‘A most lamentable and deplorable theme’

This June marks the 350th anniversary of the Dutch Raid on the Medway which took place 9-14 June 1667. It was humiliating for the English Navy resulting in the loss of thirteen English ships, with the Unity and Royal Charles captured. Mike Bevan, archivist at the Caird Library, takes a closer look.   

The archive has a letter (AGC/G/1) written to Sir Brampton Gurdon (who was a Parliamentarian during the civil war) describing the Dutch landing on the Isle of Sheppey and the attack on the Medway, dated 13 June 1667 and signed S. T.

Letter describing the Dutch landing on the Isle of Sheppey and the attack on the Medway
The letter describing the Dutch landing on the Isle of Sheppey and the attack on the Medway (AGC/G/1)

Here is a transcription:

'The most lamentable and deplorable theme that ever was writen on any subject is now my business to give you upon the utter Ruine and destruction of this pore Kingdom, a thing you wonder at tho noe more strange the true the Dutch with 60 or 70 saile of ships and 6 Regimts of men have been cruising in the Thames we thought a brave bravado, but they tooke their oportunity to land and possess them selv’s of Sheppey Island neere Chatham where all our 1f, 2d and 3d rate ships lay to the no. of 27 saile besides some small ships, they ffortify a new erected in the I’land have noe thing betwixt then and our ships but a chayne which at the fourth hit full saile breake the chayne possess them selv’s of the River and to our almost destruction fir’d the ships . They still with one Pt of their men and ffleete possess the Place, command the Thames and which the other saile up Thames to Gravesend, where they immediately become masters of the Blockhouse and are now sailoing upwards towards the Bridge where noe thing can oppose them but 16 guns and a brest work cast up at Woolidge this morning till they come to the Tower which hath no command in the world of the River but shoots over. There was a thing we called ridiculous a Brest Work at the Tower in Noll’s Time but that’s with Coventry and Gloucester demolished and the inconsiderable forts like Dunkirk sould. See that no thing in the world is so open by sea, none in the world can come at them by land but you see our bulwarks are gone the glory of the nation we are all bought and sould like Calv’s and the King most horridly cheeted to=boote but Sir I have not ½ yet the war betwixt Ffrance and Spayn’s a cheat, All the men are shipt in 50 all saile and ride off Ports mouth and are in readiness to invade us, The Army being drawn to Sheerness we shal be in a want of men if they land westward as certainly they will  if it be no done already, Albermarle be hand himself bravely aboard the Monmouth soo long as she could line and him & in his own Regimt. Which he imployed in boarding, but 26 men came off alive, we are at this time far more distracted than at the Fire nay Sir the ffire was but a fflea byting to this. The green and yellow regimts…by reason of the helpless condition they are in and the imminent danger of their appearing in our streets this night! I hastily wish my Ld Chancellor may not be murdered the most horid talks being public discourse that over was spoke the old cavalier curse the court to the Devill speake not well of a man but the King and old GGeorge [Albermarle] Oh! For you cannot imagine our distraction and how neere our destruction is. My fleet are blistered I cant ware a shoe nor are my eyes able to hould open after soo long want of sleepe I have not lodg’d my ? but durst not miss you this week: Ld Manchester Rossiter Massey Mildmay and Waller er have commissions again. God preserve our lives this more than we look for. I am most cordially yours S T.'

Dutch attack on the Medway, 9-14 June 1667 - BHC0293
Oil painting by Pieter van der Velde depicting the Dutch attack on the Medway (BHC0293)

The Peace of Breda 31 July 1667 led to hostilities coming to an end in September. Both the Dutch and English were becoming alarmed at Louis XIV’s progress in the Southern Netherlands, and the peace settlement was an honourable compromise.

John Evelyn recorded in his diary on 28 June ‘how triumphantly their whole fleet lay within the very mouth of the Thames, all from the North Foreland, Margate, even to the Buoy of the Nore- a dreadful spectacle as ever Englishmen saw, and a dishonour never to be wiped off!’, but interestingly the Dutch never got higher than Gravesend and didn’t press their advantage, they led a half-hearted and rather pointless attack on Landguard Fort near Harwich which was easily repulsed. In July, De Ruyter made a cruise in the Channel, hoping to intercept the richly laden Barbados, Virginia and Smyrna fleets, but caught none of these, and made only a few inconsiderable prizes and an abortive raid on Torquay. The Dutch needed to take prizes after the financial impact of the Holmes’s Bonfire and their anxiety at Louis XIV’s invasion impacted on their decision making. The English, although, greatly humbled and suffering a great loss, didn’t suffer complete ruin after all.

By 1672 the English had regained parity by replacing the capital ships lost in the Medway raid of 1667, whereas few Dutch ships had been built.

To find out more, visit the Caird Library & Archive

Mike Bevan