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Michiel de Ruyter
Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter (24 March 1607 - 29 April 1676) is the most famous admiral in Dutch history. De Ruyter fought the English in the first three Anglo-Dutch Wars and scored several major victories.
Background and Early Career
De Ruyter was born in Vlissingen and became a sailor at the age of 11 in 1618. At the age of 22 he was perhaps already captain of a merchant ship. In 1641 he was captain of Haze in a fleet fighting the Spanish, teaming up with the Portuguese during their rebellion.
In the First Anglo-Dutch War(1652–1654), asked to join the expanding fleet as a subcommander, De Ruyter proved his worth under Admiral Maarten Tromp, winning the Battle of Plymouth. When the war ended after Tromp had been killed at the Battle of Scheveningen De Ruyter, now Vice-Admiral, declined supreme command but remained in the service of the Dutch navy.
In 1659 he fought the Swedes under Lieutenant-Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam , teaming up with the Danish against the aggression of Charles X of Sweden and liberating Nyborg. For this he was knighted by the Danish king Frederick III of Denmark who would become a personal friend.
Second Anglo-Dutch War
In 1664, a year before the Second Anglo-Dutch War officially began, he clashed with the English off the West African coast, where both the English and Dutch had significant slave stations, retaking the Dutch possessions occupied by Robert Holmes and then crossing the Atlantic to raid the British colonies in America.
Arriving off Barbados in the Carribean at the end of April, 1665 aboard his flagship Spiegel, he led his fleet of thirteen vessels into Carlisle Bay , exchanging fire with the English batteries and destroying many of the vessels anchored there. Unable to silence the English guns and having sustained considerable damage to his own vessels, he retired to French Martinique for repairs.
Sailing north from Martinique, de Ruyter captured several English vessels and delivered supplies to the Dutch colony at Sint Eustatius. Given the damage he had sustained, he decided against an assault on New York and proceeded to Newfoundland, capturing several English fishing boats and anchoring at Saint John's before proceeding to Europe.
On his return to Holland he learned that Van Wassenaer had been killed in the disastrous Battle of Lowestoft. Many had expected that command of the fleet now go to Tromp or his son Cornelis, but De Ruyter was so popular after his heroic return, he instead was made commander of the Dutch fleet, as Lieutenant-Admiral (a rank he shared with four others). In this Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667) he won a hard-fought victory in the Four Days Battle (June 1666) but narrowly escaped disaster in the St James's Day Battle (August 1666). He then became seriously ill, recovering just in time to take nominal command of the fleet executing the Raid on the Medway in 1667. The Medway raid was a costly and embarrassing defeat for the English, bringing the Dutch close to London and the war to its end.
Third Anglo-Dutch War and Death
De Ruyter saved the situation for the Dutch in the Third Anglo-Dutch War. His strategic victories over larger Anglo-French fleets at the Battles of Solebay (1672), Schooneveld and Texel (Kijkduin) (1673) warded off invasion. The new rank of Lieutenant-Admiral-General was made especially for him.
Again taking the battle to the Carribean, this time against the French, De Ruyter arrived off Martinique aboard his flagship Zeven ProvinciŽn on July 19 1674. He led a substantial force of thirty warships, nine storeships, and fifteen troop transports bearing 3,400 soldiers. Attempting to assault Fort Royal, his fleet was becalmed, allowing the greatly outnumbered French defenders time to solidify their defenses. The next day, newly-placed booms prevented de Ruyter from entering the harbor. Nonetheless, the Dutch soldiers went ashore without the support of the fleet's guns, and were badly mauled in their attempt to reach the French fortifications atop the steep cliffs. Within two hours, the soldiers were returning to the fleet, having suffered 143 killed and 318 wounded, as compared to only 15 French defenders lost. His ambitions thwarted and the element of surpise lost, de Ruyter sailed north to Dominica and Nevis, then returned to Europe with disease spreading aboard his ships.
His career came to an end when he was fatally wounded in battle against the French fleet near Messina, Sicily in April 1676, a cannon ball hitting both his legs. His body was buried in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Amsterdam.
De Ruyter was highly respected by his sailors and soldiers, both because of his disregard for hierarchy (he was himself of humble origin) and his refusal to back away from risky and bold undertakings despite his usually cautious nature.
- De Ruyters' flagship 'The Seven Provinces' is being rebuilt in Dutch town Lelystad.
- Short biography, well illustrated
- Stichting De Ruyter (in Dutch)
- Marley, David. Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the New World, 1492 to the Present. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1998. (pp. 159,165, 177-79). ISBN 0-87436-837-5
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