Early in the 17 th century, the belligerence between England and Spain continued. In that century-long standoff, the English fleet rose and expanded into a huge force capable of conquering any spot on the map. However, the British Isles were not the only region to harbor a tremendous naval potential. A new rival appeared on the European skyline, it was the Dutch fleet.
The Netherlands possessed colonies in India, Indonesia and North America. Their greatest market share was gained in the global market of spices (the Spice Islands were one of their Dutch colonies).
The Rising Power of the Netherlands
The Netherlands became independent from the Spanish Empire after a war which had lasted 8 years. During the war, both England and the Netherlands behaved as allies to each other since they had their common enemy – Spain. After the war, the Dutch fleet emerged on the global arena as a strong marine player.
At the outset, the rivalry mostly affected the commerce. For instance, Dutch and English companies were competing in India and Indonesia. Tensions were rising during the English Civil War. Prince Frederick of Orange-Nassau supported and funded the Royalists. His son, William II did the same.
Parliamentarians’ Overseas Policies
When the Parliamentarians won, they newly regulated the merchant fleet navigation. The Navigation Act of 1651 restricted the imports and exports between England and other countries, including its colonies. Only the English and colonial ships were allowed to navigate in commercial voyages. For Cromwell and Parliament, overseas trade was the major source to reinforce power.
Meanwhile, the Dutch had been taking huge advantage of the colonial cargos. Cargo shipments made by the Dutch transporters were actually cheap and thus more competitive. Therefore, the Navigation Act deprived the Netherlands of their lion’s share of marine trade revenues. Some Dutch vessels ended up being captured by English crews.
Outbreak of Hostilities
The prehistory resulted in an armed conflict between England and the Netherlands. The first battle took place in May 1652 in Plymouth. The Dutch won that combat with their trade vessels converted into warships. The following battles of Kentish Knock and Portland brought triumph to the English. With a range of other battles, that was the first Anglo-Dutch War that ended in April 1654. Anyway, England then failed to gain the leading role in the seas and oceans on the globe.
The first Anglo-Dutch War was followed with at least three subsequent wars. The nature of all of them was purely commercial. The tremendous water space of the planet could not be effectively divided between the major naval superpowers.