Dutch Medway Raid Begins
The ‘1066 and All That’ view of history has it that the arrival of the Normans was the last invasion of Britain, which if we define invasion as conquest it was (probably – the Jacobites would have seen things differently). If by contrast we consider the landing on and holding of our territory by enemy forces as an invasion then there have been many more such events since William I : the French raid on Sussex in 1360 , one of many similar at that time; John-Paul Jones’s attack on Whitehaven in 1778 ; and another French landing, at Fishguard in 1797 , and William of Orange’s arrival - albeit on the invitation of some key figures - with his Dutch forces in 1688 . The most damaging to our prestige and morale, at least since the Battle of Hastings , was however another Dutch foray, their attack on The Medway in 1667.
We were at war with the Dutch off-and-on for much of the 17th and 18th centuries, conflicts rooted in the practical if inglorious competition for control of worldwide trade and trade routes between the two nations. Charles II in 1667 was playing a dangerous game with a weakened hand, his capital largely destroyed by fire the previous year (having already been ravaged by plague), his fleet laid up as he cut defence spending, and peace talks dragged out while he secretly sought French help.
The Dutch decided this was the moment to attack, and it proved one of the boldest naval raids in history, though many of the Dutch officers thought the plans were madness.
The raid proper began on June 10, but before that small landing parties plundered (against orders) properties around Canvey Island and Sheerness , English defences remaining ill-prepared though the fleet had been spotted days previously.
On June 10 the Dutch attacked the Island of Sheppey , bombarding then taking Sheerness Fort there. The enemy helmsmen were assisted by two traitors, a smuggler and a dissenter, and English resistance generally proved lacking – at Chatham it is said just three men volunteered to help the Duke of Albemarle (General Monck) to organise defences, as the workforce had not been paid for some time – some apparently joining the Dutch ships subsequently.
Monck’s efforts were largely ineffective, though he brought heavy artillery from The Tower: the Dutch continued up the River Medway , breaking through the chain that was its primary defence, avoiding poorly placed sunken ships that were intended to catch the ill-advised; and firing upon the poorly-armed and -manned ships they encountered, capturing the Carolus Quintus and turning her guns on the shore batteries. Chatham dockyard was set ablaze; Upnor Castle bombarded; fireships caused havoc with moored English warships. London was panicked by rumours of French troops joining the Dutch causing some of the wealthy to gather their valuables and flee to the country.
When the enemy fleet withdrew on June 14 it took as a prize The Royal Charles (clearly a huge blow to the King’s personal prestige), with three other ships of 75 guns or more already sunk – and the English navy had just eight such vessels. They left behind a feeling that the land had been betrayed, with mutterings about Charles himself and of his senior counsellors turning to riot in at least one case – Clarendon House, the Lord Chancellor’s residence, had its windows broken and trees felled. Cromwell’s rule was briefly recalled by some as a better - or better defended – time.
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