Dutch raid on the Medway, 19-24 June 1667

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The Medway raid of 9-14/19-24 June 1667 saw a Dutch fleet sail into the Thames and attack the British fleet in its anchorage in the Medway, causing a panic in London and winning a victory that helped bring the Second Anglo-Dutch War to an end.

At the end of the summer of 1666 the British controlled the Channel, after the victory on St James's Day and the devastating raid on Dutch shipping on 10 August ('Holmes's Bonfire'), but this was a short-lived success. The Great Plague of 1665 had already lowered Charles II's income, and this was followed by the Great Fire of London (2-5 September 1666). Over the winter of 1666-67 the British fleet was laid up in the Medway, and at the start of the campaigning season of 1667 only two small squadrons put out to sea. Peace negotiations had already begun, and to a certain extend Charles's decision was linked to this, while many in Britain believed that the Dutch would be unable to fund a powerful fleet of their own.

This was not the case. The Grand Pensionary, Johan de Witt, was opposed to peace on the terms then available, and decided to launch a daring raid into the Thames to attack the British at anchor. The Dutch slowly built up the strength of their fleet at sea. A relatively small fleet sailed north to raid Scotland before returning south, and by 4 June a fleet of 54 ships of the line was off the Thames. This increased to sixty four on 6 June, and finally, on 7 June, Michiel de Ruyter arrived with the rest of the fleet.

The Medway was very poorly defended in the summer of 1667. A strong iron chain supported by pontoons had been stretched across the river at Gillingham, and thirty pinnaces were available to fend off fireships. Only on 12 June, by which time the Dutch were already in the Medway, was George Monck ordered to build a gun battery at Gillingham.

De Ruyter decided to send a small squadron up the Thames as far as Northfleet Hope, at Tilbury. This squadron would then turn back and sail into the Medway, where it would attack British shipping and if possible seize the defences of Sheerness. Lieutenant-Admiral Van Ghent was given command of the squadron, which contained seventeen men-of-war of between 60 and 36 guns, most of the ten fireships in the fleet and all of the smaller galliots.

The Dutch attack began in 9 June, when Van Ghent made slow progress up the Thames against a south-westerly wind. The wind prevented the Dutch from attacking some British ships in the Hope and at Gravesend, and on the night of 9-10 June Van Ghent moored just below Gravesend.

On 10 June the Dutch entered the Medway and captured the fort at Sheerness. Charles II responded by sending George Monck, duke of Albemarle, to Kent to organise a defence. Only now was the iron chain put in place at Gillingham, and a small gun battery built at each end while the Unity was posted just below the chain.

The crucial moment of the raid came on 12 June when the Dutch reached the chain. The Vrede, under Captain Jan van Brakel, and with two fireships in support, led the attack. While the Vrede attacked and captured the Unity, the fireships attacked and broke the chain. One then destroyed the British guardship Matthias. Van Brakel then went on to capture the Charles V, and used her guns against the British coastal batteries.

The rest of the British fleet in the Medway was now virtually defenceless. The Royal Charles was quickly captured, and began Van Ghent's flagship for the day, before being towed across the Channel (as was the Unity). The Monmouth was also burnt during the day.

On 13 June the Dutch pushed further up the Medway. Although Upnor Castle and a battery on the opposite bank offered more resistance, the Dutch were still able to burn the Royal Oak, the  Loyal London and the Old James, while a larger number of ships were forced to run aground to save themselves.

On 14 June, with most of his fireships gone, De Ruyter withdrew from the Medway and moored close to Queenborough, before moved into the mouth of the Thames. For a short period London was blockaded, and everything that normally arrived by sea was quickly in short supply (the price of coal rose from 15s to 140s per ton). De Ruyter considered mounting an attack up the Thames towards London, but a combination of improving British defences and the non-appearance of a French fleet forced him to abandon that plan. Finally, at the start of July, de Ruyter left the Thames and entered the Channel. An attack on Landguard Fort (2 July 1667) failed, ending a plan to attack Harwich.

The Dutch victory in the Medway forced Charles II to take the peace negotiations more seriously, and within a few weeks the war came to an end (Treaty of Breda, 31 July 1667). The Navigation Acts were modified to allow Dutch and German goods to enter Britain in Dutch ships, and most colonies taken during the war were returned, although the Dutch kept Surinam and Britain kept New York and New Jersey.

The peace was short-lived. After a brief period in which Holland, Britain and Sweden allied together to oppose Louis XIV, the French king managed to bribe Charles II to change sides, only five years after the Peace of Breda, in 1672, the Third Anglo-Dutch War broke out.
De Ruyter, Dutch Admiral, ed Jaap R. Bruijn, Ronald Prud'homme van Reine and Rolof van Hövell tot Westerflier. A collection of interesting essays written by Dutch historians and that examines different aspects of de Ruyter’s life and the wider world of the Dutch Republic. This is a valuable piece of work that helps explain the important of de Ruyter as a European figure (not just as a commander during the Anglo-Dutch Wars). [read full review]
Fireship: The Terror Weapon of the Age of Sail, Peter Kirsch. A lavishly illustrated look at one of the most feared weapons of the age of sail. This is a very impressive piece of work – well written and researched, wide ranging in scope and with detailed accounts of most of the key fireship attacks from the sixteenth century wars against Spain to the Greek War of Independence. An essential read for anyone interested in naval warfare in the age of sail. [see more] cover cover cover

Subject Index: Anglo-Dutch Wars

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 August 2009), Dutch raid on the Medway, 19-24 June 1667 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_medway_1667.html

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