First battle of the Schooneveld, 28 May/ 7 June 1673

The first battle of the Schooneveld (28 May/ 7 June 1673) was the first of three battles in Dutch coastal waters during 1673 that prevented the British and French from landing an invasion army in the Netherlands (Third Anglo-Dutch War).

The British and French had hoped to carry out an amphibious invasion of the Netherlands in 1672, but the drawn battle of Solebay prevented them from carrying out that plan. The Dutch water defences then stopped the French armies invading from the Spanish Netherlands, and the French missed their chance to cross the frozen defences in the winter of 1672-73.

The Dutch, under Michiel de Ruyter, were the first to put to sea in the spring of 1673. They hoped to sink a number of block ships in the mouth of the Thames, a move that would have caused great discomfort in London, and on 2 May actually entered the estuary.

The British were caught out by this early Dutch attack. In 1672 James Duke of York had commanded the navy, but in 1673 the Test Act made it impossible for a Catholic to hold that post, and he resigned as Lord High Admiral. The post was not filled, and authority was split between Charles II and Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who was given command of the fleet. Prince Rupert found the fleet far from ready to put to sea, but news of the Dutch plans reached him in April, and he was able to get a squadron of smaller ships out to sea in time to block the Dutch move. De Ruyter then returned to his own coastal waters and prepared to fight off the planned invasion.

During May the rest of the British fleet was prepared for sea, giving Prince Rupert 54 ships of the line, 8 smaller warships (not yet known as frigates) and 24 fireships. A French contingent, under Admiral Jean, Comte d'Estrées, also arrived, bringing the Allied fleet up to 81 ships of the line, 10 'frigates' and 42 fireships.

De Ruyter had a smaller fleet – 52 ships of the line, 12 'frigates' and 25 fireships as well as a large number of smaller craft. His plan was to use the shallow water along the coast to break up the Anglo-French line of battle, preventing them from taking advantage of their superior numbers.

The Allies sailed on 20 May and found the Dutch in their anchorage of the Schooneveld on 25 May. The weather prevented any action for the next two days, but improved on 28 May and both sided prepared for action.

Prince Rupert wasn't expecting de Ruyter to put to sea, and so he sent a squadron of 35 smaller ships into the anchorage in an attempt to tempt the Dutch out. Much to his surprise de Ruyter was already preparing to come to sea, and the Allied advance guard was forced back towards the main fleet in some disorder. The battle thus began before the Allies were able to form up into a strong line-of-battle, and rather sooner than Prince Rupert was expecting.

The fighting began at around noon, and lasted until ten in the evening. The shallow water caused the Allies more problems than the Dutch, and the battle ended as a draw that somewhat favoured the Dutch. There would appear to have been little clear structure to the battle, which was generally fought at longer ranges than was normal. The French may have lost two ships, the British and Dutch lost none during the battle, although one badly damaged Dutch ship sank at anchor on the day after the battle.

At the end of the day de Ruyter retired back into the Schooneveld, while the Allied anchored two miles to the north-west. Both sides spent the next week repairing their damaged ships, an easier task for the Dutch than for the Allies, before on 4/14 June de Ruyter attacked again. This second battle of Schooneveld also ended indecisively, but the damage to the Allied fleet was severe enough to force them back to port for repairs, delaying the planned invasion.

Subject Index: Anglo-Dutch Wars

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]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 August 2009), First battle of the Schooneveld, 28 May/ 7 June 1673 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_schooneveld_1st.html

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