The Battle of the Medway & Dutch courage

Chatham - The Battle of Medway
Map: Ordnance Survey Old Series – 1805

Battle of the Medway

Contrary to popular belief British shores have been invaded may times. The most damaging to our prestige and morale, since the Battle of Hastings, was a Dutch attack on The Medway in 1667, during the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

Charles II’s Navy was in a reduced state due to recent expenditure restrictions. With London largely destroyed by fire the previous year (having already been ravaged by plague), Charles had his fleet laid up in Chatham. The Dutch decided this was the moment to attack, and it proved one of the boldest naval raids in history.

The Battle of the Medway, as it was to become known, began on June 10, as the Dutch, with a fleet of about thirty ships, attacked the Island of Sheppey. Under the command of Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter the Dutch bombarded and then captured the town of Sheerness.

By the 12th June 1667 they had sailed up the River Medway towards Chatham. The Dutch fired upon the few poorly-armed and poorly-manned ships they encountered, broke through the six-inch thick iron chain stretched across the Medway to the East of Gillingham Fort (the English fleets the primary defence against invaders) and upon reaching Chatham the dockyard was set ablaze and Upnor Castle bombarded. Fireships caused havoc with the moored English warships, burning three of the four largest “big ships” of the navy and ten lesser naval vessels, as well as capturing HMS Unity and HMS Royal Charles, flagship of the English fleet, which they towed away as war trophies.

On the 14th June, fearing a growing English resistance, the Dutch decided to forego a further penetration and withdraw. After attacking several other ports on the English east coast, a failed attempt to enter the Thames beyond Gravesend and a Dutch marine force landed near Woodbridge north of Harwich, which was repelled, the Dutch fleet withdrew.

The raid led to a quick end to the war and a favourable peace for the Dutch was signed on 21 July 1667.

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