Over the course of two hundred years, Holland and Britain fought in four bloody wars. The cause of these wars has long been a matter of debate between historians and scholars. As with any war, however, there are always political and economic motivations. In the early sixteenth century, Holland had developed the greatest and most successful trading route after annexing a large part of Portugal. Afterwards, it dominated European trade and a lot of the maritime trade with North America. England, which had always been successful economically and militarily, wanted to dominate the trade world, which would secure a thriving economy, and the Dutch taking over the majority of trade to North America – a task formerly dominated by Britain – further served to anger the British. England’s desire for economic dominance set off what would become known as the four Anglo-Dutch Wars.
One crucial factor in the outcome of the wars was Britain’s vast superiority in naval and general military force. Holland’s naval fleet paled in comparison; its participation in wars had always been fairly limited and thus, its military was weak from disuse. As the first war progressed, every battle was fought solely between the two navies, and it was not long before England gained control of all the surrounding seas. At the first war’s conclusion, the Netherlands had to accept England’s new position as the leader in maritime trade.
Clearly, England’s motivation was economic in declaring war on the Netherlands, but political triumphs are inherent in the victory of any war. England once again proved the formidability of its navy, and improved its military with new weapons and stratagems for winning the war. The Netherlands had made the fatal mistake of betraying its alliance with Britain, which immediately sent troops to their aid during the fight against the Spanish Armada. Once Britain helped them win the fight, instead of showing eternal gratitude, the Netherlands instead, took the entire portion of Portugal it had won, cut Britain off from its trade with the Iberian peninsula, and took over all sea trade routes surrounding Britain. Britain had no choice but to retaliate after these seemingly-hostile acts. After winning the wars, Britain regained its political position as a powerful nation.
In 1650, however, the Second Anglo-Dutch War had political motivations. In a convention at the Hague, Britain proposed annexing the Netherlands into the commonwealth, which took the Dutch completely by surprise. They had come to the Hague in the hopes of gaining complete control over Asia and Africa in exchange for helping Britain take the Americas from the Spanish. The Dutch considered the proposed annexation to be nothing more than Britain’s quest for world domination, and as a result, they issued a counter-proposal which in essence established a free-trade agreement between them. Britain was outraged, and declared them a threat to the commonwealth. They also cut off all trade with the Dutch and boldly captured a few of their ships.
War did not last long between the two nations this time. The Dutch were more prepared and ready for battle, which took Britain by surprise during a few of the battles. After the two generals were slain, and a tremendous plunge in morale ensued, both sides began considering an armistice. Overall, political and economic victories presented themselves to the Dutch, who gained trade routes, an increase of merchants, and military formidability. Britain’s trade on the other hand had taken a substantial hit, and bitterness between the two sides remained even after peace was established.
One of the conditions of peace was that the Dutch abide by the Navigation Acts after signing the Treaty of Westminster. However, the Dutch never heeded the laws set out by the Acts, which deepened hostilities between the two nations. They also kept expanding their trade monopoly to Asian and African countries. Britain was already having financial problems at the start of the war, and by the end, was almost in a state of financial ruin. The entire war was an embarrassment to Britain, and a political and economic triumph for the Dutch, who gained a political alliance with France as well as several new trade routes.
In 1672, a year which would later become “The Year of Disaster” for the Dutch, the Third Anglo-Dutch War ensued. A secret political alliance was formed by the British and French governments which caused the necessary rift between France and the Netherlands. In a surprisingly ruthless maneuver, France purposefully broke dams in the Netherlands so that its most vital regions would become destroyed. The Netherlands, in a desperate move, formed an alliance with Spain, which caused a surprising turn around in the war. France retreated and when Britain’s government was forced by its own citizens to promise not to spend anymore money on the war, the Netherlands once again emerged victorious merely by destroying more property of Britain than Britain had managed to destroy of theirs.
In the final Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch offended Britain by not joining an alliance to take over France. In further offenses, the Dutch were the first to salute and recognize the United States flag, and spoke out against Britain inspecting their ships. Britain quickly declared war before the Netherlands could form alliances. The war came so abruptly that the Dutch were ill-prepared and could not coordinate their military fast enough. Communication with the French and Spain was muddled and ship manufacturing was so poor that half of the ships sunk in Dutch-friendly waters. At the conclusion, Britain finally regained its colonies in India and took over several trade routes.