My recent trip to Scotland meant that I missed blogging about the 350th anniversary of the conquest of New Amsterdam in 1664, and the subsequent establishment of New York and New Jersey. When I came to think about writing a new post on this, looking at the odd coincidence of the ‘Bedfordshire connection’ behind the foundation of both states, I realised that I’d already presented the material in a post from over two and a half years ago. As a lot of new followers have come on board since, I thought I’d reblog that post now to mark the 350th anniversary. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Gentlemen and Tarpaulins:

‘The Journals of Matthew Quinton’ are set principally during what are known as ‘the Anglo-Dutch wars’, but like most generalisations used to describe historical periods, that label actually conceals a much more complex picture. For one thing, the wars were not exclusively Anglo-Dutch: the second, from 1665 to 1667, also involved France, Denmark-Norway and even the Prince-Bishop of Munster, while the third, from 1672-4, was part of a much larger conflict that the Dutch regard as effectively their second war of independence, fought overwhelmingly against the French.

The same is true of the colonial conflicts that form the backdrop of The Mountain of Gold, the second book in the series. Anglocentric sources have sometimes seen the colonial conflicts of the early 1660s as being primarily between the English and the Dutch, especially in West Africa, but in reality many European powers, including some pretty unlikely ones, were scrabbling desperately…

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And so it belongs to the ages: the most momentous event in the history of the United Kingdom, and certainly of Scotland, for many decades. If you can be certain of one thing at this very moment, it’s that the first versions of the history of the Scottish independence referendum are already being written. As you read these words, journalists and/or historians (or, the saddest cases of all, journalists with History degrees who secretly always wanted to be proper historians), sustained by pathetically inadequate advances from their publishers, will be hunched over their laptops and burning the midnight oil, fuelled by coffee and/or Cabernet Sauvignon, hammering out the glossily-packaged tomes that are contractually obliged to be on the shelves of airport bookshops in three months’ time.


The end of Union Street, literally and metaphorically?

The end of Union Street, literally and metaphorically?

Meanwhile, at both school and university level, chief examiners for Politics are already devising next summer’s questions, which will be recycled, albeit with slightly modified wording, for the next hundred years or so by the chief examiners for History, or at least until the next Michael Gove attains puberty (apologies to my American, Canadian and Antipodean readers; please feel free to insert instead the name of your local bete noire politico spouting utterly bonkers cod educational philosophy).

‘The intervention of Gordon Brown was crucial to the success of the No campaign. Discuss.’

‘Assess the importance of women voters in determining the outcome of the referendum.’

‘The growth of Scottish nationalism was principally a consequence of the retreat from empire. Discuss.’

And so on ad nauseam, and probably not only in History and Politics, either. Why, even chief examiners for Media Studies may be preparing to trot out something along the lines of ‘Assess the impact of “Braveheart” on the growth of Scottish support for FREEDOM!!!!, 1995-2014′. (By way of digression, on the night of the count, one guy in a bar in Greenock thought it a good idea to try and attract the barmaid’s attention by shouting ‘Freedom!’ as loudly as he could. This proved to be undoubtedly the worst impression of Mel Gibson playing William Wallace since Mel Gibson’s own. So quite rightly, he still didn’t get served.)

But you can be certain that one aspect of the referendum won’t appear in any of the books or the examination questions and answers, and that’s the story of the ‘referendum tourists’.

Yes, my friends, I mean the voyeurs who ventured north of the border, hoping to gaze upon the nakedness of broken political promises. The vampires feasting upon the blood of the poll booth virgins. The Rippers dissecting the corpses of -

OK, I’ll stop all that now.

But, gentle readers, I confess that I was one of those referendum tourists. I was one of those dining in the Restaurant at the End of the United Kingdom while the entire edifice teetered on the very brink of oblivion. I was not alone: the hotels that I stayed in, at Kirkcudbright in Galloway and Greenock on the Clyde, were full of us. Seriously, though, it was something I felt compelled to do. As those who’ve followed this blog for some time will know, I’ve always had a deep love of Scotland and a strong interest in Scottish history, as demonstrated by the fact that I spent ten years researching and writing an entire book about an aspect of it, the ‘Gowrie Conspiracy’ of 1600. The novelist Nigel Tranter was a major influence on my fiction, particularly on my first novel, Gentleman Captain, which was set in part on the west coast of Scotland. And as a Welshman, of course, I had rather more than a neutral’s interest in the outcome of the referendum; for whatever the result, it was bound to have profound consequences for Wales, its place in the United Kingdom and its form of government, as indeed seems to be becoming the case.

So, yes, I had to be there. I’d heard all the stories about the extraordinary levels of grass roots political commitment and heated discussions between ordinary people, so I wanted to experience some of that. But Kirkcudbright, the lovely ‘artists’ town’ whose most famous son is, perhaps ironically, John Paul Jones, the founding father of the United States Navy, provided me with a rude awakening in pretty much the first shop I went into.

‘Busy week in these parts, then,’ I said to the woman behind the counter.

‘Aye,’ she said, ‘we had a car boot sale yesterday.’

'Yes' in Kirkcudbright: definitely a lost cause

‘Yes’ in Kirkcudbright: definitely a lost cause

I put this down as an exception; surely I’d encountered the only person in Scotland who thought that the Kirkcudbright car boot sale was more important than the independence referendum? But no. In the pub that night, the sole topic of conversation was the same car boot sale - which had been a ‘f*****g fracas’, apparently, notably because of a shortage of toilets. I had essentially the same experience in Wigtown, Scotland’s town of books, the next day: ‘It’s frantic,’ said one shop owner, ‘we’ve got the Wigtown Book Festival next week’. And as I went around the area, it proved possible to go for mile upon mile and not actually realise a history-changing vote was about to take place. There were very few ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ signs on display, but the overwhelming majority of those that did exist were ‘No’, usually large placards in the middle of vast, rolling fields not too dissimilar to those of Bedfordshire. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the one and only Conservative seat left in Scotland (the party held the majority of seats in the country as recently, in historical terms, as 1955), and the obvious inference was drawn by pretty much the solitary display of ‘Yes’ support in Kirkcudbright, a display on a street corner, which castigated the wealthy local farmers in no uncertain terms. It was, perhaps, a sign of the lack of any violent political division in the town that the ‘Yes’ display remained forlornly in situ, not defaced, not damaged, not thrown into the nearby harbour; and ultimately, Dumfries and Galloway was, unsurprisingly, one of the areas that ended up with the highest proportion of ‘No’ votes.

(The highest proportion of all came from Orkney, where we were on holiday about a month ago. Although ‘Yes’ signs were more prominent up there, it was clear that the Orcadians, who don’t regard themselves as Scottish at all, were overwhelmingly hostile to independence – unless it was their own, from Scotland, a possibility that was seriously mooted near the end of the referendum campaign – and, if asked the question on the ballot paper, might even have preferred to rejoin Norway, still debatably their legitimate overlord.)

'Yes' in Largs: enthusiasm and a shortage of balloons

‘Yes’ in Largs: enthusiasm and a shortage of balloons

Driving across country from Kirkcudbright to Greenock, though, things began to change. The nearer I got to the Clyde coast, the more cars I saw flying saltires (one even had its wing mirrors painted over with the white diagonal on blue of Saint Andrew), and increasingly, ‘Yes’ posters proliferated. Then I got to Largs, and all hell broke loose. I have fond memories of Largs, one of my favourite ports of call during my days as a somewhat unlikely officer in the Royal Naval Reserve (CCF), tasked with instructing cadets in the arts of seamanship (which would obviously be of great use to them in Bedfordshire, one of England’s most land-locked counties) while simultaneous undertaking a crash-course in the finer points of the appreciation of single malt whisky. But the Largs I remembered wasn’t full of happy people clutching blue and white balloons, cheering loudly if cars honked when they passed. The atmosphere was electric, and I soon learned that this was because I’d literally just missed Alex Salmond, the SNP leader and First Minister, who’d given a barnstorming speech to the ‘Yes’ hordes. In the local ‘Yes’ campaign office, the energy was palpable, and no-one questioned the right of a Welshman to wander in off the street and purloin examples of campaign material; but then, people might have been distracted by the major crisis that had just developed, namely the fact that they’d run out of balloons.

'Royal Princess' alongside the Ocean Terminal in Greenock: one big unit

‘Royal Princess’ alongside the Ocean Terminal in Greenock: one big unit

And so to Greenock, once an industrial powerhouse with remarkably broad streets named after the places it traded with (Jamaica, Madeira) or else after great politicians of the day, the intersection of Fox Street and Eldon Street being undoubtedly the only context in which those two diametrically opposed political titans of George III’s reign ever intersected with each other in any way at all. Now, sadly, large swathes of Greenock are redolent of the urban decay apparent in so many British towns, such as my own home town of Llanelli, although a sharp counterpoint to this was provided by the enormous presence of the new cruise ship Royal Princessliterally towering above much of the town; Greenock is a regular port of call on the cruise ship circuit round the British Isles (as is Kirkwall, which often had two ships a day when we were there in August), and hopefully at least a few of the well-heeled passengers contribute something to the local economy. As the vast ship sailed, on the evening before the independence vote was due to take place, a pipe band on the quayside serenaded her with the likes of Highland Cathedral and Flower of Scotland. Would these prove to be the anthems of a new independent nation, and would this blog have to be retitled A Farewell to Caledonia?


Polling day: strangely quiet, at least where I was, with steady streams of voters striding purposefully towards polling stations. The thing that struck me was the good humour of it all, with family and friendship groups evidently turning it into a social occasion, cheerily saying hello to people they knew on the way in or out, while sixteen or seventeen year old schoolkids, having voted for the first time, proudly carried away their polling cards as souvenirs. And I couldn’t help thinking: this is the way democracy should be, not the turgid, unloved exercise it’s become throughout so much of the western world (and which, for my sins, I taught for several years, trying and failing to interest the exact contemporaries of those enthusiastic students in the delights of electoral systems and, ironically, devolution).

If I wanted any more proof, it came in the pub that evening. I deliberately sought out a down-to-earth, old fashioned town centre boozer, where I could listen in to the conversation. Unfortunately, there was one fundamental flaw in my strategy: I hadn’t spent a significant amount of time in the area for about twenty years, and had forgotten just how impenetrable the accent around the Clyde estuary can be. I couldn’t understand a word. But luckily, my saviours arrived in the shape of two garrulous and already distinctly ‘merry’ individuals, both probably in their sixties, who sat themselves down next to me with their pints and whisky chasers (this was at about 6 o’clock…) in order to watch the Celtic match. My heart sank. Was I going to be subjected to a barrage of incomprehensible abuse when they found I didn’t particularly support the Bhoys? (Not for any sectarian reasons, or because I’m Welsh and a rugby man; when it comes to Scottish football, and for reasons that are far too obscure to air here, I’ve always supported the mighty Stenhousemuir, despite never having seen them play. But I have been to their stadium.)

Not a bit of it. To my amazement, they launched into an animated discussion of – wait for it – the Barnett formula, bandying about national economic statistics with the confidence of Robert Peston, albeit with the deployment of rather more f-bombs than Pesto is wont to employ, at least in his pieces to camera. Even more remarkable, they were more engrossed in what was actually a remarkably sophisticated political argument than in the game they were meant to be watching – even to the extent of not realising that Celtic had scored their first goal until after it happened. After about 10 minutes, too, I was able to follow rather more than just every other word, and by now, my friends had moved on to economic globalisation – although they tended not to use that term, preferring to refer to ‘the f*****g Chinese’. The two extraordinary things about this were that the two, quite evidently very old friends and drinking cronies, were on opposite sides of the debate, and sitting next to them – sitting, in fact, in the midst of what was evidently a strongly ‘Yes’ clientele – was a man wearing a Union Jack t-shirt and a ‘No’ badge on the lapel of his jacket. But he, too, was engrossed in the Celtic match, and there was not a hint of malice anywhere in the bar. Whether that was still the case at 10 or 11 in the evening might have been a different matter, but I was long gone by then. To be exact, I was long gone to an Italian restaurant which was offering a special of the day: ‘Chicken Referendum’, no less, which apparently included haggis. It was tempting, but I had a pizza instead.


The morning of the result, which was announced on the BBC, just after 6, by fellow Llanelli Grammar School alumnus Huw Edwards: a first reaction of disappointment, both on behalf of those of my friends who had fought so hard for a Yes vote, and also, I suspect, on behalf of my much younger self, the idealistic student member of Plaid Cymru back in the 1970s; followed in fairly close order by a feeling of no doubt selfish relief, that so many of the certainties I’d known all my life hadn’t disappeared overnight. I decided to take a train into Glasgow to see what was happening there, and was barely out of Central Station before I spied a huge scrum of angry young men. My heart quickened. Might this be the last stand of the Yes supporters, a new Culloden, no less? No: it was the queue trying to get into the Glasgow Apple Store to buy the iPhone 6. Sic transit gloria mundi. I cut through George Square, where a few forlorn saltires were being waved limply by a half-dozen or so diehards, seriously outnumbered by the number of foreign TV crews around the square. (This was several hours before the evening’s brief but nasty sectarian spat in the same space.) But in many respects Glasgow, which had voted ‘Yes’ by a large margin, was already a city that had reverted to normal, as though the past few weeks and years had never happened. Tourists were wandering around the cathedral, students pulling bulging suitcases were trying to find their digs, and shoppers were thronging the likes of the St Enoch centre. Sic transit gloria Thursday.

'Yes''s last stand, outnumbered by TV crews: George Square, Glasgow

‘Yes”s last stand, outnumbered by TV crews: George Square, Glasgow

The afternoon brought news of Alex Salmond’s resignation, which no doubt would have delighted my ‘No’ friend from the pub the night before, who’d referred to the First Minister as a ‘f*****g pompous wee bastard’. The same sentiment was aired by the shop assistant who served me the next day, when I stopped at Thornhill in the Borders on my drive south. I bought a copy of The Scotsman, the front page of which consisted of a large photograph of a miserable Salmond, and the assistant pointed at it gleefully, saying ‘Tee hee,’ (trust me, he really, really did say ‘tee, hee’), ‘that’s the best result of this whole independence thing’.


It was a privilege to be in Scotland for the ‘whole independence thing’. As for the consequences, for good or ill, the fallout from the referendum looks set fair to drag the British constitution and, perhaps, at least some of the British political elite, kicking and screaming, into the, umm, nineteenth century. I only hope that just a fraction of the enthusiasm and involvement that I witnessed spills over into England and Wales, and produces similar results: but somehow, I think that might be an uphill struggle, as the blatant political posturing from the Westminster parties since the result was declared undoubtedly demonstrates. Still, Scotland might not have resumed its place in the world as a sovereign nation (yet…?), but surely it’s proved that there is a different way of doing things, that it is possible to engage ordinary people in politics, that in a democracy, every vote really can count. At the very least, too, it’s proved that if you’re allowed to marry and have a child at the age of sixteen, you’re more than qualified to have a vote at the same age, and any argument to the contrary is simply perverse. Dare one suggest, too, that if we really do have a referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union in the foreseeable future – and surely the unexpected closeness of the Scottish result will make the Westminster elite even more determined than ever to ensure that it never happens – then we might see the same degree of engagement throughout the component nations of that peculiar, anachronistic, but still somehow functioning, political union as we’ve seen in Scotland? Might I be able to go into my local pub and witness heated, but still amicable, discussion between old friends about the merits of majority voting on European budgetary issues – and one that’s not based simply on idiotic tabloid headlines?

Somehow, I doubt it. But I really hope I’m proved wrong!



I went to the Historical Novel Society conference in London on Saturday. This was a very jolly affair, for all sorts of reasons – it was good to see old friends and meet new ones, to have a delegate come up to me and launch into gushing praise of Gentleman Captain, and to attend some very enjoyable sessions, notably Conn Iggulden’s knockabout keynote talk and a hilarious panel debating whether ‘My Period is Better Than Yours’, a session punctuated by frequent references to Giles Kristian’s big axe. But all of that laughter conceals another side to the conference. Quite a lot of the questions, and many of the informal discussions between people during the breaks, were deadly serious, and there was a fair amount of earnestness, not to say angst, in certain quarters. Now, I won’t deny that there are certain topics about which authors of historical fiction ought to be very serious: getting published, for one; getting readers to read one’s books, for another; and, of course, getting one’s research right. But beyond that, it seems to me that some of my fellow authors tend to take the whole business rather too seriously for comfort, as if doing justice to the past, and proving oneself as a ‘proper writer’, means treating it all as though one is crossing a minefield while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The consequence is that I’ve read quite a few historical novels which are meticulously researched, well written, set in an interesting period and dealing with what should be interesting people – but which end up being deadly dull, simply because the author has forgotten that people in the past actually had senses of humour. (As supporting witnesses for my assertion, I summon the likes of G. Chaucer and W. Shakespeare. I then rest my case, m’lud.) Consequently, pretty well all of my favourite historical fiction books have generous lashings of humour. It’s why I prefer Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin over the distinctly more po-faced Horatio Hornblower, or why I’d go for Dorothy Dunnett’s (literally) weighty Lymond books over the equally shelf-straining tomes by Monaldi and Sorti. One of the great-granddaddies of the entire genre is Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, a book that contains plenty of good laughs – a lesson that Dumas forgot as he churned out the ever-darker sequels.

Of course, there are some things that probably shouldn’t be the subject of humour in fiction. For instance, I take the writing of my battle scenes very seriously indeed, and certainly wouldn’t make a joke of someone’s death; as I’ve said before in this blog, I’m often writing about real battles in which real people died, and they deserve exactly the same degree of respect currently being accorded to the casualties of World War I. On the other hand, perceptions of what might or might not be considered suitable subjects for humour in historical fiction clearly change over time, and topics that were once taboo are now fair game. Who’d have thought in 1945 that one day, we’d get Springtime for Hitler, and very few people would ever have expected the Spanish Inquisition… (And if you’re not a fan of the Pythons, maybe this remarkably authentic footage of the activities of the Inquisition will be more to your taste.) Last night, we went to see the acclaimed new play, King Charles III, in the West End. This is a very well constructed and well written piece (in iambic pentameter, no less!), with plenty of deliberate echoes of Shakespeare, some more or less plausible than others – Charles as a King Lear figure, William as a Henry IV, Kate Middleton as Lady Macbeth (!), even the ghost of Princess Diana. But it also contained plenty of humour, much of that provided by the kebabs-at-dawn character of Prince Harry, and proved the point that even the most serious themes – in this case, issues of where constitutional power truly lies, the power of the press, and the dysfunctional recent history of the royal family – are best treated by leavening them with a laugh or ten. (A digression: I had to watch the second half standing at the back of the auditorium, due to the crippling lack of leg room. Let’s face it, London theatres, if you were airlines, you’d never be allowed to fly…)

My point is that, for all of the reasons outlined above, the Quinton Journals have always contained quite a lot of humour. This is also partly a consequence of personal inclination – I actually wrote quite a lot of satire at one point, notably at college – but is also simply a reflection of the times I’m writing about. After all, this was the age of Restoration comedy and the court wits (Rochester makes an appearance as a major character in the latest book, The Battle of All The Ages), and having Samuel Pepys as a recurring character pretty well guarantees that there’ll be a few laughs along the way. The same will be true of the next novel, which will have an even greater amount of humour than usual, principally because -

Ah, but that’s a blog for another day, when I reveal all about the very, very different story that will be ‘Quinton 6’!


There won’t be a post next week as I’ll be in Scotland, taking in the final days of the referendum campaign and the result itself. I’ve always had a deep love of the country and a strong interest in its history, as witnessed by the fact that I spent ten years researching and writing a book on an aspect of it, so I felt I simply had to be there for what will be a remarkably historic occasion, regardless of the result. So in a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll blog my first-hand impressions of what might or might not be the end of the United Kingdom as we know it.



And now for the third and final part of my account of the Battle of the Texel/Kijkduin, 11/21 August 1673. Apologies for the week’s delay in posting this – twenty-first century real life always trumps seventeenth century history, at the end of the day!

I’ll post what would have been the appendix of my proposed book on the battle, namely an attempt to reconstruct the order of the fleet in its line of battle, on my website.


Prince Rupert and his critics

On 16 August 1673 a seaman calling himself ‘Tom Tell Truth’, from Kempthorne’s flagship, the Saint Andrew, wrote a short note to the secretary of state, Henry Coventry: ‘This is to let you understand that Prince Rupert ran away from the Dutch fleet, and that if you doe not acquaint his Majesty with it you do the nation a great wronge’.75 Rupert’s entire command of the 1673 fleet had been controversial, and by the time of the battle of the Texel the prince’s reputation was not what it once had been. Even in June, one commentator in London had remarked ‘God sende him better luck than I feare is generally wisht’, and his lack of success in the two battles of the Schooneveld provoked widespread criticism, some of it, at least, encouraged by the supporters of the duke of York – perhaps even by the duke himself, whose relationship with his cousin had always been frosty.76 Even the king was reported to have said that Rupert needed a victory to remove the question-marks against him. His hostility to the French was well-known, although he had made an effort to construct a working relationship with d’Estrées and to give the French praise when it was due (albeit with blatant bad grace).77 Rupert did not trust his second-in-command, Spragge, who had been foisted on him by Charles and James in preference to the prince’s own client, Sir Robert Holmes; Spragge reciprocated the feeling, and his journal is full of explicit and implicit criticism of Rupert’s tactics.78 Many of the prince’s subordinates were unhappy with his command. In addition to those who were closely tied to the interests of the duke of York, even more independent captains like George Legge resented Rupert’s appointment and promotion policies, and the way in which a few of Rupert’s favourites (notably Sir William Reeves, flag captain of the Sovereign) dominated their master.79 In the light of all these internal jealousies and divisions, it is hardly surprising that Rupert’s own conduct at the battle of  the Texel should have been subjected to serious criticism. Although he remained popular in the country at large, and his interpretation of the battle had been largely accepted (as it has been by most historians), a few more sceptical voices were being heard in the coffee-houses as early as September 1673: ‘The Prince is much adored by the people, and chiefly, it’s thought, for his hatred to the French, but all say his Highness wants that which makes a happy Commander, success…’.80 Moreover, a good case can be made for claiming that much of the criticism of Rupert’s conduct was perfectly justified.

Rupert’s own relation of the battle begins at daybreak on 11 August. This fact may well be significant; the prince had apparently researched the events of the previous day, and may have omitted them because he realised they did not reflect well on him.81 On 10 August, as noted earlier, Rupert had a clear advantage of the wind over the Dutch, and many in the fleet expected that he would engage that day; one critic claimed that instead, ‘the Prince only edg’d towards ym to ye great amazement of ye English as well as ye French commanders who could not guess ye reason, why he should omitt takeing soe fayre an advantage’.82 This was certainly the feeling of d’Estrées and Martel, who were to agree about so little else, and they were supported by Legge, who believed that ‘if we had borne more roundly upon them we might easily have been engaged by 4 a clock’ and privately attacked Rupert for ‘not making use of good opportunities…meeting the enemy with disadvantage though theye did yecontrary’.83 The fact that the combined fleet faced the Dutch ‘with disadvantage’ on the morning of 11 August was, of course, due to the fact that it had lost the wind during the night. In The Exact Relation and other pro-Rupert accounts, the prince’s faction attempted to blame the French for this, suggesting that d’Estrées in the van deliberately shortened sail twice during the night despite express orders to the contrary. D’Estrées, on the other hand, claimed that he was only acting under orders when he shortened his sails, and this seems to be supported by Legge, by John Narbrough, Ossory’s flag captain on the Saint Michael, and by Arthur Herbert, captain of the Cambridge, all of whom implicitly or explicitly blamed Rupert for the peculiar manoeuvring during the night.84 Moreover, this rather introspective analysis of the reasons for losing the wind fails to give due weight to the fact that the wind changed in any case, and to the brilliance of the Dutch manoeuvre – as one commentator on the Royal Katherine put it, ‘had wee maid saile we had kept it [the wind] but drifting along with an easy sayle and being darke they like Cunning fellows maid sayle and stood under our bowsprits’, a manoeuvre assisted by the Dutch captains’ naturally superior knowledge of their own coastal waters.85

Once the battle began on the morning of the eleventh, the scope for alternative interpretations of events becomes even more apparent. Although Rupert criticised the other two squadrons for deserting him, the French complained that Rupert had effectively abandoned them by fighting off to leeward, before unilaterally sailing off to join the blue, and that rather than Spragge not supporting him, he had not supported Spragge.86 These contentions seem to be supported by several journals from the red squadron, in which the authors expressed considerable surprise that they had stayed on the larboard tack for virtually the entire battle regardless of changes of wind.87 Of course, it was possible for Rupert and his clients to attack the dead Spragge with impunity, and they had a good case for charging him with breach of orders – though as Legge judiciously observed, ‘if he had lived this battaile would have proved more succesfull to ye English, & not had so much durt thrown in his face as hath beene upon his ashes’.88 Moreover, Rupert could hardly censure the French for stretching ahead and attempting to gain the weather gage – this was what they had been specifically ordered to do.89 Thereafter, many aspects of Rupert’s conduct of the battle came in for criticism. The fact that at one point he was sailing with de Ruyter in his wake – presumably the stage of the battle to which ‘Tom Tell Truth’ alluded – led one critic to claim that it was the first occasion in history when an English admiral had fired his stern chase guns during a battle, a sure sign that he was running away: ‘the Pr[ince] for reasons best knowne to himselfe had as fully betray’d the honor of ye English nation as d’Estrées of ye French: and in playne English a Coward’s a Coward be he wt Countryman he will!’90 Rupert’s cruise to rejoin the blue squadron in the early and mid-afternoon astonished Narbrough, who could not believe that two fleets could sail along within range of each other without exchanging fire – although, of course, this was just as much de Ruyter’s doing as Rupert’s.91 Several critics, including Herbert and Narbrough, claimed that when Rupert had rejoined the blue squadron he could have won the battle anyway if he had tacked, with or without the assistance of the French, and this does not seem to have been altogether wishful thinking.92

As the battle came towards its close, the infamous blue flag at the mizzen peak became one of the most bitter bones of contention between Rupert and the French. There is no doubt that the French saw the signal, but that remains one of the few certainties in the matter. Most commentators have assumed that the signal was unequivocal, but this was not necessarily the case – even the Exact Relation presented two explanations of the signal, one that it was an order to fall on the enemy, the other that it was a sign to fall into the admiral’s wake (the interpretation that Rupert himself claimed he put on it). When d’Estrées presented his detailed reposnse to Rupert’s charges in November 1673, he claimed that Charles II had agreed with his claim that the signal was confusing, and it was subsequently felt that the instructions had to be clarified to cover such eventualities. However, d’Estrées also admitted that the meaning of the signal was effectively irrelevant, as he had no intention of obeying it in any case. Both he and Seignelay agreed that it was vital for him to keep the wind ahead of an anticipated engagement the next day, rather than becoming entangled (as Rupert had done) among the disabled ships of the blue squadron.93 Therefore, the final French charge against Rupert was that he failed to resume the battle on 12 August, but instead stood away to the westward, and it was reported that many English captains also held this opinion. Rupert himself tacitly admitted that he could have engaged on the following day when he admitted, rather lamely and disingenuously, that the only reason he failed to do so was because he could not guarantee that d’Estrées and many of his own captains would behave better than he believed they had done on the eleventh.94 He certainly had the powder and shot to engage again – the Ordnance office later claimed that even the Prince had expended only a third of her shot, and the fleet as a whole expended only about a sixth of its supply.95 Apart from the Prince, which had been completely dismasted, there were only five other ships which were considered so badly damaged that they had to be sent home as soon as possible.96 However, many ships had been damaged in their rigging, with virtually all the surviving accounts from the English, French and Dutch forces mentioning the prevalence of this type of damage; several ships had been forced to drop out of the battle to make repairs or had found their manoeuvrability restricted by damage to masts and sails, but on the whole repairs to this sort of damage were made rapidly and should not have affected the ability of most individual ships to resume the fight on a new day.97 If disgust with his subordinates was the only reason for Rupert’s failure to resume the engagement, then the French undoubtedly had a case, and in this they were supported by one of the best seamen in the English fleet, Narbrough, who wrote of the end of the action:

Thus the enemy and our fleet parted; we having the weather gage of the enemy, stood away from them, a sight unpleasant to the English seamen. I had rather fall in the battle than ever to see the like more, that so mighty a fleet of ships as ours is to stand away, as now we do, from so mean a fleet as the Dutch fleet is to ours, without the loss of one ship or any other damage considerable to us.98


Ultimately, the various mutual recriminations about individuals’ and squadrons’ conduct at the battle of the Texel are just as difficult to resolve in the present day as they were at the time. For example, it is ironic that the Exact Relation, the various rejoinders to it, and many comments in letters from August 1673 onwards, should have explicitly recognised the existence of factions in the English squadrons and the problems which this posed for analysing the battle, while at the same time accepting Martel’s relation as gospel. In fact, there is good reason to suppose that Martel’s attack on d’Estrées was a product of a factional quarrel of which the English admirals would have been proud: there had been bad blood between the two before the battle, since Martel had joined d’Estrées relatively late in the campaign from the Mediterranean and they had become embroiled in a dispute over precedence and Martel’s role in the fleet.99 It has been suggested that Martel, a far more experienced seaman, resented being under the command of the recently ‘converted’ army officer, d’Estrées, and that perhaps as a marquis he also resented being under a mere comte.100 Martel was certainly taking a great risk by presenting his version of events to the English and ended up in the Bastille as a result, but it could have been part of a clumsy attempt to discredit and thereby supplant d’Estrées – an attempt based on the criticism of Martel’s own actions by d’Estrées and Hérouard and perhaps on a complete misunderstanding of the likely reaction to his actions in both London and Paris.101

Cutting through all the claims and counter-claims, it is clear that there were certain problems inherent in the conduct of the battle of the Texel over which neither Rupert nor his subordinates had much, or any, control. In the first place, the quality of the English gunnery seems to have been markedly inferior to that of the Dutch.102 The sheer length of the allied line-of-battle was commented on by several in the fleet, and this may well have caused some of the problems with seeing and obeying signals – indeed, an anonymous commentator on the fighting instructions apparently in use at the time was able to call on the events of the battle to suggest a whole series of improvements, including the introduction of repeating ships.103 The fighting instructions themselves proved to be inadequate in several instances. Apart from the dispute over the blue flag signal, another example of the inadequacy of the existing system was provided by the fleet’s tack to form into its line-of-battle at six a.m. – as no signal existed to order the whole fleet to tack together, Rupert improvised one by flying simultaneously the signals for the van and rear squadrons to tack.104 The need for one particularly critical new instruction was revealed by Spragge’s death: the fact that he had taken the blue flag with him, and that it was lost with him, was not an eventuality covered by the instructions, whereas his opposite number, Tromp, also made a series of changes of flagship but ensured that his flag was flying at all times, thereby giving no advantage to the English and giving a clear focus for captains seeking new orders which the blue entirely lacked after Spragge’s death.105 The weather played its part as well. The change of wind direction during the small hours of the eleventh helped to give the Dutch the advantage when the battle began, and it changed again shortly after midday to the south-west, and this threw the battle between the blue and Tromp into confusion for some time, although it also gave most of the allied ships the wind again and an opportunity which they failed to take.106 During the morning, a heavy cloudburst followed by a couple of hours’ persistent drizzle, at the very time when the three allied squadrons were starting to lose contact with each other, virtually prevented any communication between them; thereafter the perennial problem in naval battles of the sailing era, smoke, severely restricted the visibility from individual ships.107

Even if the French could plead mitigating circumstances up to a point, namely the debatable nature of Rupert’s tactics and the many other problems which beset the combined fleet at the battle, the fact remains that by their own admission they did not take as great a part in the engagement on 11 August as they could have done. The emphasis which d’Estrées and his political masters placed on the textbook manoeuvre of gaining the wind, and the obvious pride which the French subsequently took in the quality of that manoeuvre, suggests that perhaps they were going very much by the textbook, rather than responding flexibly to circumstances as they arose. In a way, this is hardly surprising. Compared with both the English and the Dutch, the French were very inexperienced, both individually and as a unit; given the newness of Colbert’s magnificent navy as a whole, the battle of the Texel must be placed in context as the first major line battle which the French navy had ever fought in the open sea – the previous battles of the third Dutch war, at Solebay and the Schooneveld, had all been curious affairs fought in coastal waters (indeed, Solebay had been a case of hurried improvisation in response to what was effectively an ambush by de Ruyter). The French performance in all the previous battles had been called into question, not always fairly, but this fact in itself explains why Rupert’s and the francophobes’ version of the battle of the Texel gained such widespread popular acceptance in the autumn of 1673 – there was a general expectation that the French would perform badly, so in that sense their behaviour at the Texel was very much a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy.108 The lack of confidence in the French squadron’s ability was perhaps demonstrated most clearly in the way in which it had been moved around from one position in the line-of-battle to another during the 1672 and 1673 campaigns, as if the English commanders were trying to hide it wherever it would have the least opportunity to do damage to its own side; only a fortnight before the battle of the Texel, the French had formed the centre squadron with Rupert and the red in the van.109 As a result, and not unnaturally, the French had very little experience of operating as the van squadron.

The English lack of confidence in the French seems to have been shared by the Dutch. De Ruyter’s strategy of virtually ignoring the French and concentrating the bulk of his forces on the centre and rear squadrons of the combined fleet was to be held up in later years as the classic tactic for an admiral in command of a smaller fleet, but whether de Ruyter hit upon it by accident or by design remains to be seen: while the records of the councils-of-war of the Dutch fleet survive for every other campaign of the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars, those for the 1673 campaign are missing, and the surviving Dutch journals suggest that they had originally intended the entire Zeeland squadron to engage the French.110 Nevertheless, it may well be that recent experience suggested to de Ruyter that the French were too incompetent or too inexperienced to present much of a threat, but even so, keeping only Evertsen’s eight ships engaged against their van and allowing them to gain the weather gauge was a remarkably dangerous gamble. It is possible, therefore, that when Banckert’s main force broke off from the French in order to join de Ruyter against Rupert, it was not doing so as part of a pre-conceived strategic plan but as a hurried response to what was perceived to be a crisis, particularly after the French had successfully weathered them and tacked.111 As the French were to prove later in the 1670s, often against de Ruyter himself, and in 1690 against the self-same Arthur Herbert of the Cambridge, when they did actually engage an enemy they often fought impressively. Indeed, the little fighting in which the French actually took part at the Texel saw them more than hold their own against the veteran Zeeland crews, and the thirty deaths on d’Estrées’ flagship La Reine was a respectable return by any standards.112 De Ruyter has usually been praised by modern naval historians for his genius, and for effectively saving the Dutch republic by using brilliant defensive tactics, but he may well have come closer than has been realised to losing everything in a battle which, after all, had been foisted on him by William of Orange and the VOC. The survival of the Dutch, and of the career of William himself, may have had rather more to do with the poor tactics of Prince Rupert, the ineptitude of the French, the conditions on 11 August 1673, and on the factional squabbles among the English and French. Ironically, de Ruyter’s fleet had been divided by quarrels which were, if anything, more vicious and deep-rooted than those among his opponents, namely the traditional inter-provincial rivalry which, for instance, had sometimes prevented de Ruyter and Tromp serving together in the same fleet; but in the autumn of 1673 these divisions took second place to the paramount need to play their part in the last-ditch defence of their country.113 Rupert’s fleet had no such great cause to fight for – it was fighting a war which was already deeply unpopular in England, and was at sea to support an invasion project which had already effectively been abandoned.

Perhaps the final words on the battle of the Texel should be left to one of the very few complete neutrals to have commented in detail on the events of that summer, the Venetian ambassador, Alberti. When the fleet originally set out for the 1673 campaign he had observed ‘the success and glory of so great a preparation depend for the most part on accidents and it never yields profit to the winner’, while over five weeks before the battle of the Texel he had written prophetically of ‘the inherent vanity of this nation, holding the Dutch in no account, [which] anticipates easy victory and unfairly accuses the commanders [and, he may have added, their allies] when the result is not in accordance with the national vanity’.114 The near-hysterical public response to the events of the battle of the Texel may well have played a significant part in bringing about the end of the Anglo-French alliance, but it also provides an early example of that particularly unattractive characteristic of the English in wartime, the belief that they have an innate right to win.


75. Coventry MS 95, fo. 404.

76. Quotation: Sir Charles Harbord to Sir Justinian Isham, 19 June 1673: NRO, Isham MS 778; Alberti to Doge and Senate, 6/16 and 20/30 June 1673: CSPVen 1673-5, 59, 67; Yard to Williamson, 29 Aug 1673: Letters to Williamson, I, 195; Davies, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, 165-71.

77. Ibid., 172-3. Report of Charles II’s doubts about Rupert: Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 22nd document in folder (‘A Full Answer’ – cf Davies, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, 167), p16. Cf Alberti to Doge and Senate, 21 Feb/3 Mar 1673, and Giustinian to Doge and Senate, 16/26 July 1673: CSPVen 1673-5, 20, 78.

78. Journals and Narratives, 315-30, especially pp 320-3, 327-8.

79. Cf document cited in n72 above

80. Ball to Williamson, 1 Sept 1673: Letters to Williamson, II, 2.

81. Ball to Williamson, 5 Sept 1673: ibid., I, 13; CSPD 1673, 520-2.

82. Quotation: Staffs R.O. MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 22nd document (‘A Full Answer’), p 17.

83. Ibid, 19th and 23rd documents (cf ns 48 & 72 above); Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 319 (Martel), ??

84. Criticism of French manoeuvring: ibid., 302, 304; Journals and Narratives, 380-1. Criticism of Rupert: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 313 (d’Estrees); ?? (Legge); Journals and Narratives, 353-4 (Narbrough); Bod, Carte MS 38, fo 34 (Herbert); Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 22nd document in folder, p 1.

85. Quotation: document cited at n54 above. Cf Staffs R.O. MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 9th document in folder – ‘The Reasons how the Dutch came to get the Weather Gage of Our Fleet’, a purely factual account which lays no charges against either Rupert or the French.

86. Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 314, 329, 352-3, 355-8.

87. Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 4th document (anonymous journal), 8th document (journal by Thomas Fletcher, midshipman and master’s mate on Royal Katherine); PRO ADM 51/588 (log of Mary Rose); Journals and Narratives, 311. Remaining on the larboard tack in this way, given the wind directions on 11 August, would have been contrary to the fighting instructions: Corbett, Fighting Instructions, 153 (third instruction).

88. Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 23rd document (‘Legge Rejoinder’), fo 13.

89. Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 303, 352.

90. Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 22nd document (‘A Full Answer’), pp 2, 18.

91. Journals and Narratives, 359.

92. Ibid., 360-1; Bod., Carte MS 38, fo 35. Cf Staffs R.O. MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 23rd document, fo 16, where Legge takes the same line.

93. Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 328n, 356, 358; Journals and Narratives, 383-4. Cf Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 22nd document (‘A Full Answer’), p 19. The fighting instructions support Rupert’s interpretation (see n103), and the French certainly had been issued with copies of these in translation: BL Add MS 34,729, fos 135, 190-2. Cf James, duke of York, to d’Estrees, 2 May 1672: BL Add MS 38,846, fos 27-8. However, Seignelay’s rebuttal of Rupert’s charges casts some doubt (perhaps speciously!) on d’Estrees’ possession of such a copy: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 358. Ultimately, of course, the most obvious flaw in d’Estrees’ and Seignelay’s defence of the ‘strategy’ of waiting for a resumption of the battle the next day is that it hinges on the wind remaining the same between dusk on 11 August and dawn on the twelfth – hardly a certainty in the light of what had already happened on the tenth and eleventh!

94. CSPD 1673, 522; Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 358.

95. A Just Vindication of the Principal Officers of His Majesty’s Ordnance, from the False and Scandalous Aspersions Laid upon them in a Printed Libel, Entituled ‘An Exact Relation…’ (1674), 7-9.

96. Rupert to Charles II, 14 August 1673: CSPD 1673, 494. Cf Legge’s comments about the lack of damage in the fleet as a whole: Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 23rd document (‘Legge Rejoinder’), fo 16.

97. In addition to the journals and accounts enumerated in ns 50, 52, 53 and 55 above, cf also PRO, ADM 106/284/327; ADM 106/285/1, 50, 248, 250, 300; ADM 106/27, fo 31 (reports of damage); Bod., Carte MS 38, fos 55-6 (damage to Saint Michael); Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 331 (newsletter from Amsterdam, 15/25 Aug 1673: damage to Dutch ships’ masts). It was said that between them, even thirty of the ships which had remained in the fleet (rather than being sent in for repairs) would require sixty new masts: Yard to Williamson, 5 September 1673: Letters to Williamson, II, 9.

98. Journals and Narratives, 361.

99. D’Estrees to Seignelay, 2/12 Aug 1673; Seignelay to d’Estrees, 3/13 Aug 1673; Martel to Colbert de Croissy, 27 Aug/6 Sept 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 297, 298-9, 339.

100. Ekberg, Failure, 164.

101. Criticisms of Martel’s part in the battle: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 314, 327, 342, 353-4; P. de Villette-Mursay, Mes campagnes de mer sous Louis XIV, ed M Verge-Franchesci (Paris, 1991), 147-8.

102. Journals and Narratives, 355-6.

103. Ibid., 327; Bod., Carte MS 38, fo 38. As Sir Julian Corbett noted (Fighting Instructions, 140) there is no clear evidence to determine which instructions were in use in the 1673 campaign. On the other hand, the weight of negative evidence – ie the absence of any new set of instructions from all the relevant major collections of naval papers (eg those of Kempthorne, Legge and the Admiralty itself); the fact that Charles and James had limited Rupert’s freedom to govern the fleet in 1673 in many other ways (cf Davies, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, 166, 169-70); and the formalisation of the set of orders issued in 1672 – all this suggests that the instructions followed were those of the previous year. For discussions, see Corbett, Fighting Instructions, 133-45; B Tunstall, Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail (1990), 38-41, 43-5. For an overview of line tactics in this period, see Maltby, ‘Sailing-Ship Tactics’, 53-63.

104. Corbett, Drawings, 36-7.

105. Journals and Narratives, 358-9; Corbett, Instructions, 162. Cf Maltby, ‘Sailing-Ship Tactics’, 56-7.

106. Confusion caused by change of wind at midday: Bod., Carte MS 38, fo 30r; Journals and Narratives, 356; Corbett, Drawings, 40-1 & plate VII.

107. Smoke: Bod., Carte MS 38, fo 30r; deposition by John Dawson, Advice, 26 Sept 1673: B.L., Harleian MS 6845. fo 183. Rain in the morning: inter alia, Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 4th & 17th documents; Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 303.

108. Journals and Narratives, 15.

109. Ibid., 30-1, 37, 44, 330. Cf Aungier to Essex, 20 May 1673: B.L. Stowe MS 202, fo 50.

110. Bruijn, Oorlogvoering, 89-90, 152, 185. Council of war resolutions are preserved in Algemeen Rijksarchief, Den Haag, Collectie de Ruyter, inventory Those for 1672 constitute piece no. 54, but the only remaining pieces in this sequence, nos. 55 and 56, are the minutes for 1674 and 1675 respectively. The most detailed Dutch account of the Texel remains that by J. C. de Jonge, Geschiedenis van het Nederlandsche zeewezen, ii (Haarlem, 1859 edn), 410-24.

111. Even one pro-Rupert account admitted that Banckert’s whole squadron could not engage the French because the latter were carrying so much sail (which, of course, was what Rupert had ordered them to do), and that it was for this reason alone that Banckert fell back against the red: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 303. On the other hand, Legge suggested that the deployment of Banckert’s squadron was part of a deliberate strategic plan, although he also claimed that Banckert’s subsequent retirement to join de Ruyter was a direct response to the French having weathered him: Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 23rd document, fos 13-14.

112. The most detailed summary of French casualties is in d’Estrees’ first account of the battle: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 315.

113. See J R Jones, ‘The Dutch Navy and National Survival in the Seventeenth Century’, International History Review, X (1988), 30-2 and 18-32 passim; J R Bruijn, The Dutch Navy in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Columbia, South Carolina, 1993) 10-11, 89-90, 113-14, 122.

114. Alberti to Doge and Senate, 11/21 April, 20/30 June 1673: CSPVen 1673-5, 38, 67.

And now for Part 2 of my account of the Battle of the Texel/Kijkduin, 11/21 August 1673…the same caveats apply as last week!


Ironically, one aspect of the original strategy agreed by Charles and Rupert before the fleet sailed in July worked almost exactly as they had planned it – one of the very few such occurrences in the three Anglo-Dutch wars. By the beginning of August, William and de Ruyter were under growing pressure from the Amsterdam merchants and the VOC to safeguard the returning merchant fleets. On 2 August, William visited his fleet off Scheveningen and persuaded de Ruyter of the necessity of giving battle, even though, as they both knew, their fleet only possessed about two-thirds of the Anglo-French force’s numerical strength.42 The Dutch fleet moved north; by 8 August the two forces’ scouts were in sight of each other, but high seas kept the main fleets at anchor for two days, during which time the potential threat to the republic’s trade was amply illustrated by the capture of the lone VOC ship Papenburg by the French warship Bourbon. The combined fleet weighed anchor at 6a.m. on the tenth and steered south-east with the advantage of the wind, closing steadily on de Ruyter. At four that afternoon de Ruyter tacked to avoid engaging, put on sail and rapidly shot ahead, with the combined fleet in pursuit.43 Given the hour, Rupert decided not to engage on that day. The (French) van squadron was ordered to continue to steer south-east until they came to the ten-fathom line where they were to change course to the south-west in order to keep the wind.44

By one means or another, by the morning of 11 August the combined fleet had completely lost the considerable tactical advantage which it had possessed the day before: as dawn broke, the allied captains found that the Dutch had gained the wind during the night and were bearing down on them. Even de Ruyter seemed surprised to find his enemy to leeward of him.45 The possible explanations for the allies’ losing the wind were and are contentious, especially as they provided part of the argument for the subsequent attack on the conduct of the French, and will be considered in due course. However, it is clear that one of the most important factors in explaining the change of circumstances was that the wind itself had changed during the night, swinging around from north-east roughly to south-east – a change which would have sufficed in itself to give the Dutch the wind, regardless of any manoeuvring on the part of either force.46 As it was, the combined fleet tacked several times during the night, finally making a tack between six and seven in the morning which set it on a course roughly to the south-west, formed up into its line-of-battle but with the Dutch closing from the south-east, having got themselves between the combined fleet and the Dutch coast, roughly seven miles off Petten and Camperduin (not, in fact, the Texel, as was stated in many of the English and French accounts). To confront the three allied squadrons the Dutch had divided their fleet in a similar manner, with the Zeeland ships under Lieutenant-Admiral Bankert in the van opposite the French, a largely Rotterdam-based squadron under de Ruyter in the centre opposing Rupert’s red squadron, and the Amsterdam ships under Cornelis Tromp in the rear opposite Spragge’s blue squadron.47 Between seven and nine the long lines-of-battle gradually converged and the battle began.

Another Van de Velde the Younger painting of the duel of the Gouden Leeuw and Royal Prince

Another Van de Velde the Younger painting of the duel of the Gouden Leeuw and Royal Prince

The combined fleet’s line-of-battle, the good order of which had impressed several of its officers, began to break up almost immediately. The French in the van pressed ahead, trying to gain the wind from the Dutch (or so they subsequently claimed); conversely, shortly before eight Spragge ordered his blue squadron, in the rear, to back their sails to their masts, ostensibly to close his three divisions to each other but in reality to ensure that he could continue his personal duel with Tromp, a legacy of the second Anglo-Dutch war. Virtually the last words in Spragge’s journal, written up in the small hours of 11 August to conclude his account of the previous day’s events, are ‘he [Tromp] will, I hope, fall to my share in the Blue squadron tomorrow’.48 As a result of these manoeuvres, the battle of the Texel effectively developed very quickly into three separate engagements – a fact which would later allow those who reported from each of the combined fleet’s three squadrons to claim that their actions had been correct and those of the other two had been wrong. In the admiral of the blue’s division, Spragge’s Royal Prince was engaged by Tromp’s Gouden Leeuw and a general engagement followed until about noon, with both the English and Dutch divisions sailing slowly southward before turning west and then north-west in the afternoon. Both the Prince and several of the ships near her suffered severe damage; the Prince lost the effective use of two of her masts and almost all her rigging, while ‘many valiant men [were] sent into the other world without any ceremony besides peals of thundering ordnance’.49 The Prince dropped out of the line at about eleven to effect repairs, the Royal Charles taking over her position. Captain Arthur Herbert’s Cambridge, immediately astern of her in the line, dropped out of the line twice during the same period due to damaged rigging, while the Advice lost her foretopmast and had six feet of water in her hold, forcing her crew to bail and pump continually. Spragge’s attempt at about noon to bring the Prince back into the line in order to launch a counter-attack against Tromp was thwarted by the rapid destruction of his recently-repaired main and mizzen masts, and he transferred his flag to the Saint George, which he immediately tried to interpose between Tromp and the crippled Prince. Finding the quality of the Saint George‘s gun crews to be totally unsatisfactory, or else because she, too, had become disabled (depending on whether one believes unofficial or official accounts), Spragge decided at about one to shift his flag again to the Royal Charles, ‘and stayed a little to take his flag with him…which some think was observed by the enemy, and occasioned the disaster that soon followed, for scarce was he got a cable’s length before the bullets began to fall thick about his boat, and one found easy passage through her to let in that good servant, bad master, the watery element’. Some of the boat’s crew managed to keep Spragge, a notoriously poor swimmer, afloat for a while, but when they were finally rescued it was found that although ‘they saved his body…his glorious soul had forsaken that habitation’.50The loss of Spragge, or rather of the blue flag which had perished with him and the Saint George‘s boat, was an unmitigated disaster for his division, which now lacked any effective leadership. Tromp sought to take advantage of this by finishing off the Prince and made at least three concerted attacks on her in the first part of the afternoon, almost managing to secure his fireships to her; the boatswain only just managed to cut away the hooks of one of them from the ship’s foreshrouds, and the entire saga of the Prince‘s defensive fight under her captain, Thomas Fowler, came to be regarded as a classic of its type.51

Despite the undoubted heroics of her own crew, the saving of the Prince was attributable chiefly to the intervention of the two other divisions of the blue squadron – the rear-admiral’s division under Thomas Butler, earl of Ossory, in the Saint Michael, and the vice-admiral’s division under Sir John Kempthorne, which had been stationed in the rear of the entire fleet. Between eight in the morning and midday, Ossory’s division had been trading broadsides with the ships of the Amsterdam rear-admiral Jan de Haan. With considerable damage to her rigging, the Saint Michael and her division had come up to Spragge’s Royal Prince at about noon, at which time the wind veered to the south-west and gave the English ships the weather-gage. This was the moment when Spragge’s intention to counter-attack on the wind was rendered futile by the disability of the Prince and his own death shortly afterwards. Despite suffering even more damage to the Saint Michael’s masts and rigging, Ossory kept her close to the Prince, with some of his fireships in position to deter Tromp. At four that afternoon, with both Rupert’s and de Ruyter’s squadrons in sight bearing down from the south-west and with Tromp having abandoned his final attempts to fire the Prince, Ossory ordered the Hampshire and Ruby (later joined by the Pearl) to take the crippled flagship in tow.52 Meanwhile, the rear-admiral’s division of the blue, under Sir John Kempthorne, had been engaged with vice-admiral Isaac Sweers of the Witte Olifant and his division since the beginning of the battle, although both divisions had fallen well to leeward of the rest of their squadrons. Kempthorne’s Saint Andrew lost her main and foremasts early on and had to anchor, and the damage which he had sustained, so Kempthorne claimed, made it difficult for him to manoeuvre to the assistance of the Royal Prince in the early afternoon. Nevertheless, he tacked with the intention of attacking Tromp, but found he was supported by only three other ships of his division. Kempthorne claimed that he passed the Prince and tried to set his fireships onto Tromp but that too many other ships were in the way. After tacking once more, Kempthorne hove-to to repair his torn foresail before weathering Tromp and sailing on to join Rupert at about four.53

For the red squadron, the morning had begun with the disconcerting spectacle of the white and blue squadrons disappearing ahead and astern, leaving them isolated to face what Rupert claimed was the whole of de Ruyter’s squadron and most of Banckert’s Zeeland squadron as well. From eight until twelve the red and its opponents followed a course roughly to the north-west, fighting all the time – an observer on the Royal Katherine, at the head of Rupert’s division, claimed that they had been the first ship to be hit, but that subsequently the Mary and Rupert’s flagship Sovereign had been particularly heavily engaged.54 By midday Rupert’s and his vice-admiral, Harman’s, divisions had been weathered by a large Dutch force, with rear-admiral Sir John Chicheley some way to leeward. As a result, most of the red lay between two Dutch squadrons, one to windward and one to leeward of them, with de Ruyter’s flagship De Zeven Provincien almost in the Sovereign‘s wake; the Royal Katherine dropped back from her place in the line to protect her. Several attempted fireship attacks by both sides were abortive.55 (Indeed, during the whole course of the battle of the Texel the English expended more fireships than in any other battle of the sailing ship era.56) Shortly afterwards, ‘our disput had a seseation’ when Rupert veered away to join forces with Chicheley, and then sailed northwards to assist the blue, who were about four leagues away. De Ruyter, similarly, hoped to assist Tromp, so that the early afternoon witnessed the peculiar spectacle of the two fleets’ centre squadrons sailing north almost parallel to each other, but not firing a shot.57

Between four and five, the red and blue joined forces. De Ruyter and Tromp launched another attempt to administer the coup de grace to the Royal Prince, but Rupert hastily improvised a new line-of-battle with the ships around him, interposing himself between the Dutch and Spragge’s old flagship and sending two fireships to thwart de Ruyter’s attack, so that a new general engagement began at about five. ‘The fight was very strong and close’, Rupert claimed, and it continued until about eight that evening, when the English squadrons withdrew to the west-north-west to take care of their disabled ships, and the Dutch bore off to the east, towards their own coast. Despite the severe damage to the Prince and the lesser damage to several other vessels, and the loss of Spragge, five other captains, and perhaps 500 seamen, Rupert claimed that he had gained the better of the engagement, and this boast was repeated in several accounts of the battle. It was regarded as a certainty that Kempthorne had sunk a Dutch seventy-gunner, but this was just as much a fiction as the Dutch claim to have sunk one of Rupert’s squadron. Although the Dutch had lost more senior officers, including two vice-admirals (Sweers and de Liefde), the claim to a ‘great victory’ in their journals was rather more justified, for as they immediately realised, they had achieved their objective of forcing the combined fleet away from their coast, ensuring that there could be no immediate landing (even if Charles II felt inclined to order one).58 Nine days after the battle, William of Orange signed the three great treaties with the Emperor Leopold, the queen-regent of Spain and the duke of Lorraine, which virtually guaranteed the survival of the United Provinces. Just over a fortnight after the battle he undertook his first serious offensive, taking Naarden and thereby relieving some of the French pressure on Amsterdam. If the Texel had been a Dutch defeat, it is very difficult to see how William could have contemplated such significant moves as these.

A Dutch congregation took refuge in its church as the battle raged offshore: plaque at Huisduinen, North Holland

A Dutch congregation took refuge in its church as the battle raged offshore: plaque at Huisduinen, North Holland

The conduct of the French squadron

As far as many of the Englishmen who had actually been present at the battle were concerned, let alone the vociferous francophobe elements ashore, the fact that the Texel quite plainly had not been the great victory they had wanted was due (at least in part) to the behaviour of the one remaining allied squadron in the battle, the French in the van. Even journals and accounts which were clearly written up immediately afterwards, several of them probably on the evening of the eleventh itself, contained the essential ingredients of the story which would be sweeping London for the following two or three months. Aboard the Royal Katherine, one of Captain George Legge’s servants saw the French at about six in the evening ‘above a leag to windward of us all and all the tyme of this our latter ingagmt the French never bore up a foot but looked one’.59 In the log of the Crown, which had lain just ahead of Rupert’s flagship in the red squadron, Captain Richard Carter noted that

the French yn haveing the van of the fleet and the wind shifteing to ye SW they tacked and gott the wind of the enemy who made so little use of so greate an advanta yt they kept yr wind as neare as possible they could and to the best of my knowledge fired but very few Gunns after they had so great an advantage of doeing considerable service.60

Rupert’s letters and his subsequent relation of the battle took the same line, his letter to Charles II on 17 August even containing a sketch of the situation at five or six in the afternoon of the battle, when the red and blue were starting to engage again but the French were standing apart, well to windward.61

Any attempt to interpret the conduct of the French at the battle of the Texel suffers from a particularly exaggerated case of the problem which to varying degrees besets the battle as a whole – not only was the interpretation of the facts open to debate, both at the time and since, but so too were many of the facts themselves. The ‘official’ version of the French squadron’s actions was contained in ‘the Relation from the White Squadron’, one of the three accounts published by authority on 17 August.62 In this, the French claimed that their rear-admiral, Martel, had attempted unsuccessfully to gain the wind of Bankert’s Zeeland squadron, and that d’Estrées had then broken through Bankert’s line between eleven and twelve in the morning, despite a narrow escape from Dutch fireships and the deaths of thirty men on his flagship, La Reine. Even the official account then passed over the actions of the French throughout the afternoon and evening with remarkable speed, claiming only that they had

pursued the enemy before the wind, and with all their sails, till half an hour past seven in the evening, when we found fifty of the enemy’s ships, who had rallied, and who durst not bear upon the prince’s squadron, because we had thewind of them, expecting only the Prince’s orders to do whatever his Highness should think fit. The Comte d’Estrées thinking he ought to keep the advantage of the wind, to renew the fight the next day, it being then already too late to engage afresh, without express orders from his Highness.63

Like the English journals and accounts of the battle, several more detailed accounts of their part in the engagement were produced within the French squadron in the days immediately following the Texel. D’Estrées’ own account was essentially a more detailed version of what was to become the official French narrative, and this line was supported both by an anonymous relation written up on 12 August and another by Hérouard, major d’escadre of the French squadron. Indeed, it was Hérouard who made the first serious attempt to counter the barrage of criticism against his squadron when he had an audience with Charles II on 17 August.64

Unfortunately for d’Estrées and for the Anglo-French alliance, this version of events was seriously undermined by the actions of the marquis de Martel. His journal for his flagship, the Royal Therese, formed the basis of the account which he subsequently sent to Rupert, which therefore came to form an essential part of Rupert’s criticisms of French conduct, and which was published with such devastating impact on English public opinion. According to Martel, the Dutch had employed only eight major ships and two fireships ‘pour amuser toute l’escadre de France’, and it is certainly the case that only this number of Zeeland ships, under vice-admiral Evertsen, were engaged with Martel’s van division in order to hinder any attempt by the French to tack; the rest of Banckert’s squadron soon dropped back to engage Rupert. Martel claimed that he had attempted to engage more vigorously, but had been thwarted by d’Estrées’ failure to support him. Indeed, he claimed that d’Estrées had secretly ordered the other captains in his division not to engage properly, and that by midday, when they had gained the wind of the entire Dutch fleet and Martel was keen to engage, d’Estrées for his part insisted they should stay clear of the main battle, at which Martel ‘shrugged up his shoulders’ and went along with his admiral’s orders.65 To this damning indictment of d’Estrées Rupert was able to add the charge that he had ignored the signal of a blue flag at the mizzen peak, which he had hoisted at about five in the afternoon as a signal (so he claimed) for the rest of the fleet to fall into his wake, in accordance with the fighting instructions; indeed, both English and French accounts indicate that d’Estrées saw this signal but (according to the more charitable reports) he did not know what it meant and sent a messenger to Rupert to find out, thereby losing so much time that the opportunity to engage was gone.66

The intensity of the criticism from both the English and Martel forced the French ambassador in London, Colbert de Croissy, and his political superiors in Paris, to attempt a damage limitation exercise and to undertake an extensive enquiry into the conduct of d’Estrées’ squadron. Indeed, the exhaustive nature of that enquiry, and the obvious concern to redeem the reputation of the French nation apparent in the letters of Colbert and his son, the navy minister Seignelay, gives the lie to the notion that ‘secret orders’ had been transmitted to d’Estrées from his government, perhaps even from Louis himself – apart from the obvious difficulty of implementing any such orders, the execution of which would have depended heavily on decisions of the Dutch rather than the French, the obsession of the king and ministers with their honour and ‘gloire’ makes it highly improbable that they would have ordered d’Estrées to act in such a blatantly dishonourable way, especially at a time when further English participation in the war was in the balance and public opinion was already hostile to France.67 By the beginning of September, Seignelay and Colbert were making every effort to obtain accurate information on the actions of the French squadron from its captains and others who had been present during the battle, and Colbert de Croissy was fighting a valiant rearguard action to counter the effects of Rupert’s and Martel’s relations. Both Seignelay and (later) d’Estrées attempted point-by-point rejoinders to each of Rupert’s criticisms of the French squadron.68 It was unfortunate for the French ministers and sea-officers that their detailed investigation was not made known English public opinion (which would probably have ignored it if it had been, of course), for even by the early days of September, that opinion was starting to shift slightly in a way which would in fact have been supported by the evidence being produced in France.

Even in the immediate aftermath of the battle, a few voices had been raised to question the conduct of individual English captains and, indeed, that of Rupert himself. The veteran admiral Sir Thomas Allin, writing from Yarmouth on 15 August in response to the first news of the battle, castigated the English as much as the French, and it was not only Rupert who censured the conveniently dead Spragge for disobeying orders and falling astern with the blue squadron in order to engage Tromp.69 On 30 August Arlington wrote to Essex that, although Rupert had been blaming d’Estrées and the French, ‘our English squadrons were not altogether Exempt from factions on their part, they also blaming one another, in a word wee lost an infinite advantage upon the ennemy although our strength was much superior to theirs by these divisions amongst us’.70 Factional point-scoring and settling of scores was endemic within the English officer-corps from August 1673 onwards. Sir John Kempthorne was criticised for not doing more to save the Prince and replied by attacking the other flag-officer of the blue squadron, the earl of Ossory, who petitioned the king and eventually won a retraction from Kempthorne.71 Rupert implicitly attacked most of the captains of the fleet by singling out only fourteen for praise – an action which offended even one of the fourteen and one of the prince’s own divisional captains, George Legge72 -  and he explicitly criticised his own rear-admiral, Sir John Chicheley, although the contemporary drawings of the battle made for Legge suggest that Chicheley’s conduct had been exemplary.73 The bitter factional feud culminated in the publication of the anonymous pamphlet An Exact Relation of the Several Engagements in the autumn of 1673, which made a detailed defence of Rupert and his clients, criticising several of the other flag officers, the French (predictably), the navy board, the ordnance office, and even the duke of York and Charles II himself. Its account of the Texel was based closely on Rupert’s own relation, supplemented by Martel’s, and on the whole it is this version which has become the accepted orthodoxy about the battle.74 However, both the other French and several of the English accounts present a very different picture, and one with a very different villain.


42  Newsletter from Amsterdam, 29 July / 7 Aug 1673; ‘Avis de Hollande’, 1/10 Aug 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 294-6; P Blok, The Life of Admiral de Ruyter, trans. G J Renier (1933), 340-1. Cf the perceptive comments of Henry Coventry about the importance of the VOC ships to the Dutch: Coventry to Curteus, 11 Aug 1673: Coventry MS 82, fo 129.

43  Scout ships: PRO ADM 51/3932 (log of Pearl). Capture of Papenburg: inter alia, PRO ADM 106/284/151, 168. The most detailed accounts of fleet movements, wind directions and courses steered, 8-10 Aug 1673, are Bod, Rawl MS C213 (log of Henrietta), PRO ADM 51/3817 (log of Crown), Journals and Narratives 310 (Legge, Royal Katherine), 330 (Spragge, Royal Prince), 352-3 (Narbrough, Saint Michael).

44  This, at least, is the interpretation presented in ‘The True Relation of the Battle’, BL Harleian MS 6845 fos 158-9 and in ‘A Relation of the Battle…’, Bod, Tanner MS 42, fos 21-2, both printed in Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 304. Both the veracity of these sources and their interpretations of Rupert’s decisions can be questioned. The Tanner MS account is noticeably inaccurate in the timings of many events during the battle, and both accounts take a strongly pro-Rupert line.

45  De Ruyter’s reaction: his journal entry for 11/21 August 1673 in Algemeen Rijksarchief, Collectie de Ruyter, inventory, fo. 64 (printed in J R Bruijn, ed., De oorlogvoering ter zee in 1673 in journalen en andere stukken (Groningen, 1966), 89). English reactions & descriptions of their course, etc, at daybreak on 11 August can be found in the journals (except Spragge’s) cited in n43 above and n47 below.

46  For purely factual accounts of the change of wind, free of any criticism of the French or Rupert, see inter alia ‘P B’ to Sir Charles Lyttelton, 12 Aug. 1673: PRO SP 29/336/243 (accurate summary in CSPD 1673, 490); PRO ADM 51/588 (log of Mary Rose); PRO ADM 51/3817 (log of Crown); Bod, Add MS C213 (log of Henrietta).

47  Tacks during night & position at daybreak on 11 August: Bod, MS Add C213; Bod, Carte MS 38 fo 30r (account by Fowler, Royal Prince); Journals and Narratives, 310-11 (Legge), 353-4 (Narbrough); Staffs RO, MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 9th, 14th, 15th & 17th documents in folder (respectively, an anonymous discussion of ‘The Reasons how the Dutch came to get the Weather Gage of our Fleet’, and parts of journals by Francis Hamond, Richard Streete and Charles Stephens, respectively midshipmen and master’s mate aboard Royal Katherine). There is some dispute about the exact number and timings of the combined fleet’s tacks, but this is hardly surprising given the complexity of night manoeuvring relatively close to shore and the added complication of the change of wind – moreover, the degree of confusion within and between the journals is entirely consistent with the fact that by dawn, the fleet’s sailing order was in considerable disarray. Division of Dutch fleet: Bruijn, Oorlogvoering, 152, 205-9.

48  Quotation: Journals and Narratives, 330. Quality of line-of-battle: Journals and Narratives, 354; Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 305. Spragge’s orders to Blue squadron: Bod, Carte MS 38, fo 30r (Fowler); Journals and Narratives 354-5 (Narbrough). Spragge’s ostensible and actual motives for backing his sails were discussed in detail by Legge, Staffs RO MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 23rd document in folder, fo 13 (manuscript pamphlet by Legge – provenance discussed by J D Davies, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins (Oxford 1991), 167-8) and this clearly formed the basis for the (unattributed) analysis of Spragge’s tactics by Sir J S Corbett: A Note on the Drawings in the Possession of the Earl of Dartmouth Illustrating the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672, and the Battle of the Texel, 11 August 1673 (NRS 1908), 37.

49  Quotation: ‘P B’ to Sir Charles Lyttelton from Royal Prince, 12 August 1673: CSPD 1673, 490.

50  Quotations: ibid., 491. Surviving accounts from the admiral of the blue’s division: ibid., 490-2; PRO, ADM 51/13, pt 1 (log of Advice); Captain John Dawson, Advice, to Navy Board, 18 Aug 1673: ADM 1/3545, p 197; Bod, Carte MS 38, fos. 30-1, 34-5 (accounts by Fowler, Royal Prince, and Herbert, Cambridge); BL, Egerton MS 928 fos 143-4 (another account by Fowler); account by Captain Guy, Henrietta Yacht: PRO SP 29/336313 (accurate summary in CSPD 1673, 523. For the blue squadron as a whole, cf also the official ‘Relation': Journals and Narratives, 392-4.

51  Cf Fowler and ‘P B’ accounts from Royal Prince cited in n50. For the perpetuation of the story of the Prince‘s defence see, inter alia, Corbett, Drawings, 43.

52  Surviving accounts of the rear-admiral of the blue’s division: Journals and Narratives, 354-62 (journal of Narbrough, Saint Michael); an earlier and briefer summary of the battle by Narbrough is BL Harleian MS 6845, fos 156-7, printed in Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 310-12. Most accounts only give two the first two frigates named towing the Prince, but it is clear that the Pearl joined the tow later: CSPD 1673, 523; PRO ADM 51/3932 (log of Pearl).

53  Surviving accounts of the vice-admiral of the blue’s division: BL Egerton MS 928, fo. 146 (account by Kempthorne, Saint Andrew). The journal for the flagship of Kempthorne’s adversary, Sweers, is printed in Bruijn, Oorlogvoering, 152-4.

54  Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 17th document in folder (account by Richard Streete).

55  Surviving accounts from the red squadron (all from admiral’s division with the exception of BL Egerton MS 840B, York, and PRO ADM 51/588, Mary Rose, the former of which was probably in the vice-admiral’s division – see Appendix – and the latter of which was definitely in the rear-admiral’s division; both of these journals are almost entirely navigational): Rupert’s relation, printed both in CSPD 1673, 520-2 and Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 306-9; sources listed in n44 above; Journals and Narratives, 311 (Legge, Royal Katherine), 390-1 (the official ‘Relation’); Staffs R.O. MS D(W)1778/Ii/355 (accounts by Legge and several of his midshipmen and master’s mates aboard Royal Katherine); PRO, ADM 51/ 3817 (log of Crown). Journals by de Ruyter on De Zeven Provincien and his son Engel de Ruyter, captain of the Waesdorp – both in the squadron opposing the red – are printed in Bruijn, Oorlogvoering, 89-90, 184-5 respectively.

56  D Hepper, British Warship Losses in the Age of Sail 1650-1859 (Rotherfield 1994), 10-11 and passim. Cf also the comments of W Maltby, ‘Politics, Professionalism, and the Evolution of Sailing-Ship Tactics’, The Tools of War: Instruments, Ideas and Institutions of Warfare, 1445-1871, ed J A Lynn (Urbana, 1990), 57-8. (I am grateful to Drs P Le Fevre and R Harding for this reference.)

57  Quotation: document cited in n54 above.

58  Quotation: CSPD 1673, 521. Latter stages of battle: journals cited in ns 50, 52, 53 and 55 above. English & Dutch losses: Journals and Naratives, 52-3. Dutch perspective: Bruijn, Oorlogvoering, 89-90, 154, 185; newsletter from Middelburg, 16/26 Aug 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 333-4. A good example of the wildly exaggerated English claims can be found in ibid., 306.

59  Quotation: document cited in n54 above.

60  PRO, ADM 51/3817.

61  PRO, SP 29/336/259.

62  Journals and Narratives, 391-2.

63  Ibid., 392.

64  D’Estrees and Herouard accounts published in Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 312-16, 325-8; anonymous account in ibid., 328-30.

65  Martel’s accounts are printed in ibid., 316-25 (quotation from p324).

66  Cf Rupert’s relation: CSPD 1673, 521-2; Martel to Colbert de Croissy, 27 Aug/6 Sept 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 340-1; sources quoted in n93 below.

67  See Ekberg, Failure, 163.

68  Seignelay to d’Estrees, 30 Aug/9 Sept, 7/17 Sept 1673; same to Colbert de Croissy, 7/17 Sept 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 342-3, 347-9; Colbert to Seignelay, 31 Aug/10 Sept 1673, ibid., 351-4; rejoinders by d’Estrees and Seignelay to Rupert’s allegations, ibid., 355-8. Cf ibid, Colbert and Seignelay to d’Estrees, 23 July/2 Aug and 4/14 Aug 1673 (ibid., 293, 299) for earlier expressions of the French government’s desire for ‘la gloire’ from its fleet;

69  Allin to Navy Board, 15 Aug 1673: PRO ADM 106/284/158; Henry Coventry to Princess Elizabeth of the Rhine, 18 Aug 1673: Coventry MS 82, fo 129v.

70  BL Stowe MS 202, fos 334-5.

71  See Davies, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, 171-2.

72  Staffs R.O., MS D(W)1778/Ii/355, 19th document in folder (unsigned, undated list of criticisms of Rupert).

73  Names of the fourteen officers and Rupert’s criticisms of Chicheley are contained both in his relation (CSPD 1673, 520-2) and in The Exact Relation, printed in Journals and Narratives, 382-5.

74  Ibid., 380-6. Several MS copies of the pamphlet survive, eg in Staffs R.O. MS D(W)1778/Ii/355. For its appearance and impact see ibid., 1st, 22nd and 23rd documents in folder.




Today, 11 August 2014, marks the 341st anniversary of the sea battle known in Britain as the Battle of the Texel and in the Netherlands as the Battle of Kijkduin. (The date was 21 August on the calendar then in use in the Netherlands.) This proved to be the last battle of the Anglo-Dutch wars of the seventeenth century, and it’s always fascinated me. Although it was indecisive, it has most things one could wish for in a sea fight: high drama, personal conflicts and tragedies, and an abiding ‘conspiracy theory’, centred on the notion that the French squadron, forming one third of the combined fleet under the command of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, was under secret orders from King Louis XIV to effectively withdraw from the action and leave the British and Dutch to fight each other to a standstill. I intended for several years to write a book about the battle, and, indeed, this proposal was accepted by Boydell and Brewer. Unfortunately, both this project and a related one (to produce a volume of contemporary views of the battles of the third Anglo-Dutch war for the Navy Records Society) were overtaken by events – especially the Quinton series, which meant I no longer really had the time to carry out the sort of intensive academic research that the book would demand. But who knows, maybe I’ll return to it one day, perhaps in time for the 350th anniversary in 2023!

In the meantime, I’m going to use my next three posts to publish online the existing draft of my account of the battle. This was originally in article form, and would have formed the basis of a greatly expanded and more detailed account in the book that I intended to write. It also formed the basis of the much briefer account of the battle that appears as Chapter 52 of my award-winning book, Pepys’s Navy. In so doing, I need to provide a few caveats. This was very much an incomplete work in progress; I’ve done little new work on this in at least ten years, so it takes no account of new research that either I’ve undertaken, or that others have published, during that time. (For example, if I was writing this account now I’d certainly want to refer to the likes of Charles-Edouard Levillain’s excellent Vaincre Louis XIV. Angleterre, Hollande, France. Histoire d’une relation triangulaire (1665-1688), 2010, and Matthew Glozier’s biography of Marshal Schomberg; while the cognoscenti of such things will observe that my unmodified notes still refer to the National Archives as the Public Record Office!) Not all of the references are in place, and others are incomplete. What’s more, it’s not been through the usual process of checks that such a work would undergo, e.g. review by a team of critical readers. As a result, I have no doubt that this account contains many errors and flaws; but I hope that even in this very rough state, it’ll be of interest to some of you! So without further ado, here’s the first part: my account of the project to launch an Anglo-French seaborne invasion of the Netherlands in the summer of 1673.

Willem Van De Velde the Younger's great painting of the Battle of the Texel, showing the duel between Tromp in the Gouden Leeuw and Spragge in the Royal Prince.

Willem Van De Velde the Younger’s great painting of the Battle of the Texel, showing the duel between Tromp in the Gouden Leeuw and Spragge in the Royal Prince.


The battle of the Texel, known to the Dutch (more accurately) as the battle of Kijkduin, was fought on 11 August 1673 between the combined Anglo-French fleet under Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the Dutch fleet under Michel Adrianszoon de Ruyter. Although no major ships were lost on either side, it proved to be a tactical success for the Dutch; it also proved to be the last battle of the three Anglo-Dutch wars of the seventeenth century. That it became both of these things can be attributed to the controversy which began almost immediately after, or perhaps even during, the engagement. On the twelfth, Rupert wrote to Charles II to claim that his failure to obtain a decisive victory was due chiefly to the failure of the French squadron, which, he stated, had stood to windward of the main battle, engaged with only a few Dutch vessels . This account was carried to London by Captain Charles Haward, who had been wounded in the engagement, and the first reports of the battle reached the court in the late evening of 15 August .2 Howard’s ‘whispers’ quickly became the accepted orthodoxy concerning the battle of the Texel; one of the ‘whispers’ had Howard, on Rupert’s quarterdeck, asking the prince, ‘”Does your Highnesse see the French yonder?” and that the Prince replyed in a great passion, “Yes God zounds, doe I”‘.3 The hurried postscripts to the letters which his correspondents sent late on the fifteenth to Sir Joseph Williamson, then attending the Congress of Cologne, told him that ‘the French did not behave them[selves] well, as haveing the wind and yet not bearing upon the enemy but keeping at a distance, though the signall was given them to beare upon them’, and cast other aspersions on the conduct of the French squadron.4

These early rumours were quickly supported by other evidence from the fleet, as damaged ships returned to the Thames and injured officers and seamen returned to land. The reaction in the coffee-houses and social gatherings of the capital was predictable. By the seventeenth, ‘the dinn [was] soe great against the French squadron for not bearing in when they had the full advantage of the wind, and might have destroyed all, that the Prince will never forgive them…This is like to breed ill blood…the whole Towne has been strangely enraged against the French’.5 Official narratives of the battle were hurried out on that day, but these only appeared under the (justified) suspicion that they had been doctored to appear more favourable to the French.6 Further letters from Rupert only reaffirmed his initial criticisms of his allies: on the twenty-third, for instance, he informed Arlington that
I find that Monsr d’Estrées [the French admiral] intends to make great excuses for not bearing into the enemy, not understanding the signs and many other fine things…I will satisfy His Majesty and the whole world that his squadron was to windward of the enemy, drawn up in very good order, and never bore within cannon-shot of the enemy, leaving their whole fleet upon me and some few of my
By the end of August, the popular clamour against the French was already at fever-pitch – ‘every seaman’s wife haveing an account from her husband of their haveing been betrayed, as they call it, by the French’8 – when two developments served only to exacerbate the frenzy. Firstly, Rupert himself came to London from the fleet on the twenty-seventh ‘and complaines much of the behaviour of the French in the late engagement…they did not, he thinkes, absolutely run away, but twas so like it, that he knows not how else to call it’.9 Rupert followed up his verbal complaints by publishing his own narrative of the battle at the beginning of September, in which he claimed that ‘if the French…had…borne down against the enemy…I must have routed and torn them all to pieces’.10 Secondly, the English attempt to scapegoat their allies, which a few more dispassionate commentators had suggested might have originated in ‘the little inclination the English generally have for the French’11, suddenly received what seemed to be conclusive support from an unexpected quarter. Before the end of August, a relation by the vice-admiral of the French squadron, the marquis de Martel, was circulating in London. This supported Rupert’s position by claiming that Martel had attempted to engage as actively as he could, but that he had not been seconded by d’Estrées and the rest of the squadron, whose inactivity he described as ‘shamefull’.12

These new revelations gave fresh impetus to the popular disgust against the French squadron, especially when it was learned that Martel’s punishment for producing his version of events was to be a spell in the Bastille. One of Williamson’s correspondents claimed that ‘every apple-woman makes it a proverbe, Will you fight like the French?'; William Temple informed the earl of Essex that ‘all the talk breaks out so openly about the French squadron acquitting themselves so ill in the last fight, that there is no surpressing it'; while Sir Ralph Verney’s correspondent William Denton informed him that ‘ye Monsrs plaid the Pultroons’.13 The barrage of criticism was sustained throughout September, with an increasing awareness of the impact it was likely to have on the imminent meeting of parliament. ‘Every one dreads the meeting of this Parliament’, Henry Ball had written to Williamson on 29 August, ‘and feare our enmity to the French may breed ill blood among them, for all people will have it that wee must breake off our league with them, or suffer our selves to be ruined, but I dare not write halfe of what is spoken in publique in every coffee-house’.14 Graphic accounts of the popular hostility to the French fleet and the French alliance continued to fill letters from London until well into October, when Ball wrote ‘the hate and malice against the French continues as high as ever…the French treachery dayly appeares more palpable’.15 Charles II’s dangerous disregard of such sentiments is epitomised by his decision in November 1673 to grant three large diamonds worth £2,200 to d’Estrées and individual jewels worth between £400 and £600 to three other French officers including, astonishingly, even the disgraced Martel.

In these circumstances, it was hardly surprising that the session of parliament which began on 27 October should have taken up the clamour against the French. Sir John Monson, MP for Lincoln, remarked that ‘the last fight was, as if the English and Dutch had been the gladiators for the French spectators’, while the former secretary to the Lord Admiral, Sir William Coventry, damned the entire French performance and the subsequent treatment of the marquis de Martel:
Has heard of two captains killed in the French fleet, and one died of an unfortunate disease (the pox)…one unfortunate gentleman did fight, and because that gentleman said…”that the French did not their duty”, he is clapped up into the Bastille…Martel has fought too much, or said too much, which is his misfortune.16
At much the same time the French ambassador, Colbert de Croissy, and other observers, were commenting on the impact of the reports of the battle, and the ways in which they were making it difficult to hold the alliance together17. References to the battle of the Texel were still being made in the Commons as late as January 1674, when one of the articles of impeachment against the earl of Arlington blamed him for bringing in the French fleet and all the consequences which followed18, but by then the French alliance was in its death throes, and it was finally buried by the treaty of Westminster in the following month, when England unilaterally withdrew from the Franco-Dutch war. Even so, the memory of the battle remained alive. In his devastating satire of 1676, The History of Insipids, Rochester made reference to it:
But Charles what could thy policy be,
to run so many sad disasters,
To join thy fleet with false D’Estrees,
To make the French of Holland masters?19
In later years, the assumption that the French had failed to support the English at the Texel and were therefore chiefly responsible for the failure to obtain a victory was central to all accounts of the battle in standard naval histories. Indeed, it was often given the dimension of a ‘conspiracy theory’ by reviving a charge which was first made in the autumn of 1673, namely that the French squadron had been acting under secret orders from Louis XIV – orders which prohibited any wholehearted action against the Dutch.20 David Hannay condemned ‘the entire worthlessness of the French as allies’, and this condescending, xenophobic attitude was common in British naval histories of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.21 More recently, Stephen Baxter and Carl Ekberg in particular have regarded the battle of the Texel as being one of the most significant factors in both the collapse of the Anglo-French alliance and the survival of the Dutch state itself, with Baxter calling it ‘the turning point of the war’.22 Both Ronald Hutton and John Miller have set the battle in the context of the complex domestic and international realpolitik which existed in the second half of 1673 and the early months of 1674, while Stephen Pincus has seen it as a critical stage in the shift of English popular attitudes towards an anti-French stance23. Indeed, there is little doubt that the popular reaction to the perceived French perfidy at the Texel was a genuine and significant political force during that period, with virtually everyone from the proverbial apple-woman upwards (with the obvious exception of Charles II himself) seeming to be united in their condemnation of the French. Rather more debatable is the question of whether that popular reaction was actually justified: was the outcome of the battle of the Texel truly decided because, in the words of Captain John Dawson of the Advice, part of the Blue squadron in the engagement, ‘[the French] lay like so many Newters more then an Enemy to the Dutch’?24

The invasion project

Paradoxically, the battle of the Texel was the product of a strategy which had already been abandoned in most of its essentials when the battle was fought. From 1672 onwards, Charles II and his ministers had been developing a plan for an invasion of the Dutch province of Zeeland as part of a longer-term strategy aimed at obtaining some or all of that province in any peace settlement. The idea seems to have originated with George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, who allegedly proposed the conquest of Zeeland to Oliver Cromwell as a way of becoming ‘master not only of the Dutch to all perpetuity but [also] sole arbitrator of the sea’. He apparently reiterated the proposal to Charles II in the winter of 1665-6, and at much the same time a paper was produced (probably unofficially) advocating a direct attack on Vlissingen, which was said to be weakly defended and likely to fall easily to an expeditionary force of only fifteen ships and 2,000 men.[24A] These schemes were mooted at a time when the Netherlands was being invaded from the east by Charles’s ally the Bishop of Munster. The bishop’s army had advanced into the eastern provinces of the Netherlands in 1665 and initially experienced spectacular success. Although he was ultimately pushed back and made peace with the Dutch in 1666, his attack suggested both that the eastern borders of the Netherlands were vulnerable, and that a ‘pincer movement’, culminating in an invasion of Zeeland, might be feasible if the Dutch drew forces away from that province to deal with a similar (or, better, a significantly greater) assault from the east. Therefore, the invasion project must have seemed a much more realistic possibility in 1672-3, when the main invasion was being undertaken by the rather more formidable armies of Louis XIV . At the very least, Charles hoped to regain the ‘cautionary towns’, Den Brielle, Vlissingen and the Rammekens fort, which had been held by England from 1585 until his grandfather James I had returned them to the Dutch in 1616. Indeed, there seemed to be some grounds for believing that Zeeland might choose voluntarily to place itself under English rule (if only as the lesser of two evils, if the alternative was succumbing to the tender mercies of Louis XIV), and Charles magnanimously planned to offer the Zeelanders the golden opportunity to send MPs to Westminster and pay taxes to his exchequer.25

After a succession of false starts and disputes over the command, a ramshackle army of some 8-10,000 men was assembled at Blackheath in the spring and early summer of 1673, and an amphibious flotilla of sorts was assembled in the Thames – 20 transports, 5 storeships, 5 so-called ‘horseships’, 1 coal ship, 1 ship carrying hay, 9 so-called ‘vessels for landing’ and 8 barges.26 Pepys undertook a detailed breakdown of the cost of transporting 10,000 troops and one hundred horse to the Netherlands and maintaining them there for two months (the estimated total came to £48,827).27 The actual strategic plan was vague, and had been altered several times since 1672. There had been schemes for landing in Zeeland itself, at Goeree or elsewhere, but by May 1673 the favoured option was a landing near Scheveningen, which, it was hoped, would allow the invasion force to effect a conjunction with the prince of Condé’s army, advancing from Utrecht.28 Meanwhile, the combined Anglo-French fleet sought in vain to achieve the triumph over de Ruyter’s numerically inferior force which had eluded it in the previous year. Two battles off the main Dutch anchorage, the Schooneveld, in May and June, failed to give the allies anything like the advantage which they craved, and the fleet retired to the Thames to await a decision on its next move.

Between 6 and 16 July, Charles II, the duke of York and Rupert presided over a series of three important councils of war. Rupert’s view, that without defeating the Dutch fleet it would be little short of folly to make a serious attempt at landing in Zeeland, won the day; it was decided that, after an appearance off the Schooneveld to alert the Dutch to his presence, Rupert should cruise off the Texel in the hope that de Ruyter would be drawn out to defend against the expected landing and to escort home the valuable incoming fleet of the Dutch East Indies Company, the VOC. Although an actual landing at the Texel was approved at the council on 6 July, the final meeting on the sixteenth only approved the diversion of the invasion flotilla to Yarmouth, where the army was to be landed to await the outcome of the anticipated victorious battle at sea.29 This, therefore, was the rather nebulous strategic ‘plan’ which the combined fleet possessed when it sailed out of the Thames on 17 July, accompanied by the army from Blackheath on board its flotilla in the rear of the fleet. ‘A more formidable fleete has at noe time sayled out of England’, Sir Robert Southwell reported to the earl of Essex; ‘such a fleet as I never yet saw’, wrote Sir Edward Spragge, admiral of the blue.30 After seeing the invasion flotilla safe into Yarmouth, the main fleet sailed for the Dutch coast. It consisted of approximately ninety major warships, the French under the comte d’Estrées forming the white squadron and Prince Rupert and Sir Edward Spragge commanding the red and blue squadrons respectively.

Unfortunately, the optimism of both Southwell and Spragge was distinctly misplaced. Even before the July councils of war, the actual role of both the fleet and the army had been called into serious question. Several commentators, notably the French and Venetian ambassadors, realised that Charles and his ministers needed a successful landing for their own domestic political agenda; there were hopes that foreign conquests would reconcile a hostile public and parliament to an unpopular war.31 However, the actual reaction to the proposed invasion, from some quarters at least, had been to condemn ‘the design to hold strong places overseas, which commit the country, involve great expense, yield no profit and scant honour and are incapable of bridling the Dutch, as is boastfully pretended’.32 Moreover, the invasion scheme was very much a purely English brainchild in what was supposed to be a jointly-run war, but which in reality was an overwhelmingly French effort. Louis and at least some of his ministers were opposed to the scheme, partly because the English demands for territory in Zeeland were threatening to sabotage the progress of the peace talks at the congress of Cologne (the Swedish mediator there, Count Tott, was particularly hostile to the notion of England being established as a power on both sides of the North Sea).33 In addition, Charles and his ministers had deliberately kept their invasion plans as secret as possible from their French allies, so that Colbert de Croissy, Louis’ ambassador in London, had little idea of what the English were actually up to.34 Faced with so many different pressures, English policy fluctuated confusingly, but by the last weeks of July, with the combined fleet already at sea and the army encamped at Yarmouth ready to descend on the Dutch coast once it was called for, Charles finally abandoned his demands for Dutch towns and inclined towards a more moderate peace settlement.35 The rationale underpinning Rupert’s cruise had effectively disappeared, and on 3 August Charles wrote to the prince to inform him that he now considered the invasion scheme ‘less advisable than it was at first’, and that, because of the progress of the Cologne negotiations, he should seek only to keep the sea – the assumption being that de Ruyter was unlikely to emerge from behind his sheltering sandbanks.36

The rather pathetic demise of the Zeeland invasion project led to some caustic comment, even in a parliament where many had suspected the ‘potential for absolutism’ inherent in the king’s new army – as Henry Powle commented a few months later, ‘the army has done nothing but the famous expedition from Blackheath to Yarmouth’, and Sir Thomas Meres quipped that ‘some said it was to land to beate the Dutch, but it turned off, it seems, to take Harwich’.37 Both contemporaries and historians took the view that it was just as well the army had not got beyond Yarmouth: the camp at Blackheath had been a shambles, with raw, drunken recruits marshalled unsuccessfully by raw, drunken officers under a widely detested foreign general, Count Schomberg.38 Indeed, a landing in Zeeland might well have been disastrous. The Dutch had major garrisons to the south of the province, and the main Dutch field army was drawn up only about forty miles to the east, between Geertruidenberg and Huisden, with William of Orange’s headquarters situated at Raamsdonk. Although Condé proclaimed his readiness to assist an English landing as well as he could, his ability to do so would have been limited by the fact that much of the land between his army and the coast was under water.39 On the other hand, the Dutch defences were not necessarily as formidable as Charles claimed they were in his letter to Rupert, nor as some recent historians have assumed they were. The appearance of the prince’s fleet off the Dutch coast on 24 July caused panic from Den Brielle to The Hague; the coastal towns themselves were poorly fortified, largely because William had decided to entrust his coastal defence almost exclusively to de Ruyter’s fleet in order to maximise the size of his field army, which was itself largely raw and untried. Three regiments were hastily despatched from Geertruidenberg to Scheveningen, but otherwise, the only real force which could have immediately confronted an English invasion would have been a ‘home guard’ drawn from the burghers of The Hague, Delft, Leiden, Dort and Rotterdam.40 Even Schomberg’s shambolic army might have stood a realistic chance of defeating such a force. Moreover, the hastily-conceived last-minute switch to the strategy of attempting a landing at the Texel and/or Den Helder might have caused the Dutch even greater problems. Although it would have been more difficult to support such a landing force from England, it would have taken far longer for William to deploy regular units against it (and it might have been easier for Condé to threaten any such move north by the Dutch), and even a short-lived presence at the entrance to the Zuiderzee would certainly have created real problems for Dutch commerce, especially for the returning VOC fleet which traditionally trans-shipped its cargoes into barges at the Texel to allow it to make a more lightly-laden transit of the Pampus shoals leading to the river Ij at Amsterdam. Above all, even as brief and disastrous an invasion as any carried out by Schomberg’s army threatened to be might well have forced William at least to postpone his switch to the offensive in September 1673, when he captured Naarden and subsequently pressurised Louis in the Rhineland by taking Bonn.41 In the light of these considerations, it is at least possible that Charles II abandoned his invasion project too early and too easily.

[to be continued]


1. Rupert to Charles, 12 August 1673: PRO SP 29/336/242 (accurate summary in CSPD 1673, 490)

2. Ibid; W Bridgeman to Williamson, 15 Aug 1673, & H Ball to same, 18 Aug 1673: Letters to Williamson, I, 162, 170; Alberti to Doge and Senate, 15/25 August 1673: CSPVen 1673-5, 98; Lady Dorothy Long to Sir Justinian Isham, 16 August 1673: Northamptonshire Record Office (hereafter NRO), Isham MS 787.

3. R Yard to Williamson, 16 August 1673: Letters to Williamson I, 174.

4. Bridgeman and Yard to Williamson, 15 August 1673: Letters to Williamson, I, 161-2, 168.

5. Sir R Southwell & Ball to Williamson, 17-18 August 1673; ibid., I, 168-70. Cf Captain Seth Thurston to Navy Board, 24 Aug 1673: PRO ADM 106/284/339.

6. CSPD 1673, 498; Yard to Williamson, 18 August 1673: Letters to Williamson, I, 173-4; narratives printed in Journals and Narratives, 390-4.

7. Rupert to Arlington, 23 August 1673: PRO SP 29/336/286 (accurate summary in CSPD 1673, 509). Cf same to same, 14 Aug.; to Charles II, 17 & 24 Aug.: CSPD 1673, 494, 498, 510.

8. Yard to Williamson, 25 August 1673: Letters to Williamson, I, 186.

9. Ball & Bridgeman to Williamson, 29 August 1673: ibid., 189-92.

10. Most accessible copies of Rupert’s narrative: CSPD 1673, 520-2; Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 306-9. Dating of narrative: Yard to Williamson, 5 Sept 1673: Letters to Williamson, II, 9.

11. Bridgeman to Williamson, 15 Aug 1673: ibid., I, 162.

12. Martel’s narrative: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 321-5. Dating of narrative: Bridgeman to Williamson, 29 Aug 1673, & Ball to same, 1 Sept 1673: Letters to Williamson, I, 189-90, II, 1. His arrest: ibid., II, 20; Seignelay to Colbert de Croissy, 7/17 Sept 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 348.

13. Quotations: Letters to Williamson, II, 2; Temple to Essex, 30 Aug 1673: BL Stowe MS 202, fo 337; Denton to Verney, 4 Sept 1673: BL M636/26. Cf Lady Dorothy Long to Sir Justinian Isham, 23 Aug 1673: NRO, Isham MS 788.

14. Ball to Williamson, 29 Aug 1673: Letters to Williamson, I, 194. Cf ibid., I, 185, 194-5; II, 13, 16.

15. Ball to Williamson, 10 & 17 Oct 1673: ibid., II, 36, 46.

16. Grey, Debates, II, 198-9, 212. Cf Garraway’s speech, 31 Oct 1673: ibid., II, 205.

17. Letters of Colbert de Croissy to Colbert & Seignelay: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 332ff.

18. Grey, Debates, II, 346-7; CJ, IX, 294.

19. Poems by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, ed. V de Sola Pinto (1953), 111.

20. For examples of contemporary or near-contemporary expositions of the ‘conspiracy theory’ see Grey, Debates, II, 212; Christianissimus Christianus (1678), 39-40. A judicious modern assessment is provided by C J Ekberg, The Failure of Louis XIV’s Dutch War (Chapel Hill, 1979), 163, although he does cite a document which supposedly provides some evidence in support of the theory – AN, serie marine B5, fo 198ff.

21. D Hannay, A Short History of the Royal Navy (1897), 436. Cf J Campbell, The Naval History of Great Britain (1818), II, 213; W L Clowes, The Royal Navy: A History (1898), II, 317-22.

22. S Baxter, William III (1966), 104; Ekberg, Failure, 154.

23. R Hutton, Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland (Oxford 1989), 302-19; J Miller, Charles II (1991), 205-19; S Pincus, ‘From Butterboxes to Wooden Shoes: The Shift in English Popular Sentiment from Anti-Dutch to Anti-French in the 1670s’, Historical Journal, 38 (1995), 333-61 (especially pp 356-7).

24. Dawson to Navy Board, 18 Aug 1673: PRO ADM 1/3545, p 197.

24A. BL Additional MS 34,729, fos. 251-2, ‘Proposition pour le surprise de la ville de Vlyssynge’. From internal evidence, it seems likely that this paper had originally been drawn up in the previous war, probably over the winter of 1665-6.

25. Minutes of committee of foreign affairs, 1672-3: PRO, SP 104/177, fos 60, 62-5, 68, 79, 152-3, 162; original instructions to Rupert, 26 Apr 1673: NMM AGC/C/2; Ralph Verney to Edmund Verney, 15 & 19 May 1673: BL M636/26; Baxter, William III, 88, 90.

26. Composition of amphibious flotilla: PRO, ADM 106/284/98. Cf ADM 1/3545 & 106/26, passim; BL Egerton MS 862. Army at Blackheath: Hutton, Charles II, 303-4; Miller, Charles II, 207-9.

27. Bod, Rawl MS A191, fo 211.

28. Earlier schemes: see minutes of foreign affairs committee cited in note 25. 1673 scheme: Charles to Rupert, 24 May 1673: BL Lansdowne MS 1236, fo 156; Aungier to Essex, 13 May 1673: BL Stowe MS 202, fo 40; Colbert de Croissy to Louis XIV, 21/31 July 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 289-92.

29. Ibid., 288, 292-3; Journals and Narratives, 42, 324-6.

30. Southwell to Essex, 18 July 1673: BL Stowe MS 202, fo. 205; Spragge’s journal, 17 July 1673, Journals and Narratives, 326.

31. Colbert de Croissy to Louis XIV, 21/31 July 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 289-92; Alberti to Doge and Senate, 16/26 May 1673: CSPVen 1673-5, 52.

32. Same to same, 11/21 July 1673: ibid., 75.

33. Baxter, William III, 104; Ekberg, Failure, 85-90.

34. Minutes of foreign affairs committee, 13 Mar 1673: PRO SP 104/177, fo 151v; Colbert de Croissy to Louis XIV, 21/31 July 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 290. Cf CSPVen 1673-5, 83, 85.

35. Ekberg, Failure, 92; Hutton, Charles II, 305-6; Miller, Charles II, 205-7.

36. Charles to Rupert, 3 August 1673, printed in Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 297-8; James to Rupert, 3 August 1673: BL Lansdowne MS 1236, fo 162. Cf Charles to Rupert, 8 August 1673: ibid., fo 219.

37. Speeches of 31 Oct and 3 Nov 1673 respectively: Grey, Debates, II, 208, 215. The reference to Harwich presumably refers to the diversion there of those vessels which could not get into Yarmouth: PRO, ADM 2/1736, fo 40v, order to Schomberg, 25 July 1673.

38. Hutton, Charles II, 304; Miller, Charles II, 208-9.

39. Conde to de Cheuilnes, 30 July / 8 Aug 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 295; F J G Ten Raa, Het staatsche leger 1568-1795, VI (Den Haag 1940), 11-13, 19.

40. Dutch coastal defences: newsletters from Rotterdam, 25 July / 3 Aug, & from Amsterdam, 29 July / 7 August 1673: Colenbrander, Bescheiden, 293, 294-5; newsletters and reports in PRO SP 101/57 (inconsistent foliation). William’s strategy: Ten Raa, Leger, VI, 13, 15-16. Quality of Dutch field army: Baxter, William III, 95 (a corrective to Dr Hutton’s exaggerated opinion of the qualities of William’s troops: Charles II, 304). Cf J. R. Jones, The Anglo-Dutch Wars of the Seventeenth Century (1996), 201-3.

41. Baxter, William III, 105-7.

Like most people, I don’t particularly enjoy being proved wrong. But in the particular instance I’m blogging about this week, I’m absolutely delighted to admit that I’ve been well and truly in the wrong – and hope that I’ll be proved even more wrong in the future!

The interior of the Llyn Maritime Museum, Nefyn

The interior of the Llyn Maritime Museum, Nefyn, in the final stages of fitting out before opening

In the conclusion of Britannia’s Dragon, I bemoaned the state of the maritime heritage sector, especially in Wales: Lack of public interest and the difficulty of attracting younger generations of volunteers has closed some Welsh maritime museums and put the survival of others on a knife-edge. I wrote those words barely two years ago, but they’ve already been overtaken by some really encouraging recent developments. I recently spent some time in north Wales, principally to give a talk under the auspices of the Llŷn Maritime Museum in Nefyn. This was reopening a week after my visit, having been closed for several years, and I was lucky enough to be offered a ‘sneak preview’. Housed in a former church, this small but perfectly formed museum tells the story of both the local community and the area’s rich seafaring heritage through a series of impressive display boards and exhibits. There’s an area that can be used for talks and other community events, and the hugely enthusiastic and committed team of volunteers has exciting plans galore for the future. It’s a similar story just across the peninsula at Porthmadog, where, again, the maritime museum has reopened after several years of closure. Stunning Victorian photographs, ship models, and artefacts – notably from the once flourishing local shipbuilding industry – tell the story of what was once a thriving port and maritime community. What’s more, two entirely new maritime museum projects are under way – one at Llandudno, the other at Connah’s Quay. Add into the mix the very fine maritime museum in Holyhead, going strong thanks to its dedicated volunteers, and north Wales is fast developing into a real mecca for maritime history buffs! Moreover, the south already has the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, and recently acquired an excellent new heritage centre in the former dockyard chapel at Pembroke Dock, which I also visited recently.

A display at Porthmadog maritime museum

A display at Porthmadog maritime museum

This positive story isn’t just confined to Wales. The maritime museum in Ramsgate reopened in 2012, after being closed for several years – a particularly welcome development as far as I’m concerned, as Ramsgate displays a large number of artefacts from the seventeenth century warships wrecked on the Goodwin Sands during the ‘Great Storm’ of 1703. Meanwhile at Deptford, the project to build a replica of the 1677 warship Lenox remains on course, following Boris Johnson’s decision to make it a condition of the planning permission for Convoys Wharf, a.k.a. the site of the historic Deptford royal dockyard. But all of these encouraging developments need to be set in context. Nationally, the state of many parts of the heritage sector remains precarious: for example, Cambridgeshire County Council continues to be determined to offload the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon, while the Cynon Valley museum looks likely to fall victim to myopic local authority bean counters, as so many other much-loved local museums already have. And to be fair, some museums don’t help themselves. For one thing, can any museum really afford not be on Twitter and/or Facebook in this day and age? Worse still, I know of one example which makes virtually no effort to publicise its location or even its very existence; which has a cliquey ‘friends’ group whose members seem to be more interested in self-congratulation than in doing anything proactive; and which frequently keeps its substantial front door shut ‘so that the staff on the reception desk don’t get cold’, thus leading many potential visitors to believe that the museum is closed. Those responsible for running such museums in these unprofessional and frankly incompetent ways should pay a visit to Porthmadog, Nefyn, Holyhead and the rest to see what a bit of enthusiasm and vision can do.


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