First Anglo–Dutch War

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The First Anglo–Dutch War (Dutch: Eerste Engels-Nederlandse oorlog) (1652–54) (called the First Dutch War in England) was the first of the four Anglo–Dutch Wars. It was fought entirely at sea between the navies of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Caused by disputes over trade, the war began with English attacks on Dutch merchant shipping, but expanded to vast fleet actions. Ultimately, it resulted in the English Navy gaining control of the seas around England, and forced the Dutch to accept an English monopoly on trade with England and English colonies.[1]

(Dates in this article are given in the Gregorian calendar, then ten days ahead of the Julian calendar in use in England.)



In the 16th century, England and the Netherlands had been close allies against the ambitions of the Habsburgs. They cooperated in fighting the Spanish Armada. England supported the Dutch in the Eighty Years' War by sending money and troops. There was a permanent English representative in the Dutch government to ensure coordination of the joint war effort. The separate peace in 1604 between England and Spain strained this relationship. The weakening of Spanish power at the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 also meant that many colonial possessions of the Portuguese and some of the Spanish empire were effectively up for grabs. The ensuing rush for empire brought the former allies into conflict. Also the Dutch, having made peace with Spain, quickly replaced the English as dominant traders with the Iberian peninsula, adding to an English resentment about Dutch trade that had steadily grown since 1590.

By the middle of the 17th century the Dutch had built by far the largest mercantile fleet in Europe, with more ships than all other nations combined, and their economy, based mainly on maritime commerce, gave them a dominant position in European, especially Baltic, trade. Furthermore they had conquered most of Portugal's territory in the East Indies giving them control over the enormously profitable trade in spices. They were even gaining significant influence over England's maritime trade with her North American colonies, profiting from the turmoil that resulted from the English Civil War. With their victory over the Spanish fleet at the Battle of the Downs in 1639, that Dutch confidence in their naval abilities grew to such a degree, that after the peace treaty with Spain in 1648, the Dutch navy was allowed to deteriorate significantly. The Dutch had five autonomous admiralties and after 1648 these sold off large parts of their fleets to economise. By 1652, fewer than fifty ships were seaworthy and the deficiency had to be made good by arming merchantmen. All were inferior in firepower to the largest English first and second rates.

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