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Dutch Attack on the Medway, June 1667

Pieter Cornelisz van Soest, Dutch Attack on the Medway, June 1667, oil on canvas, 660.4 x 1092.2 mm, dated ca. 1667. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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In the Second Dutch War, 1665-67, it was believed that a peace treaty would be signed with Holland. However, Charles II’s attitude at the conference at Breda led to its failure, while at the same time his financial difficulties unabled the English fleet to be fitted out for the summer campaign of 1667. The Dutch fleet was quickly mobilised and the Dutch commander, Lieutenant-Admiral de Ruyter, carried through with complete success the Dutch leader Johan de Witt’s bold plan for the invasion of the River Medway in Kent where some of the English navy’s best ships were laid up. The river defences were badly prepared and maintained and the Dutch were able to force a passage almost to Chatham Royal Dockyard, only about 30 miles from London. Several large English ships were burnt or sunk at their moorings and the ‘Royal Charles’, 86 guns, was carried back in triumph to Holland. In the foreground, the shore is shown with a number of figures on the right. They are probably Englishmen who have escaped from their ships following the attack. To the right of centre the nearest ship is the ‘Royal Charles’, in port-quarter view, shown just after her capture by the Dutch. To the right, are two other English ships, both in port-quarter view, which are being set on fire by fireships. The bows and foremast of a further burning fireship appears in the extreme right of the painting. Beyond this is an encounter between English and Dutch ships, with two more English ships shown ablaze. On the extreme left, a Dutch flagship, starboard-quarter view, is engaging a fort on land. In the foreground to the left, are the tops of the masts of several English ships which have been sunk. One small boat is shown with the impossible task of trying to pick up all the survivors clinging to the tops of masts or holding on to wreckage in the water. The artist worked in Amsterdam, where he was burgomaster in 1642. He may have trained with the marine artist Claes Claesz Wou, and is best known for panoramic battle scenes from the time of the Second Dutch War. Signed ‘P van Soest’.

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