Early in June 1666 the English and Dutch navies took part in the longest major battle of the age of sail, the Four Days Battle of 1666. Unlike many of the two or three day long battles of this period the result was in doubt until the last day, and both sides fought with skill and determination to produce a battle widely accepted to have been 'the Greatest Sea Fight of the Age of Sail'.
Despite its size the Four Days Battle has not been well served by English language accounts, partly because of its size and complexity, and partly because it was a clear English defeat. Fox addressed that problem with the first edition of this book, published in small numbers in 1996 as 'A Distant Storm'. This new revised edition is aimed at a more general reader (i.e. is much cheaper - half the price on Amazon.co.uk), but still includes all of the original text (with corrections), the valuable appendices and a good (if somewhat reduced) selection of pictures.
The generous size of the book is of great benefit. It allows Fox to analyse the reason for the splitting of the English fleet, which saw Prince Rupert sent west to find a French fleet that it was believed might be about to invade Ireland. It also means there is enough space to include a good account of the entire Second Anglo-Dutch as well as the detailed analysis of the campaign that led to the Four Days Battle and the four days themselves. The detailed account begins with the build-up to war in 1664, although the biographies go back further. Fox then includes sections on the battle of Lowestoft of 3 June 1665 and the failed raid of Bergen of the same year, as well as the key events after the Four Days Battle - the St. James Day Battle, Holme's Bonfire and the Dutch raid into to Medway.
Fox has a good feel for the prickly, status obsessed world of the Restoration navy, a world very different from that of the more familiar Napoleonic period. Here the rules of seniority that gave the later Royal Navy a clear framework have not yet evolved. Senior appointments were still entirely in the hands of the King, and changed far more often than in later periods.
The key to the success of this book are the four chapters examining the Four Days themselves. Fox has produced a detailed but clear account of the battle, switching neatly between the English and Dutch points of view, and between the events themselves and the behaviour of the commanders, captains and men. One surprising feature of the battle that emerges very clearly from Fox's text is that it was a rare example of a major naval battle fought between two commanders of the highest ability - George Monck, Duke of Albemarle for the English and Michiel Adriaansz de Ruyter for the Dutch, and as a result saw a number of impressive manoeuvres on both sides.
The text is supported by some useful maps showing the movements of the two fleets or relevant squadrons, and by a good selection of plates, many shows extracts from Willem Van de Velde the Elder's contemporary sketches of the battle and of the ships involved.
This is an excellent piece of work, not just as an account of the Four Days Battle itself but also for its account of the entire Second Anglo-Dutch War and for the light it casts on a crucial period in naval history, when the melee that had dominated for so long was replaced by the line of battle.
I: The Generals
II: The Royal Navy
III: The Ships
IV: Guns, Flags and the River Thames
VII: The Indian Prize
VIII: The Other Side of the Hill
IX: The Division of the Fleet
X: Rupert's Expedition
XI: The French
XII: The Morning of the First of June
XIII: The First Day
XIV: The Second Day
XV: The Third Day
XVI: The Fourth Day
A: Instructions for the Division of the Fleet
B: The English Fleet at Lowestoft
C: The Dutch Fleet at Lowestoft
D: The English Fleet at Bergen
E: Smith at Tangier, December 1665-March 1666
F: The English Fleet in the Four Day's Battle
G: The Dutch Fleet in the Four Day's Battle
H: The English Fleet in the St. James's Day Fight
I: The Dutch Fleet in the St. James's Day Fight
J: Holmes in the Vlie
K: The French Fleet, 1666
L: Ordnance and Manning - English
M: Ordnance and Manning - Dutch
Author: Frank L Fox