Awakening of Europe - M. B. Synge

Two Famous Admirals

"And sweep through the deep

While the stormy winds do blow,

While the battle rages long and loud,

And the stormy winds do blow."


Cromwell had conquered all upon the land. He now turned to the sea, and tried to improve the trade of England by stopping the Dutch ships from bringing so much goods to English shores. No longer now could Dutch ships carry corn from Russia to England; no longer could they fish so freely for herrings off the English coast to take to Germany and other countries. No longer could they be the chief carriers of Europe, "waggoners of the sea." The ships of England were to take their own share of the world's sea-traffic.

From olden days England had claimed her right over the English Channel.

"It is the custom of the English to command at sea," the king used to say with pride. Indeed up to this time the flags of all other countries had been lowered before the flag of England while sailing through the narrow English Channel.

One day—it was in the year 1651—a Dutch fleet passed through the Channel without lowering the flag in salute to an English ship which it passed. The English admiral asked the reason of this insult, and as the Dutch captain refused to explain, he captured the flagship.

Relations now became very strained between the two countries. War was not yet declared, when suddenly one day the Dutch admiral, Tromp, sailed into the English Channel and anchored off the south coast with forty ships.

Now this Admiral Tromp was a great man. He had been born at Brille, the Beggars' town, and had gone to sea as a very little boy. At the age of eleven he had seen his father murdered on board his ship by English sea-robbers. Later in life the brave sailor Piet Hein, who had taken the Silver Fleet, was shot at his side. So Martin Tromp had seen a good deal of life and service, and he was one of Holland's greatest admirals.

But Tromp had his equal in the English admiral, Blake. Both men had been born in the same year; but while Tromp had gone to sea as a very small boy, Blake had not begun his seafaring career till he was fifty. In those days it was not thought necessary that an admiral or a captain should be a sailor. One man was in command of the soldiers on board the ship, another in command of the sailors and the ship herself. There was no uniform such as seamen have to-day. Each man dressed as he liked. Now, as Blake had fought well on land, he was put in command of a fleet of ships. He was cruising about in the English Channel one summer afternoon in 1652. One story says that he was sitting in his cabin with his officers, their swords lying on the table before them, when the windows of the ship were suddenly shattered.

"It is very ill-bred of Tromp to break my windows," said Blake, knowing that the Dutch admiral was not far off.

Then crash came the Dutch flagship into the English one; guns boomed over the quiet sea. For five long hours the fleets fought fiercely under Tromp and Blake, and the sun had long since set when, disabled and shattered, the Dutch ships sailed away for Holland, and Blake made his way to Dover to make known to Cromwell what had happened.

War now blazed out between the two countries—war for the command of the sea. It was just a year after their first fight when Blake and Tromp met again. The Dutch admiral, with some eighty ships and ten fireships, was sailing about midway between the English and Dutch coasts when he met Blake. But Blake, with forty ships, was totally unprepared to encounter such a superior force as now lay before him on the sea. He hastily called his officers together and they resolved to fight, though at such a disadvantage. But Tromp and his splendid fleet was too strong for them. The Dutch gained the victory, and in triumph Tromp tied a broom to his mast-head and sailed down the Channel, boasting that he would sweep the sea of every English ship! A few months later a more equal fight took place, and this time Blake was triumphant. The war had resolved itself into a duel between these two famous admirals. Now one was victorious, now the other.

In a later fight Blake was severely wounded, and the "Sea King," as the English called him, was unable to fight any longer. Soon after this, Martin Tromp, the "father of sailors," was killed.

"I am done for. Maintain the battle, my children," he gasped, as he fell mortally wounded on the deck of his ship.

When the news of the admiral's death spread through the fleets, as if by common consent, all stopped firing. A great man had died, and the fleets each sailed away in silence.

Both countries grew tired of the conflict, and were glad enough to make peace in the year 1654. True, the Dutch had to consent to the old tribute to the English flag; but they were still supreme on the seas, and though England was learning much from them, though she was growing stronger every day, yet at this time there was no Power in Europe which could compete with Holland on the high seas.