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The Anglo-Dutch Wars were fought in the 17th and 18th centuries between Britain and the United Provinces for control over the seas and trade routes. They are known as the Dutch Wars in England and as the English Wars in the Netherlands.
The collapse of Spanish power at the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 meant that the colonial possessions of the Portuguese and Spanish Empires were effectively up for grabs. This brought the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands, former allies in the Eighty Years' War, into conflict. The Dutch had the largest mercantile fleet of Europe, and a dominant position in European trade. They had annexed most of Portugal's territory in the East Indies giving them control over the enormously profitable trade in spices. They were even gaining significant influence over England's maritime trade with her North American colonies, profiting from the turmoil that resulted from the English Civil War. The Dutch navy had been neglected though, while Cromwell had built a strong fleet.
Main article: First Anglo-Dutch War
In order to protect its position in North America, in 1651 the Parliament of the Commonwealth of England passed the first of the Navigation Acts, which mandated that all goods from her American colonies must be carried by English ships. In a period of growing mercantilism this was the spark that ignited the first Anglo-Dutch war, the British seeking a pretext to start a war which led to sporadic naval engagements across the globe.
The English were initially successful, Admiral Robert Blake defeating the Dutch Admiral Witte de With in the Battle of the Kentish Knock in 1652. Believing that the war was all but over, the English divided their forces and in 1653 were routed by the fleet of Dutch Admiral Maarten Tromp at the Battle of Dungeness in the North Sea. The Dutch were also victorious at the Battle of Leghorn and had effective control of both the Mediterranean and the English Channel. Blake, recovering from an injury, rethought, together with Monck, the whole system of naval tactics, and in mid 1653 used the line of battle to drive the Dutch navy back to its ports in the battles of Portland and the Gabbard. In the final Battle of Scheveningen on 10 August 1653 Tromp was killed, a blow to Dutch morale, but the British had to end their blockade of the Dutch coast. As both nations were by now exhausted, peace negotiations were started.
The war ended on 1654-04-05 with the signing of the Treaty of Westminster, but the commercial rivalry was not resolved, the British still having failed to replace he Dutch as the world's dominant trade nation.
Main article: Second Anglo-Dutch War
After the English Restoration Charles II tried to serve his dynastic interests by attempting to make Prince William III of Orange, the husband of his niece, stadtholder of The Republic, using some military pressure. This led to a surge of patriotism in England, the country being, as Samuel Pepys put it, "mad for war". This war, provoked in 1664, witnessed quite a few significant English victories in battle, (but also some Dutch ones such as the surrender of the Prince Royal during the Four Days Battle in 1666 which was the subject of a famous painting by Willem van de Velde). However the Raid on the Medway entailing the burning of part of the English fleet whilst docked at Chatham in June 1667 when a flotilla of ships led by Admiral de Ruyter broke through the defensive chains guarding the Medway and wrought havoc on the English ships, ended the war with a Dutch victory. For a few years the greatly expanded Dutch navy was now the world's strongest. The Republic was then at the zenith of its power.
Main article: Third Anglo-Dutch War
Soon the English navy was rebuilt. After the embarassing events in the previous war, English public opinion was unenthusiastic about starting a new one though. Bound by the secret Treaty of Dover Charles II was however obliged to assist Louis XIV in his atttack on The Republic in the Dutch War. The French army being halted by inundations , an attempt was made to invade The Republic by sea. De Ruyter, gaining four strategic victories against the Anglo-French fleet, prevented invasion. After these failures English parliament forced Charles to sign peace.
Main article: Fourth Anglo-Dutch War
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 ended the conflict by placing Prince William III of Orange on the English throne as co-ruler with his wife Mary. Though this was in fact a military conflict between Great Britain and The Republic, William invading the British Isles with a Dutch fleet and army, it's never described as such as he had strong support in England and was partly serving the dynastic interests of his wife.
However, the regime change brought about the ultimate downfall of the Dutch Republic. The Dutch merchant elite immediately began to use London as a new operational base. Dutch economic growth slowed. William ordered that any Anglo-Dutch fleet be under British command, with the Dutch navy having 60% of the strength of the British. From about 1720 Dutch wealth declined. Around 1780 the per capita gross national product of the Kingdom of Great Britain surpassed that of the Dutch Republic. Now it were the Dutch who in turn became prone to petty jealousy and began to support the American rebels. This led to the fourth war, and the loss of the alliance made the Dutch Republic fatally vulnerable to the French. Soon it would be subject to regime change itself.
The Dutch navy was by now only a shadow of its fomer self, so there were no large fleet battles. The English tried to reduce the Republic to the status of a British protectorate, using Prussian military pressure and gaining factual control over the Dutch colonies, those conquered during the war given back at war's end.
In the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars of 1793–1815, France reduced the Netherlands to a satellite and finally annexed the country in 1810. Britain took over all the Dutch colonies, with the exception of Java and the trading post at Deshima in Japan.
Some historians count the conflicts during the Napoleonic era as Anglo-Dutch wars.
- Painting of Anglo-Dutch sea battle (Third War) (National Maritime Museum London).
- National Maritime Museum London official site.
- Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyters' flagship 'The Seven Provinces' is being rebuilt in Dutch town Lelystad.
- A short history of the Anglo-Dutch Wars
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