The Dutch are preparing to invade English seas with a fleet of 90 vessels after a previous expedition boarded the Royal Navy’s flagship and stole the Royal Coat of Arms from her.
In a celebration of Dutch Admiral De Ruyter’s 1667 raid on Chatham Dockyard, which resulted in English flagship HMS Royal Charles being boarded and ransacked by Dutch sailors, their modern-day civilian counterparts are planning a memorial cruise to Chatham.
The raid is known in British naval history as the Battle of Chatham, and formed part of the endless naval scrapping of the middle of the last millennium which eventually forged Britain’s 19th century dominance of the high seas.
In the battle, the numerically superior Dutch fleet sailed right up the River Medway into Chatham, Kent, and generally caused mayhem amongst the laid-up English warships moored there. The English fleet, starved of money and manpower, could not afford to put to sea in numbers despite wreaking havoc on the Dutch in the previous year.
Amongst other booty, the Dutch made off with the English royal coat of arms from fleet flagship HMS Royal Charles, which adorned the warship's stern. The ornate carving can be viewed in the Netherlands' Rijksmuseum today.
The 90 Dutch yachts will assemble in the Netherlands port of Vlissingen before sailing across the North Sea to Chatham, in time for the 350th anniversary of the original raid on 13 June.
It is not known whether the Royal Navy’s sole Fleet Ready Escort will be deployed to meet the Dutch, though there is a yacht charter service operating in Chatham if any rich Britons are determined to defend Old Blighty’s honour at sea. Typically the Navy does send a minor warship or two to such celebrations.
"We love sailing, so it seemed fun to do. And we hope that there will also be more focus on sailing,” Bart de Bakker of the Dutch Association of Coastal Sailors told Dutch website Omroep Zeeland.
Historically minded readers can get a brief contextual overview of the Battle of Chatham on the History of War website, while the town of Chatham’s official commemorations can be read on the Visit Medway site. ®
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