Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp, 1598-1653

Dutch admiral who sympathized with the Royalists during the civil wars and commanded the Dutch navy during the First Anglo-Dutch War.

Portrait of Maarten TrompMaarten Harpertszoon Tromp was born at Brill (Den Briel) in the Netherlands in April 1598, the son of naval officer Harpert Tromp and his wife Jannetgen. In 1606, the family moved to Rotterdam where Harpert Tromp was appointed captain of the frigate Olifantstromp by the Rotterdam admiralty. The following year, nine-year-old Maarten went to sea as cabin boy in his father's ship. The Netherlands was engaged in the Eighty Years' War to win independence from Spain. The Olifantstromp participated in Admiral Jacob van Heemskerck's victory over the Spaniards at the battle of Gibraltar in April 1607 then returned to the Netherlands to fight Dunkirk privateers in the North Sea and English Channel.

A twelve-year truce between the Netherlands and Spain began in 1609. Harpert Tromp left the navy and bought a merchant ship. He joined the Guinea trade to west Africa, accompanied by Maarten, but the Tromps' ship was attacked by pirates near Cape Verde. Harpert Tromp was killed and Maarten was forced to serve as a cabin boy for two years before escaping in an Italian port and making his way back to his family in Rotterdam. Tromp supported his mother and sisters by working in the Rotterdam shipyards for several years then returned to sea in 1617. He served in the Dutch navy against Mediterranean pirates until 1619 then went back to the merchant fleet. In 1621, his ship was captured by Barbary corsairs and Tromp was held as as a slave. He was released within a year, either as part of a prisoner exchange or by the payment of a ransom, and returned to the Netherlands in 1622.

War against Spain

With the resumption of hostilities against Spain, Tromp rejoined the navy as lieutenant of the Bruinvisch, which was engaged in convoying merchant ships and fighting privateers from Dunkirk and Ostend. In 1624, Tromp married Dina de Haas, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. In the same year, he was appointed to his first command as captain of the yacht Sint Antonius, an armed escort vessel to the North Sea fishing fleet, then to the warship Gelderland in the fleet blockading Dunkirk. In 1629, Tromp's growing reputation led to his appointment as captain of the Groene Draeck, the flagship of Piet Heyn, Lieutenant-Admiral of the Netherlands. Tromp was successful as a squadron commander against the Dunkirkers but, after Piet Heyn was killed in action, he quarrelled with the new Lieutenant-Admiral, Philips van Dorp. Following the death of his wife in 1633, which left him with three sons to care for, Tromp resigned from the navy and entered the church as a deacon. He remarried in 1634 to Aeltgen van Arckenbout, the daughter of a wealthy official.

Tromp refused to rejoin the navy until October 1637 when van Dorp was obliged to resign following accusations of incompetence. He was appointed Lieutenant-Admiral under the Stadtholder, Prince Frederick Henry of Orange. Tromp immediately re-established the neglected blockade of Dunkirk and took steps to hinder the transportation of Spanish troops to Flanders. With the Aemilia as his flagship, he achieved a notable victory at the battle of the Downs in October 1639 when he trapped and defeated a large Spanish fleet in the Downs anchorage off the coast of Kent. Tromp's victory at the Downs established the Netherlands as a leading naval power. It is reputed to have been the first battle in which line-of-battle tactics were used. Tromp was richly rewarded by the States-General and knighted by Louis XIII of France, the Netherlands' ally in its war against Spain. Following the death of his second wife, Tromp married for the third time in 1640, to Cornelia van Berckhout.

Tromp was a loyal supporter of the Orangist faction in the Netherlands and sympathised with the Royalists during the English Civil War. In 1643, he commanded the Dutch squadron that escorted Queen Henrietta Maria when she returned to England from the Continent. Tromp forced the withdrawal of a Parliamentarian squadron under William Batten that threatened to attack the Queen's convoy when it landed at Bridlington. After the final defeat of the Royalists, however, Tromp was sent to recover Dutch ships and cargoes captured by Royalist privateers from the Isles of Scilly. He offered to co-operate with General-at-Sea Robert Blake in recapturing the islands for the Commonwealth, but Blake distrusted Tromp's motives and rejected the offer.

The First Anglo-Dutch War

In May 1652, Tromp clashed with Blake at the battle of Dover, the first significant action of the Anglo-Dutch War. In July, Tromp's fleet threatened Sir George Ayscue's squadron in the Downs but adverse winds prevented him from attacking. Tromp entered the North Sea, where Blake's fleet had disrupted Dutch fisheries and was threatening a homeward-bound merchant convoy. Tromp sailed to confront Blake but his fleet was scattered in a tempest off the coast of Scotland. His republican enemies censured him for failing to secure the North Sea and he was replaced as commander of the fleet by Vice-Admiral de With. However, Blake defeated de With at the battle of Kentish Knock in September 1652 and Tromp was reinstated as commander, in association with Jan Evertsen. In December, Tromp defeated Blake at the battle of Dungeness. After the battle, Tromp is said to have fixed a broom to the mast of his flagship the Brederode as a sign that he had swept the sea clean of his enemies, though this story is probably apocryphal.

The defeat at Dungeness prompted a thorough review of English naval tactics and administration. Early in 1653, the English generals-at-sea intercepted Tromp's fleet as he escorted a homeward-bound merchant convoy, resulting in the three-day running battle of Portland, which restored English command of the Channel. In May 1653, Tromp challenged the English fleet at the battle of the Gabbard but the Dutch warships were outgunned by the superior firepower of the English ships. The battle ended in the disorganised rout of the Dutch fleet, after which a crippling blockade was imposed on Dutch ports. Tromp and his admirals made one final bid for victory at the battle of Scheveningen on 31 July 1653. During the early stages of the battle, Tromp was hit in the chest by a musket ball as he paced the quarter-deck of the Brederode. He was carried below mortally wounded and died soon after.

Tromp was a popular figure both in the navy and with the general public. He was given a state funeral in August 1653 at the Oude Kerk in Delft where a monument was erected to his memory. Tromp's second son, Cornelis Maartenszoon Tromp (1629-91), was also a distinguished naval officer and served as lieutenant-admiral of the United Provinces.


John Barratt, Cromwell's Wars at Sea (Barnsley 2006)

J.J.A Wijn, Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp, father of naval tactics, in The Great Admirals: command at sea 1587-1945 (Annapolis 1997)