Medway-A Pictorial History of England

The Dutch Raid on the Medway, 1667

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Gale Review Team

We upload guest posts on behalf of our visiting writers and editors.

By Becky Wright
I joined Gale in 2015 as Content Researcher. I completed my MA in Historical Research at the Institute of Historical Research and am delighted to work in a role where I can indulge my love of all things history. I’m based in London and, when I’m not surrounded by books and manuscripts in various libraries and archives, I love exploring all that my home city has to offer.

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the Dutch raid on the Medway in June 1667. Commemorative events have been taking place at the historic dockyards in Chatham throughout the summer.

The raid in question occurred at the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1665-1667. State Papers Online offers a wealth of contemporary responses written as the events unfolded. By June, 1667, peace negotiations between the English and Dutch were already underway in Breda, the Netherlands. On June 7th, Richard Watts wrote to Sir Joseph Williamson from Deal that Henry Coventry, the English ambassador returning from Breda, had been brought ashore by a Dutch man-of-war (a Dutch ship) flying a white flag. He came bearing articles of the proposed peace treaty to be signed by the King[1]. Nevertheless, there were frequent sightings of Dutch ships off the British coast in the months leading up to the raid on the Medway and the State Papers reveal that many along the British coast were concerned that an attack by the Dutch was imminent[2]. Indeed, on the same day that Watts announced the arrival of Ambassador Coventry, several letters reported that the Dutch fleet, under the command of Michiel de Ruyter, had taken up position worryingly close to the mouth of the Thames[3].

By June 10th, action to increase defences against a possible attack had begun in earnest and Sir William Coventry (a different Coventry!) wrote to the Navy Commissioners, expressing Charles II’s wish that their time be ‘employed in getting and fitting fire ships’ with ‘all other work to be laid aside’[4]. Troops were hastily assembled and ordered to march to strategic coastal towns considered at risk.

On June 11th, a T. Ross wrote confidently to Williamson from Harwich that ‘they intend little else…than to steal sheep, which they attempted at St Osyth, by a long boat, but the people appearing they retired to the fleet’[5].

Please note: hyperlinks to State Papers Online will link you to the primary source if you have access to this digital archive. Otherwise, please see source citation in the footnotes at the end of this post.

Medway-T. Ross to Williamson

T. Ross, Harwich, to Sir Joseph Williamson, June 11 1667. SP 29/204 f.59

However, news from Rochester on the very same day was not so positive. George Williamson wrote that Sheerness, on the Isle of Sheppey, had been taken by the Dutch and that now some of their ships lay less than a league from the fire-ships at Chatham. They were expected to attempt something by noon the following day when the tides were with them[6]. The next day his fears were realised. The Dutch broke through a defensive chain that had been stretched across the river at Gillingham and proceeded to burn English ships and, most humiliatingly, capture the flagship of the fleet, the Royal Charles.
Medway-Map with labels

News travelled fast. Rumours about what the Dutch might do next flew up and down Britain. There were fears that they were fortifying their position on the Island of Sheppey, proceeding to Newcastle to destroy the coal fleets, or heading up the Thames towards London[7]. In the end, however, on June 14th, the Dutch departed back up the River Medway and London escaped attack. The Treaty of Breda was signed and on August 24th Charles II issued a proclamation of the peace.

Medway-Proclamation of peace

Duplicate of draft of Proclamation of the peace with the States General, August 24 1667. SP 29/214 f.153

The reaction to the raid was one of shock and disbelief, leading Joseph Bentham to question, ‘is there any hope to regaine our honor abroad?’. He wondered if those involved would be remembered by history for appearing to give away arms whilst in treaty with ‘numerous, malitious, armed & active enemies’[8].

Nearly 300 years later, in an illustrated article from June 1940, The Listener declared, ‘no chapter in English naval history is more humiliating than that which records the Dutch raid on the fleet lying in the Medway in June, 1667’[9]. It would seem that Bentham’s worst fears had been realised.

Medway-The Listener

“‘ Come the Four Corners…! ‘.” The Listener, 27 June 1940. The Listener Historical Archive, 1929-1991, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5DxZd3

Further exploration on Gale Primary Sources shows how the events of the raid have been reported and written about in the intervening 350 years. It is mentioned in several history books found in Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), including A new history of England by John Lockman. This was written in the form of question and answer, as shown in the extract below dealing with the raid. It also offers further context to the raid, touching on the plague epidemic and the Great Fire of London that had already left the capital reeling not long before the fresh threat of an attack by the Dutch.

Medway-A new history of England

Lockman, John. A new history of England, by question and answer. Extracted from the most celebrated English historians. Particularly M. Rapin de Thoyras. 4th ed., printed for Tho. Astley, at the Rose in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, MDCCXXXIX. [1739]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online

An article from the Edinburgh Evening News in 1876, included in British Library Newspapers, describes the discovery of a Dutch ship at Chatham Dockyard:

Medway-A memorial of the Stuart Regime

“A Memorial of the Stuart Regime.” Edinburgh Evening News, 4 Jan. 1876, p. 2. British Library Newspapers

Finally, an article from The Telegraph Historical Archive shows how the 300th anniversary of the raid was commemorated in 1967 when a ‘River Medway Dutch Week’ was celebrated:

Medway-Forgive and Remember

“Forgive and Remember.” Daily Telegraph, 12 June 1967, p. 12. The Telegraph Historical Archive

[1] Richard Watts, Deal, to Sir Joseph Williamson, June 7 1667. SP 29/203 f.132; Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Charles II, 1667, preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office. Mary Anne Everett Green, ed. Vol. 7: April-Oct 1667. London: Longman, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1866, p.xiv[2] See for example, Anthony Thorold, Lyme, to James Hickes, April 20 1667. SP 29/197 f.158
[2] See for example: Rowland Selby, Sandwich, to Sir Joseph Williamson, June 7 1667. SP 29/203 f.135; Colonel Titus, Deal Castle, to Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, June 7 1667. SP 29/203 f.136; Silas Taylor, Harwich, to Sir Joseph Williamson. SP 29/203 f.137; Richard Bower, Yarmouth, to Sir Joseph Williamson, June 7 1667. SP 29/203 f.139
[3] Sir William Coventry to the Navy Commissioners, June 10 1667. SP 29/204 f.22
[4] T. Ross, Harwich, to Sir Joseph Williamson, June 11 1667. SP 29/204 f.59
[5] George Williamson, Rochester, to Sir Joseph Williamson, June 11 1667. SP 29/204 f.57
[6] George Williamson, Rochester, to Sir Joseph Williamson, June 11 1667. SP 29/204 f.57
[7] — to Edward Conway, Earl of Conway, June 15 1667. SP 29/205 f.91 ; Richard Browne, Aldborough, to Sir Joseph Williamson, June 13 1667. SP 29/205 f.3
[8] Joseph Bentham, Lowick, to Sir Joseph Williamson, June 16 1667. SP 29/205 f.138
[9] “‘ Come the Four Corners…! ‘.” The Listener, 27 June 1940. The Listener Historical Archive, 1929-1991, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5DxZd3. Accessed 2 Oct. 2017.