Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Dutch in the Medway

In the autumn of 1666, before and after the fire, both Rupert and Albermarle, the former General Monck, launched complaints about their fleets being inadequately supplied. When Parliament met in September 1666 it was in a highly critical mood, blaming the navy for maladministration and the government for corruption. On 26 September the Commons ordered the officers of the navy, ordnance and stores to bring in their accounts for inspection. However, the diaries of both Pepys and John Evelyn for October 1666 reveal the king’s apparent indifference to the warnings he was receiving.

By this time public opinion had turned against the war, and in January 1667 Charles began to negotiate a peace. In March the Dutch agreed to begin peace discussions at Breda. As a result, a large part of the English fleet was paid off and anchored in the Medway near Chatham, and economies made in repairing ships and shore defences.

On 7 June 1667 the Dutch admiral, de Ruyter, sailed into the approaches of the Thames. On 10 June they captured Sheerness. On 12 June the Dutch attacked the naval base at Chatham, bombarded a stationary fleet, - kept in the dock for lack of funds- set fire to three large warships, and towed away the Royal Charles. It was a stunning national humiliation.
‘Had the old Protector had a grave, he would surely have been spinning in it.’ (Kishlansky, 1996, p. 239).
Pepys: ‘I … fear… that the whole kingdom is undone.’ (Diary, Vol viiii, 1667, ed. Robert Latham (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1974), p. 262. He sent his wife into the country, and a few days later he made his will. On 12 July Pepys wrote
‘It is strange how ... everybody doth doth nowadays reflect upon Oliver and commend him, so brave things he did and made all neighbour princes fear him; while here a prince, come in with all the love and prayers and good liking of his people ... hath lost all so soon, that it is a miracle what way a man could devise to lose so much in so little time’. (Diary, Vol. viii, p. 332.
Pepys, of course, wrote in code and this reflection wasn't for public consumption! The editors of the Diary note (p. 332, n. 2) that such opinions were common in the coffee houses. No wonder the government was alarmed at the proliferation of these places.

The Treaty of Breda concluded peace with the Dutch. Because they were threatened by Louis XIV's France, the Dutch were eager for a treaty even if it was disadvantageous to them. England therefore gained territory though the gains were seen at the time as minimal: the acquisition of New York and New Jersey.