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Chatham and the Dutch: 1667 – 1967

We hear from the skipper of ‘Vlieter’, a Dutch vessel taking part in the OGA50 Round Britain Challenge, 2013. Arriving in Chatham, as she completes her circumnavigation, Kees Brooshooft reflects on the previous time ‘Vlieter’ was here, in 1967, and on an event at Chatham rarely remarked upon by the English 300 years earlier.

During the renovation of ‘Vlieter’ I had an article in a Dutch sailing magazine, sometime later I received a letter from a previous owner, Mr. Boom, now living in the USA. He requested if he could pay a visit to ‘Vlieter’, he had read the article and was very curious. He arrived, together with a friend Mr. Wolf who also sailed on ‘Vlieter’. From them I received a lot of information. They told me a story about participating with ‘Vlieter’ in the River Medway Dutch Week, in 1967. Mr de Ruyter de Wildt an 11th generation descendant of Michael de Ruyter received, during this week,  a small cannonball which had been embedded in the walls of Upnor Castle, and which was supposed to have been shot from a Dutch gun during the raid. This cannonball has been used for many years as a trophy by the Royal Yacht Club of Muiden Holland for sailing competitions. Mr Boom told me that this trophy was returned to Muiden by ‘Vlieter’.

The reason for this celebration was that 300 years before Admiral de Ruyter sailed into the Medway and destroyed a part of the English fleet and captured a few ships as well. On the 10th of June 1667 the fortress of Sheerness was taken. On the 12th of June 1667 the chain over the river at Gillingham was broken and the ‘Unity’ and the ‘Royal Charle’s (pride of the fleet) were captured. The ‘Charles V’ and the ‘Mathias’ were destroyed. On the 13th of June 1667 the ‘Royal James’, the ‘Royal Oake’ and the ‘Loyal London’ were destroyed. On the 14th of June the Dutch sailed calmly back up the river, towing their prizes behind them and made their way back to the sea and safety. A chronicler of the day wrote: “A dreadful spectacle as ever Englishmen saw and a dishonour never to be wiped off!” Shortly after this The Treaty of Breda was signed (July 31st 1667)

Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham News of the 16 June 1967 reported: “With two days still to go the Dutch week proved to be a fantastic success. The Dutch might be celebrating it but as far as we are concerned it is more a commemoration, and one of the principal reasons why it is being held is to publicise the excellent port facilities in the Medway.

 Poem by Rudyard Kipling
If wars were won by feasting,
Or victory by song,
Or safety found in sleeping sound,
How England would be strong!
But honour and dominion
Are not maintained so,
They’re only got by sword and shot,
And this the Dutchmen know!

No king will heed our warnings,
No court will pay our claims
Our King and Court for this disport
Do sell the very Thames!
For, now de Ruiters topsails
Off naked Chatham show,
We dare not meet him with our fleet
And this the Dutchmen know!