shipping convoys to seize their cargoes and destroy their existence for one or the other's trade.

1652-54 - in 1651 the Commonwealth government passed the Navigation and Trade Acts, which established a mercantilist economic policy to provide Britain with an exclusive position in international trade. Accompanying the Acts the government produced an outburst of anti-Dutch propaganda attacking them as renegade Protestants, who still favoured monarchy and were corrupted by greed for capital gain. The Dutch responded with scorn, war only needed a pretext. This came in 1652 with the failure of Dutch ships to show deference to, and assault upon the English fleet.

The war lasted until 1654, when Cromwell (who had always been against war with the Dutch) concluded peace. The war consisted of a series of naval engagements fought in the English Channel and the North Sea. The Dutch held the upper hand in the early stages, with the leadership and tactics of Admiral van Tromp. However, with the death of van Tromp at the Battle of Hexel in 1653 and the emergence of Robert Blake to command the English fleet, the tide of the war turned. After a series of English victories (celebrated in poetry by Andrew Marvell) the Dutch coast was then blockaded and they were ready to conclude peace. At the end of 1653 both the Dutch and the English welcomed the chance to draw a conclusion to the war. Within days of Cromwell's coup that established the Protectorate, the Treaty of Westminster had been concluded. Though Cromwell was criticised for being too lenient with the Dutch - especially in not ramming home economic disadvantages.

1665-67 - Like the First Dutch War, the second conflict emerged out of commercial rivalry. The war was sparked by the English capture of New Amsterdam in North America (now New York). There followed a series of inconclusive naval battles, though the Dutch were supported by the French. However English mismanagement of finances forced the fleet to remain in port in 1667 allowing the Dutch fleet the opportunity to sail up the Medway and devastate English warships. The latter precipitated political crisis which led to the fall of the Earl of Clarendon - examined in Andrew Marvell's insightful political poem, The Last Instructions to a Painter. The Second Dutch War was concluded by the Treaty of Breda and a short- lived Triple Alliance (England-Dutch Republic-Sweden) in 1668.

1672-74 - The Third War differed from the previous two in that it originated with the infamous Treaty of Dover (1670) between Charles II and Louis XIV. This alliance intended for a simultaneous assault ad conquest of the Dutch Republic by the English fleet and the French army, and agreed the partition of the territory between the two crowns and the re-installment of the banished prince, William of Orange (Charles's nephew). Though the treaty has traditionally been considered Charles II's biggest error, it was a workable and coherent strategy.

The war was popular enough and sparked by traditional commercial rivalry – a declaration of war with the attack on a convoy of the Dutch Smyrna Company. Though Englishmen looked at the rise of the absolutist French Catholic monarchy with fear, the Dutch were still at this time the national enemy. The War was even endorsed by the Exclusionists' leader, the Earl of Shaftesbury in 1673. Charles's involvement in the War from a financial perspective, was dubious – he was strapped for revenues and could only support the conflict with the infamous 'Stop of the Exchequer' (whereby the Crown withheld and even cancelled some of its debts).

The English fleet fared badly against the Dutch in the sea war – while the French land offensive was even worse. Prince William was accepted as stadholder andcomader of the armies after a rebellion overthrew the republican government. Charles now faced the double embarassment of a lengthy war he

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