The Battle of Dungeness, 1652
The significance of the English victory over the Dutch at the battle of Kentish Knock was overestimated by the Council of State. Assuming that Blake now commanded the Channel, the Council dispersed the fleet. A squadron under Captain Andrew Ball was sent to defend English interests in the Baltic, Vice-Admiral Penn was ordered to guard colliers from Newcastle, a detachment under Captain James Peacock was sent to reinforce the English squadron in the Mediterranean. Around forty ships were left in the Downs anchorage. Blake's position was further undermined by a shortage of money to pay the crews and refit the ships damaged by storm and battle.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp was reinstated as joint commander of the fractious Dutch fleet with Jan Evertsen. Michiel de Ruyter was appointed vice-admiral and Pieter Floriszoon appointed rear-admiral. In late November 1652, Tromp put to sea with eighty-five warships in preparation for escorting a convoy of over 250 merchantmen down the Channel. Tromp pressed men from among the merchantmen in order to ensure that his battle fleet was fully manned.
The Dutch fleet was sighted off the North Foreland on 24 November but bad weather conditions delayed its passage down the Channel for several days. Leaving the merchant convoy off the coast of Flanders, Tromp's warships approached the Downs anchorage on 29 November. After a council-of-war with his captains aboard his flagship the Triumph (60 guns), Robert Blake ordered his fleet to sail southwards out of the Downs. Blake's reasons for leaving the anchorage when the Dutch fleet outnumbered the English two-to-one are unclear. Poor visibility may have caused the English to misjudge the size of the Dutch fleet until they had put to sea; Blake may also have considered the Downs unsafe, bearing in mind the battle of the Downs in October 1639, when Tromp and de With had trapped and defeated a Spanish fleet sheltering in the anchorage.
Tromp was determined to exploit his numerical advantage over the English, but adverse winds and worsening weather prevented him from bringing his ships within range. At nightfall, Blake anchored in the Dover Roads with Tromp two miles downwind. Next morning, weather conditions had improved. Both fleets sailed on a parallel course south-westwards along the Kent coast separated by shoals. Once clear of the shoals, Blake's ships were forced closer to the Dutch by the shape of the coastline as they approached the promontory of Dungeness. Already outnumbered, the English were at a further disadvantage from being too close to the shore to manoeuvre effectively. Shortly after noon on 30 November, Tromp closed with the English and a partial battle began between the leading ships of the two fleets.
Tromp's flagship, the Brederode (54) bore down on the Triumph but was thwarted by the intervention of Captain Robert Batten in the Garland (44), the second ship in the English line. With the Brederode and Garland closely engaged, Captain Hoxton brought up the Anthony Bonaventure (36), an armed merchantman, to attack the Brederode on her unengaged side. However, the Bonaventure was in turn engaged by Jan Evertsen in the Hollandia (38). Captain Hoxton and many of his crew were killed in the fighting and the Anthony Bonaventure was captured. Tromp and Evertsen then turned their attention to the Garland which was also captured after Captain Batten and sixty crewmen out of a company of 150 were killed. Meanwhile, Blake brought the Triumph about in an attempt to come to the aid of the Garland and Bonaventure, only to come under attack from the Dutch ships following Tromp and Evertsen. The Triumph's foremast was shot away and her rigging badly damaged. Although the Victory (60) and Vanguard (58) came up to support Blake, many of the English ships seem to have avoided joining the battle.
A major Dutch victory was prevented when darkness fell and Blake disengaged to draw his ships off towards Dover. The only Dutch loss was the Gelderland, which accidentally caught fire during the night and exploded. Blake had lost two ships. Three more English ships on their way to join Blake were intercepted. One of them, the Hercules, was run aground to avoid capture but was later refloated and seized by the Dutch. According to legend, Tromp fixed a broom to the mast of the Brederode as a sign that he had swept the sea clean of his enemies, though this story is probably apocryphal. However, the victory at Dungeness allowed Dutch merchant convoys to sail freely through the Channel. Blake offered his resignation, which was rejected, though six English captains were dismissed following a government inquiry into the defeat.
On 10 December 1652, a new Admiralty Commission, headed by Sir Henry Vane, was established to carry out a thorough review of naval administration, as a result of which a number of reforms were immediately implemented. Rates of pay were increased and arrears promised to be cleared. Three new ranks were introduced: yeoman, able seaman and ordinary seaman, with the more experienced seamen receiving a higher rate of pay. The supply of victuals and stores to the navy was also re-organised. These reforms were funded by increased taxation. The practice of hiring and arming merchant vessels to reinforce the fleet began to be phased out because it was clear that captains and owners were often reluctant to risk damage to their ships in battle. The Articles of War were introduced for the first time, to regulate discipline amongst officers and men.
John Barratt, Cromwell's Wars at Sea, (Barnsley 2006)
Sir William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy, a history from the earliest times to the present, vol.ii (London 1898)
Bernard Capp, Cromwell's Navy: the fleet and the English Revolution (Oxford 1989)
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate vol. ii (London 1903)