The Commonwealth.

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.

In the Mediterranean, Commodore Bodley, in command of four English ships, fought a gallant action against eight Dutch ships, commanded by Admiral Van Galen. The Dutchman laid the English commodore’s ships aboard, but having been thrice set on fire, he sheered off with much loss. The second ship, which then took her place, was also beaten off, having lost her main-mast. Two others next attacked the commodore, but were defeated; though the English lost a hundred men, killed and wounded. The Phoenix, an English ship, had meantime boarded one of the commodore’s assailants and carried her, but was in turn boarded and captured by another Dutch ship, and taken into Leghorn Roads. Here Captain Van Tromp took command of the Phoenix. The Dutchmen, thinking themselves secure, spent their time in mirth and jollity on shore, when Captain Owen Cox, now serving in Commodore Platten’s squadron, hearing of what was going forward, manned three boats with thirty men in each. In addition to their weapons, each man was provided with a bag of meal to throw in the eyes of the Dutchmen. Captain Cox pulled in during the night, and got alongside the frigate at daylight. The boats’ crews had each their appointed work; one had to cut the cables, the second had to go aloft and loose the sails, while the third closed the hatches and kept the crew in subjection. Van Tromp was below, but hearing the alarm, he rushed out of his cabin, and discharged his pistols at the English, who were by that time masters of the frigate. Finding that his ship was captured, he leaped out of the cabin window, and swam safely to a Dutch ship astern. The Phoenix was carried off in triumph, and reached Naples in safety. Of course, the Grand Duke of Tuscany remonstrated, and ordered Commodore Flatten either to restore the Phoenix or to quit Leghorn; he was determined not to do the former, and sending to Commodore Bodley, who was lying at Elba with his small squadron, it was arranged he should come off the port, and draw the Dutch away. This he did. Commodore Van Galen’s squadron, at the time lying off the port to intercept him, consisted of sixteen sail; while, besides the Alfred, of 52 guns, he had only the Bonaventure, of 44 guns, the Sampson, of 36, the Levant Merchant, of 28, the Pilgrim and Mary, of 30 guns. He contrived, however, to let Commodore Bodley know his position, who attempted to draw the Dutch off, and clear the way for his squadron. Van Galen, after chasing for some time, perceiving Platten’s squadron, returned to attack it. During the action which ensued, the Bonaventure blew up, while Van Galen lost a leg from a shot, of which wound he died. Commodore Bodley’s squadron having now joined, the action became general. Captain Cornelius Van Tromp, who attacked the Sampson, was beaten off, but she was directly afterwards destroyed by a fire-ship. The Alfred, the Levant Merchant, and Pilgrim were all overpowered and taken, and the Mary alone effected her escaped, and joined the squadron of Commodore Bodley.

Another desperate action soon afterwards took place between the Dutch and the English in the channel, the English having 105 ships, and the Dutch 104. The action had lasted about an hour when Admiral Dean, the second in command, was cut in two by a cannon-shot. Monk, the commander-in-chief, seeing him fall, threw a cloak over his body to conceal it from the seamen. The ship of Van Kelson, the Dutch rear-admiral, was blown up after this. From eleven in the morning till six in the evening the battle raged, when the Dutch endeavoured to escape. Blake joined the English fleet during the night, and pursued them. About noon the battle was renewed, and for four hours continued to rage. Van Tromp grappled Admiral Penn’s ship, the James, and attempted to board, but was repulsed, and was boarded in return. The English having driven the Dutchmen below, Van Tromp ordered the deck to be blown up, when numbers of the boarders were killed, though he escaped. His ship was again boarded by the crews of the James and of another ship, and he would have been captured had not De Witt and De Ruyter bore down and saved him. The battle was decisive; eleven Dutch ships were taken and thirteen hundred prisoners, while seven were sunk, two were blown up, thus making twenty ships taken and destroyed.

Grand naval engagements were carried on in those days with very little order or regularity, each ship singling out an antagonist, and attacking her as opportunities offered. Even then, however, some of the more sagacious naval commanders discerned that this was not the wisest plan for gaining a victory. Sir William Monson, one of the most skilful admirals of the period, observes, that the most famous naval battles of late years were those of Lepanto against the Turks, in 1577, of the Spaniards against the French, 1580, and the English against the Spanish Armada, in 1588. After making various remarks, he continues: “The greatest advantage in a sea-fight is to get the wind of one another; for he that has the wind is out of danger of being boarded, and has the advantage where to board and how to attempt the enemy. The wind being thus gotten, the general is to give no other directions than to every admiral of a squadron to draw together their squadron and every one to undertake his opposite squadron, or where he should do it to his greatest advantage, but to be sure to take a good distance of one another, and to relieve that squadron that should be overcharged or distressed. Let them give warning to their ships not to venture so far as to bring them to leeward of the enemy, for it would be in the power of the enemy to board them, and they not to avoid it.”

The strict ordering of battles by ships was before the invention of the bowline, for then there was no sailing but before the wind, nor any fighting but by boarding; whereas now a ship will sail within six points of thirty-two, and by the advantage of wind, may rout any force that is placed in that form of battle—namely, that of the Spanish Armada, to which he is referring. The Admiralty, however, did not appear to agree with Sir William Monson, for the following instructions were issued:—“You are to take notice, that in case of joining battle you are to leave it to the vice-admiral to assail the enemy’s admiral, and to match yours as equally as you can to succour the rest of the fleet, as cause shall require, not wasting your powder nor shooting afar off, nor till you come side by side.”

The more sagacious commanders saw, that in order to ensure victory, something beyond a vast host of ships fighting without order was necessary, and perceived that the fleet which fought in line was in most cases victorious. The fiercest action of this period was fought on the 9th and 10th of August, when the English fleet, under Monk, came in sight of the Dutch, commanded by Admiral Van Tromp, who had with him many other celebrated officers, and nearly a hundred ships of war. Monk had about the same number of ships, which he drew up in line. The English manoeuvred to gain the wind, but Van Tromp, who had it at the first, kept it with advantage, and drew up his own fleet in a line parallel to that of the English, when, bearing down upon them, he began the battle with so great a fury, that many ships were soon seen dismasted, others sunk, and others on fire. A spectator, who was on board a vessel at a distance, describes the scene: “The two fleets were now enveloped in a cloud of smoke so dense that it was impossible to form a judgment of the fierceness of the battle otherwise than by the horrible noise of the cannon with which the air resounded, and by the mountains of fire which every now and then were seen rising out of the smoke, with a crash that gave sufficient notice that whole ships were blowing up. The battle lasted for eight hours, and was the most hard fought of any that had happened throughout the war. The Dutch fire-ships were managed with great dexterity, and many of the large vessels in the English fleet were in the utmost danger. The Triumph was so effectually fired, that most of her crew threw themselves into the sea, though others remaining behind put out the fire. Admiral Lawson engaged Admiral Ruyter, killed and wounded above half his men, and so disabled his ship, that she was towed out of the fleet. About noon Van Tromp was shot through the body by a musket-ball as he was giving his orders. This greatly discouraged the Dutch, so that they began to beat to windward, and to engage only in retreating, having but one flag still flying. As the smoke cleared off, the two fleets were seen in a condition which showed the horrible fury of the conflict in which they had been engaged. The whole sea was covered with dead bodies, with fragments, and with hulls of wrecks, still smoking or burning. Throughout the remainder of the two fleets were seen only dismasted vessels, and sails perforated through and through by cannon-balls. The English pursued them, but being afraid of the shoals, they came to an anchor six leagues off the Texel.” The loss of the Dutch amounted to 6200 men, including Admiral Van Tromp and Evertzen, with many other persons of distinction, with twenty-six ships of war sunk or burnt. On the side of the English, 7 captains and 500 men were killed, and 5 captains and 800 men wounded, besides which three of their ships were destroyed. Among the English ships were several merchantmen, and in order to take off the thoughts of their captains from their owners’ vessels and cargoes, Monk sent them to each other’s ships, a scheme which answered perfectly well, no ships in the fleet having behaved better. He also, it was said, to save time, issued orders at the commencement of the fight, that no quarter should be given or taken. This, however, was not so strictly observed, but that 1200 Dutchmen were saved from the sinking ships. On this occasion the Dutch set the example of fighting in line, though in their case, owing to the desperate valour of the English, the plan did not succeed as well as it did on many other subsequent occasions. Not without difficulty did the English ships get back to England. This victory compelled the Dutch to sue for peace.

It was at this time that the following song is supposed to have been written, showing the spirit which animated the nation. It is probably, as will be seen, the original of “Ye Mariners of England.”

“When gallants are carousing
In taverns on a row,
Then we sweep o’er the deep
When the stormy winds do blow.”

“Jack,” however, was to have his consolation, for at the end, as we read—

“When we return in safety,
With wages for our pains;
The tapster and the vintner
Will help to share our gains.
We’ll call for liquor roundly,
And pay before we go;
Then we roar on the shore
When the stormy winds do blow,” etcetera.

The gallant Blake’s latest achievement was the capture of numerous Spanish galleons, after a desperate battle off Teneriffe. He, however, did not live to receive the fresh honours Parliament was ready to bestow on him, as he died on the 17th of August, on board the George, just as she was entering Plymouth Sound. As Clarendon says of him: “He was the first to infuse that proportion of courage into seamen, by making them see by experience what mighty things they could do if they were resolved, and taught them to fight in fire as well as upon water; and although he had been very well imitated and followed, he was the first to give an example of that kind of naval courage which leads to bold and resolute deeds.”

The first duty of the English fleet after the restoration had been determined on was to bring over Charles the Second, who landed in Kent on the 23rd May, 1660.