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.
The battle of the Texel, closing the long series of wars in which the Dutch and English contended on equal terms for the mastery of the seas, saw the Dutch navy in its highest efficiency, and its greatest ornament, De Ruyter, at the summit of his glory. Long since old in years, for he was now sixty-six, he had lost none of his martial vigor; his attack was as furious as eight years before, and his judgment apparently had ripened rapidly through the experience of the last war, for there is far more evidence of plan and military insight than before. To him, under the government of the great Pensionary De Witt, with whom he was in close sympathy, the increase of discipline and sound military tone now apparent in the Dutch navy must have been largely due. He went to this final strife of the two great sea-peoples in the fullness of his own genius, with an admirably tempered instrument in his hands, and with the glorious disadvantage of numbers, to save his country. The mission was fulfilled not by courage alone, but by courage, forethought, and skill. The attack at the Texel was, in its general lines, the same as that at Trafalgar, the enemy's van being neglected to fall on the centre and rear, and as at Trafalgar the van, by failing to do its duty, more than justified the conception; but as the odds against De Ruyter were greater than those against Nelson, so was his success less. The part played by Bankert at Solebay was essentially the same as that of Nelson at St. Vincent, when he threw himself across the path of the Spanish division with his single ship; but Nelson took his course without orders from Jervis, while Bankert was carrying out Ruyter's plan. Once more, still himself in his bearing, but under sadly altered surroundings, will this simple and heroic man come before us; and here, in contrast with his glory, seems a proper place to insert a little description by the Comte de Guiche (1) of his bearing in the Four Days' Fight, which brings out at once the homely and the heroic sides of his character.
- - 1. Memoires. - -
"I never saw him [during those last three days] other than even-tempered; and when victory was assured, saying always it was the good God that gives it to us. Amid the disorders of the fleet and the appearance of loss, he seemed to be moved only by the misfortune to his country, but always submissive to the will of God, Finally, it may be said that he has something of the frankness and lack of polish of our patriarchs; and, to conclude what I have to say of him, I will relate that the day after the victory I found him sweeping his own room and feeding his chickens."
Nine days after the battle of the Texel, on the 30th of August, 1673, a formal alliance was made between Holland on the one hand, and Spain, Lorraine, and the emperor of Germany on the other, and the French ambassador was dismissed from Vienna. Louis almost immediately offered Holland comparatively moderate terms; but the United Provinces, with their new allies by their sides and with their backs borne firmly upon the sea which had favored and supported them, set their face steadily against him. In England the clamor of the people and Parliament became louder; the Protestant feeling and the old enmity to France were daily growing, as was the national distrust of the king. Charles, though he had himself lost none of his hatred of the republic, had to give way. Louis, seeing the gathering storm, made up his mind, by the counsel of Turenne, to withdraw from his dangerously advanced position by evacuating Holland, and to try to make peace with the Provinces separately while continuing the war with the House of Austria in Spain and Germany. Thus he returned to Richelieu's policy, and Holland was saved. February 19, 1674, peace was signed between England and the Provinces. The latter recognized the absolute supremacy of the English flag from Cape Finisterre in Spain to Norway, and paid a war indemnity.
The withdrawal of England, which remained neutral during the remaining four years of the war, necessarily made it less maritime. The King of France did not think his navy, either in numbers or efficiency, able to contend alone with that of Holland; he therefore withdrew it from the ocean and con-fined his sea enterprises to the Mediterranean, with one or two half-privateering expeditions to the West Indies. The United Provinces for their part, being freed from danger on the side of the sea, and not having, except for a short time, any serious idea of operating against the French coast, diminished their own fleets. The war became more and more continental, and drew in more and more the other powers of Europe. Gradually the German States cast their lot with Austria, and on May 28, 1674, the Diet proclaimed war against France. The great work of French policy in the last generations was undone, Austria had resumed her supremacy in Germany, and Holland had not been destroyed. On the Baltic, Denmark, seeing Sweden inclining toward France, hastened to make common cause with the German Empire, sending fifteen thousand troops. There remained in Germany only Bavaria, Hanover, and Wurtemberg faithful still to their French alliance. The land war had thus drawn in nearly all the powers of Europe, and, from the nature of the case, the principal theatre of the conflict was beyond the eastern boundary of France, toward the Rhine, and in the Spanish Netherlands; but while this was raging, a maritime episode was introduced by the fact of Denmark and Sweden being engaged on opposite sides. Of this it will not be necessary to speak, beyond mentioning that the Dutch sent a squadron under Tromp to join the Danes, and that the united fleets won a great victory over the Swedes in 1676, taking from them ten ships. It is therefore evident that the sea superiority of Holland detracted greatly from Sweden's value as an ally to Louis XIV.