'Holmes's Bonfire', 10 August 1666

'Holmes's Bonfire' of 10/20 August 1666 was a successful British attack on Dutch shipping that came in the aftermath of their victory in the battle of St. James's Day on 25/26 July. In the aftermath of that battle the British fleet was cruising off the Dutch coast, while Dutch shipping attempted to shelter in the shallow coastal waters. A particularly large group of ships – perhaps as many as 200 fully loaded merchant ships – took shelter between the islands of Vlieland and Ter Schelling, protected by two men-of-war.

As the British sailed north along the coast a renegade Dutch captain, Laurens Heemskerk, told the British about these ships. A council of war decided to send Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Holmes, with five fireships, and either five or nine (sources differ) smaller men-of-war and a number of ketches and smaller boats.

Holmes's squadron left the main fleet on 8 August. After making sure that the Dutch ships were indeed present he moved his fleet into Ter Schelling Road and prepared to attack.

On 10 August Holmes began by attacking the two Dutch warships. The larger was destroyed by the fireship Richard, while the second ran aground while attempting to avoid a second fireship, and was later burnt. The British then turned their attentions to the merchant ships, most of which had been abandoned by their crews. At least one hundred and forty, and perhaps as many as one hundred and seventy, Dutch merchant ships were destroyed in this attack, which for a long time was referred to as 'Sir Robert Holmes, his Bonfire'.

On the following day Holmes landed on Ter Schelling, destroyed a number of storehouses and burnt the town of West Terschelling (a move that partly inspired the Dutch raid into the Medway in the following year). He then returned to the main fleet, having inflicted a crippling blow on the Dutch merchant fleet.

This was the highpoint of British success. A lack of money meant that the fleet soon had to leave the Dutch coast. In the following month the Great Fire of London (2-5 September 1666) broke out, and Charles II's tax revenue collapsed. The British fleet was laid up in the Medway, where in the following summer the Dutch trapped it, winning a significant victory that finally convinced Charles to make peace.
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Subject Index: Anglo-Dutch Wars

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 August 2009), 'Holmes's Bonfire', 10 August 1666 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_holmess_bonfire.html

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