by  Winston  Churchill


.......The rivalry of England and Holland upon the seas, in fishery, and in trade had become intense, and the strength of the Dutch had revived since Cromwell's war. The commerce of the East Indies flowed to Amsterdam, that of the West Indies to Flushing; that of England and Scotland passed to the Continent through Dort and Rotterdam. The herrings caught off Scottish coasts produced rich revenues for the States-General. The Dutch East India Company gathered the wealth of the Orient Since the Portuguese Governor of Bom-Catherine's dowry, the English as yet had no sure base in India. Meanwhile great Dutch fleets, heavily laden, doubled the Cape of Good Hope several times a year. On the West African coast also the Dutch prospered, and their colonies and trading stations grew continually. They had a settlement on the Hudson, thrust among the colonies of New England. It was too much. Parliament was moved by the merchants; the King was roused to patriotic ardour, the Duke of York thirsted for naval glory. The great sum.sof over two and a half millions was voted. More than a hundred new ships were built, armed with new and heavier cannon. Former Cavalier and Crom-wellian officers joined hands and received commissions from the King. Rupert and Monk commanded divisions of the Fleet. War at sea began off the West African coast in 1664, and spread to home waters in the following year. In June the English fleet of more than 150 ships, manned by 25,000 men and mounting 5,000 guns, met the Dutch in equal strength off Lowestoft, and a long, fierce battle was fought, in which many of the leaders on both sides perished. The old Cromwellian admiral, John Lawson, who used to dress like a common sailor, was mortally wounded. By the side of the Duke of York his friends Lords Falmouth and Muskerry were killed by a single cannon ball. But the Dutch admiral Kortenaer and their Commander-in-Chief, Opdam, shared their fate. At the height of the action the Royal Charles (formerly the Naseby), with the Duke on board, engaged the Dutch flagship at close quarters. Opdam, cool and resolute, was directing the battle from a chair on his quarterdeck when a salvo from the English fired the magazine and blew him and his ship into the air. The English artillery was markedly superior in weight and skill, and the^Butch withdrew worsted though undismayed.

The return of Admiral De Ruyter from the West Indies restored the fortunes of the Republic. Lord Sandwich, who had temporarily succeeded the Duke of York, hoped to capture the Dutch merchant fleets from the Mediterranean and from both of the Indies, with cargoes of immense value on board, but, avoiding the Channel and sailing north-about, they took refuge in the harbour of Bergen. The King of Denmark and Norway, who had been at odds with the Dutch, promised in consideration of half the booty to remain inactive if the English attacked the Treasure Fleet in his harbour. However, the necessary orders had not reached the Danish commander when the English fleet attacked; he opened fire with the shore batteries and repulsed the assailants. England, indignant, declared war upon the Danes, who became the allies of the Dutch. De Ruyter arrived on the coast, and escorted the bulk of the Treasure Fleet safely into Texel. It was thought remarkable on the Continent that the Dutch should have maintained themselves so effectually against the far greater sea-power of England during the first year of the war.

An even greater battle than Lowestoft was fought in June 1666. Louis XTV had promised to aid Holland if she were attacked. Although Charles protested that the Dutch were the aggressors, France declar|jli war on England. For four days the English and Dutch ^eets battled off the North Foreland. De Ruyter commanded the Dutch, whose ships now mounted heavier cannon. The sound of the guns was heard in London, and men realised with dismay that Rupert, having to watch for the French fleet in the Channel, was separated from Monk. At the close of the second day's cannonading the English were outmatched; then Rupert, arriving on the third day, restored the balance. But the fourth day was adverse, and Monk and Rupert, with heavy losses, retired into the Thames. De Ruyter had triumphed.

The English were no more daunted by their defeat than the Dutch had been in the previous year. By great exertions the Fleet was refitted, and soon put to sea even stronger than before. Again they met their redoubtable antagonists, and on August 4, 1666, gained a clear victory over them. However, the Republic for the third time brought their fleet to sea in good order, and at last the French Fleet also appeared in the Channel.

England was now isolated, and even her power at sea was uncertain. Both sides bent beneath the financial strain. But other calamities drained the strength of the Island. From the spring of 1665 the Great Plague had raged in London. Never since the Black Death in 1348 had pestilence spread such ravages. In London at the climax about seven thousand people died in a single week. The Court retired to Salisbury, leaving the capital in the charge of Monk, whose nerves were equal to every kind of strain. Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year reconstructs for us in vivid, searing style the panic and horror. The worst of the plague was over when in September 1666 the Great Fire engulfed the tormented capital. It broke out near London Bridge, in a narrow street of wooden houses, and, driven by a strong east wind, the flames spread with resistless fury for four whole days. Wild suspicions that the fire was the work of Anabaptists, Catholics, or foreigners maddened the mob. The King, who had returned to London, acquitted himself with courage and humanity. When the fire was at length stopped outside the City walls by blowing up whole streets more than thirteen thousand dwelling-houses, eighty-nine churches, and St Paul's Cathedral had been devoured. The warehouses containing the merchandise for months of trade and many warlike stores were destroyed. The yield of the chimney tax, then so important to the revenue, was ruined. Yet the fee extinguished the plague, and to later times it seems that the real calamity was not so much the destruction of the insanitary medieval city as the failure to carry through Wren's plan for rebuilding it as a unity of quays and avenues centred on St Paul's and the Royal Exchange. The task of reconstruction was none the less faced with courage, and from the ashes of the old cathedral rose the splendid dome of St Paul's as it stands to-day.

Although the war dragged on till 1667 Charles now sought peace both with France and Holland. Want of money prevented the English battle fleet from keeping the sea, and while the negotiations lingered the Dutch, to spur them, sailed up the Medway under Admiral De Witt, brother of the famous John, Grand Pensionary of Holland, broke the boom which guarded Chatham harbour, burnt four ships of the line, and towed away the battleship Royal Charles, which had destroyed Admiral Opdam in the Battle of Lowestoft. The sound of enemy cannon, this time loud and near, rolled up the Thames. In the general indignation and alarm even Cavaliers remarked that nothing like this had happened under Cromwell. Among the Puritans the plague, the fire, and the disaster at sea were regarded as direct visitations by which the Almighty chastised the immorality of the age, and specially of the Court.

Peace, of which both sides had equal need, was made on indifferent terms. England's chief gain in the war was New Amsterdam, now renamed New York. But recriminations began. The Court asked how the country could be defended when Parliament kept the King so short of money. Parliament retorted that he had spent too much on his mistresses and luxuries. Clarendon, expostulating with all sides, was assailed by all. He had fallen out with Parliament, rebuked the mistresses, and, worst of all, bored the King. An impeachment was launched against him, and he went into exile, there to complete his noble History of the Rebellion, which casts its broad and lasting illumination on the times through which he lived. After Clarendon's fall the King was for a while guided chiefly by Arlington, and in his lighter moods by his boon companion Buckingham, son of James I's murdered favourite, a gay, witty, dissolute nobleman, whose sword was stained with the blood of an injured husband whom he had slain in a duel. The growing discontents of the Cavalier Parliament at the morals and expense of the Court made it necessary to broaden the basis of the Government, and from 1668 five principal personages began to be recognised as the responsible Ministers. There had been much talk of Cabinets and Cabals; and now, by chance, the initials of these five men, Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale, actually spelt the word "Cabal."

The dominant fact on the continent of Europe, never realised by Cromwell, was the rise of France at the expense of Spain and Austria. Among men born to a throne few have outshone Louis XIV in natural capacity. He was now in his youthful prime. The French people, consolidated under the sagacious government of Cardinal Mazarin, were by far the strongest nation in Europe. They numbered twenty millions, four times as many as the population of England. In possession of the finest and fairest regions of the globe, at the head of European culture in art and learning, and with a magnificent army and centralised executive, France towered above her neighbours, and offered herself willingly to the leadership of her ambitious, masterful King. The Thirty Years War, which had ended only in 1648, had broken the Imperial power in Germany. The house of Habsburg presided in a spiritual and historical sense over a loose association of divided Germanic principalities, without exerting authority or receiving more than ceremonial allegiancf,,; Even in his own hereditary Austrian lands the Holy Romanr Emperor was distracted by the hostility of the Magyars of Hungary and the unceasing threat of Turkish invasion. Thus along the French frontiers stood no strong state nor solidly joined confederation. Flanders, Brabant, Liege, Luxembourg, Lorraine, Alsace, Franche-Comte, and Savoy, all lay open to the ambition, force, and diplomacy of France.

At the same time to the southward the evident decay of Spain and of the Spanish ruling family cast a lengthening shadow of disturbance upon the world. Mazarin had schemed to unite, if not at first the Crowns, at least the royal families of France and Spain, with all that that promised in world dominion. He had induced Louis XIV to marry the Infanta of Spain; but though as Queen of France she had had to renounce her rights in the Spanish succession the renunciation was conditional on the payment of a large sum of money included in her dowry. The Spaniards could not pay, and Louis already looked to the union of the two Crowns of France and Spain as the main goal of his life.

But King Philip of Spain married a second time, and when he died in 1665 nl left a sickly son, who as Charles n of Spain lingered for thirty-five years as a flickering obstruction to the French design. Louis, his claims postponed indefinitely, resolved to compensate himself in the Netherlands. He declared that by the ancient custom of the Duchy of Brabant children of a first marriage should suffer no loss if their father married again, and that the Queen of France accordingly had sovereignty over the Spanish Netherlands, of which Brabant formed a large part. These pretensions were asserted in the first war into which Louis led his people. The Spanish Government did not greatly resent, and could not at all resist, the French demands upon the Belgic provinces. But if Belgium fell to France the Dutch Republic could not survive. John Be Witt, at the head of the Dutch oligarchy, had been willing to fight England at sea, but a war on land against France was beyond the strength of the Republic. Moreover, it might reinforce the Orange party, who were De Witt's rivals. Their head, Prince William, was aged seventeen and was astonishingly able. Since the days of William the Silent members of the house of Orange had held the office of Stadtholder, or Chief Magistrate, and in wartime the Captain-Generalship of the armed forces. Conflict wit|j Trance would give Prince William the opportunity to claim" the honours of his ancestors, so far denied him. De Witt tried to negotiate; he offered large concessions. But Louis XTV sent Marshal Turenne into Flanders, occupied a large part of the Spanish Netherlands, and placated the Emperor by a partition treaty which to some extent safeguarded Imperial interests. Thus harassed, De Witt made peace with England. Charles and the Cabal, aided by their envoy Sir William Temple at The Hague, concluded a triple alliance with Holland and Sweden against France. The Protestant combination was hailed with delight by the whole country. The King and Ministers found themselves for a time borne up by public favour. This, the first of the long series of coalitions against France, checked Louis XIV for a while. He was forced to make peace with Spain. By the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1668 he restored Franche-Comte to the Spanish King, but advanced his own frontiers in Flanders. This brought him, among other acquisitions, the thriving city of Lille, which he converted into the largest and strongest of French fortresses.

The success and popularity in London of the Dutch and Swedish alliance had done nothing to quell commercial friction between England and Holland. Sweden, under a boy ruler, was weak, and before long changed sides. The Triple Alliance crumbled. Louis XlV was determined to buy off one of the two maritime powers before resuming war. He addressed himself to England and in 1670 began secret negotiations with Charles II. Charles's sister Henriette, the charming "Minette," was the wife of Louis' brother, the Duke of Orleans, and provided a channel of intimate communication. Above all things Charles needed money. He pointed out to Louis that Parliament would give him ample funds to oppose France; how much would Louis pay him not to do so? If he paid enough Charles would have no need to call the dreaded Parliament together. Here was the basis of the shameful Treaty of Dover.

Besides the clauses which were eventually made public, there was a secret clause upon which Arlington and Clifford were Charles's only confidants. "The King of Great Britain, being convinced of the truth of the Catholic Faith, is determined to declare himself a Catholic ... as soon as the welfare of his realm will permit. His Most Christian Majesty promises to further this action by giving to the King of Great Britain two million livres tournois . . . and to assist His Britannic Majesty with six thousand foot-soldiers," The King was also to receive a subvention of £166,000 a year. Charles undertook to betray his country for money, some of which he devoted to his pleasures and mistresses. But it is doubtful if he ever intended to keep so unnatural a promise. At any rate he made no attempt to do so, and spent most of the cash on the Fleet.

The Treaty of Dover contemplated a third Dutch war, in which France and England would combine when Louis XIV felt the moment opportune. In March 1672 Louis claimed fulfilment of the pact. There was no lack of pretexts for quarrel between England and Holland. "Our business," wrote an English diplomatist at The Hague, "is to break with them and yet to lay the breach at their door." Contrary to established convention, the Dutch Fleet did not salute the yacht which was bringing, home Sir William Temple's wife. The Dutch were conciliatory when the English protested, and so an act of provocation was devised. The English made an unsuccessful attack on the Dutch fleet coming from Smyrna as it sailed up the Channel past Portsmouth. War began. At sea the English and French mustered ninety-eight warships to the enemy's seventy-five. They had 6,000 guns and 34,000 men against 20,000 l^utchmen with 4,50Q guns. But the genius of Admiral De Ruyter maintained the honour of the Republic. In a great battle at Sole Bay on June 7, 1672, De Ruyter surprised the English and French, who were ten ships stronger, as they lay at anchor. Grievous and cruel was the long battle. The Suffolk shores were crowded with frantic spectators, and the cannonade was heard many miles away. The French squadron put out to sea, but the wind prevented them from engaging. The Duke of York's flagship, the Prince, was beset on every side. Upon her decks stood the first company of the Guards, in which Ensign Churchill was serving. She became such a wreck that the Duke, who fought with his usual courage, was forced to shift his flag to the St Michael, and, when this ship was in turn disabled, to the London. Lord Sandwich, in the second flagship, perished when the Royal James sank, burnt almost to the water's edge. Nevertheless the Dutch drew off with very heavy losses of their own.

On land Louis struck with terrible force at the hard-pressed Republic. Suddenly, without cause or quarrel, his cavalry swam the Rhine and his armies invaded Holland. A hundred and twenty thousand French troops, armed for the first time with a bayonet which fitted around instead of blocking the muzzle of the musket, were irresistible. Eighty-three Dutch strongholds opened their gates. The Dutch people, faced with extermination, turned in their peril to William of Orange. The great-grandson of William the Silent, now Captain-General, did not fail them. He uttered the famous defiance, "We can die in the last ditch." The sluices in the dykes were opened; the bitter waters rolled in a deluge over the fertile land, and Holland was saved. At The Hague a revolution took place and William of Orange became Stadtholder. De Witt resigned. He and his brother were torn to pieces by an Orange mob in the capital.

All through 1673 De Ruyter sustained the Dutch arms at sea, and many fierce battles were fought, with varying success. In a great action off Texel on August 21 De Ruyter frustrated an Anglo-French invasion and successfully brought in the Dutch East India fleet. On land Louis XIV took the field jn person. While Conde with weak forces occupied the Dutch in the north and Turenne engaged the Emperor's forces in Alsace, the King, accompanied by the Queen and his mistress Madame de Montespan, with an enormous Court, advanced in the centre behind the magnificence of the French army. It soon appeared that Maestricht, a strong Dutch fortress garrisoned by about five thousand men, had been selected for his triumph. "Big sieges," he remarked, "please me more than the others." They certainly suited his military disposition better than battles. Maestricht surrendered after a long struggle, but the campaign was in no sense decisive.