Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Seventeenth Century

This is a section of a paper that I started in 2000, about the Line of Battle.

Seventeenth Century


The Seventeenth Century features the transition from Elizabethan galleons to ships of the line, differing only in size from those that fought at the Battle of Trafalgar.  The ship of the line was invented by Charles I, when he commissioned the building of the 100-gun ship, the Sovereign of the Seas (later known as the Sovereign or Royal Sovereign).  Prior to the construction of the Sovereign, ships would be built with the heaviest guns in the chase, for end-on fighting, with lesser guns on the broadside.  The Sovereign, having her heaviest battery facing the sides, thereby asked to be fought in a line.  The evolution of English armaments was to increase the numbers and strength of the broadside, so that by the commencement of the First Anglo-Dutch War, at the Battle off Dover, ships would be fighting so as to be able to fire on the broadside.  From that point on, the English built increasingly more heavily armed ships, with both two and three tiers of heavy guns.  George Monck formally initiated the use of a single, line of battle at the Battle of the Gabbard. 

The experience of the First Anglo-Dutch War taught the Dutch the need for more powerful ships, able to stand against the larger English ships.  By the time of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch had a fleet better equipped to fight, although still comprised of smaller, more lightly armed ships.  The war began with a debacle at Lowestoft, but the Dutch recovered.  They bested the divided English fleet at the Four Days Battle.  At the St. James Day Battle, they tried to fight the English, using the same single line, and were soundly defeated, although they only lost two ships to the one English.  The Dutch found that they still could not fight, yard arm-to-yard arm with the English.

At the beginning of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch came close to pulling off a coup, when the caught the combined Anglo-French fleet at anchor in Southwold Bay.  Despite the loss of the Earl of Sandwich, and his ship, the Royal James, the English salvaged the battle, under the leadership of the Duke of York.  In subsquent battles, the Dutch fought, outnumbered, to save the country from invasion.  The Anglo-French fleet was not as well led, after the Duke of York was again removed from command.  In the succeeding battles, mostly fought off the shallows off Zeeland, the Dutch fought in squadrons, prevented invasion, and preserved their forces.  They mounted a maximum effort, and pulled together a fleet comparable to that of the Allies, and won the Battle of the Texel, which knocked England from the war.

The war continued, with the Dutch facing the French, alone.  The remaining battle were fought in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.  After the death of Michiel De Ruyter, the Dutch naval effort came close to collapse.

When the next war came, the English and Dutch were united under William II and Mary II against the French and Louis XIV.  The War of the English Succession ended with James II in exile in France, bringing to an end, the Seventeenth Century.  The next round began the Eighteenth Century.

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