The Raid on the Medway, 1667: Forcing Peace at Breda


350 Years ago, the Treaty of Breda was signed at the Dutch city of Breda, 31 July, 1667, by England, the Dutch Republic, France, and Denmark-Norway. It brought a hasty end to the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) in favour of the Dutch. It was a typical quick uti possidetis treaty. In the latter stages of the war, the Dutch had prevailed. Lieutenant-Admiral-General Michiel de Ruyter virtually controlled the seas around the south coast of England. His presence encouraged English commissioners to sue for peace quickly. Negotiations, which had been long protracted, and had actually begun in Breda before the raid, took only ten days to conclude after resumption of talks.

The Second Anglo-Dutch War has been of great significance to the development of maritime warfare. During the war, tactics for joint action were developed and measures to uphold discipline issued. The war also witnessed the largest naval battle from the era of sailing ships, the Four Days’ Naval Battle.

Hostilities commenced in remote waters. As the British gained control of West Africa, the Dutch were forced to respond and were able to regain most African coastal forts. At the end of the summer of 1666 the British controlled the Channel, but this was a short-lived success. The Great Plague of 1665 had already lowered King Charles II's income, and this was followed by the Great Fire of London (1666). Over the winter of 1666-67 the British fleet was laid up in the Medway, and at the start of the campaigning season of 1667 only two small squadrons put out to sea. Peace negotiations had already begun, and to a certain extend Charles's decision was linked to this, while many in Britain believed that the Dutch would be unable to fund a powerful fleet of their own.

The Dutch Attack

This was not the case. The Dutch Grand Pensionary, Johan de Witt, was opposed to peace on the terms then available, and decided to launch a daring raid into the Thames estuary to attack the British fleet and naval stores at Chatham.  The attack began in 19 June. The day after, the Dutch fleet entered the Medway, risking the perils of its treacherous shallows, sandbars and shoals, and captured the fort at Sheerness. It then sailed up Chatham and Gillingham, where they engaged fortifications with cannon fire, burned three capital ships and ten lesser naval vessels, and captured and towed away two ships of the line, HMS Unity and the prestigious flagship of the English fleet, HMS Royal Charles. On 13 June the Dutch pushed further up the Medway. Although Upnor Castle and a battery on the opposite bank offered more resistance, the Dutch were still able to burn the Royal Oak, the Loyal London and the Old James, while a larger number of ships were forced to run aground to save themselves.

On 14 June, with most of his fireships gone, De Ruyter withdrew from the Medway and moored close to Queenborough, before moved into the mouth of the Thames. For a short period London was blockaded, and everything that normally arrived by sea was quickly in short supply. De Ruyter considered mounting an attack up the Thames towards London, but a combination of improving British defences and the non-appearance of a French fleet forced him to abandon that plan. Finally, at the start of July, de Ruyter left the Thames and entered the Channel.

Enforcing Peace at Breda

The Dutch victory in the Medway forced Charles II to take the peace negotiations more seriously, and within a few weeks the war came to an end. The English Navigation Acts were modified to allow Dutch and German goods to enter Britain in Dutch ships, and most colonies taken during the war were returned, although the Dutch kept Surinam and Britain kept New Amsterdam (later New York) and New Jersey. However, the peace was short-lived. After a brief period in which Britain, the Dutch Republic and Sweden allied together to oppose Louis XIV, the French king managed to bribe Charles II to change sides, only five years after the Peace of Breda, in 1672, the Third Anglo-Dutch War broke out.

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Treaties Forming the Peace of Breda (1667)

  • Treaty of Peace and Alliance between Great Britain and The Netherlands, signed at Breda, 21(31) July 1667, 10 CTS 231.
  • Treaty between Great Britain and The Netherlands, signed at Breda, 21(31) July 1667, 10 CTS 255.
  • Treaty of Peace between Denmark-Norway and Great Britain, signed at Breda, 21(31) July 1667, 10 CTS 287.
  • Treaty of Peace between France and Great Britain, signed at Breda, 21(31) July 1667, 10 CTS 215.
  • Related Treaties
  • Treaty between England and the Netherlands, signed at Westminster, 5 April 1654, 3 CTS 225.
  • Treaty between France and the Netherlands, signed at Paris, 27 April 1662, 7 CTS 139.
  • Treaty of Peace and Alliance between England and the Netherlands, signed at Whitehall, 4(14) September 1662, 7 CTS 193.
  • Treaty of Defensive Alliance between Great Britain and Sweden, signed at Stockholm, 1 March 1665, 8 CTS 263.
  • Treaty between Sweden and the Netherlands, signed at Elsinore, 29 September 1659, 5 CTS 309.