Action Between Ships in the First Dutch War, 1652-54

Abraham Willaerts, Action Between Ships in the First Dutch War, 1652-54, oil on canvas, 1003 x 1245 mm, dated [unknown]. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London


In the first half of the 17th century conflicts of trade interests between England and the Netherlands increased. This intensified the likelihood of armed conflict and matters came to a head with Cromwell’s Navigation Act of 1651, which directly threatened Dutch primacy as ‘the carriers of Europe’ by restricting English trade to English ships. The first of the three resultant sea wars between England and the Dutch United Provinces broke out in 1652, lasting to 1654. In this painting the action between Dutch and English ships is believed to show one of the earliest exchanges. On the left and centre of the painting three English ships are shown. On the far right a Dutch ship is engaged in exchanging fire with two out of three English ships. The ship on the far left flies a distinctive red Commonwealth ensign at the main with the St George’s cross in the corner and various motifs of thistle, lions and harp in a laurel wreath. These emblems are repeated on the stern of the ship. The land in the distance on the left may represent the coast of Kent and, if this is the case, the action may represent the Battle of the Kentish Knock, which took place off this well-known sand bar off the mouth of the Thames on 28 September 1652. The Dutch picked the fight in retaliation for a British attack made shortly before on the Dutch herring fleet, which was poaching in British waters. In the action the Dutch under Admiral Cornelisz de With were defeated by the English Admirals William Penn and John Bourne. Although the two fleets were similar in size, the Dutch recognized that they were at a disadvantage because their ships were too small and too lightly armed. This resulted in a two-stage building programme that eventually resulted in 60 new capital ships, with Admiral Maarten Tromp being restored to command their fleet. The artist was born and died in Utrecht and was one of the sons of Adam Willarts (1577-1664). He and his younger brother, Isaac, took up their father’s profession and became marine painters. Abraham worked in Paris under Simon Vouet and then went into service of Prince Maurits in Holland.

1 thought on “adw1652.0001

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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