Battle of Lowestoft
The naval Battle of Lowestoft took place on 13 June (New Style) 1665 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War
Second Anglo-Dutch War
The Second Anglo–Dutch War was part of a series of four Anglo–Dutch Wars fought between the English and the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries for control over the seas and trade routes....


A fleet of more than a hundred ships of the United Provinces
Dutch Republic
The Dutch Republic — officially known as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands , the Republic of the United Netherlands, or the Republic of the Seven United Provinces — was a republic in Europe existing from 1581 to 1795, preceding the Batavian Republic and ultimately...

 commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam
Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam
Jacob, Banner Lord of Wassenaer, Lord Obdam, Hensbroek, Spanbroek, Opmeer, Zuidwijk and Kernhem was a Dutch Lieutenant-Admiral, and supreme commander of the confederate Dutch navy. The name Obdam was then also spelled as Opdam...

 attacked an English
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

 fleet of equal size commanded by James Stuart, Duke of York
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

 forty miles east of the port of Lowestoft
Lowestoft is a town in the English county of Suffolk. The town is on the North Sea coast and is the most easterly point of the United Kingdom. It is north-east of London, north-east of Ipswich and south-east of Norwich...

 in Suffolk
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...


The Dutch were desperate to prevent a second English blockade of their ports after the first was broken off by the English only for lack of supplies. The leading Dutch politician, Johan de Witt
Johan de Witt
Johan de Witt, heer van Zuid- en Noord-Linschoten, Snelrewaard, Hekendorp and IJsselveere was a key figure in Dutch politics in the mid 17th century, when its flourishing sea trade in a period of globalization made the United Provinces a leading European power during the Dutch Golden Age...

, ordered Van Wassenaer to attack the English aggressively during a period of stable eastern winds which would have given the Dutch the weather gage
Weather gage
The weather gage is a nautical term used to describe the advantageous position of a fighting sailing vessel, relative to another. The term is from the Age of Sail, and is now antiquated. A ship is said to possess the weather gage if it is in any position, at sea, upwind of the other vessel...

. Van Wassenaer however, perhaps feeling that his fleet was still too inferior in training and fire power to really challenge the English in full battle, postponed the fight till the wind turned in order to seek a minor confrontation in a defensive leeward position from which he could disengage quickly and return without openly disobeying orders. His attitude would cost him a sixth of his fleet and his life.

On 11 June Van Wassenaer sighted the English fleet of 109 ships carrying 4,542 guns and 22,055 men; it consisted of three squadrons.
  • James himself commanded the van, the squadron of the red flag;
  • Prince Rupert of the Rhine
    Prince Rupert of the Rhine
    Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, 1st Duke of Cumberland, 1st Earl of Holderness , commonly called Prince Rupert of the Rhine, KG, FRS was a noted soldier, admiral, scientist, sportsman, colonial governor and amateur artist during the 17th century...

     commanded the centre, the squadron of the white flag and
  • Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich
    Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich
    Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, KG was an English Infantry officer who later became a naval officer. He was the only surviving son of Sir Sidney Montagu, and was brought up at Hinchingbrooke House....

     commanded the rearguard, the squadron of the blue flag.

The Dutch fleet of 103 ships carrying 4,869 guns and 21,613 men had no less than seven squadrons:
  • the first (from the Admiralty of Amsterdam) commanded by Van Wassenaer himself in Eendracht;
  • the second commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Johan Evertsen
    Johan Evertsen
    Johan Evertsen was a Dutch admiral from the 17th century.- Biography :Johan was the eldest surviving son of Johan Evertsen, known as Captain Jan, who died in 1617 fighting near La Rochelle against a French corsair...

     on Hof van Zeeland;
  • the third (from the Admiralty of de Maze
    Admiralty of Rotterdam
    The Admiralty of Rotterdam, also called the Admiralty of de Maze, was one of the five Admiralties in the Dutch Republic.-History:It was set up in 1574 during the Dutch Revolt, when William I of Orange's supporters decided to pool their naval resources at Rotterdam...

    ) commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Egbert Bartholomeusz Kortenaer
    Egbert Bartholomeusz Kortenaer
    Egbert Bartholomeuszoon Kortenaer or Egbert Meussen Cortenaer was an admiral of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. His second name is also given as Bartolomeuszoon or Meeuwiszoon. All of these are variations on the patronym "Son of Bartholomew".Kortenaer was born in 1604 in Groningen of...

     on Groot Hollandia;
  • the fourth (the Frisian fleet) commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Auke Stellingwerf
    Auke Stellingwerf
    Auke Andriesz Stellingwerf was a Dutch admiral who served the Frisian admiralty and died while commanding a squadron in the battle of Lowestoft....

     on Sevenwolden;
  • the fifth (from the Admiralty of the Northern Quarter) commanded by Vice-Admiral Cornelis Tromp
    Cornelis Tromp
    Sir Cornelis Maartenszoon Tromp, 1st Baronet was a Dutch naval officer. He was the son of Lieutenant Admiral Maarten Tromp. He became Lieutenant Admiral General in the Dutch Navy and briefly Admiral General in the Danish Navy...

     on Liefde;
  • the sixth (the Zealandic fleet) commanded by Vice-Admiral Cornelis Evertsen the Elder
    Cornelis Evertsen the Elder
    Cornelis Evertsen the Elder was a Dutch admiral.Cornelis Evertsen the Elder was the son of Johan Evertsen and Maayken Jans; grandson of Evert Heindricxsen, a Watergeus, both commanders of men-of-war of the navy of Zealand....

     on Vlissingen and
  • the seventh commanded by Vice-Admiral Volckert Schram
    Volckert Schram
    Volckert Adriaanszoon Schram was a 17th century Dutch admiral. His surname was also spelled Volkert or Volkhard....

     on Wapen van Nassau.

The reason for the large number of squadrons was that the smaller Dutch admiralties — and the many new flag officers recently appointed by them — insisted on having their own squadron; the Admiralties of Amsterdam and the Maas (i.e. Rotterdam
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. Starting as a dam on the Rotte river, Rotterdam has grown into a major international commercial centre...

) then split their fleets to make squadrons of equal size to those of the smaller fleets.

Both national fleets could only be so large by employing armed merchants: the English used 24 of these; the Dutch twelve, some of them enormous Dutch East India Company
Dutch East India Company
The Dutch East India Company was a chartered company established in 1602, when the States-General of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia...

 warships, specially brought over from the Indies. The Dutch also had activated eighteen laid up warships from the previous war.

On 11 June there was a calm and no battle could take place. On 12 June the wind again started to blow - and from the east, giving Van Wassenaer the weather gage
Weather gage
The weather gage is a nautical term used to describe the advantageous position of a fighting sailing vessel, relative to another. The term is from the Age of Sail, and is now antiquated. A ship is said to possess the weather gage if it is in any position, at sea, upwind of the other vessel...

. However, he simply didn't attack, despite clear orders to do so under these conditions. Next morning the wind had turned to the west and now he approached the enemy fleet.

The battle

See Battle of Lowestoft ship list
Battle of Lowestoft ship list
The ships that participated in the Battle of Lowestoft, a naval engagement between the English and Dutch off the English port of Lowestoft on 13 June 1665 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. 109 English ships, commanded by James Stuart, Duke of York, faced 103 Dutch ships led by Jacob van Wassenaer...

 for all the Dutch and English ships involved in the battle.

It is difficult to give a strictly coherent account of the battle. Whilst there is a wealth of historical sources, these have never been properly studied. The English found the behavior of 'foggy Opdam' (as they would sometimes call him) puzzling and ascribed all kinds of intentions to him that, in reality, he never had. After the defeat the surviving Dutch flag officers, in order to exonerate themselves, pretended their fleet had followed the original written orders, blaming misfortune and cowardice among the merchant captains for the disaster.

In the early morning of the 13th the Dutch fleet was positioned to the southeast of the English fleet. Most English historians have assumed Van Wassenaer (who on the 12 June had sent all of his silverware and other valuables home as to show how much confidence he had in himself) made a sudden dash to the west, trying to regain the weather gage, and the English beat him to it. If so, the wind must have been blowing from the southwest — otherwise there was no gain in this manoeuvre — but this makes it difficult to explain how the English fleet, sailing to the south, could be swifter than the Dutch. An alternative interpretation, more in accordance with the Dutch sources, would be that the wind was blowing from the northwest and Van Wassenaer tried to engage the English from a defensive leeward position, his favorite tactic. Indeed both fleets passed in opposite tack and then turned. During the turn HMS Great Charity (originally an Amsterdam Directors' ship the "Groote Liefde", captured during the Battle of Portland
Battle of Portland
The naval Battle of Portland, or Three Days' Battle took place during 28 February-2 March 1653 , during the First Anglo-Dutch War, when the fleet of the Commonwealth of England under General at Sea Robert Blake was attacked by a fleet of the Dutch Republic under Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp...

 in 1653) became isolated and was boarded and captured by captain Jan de Haen, the later admiral, who immediately returned with his prize to the Netherlands, an obviously unsound practice that would be forbidden after this battle.

Later an English victory tune "The Dutch Armado A Meer Bravado" declared: "Fortune was pleasant when she lent the Dutch our 'Charity' a thing they wanted much".

After this there was a second pass. Though the English had some trouble controlling these manoeuvres, the Dutch now completely failed to maintain a line of battle. In theory their being in a leeward position would have given their guns a superior range, allowing them to destroy from a safe distance the rigging of the English ships with chain-shot
In artillery, a chain-shot is an obsolete type of naval ammunition formed of two sub-calibre balls, or half-balls, chained together. Bar shot is similar, but joined by a solid bar...

. In reality the several squadrons began to block each other's line of sight, those flagofficers and captains most hungry for battle left the less enthusiastic and older ships quickly behind, while company ships — never trained in these tactics — behaved as if no other vessels were present and this disorder caused a part of the English line to shift over some heavier Dutch ships who only just managed to escape to their main force. Later they would claim they had intentionally tried to directly attack the enemy in accordace with general orders. Some other ships happened to be in an optimal range for the English to concentrate their fire and took heavy damage. The young life of the commander of the Frisian fleet, Lieutenant-Admiral Auke Stellingwerf, was ended when he was shot in two. Veteran Lieutenant-Admiral Kortenaer, probably the most competent Dutch commander present, was fatally wounded in the hip by a cannonball. Quartermaster
Quartermaster refers to two different military occupations depending on if the assigned unit is land based or naval.In land armies, especially US units, it is a term referring to either an individual soldier or a unit who specializes in distributing supplies and provisions to troops. The senior...

 Ate Stinstra took command of Kortenaer's ship. Van Wassenaer now suspended the squadron command structure, hoping by placing all ships directly under his own guidance to bring some coherence to the Dutch force. This only added to the confusion however.

Again both fleets turned. And now something strange happened that has proven very difficult to explain. After the manoeuvre the English rear should obviously have been to the north of the centre. All sources agree however that it resulted in a reversed order of the English fleet in that the rearguard was now to the south of the centre. The traditional English solution to this riddle has been that their fleet tacked synchronously, i.e. each individual ship turned simultaneously to reverse fleet order, instead of turning one behind the other. If true that would have been a truly unique accomplishment for that age. Dutch sources suggest a different explanation: while executing the third turn the Dutch fleet lost all coherence because the wind suddenly turned to the southwest. It then slammed into the English van and centre. The English rear, avoiding the mass of confused ships, sailed behind the Dutch fleet to the south. A flotilla from the van then closed the trap completely, blocking the intended return to the Dutch coast. This scenario explains why all manoeuvring stopped and why some English flotillas clearly report trying to sail to the west, which would be inexplicable if they hadn't been to the east of the Dutch fleet.

If indeed surrounded the Dutch would have been in a hopeless position. The English main force to the west of them would have had the weather gage precluding boarding as a viable tactic. The English rear, firing from a leeward position, could have damaged the Dutch with impunity. As the Dutch had again the weather gauge in relation to the English rear, some of their ships wore to the east to attack it. Through such an action Montague's flagship was boarded and temporarily taken over by the crew of Oranje, commanded by captain Bastian Senten, who even raised the Dutch flag on the Prince Royal until Rupert himself on Royal James
HMS Royal James
Several ships of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS Royal James:, a 70-gun second-rate ship of the line launched in 1658 as the Richard, renamed in 1660 when she was reclassed as a first rate, and burnt by the Dutch in 1667., a 100-gun first-rate ship of the line launched in 1671, and burnt in...

came to the rescue retaking the ship. At that point, the entire battle seems to have degenerated into a gigantic shapeless melee. During these fights the Earl of Marlborough
James Ley, 3rd Earl of Marlborough
James Ley, 3rd Earl of Marlborough was a British peer and Member of Parliament, styled Lord Ley from 1629 to 1638.He was the only son of Henry Ley, 2nd Earl of Marlborough, whom he succeeded in 1638...

 and the Earl of Portland
Charles Weston, 3rd Earl of Portland
Charles Weston, 3rd Earl of Portland was the only son and heir of the 2nd Earl of Portland and Lady Frances Stuart.He succeeded his father as Earl of Portland in 1663.He was killed in the Battle of Lowestoft...

 perished. A few hours later around noon Montague raised the blue squadron flag on his mizen topmast - "A sign for my squadron to follow" - and indeed most captains of the English rear followed their leader when he went straight for the Dutch 'line' and broke through it (most likely he sailed through a gap) effectively dividing the Dutch fleet and surrounding part of it (if the traditional English scenario is true now for the first time a part only of the Dutch fleet was surrounded).

Apart from these positional problems the Dutch had a structural disadvantage: on average their guns were much lighter. Especially the eight largest English vessels were almost unsinkable themselves but could wreck the smallest Dutch ships with a single broadside. The larger Dutch vessels therefore tried to protect the little ones. The Dutch flagship Eendracht duelled Royal Charles
HMS Royal Charles (1655)
Royal Charles was an 80-gun first-rate three-decker ship of the line of the English Navy. She was originally called the Naseby, built by Peter Pett, and launched at Woolwich dockyard in 1655, for the navy of the Commonwealth of England, and named in honour of Oliver Cromwell's decisive 1645...

. James was nearly killed by a Dutch chain-shot decapitating several of his courtiers, The Hon. Rchard Boyle (Son of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington
Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington
Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington, 2nd Earl of Cork was Lord High Treasurer of Ireland and a cavalier.-Early years:...

), The Viscount Muskerry and The Earl of Falmouth
Charles Berkeley, 1st Earl of Falmouth
Charles Berkeley 1st Earl of Falmouth was the son of Charles Berkeley, 2nd Viscount Fitzhardinge and his wife Penelope née Godolphin ....

 who was not very high thought of, prompting the "poet of state affairs" (probably Andrew Marvell
Andrew Marvell
Andrew Marvell was an English metaphysical poet, Parliamentarian, and the son of a Church of England clergyman . As a metaphysical poet, he is associated with John Donne and George Herbert...

 using the name of John Denham
John Denham (poet)
Sir John Denham was an English poet and courtier. He served as Surveyor of the King's Works and is buried in Westminster Abbey....

) to later declare: "His shatterd' head the fearless duke disdains, and gave the last first proof that he had brains". Around three in the afternoon the duel between Royal Charles and Eendracht ended abruptly when Eendracht exploded, killing Van Obdam and all but five of the crew. Kortenaer was second in command; though fatally wounded he hadn't died yet and the other Admirals were unaware of his condition. For hours the Dutch fleet was therefore without effective command. After Eendracht had exploded, the English immediately became more aggressive, while many Dutch captains faltered: some Dutch ships already fled a little later, followed by Kortenaer's ship Groot Hollandia now commanded by Stinstra. Needless too say all of this had a rather negative effect on Dutch morale. By evening most of the Dutch fleet was in full flight, save for 40 ships or so under Vice-Admiral Cornelis Tromp and Lieutenant-Admiral Johan Evertsen, both having assumed command (showing the utter confusion on the Dutch side), who made possible an escape and covered the flight, thus preventing complete catastrophe, though 16 more ships were lost. The English lost only one ship, the captured Great Charity mentioned above. Eight Dutch ships were sunk by the English; six of these were burnt in two separate incidents when they got entangled while fleeing and set ablaze by a fire ship
Fire ship
A fire ship, used in the days of wooden rowed or sailing ships, was a ship filled with combustibles, deliberately set on fire and steered into an enemy fleet, in order to destroy ships, or to create panic and make the enemy break formation. Ships used as fire ships were usually old and worn out or...

: this happened to Tergoes entangling with the company ship Maarseveen and the merchantman Swanenburg; and also to the Koevorden, Stad Utrecht and Prinse Maurits. The earlier mentioned company ship Oranje exploded after being set on fire by another fire ship following many an attempt to block, board and enter the HMS Charles; in which she was prevented first by the Mary under captain Jeremy Smith (Mary would lose 99 men of its crew), one of York's seconds, and later by HMS Royal Oak
HMS Royal Oak (1674)
HMS Royal Oak was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built by Jonas Shish at Deptford and launched in 1674. She was one of only three Royal Navy ships to be equipped with the Rupertinoe naval gun...

, Essex
HMS Essex
HMS Essex may refer to one of these ships of the British Royal Navy named after the county of Essex:, a 60-gun ship launched in 1653 and captured in the Four Days' Battle of 1666, a 70-gun third-rate launched in 1679, rebuilt 1700 and 1740, and wrecked at the battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759, an...

 and Royal Katherine. According to some Oranje lost half of its crew of 400 before succumbing, a severely wounded Senten (rumoured to be an expatriat Scotsman) was picked up by an English vessel and shortly after succumbed himself. During the Dutch flight the English captured nine more ships: Hilversum, Delft, Zeelandia, Wapen van Edam and Jonge Prins; the VOC-ship Nagelboom and the merchants Carolus Quintus, Mars and Geldersche Ruyter. Tromp was captured but escaped. Eight older ships had to be written off later, as the costs of repair would have exceeded their value.

The English had lost one flag officer: Rear-Admiral Robert Samsun, while Vice Admiral Lawson
John Lawson (Naval officer)
Sir John Lawson was an English Naval Officer and Republican.Lawson was in command of ships in the parliament's service during and after the English Civil War, 1642-6, 1651-3, 1654-6. He was dismissed from the public service, apparently on political grounds in 1656...

 was mortally wounded. Notable English captains present at the battle included Captain of the Fleet
Captain of the fleet
In the Royal Navy of the 18th and 19th centuries a Captain of the Fleet could be appointed to assist an admiral when the admiral had ten or more ships to command....

 William Penn in HMS Royal Charles
HMS Royal Charles
Two ships of the British Royal Navy have been named HMS Royal Charles, both after King Charles II.* The first Royal Charles was an 80-gun ship of the line, launched as Naseby for the Commonmwealth Navy in 1655, renamed in 1660, and captured by the Dutch in the Raid on the Medway in 1667.* The...

, ex-buccaneer
The buccaneers were privateers who attacked Spanish shipping in the Caribbean Sea during the late 17th century.The term buccaneer is now used generally as a synonym for pirate...

 Christopher Myngs
Christopher Myngs
Sir Christopher Myngs , English admiral and pirate, came of a Norfolk family and was a relative of another admiral, Sir Cloudesley Shovell. Pepys' story of his humble birth, in explanation of his popularity, is said to be erroneous. His name is often given as Mings.The date of Myngs's birth is...

 and George Ayscue
George Ayscue
Admiral Sir George Ayscue was an English naval officer who served in the Civil War and the Anglo-Dutch Wars.In 1648, during the Civil War, while serving as a captain in the navy of the English Parliament, he prevented the fleet from defecting to the Royalists, and was promoted to General at Sea...

. It has always been a mystery why the English fleet didn't at least try to pursue the Dutch. Several anecdotes are told to explain this. According to one Penn remarked to James that he was looking forward to the heavy fighting the next day — since he believed the Dutch were at their best when cornered. James, having narrowly escaped death already, then would have lost his nerve completely. Another legend has it that James' wife ordered Lord Henry Brouncker
Henry Brouncker
-External links:...

 to keep her husband safe; he obeyed by giving flagcaptain John Harman the false order to stop Charles in the night. In any case the Royal Charles reduced sail in the course of the evening and the rest of the English fleet followed suit.

The outcome of the battle was partially caused by an inequality in fire-power, but the Dutch had already embarked on an ambitious expansion programme, building many heavier ships. The English failed to take advantage of their victory. They never managed an effective blockade of the Dutch coast and couldn't prevent the VOC-fleet from returning from the Indies (Battle of Vågen
Battle of Vågen
The Battle of Vågen was a naval battle between a Dutch merchant and treasure fleet and an English flotilla of warships in August 1665 as part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. The battle took place in Vågen , the main port area of neutral Bergen, Norway...

). The fleets, now much more equal in quality, met again at the Four Days Battle
Four Days Battle
The Four Days Battle was a naval battle of the Second Anglo–Dutch War. Fought from 1 June to 4 June 1666 in the Julian or Old Style calendar then used in England off the Flemish and English coast, it remains one of the longest naval engagements in history.In June 1665 the English had soundly...

in June 1666.
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