Pepys Tweets the Dutch Raid on the Medway

The Dutch burn the English fleet at Gillingham

I couldn’t resist doing a quick post inspired by the fact that I follow the Twitter feed of Samuel Pepys, whereon excerpts from his famous diaries are posted as if live. The year currently being tweeted is 1667 and there is great excitement because of the Raid on the Medway in which a Dutch fleet sailed up the River Medway and destroyed many ships of the Royal Navy.

Much has been written about the background to this event (and, unsurprisingly, the version taught in Dutch schools is somewhat different than from the English side) so I’ll just post here how it panned out from the point of view of Samuel Pepys.

The first inkling of what was to come is on 3rd June (note the Old Style dates were still in use in England at the time of the events in question; add 10 days to get the New Style dates the Dutch and other European countries were using then):

That was almost a week before the battle commenced and although he was clearly apprehensive, for the next few days life for Pepys carried on pretty much as normal:

It was not until 8th June that we find

Even this news did not seem to concern him unduly, however

Later that day preparations were stepped up

(The Hope is the name given to the stretch of the Thames from Tilbury to the mouth of the Medway). Pepys was sceptical of the likely efficacy of the military commanders

The following day the sense of urgency increases

Later that day it seems to have dawned that Chatham might be the target:

Pepys is annoyed at the slow preparations:

and

On 10th June the Dutch land 800 marines and attack Sheerness, destroying Garrison Point Fort. Pepys does not know this yet when he writes:

It is only the following day that he realises Sheerness has fallen and the way is open for the Dutch to attack the Royal Navy at anchor in the Medway at Gillingham and Chatham:

Every available soldier being sent to defend Chatham, Pepys is worried that London itself is now very vulnerable:

Meanwhile, on the Medway, the only thing protecting the British fleet is the huge chain blocking the river. Pepys’s optimism about this was short-lived

It gets worse:

The flagship of the Royal Navy has been taken as a prize – the humiliation! There is now panic in London:

On 13th June, fearing all is lost and that London will be attacked, Pepys makes arrangements to send his money to the country:

That’s how things stood on 13th June 1667, with a Dutch/French invasion of England seemingly imminent and widespread unhappiness at the indolence and incompetence of those in charge.

On 14th June Pepys notes that many English sailors are either refusing to fight or even fighting on the Dutch side because they have not been paid for some time (receiving tickets in lieu of cash):

In the event, the Dutch withdrew on 14th June and there was no invasion by either them or the French, but over the next days and weeks there were lingering fears of other raids. A peace treaty was rapidly negotiated on very favourable terms to the Dutch and thus the Second Anglo Dutch War came to an end.

There was in the mind of Pepys and others the possibility of a popular uprising against the King for the ineptitude of the military response to this Raid. The monarchy had only been restored in 1660. Would it be swept away again so soon?

We know the answer to this question now, but nobody knew it then, which makes a contemporary accounts like that of Pepys so very fascinating. You get a real sense of the mixture of confusion and despair circulating at the time.

3 Responses to “Pepys Tweets the Dutch Raid on the Medway”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Fascinating stuff! The Dutch had no wish to invade this country in order to take it over; their aim was to deter our fleet which protected our trading interests in what was really an overseas trade war. So trashing the British fleet was enough. Of course the British actually invited a Dutch invitation 21 years later, after the queen of James II, a monarch who openly promoted Catholic interests in England, unexpectedly gave birth to a boy, and protestant England faced the prospect of rule under a Catholic dynasty. England had been expecting merely to wait for James II to die in order to invite a protestant monarch of another dynasty to take over, the real power lying with Parliament in any case. Anybody who doubts that should notice that the Restoration of 1660 was entirely on Parliament’s terms, even if those terms were unwritten before 1688. Good terms they were, too; the Puritans get a bad press today, but look at their demands in the Putney debates of 1647 to see the roots of modern parliamentary democracy.

    • telescoper Says:

      Yes the Dutch operation was limited in scope but probably all the more effective because it wasn’t obvious to the defenders that was the case. You have to say that the raid was very well planned and executed. The Dutch must have had good intelligence about the defences on the Medway (e.g. at Upnor Castle)

  2. […] time for a short update on the aftermath of the Dutch Raid on the Medway as recounted by Samuel Pepys which I blogged about last […]

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