The Third Anglo-Dutch War or Third Dutch War (Dutch: Derde Engelse Oorlog or Derde Engelse Zeeoorlog) was a military conflict between England and the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands lasting from 1672 to 1674. It was part of the larger Franco-Dutch War. The Royal Navy joined France in its attack on the Republic, but was frustrated in its attempts to blockade the Dutch coast by four strategic victories by Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. An attempt to make the province of Holland an English protectorate rump state likewise failed. Parliament, fearful that the alliance with France was part of a plot to make England Roman Catholic, forced the king to abandon the costly and fruitless war.
Charles had hoped that an attack on the Republic could have started in 1671, but it had to be delayed for a year because the French needed first to establish secure diplomatic relations with two key German principilaties: the Bishopric of Münster and the Archbishopric of Cologne. Normally the Spanish Netherlands would act as a buffer between the Republic and France; to conquer the strongly fortified towns of Flanders and the south of the Republic would both be too slow and too costly for a swift and decisive campaign. Therefore it had been decided to let the French army advance through the Bishopric of Liège, a dependency of Cologne, that intersected the Spanish Netherlands, and then attack the Republic unexpectedly from the east in its unprotected "soft side". Ultimately Münster and Cologne even decided to join the invasion with their armies.
Charles tried to use the delay to sow dissension between the Orangist faction in the Republic that wanted to restore the House of Orange (represented at the time by Charles's nephew William III of Orange) to the office of stadtholder and the republican States faction headed by De Witt. When from November 1670 William visited Charles to urge the House of Stuart to pay back a part of the large debt it owed to the House of Orange, Charles intended to make his nephew part of the conspiracy and promise him to be made Sovereign Prince of Holland, a puppet state, in return for collaboration with the invading forces. However he started this attempt to recruit the young prince for his undertaking by advising William to become Roman Catholic, as Catholicism was best fitted to absolutist rulers. William's horrified reaction to this proposal convinced Charles that it was best not to reveal the Dover Treaty to him.
A further problem for Charles was the fact that he needed Parliament to vote for sufficient funds to bring out a strong fleet. England would not be involved with its, rather weak, army; apart from an English brigade in the French army under the Duke of Monmouth its only effort would be made by the Royal Navy: to defeat its Dutch counterpart and ideally blockade the Dutch coast. Charles was receiving considerable subsidies from Louis, but he preferred to spend these on the luxuries of his own court. Besides, the treaty being after all secret, these subsidies couldn't be directed to the fleet anyway. However, whereas in 1664 the country had been, in the words of Samuel Pepys, "mad for war", in 1671 most English had begun to despair of ever being able to "beat the Dutch". Parliament was very cool about a new war. The king therefore tried to incite the public opinion in England against the Dutch by creating a serious incident. Lord Arlington put it this way: "Our business is to break with them, yet to lay the breach at their door". He let the royal yacht Merlin, with Temple's wife Dorothy Osborne aboard, on 24 August 1671 sail through the Dutch fleet at anchor off Brill for maintenance. The Dutch ships duly struck their flag in salute first, as was mandatory under treaty, but refused to salute firing white smoke, because they were doubtful the Merlin counted as a real warship. Charles now ordered the intriguer George Downing, the new ambassador in The Hague, to demand that the admirals responsible would be severely punished, which the States-General of the Netherlands refused. Early 1672, Downing, who already had made himself profoundly hated by the Dutch population when he was an ambassador in the previous war, had to flee The Hague in fear of his life. Temple — somewhat wryly as he was rather sympathetic to the Dutch himself — remarked to Charles that now both he and his wife had had the honour to have become instruments of doom for the Dutch.
Though De Witt tended to believe the repeated diplomatic assurances by the French and English that they had no invasion in mind, many Dutch politicians and military men interpreted the French diplomatic activities in the German principalities, the preparing of the English Navy and the raising of large armies as sure signs of an imminent war. On 25 February 1672, William III, despite his youth, was appointed Captain-General of the confederate Dutch army. Factional strife and uncertainty about the French strategy prevented a strong field army from being created; most of the 83,000 troops were assigned to the fortresses. Whereas the Dutch Republic was thus ill-prepared for a land campaign, the situation at sea was much more favourable, even though the States-General decided to limit the naval budget to 4,776,248 guilders (down from an original projected budget of 7,893,992 guilders) in order not to provoke the English. In 1667, the Dutch navy, after having destroyed the core of the English navy at Chatham, had been the strongest in the world. Although in 1672 this had again changed, with the English having replaced the capital ships lost, while few Dutch ships had been built and one of the five autonomous Dutch admiralties, that of Friesland, was unable to contribute many ships because that province was attacked by Münster, the Dutch successfully prevented a blockade of their coast and any landing of enemy troops, despite being outnumbered by a third by the combined Anglo-French fleet. The reason for this success were the much improved training standards. In the major battles of 1666, the Dutch navy still had to get used to its brandnew, much heavier, warships and some costly tactical mistakes had been made; also personal conflict between Lieutenant-Admirals Michiel de Ruyter and Cornelis Tromp had damaged the unity of the fleet. De Ruyter used the summer of 1671 to execute many training manoeuvres employing the line-of-battle, perfecting the fire drill and installing a new sense of coherence and discipline. As a result, the Republic was in 1672 at the apex of its naval power; in the English navy however, Admiral Edward Spragge had grown jealous of supreme commander Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Also, Spragge broke formation in two battles to seek out his personal enemy Tromp, having vowed to kill him for having insulted his wife. Cooperation between the English and the French navies was poor, plagued by misunderstandings and suspicions.
Charles had intended to make William his creature by raising him from a position of unimportance to that of nominal ruler, ensuring his subservience to the English king. The threat of an invasion however, had as an unintended side-effect that the position of William grew stronger independently. In January 1672, William, by then having figured out the intentions of Charles by himself, tried to exploit this by offering Charles to make the Dutch Republic a faithful ally of England. In return, Charles would have to demand from the States-General that William be appointed stadtholder — and break with France. Charles did not take up this suggestion as, without the threat of a French invasion, he could hardly expect the Dutch to remain submissive.
As happened in the previous conflict, even before the formal outbreak of war, the English tried to intercept the Dutch Smyrna Fleet, a yearly convoy of Dutch merchants from the Levant sailing with a flotilla to protect them from the Barbary Corsairs. From 12 March 1672 (Old Style), Admiral Robert Holmes attacked the convoy in the English Channel, but was beaten back by Cornelis Evertsen the Youngest, capturing only a limited number of prizes.
As agreed in the Treaty of Dover, England joined France, having declared war on 6 April 1672 (New Style), by declaring war on 7 April. Many sources incorrectly state the English were the first to declare war on 27 March, a mistake caused by the fact the British were still using the Julian calendar, then ten days behind the Gregorian calendar in use at the Continent. A French army of 130,000, exceptionally accompanied by Louis himself, in two months marched through Liège, bypassed the strong Dutch fortress of Maastricht, advanced along the Rhine, took the Rhine fortresses of Cleves and then on 12 June crossed the Lower Rhine into the Betuwe, thus invading the Republic itself and outflanking the IJssel Line. As a result the province of Overijssel withdrew its troops from the already small Dutch field army to protect its own cities; soon after it capitulated to Bernhard von Galen, the bishop of Münster, who then marched north to occupy Drenthe and lay siege to Groningen. William was forced to fall back on Utrecht, but the burghers refused to let him in. Instead they opened their gates to the French army, to avoid a siege. William withdrew behind the Dutch Water Line, a deliberate flooding to protect the core province of Holland, but the inundations were not ready yet, only having been ordered by the States of Holland on 8 June and hampered by villages unwilling to let the water damage their property.
Meanwhile the first sea battle had taken place. After the English declaration of war, the States-General had increased the naval budget with 2.2 million guilders. De Witt, seeking a decisive naval victory, had decided on an aggressive strategy and sent out De Ruyter with the mission to destroy the Allied fleet. On 7 June he surprised it when resupplying on the English coast, it was only saved from a severe defeat in the Battle of Solebay by a sudden turning of the wind, causing De Ruyter to lose the weather gage. Nevertheless the damage incurred was so extensive that the Allies would be prevented from executing major naval actions for the rest of the season. A blockade of the Dutch coast failed. Johan de Witt's brother Cornelis de Witt had accompanied the fleet to make the States regime share in the glory, but the events on land nullified this.
The sudden appearance of a hostile army in the heart of the Republic caused a general panic. The States of Holland on 14 June decided to ask peace conditions from France and England. This convinced Louis that the war was already won and on the advice of de Louvois he began negotiations to reach a treaty as favourable as possible for France. The city populations rioted, blaming the States regime for the disaster and calling for the Prince of Orange to take over government. Most city councils turned Orangist or were even replaced by threat of force with Orangist partisans. Charles had always supported the Orangist faction; now they repaid him with accusing the States faction of wanting to betray the land to the French and depicting Charles as the only man able and willing to save the Dutch from French subjugation. In Dutch history, the year 1672, the national annus horribilis, subsequently became known as the "Year of Disaster" (Rampjaar). A Dutch saying was coined to describe the situation of the state: Redeloos, radeloos, reddeloos, meaning: "reasonless" (the people), "clueless" (the authorities), "rescueless" (the country).
In fact the situation wasn't as immediately desperate as the population believed. De Witt had assumed the conflicting interests of England and France would prevent their successful cooperation. The two kings, motivated by a shared lust for revenge, had managed to put their differences aside as long as their immediate common goal of humiliating the Republic had not been reached yet. Now that it was, each began to worry the other would benefit too much from the war; neither would allow a complete domination of the Republic, and its huge mercantile assets, by his formal ally. When a Dutch mission arrived sueing for peace, Louis only demanded Delfzijl, by far the least important port Charles desidered, for the English. Yet, when he was offered the southern fortresses of the Republic — the French possession of which would make the Spanish Netherlands indefensible — and ten million guilders, he refused. Knowing that the mission was not allowed to make any concessions on the point of religion and the territorial integrity of the provinces themselves (the southern fortress cities of Breda, 's-Hertogenbosch and Maastricht were in the Generality Lands) Louis demanded — besides twenty million guilders and an annual embassy from the States-General to Louis asking pardon for their perfidity — either religious freedom for the Catholics or lordship over Utrecht and Guelders, merely to humiliate the Dutch a bit further. Still he didn't continue his advance fearing to drive the Dutch into the hands of Charles. He waited while the mission returned to ask for new instructions, which would take some time given the decentralised nature of the Dutch administration; all the city councils would have to be consulted on the issue. Meanwhile the water gradually filled the polders of the defence line. On 7 July the inundations were fully set and the province of Holland was safe from a further French advance. Louis wasn't overly worried by this; he was very much focused on Amsterdam and, an early attempt to take the city by a sudden cavalry assault having failed, had decided in any case to avoid an expensive and inevitably very muddy siege by waiting till winter when he expected — reasonably so in the Little Ice Age — to be able to advance over the ice.
On 4 July William was appointed stadtholder of Holland, on 16 July of Zealand. Early July Charles had decided to secure his share of the boot and sent Lord Arlington, one of the few English politicians privy to the Treaty of Dover, together with the Duke of Buckingham to the Republic to convey his peace conditions. Arlington landed in Brill accompanied by a group of Dutch Orangist exiles and then travelled to William at the Dutch headquarters in Nieuwerbrug, all the way being cheered by Dutch crowds, believing he had come to promise English support against the French. Arriving on 5 July he brought William the good news that Charles insisted on his nephew being made Sovereign Prince of Holland. Everything would be alright if only William would then consent to an equitable peace, including paying the English ten million guilders for their efforts, paying a yearly sum of ₤10,000 for the North Sea herring rights and reinstating the clauses of the 1585 Treaty of Nonsuch about Brill, Sluys and Flushing being English securities. Far from finding William grateful to his uncle for having brought about his rise to power, Arlington soon discovered that the stadtholder was outraged by these demands, the prince even uncharacteristically losing his temper. He yelled that he would rather "die a thousand times than accept it". Arlington in turn threatened the Dutch state with total annihilation if William didn't comply; in the end the meeting turned into a quarrel and Arlington left without having accomplished anything. He then travelled to Heeswijk, the headquarters of the French army in vain besieging 's-Hertogenbosch, where he on 16 July concluded the Accord of Heeswijk with the French, each party agreeing on a minimal shared list of demands and promising never to conclude a separate peace. These demands were again refused by William on 20 July.
On 18 July William received a letter from Charles, very moderate in tone, in which the king claimed that the entire campaign was merely directed against the States regime and that the only obstacle to peace was the continued influence of the faction of De Witt. William responded by offering the herring rights, Sluys and Surinam; in return Charles should make him Sovereign Prince and conclude a separate peace. Annoyed Charles answered by accusing William of being unreasonably obstinate and scheming behind his back with politicians of the Country Party, the later "Whigs".
De Witt had had to resign from his function of Grand Pensionary after he had been wounded by an attempt on his life in June. His brother Cornelis had been arrested on (probably false) charges of having plotted to murder William. The stadtholder on 15 August published Charles's letter to further incite the population against De Witt. There were many new riots; on 20 August Johan de Witt visited his brother in prison; both were then murdered by an Orangist civil militia that had been instructed by Tromp, the Orangist admiral. William's power was now secure from internal threats.
The Allies now found themselves in a rather awkward position. If the Battle of Solebay hadn't prevented it, they would have been able to force the Dutch population to surrender by starvation, as it was dependent for its survival on supplies of Baltic grain. Now they had no clear exit strategy; they could only wait hoping the Dutch would at last understand the hopelessness of their situation and capitulate. Meanwhile their own situation deteriorated. The war was very expensive and especially Charles had trouble paying for it. Münster was in an even worse condition; in August it had to abandon the siege of Groningen; before 1672 had ended Coevorden was retaken and the province of Drenthe liberated, leaving the Allies in possession of only three of the in fact ten (despite the number traditionally given of seven) Dutch provincial areas. The supply lines of the French army were dangerously extended and William in the autumn of 1672 tried to cut them off them marching all the way through the Spanish Netherlands to attack Charleroi, then a French border city close to the supply route through Liège.
Also the German states, though having promised Louis to remain neutral, had become very worried by the French success and especially by the refusal to withdraw from the Duchy of Cleves. On 25 July the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Leopold I, concluded a defensive treaty with the Republic in The Hague and together with Brandenburg sent an army to the Rhine. Though this force did not attack the French army, its presence was enough to draw it to the east in response.
The attack from the east thus being considered impractical, the activities of the Royal Navy gained much more importance. It was now ordered, in cooperation with a French squadron, to at least blockade the Dutch coast and, if possible, execute a landing on it, conquering the Republic from the west. How this should be accomplished exactly was not very clear. The English navy, in contrast to the Dutch fleet, had little experience in shore landings, so it was expected to directly take some Dutch port by assault, despite having insufficient recent information about the dangerous constantly shifting shoals.
Before this could happen the Dutch fleet would have to be defeated first. Although deliberately creating the impression — in order to frighten the Dutch population into an invasion scare — that transports, carrying an army, were sailing immediately behind the war fleet, in fact the (rather small) invasion force was left in Yarmouth, only to be shipped after a full control over the seas had been attained. In this the French would be of little help; they had received clear orders by Louis to give absolute priority to the survival of their vessels and inform him personally about what knowledge they had gained by observing the English and Dutch tactics. The French navy thus considered the campaign first of all to be a great learning opportunity; it would indeed be very instructive.
In May Rupert advanced to the Dutch coast with superior forces; De Ruyter took up a defensive position in the Schooneveld. Rupert tried to outflank the smaller Dutch fleet hoping to force it to seek refuge in the naval port fortress of Hellevoetsluis, where it could be blocked while the transport fleet would be brought over to storm either Brill in Holland or Flushing on Walcheren in Zealand. Instead De Ruyter attacked, starting the First Battle of the Schooneveld. In the Battle of Solebay of the previous year the French squadron had on sight of the approaching Dutch fleet sailed in a direction opposite to that of the English fleet. To counter English accusations that this had been done on purpose to let the English bear the brunt of the fighting, the French now formed the centre squadron. When a gap formed in the French line, De Ruyter suddenly tacked with his own centre and sailed through it. After a while the French disengaged — later writing enthusiastic reports to Louis about feeling honoured to witness the tactical genius shown by De Ruyter by this manoeuvre — exposing the Allied rear to encirclement by the Dutch rear and centre. On perceiving the danger, its commander, Spragge, abandoned the remainder of the rear with his flotilla to seek out Tromp, who was rather hesitantly attacked by Rupert in the van, fearing the shoals. Thus being outmanoeuvred and divided, the Allied fleet only managed to reunite because De Ruyter decided not to take any unnecessary risks by pressing his advantage; but the disorder was so persistent, it had to withdraw at nightfall.
Rupert now was at a loss how to continue the campaign; not daring to enter the dangerous Schooneveld again, his only hope was to lure the Dutch out; but he was so convinced De Ruyter would never leave this ideal blocking position, his fleet was unready when the resupplied Dutch fleet indeed attacked on 14 June, starting the Second Battle of the Schooneveld. Rupert at the very last moment decided to invert his squadron order, hereby causing such a chaos in the Allied fleet, that the Dutch and French were too astonished to fully commit themselves to the fight. Spragge however, now not having to break formation as there really was none, again sought out Tromp, without success. Much damaged and its morale shaken, the Allied fleet returned to the Thames for repairs.
Late July Rupert sailed out again, trying to lure the Dutch fleet to the north, pretending to attempt a landing at Den Helder. De Ruyter at first decided not to leave his Schooneveld position, but was ordered to do so by William to prevent a Dutch East India Company fleet, loaded with spices and treasure, to be captured, which might alleviate Charles's lack of funds. This resulted in the final Battle of Texel. Both sides now no longer restrained their forces, striving for a decision; even the French fought hard, but for the fourth time allowed themselves to get separated from the English fleet. Spragge broke formation for the second time to duell with Tromp; on this occasion losing his life. Having incurred enormous damage both fleets retreated. This tactical draw was a complete strategic victory for the Dutch, even though some ships of the Spice Fleet ultimately fell into Allied hands. The plans for an invasion from the sea had to be abandoned and the large costs of repair troubled Parliament. Overall the war had been far from profitable. In previous conflicts many in England had gained riches by joining privateering enterprises; in this war Dutch raiders managed to capture more English ships (over 550 merchants; 2800 vessels of all Allies) than vice versa. The English had failed in blockading the Dutch coast and were themselves largely blocked from the vital Baltic trade in wood and tar. That New Amsterdam had been retaken by the Dutch in 1673 mattered little in financial respect, like the temporary loss of Saint Helena, but hurt the English reputation. In November 1673 Parliament voted to deny Charles a war budget for 1674.
Meanwhile the developments in the land war had also become very unfavourable to Charles. The ultimate aim of the French and their deeper rationale for this war was to conquer the Spanish Netherlands. Such a conquest would however be very detrimental to the English strategic position: should Holland capitulate to them the French would then control the entire continental coast opposite England, like later would be the case in the Napoleonic Wars. For this reason Charles had in the Treaty of Dover explicitly reserved his rights to come to the aid of the Spanish Netherlands should his interests demand so; Louis thus had to delay the execution of his plans in this region until the Dutch affair was finished. Now that a deadlock had been reached Louis's patience was severely tried and eventually the tempation to take possession of the Southern Netherlands while they were so vulnerable became too great. He gradually turned his attention to this area, first by the capture of Maastricht in July 1673, in which Monmouth's brigade played an honourable rôle. Though this could be justified as improving the supply situation of the northern French army, its potential as a starting point for a Flemish campaign was not lost on the Spanish. On 30 August, the Republic, the Empire, Spain and Charles IV, Duke of Lorraine (who wanted his duchy back from Louis) concluded the Quadruple Alliance and William made sure peace negotiations held with France in Cologne failed. In November Bonn was taken by the alliance forces commanded by William; this forced the French army to abandon almost all occupied Dutch territory, with the exception of Grave and Maastricht. A final victory on the Dutch had thus become most implausible; the war was changed into one about the dominion of Flanders and on this issue the natural interests of England were opposed to those of France. The changed international situation was an important consideration for Parliament influencing its decision to withhold funding, but internal events were even more decisive.
The Treaty of Dover was not only aimed at the Dutch Republic but also at the domination of Protestantism in England; Charles had promised Louis to try and end it. In accordance on 25 March 1672 he had issued the Royal Declaration of Indulgence, as a first step to complete religious tolerance. Parliament was shocked by this, but at first was unaware of the relation with the French alliance; in February 1673 it voted to further fund the alliance in exchange for a suspension of the Indulgence (and an issuing of the Test Act in March), not as yet seeing any contradiction in such policies. This would soon change however. Arlington's former secretary, Pierre du Moulin, had after fleeing to the Republic begun to work for William; in the summer of 1673 he exploited the fears of the English population by starting a propaganda campaign, using one of the Dutch main assets: the world's largest printing capacity. Soon England was flooded with tens of thousands of pamphlets accusing Charles of wanting to make the country Catholic again in conspiration with the French king. The campaign was a complete success, convincing the English people that such a plan really existed; it was greatly aided by the decision by Charles's brother James, the Duke of York, to lay down his position as Lord High Admiral, which was generally (and correctly) interpreted as a sign that James had in secret become a Catholic and was therefore unable to abjure the transubstantiation doctrine, as the Test Act demanded of all officials. In September James married the Catholic Mary of Modena, a beautiful young girl especially selected for him by King Louis. As Charles himself had no legitimate offspring, this created the strong prospect of a Catholic dynasty ruling England in the future. Reacting to the change in the public mood, Buckingham, who had learned of it during his trip to the Republic the previous year, began to leak the Dover Treaty to many fellow politicians and Arlington soon followed. Thus in a short time Charles's own cabinet, the Cabal Ministry, went over to the "Dutch" peace party; Lord Shaftesbury, much shocked by the revelation, even beginning to consider to drive out the troublesome House of Stuart entirely and inducing his secretary, John Locke, to further develop the legal concepts which would later be the basis of the Two Treatises of Government, which justified the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
In this situation Charles felt that continuing the alliance was a grave threat to his personal position. He informed the French ambassador Colbert de Croissy that to his regret he had to terminate the English war effort and told the Dutch via the Spanish consul in London, the Marquess del Fresno, that, his main war aim, to instate his noble nephew as stadtholder, having been attained, there was no longer any objection on his side to concluding a lasting peace between the two Protestant brother nations, if only some minor "indemnities" could be paid. At first the States of Holland were disinclined to grant Charles's demands: as England had accomplished nothing in the war, it was, in their opinion, not entitled to anything. Many members admitted their personal satisfaction in the thought that the British might be kept suffering a bit longer. But William convinced them that there was even some chance of bringing Charles into the war against France eventually and that this had to take precedence over petty considerations of retribution, unworthy of their high office. Furthermore Spain had still not declared war to France and was only willing to do so if England made peace, because it feared English attacks on its American colonies.
The treaty stipulated that New Netherland would henceforth be an English possession and that Suriname, captured by the Dutch in 1667, would remain their colony, legalising the status quo of 1667. An "indemnity" of two million guilders was paid by the Dutch. An attempt by William to convince his uncle to enter the war against Louis failed in April; Charles would till the end of that war in 1678 try to negotiate between the two parties, at times pretending to really consider a conflict with France, when such pretence was beneficial to him. In 1677 he forced his niece Mary to marry William, one of the fundamental causes of the fall of his brother in 1688.
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