The First Anglo-Dutch War and the Treaty of Westminster

The First Anglo-Dutch War was fought in 1652-54 between England and the Dutch republic over conflicting maritime trade interests, directly triggered by the Navigation Acts of 1651. The English won the war, which ended with the Treaty of Westminster.

Background of the War

 The war was triggered by conflicts of interest in maritime trade. To begin with, England and the Dutch republic had lagged behind Spain and Portugal in maritime expansion. It was not until the early 17th century that England and the Dutch republic began to make serious inroads into America and East Asia.

 The Dutch republic started to make great strides in East Asian trade. The English were making similar attempts. In East Asia at the beginning of the 17th century, Portugal was the main European power building trade networks. Spain also established a base mainly in the Philippines. Both were Catholic countries, and the king of Spain was also the king of Portugal. Both England and the Dutch republic were Protestant, and Spain and Portugal were common enemies in East Asia. Therefore, the Anglo-Dutch attacked Spanish and Portuguese colonies and trading posts. At the same time, England and the Dutch republic were competitors and often at odds with each other.

 For example, in 1623, the Amboina Incident occurred when the Dutch attacked the English trading post in Ambon in present-day Indonesia. This incident caused great losses to the English. As a result, the English had to give up their expansion east of India for the time being. The Dutch became more powerful in maritime trade, leading to its golden age in the first half to the middle of the 17th century. The most profitable Dutch trade in East Asia was that with Japan.

 Triggers of War: Navigation Acts and the Puritan Revolution

 To curtail the Dutch, the English enacted the Navigation Acts in 1651. Similar laws had been in force since around the 14th century.

 This time, the Navigation Acts were intended to help English exclude other countries’ ships, especially Dutch ships, from trade between itself and its own colonies. At the time, Dutch ships profited greatly from the trade involving England and its North American colonies. Therefore, this law was a major blow to the Dutch.

 Another cause was the Puritan Revolution in England beginning in the 1640s. In this revolution, King Charles I of England was executed. The Stuart dynasty of Charles was related to the Dutch governor, the Oranje family. Hence, the Dutch were critical of England’s new republican system, despite the fact that it was a republic. Against this background, Cromwell, who was in power in England, enforced the Navigation Acts.

 The First Anglo-Dutch War

 At first, the war seemed to be going in favor of the Dutch. However, from 1653 onward, the English were winning more and more victories. Finally, the English led to the death in battle of Tromp, known as the outstanding Dutch admiral.

 Thus, the English won the war, leading to peace at the Treaty of Westminster in 1654. As mentioned above, the English navigation acts and the relationship between the English Stewarts and the Oranier family were the catalysts for the war. Hence, the treaty made provisions for these. The treaty was signed primarily by Cromwell of England and De Witt of the Dutch republic.

 The Treaty of Westminster

 The treaty restored peace and cooperation between the two countries, dealt with rebellion, and provided for trade.

 First, peace was to be restored at the end of the war. Furthermore, the two countries would establish closer alliance and friendship. For example, privateering and hostilities against each other’s ships at sea was to cease.

 It also has a clause dealing with possible rebellions in England. In England, King Charles I was executed in 1649. In 1650, a new republic had just been created. The successors of Charles’ Stewart dynasty went into exile in the Dutch republic to rely on their in-laws the Oranje family, the Dutch Governor-General. Therefore, the English republican government feared the possibility that this dynasty might overthrow the new English government with the help of the Dutch. Therefore, provisions were made in the treaty to counteract this possibility.

 For example, the Dutch republic was not to support or assist in any way any attempt by a third party to commit hostilities against England. Other provisions included cooperating with each other to put down domestic rebellions and denying entry to or deportation of rebels.

 Other provisions included freedom of trade, residence, and movement between the two countries within Europe, and mutual defense at sea. It also provided for the punishment of the perpetrators of the Ambon Incident of 1623 and for reparations.

 In addition, the secret clause of the treaty included a provision preventing Willem III, the young head of the Oranje family, from assuming the office of Governor-General of the Dutch republic. In so doing, it sought to further curb the possibility of English rebellions. On the Dutch side, Prime Minister Wit agreed to this. Thus began the first period of no viceroyalty in the Dutch republic. The Dutch side agreed to this because of the tyrannical government of Governor Willem II until his death. The secrecy clause was later exposed and made known in the Dutch republic.

 The secret clauses had a major impact on the history of the Dutch republic. In 1672, the Dutch republic was on the verge of ruin due to wars with England and France, etc. Prime Minister Witt had been leading the Dutch republic until then. However, he was regarded as the one who had created such a critical situation, and he lost his real power. He was arrested and even tortured. Instead of Witt, the Dutch hoped that Willem III would be the savior who could deal with this crisis. Willem III was thus appointed Governor-General of the Dutch republic. Thus, the Oranists regained real power. Not only that, Witt was slaughtered by Oranje supporters just as he was released from torture. The secrecy clause of the Treaty of Westminster was its contributing factor.

Recommended or Selected References

金澤周作編『海のイギリス史 : 闘争と共生の世界史』昭和堂, 2013

桜田美津夫『物語オランダの歴史 : 大航海時代から「寛容」国家の現代まで 』中央公論新社, 2017

J.R. Jones, The Anglo-Dutch Wars of the seventeenth century, Routledge, 2014

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