St. James's Day Battle
|St James' Day Battle|
|Part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War|
Engraving showing the St. James Day battle August 4th, 1666 between English and Dutch Ships
|Commanders and leaders|
|Prince Rupert of the Rhine and George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle||Michiel de Ruyter|
|90 ships, plus 16 fireships||89 ships, plus 20 fireships and 9 yachts|
|Casualties and losses|
|1 English ship (Resolution) sunk, ca 300 killed||2 Dutch ships (Sneek and Tholen) taken, ca 800 killed|
The naval St James' Day Battle (also known as the St James' Day Fight), the Battle of the North Foreland and the Battle of Orfordness) took place on 25 July 1666 — St James' day in the Julian calendar then in use in England (4 August 1666 in the Gregorian calendar), during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. It was fought between fleets of England, commanded jointly by Prince Rupert of the Rhine and George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, and the United Provinces commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. In the Netherlands, the battle is known as the Two Days' Battle.
This attack follows on the heels of the Four Day War of 1-4 June 1666.
A previous 'background' section for this entry incorrectly describes the battle of St James's Day as involving 2,700 Dutch Marines. An attack of that sort did happen, but that was the Battle of Medway and is not directly unrelated to this entry for the St James's Day fight. The Dutch fleet returns to Holland between those engagements.
In the early morning of 25 July, the Dutch fleet of 88 ships discovered the English fleet of 89 ships near North Foreland, sailing to the north. De Ruyter gave orders for a chase and the Dutch fleet pursued the English from the southeast in a leeward position, as the wind blew from the northwest. Suddenly, the wind turned to the northeast. The English commander, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, then turned sharply east to regain the weather gauge. De Ruyter followed, but the wind fell and the fleet fell behind. The Dutch van, commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Johan Evertsen, was becalmed and drifted away from the line of battle, splitting De Ruyter's fleet in two. This awkward situation lasted for hours; then, again, a soft breeze began to blow from the northeast. Immediately, the English van, commanded by Thomas Allin, and part of the centre formed a line of battle and engaged the Dutch van, still in disarray and basically defenceless.
The outnumbered Dutch failed to form a coherent line of battle in response, and ship after ship was mauled by the combined firepower of the English line. Vice-Admiral Rudolf Coenders was killed, and Lieutenant-Admiral Tjerk Hiddes de Vries had an arm and a leg shot off. De Ruyter formed the Dutch centre and attempted to reach the van, but the wind was against him and he failed to reunite his forces.
With the Dutch van defeated, the English converged to deliver the coup-de-grâce to De Ruyter's centre . George Monck, accompanying Rupert, predicted that De Ruyter would give two broadsides and run, but the latter put up a furious fight on the Dutch flagship De Zeven Provinciën. He withstood a combined attack by Sovereign of the Seas and Royal Charles and forced Rupert to leave the damaged Royal Charles for Royal James. The Dutch centre's resistance enabled the seaworthy remnants of the van to make an escape to the south.
Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Tromp, commanding the Dutch rear, now brought his vessels to De Ruyter's rescue. Tromp ordered his vessels to the west crossing the line of the English rear under the command of Jeremiah Smith. The English rear was now cut off from the centre, and Tromp's squadron began a dogged attack that forced Smith's ships to flee to the west. The pursuit of the English rear lasted well into the night, with Tromp ultimately destroying HMS Resolution with a fireship. After Tromp thrice shot the entire crew from its rigging, Smith's flagship HMS Loyal London caught fire and had to be towed home. The vice commander of the English rear was Edward Spragge, who felt so humiliated by the course of events that he became a personal enemy of Tromp. He would later be killed pursuing Tromp in the Battle of Texel.
On the morning of 26 July, Tromp broke off pursuit, well-pleased with his first real victory as a squadron commander. During the night, a ship had brought him the message that De Ruyter had likewise been victorious, so Tromp was in a euphoric mood. That abruptly changed upon the discovery of the drifting flagship of the dying Tjerk Hiddes de Vries. Suddenly he feared that his ship was now the only remnant of the Dutch fleet and that he was in mortal peril. Behind him, those ships of the English rear still operational had again turned to the east. In front, the other enemy squadrons surely awaited him. On the horizon, only English flags were to be seen. Manoeuvring wildly, Tromp, drinking a lot of gin to restore his nerve, dodged any attempt to trap him and brought his squadron safely home in the port of Flushing on the morning of 26 July. There, to great mutual relief, he discovered the rest of the Dutch fleet.
It took Tromp six hours to gather enough courage to face De Ruyter. It was obvious to him that he should never have allowed himself to get completely separated from the main force. Indeed De Ruyter, not being his usual charitable self, immediately blamed him for the defeat and ordered Tromp and his subcommanders Isaac Sweers and Willem van der Zaan from his sight, and told them to never again set foot on De Zeven Provinciën. The commander of the Dutch fleet still hadn't mentally recovered from the events of the previous day.
On the morning of 5 August, after a short summer's night, De Ruyter discovered that his position had become hopeless. Lieutenant-Admiral Johan Evertsen had died after losing a leg, De Ruyter's force was now reduced to about forty ships, crowding together and most of these were inoperational, being survivors of the van. Some fifteen good ships had apparently deserted during the night. A strong gale from the east prevented an easy retreat to the continental coast, and to the west the British van and centre (about fifty ships) surrounded him in a half-circle, safely bombarding him from a leeward position.
De Ruyter was desperate. When his second-in-command of the centre, Lieutenant-Admiral Aert Jansse van Nes visited him for a council of war, he exclaimed: "With seven or eight against the mass!" He then sagged, mumbling: "What's wrong with us? I wish I were dead." His close personal friend Van Nes tried to cheer him up, joking: "Me too. But you never die when you want to!" No sooner had both men left the cabin than the table they had been sitting at was smashed by a cannonball.
The English, however, had their own problems. The strong gale prevented them from closing with the Dutch. They tried to use fire ships, but these, too, had trouble reaching the enemy. Only the sloop Fan-Fan, Rupert's personal pleasure yacht, rowed to the Dutch flagship De Zeven Provinciën to harass it with its two little guns, much to the hilarious laughter of the English crews.
When his ship had again warded off an attack by a fire ship (the Land of Promise) and Tromp still didn't show up, for De Ruyter tension became unbearable. He sought death, exposing himself deliberately on the deck. When he failed to be hit, he exclaimed: "Oh, God, how unfortunate I am! Amongst so many thousands of cannonballs, is there not one that would take me?" His son-in-law, Captain of the Marines Johann de Witte, heard him and said: "Father, what desperate words! If you merely want to die, let us then turn, sail in the midst of our enemies and fight ourselves to death!". This brave but foolish proposal brought the Admiral back to his senses, for he discovered that he wasn't so desperate and answered: "You don't know what you are talking about! If I did that, all would be lost. But if I can bring myself and these ships safely home, we'll finish the job later."
Then the wind, that had brought so much misfortune to the Dutch, saved them by turning to the west. They formed a line of battle and brought their fleet to safety through the Flemish shoals, Vice-Admiral Adriaen Banckert of the Zealandic fleet covering the retreat of all damaged ships with the operational vessels, the number of the latter slowly growing as it turned out that only very few ships had actually deserted in the night; most had merely drifted away, and now, one after the other, they rejoined the battle.
The battle was a clear English victory, but the separate clash of the two years was a victory for Tromp. Dutch casualties were enormous, estimated immediately after the battle of about 5,000 men, compared with 300 English killed; later, more precise information showed that only about 1,200 of them had been killed or seriously wounded. However, the Dutch lost only two ships: De Ruyter had been successful at saving almost the complete van, only Sneek and Tholen struck their flag, and they could quickly repair the damage. The twin disasters of the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London, however, combined with his financial mismanagement, left Charles II without the funds to continue the war. In fact, he had had only enough reserves for this one last battle. The Dutch soon recovered; within a month, they again took sea, but only a minor skirmish resulted. During this later fight, De Ruyter inhaled a burning fuse filament that burnt a fistula in his throat; he would recover just in time to inflict a severe blow on the English navy in the Raid on the Medway in 1667, when, at last, he could carry out the plan he was prevented from executing in 1666.
During the weeks that the Dutch fleet was in repair, Admiral Robert Holmes, aided by the Dutch traitor Laurens van Heemskerck, penetrated the Vlie estuary, burnt a fleet of 150 merchants (Holmes's Bonfire) and sacked the town of Ter Schelling (the present West-Terschelling) on the Frisian island of Terschelling. Fan-Fan was again present.
In the Republic, the defeat also had a far-reaching political effect. Tromp was the champion of the Orangist party; now that he was accused of severe negligence, the country split over this issue. To defend himself, Tromp let his brother-in-law, Johan Kievit, publish an account of his conduct. Shortly afterward, Kievit was discovered to have planned a coup, secretly negotiating a peace treaty with the English king. He fled to England and was condemned to death in absentia; Tromp's family was fined and he himself forbidden to serve in the fleet. In November 1669, a supporter of Tromp tried to stab De Ruyter in the entrance hall of his house. Only in 1672 would Tromp have his revenge, when Johan de Witt was murdered; some claim Tromp has had a hand. The new ruler, William III of Orange, succeeded, with great difficulty, in reconciling De Ruyter with Tromp in 1673.
Brandt, Gerard (1687), Het Leven en bedryf van den Heere Michiel de Ruiter (1st ed.), Uitgeverij van Wijnen, Franeker