The Anglo-Dutch War
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The personality of Cromwell so completely overshadows that of any other man among his contemporaries, from Marston Moor to the day of his death, that we are somewhat apt to think of him as a military dictator who imposed his arbitrary will upon England throughout that period. That conception, however, is erroneous. Until after the battle of Preston, he did indeed embody in his own person the will of the Army, but neither he nor the Army attempted to seize for themselves the functions of government.
They stood only as the champions of liberty of conscience, battling for a settlement which should secure that liberty; and their demands were urged under the sanction of their ability in the last resort to apply force. But Cromwell was so far from being a dictator that he did not succeed in inducing the actual government to make the settlement which he desired, though he prevented them from making the very different settlement which they desired.
After Preston, the will of the Army, still embodied in Oliver, enforced the construction of a form of government intended to be as constitutional as the circumstances allowed; a government whose first business was to make itself secure, because that seemed the primary condition without which peace could not be re-established. But neither in form nor in fact did Cromwell assume the political direction of that government.
From the death of the king to the battle of Worcester, he was entirely engaged upon military duties, and upon the affairs of Ireland and Scotland, not upon the affairs of England, from which he was, for the most part, absent.
Her affairs were in the hands of the Rump and the Council of State. It was not Cromwell who dictated the admirable administrative policy by which Sir Harry Vane on the Council, and Blake on the sea, reorganised the navy, and established England on an equality with Holland, as a Naval Power which had no other rival.
It was not Cromwell who guided the financial policy which supplied the heavy demands of the Treasury from the estates of the Cavaliers. It was not Cromwell who refused toleration to Anglicanism and Anglican services, and replaced Anglican incumbents by Presbyterians, Baptists, and Independents. Finally, it was not Cromwell who directed the foreign policy of the government.
Long before Worcester was fought, the fleet had been reorganised by Vane, and the might of the English Navy had been established by Blake. England's one rival upon the seas was Holland, and commercially Eng-land was far behind Holland. The great Thirty Years' War had come to an end in the last year of King Charles I.
The religious question on the Continent had been more or less solved by the virtual partition of Germany into Protestant States in the North and Catholic States in the South; among which Austria retained an immense predominance, while the Imperial Crown was now permanently associated with the House of Hapsburg. But the mutterings of religious strife were not yet over; and English Puritanism was still moved by the dream of a league of Protestantism against a still aggressive Catholicism.
No European Power, however, was ready to offer the hand of friendship to the regicide Republic. The death of the Dutch Stadtholder in 1650 established in Holland an unqualified Republic, which was not disturbed by the birth of the posthumous son who grew up to become William III; and this change in Holland inspired a momentary hope in the English government of a Dutch alliance. But the English overtures were rejected; so that the hostility engendered by commercial rivalry was allowed free play.
The Navigation Act
England, then, since its proffered friendship was refused, assumed an aggressive attitude. About the time when Cromwell was winning the battle of Worcester, parliament was passing the Navigation Act. The enormous mass of the carrying trade of the world was in the hands oi Holland.
The Navigation Act renewed the ancient but ill-observed rule that English imports and exports must be carried either in English ships or in ships belonging to the exporting or importing country. The intention now was simply to deprive the Dutch of a large part of their carrying trade, and to transfer it to English bottoms. But further, the English government resolved to reassert its own dignity and authority, and to compel its own recognition, by insistence on the old rule of saluting the English flag in the narrow seas. If war resulted, so much the better. It would certainly he popular with the fleet, and probably with the merchants, because it was directed to English commercial expansion.
That it was not viewed with favour by Cromwell or by the Army, which was desirous of friendship with the Protestant Powers, made it rather the more desirable from the point of view of the parliament men who were jealous of military influence. The Navigation Acts which writers generally conspire to describe as Cromwell's were not attributable to him at all.
The Dutch war, which consequently began early in 1652, was waged with stubborn valour on both sides. So far as the fighting went it could never be claimed that either side showed a decisive superiority. Both sides had one or two admirals of the very highest class, and others who would be included in a large first-class list.
Both fleets were full of excellent seamen; and if one or the other got the upper hand for a time, the even balance was soon recovered. The commerce of both, however, suffered seriously, that of Holland disastrously; and the' English parliament lost popularity instead of gaining it as they had expected, although a salutary respect fox the English Navy was inspired in the continental nations.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.