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Robert Blake (1599-1657) was one of Oliver Cromwell's most important commanders during the Civil War and the Commonwealth, the most famous British Admiral until eclipsed by Horatio Nelson.

Born the son of a merchant in Bridgwater, Somerset, he was a late starter, being elected to Parliament in 1640 and with no substantial experience of military or naval matters.

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First Anglo-Dutch War

Cromwell's foreign policy led England into the First Anglo-Dutch War in 1652 against the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands which was eventually won by Ganeral-at-Sea Robert Blake (1598-1657) in 1654.

England and Holland, both Protestant countries in a predominantly Roman Catholic Europe had political interests in common but they were also rivals in trade, exploration and commerce.

The Netherlands became completely independent of Spain by 1648 and both England and the Netherlands were Protestant republics after 1650. William II of Orange, the son-in-law of Charles I was the Stadholder of the Netherlands but died in 1650, a fortnight before the birth of his heir (the son of Mary Stuart, and grandson of Charles I). The office of Stadholder was abolished the merchants, jealous of their trade, gained more power in the Netherlands.

There was long-standing competition between the two countries over the carrying trade and, in 1650, the Council of State of the Commonwealth which was reluctant to make a Protestant enemy and to see the return of the Orange family, made overtures to the Dutch to settle the differences by compromise. The Dutch saw the proposals of the Commonwealth as an attempt to undermine their sovereignty, and rejected it, Parliament passed the Navigation Act in 1651;-

. . . that from and after the first day of December and from thence forwards, no goods or commodities whatsoever of the growth, production, or manufacture of Asia, Africa, or America, or of any part thereof; or of any islands belonging to them �as well of the English plantations as others, shall be imported or brought into this Commonwealth of England, or into Ireland, . . . in any other ship or ships, vessel or vessels whatsoever, but only in such as do truly and without fraud belong only to the people of this Commonwealth . . .

  - the Navigation Act, October 9th, 1651

In 1652 the Dutch, under Admiral Maarten Van Tromp (1598-1653) gained the upper hand in the ensuing conflict over the English Navy commanded by Robert Blake. Fortunes turned the following year as the Commonwealth won a series of engagements with the Dutch, capturing or sinking four times as many Dutch vessels as they lost themselves.

Dover   May 19th, 1652
Battle of Dover or Battle of Goodwin Sands

Dutch fleet of 42 encountered 20 English warships commanded by General-at-Sea Robert Blake in English waters and Tromp provocatively refused to make the conventional salute of lowering his flag to the English General-at-Sea. Blake's warning shot was replied with a broadside from Tromp's flagship, the Brederode resuting in a five-hour battle. The Dutch fleet lost two ships and withdrew as darkness fell.

July, 1652

Blake attacked and captured a large part of the Dutch fishing fleet.

England declares war on the Netherlands.

Plymouth   August 16th, 1652
Battle of Plymouth

Thirty-two warships commanded by admiral Michiel de Ruyter escorting a merchant convoy of 60 ships down the English Channel from Calais to the Mediterranean sight and attack a British fleet of 38 ships commanded by General-at-Sea George Ayscue off Plymouth. Fiercely fought, the result was indecisive (both sides claimed victory) and the Dutch merchantmen successfully escaped down the Channel.

Kentish Knock   September 28th, 1652
Battle of the Kentish Knock

The Dutch fleet of 59 warships under Admiral Witte Corneliszoon de Witt were sighted by Blake's fleet of 68 warships off the Kentish Knock (a sandbank in the southern North Sea about 18 miles NE of North Foreland) and immediately attacked. Two Dutch ships were captured and several others were damaged with many casualties (a number of the Dutch warships holding back from joining in the action because of discontent among their crews). Blake pursued the retreating Dutch fleet for two days until de Witt took refuge in Goeree harbour.

Dungeness   November 30th, 1652
Battle of Dungeness

42 ships under under Blake were engaged by 80 Dutch warships under Tromp and gradually overwhelmed them through force of numbers until Blake retreated for the refuge of the Thames With three ships sunk, two captured, and his flagship, the Triumph, badly damaged. The Dutch victory allowed their merchant convoys free passage through the Channel with the English fleet was blockaded in its own harbours.

The defeat prompted the Commissioners of the Navy to make a thorough review of naval tactics and the first official Articles of War and Fighting Instructions were issued to English naval commanders in March 1653.

The Fighting Instructions included line-ahead fleet formations (hence "Ship of the Line") to maximise the use of the broadside and remained the basis of naval tactics throughout the next century.

The English fleet was strengthened so that, by early 1653, around 80 warships had been assembled at Portsmouth under the joint command of Generals-at-Sea Blake, Monck and Deane.

Portland   February 18th-20th, 1653
Battle of Portland or the Three Days Battle

Tromp's fleet of eighty warships escorted a large convoy of 200 merchantmen up the Channel as they returned from the Mediterranean when they were intercepted by the main English battle fleet under the joint command of Blake, Monck and Deane about 20 miles south of Portland Bill. Both sides had lost several ships when a squadron of English frigates bypassed the main action, making for the unprotected convoy and forcing Tromp to disengage from the battle to protect the merchantmen. Although sporadic fighting continued, the English fleet was becalmed and prevented from following the Dutch.

Thew following afternoon, the English caught up with the Dutch, Tromp deploying his warships in a defensive crescent protect the merchant convoy. Although the Dutch successfully resisted English attempts to break through the formation, by dusk they had run short of ammunition.

The battle was rejoined off Beachy Head in Sussex and the English broke through the Dutch defences to get in amongst the merchant convoy. Blake anchored the fleet at dusk intending to pursue the Dutch who escaped overnight into the shallows off the Flemmish and Zeeland coasts where the English dared not follow.

The Dutch had lost eight warships and possibly as many as fifty merchantmen and the Commonwealth reigned supreme in the Channel, now closed to Dutch mariners.

North Foreland   June 2nd-3rd, 1653
Battle of North Foreland or Battle of Gabbard Shoal

A Dutch fleet of ninety-eight warships and six fireships under Admiral Tromp, with de Witt and de Ruyter as vice-admirals, engaged the English with one hundred ships and five fireships under Generals-at-Sea George Monck and Richard Deane near the Gabbard sandbak (off Orfordness on the Suffolk coast). The Dutch withdrew after seven hours of battle with the loss of three warships.

The following day, Monck having been reinforced by eighteen ships commanded by Robert Blake and, after four hours of battle, the Dutch withdrew in disarray, pursued by the English until nightfall. They had lost eleven ships, with a further nine captured, while the English fleet lost no ships and suffered light casualties.

General-at-Sea Richard Deane was killed during the first Dutch broadside.

Following the victory, Monck's fleet imposed a total blockade on Dutch ports, capturing hundreds of Dutch merchantmem and fishing vessels, bringing all Dutch overseas commerce to a complete standstill and forcing the Netherlands to consider suing for peace with the Commonwealth.

Scheveningen   July 31st, 1653
Battle of Scheveningen or Battle of the Texel

A Dutch fleet of one hundred warships sailed on July 24th, 1653, to lift the English blockade of the Dutch coast. Tromp made for the island of Texel, where twenty-seven Dutch warships and ten fireships under de Witt was blockaded by one hundred and twenty English ships under George Monck. Monk was lured from Texel to a partial engagement off Katwijk on July 29th, allwoing de Witt to escape to the open sea and meet Tromp off Scheveningen the following day.

The two fleets engaged off Scheveningen on the 31st, watched by hundreds of spectators from the beaches and, in the early stages, Tromp was killed by a musket shot (his death was kept secret for hours to avoid undermining morale). Gradually the Dutch were overwhelmed and, with up to thirty ships sunk or badly damaged, retreated to shelter at Texel.

The death of Maarten Tromp was not only a severe blow to the Dutch navy, but also to the Orangists who sought the defeat of the Commonwealth and restoration of the Stuart monarchy in England; the Republican influence strengthened after Scheveningen and the peace negotiations with the Commonwealth, culminating in the Treaty of Westminster, began in earnest.

Peace was concluded with the Dutch on generous terms by the Treaty of Westminster which was signed on April 5th, 1654. The principal aims of the treaty were to limit the powers of the pro-Stuart House of Orange in the Netherlands and secure the expulsion of English Royalist exiles from the Dutch territories.

While the Treaty of Westminster ended the hostilities of the First Anglo-Dutch War, it did little to alleviate the commercial rivalry in maritime trade between the two nations, especially in the extensive colonies of both countries, and hostilities continued between the trade companies (which had warships and troops of their own). The Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) was thus inevitable.

Flag of the British East India Company

Flag of the Dutch East Indies Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie)

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Anglo-Spanish War

As with the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654), the Anglo-Spanish War which broke out in February 1656 was fought because of commercial rivalries.

General-at-Sea Robert Blake blockaded Cadiz. During the blockade, one of his captains, Richard Stayner, destroyed most of the Spanish Plate Fleet and a galleon of treasure was captured - the overall loss to Spain was estimated at £2-million. Blake maintained the blockade throught the winter of 1656, the first time the English fleet had stayed at sea over winter.

In 1657, Blake won against the Spanish West Indian Fleet over the English seizure of Jamaica although the English failed in capturing their object, the island of Hispaniola. On April 20th, Blake totally destroyed a Spanish silver fleet of sixteen ships at Santa Cruz Bay, Tenerife, with the loss of only one ship despite being under fire from shore batteries and attacking and withdrawing on the tide.

For the action in Santa Cruz Bay, Blake was given an expensive diamond ring by the Lord Protector, Cromwell.

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Blake was returning home after cruising off Cadiz in 1657 and was already within sight of Portsmouth when he died of old wounds. After lying in state, he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

After the Restoration of the Monarchy, Blake's body was removed from its resting place in Westminster Abbey and dumped in a common grave on the orders of king Charles II.

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Oliver Cromwell   (1599-1658)

Politician, military leader during the Civil War and Lord Protector during the Commonwealth.

Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp   (1598-1653)

Dutch Admiral and Blake's adversary during the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654).

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1599Birth of Robert Blake (-1657), Commonwealth admiral, at Bridgewater, Somerset
He was the most influential admiral until Horatio Nelson
1652.Sep.28Battle of the Kentish Knock: 59 Dutch warships under de Witt were engaged by Blake\'s fleet of 68 warships off the Kentish Knock (about 18 miles NE of North Foreland). The retreating Dutch pursued for 2 days before taking refuge in Goeree harbour
1653Strengthening of the Navy against the Dutch threat with 80 warships assembled at Portsmouth under the joint command of Generals-at-Sea Blake, Monck and Deane
1653.Feb.18During the three-day Battle of Portland, three miles off the promontory: the 32-gun Sampson and several Dutch ships sunk
The English, under Blake, chase Admiral Tromp\\\'s Dutch fleet up the channel to eventual defeat of the Isle of Wight on the 20th
1653.MarPublication of Articles of War and Fighting Instructions for the instruction of Naval officers in naval tactics by Robert Blake following the defeat at the Battle of Dungeness
The Fighting Instructions remained the basis of naval tactics throughout the next century
1656War with Spain
Blake blockaded Cadiz
1656.OctBlake maintains the blockade throught the winter, the first time the English fleet had stayed at sea over winter
1657Blake burnt Spanish treasure in Santa Cruz harbour
1657Death of Robert Blake (1599-), the most influential British admiral until Horatio Nelson
1926Opening of the Blake Museum in Bridgewater, Somerset, in the former Blake House, the 17th Century home of the Blake family where it is supposed that Robert Blake (1599-1657), the most influential admiral for a century was born

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The archipelago off the Cornish coast was captured for Parliament in 1651 by Admiral Blake.

The Dorset Coast

Several of the battles of the First Anglo-Dutch War took place off the Dorset Coast.


The life of the famous admiral is celebrated in the town of his birth with a Museum.

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