CHAPTER III. WAR OF ENGLAND AND FRANCE IN ALLIANCE AGAINST THE PROVINCES, 1672-1674. - FINALLY, OF FRANCE AGAINST COMBINED EUROPE, 1674-1678. - SEA BATTLES OF SOLEBAY, THE TEXEL, AND STROMBOLI.
Rupert finally disengaged himself, and seeing that the English rear was not replying well to its immediate opponents, ran down toward it, Ruyter following him; the two opposing centres steering parallel courses, and within cannon- shot, but by mutual consent, induced perhaps by ammunition running short, refraining from firing. At four P.M. the centres and rears united, and toward five a fresh engagement began, which continued till seven, when Ruyter withdrew, probably because of the approach of the French, who, by their own accounts, rejoined Rupert about that time. This ended the battle, which, like all that preceded it in this war, may be called a drawn fight, but as to which the verdict of the English naval historian is doubtless correct: "The consequences which the Dutch, through the prudence of their admiral, drew from this battle were exceedingly great; for they opened their ports, which were entirely blocked up, and put an end to all thoughts, by removing the possibility, of an invasion." (1)
- - 1. Campbell: Lives of the Admirals. - -
The military features of the action have sufficiently appeared in the account that has been given, - the skill of De Ruyter; the firmness and promptness of Bankert, first in checking and then in passing through the French division; the apparent disloyalty or, at the best, inefficiency of the lat-ter; the insubordination and military blundering of Spragge; the seeming lack of everything but hard fighting on Rupert's part. The allies indulged in bitter mutual recriminations. Rupert blamed both D'Estrees and Spragge; D'Estrees found fault with Rupert for running to leeward; and D'Estrees' own second, Martel, roundly called his chief a coward, in a letter which earned him an imprisonment in the Bastille. The French king ordered an inquiry by the intendant of the navy at Brest, who made a report (1) upon which the account here given has mainly rested, and which leaves little doubt of the dishonor of the French arms in this battle. "M. D'Estrees gave it to be understood," says the French naval historian, "that the king wished his fleet spared, and that the English should not be trusted. Was he wrong in not relying upon the sincerity of the English alliance, when he was receiving from all quarters warnings that the people and the nobles were murmuring against it, and Charles II. was perhaps alone in his kingdom in wishing it?" (2) Possibly not; but he was surely wrong if he wished any military man, or body of men, to play the equivocal part assigned to the French admiral on this day; the loss of the fleet would have been a lighter disaster. So evident to eye-witnesses was the bad faith or cowardice (and the latter supposition is not admissible), that one of the Dutch seamen, as they discussed among themselves why the French did not come down, said: "You fools! they have hired the English to fight for them, and all their business here is to see that they earn their wages." A more sober-minded and significant utterance is that with which the intendant at Brest ends the official report before mentioned: "It would appear in all these sea-fights Ruyter has never eared to attack the French squadron, and that in this last action he had detached ten ships of the Zealand squadron to keep it in play." (3) No stronger testimony is needed to Ruyter's opinion of the inefficiency or faithlessness of that contingent to the allied forces.
- - 1. Troude: Batailles Navales de la France, year 1673. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid. - -
Another chapter in the history of maritime coalitions was closed, on the 21st of August, 1673, by the battle of the Texel. In it, as in others, were amply justified the words with which a modern French naval officer has stamped them: "United by momentary political interests, but at bottom divided to the verge of hatred, never following the same path in counsel or in action, they have never produced good results, or at least results proportioned to the efforts of the powers allied against a common enemy. The navies of France, Spain, and Holland seem, at several distinct times, to have joined only to make more complete the triumph of the British arms." (1) When to this well-ascertained tendency of coalitions is added the equally well known jealousy of every country over the increasing power of a neighbor, and the consequent unwillingness to see such increase obtained by crushing another member of the family of nations, an approach is made to the measure of naval strength required by a State. It is not necessary to be able to meet all others combined, as some Englishmen have seemed to think; it is necessary only to be able to meet the strongest on favorable terms, sure that the others will not join in destroying a factor in the political equilibrium, even if they hold aloof. England and Spain were allies in Toulon in 1793, when the excesses of Revolutionary France seemed to threaten the social order of Europe; but the Spanish admiral told the English flatly that the ruin of the French navy, a large part of which was there in their hands, could not fail to be injurious to the interests of Spain, and a part of the French ships was saved by his conduct, which has been justly characterized as not only full of firmness, but also as dictated by the highest political reason. (2)
- - 1. Chabaud-Arnault: Revue Mar. et Col. July. 1885 2. Jurien de la Graviere: Guerres Maritimes. - -