We now come to that period when one of the greatest men who ever ruled England was to raise her to the highest position among the nations of Europe.
Numerous engagements had taken place between the ships adhering to the king, chiefly under the command of Prince Rupert, and those of the Parliament, under Warwick, Dean, Popham, and Blake. Blake having finally dispersed Prince Rupert’s ships, was appointed commander-in-chief of the British fleet. He was at first employed in reducing the Scilly Islands and various places in the West Indies and America, which still held out for the king. On war breaking out with the Dutch, he was summoned home to take command of the fleet sent against them. The Dutch had long been jealous of the commercial progress made by the English, who everywhere interfered with their trade, and they only now sought for an opportunity to break with their ancient allies. It was not long wanting. England claiming the sovereignty of the seas, insisted that the ships of other nations should strike their flags whenever they met them. On the 14th May, Captain Young, the commander of an English man-of-war, fell in with a Dutch squadron off the back of the Isle of Wight. The Dutchman refused to strike his flag, on which Captain Young, without further ado, fired a broadside upon the Dutch commander’s ship, which induced her to haul down her flag. This was the commencement of hostilities, which were long carried on between the two nations—the Dutch, notwithstanding the gallantry of Van Tromp, De Witt, De Ruyter, and other admirals, being in most cases defeated by Blake, Penn, and other naval commanders.
Soon after this Admiral Van Tromp put to sea with a fleet of upwards of forty sail, under pretence of protecting the Dutch trade. He was met coming into the Downs by a squadron, when he stated that he was compelled to put in by stress of weather. The English commander immediately sent notice to Blake, who was lying off Dover. Blake at once sailed in search of Van Tromp, and on approaching, fired to put the Dutchman in mind that it was his duty to strike his flag. Blake commenced the action with but fifteen ships, and with them, for four hours, fought the Dutchmen till, late at night, he was joined by the rest of his fleet. By this time two Dutch ships had been taken and one disabled, the English having lost none, when Van Tromp bore away and escaped.