This month the Chatham Historic Dockyards will be celebrating the 350th Anniversary of the Battle of the Medway.
The Battle of the Medway, more often known as the Raid on the Medway, occurred towards the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667. It was a successful attack from the Dutch fleet, seeing them head deep upriver and target the dockyard at Chatham. At the time this was England’s principal fleet base and the largest English naval ships of the day were situated there.
The attack was a complete surprise, one which the British were not prepared for. It was lead by Lieutenant Admiral Michiel de Ruyter but planned originally by Johann de Witt, Grand Pensionary of Holland. The attack was made by 62 frigates and twelve fireships.
First the fleet attacked an unfinished fort at the Isle of Sheppy, who mostly deserted. Then it headed further up the river towards Chatham.
As the attack unfolded, the British sunk some of their own warships to block the Dutch advance.
(“The Battle of Chatham” by Willem van der Stoop)
In total, the British sunk about 30 of their own ships in the course of the raid. On the 14 June the Dutch ended their attack fearing increased English resistance once they had got over the initial surprise. The Dutch managed to take two British ships, the Royal Charles and Unity, back to Holland as prizes.
So really it is a celebration to commemorate one of the greatest naval disasters of that period.
In three days the English Navy lost four of their largest warships – the Royal Charles captured, and the Royal Oak, Royal James and Loyal London all burnt in the attack.
But better burned than in enemy hands, eh?
This may be the most ‘Chatham’ battle I could have envisioned.
More seriously, the Dockyard has a series of fun events for the public to learn about the history of the site. There will be a temporary exhibit of objects and art to show the story of the Battle.
There will be an opening ceremony with a parade, a visiting Royal Navy Warship, and performances by both the British and Dutch Royal Marine Bands. There will even be some Dutch royalty there!
Full marks to the Dockyard for their energy in celebrating local history. Their timetable of events is a joy! Check it out here.