The Battle of Scheveningen, 1653
In the weeks following the English victory at the battle of the Gabbard, General-at-Sea George Monck imposed a blockade on the coast of the Netherlands that crippled Dutch commerce to the extent that some coastal towns were threatened with starvation. Four Dutch commissioners arrived in London on 17 June 1653 to initiate treaty negotiations. However, the commissioners regarded as unacceptable the terms offered by the Council of State, which acted as an interim government between the dismissal of the Rump Parliament and the inauguration of the Nominated Assembly. The Council insisted that the war had started because of Lieutenant-Admiral Tromp's aggression at Dover in 1652, and that the Netherlands should therefore make reparations to England. Furthermore, the Council wanted to form a political union between the two republics, which would threaten the status of the Netherlands as an independent state. Despite the efforts of Oliver Cromwell to mediate, the negotiations reached deadlock. Two of the commissioners returned to The Hague on 27 July to consult the States-General.
Meanwhile, the Dutch admirals prepared to break the English blockade and make a final bid for victory. On 24 July, Tromp sailed from his anchorage in the River Maas with around eighty men-of-war and five fireships. His first objective was to join forces with Witte de With, who commanded a smaller fleet of around thirty ships off Texel in the Frisian Islands, eighty miles to the north. On 26 July, English ships watching Texel noticed that de With had taken station outside the port of Helder, from where he could easily withdraw to a safe anchorage if attacked, or move to support Tromp's main fleet if it was attacked as it sailed northwards towards Texel. Realising that the Dutch intended to combine the two fleets, Monck held a council of war at which it was decided to ignore de With and concentrate on defeating Tromp.
The English sighted Tromp's fleet sailing north along the Dutch coast during the morning of 29 July. On sighting Monck, Tromp turned south in order to draw the English fleet away from Texel so that de With would be able to escape into the open sea. Tromp hoped to avoid battle until the Dutch fleets had joined forces. However, at around 5 pm, Monck's leading ships caught up with the Dutch rearguard off Katwijk. About thirty ships of the English fleet became involved in the fighting, including Monck's flagship the Resolution. Two Dutch ships were sunk before darkness brought the fighting to an end.
Monck held his course to the south, thinking that the Dutch were still under his lee, but during the night, Tromp succeeded in slipping past the English fleet and getting to windward. Throughout 30 July, the wind blew hard between the west and north-west, and both fleets had to struggle to keep from being blown onto the lee shore. With the wind against them, neither fleet made much progress north, but de With's squadron from Texel joined Tromp during the afternoon.
On the morning of 31 July, the wind dropped. The English fleet lay off Scheveningen, about a mile-and-a-half from the Dutch. The fleets were roughly similar in size, with around 100 men-of-war and a few fireships each. General-at Sea George Monck aboard the Resolution (88 guns) commanded the Red squadron and was overall commanding officer of the English fleet; John Lawson in the George (58) commanded the Blue squadron and William Penn in the James (66) commanded the White squadron. As at the Gabbard, the Dutch fleet was organised into five squadrons each under the command of one of the admirals: Maarten Tromp in the Brederode (58), Jan Evertsen in the Vlissingen (40), Witte de With in the Vrijheid (44), Michiel de Ruyter in the Witte Lam (40) and Pieter Floriszoon in the Monnikendam (38).
The battle began at about 7 am. The Dutch had the advantage of the wind and bore down on the English fleet which was drawn up in a line of squadrons. Although few details of the action are known, it would appear that the Dutch broke through the English line, with the Brederode leading the attack. During the early stages of the battle, Tromp was hit by a musket ball fired by a sniper in the rigging of one of the English ships. He was carried below mortally wounded and died soon after. Tromp's flag was kept flying and his death kept secret to avoid undermining Dutch morale.
The battle continued all through the morning and into the afternoon. The opposing lines passed one another several times, exchanging broadsides with no attempts to board and capture enemy ships. As usual, the smaller and more lightly-armed Dutch ships suffered severely under the heavier guns of the English fleet. However, having the advantage of the wind in the early part of the battle, Dutch fireships wreaked havoc among the English ships. The Oak (26) was burned and sank. The Worcester (44) was grappled by the Garland, which had been captured by the Dutch at Dungeness, and badly burned. Three fireships grappled the Triumph (60), flagship of James Peacock, vice-admiral of the red. Although Peacock directed his crew in fending them off and putting out the fires, he was severely burned during the action and later died of his wounds. Thomas Graves, rear-admiral of the white, was also killed along with many of his crew when the Andrew (56) was attacked by fireships.
Around one o'clock in the afternoon, a shift in the wind allowed the English to take the weather gage. Many of the Dutch ships were so badly damaged by gunfire that they were unable to continue fighting. De With, who with Floriszoon had taken command of the Dutch fleet, reluctantly decided to withdraw. In order to avoid a repetition of the rout that had followed the battle of the Gabbard, the Dutch admirals conducted a disciplined rearguard action to minimise losses and damage to the retreating fleet.
Exact details of the losses sustained at Scheveningen are not known. While the English claimed that twenty or thirty Dutch ships had been destroyed, de With conceded fourteen. Eight Dutch captains and an unknown number of men died; five captains and 1,300 men were taken prisoner, most of whom were rescued from the sea by their captors. The English lost two ships: the Oak and the Worcester. At least 250 men were killed and 700 wounded. The losses included five captains and two admirals killed.
Tromp's death was a severe blow not only to the Dutch navy but also to the Orangist political faction, which wanted to defeat the Commonwealth and restore the Stuarts in England. Republican influence grew stronger in the United Provinces after the battle of Scheveningen and peace negotiations began in earnest. The Treaty of Westminster ended the First Anglo-Dutch War in April 1654.
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)